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OK I know major and minor modes will produce different chords but what about other modes? How to derive chords from dorian, phrygian? Lydian? Mixolydian? Locrian?

Edit: The chord order in A minor is i - ii - III - iv - v - VI - VII and C major is I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii... What is the order of major and minor (and diminished) for the other modes? That's my question.

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  • I don't want to start a red herring, but since nobody's done so yet, I just want to problematize the notion that "modes create chords" at all. Especially when we're talking about the church modes, we're talking about artifacts of a system that didn't even think about chords. But even in modern practice, a mode is more than a factory for making exotic chords; it's something you're "in." It doesn't "make" the chords, so much as provide a context about how they're used. Oct 31, 2023 at 15:07
  • I thought the I chord was from the first note of the scale? Isn't this how we determine key? C major mode is C major chord and A minor chord is A minor mode on the I chord. Oct 31, 2023 at 15:30
  • "Isn't this how we determine key?" Do you determine the key by identifying the I chord or do you identify the I chord by determining the key? @AndyBonner correctly mentions "a system that didn't even think about chords" but even today a melody with no chords at all is most likely going to be in some key. You don't need chords to say whether I'm playing Frère Jacques in C major or D major. How do you determine whether a C major chord is the I of the key of C major or the III of the key of A minor (or the V of F or the IV of G, etc., etc.).
    – phoog
    Nov 8, 2023 at 7:03
  • As mode is a precursor to a key (tonality), and tonality is defined as a system of chords gravitating toward a single "root" tone, whatever it may be, you can derive all chords from the tones of the scale. Or mode. Nov 28, 2023 at 22:14

6 Answers 6

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No difference! The chords associated with C Ionian are those which are found in D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian A Aeolian and B Locrian. Reason - they all emanate from the same parent key - C major.

EDIT: it occurred to me that you are considering modes with the same tonic.

Different tack here. Let's go from key C major to mode C Dorian. Parent key here is B♭. So all of the chords associated with B♭ will apply. And so on. C Mixolydian has the notes from F major, so all the chords found in F major work.

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  • Why is the parent key of C dorian Bb? Oct 31, 2023 at 15:48
  • Because the notes involved in C Dorian are those from Bb major. The Dorian mode starts on the 2nd note of the scale.
    – Tim
    Oct 31, 2023 at 16:04
  • Ok this is making more sense now Oct 31, 2023 at 16:26
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Presumably you are referring to chords formed from the notes in the mode itself. For example, a scale played in D Dorian will be D E F G A B C (D). Comparing the notes in this scale to the regular D minor (Aeolian), the primary difference will be the chord formed on the fourth degree of the scale: in D minor, the chord is iv, G minor, G Bb D, whereas in D Dorian, the chord is IV, G major, G B D. This chord in fact is the distinguishing chord of D Dorian.

Also the chord formed on the second note of the chord will be different: in D Dorian, it's an E minor chord (E G B) whereas in D minor, it's an E diminished chord (E G Bb). Basically any chord that contains the B note will be different between D Dorian and D minor.

The same goes for the other modes, although of course this depends on the 'distinguishing' note of the mode.

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  • How can I figure out the 'distinguishing' note in other modes? Nov 2, 2023 at 14:15
  • @selectstart: Start with a major scale. Sharpen the fourth - this is Lydian. Unsharpen the fourth and flatten the seventh - this is Mixolydian. Keep the flattened seventh and sharpen the sixth - this is Dorian, Unsharpen the sixth and flatten the third - this is the Minor scale, aka Aeolian. Flatten the second - this is Phrygian. Watch this video for a good explanation - youtube.com/watch?v=jNY_ZCUBmcA. Nov 3, 2023 at 9:32
  • @selectstart You don't look for a distinguishing note. You look for the ending note of the melody, the most frequently used note in the middle that is different, and their relation. Nov 28, 2023 at 22:19
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In addition to the other answers, a possible misconception is that there's such a thing as a "Dorian chord" and so on. Individual chords are still just major or minor (or diminished), and any given key or mode will contain both. In fact, every mode, not just Ionian and Aeolian, is classified into major or minor depending on its third and thus the quality of its root chord.

The chords in a diatonic mode are the triads built on its scale degrees, that's it.

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  • This is actually incorrect, names of modes are sometimes used for chords, when the expectation from the musician is to suggest a specific mode to the listener. That can be done by including the characteristic tones of the mode in the chord. Oct 31, 2023 at 18:12
  • @user1079505 That's true, but I think it confuses the issue a little. In any case, OP clarified that this wasn't their question, so it's moot. Oct 31, 2023 at 21:30
  • There definitely does exist a Dorian chord, for some meanings of existing. If there are people who use such a term, then it exists. We're talking about living human culture, not natural science or a formal specification document. If someone says "Dorian chord" or "Lydian chord", it could mean a chord they use for explicating characteristics of that mode. It CAN have misleading implications for someone unfamiliar with modes, but so can any other word. Misunderstandings are an elemental characteristic of human communication. Nov 8, 2023 at 9:33
  • It could be equally well said that there's no "Dorian scale". Just look around at guitar players who take a scale that is seemingly promised and guaranteed to create a mode. And then they play random gibberish with the notes, and a feeling of modal harmony is not really created at all. What, I used the right scale but it didn't work!? It wasn't a Dorian scale as advertised. I want my money back... Nov 8, 2023 at 12:15
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I would like to elaborate on the correct answers by Tim and No'am to provide some additional information.

First I want to mention the concept of 'cadence chords' that No'am already touched on. As he explained, every mode has exactly 1 distinguishing note. The diatonic chords containing this note are considered 'Cadential' chords, with a high tension to resolve to the tonic and further establishing the mode you're in. The other (non-tonic) diatonic chords, the ones not containing the distinguishing note; are then known as 'Non-Cadential chords'.

You can draw somewhat of a parallel to the II-V-I progression, where the II (subdominant) relates to the Non-Cadential chords and the V (dominant) relates to the Cadential chords. This website does a good job of explaining this relation in depth: https://www.thejazzpianosite.com/jazz-piano-lessons/modern-jazz-theory/modal-jazz/.

Secondly, you can of course add tensions to your chords once you're comfortable. More specifically, adding the distinguishing note as a tension in the right context can make for interesting combinations that wouldn't work so well in a purely functional context. For example, adding the the the distinguishing note to the tonic in any mode communicates the sentiment of this mode pretty well in one chord; eg D F A B in D Dorian, or E F G B in E Phrygian.

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  • So I'm getting into jazz chords by doing this? Oct 31, 2023 at 14:49
  • The link you provided doesn't work. Nov 20, 2023 at 16:55
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I think of it like this. A modal scale will have seven notes. Let's assign a number to each note in the scale, so if your scale is C major (C D E F G A B), then C becomes 1, D becomes 2, and so on.

Each of those notes will have a triad (three-note chord) associated with it. That triad will be that note (the chord's root), that note plus 2 (the chord's third), and that note plus 4 (the chord's fifth). (Remember, these numbers refer to the position of the note in the scale, not keys on a keyboard.) You might prefer to think of it as just skipping every other note in the scale. So your triads are going to be 1-3-5, 2-4-6, 3-5-7, 4-6-8, 5-7-9, 6-8-10, and 7-9-11.

So for the C major scale, C D E F G A B, the first chord (1-3-5) is C-E-G. That happens to be a major chord. The second chord (2-4-6) is D-F-A. That's a minor chord. The last chord in the scale (7-9-11) is B-D-F. That's a diminished chord. Put them all together and you get C Dm Em F G A Bdim, or I ii iii IV V vi viio.

Now if we do this exercise again with C minor, our scale is C D E♭ F G A♭ B♭. This time the chord for C is C E♭ G since the third note in the scale is a flat, so it's a minor chord. The chord for D is D F A♭, a diminished chord, and so on.

That said, there are songs that use chords that are not native to their scales. I'm currently writing a funk song that has a i - IV - i - IV - V - IV - i - i progression. The song uses the Dorian scale, as so much funk does, but V doesn't fit into Dorian. It "should" be v, but the song sounds much better with V. Why? I dunno. Funk is funky, man.

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The modes will produce the same chords as their corresponding major scale. The chords for the C Major scale are the same for D Dorian, E Phrygian, ... and so on.

so in C Major the (triad) chords are: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished

and in the D Dorian mode (2nd mode of C Major) the chords are: D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished, C major

TL:DR

Major Chord Degrees

Triad Chords are built from scale degrees: 1 3 5

Ⅰ, Ⅲ, Ⅴ

Use Major chord degrees at each position in the CM Scale to determine the chord construction for each position.

  • Ⅰ) Ionian | C-D-E-F-G-A-B | C major (C-E-G)
  • Ⅱ) Dorian | D-E-F-G-A-B-C | D minor (D-F-A)
  • Ⅲ) Phrygian | E-F-G-A-B-C-D | E minor (E-G-B)
  • Ⅳ) Lydian | F-G-A-B-C-D-E | F major (F-A-C)
  • Ⅴ) Mixolydian | G-A-B-C-D-E-F | G major (G-B-D)
  • Ⅵ) Aeolian | A-B-C-D-E-F-G | A minor (A-C-E)
  • Ⅶ) Locrian | B-C-D-E-F-G-A | B diminished (B-D-F)

so the modes don't actually produce different chord progressions.

Extended four note chords
(root, third, fifth, and seventh)
(R, m3, P4, P5) Ⅰ Ⅲ Ⅴ Ⅶ

Ionian      C-D-E-F-G-A-B   Cmaj7 (C-E-G-B)
Dorian      D-E-F-G-A-B-C   Dm7   (D-F-A-C)
Phrygian    E-F-G-A-B-C-D   Em7   (E-G-B-D)
Lydian      F-G-A-B-C-D-E   Fmaj7 (F-A-C-E)
Mixolydian  G-A-B-C-D-E-F   G7    (G-B-D-F)
Aeolian     A-B-C-D-E-F-G   Am7   (A-C-E-G)
Locrian     B-C-D-E-F-G-A   Bm7b5 (B-D-F-A)

but you can get different chord progressions from building triads and extended four note chords with different scales like melodic/harmonic scales.

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