Locrian mode

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The Locrian mode is the seventh mode of the major scale. It is either a musical mode or simply a diatonic scale. On the piano, it is the scale that starts with B and only uses the white keys from there. Its ascending form consists of the key note, then: half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step.


Locrian mode


Locrian is the word used to describe the inhabitants of the ancient Greek regions of Locris. [1] Although the term occurs in several classical authors on music theory, including Cleonides (as an octave species) and Athenaeus (as an obsolete harmonia), there is no warrant for the modern usage of Locrian as equivalent to Glarean's Hyperaeolian mode, in either classical, Renaissance, or later phases of modal theory through the 18th century, or modern scholarship on ancient Greek musical theory and practice. [2]

The name first came to be applied to modal chant theory after the 18th century, [3] when it was used to describe the mode newly-numbered as mode 11, with final on B, ambitus from that note to the octave above, and with semitones therefore between the first and second, and fourth and fifth degrees. Its reciting tone (or tenor) is G, its mediant D, and it has two participants: E and F. [4] The final, as its name implies, is the tone on which the chant eventually settles, and corresponds to the tonic in tonal music. The reciting tone is the tone around which the melody principally centres, [5] the mediant is named from its position between the final and reciting tone, and the participant is an auxiliary note, generally adjacent to the mediant in authentic modes and, in the plagal forms, coincident with the reciting tone of the corresponding authentic mode. [6]

Modern Locrian

In modern practice, the Locrian may be considered to be a minor scale with the second and fifth scale degrees lowered a semitone. The Locrian mode may also be considered to be a scale beginning on the seventh scale degree of any Ionian, or major scale. The Locrian mode has the formula:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Its tonic chord is a diminished triad (Bdim in the Locrian mode of the diatonic scale corresponding to C major). This mode's diminished fifth and the Lydian mode's augmented fourth are the only modes to have a tritone above the tonic.


The Locrian mode is the only modern diatonic mode in which the tonic triad is a diminished chord, which is considered dissonant. This is because the interval between the root and fifth of the chord is a diminished fifth. For example, the tonic triad of B Locrian is made from the notes B, D, F. The root is B and the fifth is F. The diminished-fifth interval between them is the cause for the chord's dissonance.[ citation needed ]

Locrian mode

The name "Locrian" is borrowed from music theory of ancient Greece. However, what is now called the Locrian mode was what the Greeks called the Diatonic Mixolydian tonos. The Greeks used the term "Locrian" as an alternative name for their "Hypodorian", or "Common" tonos, with a scale running from mese to nete hyperbolaion, which in its diatonic genus corresponds to the modern Aeolian mode. [7] In his reform of modal theory in the Dodecachordon (1547), Heinrich Glarean named this division of the octave "Hyperaeolian" and printed some musical examples (a three-part polyphonic example specially commissioned from his friend Sixtus Dietrich, and the Christe from a mass by Pierre de La Rue), though he did not accept Hyperaeolian as one of his twelve modes. [8] The usage of the term "Locrian" as equivalent to Glarean's Hyperaeolian or the ancient Greek (diatonic) Mixolydian, however, has no authority before the 19th century. [9]


In practical terms it should be said that few rock songs that use modes such as the phrygian, Lydian, or locrian actually maintain a harmony rigorously fixed on them. What usually happens is that the scale is harmonized in [chords with perfect] fifths and the riffs are then played [over] those [chords]. ...[Slipknot's] track 'Everything Ends' uses an A locrian scale with the fourth note sometimes flattened. [10]

There are brief passages in works by Sergei Rachmaninov (Prelude in B minor, op. 32, no. 10), Paul Hindemith ( Ludus Tonalis ), and Jean Sibelius (Symphony No. 4 in A minor, op. 63) that have been, or may be, regarded as in the Locrian mode. [11] Claude Debussy's Jeux has three extended passages in the Locrian mode. [12]

The theme of the second movement ("Turandot Scherzo") of Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (1943) alternates sections in Mixolydian and Locrian modes, ending in Locrian. [13]

English folk musician John Kirkpatrick's song "Dust to Dust" was written in the Locrian mode, [14] backed by his concertina. The Locrian mode is not at all traditional in English music, but was used by Kirkpatrick as a musical innovation. [15]

Björk's "Army of Me" is a rare example of a pop song whose verse is written in the Locrian mode. [16]

Various metal artists such as Metallica and Slayer have used the Locrian scale's diminished second and fifth intervals in chromatic riffs.

In terms of true Locrian, rather than simply using Locrian scale degrees within octatonic or chromatic scales, Symphony X used Locrian in parts of the song "Sea of Lies".

Slipknot's "Spiders" is written in the Locrian mode instrumentally, although the vocal melody frequently hits the fifth scale degree without flattening it (as in Phrygian), often clashing with the lowered fifth of the Locrian piano and bass parts.

The bassline in The Strokes' Juicebox is in Locrian.

The song "Gliese 710," from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's 2022 album Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava, is in Locrian, following the album's theme of basing each song around one of the Greek modes. [17]

Related Research Articles

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In music theory, the term mode or modus is used in a number of distinct senses, depending on context.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Major scale</span> Musical scale made of seven notes

The major scale is one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music. It is one of the diatonic scales. Like many musical scales, it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note.

In jazz, the altered scale, altered dominant scale, Palamidian Scale, or Super Locrian scale is a seven-note scale that is a dominant scale where all non-essential tones have been altered. This means that it comprises the three irreducibly essential tones that define a dominant seventh chord, which are root, major third, and minor seventh and that all other chord tones have been altered. These are:

A jazz scale is any musical scale used in jazz. Many "jazz scales" are common scales drawn from Western European classical music, including the diatonic, whole-tone, octatonic, and the modes of the ascending melodic minor. All of these scales were commonly used by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, often in ways that directly anticipate jazz practice. Some jazz scales, such as the bebop scales, add additional chromatic passing tones to the familiar diatonic scales.

In music, the subtonic is the degree of a musical scale which is a whole step below the tonic note. In a major key, it is a lowered, or flattened, seventh scale degree. It appears as the seventh scale degree in the natural minor and descending melodic minor scales but not in the major scale. In major keys, the subtonic sometimes appears in borrowed chords. In the movable do solfège system, the subtonic note is sung as te.

Dorian mode or Doric mode can refer to three very different but interrelated subjects: one of the Ancient Greek harmoniai ; one of the medieval musical modes; or—most commonly—one of the modern modal diatonic scales, corresponding to the piano keyboard's white notes from D to D, or any transposition of itself.

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Mixolydian mode may refer to one of three things: the name applied to one of the ancient Greek harmoniai or tonoi, based on a particular octave species or scale; one of the medieval church modes; or a modern musical mode or diatonic scale, related to the medieval mode.

The Aeolian mode is a musical mode or, in modern usage, a diatonic scale also called the natural minor scale. On the white piano keys, it is the scale that starts with A. Its ascending interval form consists of a key note, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step. That means that, in A aeolian, you would play A, move up a whole step to B, move up a half step to C, then up a whole step to D, a whole step to E, a half step to F, a whole step to G, and a final whole step to a high A.

The Phrygian mode can refer to three different musical modes: the ancient Greek tonos or harmonia, sometimes called Phrygian, formed on a particular set of octave species or scales; the Medieval Phrygian mode, and the modern conception of the Phrygian mode as a diatonic scale, based on the latter.

The modern Lydian mode is a seven-tone musical scale formed from a rising pattern of pitches comprising three whole tones, a semitone, two more whole tones, and a final semitone.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heptatonic scale</span> Musical scale with seven pitches

A heptatonic scale is a musical scale that has seven pitches, or tones, per octave. Examples include the major scale or minor scale; e.g., in C major: C D E F G A B C—and in the relative minor, A minor, natural minor: A B C D E F G A; the melodic minor scale, A B C D E FGA ascending, A G F E D C B A descending; the harmonic minor scale, A B C D E F GA; and a scale variously known as the Byzantine, and Hungarian, scale, C D E F G A B C. Indian classical theory postulates seventy-two seven-tone scale types, collectively called thaat, whereas others postulate twelve or ten seven-tone scale types.

The Hypolydian mode, literally meaning "below Lydian", is the common name for the sixth of the eight church modes of medieval music theory. The name is taken from Ptolemy of Alexandria's term for one of his seven tonoi, or transposition keys. This mode is the plagal counterpart of the authentic fifth mode.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hypodorian mode</span>

The Hypodorian mode, a musical term literally meaning 'below Dorian', derives its name from a tonos or octave species of ancient Greece which, in its diatonic genus, is built from a tetrachord consisting of a semitone followed by two whole tones. The rising scale for the octave is a single tone followed by two conjoint tetrachords of this type. This is roughly the same as playing all the white notes of a piano from A to A: A | B C D E | (E) F G A. Although this scale in medieval theory was employed in Dorian and Hypodorian, from the mid-sixteenth century and in modern music theory they came to be known as the Aeolian and Hypoaeolian modes.

In music, the major Locrian scale, also called the Locrian major scale, is the scale obtained by sharpening the second and third notes of the diatonic Locrian mode. With a tonic of C, it consists of the notes C D E F G A B. It can be described as a whole tone scale extending from G to E, with F introduced within the diminished third interval from E to G. The scale therefore shares with the Locrian mode the property of having a diminished fifth above the tonic.

Ionian mode is a musical mode or, in modern usage, a diatonic scale also called the major scale.

A Gregorian mode is one of the eight systems of pitch organization used in Gregorian chant.

The Hypoaeolian mode, literally meaning "below Aeolian", is the name assigned by Henricus Glareanus in his Dodecachordon (1547) to the musical plagal mode on A, which uses the diatonic octave species from E to the E an octave above, divided by the final into a second-species fourth (semitone–tone–tone) plus a first-species fifth (tone–semitone–tone–tone): E F G A + A B C D E. The tenor or reciting tone is C, mediant B, the participants are the low and high Es, the conceded modulations are G and D, and the absolute initials are E, G, A, B, and C.


  1. "Locrian" . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. Harold S. Powers, "Locrian", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001); David Hiley, "Mode", The Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Alison Latham (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) ISBN   978-0-19-866212-9 OCLC 59376677.
  3. Harold S. Powers, "Locrian", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001)
  4. W[illiam] S[myth] Rockstro, "Locrian Mode", A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (A.D. 1450–1880), by Eminent Writers, English and Foreign, vol. 2, edited by George Grove, D. C. L. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1880): 158.
  5. Charlotte Smith, A Manual of Sixteenth-Century Contrapuntal Style (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1989): 14. ISBN   978-0-87413-327-1.
  6. W[illiam] S[myth] Rockstro "Modes, the Ecclesiastical", A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (A.D. 1450–1880), by Eminent Writers, English and Foreign, vol. 2, edited by George Grove, D. C. L., 340–43 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1880): 342.
  7. Thomas J. Mathiesen, "Greece, §1: Ancient; 6: Music Theory". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  8. Harold S. Powers, "Hyperaeolian", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan, 2001.
  9. Harold S. Powers, "Locrian", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  10. Rooksby, Rikky (2010). Riffs: How to Create and Play Great Guitar Riffs . Backbeat. ISBN   9781476855486.
  11. Vincent Persichetti, Twentieth Century Harmony (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961): 42.
  12. Eduardo Larín, "'Waves' in Debussy's Jeux d'eau", Ex Tempore 12, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2005).
  13. Gene Anderson, "The Triumph of Timelessness over Time in Hindemith's 'Turandot Scherzo' from Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber", College Music Symposium 36 (1996): 1–15. Citation on 3.
  14. Boden, Jon (21 April 2012). "Dust To Dust « A Folk Song A Day". Archived from the original on 3 October 2012.
  15. Kirkpatrick, John (Summer 2000). "The Art of Writing Songs". English Dance & Song. 62 (2): 27. ISSN   0013-8231. EFDSS 55987 . Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  16. Hein, Ethan (17 November 2015). "Musical simples: Army Of Me". The Ethan Hein Blog. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  17. Anderson, Carys (2022-09-07). "King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard announce three albums dropping in October, share "Ice V": Stream". Consequence. Retrieved 2022-10-13.

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