What is a characteristic note?

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Characteristic Note
What is a Characteristic Note? — Figure 1

Characteristic Note of a Mode

The characteristic note of a mode is a defining note that helps us distinguish one mode from
another. Due to the ubiquitous use of major and minor keys in Western music, Western listeners are somewhat conditioned to the sounds of major and minor scales. Therefore, when we hear a mode, we may hear them in relation to the major and minor scales that we already know so well. For instance, we tend to hear Lydian as a major scale with a raised fourth, making the ♯4 the characteristic note of that mode. We also hear Dorian as a minor scale with an unexpectedly natural sixth; thus, ♮6 is the characteristic note for Dorian.

Of course, interpreting a mode/scale as bright or dark is fairly subjective, especially in a piece of music. In our Applying Modal Color to Your Music study pack, we have taken the liberty of associating each mode with a few adjectives that describe its typical usage. We hope you find these descriptions more helpful than limiting as we explore.


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