Edikan Benson Abia

Here’s a video tutorial by Edikan Benson Abia on 7 modes in the recorder instrument. This article is a recorder player’s view on modes. It covers all 7 modes in the recorder instrument.

According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, a mode is a type of music scale coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviours.

Simply, modes are scales (a series of musical notes arranged in a distinct order) which comes with its own unique characteristics based on its note arrangement, what chords can be played to accompany it, and even the feeling it elicits. Because of the latter, in my view, different recorder modes find themselves at home to different genres or different feelings depicted when playing an instrument (like in my case, the recorder).

As a standard, there are 7 modes in the recorder. These are derived from the diatonic major scale (there are modes derived from other scales as well but we are focusing on diatonic major scales here). These scales are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. Each have their own formula and as I give my views about them individually, from a recorder player’s view. I will also indicate their formula.


The formulae will be depicted as T for tone and s for semitone.

Alright, let’s get to it, then.

Ionian (TTsTTTs)

This is basically the major scale. It’s a common scale in almost all genres of Western music.

This scale is what I would describe as sunny and optimistic. It pairs well with the equally happy major triad chord of its root note, or as with jazz, the major tetrad chord referred to as a major 7th.

SEE ALSO: How To Play The Recorder Tutorial

Dorian (TsTTTsT)

This is a minor scale, but not minor scale as you know it.

If you start your C major scale from D and end with D, you get D dorian mode. You can use the above formula to get it in any key.

I particularly enjoyed playing this on the recorder due to its strong folk feel. Reminds me in particular of Irish folk music.

This mode, unlike the sunny Ionian, is more serious. You could even say, like grey skies over a grim-looking field. It pairs well with minor and minor 7th chords of its root note.

Phrygian (sTTTsTT)

Another minor scale but with a huge twist.

If you start your C major scale from E and end with E, you get E Phrygian. You can use the above formula to get the Phrygian mode on any key.

I would describe the Phrygian mode as dark and mysterious. Reminiscent of Middle-eastern, Spanish or Indian music. From this mode, you can get scales with stronger leanings to Turkish and Arabic music styles such as Phrygian dominant and the Byzantine scale.

It feels awkward on recorder at first but if you work on your chromatic scales before trying it out, it gets easier.

This mode also pairs well with minor or minor 7th chords.

Lydian (TTTsTTs)

Easily my favourite mode to play on recorder. This major recorder scale can be formed from the above formula or from starting your C major from F to get F Lydian. It has only one difference between it and Ionian, its sharp 4th note.

Playing this mode on the recorder, I felt like I was floating. It transcends Ionian sunny, it’s almost heavenly, out of this world. Lydian mode had more minutes in the YouTube video below (I had a YouTube video done on modes with the recorder, the link is below) because I almost couldn’t stop playing. This mode would be great for more reflective, calming music like New Age or Ambient genres.

This mode also goes, just like Ionian, with major or major 7th chords.

Mixolydian (TTsTTsT)

This major scale can be formed by starting with G in your C major to get G Mixolydian, or using the above formula. It has only one difference from Ionian mode – its flat 7th note.

This mode, I would describe as “cool”. It has that flat 7th that gives it a more minor finish. This hint of seriousness in Mixolydian makes it great for blues and especially rock.

Unlike the other major modes, this mode is more at home with dominant 7th chords, though it still works with regular major chords.

Aeolian (TsTTsTT)

This is your regular relative minor recorder scale.

This mode is sad and occasionally romantic in its tone. Quite common with pop and R&B love songs about heartbreak, it is also used in classical music (although more commonly as melodic minor).

It is such a touching scale to play on a recorder. And as a minor scale, it goes with minor and minor 7th chords.

Locrian (sTTsTTT)

This is neither a major nor a minor scale of the recorder, but is regarded as a diminished scale. Start with B in your C major scale and you’ll get B Locrian.

This scale is, I’ve got to say, creepy. The darkest of the modes and the weirdest of the modes.

This is the only mode among this collection of modes with a flat 5th note. This creates a problem when improvising with it. A problem I went around in the YouTube video below by using its flat 5th as a passing blues scale note, giving it a jazz feel. Its eccentricities make it useful in hard rock.

This mode pairs with diminished or half-diminished 7th chords. Though as I showed in the YouTube video, this rule can be cleverly broken.

One thing I learned doing this was that by learning these modes, I was inadvertently learning other keys too.

So, hope you gain something from the recorder player’s view on modes and you have learnt how to play a recorder modes? if you plan on learning these 7 recorder modes, I say good luck fellow recorder player or instrumentalist in your quest to improve your playing.

  1. Chacha Vocals 3 years ago

    Wow. This is impressive. Thanks @abia for this insightful piece.

    • Author
      Edikan Benson 3 years ago

      Thanks Madam Chacha. Glad to contribute to the world of music.

  2. Esther wilson 3 years ago

    Woow! This is amazing brother! You’re super good! Never knew the recorder can do this amazing things. Keep it up bro. Very insightful! Totally love it.

    • Author
      Edikan Benson 3 years ago

      Thanks. That was the idea of this, to show what the recorder is capable of as too few people know.

  3. […] READ ALSO: A Recorder Players’ View on Modes […]

  4. […] READ ALSO: A Recorder Player’s View on Modes […]

  5. […] READ ALSO: A Recorder Player’s View on Modes […]

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