The Dorian Mode

Difficulty: Spectrum

The Dorian Mode is a minor type scale (it has a b3) and is most commonly used for jazz and blues improvisation. It is usually the first choice for playing over an unrelated minor chord (meaning a minor chord not obviously in a particular key). Though not the “classical” minor it is the most commonly used in most popular styles, and blends very nicely with the Minor Pentatonic scale.

Scale Equation










D Major









D Dorian









Modal Equation









Basic Observations
First notice that it has a b3 (minor 3rd) so it's a minor type scale. It also has a b7 which makes it work on Min7 type chords. That's all it has, but that is all it needs! It keep the 6 (Major 6th) which is it's main characteristic, and almost makes it have a little bit of a major flavour to it... very nice in blues.

Key Tone = 6
The Major 6th interval is the key here - it's the only minor type mode with the Major 6th.

Common Chords associated with the Dorian Mode:
Minor Type Chords: min, min7, min6, min9, min11.

Parent Major Scale (PMS)

The PMS is found one tone below the tonal centre.

This is pretty simple, just think back a tone (or two frets) from the TONAL CENTRE (Dorian Root).

For example: You want to play an G Dorian Mode, just think back a tone from G and you get F Major Scale.

F Major Scale played with a Tonal Centre of G will give you G Dorian Mode.

Note Choices
All of the notes are pretty good in the Dorian mode. Of course the chord tones will sound stronger, but they can all be cool - depends on how you use them of course!

This scale can be used in many ways - most often mixed in with minor blues licks. It fits very well around the notes of the pentatonic scale and the two can be shamelessly integrated (more on that later). Try to emphasise the 6th degree (the note B) as that is it's characteristic - adds a real funk flavour to your blues :)

Like with all theory stuff, you MUST try it and hear it for yourself or it will never really make sense.


This diagram shows a Major Scale with the chord tones of the Dorian Minor chord (in red). The red notes make up the TONAL CENTRE. The R showing the root of the TONAL CENTRE. The black notes make up the Dorian Mode.

The scale is of course, the Major Scale, Position 1 - which we use for all of learning about modes, so you can see clearly how the one scale gets used for each mode (it's a lot better way to learn them than having a different shape for each).

Put the scale with your fist finger in the 7th fret (C Major) and play it over a D minor chord (or other chords in the Common Chords shown above). Ideally you should record yourself a backing track, jam with a friend, or use the Dorian vamp (Track 6) on Really Useful Play Along Tracks.

Listen to how well the red notes sound over the chord and that the other notes link up the red notes and add flavours...

This listening is the key to getting modes in your head and understanding how to use them. Let your ears teach you how to use the sound of the mode.

Once you have had a bit of fun with the above exercise, see if you can find the Position 5 minor Pentatonic in the above scale... it contains all the red notes and a few more! If you have some Position 5 Blues licks, try and mix them up with the notes from the Dorian Mode, it's lots of fun!

It's most commonly used mixing Box 1 of the minor pentatonic and position 2 of the Major Scale - there are LOADS of lick using this - guys like Robben Ford use the 6th all the time, as do many of the traditional blues players like Albert, Freddy and BB King.


Hope it's all making sense... this whole Mode thing can be pretty daunting, I found it really did my head in, but I'm hoping that I can explain it in a way that makes practical sense! If not - get on the forum and tell me, so I can make it better!

Major Scale Modes



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