I need some solid understanding on modal chord progressions. I would be glad if you can explain and give examples this especially from a rock or blues music perspective

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    I'm thinking that this question may be best handled as a community wiki. The topic is very broad and it would be good to have as good an answer as possible to be a reference. Perhaps each answer could be laid out as a mode and its respective chord progressions/approaches. I think these answers should include examples of all genres and common approaches within them. What do you think about rewording the question to imply this approach? I could make the edit if you would prefer. Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 12:19
  • @Basstickler Then I will not get any points from upvotes once it is wiki, don't do that pls
    – Spring
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 14:36
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    Ok then, but I do think that you will get better answers and a more universally helpful resource. I find it unfortunate that you would rather gather reputation points than create a resource for all. I may end up trying to create a separate question as a wiki anyway. Also, I don't think that this question will generate a huge amount of reputation anyway. Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 15:05
  • @Basstickler You asked, so I created this question for you to answer..now you say you will create a separate question..I'm not sure what you are after
    – Spring
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 22:04
  • I am after good answers that will be of benefit to all. By creating a community wiki, a wider range of answers will be offered and more people would be able to use it as a resource. Answering this question could be very in depth; answering about just one mode would be in depth, let alone all the naturally occurring modes, modes of harmonic/melodic minor, and potentially synthetic scale modes. I don't currently have time to write that much material and creating a wiki would allow more people to contribute. Also, I wasn't asking as much as I was suggesting. Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 13:22

4 Answers 4


A modal chord progression would just be a chord progression in whatever mode you are in.

The following explains chords in each mode where an upper case Roman numeral is a major chord, a lower case Roman numeral is a minor chord, and a lower case Roman numeral followed by a 'o' is a diminished chord. A 7 next to a chord just means it has a dominat 7th(used in the example below).

Major(Ionian): I ii iii IV V7 vi viio

Dorian: i ii III IV7 v vio VII

Phrygian i II III7 iv vo VI vii

Lydian: I II7 iii ivo V vi vii

Mixolydian: I7 ii iiio IV v vi VII

Minor(Aeolian): i iio III iv v VI VII7

Locrian: io II iii iv V VI7 vii

As you can see no two have the same exact chords. No matter what mode you are in, you are going to usually see some type of "I", "IV", and "V" chord (note doesn't have to be major).

A good example is Aeroplane by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The progression boils down to a Gm(7) to a C7. Looking at these two chords there is not a Gm7 in the key of C major and there is also not a C7 in the key of G minor. Because of this we can look at the progression in two ways: A i(7) to IV7 in G Dorian or a v(7) to I7 in C Mixolydian. Either way the progression is not native to either major or minor so it can be viewed as a modal progression.

Here is more info on the difference in intervals of modes. Hope this helps.

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    It is common (and easier to understand) if you use flats and sharps with the Roman numerals. Otherwise, it looks like (e.g.) the II chord of phrygian and the ii chord of dorian have the same root. It's common to write bII for phrygian, bIII for dorian, etc.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:51
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    @MattL. That is a modern convention that reflects the person has no knowledge of what makes up that scale/mode and also is technically wrong. All the chords built above are inside the scale. Accidentals would signify going outside the key/scale which none of the chords above do.
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 13:41
  • If i strum Gm C, I naturally want to move to Dm which is a key that contains both these chords. But with Gm C7 it's more grounded in what I would call Gm with the iv(Cm) substiuted for a C7. Then I when solo over the song Aeroplane, I am torn between the diatonic scales of Dm/Fmaj and Gm/Bbmaj so I use both (a total of 8 notes.) Am I oversimplifying? what am I missing? Ok, C mixolydian/G dorian has the same notes as Fmaj so I must be doing something right. The point seems to be that we shouldn't call it Dm/Fmaj because the song is based more on other chords. Is that it? Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 4:24
  • You can use the F major scale and it will work, but you would want to focus more on C and G than F (pretty much F major scales that start on different notes ). And yes it doesn't make much sense to call a song that doesn't have an F major chord F major and it doesn't make much sense to call a song that doesn't have an D minor chord D minor.
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 15:13
  • @Dom thanks for the response, don't forget to tag me or I may not see it. +1 the answer. The weird thing is that I want to throw an Eb in there (and it's working for me, even though the only b should be the Bb.) I think maybe the C7 chord plus a background in blues is leading me to do this. Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 17:14

Note that in rock/pop music, not all the modes are used equally. The modes that are used most often are:

  • ionian (major)
  • aeolian (natural minor)
  • dorian
  • mixolydian

So if you are just starting with modes, I would recommend you concentrate on these ones first. Generalizing to the other modes will be easy once you've understood the basics. Let me now give you the chords for each mode (root A, just as an example; and I only use triads, no seventh-chords):

  • ionian (major): A Bm C#m D E F#m (G#dim)
  • aeolian (natural minor): Am (Bdim) C Dm Em F G
  • dorian: Am Bm C D Em (F#dim) G
  • mixolydian: A Bm (C#dim) D Em F#m G

The diminished chords are given in parentheses because they are hardly used in conventional rock or pop music.

Finally, here are some example progressions (used in literally thousands of songs, of course in different keys):

  • ionian (major): ||: A | E | F#m | D :||

  • aeolian (natural minor): ||: Am | F | C | G :||

  • dorian: ||: Am | G | D | C :||

  • mixolydian: ||: A | G | D | D :||

Note that A ionian (major) has the same scale tones and, consequently, the same chords as B dorian, as E mixolydian, and as F# aeolian (natural minor). If this is new for you then check this.


I will post this as an answer, but really it is just a rather long comment, plus a small extension of the question.

It annoys me that when people start talking about modes, they ALWAYS dive into the intervals of a specific mode and don't reference it to the diatonic scales you already know. You hear "G mixolydian is like G major but with a flattened seventh" And it sounds like you have to learn a new scale, but actually it's just the natural notes running from G-G instead of C-C.

Of course you can then transpose, so A mixolydian will have the same notes as D major for example.

I have copied the following from the wikipedia article referenced in the other answers, because I think it explains the basics very well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_%28music%29#Analysis

    Mode        Tonic relative
                to major scale Interval sequence  Example
    Ionian      I              T-T-s-T-T-T-s   C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
    Dorian      II             T-s-T-T-T-s-T   D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D
    Phrygian    III            s-T-T-T-s-T-T   E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E
    Lydian      IV             T-T-T-s-T-T-s   F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F
    Mixolydian  V              T-T-s-T-T-s-T   G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G
    Aeolian     VI             T-s-T-T-s-T-T   A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
    Locrian     VII            s-T-T-s-T-T-T   B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B

So, basically all these scales have the same notes and therefore the same chords, right?

    C major:       I=C, ii=Dm ii=Em     IV=F  V=G  vi=Am  viio=Bdim  
    G mixolydian:  I=G, ii=Am iiio=Bdim IV=C  v=Dm vi=Em  VII =F

Now, I know that, as @Dom points out, the G can often be a G7 (the only dominant 7th you can form with the natural notes.)

And I know that in the more minor-ish sounding ones, such as the Phrygian, it's common to substitute the Em for an Emaj (and slightly less common to substiute the Dm and Am for majors.)

But apart from that, are there really any differences between the modes, other than the relative amount of time spent on each chord?

  • Steve - it might be better if you just ask this as a new question.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 12:04
  • @DrMayhem I agree that the first 90% should have been a comment not an answer, but comments are size limited. Dom says "no two have the exact same chords" but once you transpose them appropriately onto the natural notes you find that they do! That's why I felt that the table I copied from wikipedia should be here in full view rather than posted as links. The last 10% is indeed a slightly different but related question. I will formulate my own question whenI have time. Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 12:49
  • @steveverrill I was using it to say G Major to G Dorian to G Phrygian ect. don't have the same chords not G Major to A Dorian to B Phrygian ect.
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 16:36
  • @Dom I understand perfectly what you meant and I wasn't disagreeing with you. But when I was a beginner I was confused by this, because everyone explains it with a fixed root the way both you and Matt did. For this reason I copied the most relevant part of the wikipedia page both you and Matt linked (if everyone's linking the same page, it's important, right?) Transposing to the natural notes really helped me because it reduces by a factor of 7 the amount of information a beginner has to learn. Now that I have identified the similarities, I'm trying to understand the differences :-) Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 17:08

A progression that defines rock music in a way that is derived from blues music, and you'll see that often, is using the bIII chord in a major key, along with the IV and V (or V7) chord. E.g. E and G. G here fits within de E minor pentatonic scale. It's quite common to see E going to G, and then to A, making a I, bIII, IV progression. You can hear it in Sweet child o'mine by Guns and Roses. Borrowing chords from the minor key into a major key is a quite common thing to see and also really fun to experiment with. It creates very nice and interesting sonorities! Seeing scales as derived from triads(chords) opposed to seeing triads derived from a scale really helps analysing music theory in my opinion.

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