Modal mixture is an advanced music theory concept that blends elements of different modes into a single piece of music. It is also known as modal interchange, borrowed chords, or mode mixture. In this article, we will explore what modal mixture is, how it works, and some examples of its use.

What Is Modal Mixture?

Modal mixture involves the use of chords and notes that belong to different modes within a single piece of music. In traditional Western music theory, there are seven diatonic modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. Each mode has a distinct set of intervals that give it a unique character.

For example, the Ionian mode (also known as the major scale) has a characteristic pattern of whole and half steps: W-W-H-W-W-W-H. In contrast, the Dorian mode has a minor third and seventh but a major sixth: W-H-W-W-W-H-W.

Modal mixture allows composers to borrow chords from other modes to create new harmonic possibilities within a given key or tonality. It can add color and variety to harmonic progressions by introducing unexpected harmonies that deviate from the standard diatonic chord progression.

How Does Modal Mixture Work?

Modal mixture works by borrowing chords from parallel modes or closely related keys. Parallel modes are modes that share the same tonic note (e.g., C Ionian and C Dorian). Closely related keys are keys that share many of the same notes (e., C major and A minor).

For example, in the key of C major (Ionian), we could borrow chords from the parallel Dorian mode by using a iiø7 chord instead of the typical ii chord. The iiø7 chord contains a flat third and flat seventh scale degree compared to the ii chord, giving it a darker, more melancholic sound.

Another example is the use of the bVI chord borrowed from the Aeolian mode in a major key. In C major, the bVI chord would be Ab major. This chord adds a touch of tension and instability to the harmony, creating a sense of drama and intensity.

Examples of Modal Mixture

Modal mixture can be found in many different genres of music, from classical to jazz to pop. Here are some examples:

Conclusion

Modal mixture is an advanced music theory technique that allows composers to create new harmonic possibilities by borrowing chords from different modes. It can add color and variety to harmonic progressions and create unexpected harmonies that deviate from standard diatonic chord progressions. By understanding modal mixture, musicians can expand their compositional palette and create more interesting and dynamic music.