The classical period fixed us firmly into an idea of major and minor mode/tonality. The romantics pushed it to the extreme and the second Viennese school broke it.
Before then, in the Baroque period and slightly earlier, major/minor were being established by Bach and his contemporaries.
Before then there was even more flux and earlier than that, diatonic modes.
Early church modes related to monophonic music (and we will start also by writing monophonic music). The choice of mode was very inmportant in terms of message to be conveyed by the music. The relationship between the rules and norms of monophonic music and the development of polyphony was at the time strained at best, and indeed subject to great debate.
For us, it is most important to understand some basic issues:
The modes and their interval structures (2=tone, 1 = semitone) are:
As you can see these are quite different in character.
Most people know the modes as the scale of white keys on the piano starting thus:
which therefore gives scales as follows:
For our understanding we can use the white key analogy for ease of memory, but should always think in terms of intervals as we may transpose.
There is also the Locrian mode, which is, in simple terms, all the white keys starting on B natural.
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