Going Parallel With Guitar Modes (How To Use Modes Part 2)

In part 1 of How To Use Guitar Modes, we looked at using modes on the guitar over a chord progression, by finding the key centre. In summary, staying diatonic requires finding the key centre or key centres of a chord progression, and using that key centre to determine which modes go over certain chords.

In this lesson, we are going to go parallel. Going parallel refers to a concept discussed in the lesson, guitar modes explained, which looks a each mode in its own right, separate from other modes or keys. Basically, using this approach, when we see a chord, we say in theory that there are a number of modes that could be used over that chord, and it is simply a matter of taste as to which one we choose. Staying diatonic is about following rules. Going parallel is about experimenting and essentially being free.

The 7 Modes

Let’s look at the 7 modes of the major scale based on which notes are altered:

Ionian – (nothing altered)
Dorian – b3, b7
Phrygian – b2, b3, b6, b7
Lydian – #4
Mixolydian – b7
Aeolian – b3, b6, b7
Locrian – b2, b3, b5, b6, b7

What ‘Going Parallel’ means is that over any chord, any one of these modes could be used in theory. Of course, there are certain matches that just don’t sound good and are generally avoided.

Over a Major 7 chord, we could use the ionian mode, as it has a natural 3rd and a natural 7th. But if we look at the lydian mode, we see that it also has a natural 3rd and natural 7th. The only note that is altered is the 4th (raised). Therefor, when we see a major 7 chord, we know that both the Ionian mode and the Lydian mode would be a good choice. Which one do we choose? That all depends on taste. Think of each mode as having a certain color, or shade, or emotion. The mode you choose depends on which of these things you want to convey. Of course, this requires a certain familiarity with each mode, but that comes through practice and experimentation and this is where the fun lies.

Parallel Modes Examples

Suppose we have a two-bar chord progression that cycles over and over again. In the 1st bar we have Cmaj7 and in the 2nd bar we have Fmaj7. According to the rules of functional harmony, this chord progression is in the key of C. Cmaj7 is the I chord, and Fmaj7 is the IV chord. According to the rules of staying diatonic, we would use C Ionian (the 1st mode) over Cmaj7 (the I chord) and F Lydian (the 4th) mode over Fmaj7 (the IV chord). When we are using the parallel approach however both the Ionian mode and the Lydian mode could be used over each chord. Of course, technically other modes could be used also, but it is generally accepted that modes with a flat 3rd are reserved for minor chords and modes with a natural 3rd are reserved for major chords. So for our Cmaj7 to Fmaj7 chord progression, we could use either C Ionian or C Lydian for the Cmaj7 chord, and F Ionian or F Lydian for the Fmaj7 chord.

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Let’s look at a different example from the post on staying diatonic:

Here we have a simple chord progression that stays inside the key of C Major:

chord progression 1

If we follow the rules of staying diatonic, we would use the diatonic modes as follows:

diatonic example

We won’t revisit the theory behind the modes used in the above example. You can read up on that in the diatonic post. But in a nutshell, the modes used here fit inside the key and follow the diatonic rules. We want to change that.

The first chord is Dm7. Which modes could we use over the Dm7? Any of the minor modes could work – D Dorian, D Phrygian, D Aeolian and D Locrian. Let’s just choose one – D Aeolian.

G7 is the second chord. Dominant 7th chords are unique in the sense that there is really only one mode (of the major scale anyway) that fits properly. This is because the mixolydian mode is the only mode that has a natural 3rd and also a flat 7th. Technically we could try using another mode, such as a G Phrygian, but for now let’s stick with G Mixolydian. Remember, just because we’re going parallel doesn’t mean we must choose modes that aren’t a diatonic match. We can do what we like!

Cmaj7 is the third chord. The 2 obvious choices are C Ionian and C Lydian (as discussed before). Let’s go with C Lydian.

The fourth chord is Am7. We could use any of the minor modes. Let’s use A Dorian.

If we play straight 8th notes over the chord progression using the modes we have just selected, it would look like this:

Going Parallel Ex 1

It should be pointed out, that these examples use a very mechanical approach to playing the modes over the chord progression. We are literally just playing 8 notes in ascending order for each mode. It serves a purpose, but in reality, if we really wanted to be tasteful, we would probably execute the modes differently (with phrasing etc). But for now, this is an effective way of demonstrating the use of modes.

Here is some alternative modes that could be used over the same chord progression using the parallel approach. I won’t explain it in detail. By now, the theory should be pretty straight forward and the example should be self explanatory:

Going Parallel Ex 2

Many examples are not needed to demonstrate going parallel. This is because there are not as many rules. Pick any chord and choose a mode. It’s that simple in theory. Of course, in practice it is about becoming familiar with each mode and gaining experience with using certain modes over certain chords in different musical contexts.

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1 thought on “Going Parallel With Guitar Modes (How To Use Modes Part 2)”

  1. I have been to many sites but your site has really made a difference in giving me a better understanding of the modes and also how to make use of them. What was unclear before has become quite clear now as you have explained this concept better than anyone else has with simples examples as well as a simple and clear explanation.

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