// The Third Messiaen Mode

During my last session with Matthias Nowak, we spoke about the importance of different harmony with a particular focus on the third Messiaen Mode.


A brief overview:

Olivier Messiaen was known to utilise a series of 7 symmetrical scales of limited transposition, structured across a series of cyclic intervallic formations. Each of the scales can be utilised over a vast range of tonal centres, due to the many harmonic possibilities inherent within the combination of notes of each one.

^too many words (!!) – I know. But I’ll do my best to summarise it further below:


The third Messiaen mode (also known as the Augmented Scale) features three sets of repeated material (each of which is spaced a major third apart) – forming a 9-note scale (fig. 1):

Messiaen Modes

In particular reference to the symmetrical harmony in mode 3, there are also three fundamental augmented triads that arise clearly from the notes (see fig. 2 above).

However, this is only the beginning of the many different chords that are hidden within this single 9 note scale; as the notes in this scale range from G A Bb, B C# D, Eb F Gb (fig. 1), this particular mode corresponds with a large range of other tonal origins. 

The list below details the many other options available within the third Messiaen mode (fig. 3):

Fig. 3 – Triads and 7th Chords within Messiaen Mode No. 3 (Root note = G)

Triads G major, G minor, G dim, G aug, A aug, Bb major, Bb minor, Bb aug, Bb sus 4

B major, B minor, B dim, C# aug, D major, D minor, D aug, D sus 4

Eb major, Eb minor, Eb dim, Eb aug, F aug, Gb major, Gb minor, Gb aug, Gb sus4

7th chords Gmaj7, Gmaj7(b5), Gmaj7(#5), G7, G7(b5), G7(#5), Gmin7, Gmin7(b5), GmMaj7

Bmaj7, Bmaj7(b5), Bmaj7(#5), B7, B7(b5), B7(#5), Bmin7, Bmin7(b5), BmMaj7

Ebmaj7, Ebmaj7(b5), Ebmaj7(#5), Eb7, Eb7(b5), Eb7(#5), Ebmin7, Ebmin7(b5), EbmMaj7

A7(b5), A7(#5), C#7(b5), C#7(#5), F7(b5), F7(#5)

Bbmaj7, Bbmaj7(#5), BbmMaj7, Bbmin6

Dmaj7, Dmaj7(#5), DmMaj7, Dmin6

Gbmaj7, Gbmaj7(#5), GbmMaj7, Gbmin6

Undoubtedly, the options within this particular scale are abundant. Interestingly though, due to its symmetrical structure the third Messiaen mode is limited to only four different tonal combinations in total (*note: each single mode already covers three variants within itself when each repetition/grouping is ordered differently i.e. starting on ‘G’, starting on ‘B’, starting on ‘Eb) – just as augmented triads are also limited to only four transpositional variants.

And whilst this is all highly theoretical, a later post will follow this week in which I have actively limited myself compositionally to only the notes within the third Messiaen mode (fig. 1). In regards to composition, the active choice to set parameters within a modal framework has allowed for different musical choices to arise as a result, with a refreshing ambiguity to the harmony as the root notes can freely be shifted below.

More to come on this, but in the meantime, ——

… thank you Olivier Messiaen for your paramount musical influence!

2 thoughts on “// The Third Messiaen Mode

  1. Pingback: Black Radish – A creative application of the 3rd Messiaen Mode | Helen Svoboda

  2. Hey Helen, great blog! Little idea: you can also consider adding the following harmonical material to the third Messiaen mode: Ma(b5) triad on G, A, B, C#, Eb, and F, and on the Bb, D, and Gb you can add the Ma(add4) triad.

    From there onward, you can then of course build more seventh chords 😉

    Love it, keep it up!


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