Church mode

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The modes
See also
key Modal scales

The church modes ( Latin modi, toni, tropi ), also church tones , tones (Latin Toni ) or modern modes (plural of Latin mode , “measure”, “unit”, “rule”, “regulation”, “kind”, “manner” "," Melody "," Sound "), form the tonal ordering principle of occidental music from the early Middle Ages to the 16th century, with immediate aftermath up to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The system is based on a series of tones adopted by the Greeks . It starts with a capital A (later G, denoted by the Greek letter Γ) and ends with a 1 . However, this tone series is not to be understood as a scale in today's sense, but as a tone system that is based on the model of the ancient Greek Systema Téleion . It differs from this essentially in that the arrangement of the partly connected, partly separated tetrachords has been shifted one tone down, so that the final tones (d, e, f, g) of the "old" church tones form a tetrachord. The individual church tones (modes) are also not scales in the current sense, but scale-like excerpts from the tone system (“octave genres”) that contain the tone material of related melodies.

Each mode (directional models) are originally particular, in the melodies in recurring phrases, for example, by the phrase, finally with the melodies of the same mode, the Finalis reach. Decisive for assigning a melody to a mode are not the arrangement of the whole and semitone steps, as in today's major and minor , but the target tone (finalis), the main tone (repercussa, tenor), the range ( ambitus ) of the melody and certain melodic steps Twists.

The modes are also assigned the terms Doric , Phrygian , etc. , derived from ancient Greek music theory ; however, these have a completely different meaning here and have nothing to do with the Greek system.



The oldest surviving evidence of the use of the system of eight modes (church modes) in the key order of the repertoire of Gregorian chant is the tonar by Centula / Saint-Riquier, probably written shortly before 800, which was followed by others. From the 9th century onwards, the sound material of Gregorian chant was also theoretically examined and presented, for example in the treatise Musica Albini attributed to Alcuin . The medieval theorists of ars musica were of the opinion that the melodies had been given to people by the Holy Spirit and assumed that there was a divine order in them. This order as a characteristic of beauty was seen in the melodic modes. Their presentation made it possible for the knowledgeable musician , the cantor and the schola to give instructions for singing and interpreting Gregorian chant down to the individual notes. The point was to rationalize the usual musical practice.

Representation of Deuterus (III. Mode) with French neumes and tone letters from the tone series a to p.
First stanza of the Johannes hymn Ut queant laxis . Diastematic representation with tone letters above the text and solmization syllables on the edge.
The hand as an aid in learning the modes. Above the names of Noenoeane formulas

In the investigations, which were carried out increasingly between the 10th and the 12th century, Boethius ' monochord theory was applied to the theory of modality, the doctrine of octo echoes , and this was changed accordingly.

The Micrologus , written by Guido von Arezzo around 1025, mentions this doctrine of modality, for example, in the two chapters

  • VII: About the relationship of tones according to four keys and
  • XII: About the division of the four keys into eight .

For the four keys, Guido used the Greek-derived names Protus, Deuterus, Tritus and Tetrardus, and to differentiate the authentic (original) and plagal (derived) variants of these four keys, the numbering from the first to the eighth tone.

Two systems of tone letters were used:

a b c d e f G H i i k l m n O p
Γ A. B. C. D. E. F. G a c d e f G a

Each Gregorian melody can be assigned to one of eight diatonic modes, which are best characterized as families of melodies. In each mode there are excellent pitches that are heard as outstanding and that play important roles in the formation of the melody. In addition, there are psalm tone formulas that do not fit into this scheme, such as the tone peregrinus .

The melody progresses through the text word for word, section by section, gradually becoming different tones. You then master a certain, sometimes only short piece of the melody, only to be replaced by a new structural level. This creates a sequence of transitions between strong and weak levels, tensions and relaxations, which ultimately lead to the final turn. The modes could also be distinguished from singers who were ignorant of reading and who were taught the melodies orally; because the modes could be experienced by memorized intonation formulas or Noenoeane formulas (called melodiae , formulas , moduli , neumae regulares or similar), which introduced the sound of the respective mode. The teacher could also use his hand to help.


Since the Middle Ages, the ethos of the modes has been discussed again and again, according to which the different modes are sometimes used more often for certain forms of expression or times in the church year due to their recognizable peculiarities . The church modes had and therefore also have symbolic meaning, which was partly adopted from the scales of antiquity with the same name (but structurally different) . For example, the veneration of the Virgin Mary was often written in the Lydian mode, but the third movement of the string quartet op. 132 by Ludwig van Beethoven also bears the heading "Holy song of thanksgiving to the deity by a recovered man, in the Lydian key". Beethoven's Lydian was also an expression of the pastoral , but this is only expressed in a “pastoral” F major in VI. Symphony from (F as Lydian degree), with a certain tendency towards double-dominant cadences. In the ruins of Cluny Abbey , two capitals with four reliefs each were found, which represent the eight church tones used in the Middle Ages in the form of people and hexameters .


Church modes were used in early Christian liturgy - later in both the Western and Eastern churches - to define the melodic field of responsories and antiphons . The modes in Gregorian chant were of fundamental importance for the development of Western music. They initially represented the entirety of the scales used in the early Middle Ages and were mainly focused on monophonic music. They therefore form the basis of the melody . See: Guidonic Hand → Context . Guido von Arezzo described the system of church tones in his writings in the 11th century . As polyphony develops, the other modal scales gradually recede compared to major and minor. In addition, due to the purity of fifths of the confinalis, they form the basis for the later development of the clauses and cadences and thus also the function-harmonious development of the graded theory in the 18th century . In the light music and also in the folk music modes also appear, the Doric mode is the "neutral scale basis" of jazz . Modal scales can also be found in rock music , for example in Van Halen , Uli Jon Roth , Joe Satriani and Steve Vai . Just as the controlled film music like the scale or chord progressions, which are based on the Kirchenmodalität. In addition, songs are sung in many parishes today, the melodies of which are in the church keys (see “Examples” below).


A church key (church scale) can begin on any note or be transposed there, provided that the interval structure of the respective mode is retained. For the sake of simplicity, the following note examples are based on the root tones of the C major scale:

c - d - e - f - g - a - h

Distinction between authentic and plagal

In the Middle Ages the modes u. a. determined by their pitch range (ambitus), so that modes with the same finalis but different ambitus were differentiated into authentic and plagal . In the authentic modes, no note is usually lower than a major second below the finalis. In the plagal modes, on the other hand, the range is shifted downwards so that the lowest note can be up to a fourth (here called tetrachord ) below the final; the finalis is more in the middle of the set sound material. Therefore, the plagal modes, in contrast to the authentic ones, can be recognized by their prefix "Hypo-" (ancient Greek under ).

The church scales , however, are not identical to the ancient Greek scales of the same name . In contrast to the church tones, the plagal scales in the Greek system were not lower, but higher than the authentic ones. This is due to the fact that the ancient Greek notion of “high” corresponded to what we mean by “low”, and vice versa; accordingly, the Greek scales were notated from "above" to "below".

Today's church modes
The eight octave genres of ancient Greek music. If one takes into account the correspondence between Hypomixolydian and Dorian, the number of keys is reduced to seven. Hypodoric is usually notated an octave higher.

The overview of the church modes on the right contains the original eight "old" church tones as well as the "new" church tones Aeolian and Ionic, introduced by Glareanus in 1547, along with their hypovariants.

In modern music, the understanding of the modes has changed. Today they are viewed and used as modal scales , the range of which is in principle unlimited upwards and downwards, making a distinction between authentic and plagal modes obsolete.


Finalis and Confinalis

Each mode usually ends on the so-called finalis , the final note or, as we would say today, the root note of the scale. There is also another special tone, the confinalis , also affinalis , which can serve as a shunt tone . In the authentic modes, the confinalis is a fifth or sixth above the finalis. In the plagal modes, the confinalis is a third below the confinalis of the associated authentic mode, unless this tone falls on an H. In this case it is shifted up to a C. Similarly, stage G is shifted up to A.

Recitation tone

A special tone was the main tone (recitation tone in Latin repercussa , also called repercussion tone , tenor or tuba ), which was of particular importance in medieval chants. The recitation tone was either preferred for longer stretches as the tone center around which the scope (ambitus) of the melody revolved, or it was used again after respiratory caesura. In the psalm tones, the recitation tone is the tone on which much of the psalm text is recited. In the plagal modes, the main tone is a third or fourth above the finalis; in the authentic modes, with the exception of the Phrygian mode, this corresponds to the confinalis.


The range (ambitus) of the individual church tones was basically limited to one octave within the framework of the system. However, for practical reasons it was soon extended by a few levels that could be used as an exception. Theoretically, a distinction was made between the regular ambitus and pitches that were only allowed per licentiam . So z. B. the authentic modes according to the rule up to the octave above the finalis, after the Licentia however also up to the ninth or even decime. In the plagal modes, an increase to the fifth (regula) or sixth (licentia) was possible. In the authentic modes, falling below the final tone by one second was already allowed, except for Lydian (5th tone), where the finalis was the absolute lower limit of the ambitus. In the plagal modes, the permitted descent was limited by the lower fourth or fifth.

Systematic limits

For some church modes, the position of the confinalis or the recitation tone also changed over the centuries.

In addition, the different church modes were assigned their own rhythmic, melodic and articulatory aspects in earlier times. Some variants of the modes, especially in Eastern Church forms, contain thirds and quarter tones.

If the key changes within a piece, the mode (or tone ) is also known as the Tonus peregrinus ("foreign tone").

The eight ancient church modes, or modes

Western church name Eastern church name
(Gregorian name)
Finalis Repercussa
Lowest note
1st mode: Doric First tone (Protus authenticus) d a d
2nd mode: Hypodoric Second tone (Protus plagalis) d f A.
3rd mode: Phrygian Third tone (Deuterus authenticus) e (h) c e
4th mode: Hypophrygic Fourth tone (Deuterus plagalis) e (g) a H
5th mode: Lydian Fifth tone (Tritus authenticus) f c f
6. Mode: Hypolydian Sixth tone (tritus plagalis) f a c
7. Mode: Mixolydian Seventh tone (Tetrardus authenticus) G d G
8. Mode: Hypomixolydian Eighth tone (Tetrardus plagalis) G c d

The four new church modes

These correspond to the later tones of natural minor (Aeolian) and major (Ionic). It is noteworthy that these scales, which are so widespread in today's music, were initially only viewed as variants of other, partially transposed church modes: In the Doric mode, the note B can already occur in the Middle Ages. If you transpose this mode diatonic so that its root is a, you get the scale that will later be called "Aeolian". The scale, later called "ionic", is similarly obtained as a variant of the Lydian key with a deeply altered b. These alterations were only noted in cases of doubt, otherwise the performer had to find the correct alteration himself. When performing polyphonic works from the late Middle Ages based on a Lydian scale, one encounters that the deep alteration of the b must have been the rule rather than the exception. The Ionic (major) and the Aeolian (minor) scales were used as early as the Middle Ages, but it was not until the Renaissance that they were described as independent scales in music theory. An important treatise on these modes can be found in Glarean ( 1547 ).

Western church name Eastern church name Finalis Repercussa
Lowest note
  9. Mode: Aeolian Ninth tone a e a
10. Mode: Hypoaeolian Tenth tone a c e
11. Mode: Ionic Eleventh tone c G c
12. Mode: Hypoionic Twelfth tone c e G

Modern extensions


To complete this, Locrian and its plagal counterpart Hypolocrian were introduced as the last modes. In the music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this mode is neither described theoretically nor used in practice. Locrian is the only mode that has a dissonant diminished fifth on the fifth degree. In music practice, this scale is rarely used as a basis.

In the Evangelical Hymn book there is a modern example of the use of Locrian: the melody of the song 533 You can not fall any lower, written by Hans Georg Bertram in 1986 . When accompanying this song, one notices that the diminished triad above the keynote forces one to switch to another key.

Western church name Finalis Repercussa
Lowest note
Locrian H no H
Hypolocratic H no f

Heptatonia Prima and Secunda

If one sees the church modes as a system of different heptatonic (i.e. seven-step) modes based on the same scale, a similar seven-step system based on the acoustic scale can be formed, which is also known as Heptatonia Secunda . Accordingly, the church modes and their modes can also be referred to as Heptatonia Prima .

Modes in polyphony

Since the church modes were limited to about an octave in terms of their range ( ambitus ), such a disposition scheme was used for polyphonic singing (ideal-typical example for the 1st mode, Dorian):

voice Ambitus and finalis (in bold) mode
Cantus (soprano) d ′ - a ′ - d ′ ′ Doric
Altus a - d ′ - a ′ Hypodoric
tenor d - a - d ′ Doric
Bassus A - d - a Hypodoric

Cantus and tenor sing in Dorian, Altus and Bassus in Hypodorian. Both Dorian and Hypodorian have the same finalis. They only differ in their ambitus. Cantus and tenor are referred to as the “dominant voices”. Accordingly, the Altus and Bassus voices adapt to the other two as “serving voices” , taking into account the rules of counterpoint .

The ambitus of the voice could also be exceeded or undercut within the scope of certain “licenses”.

Derivation using the keyboard

Keyboard in the 7-2-3 system

The keys can be determined on a piano keyboard using a semitone formula. For example, if you use the Ionic scale with the formula “2 2 1 2 2 2 1” with C as the base note, you first go 2 semitones to the right on the piano and thus get the note D, then increase by 2 semitones to the note To get to E, a semitone to get to F, and so on. This means that the Ionic scale in C consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C.

A keyboard in the modern 7-2-3 system is in this case the white keys on the piano, the natural notes . Conversely, the semitone formula for the ionic mode can be determined by starting with the note C to count the number of semitones up to the next white key.

When determining certain scales you sometimes end up on black keys, the enharmonic notes . If you start counting in the Aeolian mode with the root C, the third note (between D and E), sixth note (between G and A) and seventh note (between B and C) falls on a black key. Due to the confusion of the Enharmonic , the names of these notes are chosen in such a way that they do not contain a letter already intended for another key. Since z. For example, if the letter D has already been assigned for the second note, the third note is not designated as D♯ but as E ♭, because the letter E is not assigned otherwise in the scale. If you start counting with the note C, a minor scale is characterized by the fact that the third note is denoted by ♭. The third note is thus aharmonic in minor scales with the base note (i.e. not periodic ), which means that a piece written in minor is perceived by a listener as "sad". Conversely, a piece written in major is perceived as “happy”.

The modes also have a further notation that is independent of the base note, which is based on the numbering of the tones. The notes are designated by a prefixed ♭ or ♯ based on their position relative to the corresponding note in the ionic mode.

If you start counting on the sixth note of a major scale, you get the associated minor scale. If you start counting on the third note in a minor scale, you get the associated major scale. For example, the A minor scale is obtained from the C major scale, while the F major scale is obtained from the D minor scale.

mode Type Formula
(in semitones)
(base grade chosen so
that natural grades are obtained)
(with base grade C)
Ionic major 2 2 1 2 2 2 1 C → D → E → F → G → A → B → C C → D → E → F → G → A → B → C 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Doric minor 2 1 2 2 2 1 2 D → E → F → G → A → B → C → D C → D → E ♭ → F → G → A → B ♭ → C 1 2 ♭ 3 4 5 6 ♭ 7
Phrygian minor 1 2 2 2 1 2 2 E → F → G → A → B → C → D → E C → D ♭ → E ♭ → F → G → A ♭ → B ♭ → C 1 ♭ 2 ♭ 3 4 5 ♭ 6 ♭ 7
Lydian major 2 2 2 1 2 2 1 F → G → A → B → C → D → E → F C → D → E → F♯ → G → A → B → C 1 2 3 ♯4 5 6 7
Mixolydian major 2 2 1 2 2 1 2 G → A → B → C → D → E → F → G C → D → E → F → G → A → B ♭ → C 1 2 3 4 5 6 ♭ 7
Aeolian minor 2 1 2 2 1 2 2 A → B → C → D → E → F → G → A C → D → E ♭ → F → G → A ♭ → B ♭ → C 1 2 ♭ 3 4 5 ♭ 6 ♭ 7
Locrian minor 1 2 2 1 2 2 2 B → C → D → E → F → G → A → B C → D ♭ → E ♭ → F → G ♭ → A ♭ → B ♭ → C 1 ♭ 2 ♭ 3 4 ♭ 5 ♭ 6 ♭ 7
  1. a b For easier counting, the letter B, which is common in the English-speaking area, was used here instead of the letter H, which is common in the German-speaking area.


Also in today's church hymn books - e.g. B. in the Catholic Praise to God (GL) from 2013 or 1975 (GL 1975 ) or in the Evangelical Hymnal (EG) - there is a series of songs that are in the old modes. The seal "ö" (for " ecumenical ") denotes versions that have been developed by the working group for ecumenical songs .

1st tone (Doric)

Rorate , Gregorian melody (sung in Latin)
Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes , Gregorian melody (sung in Latin)
  • Victimae paschali laudes (The Easter lamb who was sacrificed; Easter sequence , GL 320, 11th century)
  • Lord, send your son down to us (GL 222, 1608)
  • God's Lamb, Lord Jesus Christ (GL 1975 161, 1945)
  • We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ (EG 107, GL 297, 1560)
Pentecost sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus , Gregorian melody (sung in Latin)
Sequence of the funeral mass Dies irae

2nd tone (Hypodoric)

3rd tone (Phrygian)

Te Deum (Gregorian melody)

4th tone (Hypophrygian)

The grain of wheat must die

5th tone (Lydian)

6th tone (Hypolydian)

Ecce lignum crucis
  • Ecce lignum crucis (See the cross; GL 308,2, 9th century)
  • Now we ask the Holy Spirit (GL 348, EG 124)
  • Easter Hallelujah (GL 175.2)
  • Kyrie XVII C, Advent and Lent (GL 117)

7th tone (Mixolydian)

Introitus Puer natus est , Gregorian chant

8.Tone (Hypomixolydian)

Pentecost hymn Veni creator spiritus

See also


Web links

References and comments

  1. a b Willibald Gurlitt , Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (Ed.): Riemann Musik Lexikon , Sachteil, Mainz: Schott 1967, p. 455 f
  2. ^ Karl H. Wörner: History of Music. Göttingen 1965, p. 80.
  3. Hartmut Möller, Rudolph Stephan (ed.): The music of the Middle Ages . Laaber 1991, p. 152 f.
  4. Latin text from Martin Gerbert (Ed.): Scriptores ecclesiastici de musica sacra potissimum . 3 vols. Typis San-Blasianis, St. Blaise 1784; reprint Olms, Hildesheim 1963, Volume 1, pp. 26-27
  5. ^ Margaretha Landwehr von Pragenau: Writings on ARS MUSICA. Wilhelmshaven 1986, p. 7 ff.
  6. ^ Margaretha Landwehr von Pragenau: Writings on ARS MUSICA. Wilhelmshaven 1986, pp. 97-103, Capitum XIX (nineteenth chapter) from Aurelian von Réomé: Musica Diciplina . See also Aurelian's distinction between Musicus and Cantor in Capitulum VII, pp. 94–97. The opposition between Musicus and Cantor was  frequently discussed by theorists in the 8th and 9th centuries, building on the final chapter of the first book of Boethius' De [institutione] musica libri quinque .
  7. ^ Term of the 12th century
  8. ^ Joseph Smits van Waesberghe: Music Education. Teaching and theory of music in the Middle Ages. Leipzig 1969, p. 90
  9. ^ Terence Bailey: The Intonation Formulas of Western Chant . Toronto 1974
  10. ^ Joseph Smits van Waesberghe: Music Education. Teaching and theory of music in the Middle Ages. Leipzig 1969, p. 122f., See also illustration on the right
  11. On the Ethos of Church Tones
  12. Guido's letter to the monk Michael about an unknown song
  13. See for example Karl-Werner Gümpel: On the interpretation of the Tonus definition of the Tonale Sancti Bernardi (= treatises of the humanities and social sciences class of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. Born 1959, No. 2).
  14. Luigi Agustoni, Johannes Berchmans Göschl: Introduction to the Interpretation of Gregorian Chant , Volume 1: Basics, Chapter 1.3.2: The eight modes of the octo echo . Gustav Bosse Verlag, Kassel (1995)
  15. In addition to the correct spelling authenticus , the incorrect spelling authentus is also found quite often in the literature .
  16. Markus Gorski: Kirchentonarten II. In: lehrklä Retrieved January 12, 2018 .
  17. Bernhard Meier: Old keys, represented in the instrumental music of the 16th and 17th centuries . Bärenreiter, Basel 1992, pp. 20-25