Modes for Piano

In music, modes are a “displaced scale played from root to root of a chord.” What this means is that if you take the scale tone 7th chords of say C major and play the C major scale with each scale tone chord beginning with the root note of each scale tone chord, you will be playing the various modes of the scale of C major. The table below illustrates the modes which exist in the various keys.

Chord DisplacementModeScale Degree
I MajorIonian1 – 1
II MinorDorian2 – 2
III MinorPhrygian3 – 3
IV MajorLydian4 – 4
V DominantMixolydian5 – 5
VI MinorAeolian6 – 6
VII Half DiminishedLocrian7 – 7

Using this information we construct the following table which shows the various modes in the scale of C Major.

ChordScaleDisplacementModeScale Degree
C Major 7thC MajorCIonianC – C
D Minor 7thC MajorDDorianD – D
E Minor 7thC MajorEPhrygianE – E
F Major 7thC MajorFLydianF – F
G Dominant 7thC MajorGMixolydianG – G
A Minor 7thC MajorAAeolianA – A
B Half Diminished 7thC MajorBLocrianB – B

With this information you can see that a good exercise would be to play the scale tone 7th chords in your left hand while playing the corresponding modes in the right. Of course, you will as always do this with all 12 major scales and the scale tone chords which go with these scales.

Learning these modes for the piano, along with the major scales and arpeggios, are very important in improvising on the piano. As you continue to practice you will see how combining these elements will improve your skill as a musician and piano player.