When I mean by that, I understand how the 7 modes are constructed:

  • Ionian: Major scale with no alterations
  • Dorian: natural minor scale with 1 alteration: #6
  • Phrygian: natural minor scale with 1 alteration: b2
  • Lydian: Major scale with 1 alteration: #4
  • Mixolydian: Major scale with 1 alteration: b7
  • Aeolian: natural minor scale
  • Locrian: natural minor scale with 2 alterations: b2, b5

Does anyone have tips or tricks for remembering the function of mode harmony?

My intention is to create chord progressions with Modal Interchange to create more color without any cheatsheet or just one-way Practice in 12 keys and remember day by day and stop using a cheatsheet — just use it for reference only and apply this concept as much as I can. Do you have any advice on this topic? or Would you share how you learn to pass through this obstacle?

  • Could you clarify what you mean by "the function of mode harmony"?
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 21:00
  • Thank you for editing my text, I really appreciate that.
    – Papoom
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 22:41
  • Hi Papoom. Glad to help; welcome to the site. My understanding of your question is that you're looking for help memorizing the alterations for each mode. Is that correct?
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 22:45
  • 2
    Yes, I really appreciate that. when I mean by the function of mode harmony I mean chord progression within the mode itself for example C major chord progression contains a D minor (II-) chord but in C Lydian (parallel) Characteristic chords are II and VII- and The purpose for me to remember this because of Modal interchange for borrowing chord from a given mode and using them in chord progression to make more color or interesting, Thank you for your time.
    – Papoom
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 22:50
  • 1
    Related: Characteristic chords of a mode/scale.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 0:08

6 Answers 6


TLDR; I don't think there is one. As others have already said, you can probably theoretically justify borrowing1 just about any chord.

Let's start by constructing a table of the modes and the 4 note chords that would be built from each scale degree. I'm using all caps roman numerals throughout, even though the case usually indicates chord quality, but it is much simpler if we just stick with the caps, and I didn't want to use numerals for the scale degree to help separate the scale degree from the chord qualities.

enter image description here

There are four types of chord: 7, -7, △ and the half diminished (-7b5 or ø7), and each of the twelve tones is used at least once as a chord root. I did this in Excel, which makes it really easy to generate another chart that will reduce this to a list of which chord types appear in the modes for each scale degree. Although the IV in Lydian is the #IV I am including only the enharmonic bV in this chart.

enter image description here

So, for I we encounter all four chord types, and for bII only the △, and so forth. I'm going to remove all of the non-scale tones (bII, bIII, etc) in a new chart, just to make it easier to point out something:

enter image description here

There are 28 combinations of scale degree and chord type, and about three quarters of them appear somewhere in a mode.

But notice that III7 doesn't appear in this chart. While I suppose it is technically true that E7 doesn't appear in any of the parallel modes in C*, it is arguably one of the most famous borrowed chords of all time. It's also a very legit sub for V7.

There are some other noticeable exclusions. bII7 isn't represented in the chords borrowed from modes, but is a common sub for V7 (which is), as in ii7-bII7-I instead of ii7-V7-I. IVø7 isn't in this chart, but is both quite groovy and also a fine sub for bII7 (which also isn't) or iiø7 (which is), and I commonly use IVø7-V7 as a more harmonically complex (and pleasing to me) alternative to V7sus-V7-I.

VII7 doesn't appear, and how many times have you heard B7-Em in key of C? III doesn't show up, but I'm pretty sure I could make that work (depending on context) for C+ or Cm/maj7.

I guess what I'm getting at is that if you are only looking at modes for borrowed chords, you're leaving out some other substitutions that are very common (probably more important than anything you'll get at this way), and if you start including chords that are borrowed with other methods, then you get into a situation where you can theoretically justify any chord whatsoever, and the more you do that, the more you reduce the utility of the cheat sheet (or mnemonic technique, or rule, or whatever you are creating).

And that's the thing. You can try out a chord indicated to you by some theoretical method, but they are all context dependent, some to a greater degree than others, and the theory of how they work isn't necessarily that indicative of whether or not you can pull them off in a practical setting, so there's really not that much point in trying to memorize all the possible permutations. A cheat sheet or such might not be feasible for practical application, especially if you expand it to cover all possibilities, but it is just fine for practice sessions, which is where you'll mostly be working through these ideas, anyway.

All that being said, here is a list of all of the chords used by scale degree in all of the modes. Whether or not you can pull off something like #IVø7 in place of the four chord3 is going to be up to your ears:

enter image description here

1 "borrowed" refers only to chords that appear in a parallel mode, if I remember correctly from my theory days. However, it seems to me that the term is used much more loosely in practice, for instance V/V relationships or in other cases where you appropriated a chord from a more (or less) related key

* I'm not sure if the source is V/vi or the V from the harmonic minor, or if this is even a settled question, or matters. Theory is kind of made up after the fact to explain things that were already happening

3 The two chords are almost identical: F-A-C-E vs F#-A-C-E. But if you were to substitute that into a I-IV-V in C, would the ear interpret that as an alteration of IV or as a V/V (C-D7-G7)? Same question if you borrow the II7 from Lydian. Will the ear interpret this as an altered II, or hear the V/V relationship, or some other possibility? It is all highly contextual.


Not certain where you're going, but...

I tend to think of modes as changes in/ adaptions of the parent key.

In other words, C Ionian has no change.

D Dorian uses all the notes/chords from C.

E Phrygian uses all the notes/chords from C.

F Lydian uses all the notes/chords from C.

G Mixolydian uses all the nots/chords from C.

A Aeolian uses all the notes/chords from C.

B Locrian - you have the idea, but Locrian is strange!

So I go back to the parent key, knowing the notes/chords from that key.

Other example. D Mixolydian: parent G major. Giving the chords G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F♯o.

Seems easier, as we probably would have learnt the 'chord families' before we tackled modes.

  • This is my favorite way of understanding the church modes. In case it's not clear to anyone: You could either imagine all the modes starting on C and then talk about which scale degrees are lowered or raised—or you could imagine them all using the same set of notes, like the white keys on the piano, and just change which note you're "starting on" Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 20:58
  • That's how I remember them: for D and A the mode starts with these letters, F and G are related just as the IV an V are important in C. Ionian starts with the number 1, meaning C. Locrian is strange. Just need to remember that E is Phrygian.
    – Jos
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 10:35
  • 1
    @Jos - I Don't Play Like My Aunt Loo. It's a fun thing to get students to come up with mnemonics...
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:01

One simple "trick" is to make use of the order of the modes.

  1. Ionian/Major
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian/Minor
  7. Locrian

A consequence of the ordering is that the i chord in Dorian is that ii chord in Major, for example. That is, when thinking in Dorian, subtracting 1 will give the Roman numeral in the relative Major.1 Similarly, in Phrygian, subtracting 2 will given the Roman numeral in the relative Major, and subtracting 1 will give the Roman numeral in the relative Dorian.

Suppose we're composing in Mode A and want to know how the current chord corresponds to relative Mode B. We can use the following formula:

Mode B Roman numeral = (Mode A Roman numeral - (Mode B number - Mode A number)Mod 7)Mod 7


Example 1. Given the six chord in Mixolydian, what is the corresponding Roman numeral in Dorian?

  • Mixolydian = Mode A = Mode 4
  • Dorian = Mode B = Mode 1
  • (1 - 4)Mod 7 = 4
  • six - four = two

Thus, the two chord of Dorian corresponds to the six chord of Mixolydian.

Example 2. How does the Lydian four chord correspond to the Locrian mode?

  • Lydian = Mode 3
  • Locrian = Mode 6
  • (6 - 3)Mod 7 = 3
  • four - three = one

Thus, the four chord in Lydian corresponds to the one chord in Locrian.

Example 3. I'm currently in Phrygian and want to get to the four chord in Ionian. Which is the corresponding Phrygian chord?

  • Four = (X - (0 - 2)Mod 7)Mod 7
  • Four = (X - -2Mod 7) = (X - 5)Mod 7
  • XMod 7 = 9Mod 7 = Two

So the Ionian Four chord corresponds to the Phrygian Two chord.

1 I am careful to refer to "Roman numeral" rather than "chord function", because functional harmony is defined only in terms of major and minor. Modal harmony pointedly avoids the strictures of functional harmony, so Roman numerals are convenient labels, but do not denote chord function.

  • 1
    I really, really like this. How can I figure out the corresponding chord? Just use "mode-ulo". Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 0:04
  • 1
    @ChrisStrickland I'm glad you like it, but two demerits for the pun. :-)
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 0:05
  • I do think this (1 - 3)Mod 7 = 4 should read (1 - 4)Mod 7 = 4. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 1:53
  • For those of us without a maths degree, this seems mind-blowing!
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:05
  • @Aaron: I also believe that the interior modulo is unnecessary, and the periodicity will be enforced even if you only apply mod7 once at the end. I think (Mode A Roman numeral - (Mode B number - Mode A number))Mod 7 will always return the same answer as the original. But modular arithmetic is not my forte, so I'm not 100% sure. [it has occurred to me that the interior mod may be there to allow solving Ex. 3] Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 8:41

You have my permission to chromatically modify any chord in your song. You could almost certainly justify this as 'modal interchange'. The modified chord probably exists in SOME mode. Does it matter which one?

But if you want to label your alterations, I suggest you memorise and internalise the list of alterations stated in your question.

  • So, if I have a minor chord, and I lower the third, to which mode will the resulting chord correspond?
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 0:09
  • 1
    +1 This kind of doesn't answer the question exactly, but then again it answers the question exactly. Myself, I've never had a gig where my job is to name modes correctly, or else the audience leaves. I've only ever had to play songs. If you know what kind of a sound you want to achieve, you do that by playing notes or maybe doing chromatic alterations or whatever. When exactly does one have to give "correct" names to the sets of alterations... Only in a theory exam, or if you need to explain the ideas to another musician who happens to know that language. Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 1:15
  • @Aaron If you lower the third of a minor chord, I guess we're back in major/Ionian! Thank you for reinforcing my point that over-analysis is futile.
    – Laurence
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 13:28
  • And thank you for making mine: you're guessing we're in major. We could also still be in minor, or we could have shifted to lydian or mixolydian. It matters when , as OP says, one is trying to compose a shift from one mode to another.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 15:16
  • The music shifts to another mode when enough altered notes are heard to establish that mode. And only then.
    – Laurence
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 15:56

The Father Christmas Brought Dad An Electric Blanket counterpart for modes is

I Don't Punch Like Muhammad ALi

This should help you remember the modes in order.


The traditional Ionian → Dorian → Phrygian → Lydian → Mixolydian → Aeolian → Locrian ordering is good for deriving the diatonic modes associated with one key signature.

To work out the alterations needed for the various modes in one tonic, I prefer to think of them in a "circle of modes" organized by the number of sharps and flats in the key signature.

It should help you remember the alterations and possibly help with "smoother" introduction of modal alterations.

circle of modes


  • The key signature for B Ionian (major) has five sharps. To get to B Phrygian, we go 4 degrees flatter (remove 4 ♯s, ending with one ♯). You could also reach Phrygian by going 3 degrees sharper, but that ends up with 8 ♯s (i.e. F𝄪), and raises the tonic to B♯

  • The key signature for C Aeolian has three flats (same as E♭ major). To get to C Lydian, we go 4 degrees sharper (remove 3 ♭s, add one ♯). We add and remove them in the normal order. You could also reach Lydian going the other way and make it 3 degrees flatter (add 3 ♭s) but that ends up adding a C♭ (which changes the tonic).

  • The key signature for A Mixolydian has two sharps (same as D major). To get to D Locrian, we go 4 degrees flatter (remove 2 ♯s, add two ♭s). If we go the other way, we add up with 5 flats, including a D♭.

How do you know which way to go around the circle to avoid altering the tonic? I chose to put Dorian at the top, because if you start at Dorian in any key, you can reach any of the other modes by the shortest distance without altering the tonic (though you may end up with an ungodly number of sharps or flats in the signature). If you start elsewhere, you should move in the direction of Dorian (and past it if needed) to avoid altering the tonic.

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