This question gives a great, not-too-technical explanation of modes: What are modes and how are they useful?

I wondered if playing in a different mode would mean the standard chords change move also? e.g. in major keys we have I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii° so in C-Major a pattern like C, Am, F, G is really common.

This is strictly in C-Major Ionian mode CDEFGABC. If we were using another mode like Dorian (DEFGABCD) would we still use the same chords, or would we have to reformulate our triads based on the 'new' scale?

I suppose more formally I could ask: are the chords for a [major] scale common across all modes, or defined differently for each mode?

  • 2
    Since the notes don't change, also the chords don't change, just their function changes.
    – Matt L.
    Jan 13, 2015 at 14:16
  • 1
    Check out this question too music.stackexchange.com/questions/16120/…
    – Dom
    Jan 13, 2015 at 15:28
  • Great comments! I have only one thing to add. The parallel diatonic modes are derived as cyclic permutations of the intervals in the diatonic scale: Ionian C D E F G A B C W W H W W W H Dorian C D Eb F G A Bb C W H W W W H W Phrygian C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C H W W W H W W etc. Nov 13, 2018 at 0:05
  • Possible duplicate of What are modes and how are they useful?
    – user53472
    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:17

6 Answers 6


The chords available to you in a given key are the same no matter what mode you choose.

This is because you're still constructing the chords from the same set of 7 notes. For example, in C major, you have CDEFGAB, and no sharps or flats.

That means that (ignoring "fancier" chords"), the chord on C is CEG = C major, the chord on D is DFA = D minor, and so on. Em, F, G, Am ...

(Don't worry too much about the chord on B - the 5th of B is F#, which isn't in the key of C, so you can't play a "normal" chord starting on B. BDF is B diminished 5th, which sounds a bit discordant, and most people wouldn't use in simpler music)

If your melody is in D Dorian -- that is, the notes of the C major scale, but using D as the root -- then you might choose to play a Dm chord as the opening chord of your piece. Dm is the only 'D' chord available to you while staying in the scale.

Of course nothing says you have to stay in the scale. Simple music does, but music theory is just a set of guidelines. You can stray from the scale if it sounds good.

  • For now "within the boundaries of simple music" is more than enough :)
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 13, 2015 at 15:22
  • This is a tangent, but, from what I've seen, it seems like vii° chords are fairly common even in "simpler" classical music (and harmonically similar styles), because it's basically just used as a (weak) V7 chord without the root. Most classical music also modulates and uses secondary dominants though, so maybe this isn't "simple" enough.
    – H. H.
    Feb 16, 2019 at 21:44

The different modes derived from any particular scale will contain the same notes. This means that while staying in the key, you will have the same chords available to you. The main difference between being in one mode vs. another is what we treat as tonic, or home base as I like to refer to it for those that don't know the term tonic. This means that the chords that exist within the different modes will have different functions, ie the chords will be used differently in the different modes.

For instance, within C Major (the Ionian scale but not necessarily considered Ionian mode), a G chord is referred to as the dominant chord, which "desires" resolution back to the tonic (C). Within D Dorian, the G chord won't really have the same pull to resolve to C. The resolution within C major has to do with voice leading and resolution of the leading tone (7th degree of the scale, which is B in C major). Within D Dorian, there is no leading tone, so other types of resolution take place, which I often think of as coming more from establishing that mode and the other chords being "away from home". This ultimately means that resolution to tonic in Dorian will not have as strong a sense of resolution as a V-I resolution in Major.

So we would call all the chords the same thing as far as letter names and major/minor/etc. but we would refer to them differently if analyzing with roman numerals or referring to the chords using the functional names (like tonic, mediant, etc.). There are lots of common chord progressions for the different modes and often the terms dominant/mediant/etc. don't necessarily translate as they would from being in a Major or Minor key, at least as far as function is concerned. I would say that the chords are the same/have the same notes but are defined differently in the sense of function.


Yeah, most of the basic chords will be the same, but how you use them will differ. Most of the minor-like modes will need some help with leading tones, that is, melodic semitones into the final (the tonic note of the mode), which will add altered chords. Also, you will probably tend to avoid certain progressions so as to keep the tonic from being destabilised.

Case in point: in E Phrygian (white-key mode on E), you will probably want to avoid G-C progressions in any exposed spot, at least until you're ready to modulate to a secondary key (and C Major makes a logical "dominant" key, much as it does in A minor). G-C will want to take over, and can easily blow the key feeling for E right out of the water if too exposed. You will often sharp D to lead into E, but B in this mode has a diminished fifth (F♮, which is the upper leading tone to E), so it's not unusual to see augmented 6th chords show up in Phrygian mode: in fact, it's from this mode whence they came. C♯ will often show up as the third of A, but leading into D♯ (and thence E). Augmented chords on F also show up. You'll tend to avoid sharping F except when modulating (otherwise the mode becomes Aeolian, i.e., minor).

If you finish the piece in the standard way of the late Renaissance / early Baroque, you'll end on a Phrygian cadence: first inversion on D minor leading to E major (a tierce de Picardie, which is the ending of a minor-like piece with a major chord), with the G♯ taking an F♯ mordent. The F-E bass of the cadence is indicative, even clichéd - the melodic motion of upper leading tone to tonic is the most common way of tonicising a Phrygian mode final.

That's one mode. The others all have their own quirks. The balancing act is the same, though: tonicising the mode's final while avoiding progressions that tend to impose a different key, and alterations that tend to impose a different mode.


The answer to your question depends on whether you are referring modes using all the same notes or modes using the same tonic.

To explain: With the C Major scale,

C Major Scale:

the relative natural minor (aeolian mode) is

A Minor Scale:

This uses only notes found in C Major, but now A is the tonic. The parallel natural minor to C Major is

C Minor Scale:

This still has C as the tonic but changes the other notes to make it a natural minor scale instead of a major scale.

Likewise, C Major (C ionian) has what you might call "relative modes,"

Relative Dorian Scale:

Relative Phrygian Scale:

Relative Lydian Scale:

Relative Mixolydian Scale:

Relative Aeolian Scale:

Relative Locrian Scale:

and "parallel modes."

Parallel Dorian Scale:

Parallel Phrygian Scale:

Parallel Lydian Scale:

Parallel Mixolydian Scale:

Parallel Aeolian Scale:

Parallel Locrian Scale:

The chords that fall "naturally" in the scale are those which use only the notes of the scale; therefore, modes "relative" to C major will use the same chords, and modes "parallel" to C major will use different chords. (At least three chords will be different from mode to mode.)

Even in the "relative" modes to C Major, the roman numerals for each chord will change to reflect their different functions relative to the different tonics.

Ionian (Major):
C Dm Em  F  G Am B* (* means diminished, + means augmented)
I ii iii IV V vi vii*

DmEm F    G  AmB*  C
i ii III  IV v vi* VII
         or usually
i ii bIII IV v vi* bVII (to indicate the position of the roots of each chord relative to the "parallel" major)

EmF   G    Am B* C   Dm
i II  III  iv v* VI  vii
         or usually
i bII bIII iv v* bVI bvii

F G  Am  B*   C Dm Em
I II iii iv*  V vi vii
         or usually
I II iii #iv* V vi vii

G Am B*   C  DmEm F 
I ii iii* IV v vi VII
         or usually
I ii iii* IV v vi bVII

Aeolian (Natural Minor):
AmB*  C    Dm EmF   G
i ii* III  iv v VI  VII
         or sometimes
i ii* bIII iv v bVI bVII

B* C   Dm  Em F  G   Am
i* II  iii iv V  VI  vii
         or usually
i* bII bii iv bV bVI bvii

A Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_numeral_analysis#Modes

While the chords that fall "naturally" in the scale are the same in "relative" modes, it may be common to alter some notes in particular chords; for example, in minor keys it is very common to raise the 7th note of the scale (G-G#) in the V chord and the vii* chord, but not usually in the III chord (which would become a III+ chord). This is so common (at least in "common practice" classical music) that the major V chord is considered standard in minor keys even though doesn't fall "naturally" in the scale, and the minor v is actually considered abnormal (used to make a "modal" sound I'm told) even though it does fall in the scale "naturally." Other answers refer to alterations common in other modes, but I don't really know what the common alterations in other modes are.

The Wikipedia article on "Aeolian Mode" implies that people use the term "aeolian" only for music that avoids using harmonic and melodic minor, (which are frequently used in "ordinary" minor tonality,) and the article on mode says,

Indeed, when 19th-century composers revived the modes, they rendered them more strictly than Renaissance composers had, to make their qualities distinct from the prevailing major-minor system. Renaissance composers routinely sharped leading tones at cadences and lowered the fourth in the Lydian mode (Carver 2005, 74n4).


Also, it occurs to me that you may be asking if the most common chord progressions are different in different modes. As you mentioned, this chord progression

"50s Progression:"
I vi IV V <repeat>
C Am F  G

is very common in popular music. This would sound completely different in phrygian,

"50s Progression" in Phrygian
i  bVI iv v* <repeat>
Em C   Am B*

so maybe some other progression like this:

My Made-up Phrygian Chord Progression:
i  bIII iv bII <repeat>
Em G    Am F

is more common in phrygian. I don't really know the answer to this but it seems reasonable to me that people would tend to use different chord progressions in different modes because of the different opportunities each mode offers. I know know that I-iv-V is just as common in minor keys as I-IV-V is in major, but I believe that in "common practice" classical music the III(bIII) chord is much more common in minor keys than the iii chord is in major keys because III is the relative major. Again, I don't know much about common chord patterns in other modes, but it is mentioned in other answers.


This is strictly in C-Major Ionian mode CDEFGABC. If we were using another mode like Dorian (DEFGABCD) would we still use the same chords, or would we have to reformulate our triads based on the 'new' scale?

Well, both things are true. If you change to another mode for the very scale (D dorian in your example), you don't need to reformulate nothing, as you can still play same exact chords,

But the fact that you are implictly changing the root, means that the intervalic relation of the chords relating to it has changed completly.

The third chord in a Cmajor chord scale is 2 notes after (E) but in Am chord scale is C, which is 1.5 tones up. But you can play both using same set of chords if you abstract it and see it as the scale or intervalic relations map regardless the root.

I'ts only when you define or set the root that you are defining explictly what intervalic relations you describe in reference to the key/root..


Old question, but no answer has been selected so I'll add one.

Do the 'natural' chords to use in a key change if you use a different mode?

'Natural' implies 'white keys on the piano.' That may or may not be intentional. I think the proper term to use in this question is 'chord qualities.' Do chord qualities change when the modes changes.

The simple answer is: yes.

If we were using another mode like Dorian (DEFGABCD)

Permuting the C major scale (using the white keys of the piano) will yield the various modes, but it obscures the fact that changing mode changes the tonality which in turn means a different set of chord qualities.

Instead of starting with C Ionian and then permuting up to the second scale degree stay on the tonic of C and examine C Dorian. To get Dorian from Ionian/major we have to lower the ^3 and ^7 scale degrees...

C Dorian: C D Eb F G A Bb C

Now that we have altered the tones to get a different mode it should be clear it will create new chord qualities.

In C major the I and V chords will be major.

In C Dorian those chords become minor i and v.

Such changes in chord qualities will always happen if you change modes.

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