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Exploring Modes, Composing


To learn about different modes and to use mode to compose a piece of music

The activities on this page are more suited to older KS2 pupils or those with more musical experience.


A mode is a series of musical pitches used in a piece of music. It can be ordered in ascending or descending order (often called a 'scale'). All melodies are created from scales and modes. 


There are many different scales and modes in Iranian music (and around the world, e.g. major and minor scales in European music). Each mode uses different intervals - an interval the distance between two musical notes. The size of the intervals between notes gives each mode its individual character and 'feel'. A mode can be made from as few as 3 or 4 notes. Each mode usually has its own name.

Two Iranian modes that are heard in The Phoenix of Persia are called Māhur and Chāhargāh.

Māhur is rather like the major scale in western music and the notes can easily be played on tuned classroom percussion instruments and other instruments such as keyboards and guitars. You can hear the Māhur mode at the start of The Phoenix of Persia when the Mountain of Gems is introduced (Chapter 2).

Notation of Māhur mode:


The Chāhargāh mode includes some intervals that lie between a semitone and a tone (approximately 3/4 tone), but can be played using the following notes: G - A-flat - B - C - D-flat - E - F (with 'C' as the central note of the mode). You can hear the Chāhargāh mode in Chapter 5 when Prince Zal is born.

Notation of Chāhargāh mode:

The word Chāhargāh comes from the Persian word 'chāhar', which means '4', and 'gāh', which means 'place', indicating the 4th position on the lute fingerboard.


Play one of the modes to your class, showing pupils where the notes are. Then, using keyboards or glockenspiels, ask pupils to play this mode up and down themselves, to familiarise themselves with where the notes are on the instrument, and what it sounds like. They will need to be able to play this for the next activity.


Composing melodies with a mode

  • What happens if the order of the notes in the mode is mixed up? Can pupils compose a sequence of notes to make a tune, using only the notes of this mode?

  • To make a tune, pupils can choose the rhythm(s) for their composition: for instance, the piece can be in free rhythm or use one of the rhythms from the page on 'Creating Rhythms'.

  • Give each group 10 mins to work on their modal piece, after which they can perform to the whole class, who will be asked to listen and feedback verbally as to what they liked about each group’s piece (skills: creative thinking; teamwork; listening; evaluating; performing).

  • Each group can be asked to introduce their piece, explain how they decided to use the notes of the mode, as well as how they arranged it within the group.

  • Once pupils have created a piece of music in mode Chāhargāh, they can create their very own mode: from any combination of pitches they like. We recommend a maximum of 5 pitches in a mode, and that pupils use notes that are quite close to each other.

  • Give your mode a name!

  • Which character in The Phoenix of Persia does your mode represent and why?

  • Once pupils have created a mode, they can use the same process above to create a piece , either individually or in groups, using tuned classroom instruments, and using a regular rhythmic pattern like those on the page 'Creating Rhythms'. Some pupils can play the rhythm on percussion instruments while others play the newly composed tune.

  • You have created your own composition!


Extension Work

Pupils may want to arrange their piece for different instruments, thinking about the timbre, texture and the different sounds of instruments. Pupils can write about their piece and why they chose particular instrumental sounds. 

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