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Modal Harmony
By Dan Palladino

Let's harmonize the modes:

Mode Scale Formula Harmonization
Ionian 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 I maj7, II-7, III-7, IV maj7, V7, VI-7, VII-7(b5)
Lydian 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7, 8 I maj7, II7, III-7, #IV-7(b5), V maj7, VI-7, VII-7
Mixo-Lydian 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7, 8 I7, II-7, III-7(b5), IV maj7, V-7, VI-7, VII maj7
Aeolian 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 8 I-7, II-7(b5), bIII maj7, IV-7, V-7, bVI maj7, bVII7
Dorian 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7, 8 I-7, II-7, bIII maj7, IV7, V-7, VI-7(b5), bVII maj7
Phrygian 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 8 I-7, bII maj7, bIII7, IV-7, V-7(b5), bVI maj7, bVII-7
Locrian 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7, 8 I-7(b5), bII maj7, bIII-7, IV-7, bV maj7, bVI7, bVII-7

Here are some guidelines to follow when creating modal harmony and melody:

1) Emphasize the one chord frequently.(Don't stray too far without returning to the one chord.)
2) Use vamps when possible.
3) Effective modal melodies are usually diatonic.

Here are some examples of modal chord progressions:

Dorian: | D-7 | E-7 | Fmaj7 | E-7 |
Phrygian: | E-7 | Fmaj7 | E-7 | D-7 |
Aeolian: | A- | F | C | G |

Notice how the progressions don't go too far before returning to the one chord.

Try improvising over these progressions using the modes indicated.

"So, how does this help me?", you may ask. Well, if you know how these modal progressions sound, you won't need to fish around for the right notes to improvise over them. You'll hear the Dorian progression above and think, "Aha! That sounds Dorian." Your ear will recognize these things as sounds instead of a series of chords.

If you're a writer, this opens up a whole new realm of possibility for your compositions. Why stick to the same old major and minor progressions, when you can throw in some modal harmony to spice things up?

My suggestion would be to spend some time with the harmonization chart above. Learn what the harmonizations look and sound like.

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© 2003 Dan Palladino
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