A modal frame in music  is one of "a number of types permeating and unifying African, European, and American song" and melody. It may also be called a melodic mode, "mode" and "frame" being used interchangeably in this context, without reference to scalar or rhythmic modes. Melodic modes define and generate melodies that are not determined by harmony but purely by melody. A note frame is a melodic mode that is atonic (without a tonic) or has an unstable tonic.
Modal frames may be defined by their:
- floor note:the bottom of the frame, felt to be the lowest note, though isolated notes may go lower,
- ceiling note:the top of the frame,
- central note:the center around which other notes cluster or gravitate,
- upper or lower focus: portion of the mode on which the melody temporarily dwells,
and also define melody types, such as;
- axial tunes ("A Hard Day's Night", "Peggy Sue", Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness", and Roy Milton's "Do the Hucklebuck")
Further defined features include;
- melodic dissonance: the quality of a note that is modally unstable and attracted to other more important tones in a non-harmonic way
- melodic triad: arpeggiated triads in a melody. A non-harmonic arpeggio is most commonly a melodic triad, it is an arpeggio the notes of which do not appear in the harmony of the accompaniment.
- level: a temporary modal frame contrasted with another built on a different foundation note. A change in levels is called a shift.
- co-tonic: a melodic tonic different from and as important as the harmonic tonic
- secondary tonic: a melodic tonic different from but subordinate to the harmonic tonic
- pendular third: alternating notes a third apart, most often a neutral, see double tonic
According to Middleton, the song, "at first glance major-key-with-modal-touches", reveals through its "Line of Latent Mode" "a deep kinship with typical blues melodic structures: it is centred on three of the notes of the minor-pentatonic mode [on C: C, E-flat, F, G, B-flat] (E♭-G-B♭), with the contradictory major seventh (B♮) set against that. Moreover, the shape assumed by these notes - the modal frame - as well as the abstract scale they represent, is revealed, too; and this - an initial, repeated circling round the dominant (G), with an excursion to its minor third (B♭), 'answered' by a fall to the 'symmetrical' minor third of the tonic (E♭) - is a common pattern in blues."
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.
- Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p.203. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
- adapted from Ekueme, Lazarus. cited in Middleton (1990), p.203.
- van der Merwe (1989), p.321.
- adapted from Nketia, J.H. cited in Middleton (1990), p.203.
- Middleton (1990), p.201.