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Using Modes to Compose: Locrian

Updated: Mar 6

Hello there!


Thanks for visiting this blog to learn more about the Locrian 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 Locrian Mode here!



LOCRIAN


Locrian is the seventh mode in the order of the modes:


Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, mixolydian, aeolian, and LOCRIAN.


Here is what the scale looks and sounds like:










There’s a lot about this mode that makes it stick out among the others, but the biggest difference is the lowered fifth scale degree. This can sound really odd if you’re not used to atonal or eastern music.


Every scale or mode or key in western music has trained us to link it with a certain emotion. This happened naturally through people composing music for stories in settings like ballets, operas, now movies, musicals, and listening to music and associating certain sounds with happy or sad.


Thus, if you’re trained in western music, like me, you won’t be as familiar with the sound of the Locrian mode. When I listen to it, I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what emotion it’s supposed to invoke in me. I’m just a bit confused.


However, in eastern music, including that of South Asia, Middle East, and North African music, Locrian is well used. So if you grew up with that sort of musical influence, you’re likely to feel something else when you listen to Locrian.


Having a lowered fifth scale degree dramatically changes the sound of Locrian, because in western music, we're used to perfect fifths. Lowering the fifth makes it a diminished fifth. Here's a video explaining what that means and what it sounds like:






MUSIC WRITTEN IN LOCRIAN MODE


It is a challenge to find western music written in the Locrian mode, simply because of its unique sound and somewhat complicated construction. But here are three examples of pieces that will help you discover the potential that this mode has.


1. The first piece was inspired by Erik Satie, composed by Evan Bennett, and called Gnossienne No. 1 in F Locrian. His harmonies do go back and forth, not completely resting in Locrian all the time, but it is a great example of what the Locrian mode can sound like. Evan has waltzes written in every mode, in case you wanted to check out any others.





2. The next piece was also composed purposely in the Locrian Mode, and is a piano waltz created in 2009 by Amy Maayani. The piece is called Waltz No. 7 in Locrian Mode.





3. The last piece is called Dust to Dust by John Kirkpatrick. This is actually a folk song, published on his album in 1971.





CONSTRUCTING THE LOCRIAN SCALE


1. Like any scale, Locrian is made up of a specific pattern of half and whole steps. You can start on any note and use its pattern to construct its scale:



H W W H W W W



Here's a video of the process starting on B:




Here's another example, this time starting on G#:




PRACTICE


As we all know, practice makes perfect! And if you're a composer like me, practicing new concepts of music theory will help your musical vocabulary expand, and thus help your music go to places it's never been before.


Try constructing your own Locrian scales, and then compose something! It was a challenge for me because I'm not as familiar with this mode, but I found sounds and harmonies I'd love to use more in my own music.


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


Have fun and enjoy composing!



Locrian Mode Scales
.pdf
Download PDF • 149KB

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