Modal Comping Chord Choices

I wish to learn about modal comping to expand the modal drone note approach I mostly use. The drone note approach is pretty good but there is so much more.

From what I understand the modal ‘tonic’ chord is part of a chordal passage that risks losing its modality if too many diatonic or outside chords are used. Each mode has chord choices that suit the mode best. The tonic, and one or two other chords that use the characteristic notes of the mode played on.

Lydian mode for example uses a #4th when viewed as parallel as opposed to the parent scale approach. So using chords that contain the #4 will fit perfectly.

Where to go from here is the question. What would be good chord choices for a 3 chord, or 4 chord progression?

Each mode has characteristic notes, so each mode will also have characteristic chords. I seek a source for this type of material to learn.




I’m trying to find an answer to the same question for a long time. From what I’ve learned so far, the hard part is to avoid the tonal center of the Parent Major Scale (PMS).

C Lydian has G major as its PMS. The most characteristic chord movement would be from the C major tonal center to the major 2nd chord, D major. You can introduce other chords as well, but ideally don’t use G major too often and introduce the C major at regular intervals. E.g. C Am D Em Am D C

The same applies to other modes.

For E Phrygian, the flat major second is the characteristic chord. So Em-F is often used. Don’t overuse the C major (PMS).

For Dorian, we have a major 6th interval. D minor - G major is a nice movement because if the note B. But don’t go the C major chord after that.

Makes sense? I think you can add any secondary chords you like, as long as you avoid the natural pull toward the PMS root chord. I’m still new to this concept, so someone more experiences might be able to give more specific examples.


I found the best way to understand modes is to learn songs that use the mode you are interested in. Carlos Santana used the Dorian mode in a lot of his songs. This fits well with the minor pentatonic of the PMS giving you the Latin American sound rather than a bluesy sound. Oyo Como Va is a good example.

Jam bands like the Gratefull Dead and Allman Brothers use Mixolydion mode with the Major pentatonic scale giving you a Southern Rock/Jam Band sound rather than a country sound.

Diving head first into modes without having the distinct sound in you head can drive you crazy looking for that sound and take you down a deap Rabbit Hole leading nowhere.
To steal from Richard Learn Songs, Learn Songs, Learn Songs.


Brian, I went to search for somerhing very useful in my Modes topic - knowing full well I had written up a whole section that could give you some info and guidance - only to find that it wasn’t there. Oh no. Some panic and some searching of my hard drive has led me to discover that I had not completed the topic and htere is still more to add. I shall get to it and come back here once done.

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It is done:

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Thank you Jeff for your thoughts on this. I have heard this as well, don’t wander - keep the groove modally centered so to speak. The more I dig the deeper into parallel? things become it seems. So any diatonic chord technically works but keep it tightly focused seems to be key (pun).

I have a natural tendency to visualisation of the fretboard and so taking a scale and altering a note to a # or a b seems laborious and mentally taxing to me. Of course, these are the colours so sought after. In this regard I’m game to learn the key chordal movements and rote from there while I transfer my thinking over to parent major scale. Don’t all jazz players think major scales all the time? I’m sure I’ve heard this, anyway that’s a distraction now!

I feel I could legitimately say that I know the major scale positions very well so this PMS approach is a fine choice. 5 positions with some hybrid movement between a couple.

Thanks for your reply stitch. I know this about Dorian Santana and an awareness of the mixolydian uses for bluesy. Learn songs is a great way to hear and feel them out, I seek the chord choices and the why if I can manage to understand it at that level.

There are thousands of songs and I’ve left it too long to randomly search for a tune that may or may not be ‘modal’.

I would love to crack the code of modal progressions to begin really expanding the sounds. I can pick any mode now and hit a drone note and follow that very happily for hours, yet the lonely drone note can only bring me so far.

So again, thank you for your response, it is sound (pun) yet I age and am wandering toward the cross roads too late …. ha!

Hello Richard. I was hoping you would see this question and chime in. I have gone through the modal treatise you posted at least once already, and it is really quite good - thank you very much for this work you have done and are doing!

I see the modal chordal progressions question I pose is prompting some additional material so this is wonderful. I will take a close look and be sure to have some future questions whether you like it or not !

I wholeheartedly agree with @stitch on this one. Justin probably has some killer lessons for this, and I invite someone to come forward and share. :slight_smile:

I will post this one only because it is fresh on my mind, having viewed it recently:


Nice link @CT Clint. I like his clarity & relaxed approach.

I’ve been through the modes section of JG except for the melodic minor stuff and the melodic approach is well covered for the major scale. The chordal aspect is not really fleshed out yet other than a mixolydian reference to blues using a I IV V that stresses using mixolydian throughout the changes, so the mixolydian mode for each chord for a total of 3. Other than that the modal lessons play over a drone chord, unless I’ve missed something - please enlighten me here. Perhaps in time this will be expanded upon from a modal chord progression perspective.

This is where I find huge value for learning with @Richard_close2u role at JG. I’ve studied the modal series, borrowed chords and others and find the level of attention and promptness given to users questions to be outstanding. Of course, many other members contributions can be quite enlightening as well.


You’re very kind. Thank you.
Tell your friends! :wink:

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Drone chords are great tools for working through scales and chord tones. I especially like Dom 7th chords for that as they really open up the playing field. For the next level I would go to Youtube and search for things like, “Lydian Progression”, this would be a very useful exercise that points you in a more musical direction.

I have just added three new backing tracks - one each in Mixolydian, DOrian and Phrygian - to the Modes topic.

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@Richard_close2u I wish you some rest Richard! we need you healthy and strong. Lots to unpack and work on here - grateful for that.

Now go to your room. :upside_down_face:

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