Modes?    Manny wrote recently asking about 'modes'

G'day Manny, nice to hear from you again.

.....Anyway, regarding modes. Most people, even experienced musicians, are probably not going to be very good at picking up if the song is in one of the unusual modes, and certainly not which one. It just doesn't come into our thinking much really.

Culturally, Western musicians have become familiar with what we call the "major" and "minor" modes / keys. Some of us are familiar with the "relative minor" mode, but that's about as far as it goes, in terms of being able to actually hear it when played.

In practice, to me, most people will start to wonder if the song is in a particularly unusual mode, when it just sounds a little bit ‘funny’ to them. That has been my experience anyway, when I find myself thinking, "Is that song in a major or a minor key?" ad if it's difficult to answer, I suspect it might be in one of the unusual modes. When you're reading a score of music, it's often easier to discern that a song is in one of the unusual modes, when you start to see accidental sharps and flats all over the place.

It seems as if most Western musicians, just haven't got a particularly developed ear for the modes. Because we just don't use them. Major and minor modes and that's about it. It's interesting when you look into the history of modes, because in the ancient Greek world or Roman world, they had a much greater awareness of modes and their emotional meaning. There were at least fourteen or so. And they were used for different emotional purposes.

Now, when I'm first working with beginning musicians, and I want to talk to them about major and minor chords and scales and what the differences are, I will often play them a major chord, followed by the minor version of the same chord. I then ask them, "What's the difference you hear in those two chords?" Students will usually offer the opinion that the major chord sounds a bit more "happy" whereas the minor chord sounds a bit "sad". That's about as far as our perceptions go. But in ancient Greece, they had certain modes for certain emotions. There was one mode that was used only for erotic songs, and women were forbidden from hearing them, because it would be far too arousing for them! They had particular modes for patriotic, marching songs for the army. There were modes for platonic love, clearly distinct from the erotic ones, and more! Audiences at the time, would have clearly known the difference and they would have known exactly what the emotional content was, even without hearing the lyrics, similar to the way most people can feel that happy or sad connotation of major and minor chords these days.

In terms of the real value of it all, there may not be much, at least for a musician, working mainly with popular songs these days. I suspect that when someone chooses to work in one of the modes, one of the unusual ones, they may be doing it just to deliberately make them think a different way about the music they are writing just to stir things up a bit and get a different result. Some of the earlier Beatles songs were written in different modes, and I have heard Paul McCartney talk about learning about the modes, and deliberately using one just to make him think a bit differently about what he was writing.....