The term “modal chord progression” may technically be a bit of a misnomer. But in common usage, a modal progression could best be described this way: a set of chords that points to a note other than the tonic (key) note. In other words, if you’re using what appear to be chords from the key of A major, but the progressions seem to be pointing to a different note as being the most significant one, you’re probably using modal progressions. Continue Reading..
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Here’s an example: a typical progression in A major might look like this:
Key: A MAJOR: A D E7 A
It starts and ends on A, and the chords in the middle reflect the fact that A major is the key. Now here’s a progression that seems to point to the note B as being the most important note, while still using chords from A major:
Mode: B DORIAN: Bm A Bm D F#m E A Bm
An interesting aspect of modal progressions (and their charm) is that the tonally significant note (in this case, B) is not as strongly pointed to by the chord progression as straight-ahead major or minor keys. Here’s why: in the key of A major, an E7 has a G# in it that “points” to A as being tonally important. In the B Dorian progression above you might say that the sense of “key” is veiled somewhat, mainly by the fact that there is no semitone leading tone pointing to B.
For any given major key signature there are seven possible modes:
1) Ionian, starting on the first note (in other words, a basic major mode);
2) Dorian, starting on the 2nd note (minor sounding);
3) Phrygian, starting on the 3rd note (minor sounding);
4) Lydian, starting on the 4th note (major sounding);
5) Mixolydian, starting on the 5th note (major sounding);
6) Aeolian, starting on the 6th note (minor sounding);
7) Locrian, starting on the 7th note (diminished sounding… not easily usable);
There are many possible modal progressions, so here are some you might want to try:
C# Phrygian: C#m D C#m F#m C#m Bm D C#m
D Lydian: D E D E D F#m C#m7 D
E Mixolydian: E Bm A Bm7 E
F# Aeolian: F#m E D C#m F#m
Modes from the locrian mode just don’t make a lot of sense, since it is based on a diminished chord (G# dim), and we don’t hear diminished chords as having any possibility for feeling like a key centre.
Those progressions are just some of many possibilities, so feel free to experiment. If you’ve devised some you’d like to share, just add a comment below.
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