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Mode Mixture
Mode mixture (or borrowed chords) has been used in music for many centuries. Mode
mixture expands major or minor modes by means of borrowing chords from parallel and/or
relative major or minor keys. Composers have utilized mode mixture in an amazing variety of
ways, depending upon the particular stylistic period (Baroque, Romantic, Impressionistic, etc.).
The emergence and development of mode mixture was brought about by diverse reasons. For
instance, in the Baroque era, a work which was written in minor would often end with the major
tonic triad, because it is more acoustically stable than the minor tonic triad (see example 23-7 on
p. 397 of the text).
The desire of composers to extend the boundaries of a single mode (major or minor)
might also be the result of the need to use a greater variety of colors and contrasts. Compare, for
example, the two different deceptive cadences in example 1.
Example 1

The first deceptive cadence is the one commonly encountered. The second one, however,
uses a borrowed VI chord from the parallel minor. Surely, the element of surprise is much
greater in the second case.
Another very important reason for the development of mode mixture is a psychological
one. For instance, the contents of the text in a song composed in major or minor suddenly
changes mood or takes an unusual turn. The mode of the song might not possess the harmonic
vocabulary sufficient for this unusual or unexpected textual turn. In that case, the composer
would have to borrow the necessary chords from a relative and/or parallel major or minor key in
order to reflect the psychological shift of the songs text in the music. Study the exemplary
Schumann excerpt on page 392 of the text. Pay special attention to the third measure of the
example.

150

Mode Mixture (cont.)

Symbology
In order to signify the use of borrowed chords, regular upper- and/or lower-case Roman
numerals are employed. Lowered or raised scale degrees should be indicated by or in front
of the Roman numeral (for instance VI or VI). Sometimes you might have some notational
choices. For example, the VI chord built on the lowered 6th scale degree in B Major is a G
Major triad. You might signify it as either VI or VI. Both ways are correct. This principle
also applies when you encounter the same situation with raised scale degrees. For instance, the
iii triad constructed on the raised 3rd scale degree in E Minor is a G Minor triad. You may
indicate it with either or .
Example 2 shows how borrowed chords are derived from relative and parallel keys. Both
major and minor modes utilize mode mixture. Their combined systems of chords can be seen
below.
Example 2