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What is a modal chord progression? I know that some scale degrees resolve to other scale degrees other than the root note or root chord. Do I always have to resolve my phrases on the notes of the tonic chord for each different mode? If not, then how do I identify each mode's different sound without always relying on the mode's root chord? How do I solo over different chords without soloing over the tonic while still maintaining each mode's different and unique sound?

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  • I'm convinced that, if you're not soloing on the tonic or a chord progression that involves the tonic, you're not soloing in a mode. Solo over the dominant of a minor key all you like (e.g. the Live at the Acropolis version of Yanni's "Keys to Imagination"), that is precisely what you're soloing over instead of any mode of the (A, in this case) harmonic minor scale.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 29, 2023 at 18:14
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    Music terminology is not standardized and even if it was, there would be numerous different standards and the standards are not followed anyway. Can you link to or describe a context where this phrase is used in the meaning you're asking about? Oct 30, 2023 at 10:36

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Do I always have to resolve my phrases on the notes of the tonic chord for each different mode?

No, if the listener's perception of home note is provided by some other means, such as backing instruments.

If not, then how do I identify each mode's different sound without always relying on the mode's root chord?

If a listener perceives the music as having the home note, harmonic centerpoint note, tonic or whatever you want to call it, as being X, and the harmony around X as being rigidly structured as a set of intervals called Blahblah, then the music can be said to be in X Blahblah mode, for that listener.

HOW exactly the perception of harmonic center and intervals around it is created, is an art, a skill, and beyond the means of a single answer to teach. Pitches, rhythms, even timbres have a role in it, and the perception happens inside the listener, and it depends on each listener's subjective history, acquired tastes, even sense of rhythm. If the listener is unable to identify where the "one" is in your rhythmic pulse, they will have a different idea of which notes are harmonically strong.

Think about going to a dance in Africa and you just cannot make sense of the beat and so you can't dance to it and people laugh at you. You need good old German boom boom boom boom marching beat ie. techno which tells you when to stomp. The same goes with harmony. Maybe you aren't skilled enough in hearing where the "one" is, rhythmically or harmonically. You can try and learn through experience, but you won't be able to calculate it with rules and math.

Repeating the root note a lot all the time, like the boom boom boom boom bass drum and bass notes in marching and techno beats, can work as a rule of thumb, if nothing else helps.

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What is a modal chord progression? I know that some scale degrees resolve to other scale degrees other than the root note or root chord.

"Resolving" implies a movement to the root chord, which - although being a concept that stems from tonal music - is fine in modal chord progressions. But resolving phrasings isn't the main interest in modal improvisation. One could argue that resolving implies a musical movement that restricts improvisation to a certain degree.

If you want to employ some/any kind of chord progression, you are instead recommended to move between the root chord and the chords consisting of the character note, i.e. the note that is considered unique for the current scale you're playing.

Chords that consists of neither root note or character note can be used as passing chords, and will not aid in emphasizing the current mode.

Chords with tritones are considered tonal (representing the dominant chord function that want's to resolve to the tonic) and are therefore not really aligned with the purpose of modal music.

There is also the use of non-tertian chords - chords that aren't built on thirds - to further move away from a tonal and/or function sound. These can still consist of the root note, or the character note.

Do I always have to resolve my phrases on the notes of the tonic chord for each different mode? If not, then how do I identify each mode's different sound without always relying on the mode's root chord? How do I solo over different chords without soloing over the tonic while still maintaining each mode's different and unique sound?

The idea is that you focus on improvising strong melodies over resolving them. Also, some ways to emphasize the current mode are:

  • Relating character note chords to the root chord (which you've already mentioned).
  • Relating the current mode to a new one by switching them at a preferred pace while playing. This lets the listener hear/feel the relative difference between modes.
  • Focus your melodies around the character note.
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If you're thinking in terms of 'resolving' - other than being aware of a 'home' chord - maybe it isn't useful to label it as a 'modal progression'.

What's your criterion for deciding whether a piece is in D minor or D Dorian? Maybe something to do with the presence of a sharpened leading note, enabling the most basic functional resolution, V - I? Without that, it's a mode rather than a key?

A topic for exploration rather than a definitive ruling, I think.

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