I have been trying to learn some music theory and I'm kind of a confused about modes. Reading explanations and watching numerous videos about subject just don't seem to clarify it enough.

What is the relationship between modes and chords? If we are looking whether chord is a major or minor (I ii iii IV V vi vii) they seem to be in the same order as how modes are regarded as a major or minor. Yet modes are just set of notes which are set in a certain interval arrangement (WWHWWWH, WHWWWHW, etc.) Just going through the notes in a specific mode is just same us going through the notes in some scale. for example C iodian, D dorian, E phrygian, etc.. are all the same. Although if you compare the first chord of those scales (modes) they are different as the third note is either third or lowered third which I think is fundamentally the definition of major and minor.

Can you establish feel of the mode just picking or hitting particular notes of that mode? For example if I want dorian feel I start on D and continue hitting same notes which are part of C major scale and revolving around D note to make that feel? This seems to be many times somekind of a starting point for answering these mode questions. This somehow seem confusing as you use same notes as in C major scale. For example hitting |D F C A|D F C A|D... can easily turn in listener head as |C A D F|C A D F|C... if you don't have any reference.

I have also seen something like this as a part of the answer: If you want to play dorian feel on top of C major you have to find which scale pattern is your C dorian. You do that by seeing which major scale contains C as the second note as the dorian is the second mode. This would be A# major scale. Now if you play for example C chord (C E G) and on top of that hit notes from the A# major scale you establish that dorian feel. Is this totally wrong as it seems to contradict first explanation?

Do you need to have root note or chord playing under to give reference for mode or is it enough to return to that root note or chord every once in a while to give that reference? If so can only one note give reference or do you need chords to give that modal feeling?

1 Answer 1


Consider a piece in C major. While it will finish on the C harmony, and quite probably start on it, there are many other chords that can and will be used. Playing an F chord or an Am chord doesn't suddenly put it into those keys.

The trick is to use cadence points to re-inforce the key or modality. That's what happens in C. There are plagal and perfect cadences which occur at certain points, and those sort of remind the listener that they're 'home' again - albeit for a little while, before the next part of the journey.

Trouble is, especially with the perfect cadence, which in major has that leading note leading (surprise!) to the tonic. Even the harmonic and melodic minors tip their hats to that: the 7th note is raised, to make it sound more convincing. But this doesn't happen with modes. Yes, one or two do naturally contain a leading note a semitone below the root, but others don't. Dorian is one such. And that's actually one feature which makes Dorian sound, well, Dorian!

I suggest listening to some modal stuff, both orchestral and traditional songs. Try to feel/hear when the root harmonies occur, and what leads to them, and question why for example, a piece in D Dorian doesn't need to finish on the parent key's C major.

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