May 21

Mode Applications

Mode Applications - Thumbnail

In modern times Modes are being used as compositional and improvisational tools but it is sometimes confusing how to apply them. For this reason it is important to have a basic understanding of how modes relate in a chord/scale relationship.

To begin with here are the names of the modes and how they relate to the Major scale and the chord qualities (types) that are built on those scale tones:

  • Ionian – Relative to IMaj 7 chord
  • Dorian – Relative to IImin 7 chord
  • Phrygian – Relative to IIImin chord
  • Lydian – Relative IVMaj chord
  • Mixolydian – Relative to V7 chord
  • Aeolian – Relative to IVmin7 chord
  • Locrian – Relative to VIImin7b5 chord

Examples in the Key of C Major:

  • C Ionian would be the chord of Cmaj7
  • D Dorian would be the chord of Dmin7
  • E Phrygian would be the chord of Emin7
  • F Lydian would contain the chord FMaj7
  • G Mixolydian would contain the chord G7
  • A Aolian would contain the chord Amin7
  • B Locrian would be the chord of Bmin7b5

Another way to think of modes is to understand how they relate to the major scale. See example showing how the modes alter the major scale:

  • Ionian – No changes
  • Dorian – b3, b7
  • Phrygian – b2, b3, b6, b7
  • Lydian – #4
  • Mixolydian – b7
  • Aeolian – b3, b6, b7
  • Locrian – b2, b3, b5, b6, b7

Suggested Applications

The first and most basic application is the static Chord center type. In this type of approach if a song were to remain on a chord for an extended time then staying on the mode of of that chord type would be the first choice to try. Obviously this leads us to the next type of application.

The next and a bit more cool and sometimes "outside" sounding application is the the one based on chord tyes:

Notice that some of the modes relate to the same type of chord quality: Look at the exaple below:

  • Major 7 chords – Ionian & Lydian
  • Minor 7 chords – Dorian & Phrygian & Aeolian
  • Dominant & Chords – Mixolydian
  • Minor seven flat five chord – Locrian

Especially look at the Major and Minor chord groups there are a lot of choices there. On min7 going to Dom7 chords the Dorian with the Mixolian is what jazz is all about. The aeolian in Rock and Roll gives you that "classical" sound. Using Phrygian will give you a nice oriental sound and when played with a CMaj7 chord it can sound Spanish. The lydian played over a CMaj7 chord can make that chord a whole lot less boring.

Another cool thing to do is lower the 7th note of the lydian scale and you get a scale called Lydian Dominant and this works great over Dom7 chords.

Don’t forget you are artists. Contribute something new to the stream of life. Musical theory was created to describe what WAS done. Then it was turned into rules. Create some new rules.

The Best resources of finding applications is to listen to what the masters have done. I highly recommend that anyone who wants to learn about modal playing is to buy "Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Many of your answers are there.