• Pablo Embon

How to Spice Up Your Chords Voicing By Using Modal Harmony

Modal Harmony, extensively used in Jazz can also be used to create interesting chordal arrangements for different music genres. This technique has been applied in Classical Music but also in Modern Instrumental and even Pop Music. The method is particularly efficient when you are after a non-conventional sound or when a harmonization is needed to support the melody of any of the Standard Major Scale modes presented in this article.

Before we move ahead with explaining this technique let’s get a few definitions on the table:

Modes: Modes are alternative tonalities (or scales) that can be derived from the familiar Major Scale by starting on a different scale tone. Music that uses the traditional major scale can be said to be in the Ionian mode.

From Wikipedia we find the following Modes Table off the Western Major Scale:

Generically speaking, Modes can be defined for any base scale, not just for the Western Major scale as pointed out above. So for example, the Phrygian Dominant Scale is the 5th Mode of the Minor Harmonic Scale.

If we look at the interval sequence for the Major Scale modes shown in the Wikipedia Table above, you will notice that each mode has a unique sound or tonality given by their unique interval sequence, which can be used for the purpose of creating interesting harmonies in our playing. The most important aspect of looking at modes harmonization is that it provides specific chords alterations which can be featured in a chord structure to form altered chord extensions or chord voicing.

In order to provide some insights of Modal Harmony in action, let’s start off by analyzing each one of the Western Music Modes above and identify the special chord tones and chord structures we can use to enrich a standard chord harmony in a piece of music.

Off the Wikipedia Mode Table shown above I have created a Chord Extension Table for each one of the Major Scale Modes, as seen in the picture below. The second table in the picture is a practical example of the first generic table by using the Key of C.

How do we interpret this table?

Scale Quality: The column indicates the quality of the resulting scale for the specific mode. The quality can be Major or Minor depending on whether the 3rd Scale Degree is a bIII (Minor 3rd) or III (Major 3rd) interval apart from the tonic, for which the identified alterations will be identified.

Alteration Tone Brought by Scale: Once the scale quality has been identified we can now identify which alterations (i.e. which tones included in the scale are not diatonic of the root scale) are available for that particular mode.

Major or Minor Chord Extensions: In this column I have generated Triads (either Major or Minor) which will be added on top of the Root Diatonic chord tones of the scale in order to use the available alterations identified above.

The purpose of this exercise is to be able to create chord voicings which would include the typical alterations of the relevant modes used. As we accomplish this, we will find a great deal of richer harmonies derived from the use of these modes. We would typically start from a standard Chord in a piece of music and we would enhance it by using these modes alterations by creating different chord voicings.

In order to illustrate the use of this harmonization technique I have created a music video which can be listened in the link below:

The music video contains samples of improvisation pieces using each one of the modal harmonies described above.

As you have probably realized by now after watching the video, is that these are great sounding harmonies which can be used in your compositions, regardless of which genre of music you play, and you will likely identify most or some of these “sounds” in music you’ve heard before.

Now is your turn to incorporate them into your playing.

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