Question about harmonic functions and modes

Can anyone help me with this?

I already have the harmonic functions for the Ionian ( Major ) and the Aeolian ( natural minor ) modes ( modes 1 and 6 ), see below.

Can anyone point me in the direction of the harmonic functions for the other modes ( modes 2 3 4 5 and 7, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian and locrian ).


I ( 1 ) - tonic ( Major )

ii ( 2 ) - supertonic ( minor )

iii ( 3 ) - mediant ( minor )

IV ( 4 ) - subdominant ( Major )

V ( 5 ) - dominant ( Major )

vi ( 6 ) - submediant ( minor )

vii o ( 7 ) - leading tone ( diminished )


i - ( 1 ) - tonic ( minor )

ii o - ( 2 ) - supertonic ( diminished )

III - ( 3 ) - mediant ( Major )

iv - ( 4 ) - subdominant ( minor )

v - ( 5 ) - dominant ( minor )

VI - ( 6 ) - submediant ( Major )

VII - ( 7 ) - leading tone ( Major )

Well, the names of the scale degrees (tonic, supertonic, mediant, etc…) are the same in any mode. However, the “harmonic function” for modal scale degrees is difficult to define.The concept of functional harmony is based on the major/minor scales, so it doesn’t necessarily apply to modes.Sure, you can build triads for each scale degree and label them minor, major, or diminished, but they aren’t necessarily going to have the same function as they do in tonal music.

Some people even claim that modes are completely “static” and there is no tension or resolution…although I would strongly disagree! For example, in Phrygian mode I would say that the supertonic has a very strong pull toward the tonic, being only a half-step above. I would say that the “harmonic function” of the supertonic in Phrygian is to lead back to the tonic.

Here’s an article which briefly goes over modal harmony,basically from the perspective that it’s a way of understanding and building chords which don’t fit in the traditional minor or major. Asking about the harmonic function of these “modal” chords is a pretty subjective question. For example in Dorian, making a triad on the second scale degree results in a minor chord, whereas in Ionian mode it would be diminished. What is the function of this minor triad? Well, some people would argue it has no function, it’s just a static chord existing in space. In my mind, it’s like casually stepping to the side. There’s not an extremely strong pull back to the tonic, but it would make sense to step back.

I’ve got to admit lettuce that you have piqued my curiosity on what you actually sound like when it comes to writing just one single 64 line pattern in Renoise (completely of your own doing, original plain note composition, say a simple chiptune style)…or is this just kinda trolling? :unsure:

I think you are right, harmonic functions of chords, depending on from which scales they are formed can be a matter of opinion concerning tension and resolution.

The function of a particular chord is not necessarily set in stone but as a general rule it can be helpful to think of the chords in terms of their most commonly agreed upon functions.

Thank you for the link to that article. That was very useful.
It will help me to figure out the harmonic functions of chords formed from each of the scale degrees in each of the seven traditional modes.

I have laid out the main chords for each scale degree of ‘D Dorian’ below ( derived from C Major, good one to choose for an example ).


i - tonic - ( minor ) - D F A ( 0 3 7 )

ii - supertonic - ( minor ) - E G B ( 0 3 7 )

III - mediant - ( Major ) - F A C ( 0 4 7 )

IV - subdominant - ( Major ) - G B D ( 0 4 7 )

v - dominant - ( minor ) - A C E ( 0 3 7 )

vi - submediant - ( dim ) - B D F ( 0 3 6 )

VII - leading tone - ( Major ) - C E G ( 0 4 7 )

In the article on the website you gave me the link to it was stated that from the second degree of ‘D Dorian’, a diminished triad would be formed.

ii E minor (E, G, B . Minor would have a diminished triad here.

I think this is a mistake, see above. Should be normal minor ( 0 3 7 semitones ).

Also one of the things you said I think there was a small mistake :

For example in Dorian, making a triad on the second scale degree results in a minor chord, whereas in Ionian mode it would be diminished.

In Ionian, making triad on the second degree it would be also minor, not diminished ( see opening post ).

( ‘Ionian’ is the Major scale )

To work out all the main chords in any mode ( and whether they are Major, minor or diminished ) I will just start from whatever scale degree - skip a scale degree - add note - skip a scale degree - add note.

I guess these kinds of traditional ideas about the harmonic functions of the chords do not really apply to scales outside of the seven traditional modes.

For example, diminished scales have 8 scale degrees each. The convention seems to be to consider the scale as if it had ‘two submediants’ or two ‘6th degrees’. Anyway, for some scales outside of the traditional modes this harmonic function stuff seems completely subjective as you said. I dont know if this kind of traditional music theory really applies anymore in the case of weirder scales so, as many people already say, ‘use your ear’ might be a better rule in those cases.

Anyways, I think it is useful to know something about the traditional rules before deciding to break them or not ( or in what particular way to break them ). Also its interesting to consider why people came up with those rules in the first place ( when people were still confused a lot of the time but also very sure of themselves in the 17th century and earlier …and in modern times too ).

Thankyou for your help, that was very useful.

@4Tey :

To be perfectly honest, in my opinion, there were a few really good chiptune artists ( like bubblyfish and lobat ), they each had a couple of really nice songs. But after them there was a ‘horde’ of total shit chiptune people. Why were they shit? Because they had no understanding of harmony ( or tables, or table based sound design ). If you like chiptune stuff, listen to some of stranger tunes by bubblyfish ( million mile away is nice, there were a few others), she obviously understands harmony. I like that kind of chipmusic, doesnt even really require drums. Harmony is one of the main things that makes for a good chiptune. Listen to the harmonies in all the epic earlier computer game soundtracks.

Using the rules of music theory to write a tune, generic songs ( like ‘Major scale only - no key change - boring ass sound design - no use of tables’ chiptune can be made pretty quick, without too much trial and error…and interesting songs should be much easier to think about and quicker to write too ( more inversions, better use of arp commands, more key changes, borrowed chords, crazier table structures that are still staying in key etc. )

I would say to write good chiptunes you need a strategy for your harmonies even more than in other forms of music because the sounds are so basic. But I often think when I hear chiptunes ‘that could be better with a little filtering and reverb, put that ish through a kaoss pad yo’.


Found a beautiful and clear description of how to name and use all the modes of harmonic minor if anyones interested.

They have a bit more character and are a bit more mysterious sounding than the seven traditional modes.

Have you ever checked out the Guitar Grimoire?

I flicked through several versions of it in a store.

It looks really excellent, extremely detailed.

It had so many different ways of making chord progressions going around the cycle of fifths.

All the fretboard diagrams were very clear.

I think it is maybe the best choice of book for guitarists who want to get to grips with music theory.

I think the one to go for is the big, thick green one.

There were smaller ones too. Going for a bit cheaper.

I have one more question to ask about modes here.

Do you think the following information is correct, concerning modes of A harmonic minor?

I got the information from the website I linked above, but I’m still a little confused about it.


W H W W H m3 H
M2 m3 P4 P5 m6 M7 P8

Modes of ‘harmonic minor’ ( “AeolianMaj7” ) :

iv - Dorian-#4

i - Harmonic minor or Aeolian-Maj7

V - Phrygian Dominant

ii - Locrian-#6

III - Ionian-#5

VI - Lydian-#2

vii - Superlocrian

Sequencer : A B C D E F G#

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

Traditional : A B C D E F G#

iv - subdominant - ( minor ) - D

i - tonic - ( minor ) - A

V - dominant - ( Major ) - E

ii - supertonic - ( diminished ) - B

III - mediant - ( augmented ) - C

VI - submediant - ( Major ) - F

vii - leading tone - ( diminished ) - G#

‘Phrygian dominant’ is supposed to be super evil sounding.

Havent tried it out properly yet

Phrygian dominant also sounds middle eastern and is pretty much “Miserlou” by Dick Dale.

Edit: well, Miserlou has a maj7, that’s the difference. Which of course makes it something else I don’t know the name of off the top of my head…

Also sounds a bit like doom1 level1 and metallica.

I think that information above is correct.

I’m just going to roll with it.

I love harmonic minor and phrygian dominant but most of the other modes of h.minor are not veyr usable, except Dorian #4 which is awesome and you can hear in the main melody from “Enter the Dragon”: