Modal Interchange – Step 8

Chord Progression Guitar Lesson - S8
Here we look at three song examples so you can understand different levels of modal interchange and get ready to spot it when it appears in other tunes!

Let’s Keep This Short And Sweet

It’s very dangerous territory to learn these kinds of theory techniques in isolation, you must do it in context.

Let’s go back to Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, hardly a band that graduated from Berklee College Of Music!

We could say that Smells Like Teen Spirit is using modal interchange, instead of a bIIIx chord. On paper it looks like we are in the key of E for the first two chords, E (I) and A (IV). Then when we play G and C we could say this is a modal interchange, we’re now in the key of Em where G is I, and C is IV.

But listen to the song and it’s all about tension, it’s the sound of bIIIx, of attitude.

Music theory can be extremely misleading like this.

So my point here is that using music theory to explain music in general is most of the time a trap, leading you to often terrible conclusions as you plonk your stupid licks on top of every song you come across.

Instead, guess what, you must learn from each song itself!

Do this and you will stay musical and relevant to the song and people will enjoy listening to you.

What about an actual modal interchange?

OK, I hear you, let’s look at a song that actually uses a modal interchange with great success. Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton.

The song is in A, but then when the M8 appears, we seemingly change the key to C, which is a key that is the same as Am. We get an uplifting feel here because it makes us feel as if we’ve kind of gone from Am to C. Upon further investigation, it turns out that it’s not actually C major, but C Lydian we have moved to.

This is an example of an extremely clever and complex modal interchange.

Funnily enough, this section was written by Will Jennings, not Clapton. I’m pretty sure this guy knows a thing or two about music theory and used it to come up with the part.

So we find ourselves full circle in the end. If you play loads of songs and take note of what the theory of each song is, you might fully understand it to such a point that someone like Eric Clapton calls you up and asks for a section for his latest masterpiece.

I can guarantee you, that Will Jennings didn’t just read books on theory, he mainly played songs!

Lovely Day uses modal interchange

An even better example of an actual modal interchange is Lovely Day by the legend that is Bill Withers.

Here the verse and chorus are in E, the chords are Emaj7C#m7Amaj7CD.

The first three chords are as if in E, the last two as if in Em, a clear modal interchange.

For the bridge, we move to Am7Bm7, the II and III chords from Em.

Even more genius than the chords is the melody which uses the same notes for the verse and bridge, just adjusted from the major scale to the minor scale – Genius!

Guess what, the best way for you to discover more examples of modal interchange is to look out for it when you play songs.

Chord Progressions | Related Pages

Chord progression | Step-by-step guitar course

Chord Progression Course

In these guitar lessons, I talk about how to best describe chords when they are put after each other and form chord progressions.

The main thing to discover here is how popular music is a combination of the harmonized major scale and the Blues.

bVIIx & bIIIx | Chord progression

Minor Scales Guitar Lesson S6, bIIIx.

Two extreme chords are created by lowering a minor chord a semitone and also making it major, the VII and III chords can be bVIIx & bIIIx.

Nirvana and Radiohead both broke through using these chords. They didn’t know it, but we can learn from their tunes.

Lovely Day | Chords + Lyrics

Lovely Day chords.

You can learn how to play Lovely Day by Bill Withers using chords, lyrics, chord analysis, TAB, and the original recording.

Emaj7 | C#m7 |
When I wake up in the morning, love…

Lydian | Major Scales

Major Scales Guitar Lesson S5, Lydian.

Just like with Ionian, we can master Lydian by adding two missing notes to the Major Pentatonic.

This is easy as one of them is the same as for Ionian! Understanding how intervals fit around each shape will crack the code.

Tears In Heaven | Chords + Lyrics

Learn how to play Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton using chords, lyrics, chord analysis, 2nd guitar, TAB, and Spytunes video guitar lessons.

Aadd4 E/G# | F#m A/E | D/F# A | E A/E E7 |
Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven…



Spytunes chords, scale, and arpeggio software, Chordacus is a refined version of the so-called CAGED system.

Now available as both a chromatic (original version) and “within a key”, developed with the help of a Spytunes student.

About me

Dan Lundholm wrote this guitar lesson on chord progressions.

This guitar lesson on chord progressions was written by Dan Lundholm. Discover more about him and how learning guitar with Spytunes has evolved.

Most importantly, find out why you should learn guitar through playing tunes, not practising scales, and studying theory in isolation.

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