Mode VI Aeolian

Aeolian Mode

Aeolian is also natural minor. It is the 6th note of any scale going to the next note 6, for instance A to A. When you make a scale like this, A B C D E F G A, it is Aeolian, and it belongs to the major scales with those same notes, so A Aeolian belongs to the key of C major. But each mode is also it’s own little world or universe.

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The song “Greensleeves” was written around 1580.

I wrote two versions. The first, Greensleeves I, uses the Aeolian mode, so there are no sharps or flats. To me it has very interesting sound, and some of my students prefer it.  I varied the melody slightly in one place to make it work, and the LH uses open 5ths (the sound of major or minor chords with no 3rd).

View or Download Greensleeves

The second version, Greensleeves II, the one I grew up hearing, is apparently correct historically and uses these chords, in the key of A minor: Am G F E, the same chord progression we hear even today in a lot of Spanish music, and the bass line is simply A, G, F E.  These chords really do come from 1580. The musical term for this is “The Andalusian cadence”, and it uses something called the “diatonic phrygian tetrachord”. In plain language this simply the chord progression used by flamenco music uses, also heard in the Malagueña, a Spanish dance. The bass notes E F G A are the first four notes of the Phrygian mode.

We hear the Andalusian cadence in the first part (the verse) and then in the second part, (the reprise), we hear something called “Passamezzo antico”, which is another chord progression based on: C G Am E. But today we hear an F chord added in the reprise, and over the top of the Am chord an F# is added in the melody, which introduces the sound of Dorian. So this simple tune, today, is a mixture of two modes, Aeolian and Dorian plus a blending of  the Andalusian cadence (flameco, Malagueña, and the Passamezzo antico. These same progressions show up in Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, with small variations.

There are two sets of lyrics, one old, the other newer and with a title for Christmas:

Lyrics to Greensleeves

Alas my love you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously;
And I have loved you oh so long
Delighting in your company.

Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves.


What Child Is This?

What Child is this
Who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?




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