How To Make Modal Chord Progressions

Most people start playing guitar because of playing guitar, not how the the guitar works in theory. This is what led me to believe to make a lesson on direct approach with examples and where to start.

Ultimate Guitar


The Ionian mode is a major scale with it's characteristic 7th note, so I will take a maj7th chord as the tonic, so we have the Emaj7th chord. Now I need another chord. Since it's a major mode, I will take another major chord. I will take the iv chord, since it's naturally also a major7th chord which will be AMaj7th. The Ionian mode is very strong and doesn't really need an altered bass note to sound major, but since i'm trying to explain slash chords I will use 1, in this case an AM7/E. While I was messing around with it, I found using an EM7th without the A as a bass note a stronger progression, so I used that instead. (Remember it's still music, and you should go with what ur ears tell you) I'm just writing a good place to start, and to make aware how you could approach it.
   EM7                Amaj7th
Here's a link to a thing what I might play over such a thing. What I did in that video, was putting emphasize on the Maj7th note and the maj3th note. I "abused" the bends on the maj7th note a half step up to the tonic (D# to E) for a classic major sound, and also a bend on the maj3th note a half step up to the fourth (G# to A). Play small licks (motifs) with a G# and/or a D# in them, to learn how to use those colours. I played 3 major 7th bends in 3 different octave and after those I ended with 3 harmonics which are the notes b, e and b an octave higher. I messed up the last harmonic, because, well.. shit happens when u improvise and u gotta live with it. Anyways, Up to the next one


The Dorian mode is a minor mode with it's characteristic major 6th interval. So what am I going to do here? I make a chord with a maj6th in it! I take the root (E), a minor 3th (G) and the maj6th (C#). Hmmm I played it on my guitar, and it sounds too much like an A dominant 7th chord. (If I add the A as a bass note it would indeed be a an A7th chord). Once again I let my ears judge, so I decide to change the chord. I can't change the root obviously, but I also want the MAj6th in it. So I use The Sus4 chord!. This chord works wonders and it has no minor or major tonality. So I change the G note in an A note, this gives me an Esus4maj6th chord. This is a rather absurd chord name, so we are allowed to also call this A/E. For the 2nd chord I will try something creative: I read today somewhere on the internet that Dorian is perfectly symmetrical, and that the scale steps going up from the root are notes which are also in the mode when u go down. For the first chord I used a maj6th interval ascending, now I go down a maj6th, and land on a G, which is indeed a note in E Dorian, Woohoo! It is major, so I will make it an G/E chord, which contain the same notes as a Emin7th, so you may name it like this too. (it's actually an inversion, but I don't wanna lead away from the initial mode concept, but I don't want any theory purist to bitch to me that it is:P:, so I will let it be) I have the following progression: (You can either use the first names or the 2nd names, but you cannot mix em together to avoid confusion)
   Esus4Maj6th      Emin7th
   A/E               G/E (2nd inversion of a Gmaj chord)   
When I played this I recognized this as the same (or almost the same) progression as "So What", a jazz tune by Miles Davis. I don't think he used the same thinking method as me, maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but it's pure coincidence. Videolink Okay So I started this off with a E, F# and G with a funky D motif in between for 4 times. After that there is a 2nd melody with a bend on the C# to D (C# being the flavour note in Dorian). Too ease things up for you guys and know when I use the "dorian" note; All the bends in the vid are a maj6th(the flavour note of Dorian). After the 2nd melody there's a lil string skip melody which starts on the C# note to further emphasize E Dorian. After that it's little pentatonic fun and funky stuff etc. to give it some other flavours too. On to the next mode.


The Phrygian mode is a minor mode and it's dark sounding. It's sound seems to come out best when using a minor i chord and at least 1 major chord. So I decided to use a major and minor chord. First chord will be E minor, simple huh? Since the flavour note in phrygian is a b2 (F), I will build my 2nd chord on that note, which will be F maj. I won't use an E in the bass cause F is also the flavour note of phrygian, and too my ears it sounds nicer, but too each his own. So far we had progressions consisting of 2 chords, but I'm feeling a bit ambitious so I decide to add a 3rd chord in it. We already established the mode, so I went with my ears and added a Gmaj to it just for fun. Here's the progression I came up with:
   Eminor           Fmaj               Emin             Fmaj    Gmaj
Videolink What I did here is something I stole from a Vai video. I start on the b2 degree (F note) then I fret the E note and almost immediatley do a half step bend back up to the F. This creates a weird sound, which to me sounds exotic. After that comes the 2nd melody which consists of the same technique but on different notes, to spice it up a bit. After that hell breaks loose and I incorporate string skip tapping arpeggios. I start with an e minor arpeggio. Then when the Fmaj chord comes I stay on a Eminor arpeggio like thing, but I sneakily add the b2 on the G string as well as an G note so I don't mess the shape up. On the g chord I play a regular tapping thingy on just 1 string with a b2 as a pedalnote. So u get the idea; b2 is the key to succes here. Pedal note will be explained in The next mode which is Lydian.


Lydian is a Major scale with a tritone (#4) note, and in the key of E this is an A#. It has a major sound, but the dissonant tritone gives it an "out of place" sound. Because of the strong maj3th and maj7th interval it gives it a mysterious, exotic, and maybe spiritual sound. What I did since it's a major key was picking a major chord as my i chord, which is an Emaj chord in this case. Just as simple as that. The flavour note is the #4 which is A#. I try making a chord with that as it's root, but it turns out I end up with a diminished chord. I don't like that sound, cause I think it draws attention away too much from the major feel. So I check which chord in E Lydian has it's 3th interval as an A#. This would be F#major. I will take this chord since it's major, but to still imply Lydian, I will change it's root to E. This will give us an F#/E chord.
   E                 F#/E
Videolink What I did here was using bends on the A# to the 5th (B in this case). All of lydian's sound come from the A#, but wit major notes added. So I played a tapping lick on the high e string with an E as the *pedal point and adding major notes as well as the A#. It's hard not to sound Vai-ish, since he basically played every Lydian idea humanly as well as outerworldly possible. Who knows, maybe ur more creative and come up with new ways of using it. *Pedal point is where u play notes while using another note as a drone or as a tonal centre. Another example would be the intro legato lick in thunderstruck by ac dc, which is mixolydian since all the notes are from B mixolydian with the open B note as the pedalpoint.


The mixolydian mode is a major mode and widely used by Joe Satriani and in blues & rock music. It is the only mode that has a dominant7th chord as it's first chord. So u might guess what my first chord will be, the E Dominant 7th (E7)! The 7th note (D) is also the 1 that flavours this mode. For my 2nd chord I will use a major scale, because it's a major mode. Off course u don't need to go strictly with the idea "major mode = major chords". This is just what I find good sounding. I also find that a maj6th (C# in mixolydian) gives a nice sound. You might think, 'isn't that the note that flavours Dorian'? This is true, but in dorian it gives it it's distinctive sound over a minor i chord, here we use a dominant and major chord, which will change how it sounds. However, the 3th of a chord with the maj6th as it's root isn't major. So I will use it as an Amajor chord with a C# as root up to a Dmajor chord. This gives us a very common progression in both rock and pop music. We get the three chords: E7, A(1st inversion) and D. Don't get put off if u don't understand inversions. You can also play a regular A chord. I just prefer the sound of this chord. (once again ears come first).
   E7                A(1st)  D
Videolink I totally took a different direction with the rhythm. I made a more of a "song" like structure of it, just by changing rhythms with the same 3 chords, and make different melodies and creating tension with the lead played over it. I start with a repeating lick which is basically an arpeggio of E7 without a 5th (arpeggio is NOT a sweep, as many people think)It basically means a lick containing the chord tones. In this case it contains the Root (E), the maj3th (G#) and the 7th (D) which works nicely on the first chord. I then go into a melody and make use of pentatonic notes(F# Pentatonic) mixed with maj3th's and dominant 7ths respectively of E Mixolydian. I end the solo with an funkish motif consisting of a D5 diad and Db5 diad, (*which are again the maj3th and dominant7th note with an A note thrown in). On to the next 1 called aeolian!


Aeolian is a minor mode, and in this case the natural minor scale. For the chord progression I take on a different approach. I go for the 1-5-4 progression, or in roman numerals: i - v - iv. These chords are (in the key of E) Em, Bm and Am. This is a nice progression, and aeolian will work perfectly over this 1.
   Em      Bm        Am       Em
Videolink Meh sloppy on this 1, didn't liked it much. Anyways, I start of with an Emin arpeggio with some added notes, and put in some bluesy bends in it to. You should mess around with the maj2nd note and the min6th, which I don't really do. But it's the most used Scale in rock and metal, so I think you know what to do with this scale. Now for the last mode.


Locrian is one weird mode. It's mostly used in Jazz, and some Death Metal. It's almost impossible to get a "nice" sounding progression with it. The reason why this mode is so weird, is because of the intervals. It has a b2 same as phrygian, but in phrygian it gets compensated by a natural 5th. Locrian however has a b5. I maybe come back on this 1 later. But it's use is not intended for a modal progression.

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11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is informitive to begginers to modes, but your writing style isn't the greatest, and you should have put some examples for the locrain mode.
    sounds like skwisgaar from dethklok wrote it. learn to use spellcheck dude.
    Lol, I didn't knew it was put in the columns. I was still working on spelling and grammar, since english is not my first language. I sent this in like 2 or 3 months ago or so, very Odd. I will sent mail to UG to tell them it's still meant to be revised in those regards, and to my knowledge I sent it in with asking for a spell/grammar check. I thought they'd proof read it. Hmmms
    Seems pretty thorough, and as a classics student it's funny to see how everything in contemporary culture suddenly becomes high-class as soon as it rips off Greek words... weird. Still, I think that it was a bit blunt, it starts off without an introduction or anything to build rapport between you, the writer, and your audience - That's all you need to work on, I'd say.
    Echoplex wrote: This is informitive to begginers to modes, but your writing style isn't the greatest, and you should have put some examples for the locrain mode.
    The Locrian mode only exists in theory and hardly anyone ever uses it, and those that do it's not very pleasing to the ear (with the exception of some jazz.) Really the Locrian mode isn't mean to make a progression from.
    Darren, you're meant to give them an edit yourself. Some of them don't have fabulous English after all. Checked
    Wow, great playing, xxdarrenxx. I wish to reach your level of playing some day. The article, however, leaves a lot of questions. It doesn't actually teach you how to make modal chord progressions, only gives you a few examples. I was left hungry for more information, so I googled the topic and found this: Anyway, thanks for introducing us the world of modal chords progressions! I hope that other people also get interested out of this wonderful topic =)
    Oopsie, messed up that last sentence. I hope that other people get something out of this wonderful topic too...