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Keys and Scales Used In Irish Music

traditional irish banjo players

What are Ionian, Aeolian, Mixolydian Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Locrian scales?

Traditional music across the world developed in isolation from each other, different areas created their own scales, their own series of notes. For example when the people of Bali started to play gamelan they had no knowledge of music from anywhere else. They developed a scale, a series of notes, that was used when they made their instruments and all the music and song they created used this series of notes. Two commonly used Balinese scales are known as the Pelog and Slendro scales.

Over time the melting pot of music from around the world has become standardised and uses a set of 7 notes which have a standard relationship with each other

In most western countries modern music and classical music use two scales, the Ionian scale which is known to us as the major key of any particular note and the Aeolian scale which we know of as the minor key of any particular note. Both of these come from a 7 note octave plus the first note being repeated as the last but an octave higher) is in - do re mi fa so la ti do

Traditional Irish music uses a number of different scales as follows:

Scales Used In Traditional Irish Music with their relative notes ansd key signatures

Accidentals Major
(Aeolian )
Mixolydian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Locrian
7 sharps C# A#m G#Mix D#Dor E#Phr F#Lyd B#Lor
6 sharps F# D#m C#Mix G#Dor A#Phr BLyd E#Lor
5 sharps B G#m F#Mix C#Dor D#Phr ELyd A#Lor
4 sharps E C#M BMix F#Dor G#Phr ALyd D#Lor
3 sharps A F#M EMix BDor C#Phr DLyd G#Lor
2 sharps D Bm AMix EDor F#Phr GLyd C#Lor
1 sharp G Em DMix ADor BPhr CLyd F#Lor
0 sharps C Am GMix DDor EPhr FLyd BLor
1 flat F Dm CMix GDor APhr BbLyd ELor
2 flats Bb Gm FMix CDor DPhr EbLyd ALor
3 flats Eb Cm BbMix FDor GPhr AbLyd DLor
4 flats Ab Fm EbMix BbDor CPhr DbLyd GLor
5 flats Db Bbm AbMix EbDor FPhr GbLyd CLor
6 flats Gb Ebm DbMix AbDor BbPhr CbLyd FLor
7 flats Cb Abm GbMix DBDor EbPhr FbLyd BbLor

The base note of any scale is known as the tonic and we use this tonic to define the key.

Notes and their relationships in the different scales of the key of C

Key Note Interval + - - + + - - + - - + + - -
Ionian (Major scale) - C 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 C D E F G A B c
Dorian - Cdor 1 2 3b 4 5 6b 7 D E F G A B c d
Phyrygian - CPhr 1 2b 3b 4 5 6b 7b E F G A B c d e
Lydian - CLyd 1 2 3 4# 5 6 7 F G A B c d e f
Mixolydian - CMix 1 2 3 4 5 6 7b G A B c d e f g
Aeolian (Minor) - Cm 1 2 3b 4 5 6b 7b A B c d e f g a
Locrian - CLor 1 2b 3b 4 5b 6b 7b B c d e f g a b
Pentatonic Major 1 2 3 4 5 6 C D E G A c
Pentatonic Minor 1 3b 4 5 7b A c d e g a
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