Beef Up Your Chord Progressions With Modal Interchange Chords
“Modal Interchange” is a harmonic technique in which you borrow chords from parallel scales.
This allows you to add new harmonic colors in addition to the 7 chords of the key you are writing in.
Parallel scales are: scales that start on the same root.
C Dorian, C Phrygian, C Lydian, C Mixolydian, C Aeolian, C harmonic minor, C melodic minor, etc….
This is different from relative scales, which are scales that share the same notes.
C major, A minor, D Dorian, E Phrygian, etc….
Modal interchange doesn’t deal with relative, but with parallel scales.
What this means is that you’re for example writing a song in the key of C major, and you are using chords from a C minor scale (or any other C scale) in your C major song.
This opens up a whole new world of harmonic colors that you can beef up your songs with.
You can also use modal interchange in minor keys.
The principle is the same: you use chords from an A major scale (or from any A scale) in your A minor song.
How & Why Does Modal Interchange Work?
One of the reasons why modal interchange works, is that all modal interchange chords have the same “key center”, because they are all borrowed from parallel scales.
Scales that all start on the same note are all in the same key:
• A song written in a C major scale, is in the key of C
• A song written in a C minor scale, is in the key of C (minor)
• A songs written in a C Dorian scale, is in the key of C (Dorian)
• A song written in the key of C Mixolydian, is in the key of C (Mixolydian), etc…
Because all modal interchange chords are related to the same key, there is a connectedness between the chords.
This is not just a random bunch of different chords thrown together.
That connectedness is created by nature that each chord is borrowed from a scale that starts on the same root.
Memorize All Following Modal Interchange Chords
Following list covers all the modal interchange chords used in major keys.
The listed Modal Interchange examples are given in the key of C major.
Learn and memorize the chord progression examples.
The given chord progressions showcase how the modal interchange is typically most commonly used. That isn’t to say that you can’t experiment or use the listed modal interchange chords more freely.
Memorize the chord progressions so you know the typical use of each modal interchange chord, then experiment to see how else you could use them.
- I-7 = Cm7 (Borrowed from C Aeolian)
||: Cmaj7 | Cm7 | Ebmaj7 | G7 :||
- IV-7 = Fm7 (Borrowed from C minor scale)
||: Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Fm7 | G7 :||
The IV-7 chord is typically preceded by the diatonic Fmaj7 chord, but can also be used freely in the progression, as in following examples:
||: Cmaj7 | Dm7 | Em7 | Fm7 :||
||: Cmaj7 | Fm7 | Cmaj7 | G7 :||
- V-7 = Gm7 (Borrowed from C minor scale and from C Mixolydian)
||: Cmaj7 | G7 | Gm7 | Fmaj7 | Fm7 | Em7 | Am7 | G7 | Cmaj7 :||
The V-7 chord is typically preceded by the diatonic G7 chord, but can also be used freely in the progression, as in following examples:
||: Cmaj7 | Gm7 | Fmaj7 | Dm7 :||
||: Cmaj7 | Gm7 | Dm7 | Am7 :||
Following is not a good modal interchange example:
||: Cmaj7 | C-7 | F-7 | G-7 :||
If you play too many modal interchange chords in series, it sounds like it modulated to the key of C minor, not like modal interchange chords.
- bIImaj7 = Dbmaj7 (Borrowed from C Phrygian)
||: Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 | G7 | Dbmaj7 :||
Typically the bIImaj7 (Dbmaj7) chord always precedes the I (C, Cmaj7) chord.
- bIIImaj7 = Ebmaj7 (Borrowed from C Aeolian)
||: Cmaj7 | Ebmaj7 | Dm7 | Dbmaj7 :||
||: Cmaj7 | Dm7 | Ebmaj7 | G7 :||
- bVImaj7 = Abmaj7 (borrowed from C Aeolian)
||: Cmaj7 | G7 | Fmaj7 | Abmaj7 :||
||: Cmaj7 | G7 | Abmaj7 | Bb7 :||
- bVIImaj7 = Bbmaj7 (Borrowed from C Mixolydian)
||: Cmaj7 | G7 | Fmaj7 | Bbmaj7 :||
- IV7 = F7 (Borrowed from C Dorian)
||: Cmaj7 | Dm7 | F7 | Cmaj7 :||
The IV7 typically resolves to I major.
- bVI7 = Ab7 (Borrowed from C Locrian)
||: Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Ab7 | Bb7 :||
||: Cmaj7 | Ebmaj7 | Ab7 | Cmaj7 :||
In following examples the Ab7 does not sound like a modal interchange chord but like a subV7/V (resolving down a half step to G7)
||: Cmaj7 | Ab7 | G7 | Cmaj7 :||
||: Cmaj7 | Dm7 | Ab7 | G7 :||
- bVII7 = Bb7 (Borrowed from C Aeolian)
||: Cmaj7 | G7 | Fmaj7 | Bb7 :||
- II-7b5 = Dm7b5 (Borrowed from C harmonic minor scale)
||: Am7 | Dm7b5 | G7b9 | Cmaj7 :||
Typically precedes a V7b9 chord or even a regular V7 (without 9th).
- II-7b5 – V7b9 = D-7b5 – G7b9 (borrowed from C harmonic minor scale)
Am7 | Dm7b5 | G7b9 | Cmaj7
Primarily used as substitution to a regular II-V or IV-V chord progression.
- #IV-7b5 = F#-7b5 (Borrowed from C Lydian)
||: Cmaj7 | G7 | F#-7b5 | Fmaj7 G7 : ||
||: Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 | F#-7b5 | | G7: ||
Primarily used as a transition chord from V7 to IVmaj7 or vice versa.
As with everything: experiment a lot and let your good taste be your guide.
Through experimentation you will discover which chord combinations sound good and which don’t work.
It has been said that; “knowledge is power”.
Knowledge is only power though when through memorization, that knowledge has become part of you. Knowledge on paper is not power because you will always need the paper as a crutch.
Only when you have all of this information fully memorized, will you actually also remember to use these options and consider them as possibilities while you’re writing music.
This is huge step forward in your songwriting. You just discovered a great way to introduce many new colors to your songs.
You of course also want to practice this in all 12 keys, which is why you want to memorize all modal interchange options with their scale degree names (Im7, IVm7, Vm7, bIImaj7, etc.), not with note names (Cm7, Fm7…).
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