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The primary distinction here is between a modal approach and a tonal approach.
A modal approach is regarding any given mode as the primary group of notes to used as in creating a piece of music. Typically, the result of this is that a tonal resolution is not present. There is no leading tone cadential resolution, and the chords do not necessarily follow the principles of Functional Harmony.
Example: a song or part of a song that uses the A aeolian mode and has these chords in this order - A min/G maj/F maj/G maj/A min. No leading tone present, no harmonic resolution.
A tonal approach is regarding any major or minor scale (altered to contain the raised 7th when required) as the primary group of notes to used as in creating a piece of music. Necessarily, the result of this is that at some point a tonal resolution is present. There is a leading tone cadential resolution, and the chords at some point necessarily follow the principles of Functional Harmony.
Example: a song or part of a song that uses the A minor scale and has these chords in this order - A min/G maj/F maj/E7/A min. Note that the E7 has a G# (altered 7th) as the leading tone, which then forms the harmonic resolution (V7-i).
So you can think of and use modes when you are playing no matter what. But they have a very specific function and there is an important difference between modal and tonal.
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