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I've been composing for years but know very little about modes, just stuck to major and minor. If I took a chord progression from Cmajor, ie I - IV - V - I which would be C,F,G,C, and then switched into D Dorian, having the notes DEFGABCD, and used the same Chord progression, instead I'd be playing Dm, G, Am, Dm - that would sound completely different, but would it be a good idea to use the Dorian mode like this?

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3 Answers 3

Sure, that kind of modal shifting using the same root relationships is generally quite effective. In your particular example, you might want to raise the 7th scale degree (C to C#) for V and vii chords (much as you might do in minor) in order to get a stronger drive to the i chord, but then you wouldn't strictly be in D Dorian. Either way works but has a rather different character.

A lot of music in Dorian doesn't use V as often to lead to I as in Major. VII - I (in your D Dorian example, C major to D minor) is quite common and effective.

The only mode in which I - IV - V - I root relationships tend to not "work" quite as well is Locrian. The diminished fifth above the tonic tends to throw things off. For example, in B Locrian (BCDEFGAB), the I chord would be a diminished triad, and that tends to weaken its use as a tonic. Most composers will raise the fifth scale degree so that the I chord is just minor. Also, in both Locrian and Phrygian, the II chord is used very often to lead to I. For example, in E Phrygian (EFGABCDE), F major moving down to E minor.

So to sum up, yes, the same sort of root relationships often do "work" in a similar though complementary fashion in the other church modes, though sometimes a scale degree is altered for some chords. However, new progressions specific to these other modes, such as bVII - I in Mixolydian and Dorian and Aeolian and bII - I in Phrygian and Locrian, also sometimes start getting used in their place (or in addition).

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Thanks for your comments. What I can't figure out here my subsequent chord progression in Dorian of Dm - G - Am - Dm looks suspiciously like Aeolian Mode. I've read that it is the MELODY given which tells the listener the Dorian mode is at work here. i still find it hard to distinguish between Aeolian and Dorian. –  user9879 Mar 11 '14 at 14:58
@user9879 Well, if it were in D Aeolian, the G chord would be minor instead of major because of the B-flat in that mode. As far as the harmonies are concerned, that will be the only difference between I - IV - V - I in Dorian/Aeolian. But that's a fairly substantial change in the sound which will indeed be heightened by the sound of the melody line. Dorian and Aeolian should sound similar, since they only differ in the sixth scale degree. If you're looking for something more exotic, try Phrygian and use some II chords. –  Pat Muchmore Mar 11 '14 at 15:04
@user9879 well there is only one note difference and you wouldn't play G major in D minor you would play G minor instead. To hear the difference try playing a D Dorian scale then a D minor scale. and try to harmonize both and hear what sounds good. –  Dom Mar 11 '14 at 15:04
Of course! Stupid me, never noticed. Thank you. –  user9879 Mar 11 '14 at 16:54
+1 The one thing I disagree with - and it's completely subjective - is that I wouldn't raise the 7th note in the scale just to get a leading tone. (In fact, I usually flatten the 7th when I'm writing in major keys because I prefer the sound.) –  Kevin Mar 11 '14 at 18:58

You can use the dorian mode as you mentioned in your question. But if you analyze modal pieces you will notice that each mode has its preference for certain progressions. In dorian, you will often find the bVII, the IV, and the III chord in addition to the I chord (in D dorian that would be C, G, and F). But of course any chord made up of scale notes can be played. Obviously you can also add other chords by altering one or more scale notes, but then you're not strictly in the dorian mode anymore. Adding chords from other modes is called "modal interchange" and it helps to spice up your composition by adding some flavor from other modes to it.

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I"ve just listened to "Fêtes" by Debussy who uses THREE modes, switching from one to another, marvellous stuff! –  user9879 Mar 13 '14 at 12:59

There's a song you should check out: an Irish song called "Star Of The County Down." The prominently featured cadence is Fmaj - Cmaj - Dmin in D Dorian. It's not functional harmony per se, but organic (as in organum) harmony. That is, the 5 chord has no particular relevance to the voice leading. Rather it is the movement (up) from the b7 which forms this particular sound. Irish humor, you know. It happens on the word "Down". Go find the song on YouTube. It's a great example of using the Dorian mode.

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Indeed, there are a lot of Irish /Celtic folk type songs written in Dorian. –  Tim Mar 12 '14 at 12:14
Ta, will check it out, me being a Celt. –  user9879 Mar 13 '14 at 12:55

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