In a chart I am looking at, the bVII chord can come from dorian mode, mixolydian mode and aeolian modes. So why is it said to come from the parallel minor (aeolian mode)?

Let me give an example. In F major, the bVII chord will be Eb which is normally said to come from F minor (F aeolian). But my understanding is that this chord can just as easily come from F dorian, or F mixolydian.

  • In the key of F major, the bVII chord is Eb which is said to be borrowed from F minor (IOW: F aeolian). But in modal mixing, the Eb chord can come from F dorian or F mixolydian. So why is the Eb said to be borrowed from Fminor? Clear now? – armani Aug 10 at 15:46
  • 2
    I think it would help to tell us where you heard or read this. The context of the theory is important. If it is music theory based on the common practice period, then your answer is that in the common practice period, the theory is not generally modal, it is focused on major and minor keys. However, if the source were about jazz theory, then we might be a bit more surprised for a bVII chord to be described as borrowed from the parallel minor. – Todd Wilcox Aug 12 at 5:35
  • Note that in theories of modern music, such as rock or even modern orchestral soundtracks, the theory can be so totally modal that the bVII chord isn't even considered "borrowed" at all, merely from the mode of the piece. For example, the G major chord in "Another Brick In The Wall, Part II" is not considered borrowed, it is merely a chord from D Dorian, in which the song is generally considered to have been written. – Todd Wilcox Aug 12 at 5:38

Pretty sure it says it comes from the parallel minor, as relative modes share all chords by definition.

For what is is worth, you could "borrow" any chord from whichever mode it appears in, since you do not have to bring it back :)) - chances are, that one knows aeolian better than mixolydian, that's why.

| improve this answer | |
  • sorry, perhaps I wasnt clear, I have amended my question, it should be much clearer now – armani Aug 10 at 15:27
  • Yes, I see now where I was being confusing... I changed the word "relative" to "parallel". you are right and i was meant to say Parallel minor :) – armani Aug 10 at 15:48

The borrowed chord comes per definition from the parallel key - if not the melody has modulated. In this case it can be borrowed from any other mode.


As the name implies, Borrowed Chords are chords borrowed from other modes. These modes can be a music mode or the Parallel mode.

Most of the time, Borrowed Chords come from the parallel mode. For this reason, many authors classify Borrowed Chords as borrowing only from the parallel mode.



Before the common practice era there was no way to consider chords as borrowed from other modes. (But we could develop together a theory of borrowed chords from other modes in Renaissance music ;)

| improve this answer | |
  • You should probably be more specific. F mixolydian is a parallel mode to F major; we just don't tend to use the term that way. – Aaron Aug 10 at 20:57
  • Mind that mode based chord progression were before Bach and the WTC. Only the system of tonality (all 12 major keys and their minor relatives and parallel keys) allowed to consider e.g. Fm in C major as borrowed subdominant of the parallel c minor key. It is a question of history of harmony and chord description. Before this era of common practice chord progressions were used without theory of tonality and borrowing. See e.g. Palestrina’s Stabat Mater. – Albrecht Hügli Aug 11 at 12:35

If the music is in the major/minor system, then the number of modes referenced for various chromatic harmonies is somewhat limited. The phrygian mode can be referenced for things like augmented sixth chord resolutions or Neapolitain chords. Lydian for a raised subdominant. Borrowed chords would generically be referenced from the parallel minor key.

In pop/rock style it's common to refer to the mixolydian mode. bVII in major, in pop/rock style, could be described as "borrowed", or an inflection/coloring, from the mixolydian mode. Blues uses this label too.

Most of these wordings seems to be convention rather than pure logic, except perhaps for phrygian, that is the only tonal mode with a lowered second scale degree (this excludes locrian.) When that alteration is used, you really cannot mistake it for another modal "borrowing."

| improve this answer | |

Why you would describe the flat 7 chord as borrowed from the parallel Minor instead of one of the modes may have to do with the system being used to describe the harmonic structure.

I've found that there are numerous ways that music theory is described and taught.

In some cases musicians are educated in a Major/Minor only system that doesn't really utilize the modal system, or even excludes it.

For example, Dorian mode music may be described as a form of the relative Melodic Minor and Mixolydian pieces are chord analyzed to the relative Major, calling the Mixolydian One chord the Five of its Major.

In this context, when describing the harmonic structure of a Major key, a borrowed chord is going to be referenced to the available Major or Minor keys only, either the parallel, relative, or a secondary based off of the Dominant.

| improve this answer | |

There are many different angles from which to explain the bVII chord and how it works. If you're curious, check out my two videos on the so called "backdoor progression" (link below, pardon my German use of "bee" for "flat" :P). One such angle is to explain it as borrowed from the parallel minor:

First, the bVII (Eb in your example) is a dominant seventh chord in most cases. It is not seldomly preceeded by a iv7 (Bbm7) chord to make it a ii-V progression. In that combination, the modes of F mixolydian and dorian are ruled out. This leaves us with the parallel minor key (i.e. "natural minor" or "aeolian").

The move to bVII is not so much a move to a single chord, but more a temporary shift to the parallel minor key – even if the voicing of your bVII chord does not make that unambiguously clear.

By the way, borrowing chords from the parallel minor key is common for other chords as well (e.g. bIII, bVI or iv).

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Adding the involvement of the iv7 chord really does clarify the mode situation. Very interesting explanation. – Aaron Aug 11 at 9:06
  • "The move to bVII is not so much a move to a single chord, but more a temporary shift to the parallel minor key" Only if your system can't tolerate a chromatic chord without re-tonicization. What do you think of the idea that bVII has acquired 'Honorary Diatonic' status? – Laurence Payne Aug 11 at 15:38
  • @LaurencePayne it's true and there is always more than one correct explanation of a phenomenon. Some people will actually feel a new tonic, others will experience a brief chromatic slip. I love the term "honorary diatonic" :D! – morgler Aug 13 at 13:53
  • The backdoor cadence is only one use of the bVII chord. You seem to be speaking more about jazz. If you look at many non-jazz songwriters the bVII doesn't have to be a dominant chord at all and I can think of too many examples where the chord is not preceded by the iv7 chord. – armani Aug 13 at 17:30
  • @armani True. The chord does not have to be preceeded by iv (as I also mention in the video). If it is not a dominant chord, it usually has a totally different use and explanation. I sometimes see a major 7th chord used, which still fits with the backdoor explanation. But rock music sometimes uses bIII and bVII which comes directly from the parallel minor and little to do with backdoor. – morgler Aug 13 at 17:37

Yes, you could say that ♭VII was 'borrowed' from several other places as well as the parallel minor.

I wouldn't get too hung up on this 'borrowing' thing. All it's really saying is 'you have permission to use this non-diatonic chord'. But you didn't NEED permission! Really, it's OK not to be diatonic! It's OK to take a diatonic chord and change one of its notes. Or two of them. Or all of them!

Sometimes an 'outside' chord leads us to a new tonal centre. Sometimes it's just a touch of colour.

Your ♭VII is actually an interesting case. It's been so common in popular music since around the Beatles era that it's often sensible just to count it as 'honorary diatonic'. Same way that we don't fuss over the non-diatonic chords in a simple 12-bar Blues.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    "Borrowing" can be a useful notion for explicating the harmonic context or perspective that a musician is thinking about when dealing with notes and chords outside the default scale. It's not only about legitimacy and social acceptance. The OP's problem comes from assuming that one perspective could be a "true" measurable physical fact that exists independently of a subject. And I'd rather have diatonic mean "you don't need to use accidentals to deviate from the default scale". – piiperi Reinstate Monica Aug 12 at 10:29

There's a tendency in the way music theory is taught - at least at beginner to intermediate level - towards explaining everything in terms of major and minor, rather than talking about the modes. You'll notice, for example, that your typical 'circle of fifths' diagram showing key signatures will tell you that a key sig with one flat can be F major or D minor, but not that it can be 'G dorian', for example.

In general, major and minor have become better-known concepts than the modes through having associated 'keys' as well as just 'scales'. When people talk about borrowing, they may often really be thinking about borrowing from a parallel key, rather than a parallel scale. That's why people would talk about borrowing from minor, rather than dorian or mixolydian (or even aeolian, for that matter).

Whether or not you find that a helpful way to go about things is up to you! One of the common places you'll find bVII is in a kind of blues-mixolydian-major hybrid tonality commonly found in rock that isn't really major or minor, or any of the modes. In that particular case, I'm not sure that talking about bVII as being 'borrowed' is helpful.

| improve this answer | |

A common minor is Aeolian - probably more commonly used than Dorian. The Mixolydian mode is major, but would still produce that ♭7 chord. And more people are aware of Aeolian.

Modal mixing is just a way to explain how 'foreign' notes get mixed up. Out of the three, none is any more responsible, but Aeolian wins as the most well-known.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Yes but... F mixolydian is "closer" to the key of F (one step on the circle of fifths). Why should you go all way to F aeolian (3 steps on the circle of fifths) to theorize about where the non-diatonic chord is coming from? – armani Aug 10 at 16:00
  • 2
    Fair comment, but everything doesn't revolve around the circle... – Tim Aug 10 at 16:36

In F major, the bVII chord will be Eb which is normally said to come from F minor (F aeolian). But my understanding is that this chord can just as easily come from F dorian, or F mixolydian.

It's a matter of perspective. If the person in question looks at the Eb chord as a part of an F minor context with chords like Bbm, Ab, Db, etc. and uses that harmonic palette to draw from - with the intention of quickly returning to the original palette - then that's where it "comes from". And then it is reasonable and logical for the person to say, "I borrowed the Eb chord from the key of F minor".

However, if the person is thinking about, say, F mixolydian, then the right thing is to say "I borrowed the Eb chord from F mixolydian." If you feel like you're moving to the other mode more permanently, then you say you're modulating or changing the mode, not borrowing. Right? You say what you do, if you want others to know what you do if it isn't self evident. If you think you're riding a bike then you say "I'm riding a bike". If you think you borrowed the Eb chord from F minor, then you say "I borrowed the Eb chord from F minor." If you think you borrowed the Eb chord from F mixolydian, then you say "I borrowed the Eb chord from F mixolydian."

An Eb chord alone doesn't make the mode F minor or F mixolydian or anything. But F minor or F mixolydian or F dorian etc. might be on your mind, depending on what other things you do or intend to do.

If your question is, "why do so many people so often think about this one particular mode instead of all these other modes", then maybe it's something cultural. It's a popular thing to do for some reason.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.