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Key Signatures for Scales and Modes?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by tpmiller08, Mar 31, 2009.

  1. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    I've been looking for quite sometime for the key signatures (Tabbed or not, Tabbed perferred though) of the scales and modes (Lorian, Aeolian, Mixodylan [sp?], ect, ect) and can't turn up anything.

    I'm sure I am not looking in the right places, but could any lead me in the right direction?

    I was going through bass for beginners by Glenn Letsch, and it was a great book! I recommend new bassists pick it up. But, alas, it got stolen from an old vengeful roommate :scowl: and I feel as if I'm really lacking in basic, fundamental music theory.

    I know the Major Scale from C and all the way around the circle of fifths, and thats it. So heres a side question : Do all modes, in their key signature, have no flats? So one scale would be D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D and another be G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G ?

    Also ( I know I'm all over the place with this post, but bear with me if possible =), Whats tonic chords all about? I don't understand the whole I IV V progression. Is it just another way of saying "Playing root notes from the circle of fifths"?

    Thanks for reading, and I appreciate any help!

  2. jmac


    May 23, 2007
    Horsham, Pa
    I recommend the book 'Harmony and Theory: A Comprehensive Source for All Musicians' by Wyatt and Schroeder.

    The tonic is the one chord in the key. So in Amaj the tonic is Amaj. Let's stick with Amaj for the next question about the I IV V progression. The roman numerals correspond to the chord degrees(can't think of a better word) of the key. So you play the tonic, or one chord, followed by the fourth and then the fifth.

    Amaj consists of Amaj Bmin C#min Dmaj Emaj F#min G#dim. So a I IV V progression is Amaj-Dmaj-Emaj.

    If you know the cycle of fifths then you know half of the major key signatures. I recommend learning the fourths. That will teach you the other half of the major key signatures.

    Modes do have incidentals. However, I'm not sure exactly what it is that your asking. The book I mentioned has a section on modes.

    I forgot to add to read the stickies in this forum. They contain a plethora of valuable information.
  3. Strictly speaking, scales and modes don't have key signatures. Only keys do (hence the name).

    And you can't tab a key signature anyway. The reason is that key signatures refer to notes, and tab does not depict notes, only finger positions.

    It's a good thing that you're trying to get a handle on theory. If I can make a suggestion, though, with no disrespect meant, I'd suggest that you put aside the modes for now, which will tend to confuse you if you're still grappling with tonic chords and I IV V progressions. There are some basic concepts of tonality and root movement that will do you more good right now IMO. Just my $0.02.
  4. jmac


    May 23, 2007
    Horsham, Pa
    That's a good suggestion.
  5. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    I would agree. But it seems I have the knowledge, just not the jargon and correct terms.
    From what I got from Jmac, the I - IV- and V progression is the same thing as saying Root, Fourth, Fifth, or Root, Perfect fourth, Perfect Fifth no?

    Key Signature MUST be the wrong teminology. It's wierd, I looked up the circle of fourths, and I know and play them as well. It was all on the same chart when I learned it, odd.
    I'll put it terms I understand, hopefully I don't silly it up too much :smug:
    C Major has no flats or sharps. As you go around the circle of fifths, you get one more sharp as you change from C to G, then G to D, and so on and so on.
    A Minor is the start of the Minor Circle and it too has no flats or sharps.
    So the question is, do scales and modes follow the same pattern? Do they all have no flats or sharps at the start of their own circle(if they even have their own circle, that is:confused:)

    Hope that cleared it up a bit. Maybe a refresher course in what I allready know wouldn't hurt. Just so I could communicate things better.

    Thanks for the help!

  6. mailboxmoney


    Jun 29, 2006
    Hi Troy -
    Modes are groups of notes that are derived from scales, so they share the "key signature" of the scale from which they are derived. For example, D dorian is C major scale played from D to D (some might say D to C), no flats or sharps, so the key sig is C. Bb dorian is the 2nd mode of Ab major, so the key sig for Bb dorian is 4 flats. As another example, Locrian mode is a major scale played from the 7th degree to the 7th degree, so B locrian would use the key sig of C, no flats or sharps. F# locrian is the mode built from the 7th scale degree of G major, played from F# to F#, and has the key sig of G (one sharp). The notes in the F# locrian mode would be F#, G, A, B, C, D, E, F# (you don't really need the last F# since it's just the continuation of the mode an octave up).

    So then, in the circle of 5ths, D dorian is the 2nd mode of C, so no accidentals; A dorian is the 2nd mode of G, so 1 sharp; E dorian is the 2nd mode of D, so 2 sharps, etc. Likewise F lydian is the 4th mode of C, so no accidentals; C lydian is the 4th mode of G, so 1 sharp, etc. It works the same going the other way (through the flats, down the 5th cycle). E phrygian is the 3rd mode of C, so no accidentals; A phrygian is the 3rd mode of F, so 1 flat; D phrygian is the 3rd mode of Bb, so 2 flats.

    Key signatures are there to help with tonal center, but they also make manuscript easier (and reading) because you don't always have to write in the accidentals. In a song like Miles Davis' So What, the tonal center is D dorian, but the key sig is C. When the tonal center shifts up to Eb dorian, the key sig would (theoretically) change to Db (5 flats).

    Does that make sense?
  7. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA

    Oh definatly. That cleared up a whole bunch. So, for example, if I played D Dorian, I would go around the circle of fifths as if D was C, and shift the circle as appropiate, no?
  8. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
  9. pizzicato16


    Jan 24, 2008
    Yes this is all true so far. The way I came to think about modes helped me apply them in real time while playing, maybe it could help.

    Know the modes in order as you go up the scale and what they sound like. I will use the key of C to demonstrate.

    C = Ionian mode. It is the traditional C Major scale CDEFGABC

    D = Dorian mode. minor sounding DEFGABCD

    E = Phrygian mode. minor sounding EFGABCDE

    F = Lydian mode. major sounding FGABCDEF

    G = Mixolydian mode. major sounding G-------G

    A = Aeolian mode. The natural minor scale A-------A

    B = Locrian Mode. Diminished mode B---------B

    The type of mode it is (major, minor, diminished) tells you what chords you can use them with (minor modes can be used with minor chords, major modes over minor chords and so on)

    I was taught the acronym "I don't play lute much any longer" to remember them in ascending order.

    There is so much more to it than this of course, I happen to like talking about modes so I thought i'd throw in my $.02 :D
  10. @OP:

    Pursuant to my earlier post, let me suggest that you work through the stuff in this sticky thread before worrying too much about modes and the like:


    Don't worry too much about modes. There's some stuff about key, tonality, chords, etc. that would benefit you more right now. Here's another way to get at some of the stuff you're asking about: start by learning the characteristic intervals of a major scale (the distances between the notes) so that you can construct a major scale from any note.

    If W=whole step (2 frets) and H=half step (1 fret), the pattern that makes a major scale is this:


    So apply this to, say Bb. Taking Bb as the starting point, a whole step up from that (W) is C; another whole step up (W) is D; a half step up (H) is Eb; a whole step up (W) is F; another whole step up (W) is G; yet another whole step up (W) is A; and a half step up (H) is Bb again. Write them out, and you get

    Bb C D Eb F G A Bb

    See those two flatted notes, Bb and Eb? Those are the two notes that are flatted in the key sig of Bb major. Congratulations! You have just derived the key signature for Bb major. (BTW, if you want an easy way to remember the order the flats are written in in key sigs, just think of the strings of a 7-string bass tuned in 4ths: BEADGCF. The order of the sharps is just the reverse: FCGDAEB. Or just think: flats, up in fourths starting from B; sharps, up in 5ths starting from F.)

    Regarding key signature, keep this in mind. The key sig does not make the music be in a particular key. It does not determine the key, it reflects it. What determines the key is what actually gets played in the piece. A key sig is really just a notational convenience that makes writing in a given key easier to do, by lessening the need for accidentals. It also serves as a marker or signal of the key that can give the reader a head start in a sense. So really, the key of the piece comes first, and the key sig is just acknowledging what's happening.

    So if you do want to tackle modes, forget about what their key signature might be. Figure out instead what notes are in the mode. Also, I would suggest not getting too caught up in the idea that modes are necessarily derivatives of some scale. Fundamentally, that's IMO not the most sensible way to think about them. They're scales themselves, or modalities, on their own. Personally, I think it's more useful to learn the modes, if you're going to, from the same root--C ionian, C lydian, etc. This can be done by adapting the pattern I listed above:

    Major (ionian): WWHWWWH (for C: C D E F G A B C)
    Dorian: WHWWWHW (for C: C D Eb F G A Bb C)
    Phrygian: HWWWHWW (for C: C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C)
    Lydian: WWWHWWH (for C: C D E F# G A B C)
    Mixolydian: WWHWWHW (for C: C D E F G A Bb C)
    Aeolian: WHWWHWW (for C: C D Eb F G Ab Bb C)
    Locrian: HWWHWWW (for C: C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C)
  11. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    Everything from this post is much appreciated! I was really just looking for modes that are played throughout the neck (C- Ionian, D- Dorian, E- Phygian, ect ect) but I got so much more with the last post.

    I always played all the modes in the 'key' that put them in the center of the CoF. I never realized that you could easily go from a C - Ionian ( or major ) to a C- Dorian, to a C - Aeolian, then invert it for in the relative minor (A- Aeolian) and have every scale sound different.

    Even though its a small change from each, it's just a new way to apply it. I was too busy thinking each mode as being a seperate entity unto itself. And after reading that sticky on chord construction, theres a whole new aspect of may playing.

    The chord theory alone, is amazing. It lets me shy away from the guitat by knowing exactly what chord they are playing, and where I can play without adding dissonasance(sp?)

    Thanks guys! This thread, and this whole forum, has changed my bass playing in a way that is unexplainable!

    I'll see you all at the root notes! lol

  12. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Not to delve too deep into esoterica, but you can definitely have modal key signatures. If a tune is concieved with a mode as a tonic system or "key", like say, Scarborough Fair, you can definitely write it in a dorian key signature.
  13. Absolutely agreed, you could, and maybe you even should. After all, a key signature is just a convenience for notation, really.

    But my experience has been that, whether as a matter of convenience or of tradition or whatever, we don't use modal key signatures a lot at present. Although I firmly believe that, say, E dorian can be a key (in the fundamental sense) every bit as much as E major can be, the general trend of our usage has been to reserve "key" and thus "key signature" for major/minor. I should have clarified in my earlier post that key sigs belong to the keys we identify as major/minor keys by tradition and practice, not really because there's any absolute ironclad reason why you couldn't use them for modal music.

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