Modes can be a very intimidating area for musicians. A good understanding of modes is vital for improvisation, but can also be a huge asset for songwriters and composers.
To start with we should look at the most common of the modes, the Ionian. The Ionian mode is simply another name for the common major scale. It is interesting to see how the notes of the major scale fall when we look at a row of fifths:
The notes in bold are the notes that are in the C major scale. We can see how the notes are all next to eachother.
The most common way to explain modes is to describe how this same scale is used, but starting on different degrees of the scale. Here is a chart showing the different modes and their displacement. In this example, all the modes use the notes from the C major scale.
So if a piece of music is in the key of D minor, but seems to be using the notes and chords of C major, you can be fairly sure it is using the Dorian mode.
On a SeeChord chart an entire piece can be viewed at once so that we can see which chords the composer is preferring to use. This can give a pretty clear indication of whether the piece is “modal” or not.