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Are There Different Chords for Each Mode?

Question by Chris

Hi there I would like to know if there is a different triad chord for the different modes.


If you are playing in the key of C, will you use the same chord triads Cmaj; Dmin; Emin; Fmaj; Gmaj; Amin; Bdim or are there other chords based on the different modes?

If you use the 3rd mode, phrygian, and you put the notes into triads will you use the same chords or will there be some extra chords that derive from that scale in the key of C, or will the chords that you derive from that scale be in the key of E?

Maybe this is a very stupid question and I say sorry for that, but I am really not sure.


Harmonizing the Modes

Chris, no this is not a stupid question. In fact it's a fairly complex question that many musicians have when they start learning about modes.

The easiest way to think of it is to start by assigning a relative position for each mode to the scale.

You probably already know this...

1 = Ionian (Major scale)
2 = Dorian
3 = Phrygian
4 = Lydian
5 = Mixolydian
6 = Aeolian (Natural minor scale)
7 = Locrian

As each mode has a relative chord from the harmonized scale, we can also use these assigned numbers to find the correct sequence of chords for a given mode.

Using the C major/Ionian scale as our example, and it's whole/half step formula (W W H W W W H)

Cmaj -W- Dm -W- Em -H- Fmaj -W- Gmaj -W- Am -W- Bdim

If we wanted to harmonize the Phrygian mode (3rd mode), we'd start the sequence from the 3rd chord. In other words, the 3rd chord would become the tonic of the scale...

Em -H- Fmaj -W- Gmaj -W- Am -W- Bdim -H- Cmaj -W- Dm

If we wanted to harmonize the Mixolydian mode (5th mode), the 5th chord would become the tonic...

Gmaj -W- Am -W- Bdim -H- Cmaj -W- Dm -W- Em -H- Fmaj

Once you're confident with finding the relative chords for each mode in C major, based on the interval formula, try finding the same sequence of chords using the same C tonic for each mode.

For example, based on its formula, Phrygian from the tonic of C would be...

Cm -H- Dbmaj -W- Ebmaj -W- Fm -W- Gdim -H- Abmaj -W- Bbm

The relative major scale/Ionian root would be Abmaj.

Mixolydian from that same C tonic would be...

Cmaj -W- Dm -W- Edim -H- Fmaj -W- Gm -W- Am -H- Bbmaj

The relative major scale/Ionian chord would be Fmaj. (Tip: the Ionian chord always follows the diminished chord in the scale).

So we use all the same chords as we would if we'd harmonized the major scale, just starting from that mode's degree in the scale.

There are no extra chords to think about, just different "starting positions" in the major scale based on your chosen mode's assigned number in the sequence.

Hope this answers your question Chris, but if you need any clarification, use the comments link below.

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