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Modal Songs

Question by Al

About modes, do you make a complete song with basically one of the modes... like a song in Ionian, or say Dorian... the whole song? Or do you mix the modes up to have a combination of modes like Ionian, Lydian, Aeolian? I thought the latter, but see people saying songs are in one whole modes.


Very few songs are purely modal. In other words, most songs tend to venture outside the modal system. This is because nobody wants their song to be unnecessarily restricted.

You wouldn't purposefully write a modal song (at least I hope you wouldn't!) unless you were creating a backing track to practice a mode. However, some songs might end up being purely modal simply by chance.

An example I always refer to is No More Heroes by the Stranglers - pure Dorian mode.

Sweet Home Alabama is pure Mixolydian.

But then there are songs that might be modal during the verse and then go into something completely non-modal in the chorus.

Since modal progressions, like any song that uses a key center, are built around the resolution to a tonic chord, that tonic would have to change to introduce a new mode in the song. Some songs do this.

For example, here I start in the B Dorian mode...

Bm / E7 / Bm / Amaj

But then move into D Mixolydian...

Dmaj / Cmaj / Gmaj / Am

Then to link the chorus back to the verse...

Am / Dmaj / F#7 / Bm / E7 / Bm ...

Back in B Dorian again.

But as I mentioned before, most musicians don't purposefully write their songs in a particular mode. It just happens, and when it does, you can then apply your knowledge of modes to build a harmony (e.g. solo) around that progression.

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By: al

Now when you say Sweet Home Alabama is all in Mixolydian mode...this would be then each Key of D,C,G, using Mixolydian mode....?....going away from Derivative modes then?....I thought you create a song in a (Key) and use those seven notes for the song...but if Sweet home is all written in Mix..modes then that would mean three different keys of Mix mode?.....

One key, one mode
By: Mike

It's in one key - D, and the related mode is D Mixolydian.

Don't add to the confusion
By: Anonymous

So if most songs are not purposefully written in one mode, what is the purpose of the lesson on identifying which mode goes well with a certain chord progression? This implies that the mode would be used along the entire song, in many cases, where the chord progression dominates the song. Also, why give Sweet Home Alabama as an example in that lesson, since it is a rare case of using a single mode? It seems like you strive to generate confusion to then extract some dollars from your confused audience.

Re: Don't add to the confusion
By: Mike

You've curiously twisted the point I made on songs not purposefully being written in modes.

Just because most composers don't set out to write a song in a given mode, it doesn't mean these modal relationships don't occur naturally in music. In fact they happen all the time.

So the point of any lesson on modal progressions is to help you pick up on certain chord relationships that imply a given mode.

Sweet Home Alabama was used as an example for Mixolydian because it's a well known song.

The feedback I've received from visitors to my site has been overwhelmingly positive, so your assertion that my lessons are intentionally causing confusion is unfounded. A lot of the confusion actually comes from getting unnecessarily complicated information from other teachers... and sometimes posters on forums and youtube comments :)

Best on the net!
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