57 Songs In Different Musical Modes [All Modes]

popular songs in musical modes

Modes in music are an interesting and complex topic for those who enjoy music and music theory. 

It’s fascinating how these scales occur in music and the feeling they inspire. 

While more during the early periods of classical music, modes still have a firm grip on our music today, though you have to know where to look. 

Whether you want to learn more about songs in musical modes for your own pleasure or to help your students with examples, this list with videos and a quick breakdown of the modes is for you! 

Music Modes Chart

Before we get into all of the song examples, it’d be helpful to know what exactly modes in music are and how they work. 

Modes are based on scale motion of a major scale or Ionian mode, but tonic is moved to match a different scale degree. 

Learn more about scale degrees and tones in our article on tonic, dominant, and subdominant

They rose in popularity as church modes associated with hymns and chants. 

Basically, if you pick a degree in a major scale and then start a whole new scale on it (but use the same notes as the first major scale), you have a mode. 

It’s easy to explain with an example. Let’s look at the notes of a C major scale. 

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, in that order. 

This major scale is also called the Ionian mode. 

Now, let’s start on the third scale degree (the median). 


The sound of this Phrygian scale is completely different, but it uses the same notes as the original. 

Each degree 1-7 has its own scale and feeling, and the song examples in the rest of the article will demonstrate this. 

For a quick reference, take a look at this chart (all based on the C major scale to help you out). 

ModeScale DegreeNotes in C Major

 If you want more information or to hear what the modes sound like, check out this video: 

Songs In Phrygian Mode

As the chart above shows, the Phrygian mode is based on a scale using the third scale degree. 

Phrygian is made of the following intervals: 


Note: “H” stands for half step between the notes, and “W” stands for a whole step (two half steps) between the note. 

It’s a minor-sounding scale with some unique elements, most particularly: 

  • The lack of a leading tone between the 7th and 8th scale degrees. 
  • The half-step motion between the first two notes. 

It’s also known as a Spanish Gypsy scale and is featured in a lot of Flamenco music. 

Here’s a popular example of a song in Phrygian mode: 

Other popular songs include: 

  • “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg 
  • “Cinq Mélodies Populaires Grecques: No. 2. Là-bas, Vers L’église” by Ravel 
  • “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot 
  • “Mashallah” by Shreya Ghoshal, Sajid–Wajid 
  • “Run It!” by Chris Brown 

Songs In Lydian Mode

Lydian mode is based on the scale fourth scale degree and was very popular back a few hundred years ago.

The Lydian mode is made up of the following intervals: 


This is a major-sounding mode with only one major difference between this and the normal major scale: The whole and half steps between 3-4-5 switch around. 

Another way to think about Lydian is a major scale with a raised 4th degree. 

It’s just off enough to sound like a major scale unfinished. 

Here’s an example of a popular song in Lydian mode: 

Other examples of songs in Lydian mode include: 

  • “Peer Gynt, Op. 23: No. 8, Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter” by Grieg 
  • The Simpsons Theme Song
  • “Mazurka No. 15” by Chopin
  • “Freewill” by Rush
  • “Man on the Moon” by R.E.M.

Songs In Mixolydian Mode

Mixolydian is based on the 5th scale degree, and it was the mode that inspired the greater use of accidentals or altered pitches in music. 

The Mixolydian mode is made up of the following intervals: 


It’s essentially a major mode without the leading tone.

Or you can think about it as a major scale with a flat 7th tone. 

Functionally, it’s very similar to tonic or Ionian. 

As composers wrote in Mixolydian, they found it difficult to really make their pieces sound fully resolved.

So they kept Mixolydian intact except at the end of the piece. 

Then, they raise the 7th scale degree to make it a true leading tone and help the piece feel complete. 

Mixolydian is surprisingly common in all music, even modern popular music. 

Check out this example of a popular song in Mixolydian: 

Here are more examples of songs in Mixolydian mode to check out: 

  • “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder
  • “Norweigan Wood” by the Beatles
  • “Don’t You Evah” by Spoon
  • “Sisters” by Bobby McFerrin
  • “If I Needed Someone” by the Beatles
  • “Lady ’95” by Styx 
  • “Porcelain” by Moby 
  • “Only In My Dreams” by Debbie Gibson
  • “No Rain” by Blind Melon
  • “Molly Bán” by the Chieftains & Alison Krauss
  • “Express Yourself” by Madonna
  • “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga
  • “Royals” by Lorde

Songs In Dorian Mode

Dorian mode is based on the second scale degree and one that is a favorite of most people. 

Why? Because the Dorian mode is in minor and sort of sounds like “Pirate music.”

Anytime I do or play a song in Dorian with my kids, they eat it up. 

For some reason, it touches something in them that the other modes don’t quite do. 

I think it’s because Dorian is the perfect mix of accessible (being so similar to a natural minor) yet different. 

The Dorian mode is based on the following intervals: 


This is exactly like natural minor or Aeolian mode, but with raised 6th degree. 

An example of a popular song in Dorian mode is: 


Other songs in Dorian mode (and you’ll recognize a ton of these) include: 

  • “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” by Green Day 
  • “Thriller” by Michael Jackson 
  • “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
  • “Telephone” by Lady Gaga 
  • “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by Ylvis 
  • “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
  • “White Wedding” by Billy Idol 
  • “Can’t Stop” by Maroon 5 
  • “Oye Como Va” by Santana
  • “Scarborough Fair” by Simon And Garfunkel 
  • “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons 
  • “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees
  • “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Songs In Ionian Mode

Ionian mode is the same as the major scale. 

The main difference is that in true Ionian, you would never use any altered pitches or accidentals. 

It’s based on the first scale degree in a major scale, and the Ionian mode uses the following intervals: 


Ionian sounds complete. It’s the basis for much of our music, and as such, it’s seen all the time in all sorts of music.

Although, to be fair, since we often change some of the notes of the diatonic scale (unaltered notes), it’s not true Ionian. 

Still, here’s an example of a popular song in Ionian mode: 

Here are some other examples of songs in Ionian mode (though any major song would pretty much work): 

  • “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones
  • “I’ve Just Seen A Face” by the Beatles
  • “Let It Be” by the Beatles
  • “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson
  • “Ramblin’ Man” by Allman Brothers Band

Songs In Aeolian

Aeolian is based on the sixth scale degree, and it’s the same as the natural minor scale. 

Like Ionian mode, it’s one of those that everyone hears as simply minor rather than true Aeolian. 

To be a mode, we need to use unaltered pitches as much as possible. 

The Aeolian mode uses the following intervals: 


Today, we associate minor with more negative emotions. 

People often describe it as sad or melancholy. 

In its inception, it wasn’t used to imply this at all. 

Aeolian was simply another mode! 

Most music since the Baroque Period will raise the 6th and 7th notes on the way up to creating a driving tension leading to the tonic. 

For a popular song in Aeolian, check out this tune: 

Other songs in Aeolian mode include: 

  • “D.J. Got Us Fallin’ In Love” by Usher 
  • “Wayfaring Stranger”
  • “All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan
  • “Counting Stars” by One Republic 
  • “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana 

Songs In Locrian

Locrian mode isn’t really a practical mode. 

Historically, it was never used. 

This mode sounds so odd and unclear; it features little tension and resolution like the other modes do. 

It’s more theoretical. 

Locrian will start on the 7th scale degree and use the following intervals: 


You won’t find any songs in Locrian naturally (unless they’re brief clips).

This is one of the closest popular songs in Locrian mode: 

Other songs with some hints of it include: 

  • “Sad But True” by Metallica
  • “Army of Me” by Bjork
  • “Juicebox” by the Strokes

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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