I understand that when playing in a mode, the cadences are quite different from tonal cadences. For example, in the Phrygian mode a cadence would be IV - iii (or II - i if we're renumbering the chords).

Q: What are all of the cadence options for all of the major modes?


Our three major modes are Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian. The Roman numerals for these are:

I  ii  iii  IV  V  vi  vii°

I  II  iii ♯iv° V  vi  vii

I  ii  iii° IV  v  vi ♭VII

You'll notice that both Ionian and Lydian have a major V chord, meaning that the standard cadence of V–I is possible in these two major modes. (Whether it's the most common, I can't answer.) Perhaps due to Mixolydian's minor v chord, the ♭VII is often substituted as a dominant, resulting in a ♭VII–I cadence.

If we generalize it to all modes, it seems that the hierarchy of cadential harmony goes something like:

  1. V where possible (Ionian, Lydian)
  2. ♭II where possible (Phrygian) (maybe there's something to be said about tritone substitutions here?)
  3. ♭VII where possible (Dorian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, sometimes Phrygian)

The only mode missing here is Locrian, which many (myself included) don't even consider an adequate mode based on the diminished tonic triad.

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    If someone is curious about Locrian harmony, this question goes into more detail about it: music.stackexchange.com/q/32420/7222 – Dom Jun 5 '17 at 14:53
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    @Dom That answer looks like Patrx2...he is sorely missed! – Richard Jun 5 '17 at 14:56
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    Yeah, I know. One thing we can do is point to answers like this when we can. – Dom Jun 5 '17 at 15:04
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    Ah yes, the Inadequate Mode. It has so few possibilities, yet I just can't master it. – Areel Xocha Jun 5 '17 at 21:20
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    Thanks for the answer Richard. If that's the strategy, would chord subs for those cadential chords also be suitable? For example, ii for Dorian since the ii is a sub for VII since they share many notes? bvii for Phrygian? vii for Lydian? ii for Mixolydian? ii dim for Aeolian? – 02fentym Jun 7 '17 at 1:03

The seven modes we all know are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. Modal cadences are quite different from tonal cadences. Modal cadences don't tend to set up a resolution to the tonic chord like how tonal cadences (V-I, IV-I) would do, but rather to show the character of the mode.

The characteristic tones are ^4 in Ionian, ^6 in Dorian, ^2 in Phrygian, ^4 in Lydian, ^7 in Mixolydian, ^6 in Aeolian, and ^5 in Locrian.

The diatonic chords of each mode are: (boldened chords are the characteristic chords.)

  • Ionian: [I] [ii] [iii] [IV] [V] [vi] [viio] [I]

  • Dorian: [i] [ii] [III] [IV] [v] [vio] [VII] [i]

  • Phrygian: [i] [II] [III] [iv] [vo] [VI] [vii] [i]

  • Lydian: [I] [II] [iii] [ivo] [V] [vi] [vii] [I]

  • Mixolydian: [I] [ii] [iiio] [IV] [v] [vi] [VII] [I]

  • Aeolian: [i] [iio] [III] [iv] [v] [VI] [VII] [i]

  • Locrian: [io] [II] [iii] [iv] [V] [VI] [vii] [io]

If we want to write a modal cadence, we would want to:

  • Avoid use of tritone

  • Avoid use of leading tone in first chord

  • Keep the character of the mode

  • Avoid cadences like V-I, IV-I, V-i, iv-i, or even rarer v-i

So, in Ionian you would use ii6-I or ii65-I, in Dorian ii6-i or ii65-i, in Phrygian II-i or vii6-i, in Lydian II6-I, in Mixolydian VII-I, in Aeolian VI-i, and in Locrian iii6-i(no5).

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Notice how all modes have the characteristic tone in the first chord of their cadences. Also notice how all modes but Dorian (which has it on the tenor) have it on the bass of the chord. For more information, go to Cadences for Modes.

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    So you’re saying that iii dim to I (in mixolydian) is a valid cadence or is that one to avoid because the tritone it contains? Or does the tritone refer to the interval between the two chords? – 02fentym Jun 18 '19 at 14:10
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    The tritone is inside one chord. iii* to I in mixolydian is invalid because it has a tritone in it. – Maika Sakuranomiya Jun 18 '19 at 14:16
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    There isn't a requirement that a modal cadence uniquely distinguish the mode. bVII i in Aeoian or Dorian is fine. – Michael Curtis Jun 18 '19 at 14:55
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    I think these lists of characteristic tones/chords are a problem. Clearly b^5 for Locrian and #^4 for Lydian are unique, no other modes alter those tones. b^2 is clearly Phrygian (although it is shared with Locian.) But after noting those characteristic tonal degrees, the modes are distinguished by the modal degrees ^3, ^6, and ^7. Except for b^5 and #^4 you can't point to a single distinguishing tone for each mode. – Michael Curtis Jun 18 '19 at 15:02
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    I agree @MichaelCurtis. There are plenty of songs that are modal, but don't have the distinguishing feature in the chords of the cadence. It seems that the progression as an entity needs to point towards the mode. – 02fentym Jun 18 '19 at 19:50

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