Kitchieboy's Music Tutor
Learning to Read Music
(But Not Enough to Hurt Your Playing)

Ambiguous Modal Stuff - Kitchieboy's Music Tutor

Pentatonic and Beyond

The "modal" terminology works pretty well to makes sense of a lot of fiddle tunes, folk tunes, etc. which are in one key but seem to have the key signature for a different key. But it doesn't quite work unless the tune is "heptatonic" - uses all seven tones, A through G (allowing for sharps or flats).

If a tune uses all seven tones, plus an extra (sharped or natural or flat version of one of them), you can think of it as irregular. Some parts of the tune may be, for example, in Ionian mode, and other parts in Mixolydian.

But if the tune was deprived as a child, mugged in an alleyway, left out in the rain, or otherwise has fewer than all seven tones, it can become ambiguous what the mode (and sometimes what the key) is. By fewer than seven tones, I mean something like having A through G but missing any kind of F - no F natural and no F sharp either.

There are a lot of beautiful tunes which use less than all seven tones. Sometimes less is more.

To bring back the math, we can have "heptatonic" = all seven tones are there; "hexatonic" = one tone is missing; "pentatonic" = two tones are missing; and so on. Sometimes it's helpful to jot down which tone is missing, with a minus sign and tone number. Here are some examples.

Sometimes it is relaxing to play several bars in "nadatonic". It's so easy, you could do it in your sleep.
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