Considering the C major scale we can build the following table of chord function families:

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To a certain extent, inside each family chords can be interchanged to give a different flavour to a music piece. But when considering other scales like the Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian and their diatonic chords, do the same chord degrees belong to the same chord function family as in the major scale?

  • Em7 with G,B and D has as much reason to be considered dominant as tonic.Where did the list come from?
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 10:41
  • It came from here. But I have seen similar tables with the same substitutions elsewhere.
    – Fabricio
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 13:16
  • Also, David Berkman, in his book "the Jazz Harmony Book" also lists the same degrees in the same families but adds I major6 to the Tonic Family.
    – Fabricio
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 15:16
  • @Tim: I think its the tritone between B and F that puts it in the category. There isn't a hard drive from Em to C (which is the role of the Dominant chord) and I think that Em->C would be a regression (someone correct me if I'm wrong! It's been a decade since my theory class!). Also each chord is only listed once so they are throwing chords into the most viable category. But I agree, this list is very basic - still a great place to start. Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


A similar discussions ensued on Using the Dorian Mode

In brief, as you shift to other modes with the same tonic—e.g. move from C Major(Ionian) to C Lydian)—the chord families can often be used in the same way despite their changes of quality. The nature of the pressure for resolution might change, and to be sure the sound of the progression will change, but very often the function will still more or less work.

A few exceptions or additions. In the modes with a lowered 7th, especially Mixolydian and Dorian, the major chord built on that degree (bVII) will quite commonly shove itself up in the dominant family to supplant the V as most significant and common. In Locrian, V's function drops out of the dominant family entirely and it slinks into the pre-doms.

In the scales with lowered scale degree 2, Phrygian and Locrian, a new dominant chord arises named bII that will generally become a new and most important dominant function chord.

So I would say that although there is a general tendency for a lot of the functional relationships to stay similar, it's worth exploring possibilities engendered by the modal shift as well.


No.For example, in Cmaj., the G is dominant, so pushes towards the tonic, C. When you play in, say, Aeolian, the tonic isn't C any more, it's A. So the original dominant, G, doesn't have that same push, as the gravitational pull needs to be towards A. So, as the dominant of A is E, that becomes the new dominant.

However, in minor, the dominant is not so pushy if it's minor itself. That's why suddenly a G# appears so often in that E chord, making it a leading note to get to Am.

Consider D Dorian. The D is now the tonic, home place, so the Am is its dominant. Same scenario as the Am bit. F Lydian is simpler, as the dominant of that (major) is major anyhow.Hence my answer - no.

Sometimes - especially to me, whatever mode a piece is in, it feels like it could/should gravitate to C, but it won't/can't unless the dominant of C pushes it. Merely going from any other diatonic chord to C doesn't seem to say 'it's ended now',although, as I say, it sometimes feels it needs to finish on a C, even if it's totally modal.

Further, looking at your title - minor scale chord substitution, taking C major notes, or modes, we could be in A minor, where, Am is tonic Dm is sub-dominant and Em is dominant, as alluded to earlier. Thus, the original supertonic D is now sub-dominant.

  • Just a quick comment on your first paragraph. I mentioned chord degrees and not just chords so I am aware of the fact that a A Aeolian scale has a different tonic from the C Major scale. :-) But there could also be a C Aeolian... ;-) I will have to digest the rest of the answer later today.
    – Fabricio
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 8:16
  • 1
    There has always been a bit of confusion. C Aeolian is not the same as the Aeolian of C. The Aeolian of C is based around A - in fact it's A natuaral minor. C Aeolian is made from the notes of Eb major, thus containing 3 flats.Imagine two people playing together, one in C Aeolian, the other in the Aeolian of C...
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 8:31
  • Ok. C Aeolian is what I expected. C natural minor with Bb Eb and Ab. As for Aeolian of C (which I didn't mention either in my post) what is it? Are you referring to the fact that if you have C Major its corresponding Aeolian is A natural minor (which starts 1 and a half tone below C)? And for another example would in this case Aeolian of Eb be C natural minor (or C aeolian)? Then in this case am I right to assume that the term Aeolian of [whatever note] (scale) assumes that [whatever note] scale to be a Major scale.
    – Fabricio
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 9:44
  • The Aeolian mode of C is the 6th mode, based around A.But C Aeolian is the 6th mode of Eb, Yes, these modes are based around major scales, sprouting from each diatonic note in turn. Aeolian of X scale starts on note 6,whereas X Aeolian starts on X .Sounds more complex than it needs, but the difference between the two is important.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 10:12
  • Tim, where did you get the terminology such as "Aeolian of C" from? I think I understand what you mean ("that aeolian scale which has the same key signature as C major"), but this terminology is very confusing to me since C is a key and Aeolian a mode. It implies that the modes somehow are derived from the major key. That may be a nice way to remember it but I don't think modes are literally derived that way. Better to simply say "A aeolian" (ie, a terminology that establishes both the tonic as well as the mode) Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 11:56

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