Coltrane’s ‘global modes’: where are they really from?


Part of my Trane’s Ragas: The ‘Scales of India’ Puzzle project [out 2022-23] – delving into his handwritten musings to identify which ragas he was studying, where he got them from, and what he was doing with them. Below are some more of his ‘global scales’ I found while researching…


Soon I’ll add more info on these mysterious scales – what they’re called in their own cultures, links to original recordings, thoughts on using them elsewhere, etc. But for now, here are their exact shapes as notated in the books, along with quick audio demos, Indian sargam equivalents, etc.

—Porter: ‘Scales of India’—
‘Night, Power, & Majesty’ | ‘Morning, Sad’ | ‘Night’ | ‘Evening & Night, Praise’ | ‘Evening, Gay’ | ‘Night, Melancholy’
—Simpkins: Global modes—
‘Algerian’ | ‘Arabian’ (1) | ‘Arabian’ (2) | ‘Balinese’ | ‘Chinese’ | ‘Chinese [illegible]’ | ‘Egyptian’ | ‘Hindustan’ | ‘Hun. Gypsy’ | ‘Hungarian | ‘Hungarian. Persian Gypsy’ | ‘Japanese’ | ‘Neapolitan’ | ‘Pentatonic’ | ‘Persian’ (1) | ‘Persian’ (2) | ‘Raga [Hamant] Todi’ | ‘Raga Todi | ‘Church/Greek’

—Porter: ‘Scales of India’—

I came across these in pianist and scholar Lewis Porter’s biography – John Coltrane: His Life and Music – which goes deep into the archives to unravel the master’s thought and innovations. On reaching p.210, my heart jumped at the sight of a picture entitled “Scales of India, cont.” – a brief black-and-white image containing handwritten notation for six melodic patterns. They vary in format – two have no descending line, and three have an extra bar with a few individual tones re-played. Tantalisingly, Trane left them untitled and unexplained, save for a few mysterious descriptors… (See full project)

• “Night, Power, & Majesty” •

C-D-F-G-B-C | C-E-F
(1-2-4-5-7-1 | 1-3-4)

=Raga Gambhiranata (Carnatic)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-Re-ma-Pa-Ni-Sa | Sa-Ga-ma

• “Morning, Sad” •

C-Db-Eb-F-Ab-Bb-C | Eb-F-Ab
(1-b2-b3-4-b6-b7-8-8-b7-b6-5-4-b3-b2-1 | b3-4-b6)

=Raga Hanumatodi/Bhairavi

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-re-ga-ma-dha-ni-Sa | Sa-ni-dha-Pa-ma-ga-re-Sa | ga-ma-dha

• “Night” •


=Raga Devamanohari (Carnatic)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-Re-ma-Pa-ni-Sa | Sa-ni-Dha-ni-Pa-ma-Ra-Sa

• “Evening & Night, Praise” •

C-D-E-F-G-A-C-C-B-Bb-A-G-F-E-D-C | G-A-C
(1-2-3-4-5-6-8-8-7-b7-6-5-4-3-2-1 | 5-6-8)

=Raga Kambhoji (Carnatic)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-Re-Ga-ma-Pa-Dha-Sa | Sa-Ni-ni-Dha-Pa-ma-Ga-Re-Sa | Pa-Dha-Sa

• “Evening, Gay” •


=Raga Hindolam (Carnatic)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-ma-ga-ma-dha-ni-Sa | Sa-ni-dha-ma-ga-Sa

• “Night, Melancholy” •


=Raga Punnagavarali (Carnatic)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • ni-Sa-re-ga-ma-Pa-dha-ni | ni-dha-ma-Pa-ga-(re)-Sa

—Simpkins: Global modes—

Next to the above scales, Lewis Porter notes that “two more pages of scales…are reproduced in Simpkins”. The Simpkins in question is Dr. Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins – student civil rights activist, Harvard-trained medical inventor, and author of the poetic, politically-charged 1975 book Coltrane: A Biography (from the preface: “the concert…caused me to shake uncontrollably, and to see multicolored particles moving randomly in my mind’s eye. The next morning I declared to myself that I would write a book about John Coltrane…”).


I turned through as soon as my copy arrived to find 18 more scales from around the world, as well as a further list of “Church” and “Greek” modes. Though similarly sparse, these notes were accompanied by vague titles (“Arabian”, “Balinese”, “Chinese”). Three of them seemed to be of Indian derivation: “Hindustan”, “Raga Todi”, and “Raga [illegible smudge] Todi”. (More info in the main project: Which Indian ragas was John Coltrane learning?).

• “Algerian” •


=Maqam Nawa Athar (Arabic)

  • This seems to be an approximation of the Arabic Maqam Nawa Athar – (in Western parlance, the equivalent is known as theDouble Harmonic Minor: famously used in the Pink Panther Theme).

• “Arabian” [1] •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Arabian” [2] •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Balinese” •


=Pelog scale subset (Gamelan)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • This appears to be a pentatonic subset of the Gamelan Pelog framework, one of the two main seven-note systems used in Balinese and Javanese ensembles. Or rather, a Western approximation of it…
  • For one thing, Indonesian classical music relies on microtonal tuning systems, which vary by group and island. Many of them converge around 9-tone equal temperament (i.e. dividing the octave into 9 equal parts rather than our 12), pushing the intervals far from where we’re accustomed to. For example, the b3 in this scale is a simplification of a flexible microtonal interval found somewhere between a major and minor third.

• “Chinese” •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Chinese [illegible]” •


=Gong scale (Chinese classical)

  • The second of the title’s two words is illegible, and the final note is obscured by an ink dot. But, based on common sense (and the other scales on the same page), it is surely just the final octave tone – making a shape equivalent to the Major Pentatonic.
  • These tones do indeed form the predominant scale in much of China’s traditional classical music: known as Gong, after its starting note (followed, respectively, by ‘Shang’, ‘Jue’, ‘Zi’, and ‘Yu’). Its use in the region dates back at least 24 centuries, evidenced by the discovery of tuned chime stones in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng from 433 BC (these chimes actually cover a full 12-note chromatic scale – we can only deduce the scale’s form due to them being buried next to some wooden boxes boxes, one of which has five slats – precisely-sized to fit each chime in the Gong scale).
  • The scale’s robust structural simplicity means that it turns up in many other cultures too. For example in Hindustani music, the same shape produces the notes of Raag Bhupali (sarod virtuoso Debasmita Bhattacharya told me in an interview that when she collaborated with Chinese folk musicians, “it can sound like Bhupali is there”).

• “Egyptian” •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Hindustan” •


=Raag Charukeshi (Hindustani)

  • This is definitely Raag Charukeshi – an unmistakable shape found in both Hindustani and Carnatic music, which in Western terms combines the bottom half of the major scale with the top half of the natural minor scale.
  • I’ve actually seen Charukeshi referred to as the ‘Hindustani scale’ elsewhere in older Western musicology as well…although the raga is in fact a relatively recent import to the Hindustani tradition, with ultimate origins in South India.

  • Raag Charukeshi – Shahid Parvez & Shri Gourishankar (2012):

• “Hun. Gypsy” •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Hungarian” •


=’Hungarian Major’ scale

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Hungarian, Persian Gypsy” •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Japanese” •


=In scale (Japanese classical)

  • If interpreted exactly as written, this would be the Western Altered Pentatonic. However, I couldn’t find any Japanese-derived scales to match this shape.
  • Thankfully, a footnote at the end of Lewis Porter’s Trane bio (see below) clarifies the matter. Porter mentions that “this sounds to me like the In scale, which should have an Ab…Coltrane omitted the flat on the A [the 6th degree].” Given the lack of other leads, this seems persuasive.
  • The Japanese In scale

• “Neapolitan” •


=’Neapolitan Minor’ scale

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Pentatonic” •


=Han-Kumoi (Japan)?

  • What is it? While ‘pentatonic’ just means ‘five notes’,

• “Persian” [1] •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Persian” [2] •



  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]

• “Raga [Hamant] Todi” •


=Raga Hanumatodi (Carnatic)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-re-ga-ma-Pa-dha-ni-Sa
  • The title is a bit of an illegible scrawl, but says something like “Raga Hamant Todi” – suggestive of the popular Carnatic Raga Hanumatodi. And the scale’s shape does indeed match Hanumatodi, the 8th parent scale of the Melakarta system. (n.b. Hanumatodi is also referred to in Carnatic circles as Raga Thodi – confusingly, a different raga to the ‘North Indian Todi’ below.)

• “Raga Todi” •


=Raag Miyan ki Todi (Hindustani)

  • What is it? [writeup coming soon]
  • Sa-re-ga-Ma-dha-Ni-Sa-Ni-dha-Pa-Ma-ga-re-Sa
  • Trane has correctly titled this one – it’s definitely the Hindustani Raag Todi (also known as Miyan Ki Todi), even following the common trait of omitting of Pa in the ascending line.
  • It could be from a subtly different source to the other scales in Simpkins’ book. His reprint shows it on a separate original page (albeit with near-identical ink and score paper), and it’s the only one with a separate ascent and descent listed and a clear, correct title.

• ‘Church’ & ‘Greek’ modes •

Also in Simpkins’ book (p.113), Trane also lists the names of (but doesn’t notate) another 15 scales:

  • “Church”: This points to the scales’ origins in old European liturgical music – although their modern forms are more closely associated with jazz-adjacent theory.
  • “Ionian”:
  • “Dorian”:
  • “Phrygian”:
  • “Lydian”:
  • “Mixo-lydian”:
  • “Aeolian”:
  • “Locrian”:

  • “Greek”: Despite a near-identical set of names, the ‘Greek’ forms of the scales took different forms to those above. The names themselves are of geographical origin – the Dorians and Locrians were prominent local tribes, with the former being mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, while the Lydian and Phrygian peoples came from Anatolia in modern-day Turkey
  • “Lydian”:
  • “Phrygian”:
  • “Dorian”:
  • “[Svatino?]-Lydian”:
  • “Ionian”:
  • “Aeolian”:
  • “Mixo Lydian”:

  • …And while we’re at it: the word ‘music’ itself comes from the ancient Greek mousikē (‘pertaining to the muses’, the daughters of Zeus and patrons of human creativity), originally denoting a complex, culturally-interwoven union of sounds, dances, and poems. And in turn, ‘muse’ (or moũsai) is thought to have ultimate origins in the Proto-Indo-European root word ‘*men-‘, meaning ‘to think’. (I wonder how readily Trane could trace things like this in the pre-internet era? I think they would have pleased him…)


“If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man – it’s that I want.” (John Coltrane, 1926-1967)


Trane’s Ragas

John Coltrane left behind some cryptic, handwritten study notes entitled ‘Scales of India’. Here, I unravel the curious tale of what they are, where he got them, and what he was doing with them… [out 2022-23]

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Homepage for more, and hit me up for Lessons!

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