Ancient Modes in the Modern Classroom: Obsolete Scales or Assets of Cultural Diversity?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The concept of Mode is among the most fundamental concepts in any musical-theoretical discourse, encompassing collections of notes, the way those collections operate, and their extra-musical associations. Students usually first encounter the concept either through the narrower term of the Church Modes, or through the loose exchange of the terms mode and scale in theory textbooks. When students should encounter the term; how it should be taught; and in what ways that concept can enrich students’ understanding of music and of society in general—are questions apparently open for debate. This study examines the way in which the Church Modes are treated in theory textbooks. In general, the Church Modes do not constitute an integral part of the corpus of knowledge of elementary theory, as shown with regards to American and British curricula. In Israel, however, modality seems to reflect additional, extra-musical, values at the crux of Israeli cultural diversity. The adoption of the modal system by Israeli musicians in the mid-20th century served an important educational purpose. An examination of curricula in Israel over the past century shows that, unlike in the English-speaking world, the study of modes has been overemphasized in Israel. The article surveys the historical and ideological reasons for that overemphasis, through analysis of music theory textbooks, aural training textbooks, and musical pieces aimed at students. It seems that, even if the adoption of the Church Modes as signifiers of locality was not embraced by all composers and songwriters, there was a consensus about the importance of the subject and its particular relevance to music education in Israel. While the local emphasis on the study of modes has been waning in the past two or three decades, it may still be possible to see its lasting impact on the generations that are still active in the Israeli musical scene.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-21
Number of pages13
JournalFinnish Journal of Music Education
Issue number01 & 02
StatePublished - 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Ancient Modes in the Modern Classroom: Obsolete Scales or Assets of Cultural Diversity?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this