Mode and chord relations

This is an advanced modal lesson. If you are new to modal theory; click here for our beginners mode lesson

You will also need to be familiar with intervals. If you are not; click here for our intervals and scale building guide

First off, let’s list the 7 modes relative to a Major key and their intvervals:

  • Ionian (1-2-3-4-5-6-7)
  • Dorian (1-2-♭3-4-5-6-♭7)
  • Phrygian (1-♭2-♭3-4-5-♭6-♭7)
  • Lydian (1-2-3-#4-5-6-7)
  • Mixolydian (1-2-3-4-5-6-♭7)
  • Aeolian (1-2-♭3-4-5-♭6-7)
  • Locrian (1-♭2-♭3-4-♭5-♭6-♭7)

Knowing that these are just different degrees of the Ionian mode (Dorian is the 2nd degree, phrygian is 3rd and so on) we can add the major chord progression formula: Major – minor – minor – Major – Major- minor – diminished

  • Ionian – Major
  • Dorian – minor
  • Phrygian – minor
  • Lydian – Major
  • Mixolydian – Major/dominant
  • Aeolian – minor
  • Locrian – diminished

    Use the above with our extended chord theory – to help you write progressions from different keys. In this lesson our example will be in C Major:

    I: C Major – C Ionian

    ii: D minor – D Dorian

    iii: E minor – E Phrygian

    iv: F Major – F Lydian

    V: G Dominant – G Mixolydian

    Vi: A minor – A Aeolian

    Vii: B diminished – B Lorcian 

    If we wanted to compose in a major key; we would apply a chord progression formula to the above. For example, a simple I-IV-V-I progression in C would be CMaj-FMaj-GMaj-CMaj. 
    Next is the chord to modal progression for a minor key. The minor modes differ from your standard 7 western modes as they are further alterations. The modes are as follows:

    • Melodic minor (1-2-♭3-4-5-6-7)
    • Dorian ♭2 (1-♭2-♭3-4-5-6-♭7)
    • Lydian augmented (1-2-3-#4-#5-6-7)
    • Lydian dominant (1-2-3-#4-5-6-♭7)
    • Hindu (1-2-3-4-5-♭6-♭7)
    • Locrian 2 (1-2-♭3-4-♭5-♭6-♭7)
    • Super locrian (1-♭2-♭3-♭4-♭5-♭6-♭7)

    As you can see the modes above are similar to the standard 7 modes, but with some minor alterations. The chord formula for melodic minor is: minor-minor-augmented-dominant-dominant-half diminished – half diminished. Putting these with our melodic minor modes, we get the following progressions (in the key of A minor) : 

    I Melodic minor – A minor

    ii Dorian ♭2 – B minor

    iii lydian Aug – C augmented

    IV lydian Dom – D Dominant 

    V Hindu – E Dominant

    Vi Locrian – F Half dim 

    Vii Super Locrian – G half dim

    If we played the same chord progression as we did for C major (I-IV-V-I), but for our A melodic minor progression; we would have Aminor-DDominant-EDominant-Aminor
    The final part of this lesson will be our mode to chord relation in a harmonic minor key. The modes for this are once again altered; see below:

    • Harmonic minor (1-2-♭3-4-5-♭6-7)
    • Locrian 6 (1-♭2-♭3-4-♭5-6-♭7)
    • Ionian #5 (1-2-3-4-#5-6-7)
    • Dorian #4 (1-2-♭3-#4-5-6-♭7)
    • Phrygian dominant (1-♭2-3-4-5-♭6-♭7)
    • Lydian #2 (1-#2-3-#4-5-6-7)
    • Ultra locrian (1-♭2-♭3-4-♭5-♭6-♭♭7)

    Now we just need to add the modal formulas with the harmonic minor chord progression: minor – half diminished- augmented – minor – dominant – Major – Diminished.  Put with our harmonic minor modes in the key of A minor, we would get:

    I – Harmonic minor – A minor

    ii – Locrian6 – B half diminished

    iii – Ionian #5 – C Augmented 

    IV – Dorian #4 – D minor

    V – Phrygian Dominant – E Dominant

    Vi – Lydian #2 – F Major

    Vii – Ultra Locrian – G Diminished

    Applying our I-IV-V-I formula to A Harmonic minor, we would have Aminor-Dminor-Edominant-Aminor

    To go back to our music theory directory click here