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Using Modes to Compose: Aeolian

Updated: Feb 27

Hello there!

Thanks for visiting this blog to learn more about the Aeolian mode.

If you’re a complete beginner with modes, you might want to read this article where I cover the basics about what a mode is and start with the first one, Ionian.

You can also listen to a podcast about the Aeolian Mode here!


Aeolian is the sixth mode in the order of the modes:

Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, mixolydian, AEOLIAN, and Locrian.

Here is what the scale looks and sounds like:

Did it sound familiar to you? If it did, that's probably because Aeolian is just a minor scale! Natural minor to be exact. So if you're already familiar with your minor scales, this one will be easy for you!


In western music, we use this mode for any "minor" or sad feelings. That might be mystery, anger, heartache- anything dramatic, really. However, there are also many songs that use this mode that DON'T sound sad!

1. For the classical music period, I've picked the first movement of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, written in 1801, and based in C# Aeolian. Talk about drama and depression with this piece. It has all of the feels.

2. Next is a very moving piece called Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. This piece of music is quite famous and is used in a lot of movie soundtracks, so you might recognize it. It moves in and out of major to minor harmonies, but is based in Bb Aeolian. This is my favorite piece of music of all time.

3. Moving onto some more modern pieces, we have Hurt by Johnny Cash. This one is also used in soundtracks, and no wonder because it is extremely sad and emotional to listen to.

4. To give you an example of a song that's not sad but still uses Aeolian, listen to Wonderwall by Oasis.

5. Next is the very popular song I See Fire by Ed Sheeran.

6. The last example of an Aeolian based piece is Comptine d'un autre ete from the film Amelia, written by Yann Tiersen.

There are COUNTLESS other examples of Aeolian mode music, but those are just a few to get you started. There's such a big range of how music can sound using this mode!


Since the Aeolian mode is a natural minor scale, constructing it is very simple. There are many ways to go about doing so, but here are just two ways you can do it:

1. Use a pattern of half and whole steps, starting from any note:


Here's a video of the process, starting on A:

2. The second method involves finding the Aeolian scale in any Ionian mode (or major key).

As an example, if you choose the major key C and play a scale starting and ending on its sixth scale degree (A to A) using the notes in C major, you will get an A Aeolian scale.

Here’s a video explaining the process (using the major keys C, D, and B):


Practicing helps you understand musical concepts SO much more. So, practice putting different Aeolian scales together using the different methods, then compose some melodies and harmonies of your own!

There is a pdf below that has all of the Aeolian scales written in every key, then all with accidentals (these correspond to either constructing the Aeolian scale starting on the sixth scale degree of a major key, or by simply using the whole and half step pattern).

Have fun and enjoy composing!

Aeolian Mode Scales
Download PDF • 148KB

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