Modal guitar chords

Modal guitar chords

Can anyone help me find a good site with info on modal guitar chords. I’ve just bought a second guitar so I can tune one of them modal. DADDAD or DADGAD OR DADF*AD who knows. Not me.
Even a good book would be great. I play fiddle and button key GD box
but I enjoy guitar also. This guitar I bought is a Richwood acoustic,with a solid spruce top, great neck, cutaway body and pleasant sunburst finish. And it sounds great. Model No. RW314CVS. No, it’s not for sale. The best bit is it was only

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Re: Modal guitar chords

Hello, Dexy,

i think there’s no such thing as modal chords. Modal music is played with the usual chords, they’re just not the ones you’d normally see in a non-modal piece. Actually most modal tunes can be played with 2 chords: the one on your "modal" key and the one for the key signature. For example: a dorian, you could usually do with just Am and G (and you probably won’t see the E7 as you would if the tune were in A minor). But of course feel free to insert more chords where they feel right.

There’s a cheap shareware for the PC called AbcMus ( and i’m not making this weird URL up… This program can take a tune in ABC and put chords in it. Sometimes it gets them right, sometimes not, but you can use it as a starting point.

As for DADDAD or DADGAD or whatever, these are called open tunings, and are used often in folk music because they make it very easy to play in D or G. I remember seeing a book of open-tuning chords in my local library once. I just did a search in for "guitar open tuning" and found a lot of Web pages dealing with them.

Good luck!


Re: Modal guitar chords

I’ve heard guitar players refer to modal chords before. When I asked what they meant, they showed me chords where there is a lot of 5ths (no thirds) or chords where you slide up a chord form, leaving open strings ringing. For example, play standard G chord (in standard tuning) with the B string fretted at the 3rd fret, and not sounding the A string. It’s all fifths, right? Or play standard C chord, then slide it up 2 frets to be a D chord with a G ringing in it.

Why they call them modal chords — dunno, but maybe it’s because the chords get away from the standard major/minor chords, for a different sound, as modes get you away from the standard major/minor scales. (Of course, the standard major/minor scales are modes as well.)

Anyway, those other tunings are supposed to be kewl at that kind of thing. I’m sure that the websites dedicated to these tunings will give some examples, though they might not call them modal chords.


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Re: Modal guitar chords

Thanks for your help folks. The speek/DADGAD site was really good and helped a lot.
Joe. You are right when you say modals are mainly the root note of the chord and the fifth. The third note of the chord is usually omitted.
It is the third note of a chord which determines if the chord is major or minor. eg. Major chord of C contains notes C,E and G. For Cminor the E note is brought down a semitone to Eflat. In modal C you only play C and G notes in the chord. This makes it neither major nor minor. I hope I have explained this OK. Thanks again Dexy.

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Re: Modal guitar chords

Hi, Dex: Yes, you’ve explained it spot on. The question is why they call them modal chords, when obviously all of the modes have a third. I’d speculate it’s because if the accompaniment instrument does not play the thirds, the melody instruments are free to use any mode(s) they want, except for Locrain, which would obviously clash with the accompaniment instrument because it has a flat fifth. Still, that’s what guitarists call modal chords, and what’s in a name?

Actually, glauber brought up an interesting point which I’ll embroider on. The modes most often used in Irtrad are major (ionian), minor (aeolian), mixolydian (major with a minor (flatted) 7th) and dorian (minor with a major (sharped) 6th.) Given that most consider major and minor to be "regular", or non-modal, even though they are modal, I’ll just use them as comparison. But there’s certain signature chord patterns used in mixolydian and dorian mode that you can recognize.

Mixolydian, with it’s flatted 7th, very often uses the tonic (major) chord, plus the chord 1 whole step below it. For example, D (mixolydian) these would be D and C major. In fact, the C major is often used in place of where an A or A7 chord would be used in a D major (Ionian tune). For G mixolydian, these chords would be G and F major. For A mixolydian, the chords would A and G major. As a variation in D Mixolydian, an A minor or Aminor7 could be substituted in place of the C major. Similarly, in G Mixolydian, substitute a Dm or Dm7 in place of a F, and in A mixolydian, substitute a Em or Em7 in place of the G.

The chordal signature of Dorian mode is the use of the major 4th chord, as opposed to the minor 4th chord used in "standard" minor (Aeolian). For example, in E dorian, an A major chord would be used instead of the Am used in E minor. For A dorian, the chord would be a D major. Sometimes a 2 minor is used: for E dorian, F#minor of F#m7 in place of a A major, and in A dorian, a Bm or Bm7 in place of a D major.

So that’s how to REALLY play modally, using standard guitar chords. But I do love the sound of the so-called modal chords used in these other tunings, and if guitarists wanna call them modal, so be it. You certainly can play modal melodic lines over them.


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Re: Modal guitar chords

For those who play keyboard (or at least can find their way around one), you can construct the "real" chords that work within a mode by just playing up the triads in that mode. So in jomac’s example of E dorian, you’d get {EBD},{F#AC#},{GBD},{AC#E},{BDF#},{C#EG} and {DF#A},or Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim and D.

What most guitarists call "modal" chords are really what you get when you let the open strings drone while you move the fingered parts of the chords around - there was a really nice example in the MP3 of "The Butterfly" that Zina’s teachers did, where the guitarist slid an Amin7 up 2 frets to play what would have been a Bmin7, except it had the open A, G and high E strings droning. This created a very cool chord that I’m too lazy to analyze and supply the accurate name for!


Re: Modal guitar chords

Yeah, those neat "slide up" chords on guitar often defy analysis. I could tell you that its a Em9/A, (which it is) or figure out other ways to notate it, but if a piano played it, it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s just one of those things that works on guitar (AND Chapman Stick, heh, heh) and nothing else. But piano has a bunch of chord voicings that don’t work on anything else (except Chapman Stick, heh, heh) as well.

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Re: Modal guitar chords

"Modal Chords" usually lack a third, because the third is what makes the chord either major or minor. Since modes can blur the major/minor line - big fifths or modal chords suit the feel of modal music. Many people get themselves way too worked up about modes, after all they are just scales.

Re: Modal guitar chords

A modal chord is a chord that implies a mode.

These are chords that usually only function well in one place within a key.

An example is C maj add 9 sharp 11. Almost any chord sharp 11 chord is a lydian chord because sharp 11 equals sharp 4. The lydian mode has a sharp four in it. The C maj add 9 sharp 11 chord functions only as a four chord in a major key (in this case in the key of G)

Not every chord is modal. Dominant sevenths are mixolydian chords. However a minor ninth chord can be either dorian or aeolian. A minor ninth chord can’t be phrygian because the 9 would have to be flatted.

I hope this helps.

I want to add something to my last post.

The best way to tell a modal chord is to learn your modes better and compare them to their major or minor counterparts.

There are three major modes:
Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian

The three minor modes are:
dorian, phrygian and aeolian

Ionian = major
lydian = major w/#4
Mixolydian = major w /7

Hence any chord with a sharp 4, sharp 11, or flat 5 (same thing, different names) is a lydian chord if the chord is being used in a diatonic key.

Any chord with a b7 (dominant 7ths and all of their derivatives) are mixolydian chords.

dorian = minor with #6
phrygian = minor with flat 2
aeolian = natural minor scale

Any minor chord with a sharp 6 (#13) is a dorian chord.

Any minor chord with a flat 2 (flat 9) is a phrygian chord.

I have a music theory web site that may benefit you guys: