The Aeolian Mode: What Is It?

The Aeolian mode is the second most popular mode, only behind the Ionian mode. It is most likely the second scale people learn when starting to play an instrument, and is the second most used mode in classical music and modern pop music.

This post will explore everything about the Aeolian mode, what it is and how it is played. But first, let’s recap the basics: what are modes?

What are the modes?

In music, a mode is essentially a scale, a lot like scales you’ve most likely seen before (major scale, minor scale). What makes modes (also called church modes or greek modes) unique is their relationship to each other. 

There are seven different modes, and each one is made by playing a major scale starting on a different note.

Take a C major scale for example made up of the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

If you were to play these notes in order, but starting on F (F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F) you would actually be playing the scale of the F Lydian mode.

Or, if you start on E, you’re playing in the E Phrygian mode.

There are seven different modes of the major scale because you can start the scale on seven different notes.

Modal scalesNotes of the mode
C Ionian modeC – D – E – F – G – A – B
D Dorian modeD – E – F – G – A – B – C
E Phrygian modeE – F – G – A – B – C – D
F Lydian modeF – G – A – B – C – D – E
G Mixolydian modeG – A – B – C – D – E – F
A Aeolian modeA – B – C – D – E – F – G
B Locrian modeB – C – D – E – F – G – A

What is the Aeolian mode?

In the table above, you see the Aeolian mode is the sixth mode listed, because it is the mode that starts on the sixth note of the major scale.

In the case of C Major, that note is A, so you often hear it called the A Aeolian mode.

Here is an A Aeolian scale:

A aeolian mode

The Aeolian mode uses this formula of semitones and tones to form its scale: TSTTSTT

Which in half and whole steps is: WHWWHWW

The Aeolian mode is the second most popular of all the modes, because it has the same notes as the natural minor scale.

Degrees of the Aeolian scale

The Aeolian mode is a minor mode, which means the 3rd scale degree is lowered by a semitone (from the major scale) to become a minor 3rd.

This scale is almost the same as the one for the Dorian mode, except it also has a minor (lowered) 6th.

  • 1. Root
  • 2. Major second
  • 3. Minor third
  • 4. Perfect fourth
  • 5. Perfect fifth
  • 6. Minor sixth
  • 7. Minor seventh
C Aeolian scale

The Aeolian mode is heard almost whenever you hear music in the minor key.

Because of this, it is also considered sad and serious as it has an extra minor note in its scale, it sounds darker and more minor than the Dorian mode, the other popular minor mode.

Music written in the Aeolian mode

As we’ve said before, ‘almost’ any time you hear music in a minor key you are hearing the Aeolian mode. 

It is found a lot in pop music, like the songs “Hello” by Adele (which is in F Aeolian) and “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye (which is in D Aeolian).

“Hello” by Adele (F Aeolian)
Somebody – Goyte (D Aeolian)

It is also found in rock music, like the songs “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan and “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M., both in A Aeolian.

“All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan (A Aeolian)
“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M (A Aeolian)

It is also found in classical music, for example the opening to Beethoven’s famous “Moonlight Sonata”, which is in C# Aeolian.

“Moonlight Sonata” – Beethoven (C# Aeolian)

List of the Aeolian modes

Here is a list of all of the Aeolian modes, starting on each note.

KeyNotes in the Aeolian mode
CC – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C
C♯C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A – B – C#
DbDb – Eb – Fb – Gb – Ab – Bbb – Cb – Db
DD – E – F – G – A – Bb – C – D
D#D# – E# – F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D#
EbEb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – Cb – Db – Eb
EE – F# – G – A – B – C – D – E
FF – G – Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F
F#F# – G# – A – B – C# – D – E – F#
GbGb – Ab – Bbb – Cb – Db – Ebb – Fb – Gb
GG – A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G
G#G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E – F# – G#
AbAb – Bb – Cb – Db – Eb – Fb – Gb – Ab
AA – B – C – D – E – F – G – A
A#A# – B# – C# – D# – E# – F# – G# – A#
BbBb – C – Db – Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb
BB – C# – D – E – F# – G – A – B

Summing up the Aeolian mode

To recap, the Aeolian mode is found any time you see the natural minor scale. It forms the basis of a lot of the music you hear today. To get a good sense of how it sounds and makes you feel, try playing the white notes on a piano from A to A. 

We hope this post has helped you learn more about it, and let us know in the comments if you have any questions! 

Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase has been playing music since he was 5 years old, and teaching music since he was 13. He has a PhD in Music from the University of Surrey, and he has composed music that has been played in three different countries. He is currently working as a film composer and writing a book on film music.

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