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I haven't had the time to do a post lately, so here's one I did a while back over at Siderial Heresy explaining modal music using video games songs. :D Enjoy!

"The musical modes differ essentially from one another, and those who hear them are differently affected by each. Some of them make men sad and grave, like the so called Mixolydian; others enfeeble the mind, like the relaxed modes; another, again, produces a moderate or settled temper, which appears to be the peculiar effect of the Dorian; and the Phrygian inspires enthusiasm." ~ Aristotle, Politics

I love Dorian mode - it's just kick ass. "What is Dorian mode?" you may be asking yourself (unless you're Carly Ann). Well, let me explain. Listen to this:


It's the Temple of Time theme from the The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It has its unique sound because the melody is written in one of the Church Modes - Dorian. Dorian is a diatonic scale (diatonic = using only the white keys on the piano, think of it as a racist scale ) that, during medieval times, used "D" as a tonic note (a tonic note is the note that sounds like the "home" note in the scale). Nowadays though, we sometimes use other notes as the tonic. For instance, Zero's Theme from the Mega Man X series uses C# Dorian:


Where you notice the difference between Dorian mode and the standard natural minor scale (the Aeolian mode, which was derived from what medieval theorists called Hypodorian), is on the sixth scale degree.

What is a scale degree? Simply, it's a numbering of the notes in a scale. Consider C Major (I have each scale degree typed to the right of its corresponding note):

C - 1
D - 2
E - 3
F - 4
G - 5
A - 6
B - 7
C - 1

The home note of the key "C" is, you guessed it, "C". In "C" Major it would be "C", in "D" would be "D", etc. Therefore, if you were in C Major, the sixth scale degree would be "A" ("C" would be the first or "tonic", D would be the second, "E" the third, etc.). To lower that scale degree, you would make it an Ab, and to raise it, you would make it an A#.

If you were in D minor, the sixth scale degree would be Bb.

D - 1
E - 2
F - 3
G - 4
A - 5
Bb - 6
C - 7
D - 1

However, rather than a Bb in the Dorian mode we have a raised sixth, which would raise it up to a B natural. In the Temple of Time Theme, it is the ninth note in the melody, but you may be able to best hear it in this piece from Final Fantasy X:


This is the Song of Prayer, as heard in Ixion's Temple. To hear the raised sixth, follow the lyrics:

Ieyui Nobomenu Renmiri Yojuyogo

On the second note of the highlighted syllable, you have the raised sixth.
Several philosophers and scholars have written about the emotional and psychological effects of the various modes (this entry begins with such an excerpt from Aristotle). Strangely, perhaps because of its ambiguous nature, many of them could not agree on what emotional state Dorian mode was supposed to induce (I think it sounds mystical or reverent). D'Arezzo said it made people serious, while Espinoza said it made people happy. Perhaps Fulda had it right when he said that Dorian could be used to produce any emotion.

I used video games because modal music is all over the place in old video games which, in my humble opinion, had much better music! Think about it, everybody knows the Mario Brothers' Theme, or the Legend of Zelda Theme. Can you even hum a song from a recent game? Oh, you want some specific examples of old video game music written in modes? Fine...

Phrygian mode was used to write Magus' Theme in Chrono Trigger, and the Brinstar Theme from the Metroid games:



Lydian mode is used frequently in video game music, usually for space themed music (the Star Trek theme is in Lydian mode). Here's an example just for David Drake from Mario Galaxy :


Another mode that often appears in video games (as well as Elton John's music) is Mixolydian. Mixolydian just tends to sound really happy, I think. An example is Home Termina from Chrono Cross:


Next is Aeolian mode (which many of you know as just the "minor" key). Songs in this mode are everywhere, as are songs in Ionian mode (the "major" key). The fact that the vast majority of songs are written in major and minor is what set all these other modes and the songs written in them apart!

And now, you know.

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Comment by xnera on November 10, 2008 at 8:09pm
Fascinating post! Thanks so much for posting here. I wonder if the reason that older games used modes so much is because they were limited in the number of "instruments"?

Can you even hum a song from a recent game?

How recent is recent? ;) I'm a BIG fan of Nobuo Uematsu, and find his work really sticks in the mind. I can easily recall (and hum) themes such as To Zanarkland, Balamb Garden, Those Who Fight Further, etc. Yoko Shimomura has also won my heart. I really love her work on the Kingdom Hearts series, and I'm excited and eager to see what she does with Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
Comment by Dana Alcala on November 10, 2008 at 2:50pm
Interesting post. I love music and great videogames, AND I love the music from great videogames. My favorite videogame music comes from both Final Fantasy 6 and 7. Shadow's theme from FF6 ranks up in my all-time fav's.

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