Music TheoryHarmonyScales

The Locrian Mode: What Is It?

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Written by Samuel Chase

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The seventh and final mode of the major scale to learn is the Locrian Mode. It is probably the mode you are least likely to see in a piece of music, but it is important to learn all the same. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at the Locrian mode. We’ll learn what it is, how to play it, and why it’s so rare. First, however, here is a quick recap of what music modes are.

What is a mode?

In music, a mode is a lot like a scale – it starts on a note and goes up (or down) through the rest of the notes until it reaches that same note again. Think of a major or minor scale.

However, modes are different from scales in their relationship to each of the other modes.

There are seven modes, and they are based on the seven notes of the major scale.

Each different mode is made by starting the major scale on a different note, and playing the scale from there.

For example, here are the modes of the C Major scale.

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
Modes of the major scale

What is the Locrian mode?

As you can see in the table above, the Locrian mode is the final mode, starting on the seventh note of the major scale.

In C Major, the Locrian mode starts on the note B, and because of this it is often referred to as the B Locrian mode. 

Here is a picture of the B Locrian scale.

B Locrian Mode

The Locrian mode uses this formula of semitones and tones for its scale: STTSTTT

This, in half and whole steps, is: HWWHWWW

Using this formula, you can play a Locrian scale in any key, starting on any note. 

Degrees of the Locrian scale

The Locrian mode is one of the four minor modes (the others being the dorian, aeolian, and phrygian modes), which means the 3rd scale degree is one semitone lower than the 3rd of the major scale. 

The Locrian mode is closest in similarities to the Phrygian mode, which also has a lowered (minor) 2nd, but it is even more minor, because it also has a lowered (diminished) 5th scale degree.

It is the only mode to have a diminished 5th.

Here are the seven scale degrees of the Locrian mode.

  • 1. Root
  • 2. Minor second
  • 3. Minor third
  • 4. Perfect fourth
  • 5. Diminished fifth
  • 6. Minor sixth
  • 7. Minor seventh
C Locrian Scale

If you listed the modes in order from brightest, or most major sounding, to the darkest, most minor sounding, the Locrian mode would be at the very end.

It is the darkest and most minor mode due to so many of its notes being flattened.

Examples of music in the Locrian mode

The Locrian mode is very rare to hear in music.

Because it is the only mode with a diminished 5th scale degree, it often does not sound like a normal mode or scale.

It sounds like it is unfinished, like someone simply stopped playing or singing in the middle of a melody.

For example, listen to this English folk song, called “Dust to Dust” by John Kirkpatrick.

This song is one of the few vocal melodies written in the Locrian mode.

As you can hear, the beginning and ends of the phrases sound like they should continue, and seem to end abruptly.

This is because the Locrian mode is just one note away from the Ionian mode, which is a major scale.

So, in addition to sounding very dark, it feels like it wants to shift or resolve into a different mode altogether. 

Another song that uses the locrian mode is the Björk song “Army of Me” which features a number of Locrian melodies.

Björk – “Army of Me”

There are very few pieces that are totally in the Locrian mode, like these two songs.

There are passages of “Jeux” by Claude Debussy that uses the Locrian mode, as well as Rachmaninov’s “Prelude in B Minor” and Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 4 in A Minor”, but these are short passages that resolve quickly to other modes.

List of the Locrian modes

Here is a list of all of the locrian modes.

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

Summing up the Locrian mode

The Locrian mode is the last and probably least popular of the seven diatonic modes.

It is very dark and minor, and melodies written in it often feel incomplete.

For example, play the white notes on the piano from B to B, and you’ll notice that when you arrive at the final B, the note seems to hang there and lean toward the C above it.

We hope that this post has helped to illustrate what the Locrian mode is, where it is found, and how it can be used in music.

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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.