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The Modes of the Major Scale - The Dorian Mode
Published November 1st, 2002. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

The modes from the major scale - I'm going to straiten out this mode thing once and for all. There is way too much confusion about the whole thing. After you go through the next few lessons, if you do your homework, you'll be an expert on the modes from the major scale and the slightly more confusing melodic minor scale modes. This lesson is going to deal with the dorian mode.

 
Before we go any further, we'll have to do first things first. The first thing we have to make sure of is that you can play all five positions of the major scale. Don't cheat, if you don't know 'em all, learn 'em all right now. Take a few hours, a whole day, or even a week, but like they say on the Nike commercial; Just do it. They're right down there waiting for you. Roots in black.
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a a a a
Pattern 1
Pattern 2
Pattern 3
Pattern 4
Pattern 5
 
Try to practice these patterns:
1. Same key up and down the neck, all five scale patterns.
2. Same position different keys. Example: pattern 1-E major, pattern 2-D major, pattern3-C major, pattern 4-A major, pattern 5-G major

While you are working on your major scales, we need to get you going on some theory. You are going to have to learn about intervals. By knowing all the intervals you will learn how the modes work and how to apply them. First let's examine the major scale and the intervals that are contained inside of it.
 
The scale below is the C major scale with the scale tones or intervals written below. Keep in mind, 2nds are the same as 9ths, 4ths, the same as 11ths and 6ths, the same as 13ths.
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The diatonic intervals - If you examine the intervals separately you will get the examples below (taken from the pattern 4 scale above) Memorize all these before you go any further. Try to remember them from not just from the sixth string but from all strings. These intervals work both ways up and down. In the first example the white dot is up a major 2 from the black one and the black one is down a major 2nd from the white one.
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a
a
maj 2
maj 3
perfect 4
a a a
perfect 5
maj 6
maj 7

 

Test 1 - Did you do it? Have you remembered all your intervals? I'm going to test you here. What is a major 2nd from C? All you have to do is play or imagine the black note in the maj 2 example above is C on the 8th fret. What is the white note? That note is your maj 2nd. It's a D note, right? So a D is a major 2nd from C. How about a maj 2nd from G? G is on the third fret and the maj2nd is two frets above it making it a what? How about a major 2nd down from Bb? Just do the opposite. Bb is on the sixth fret. two frets below it is an Ab note. Therefore an Ab is a major 2nd below Bb. Got it? Practice using the questions below. Write your answers on a piece of paper and check to see if they are right at the very bottom of this page.

 
Test 1
1. maj 2nd from A 11. perfect 5th from G
2. maj 2nd from D 12. perfect 5th from C#
3. maj 2nd down from F# 13. maj 6th from Ab
4. maj 3rd from E 14. maj 6th from F
5. maj 3rd from Bb 15. maj 6th from Bb
6. maj 3rd down from D 16. maj 6th down from G
7. perfect 4th from F 17. maj 7th from B
8. perfect 4th from B 18. maj 7th from E
9. perfect 4th down from C 19. maj 7th from D
10. perfect 5th from E 20. maj 7th from F

The chromatic intervals - Now let's move on to the intervals that are not diatonic to the major scale. There are two rules to remember:
 
1. A major interval lowered by a half step (one fret) becomes a minor interval. (major/minor intervals = 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths)
 
2. A perfect interval raised by a half step becomes an augmented interval. Lowered by a half step will make it diminished. (Perfect intervals = 4ths and 5ths)
 
Check out what they look like below and memorize them. When you get this done, we'll go on to the modes.
 
*An augmented 4 is the same as diminished 5 and the augmented 5 is the same a the min 6. They are, however notated differently in a score. For example; if two notes are written C-Gb, the interval is analyzed as a diminished 5th but if the same two notes are notated as a C and an F# the same two notes are analyzed as an augmented 4th. Also remember that a minor interval lowered one more time becomes diminished while a major interval raised will become augmented. The only time you really see this is in a diminished seventh chord or arpeggio; root-minor 3-diminished 5-diminished 7. To bring up the rules of chord construction page click here.
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a
min 2
min 3
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a
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*augmented 4/ diminished 5
*min 6/augmented 5
min 7

Test 2 - OK Test time again. Write your answers down and check them at the bottom of this page.

 
Test 2
1. min 2nd from B 11. augmented 5th from G
2. min 2nd from F# 12. diminished 5th from C
3. min 2nd from A 13. min 6th from C
4. min 3rd from D 14. min 6th from F
5. min 3rd down from Bb 15. min 6th from B
6. min 3rd from F 16. min 6th from G
7. diminished 4th from G 17. min 7th from Bb
8. augmented 4th from B 18. min 7th from E
9. augmented 4th from F# 19. min 7th from Ab
10. augmnted 4th from E 20. min 7th from F#

Introducing The Modes
The Modes - Now we can go on to the modes of the major scale. Memorize the names and order. This is the basic formula; if we take a major scale (let's say a C major scale) and write it from the root to the root (C) we will get the ionian mode. Write it from the 2nd degree, D to D in this case, we'll get the dorian mode. E to E, the phrygian mode. F to F, the lydian mode. G to G, the mixolydian mode. A to A, the aolian mode. And last but not least, B to B will give you the locrian mode. I used the C major scale as an example but it works the same for all the major scales.
 
1. Ionian mode (the major scale)
2. Dorian mode
3. Phrygian mode
4. Lydian mode
5. Mixolydian mode
6. Aolian mode (the natural minor scale)
7. Locrian mode
 
The order of the modes will never change even when the key does. Examine the chart below. By checking the very bottom column of the chart you can find out what chord the mode works over. Ex. the A dorian mode is the same as the G major scale and works over an Amin7 chord.
 
Key
ionian
dorian
phrygian
lydian
mixolydian
aolian
locrian
C
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
G
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
D
D
E
F#
G
A
B
C#
A
A
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#
E
E
F#
G#
A
B
C#
D#
B
B
C#
D#
E
F#
G#
A#
F#
F#
G#
A#
B
C#
D#
E#
C#
C#
D#
E#
F#
G#
A#
B#
Cb
Cb
Db
Eb
Fb
Gb
Ab
Bb
Gb
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
Db
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
C
Ab
Ab
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
G
Eb
Eb
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
D
Bb
Bb
C
D
Eb
F
G
A
F
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
 
maj7
min7
min7
maj7
7
min7
min7b5

WARNING!
This is where a lot of players get confused. They ask; "How come when I play the D dorian scale it sounds the same as the C major scale?" Of course it does, cause it is! It's not the scale, it's the chord that counts. If you play a C major scale, D to D, over a C major chord, it's gonna sound like a C major scale cause that's what it is. You have to use the mode over the appropriate chord to get the effect. In this case, you have to play the D dorian mode over a D minor chord. Matter of fact, you don't even have to play it D to D, you just have to play a C major scale over a D minor chord to get the dorian sound.
 
Remember: It isn't where you start and stop in the major scale, it's the chord or chord progression you play over. A Cmajor scale played over a D minor chord is a D dorian scale whether you start on the C note or not. But you should make an effort to start on a chord tone, in other words, if you are playing D dorian over a Dmin7 chord, you should put emphasis on the D, F and A notes (the 7th is okay as well if the chord is a 7th chord)

Harmonizing the Dorian Mode

Now we are going to get into the dorian mode; how to find it and how to use it. First of all, let's examine it closely. If we compare it to the D major scale below it we can see the difference. It looks like the major scale with a minor third and a minor seventh. As it also contains the major 6th, it has more of a bright sound compared to it's minor brothers the aolian and the phrygian mode, which both contain the minor 6th making them sound darker.

 
D dorian scale
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D major scale
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Making chords from the dorian scale: If we start making chords from the scale, by stacking it by the root, third, and fifth we first get a minor triad. If we add the seventh, we get a Dmin7 chord. If we continue, a min9 and min11 chord. This is the important thing to remember; the sixth (or thirteenth) is major. Therefore we get a min13 and/or min6 chord. Remember this too; a min6 chord has a major sixth not a minor one: 1-b3-5-6. Same with a min13 chord: 1-b3-5-b7-13. The only difference between a min6 and min13 chord is, a min13 chord contains a seventh (b7) while the min6 chord leaves it out. No other minor mode from the major scale contains a major sixth, therefore, if you run into a min6 or min13 chord in a chart, your only mode choice is really the dorian mode.

Chords from the dorian mode: min, min6, min7, min9, min69, min11, min13

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Categorizing the Dorian Mode

You need to understand the characteristics of this mode; what makes it what it is, what kind of sound it will give you. Make a few mental notes about the dorian mode:

  • the dorian mode is a minor family scale
  • unlike the other minor modes (aolian, phrygian), it has a major 6th interval
  • although minor, the major 6th in the scale gives it a bright sound (my opinion of course)
  • its definitive harmonized chord is a min13 or min6 (in other words, if someone asked you to play a "dorian" type of chord, you would play one of these)

Playing the Dorian Mode
OK, the next step here is to get you to be able to play any dorian scale anytime you want quickly. The point is; to figure out on the spot what major scale you need to be playing. Remember what I said before; it's not where you start or stop, it's what chord you are playing over that counts. Let's say you're jammin' with these guys and it's your turn to take a solo. You look down at the chart where it has written "guitar solo" and it's got a big Dmin7 chord symbol sitting there for eight measures. You decide you are going to go for that big jazz sound and use the d dorian scale. All you have to do is determine what major scale you have to play. This is what you do; you use the dorian mode rule which is: dorian mode = major scale down a maj2nd. What does that mean? Remember we practiced this earlier, we determined that if D is on the tenth fret, C is a major second down from that note. All you have to do is play a C major scale over the D minor chord and everything will work out ok.
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Test 3 - Test time again, get out your pencil and paper and then check your answers down at the bottom.
 
Test 3
1. E dorian = ? major 6. Bb dorian = ? major
2. B dorian = ? major 7. D dorian = ? major
3. G dorian = ? major 8. A dorian = ? major
4. C dorian = ? major 9. F dorian = ? major
5. F# dorian = ? major 10. Eb dorian = ? major

Practicing over the proper chord progressions: One of the most common chord progressions for the dorian mode is the typical ii - V. Carlos Santana does it all the time. You will need to play a D dorian scale over the chord progression below. Once again, what major scale is the same as the D dorian scale? Remember our rule? The major scale that is a major 2nd below D is the name of the major scale we will need to play. C is a major 2nd below D, so C major is the major scale that we are looking for. Play a D dorian scale (C major scale) over the following chord progression. A hint: try mixing up a D minor pentatonic scale with the dorian scale to get a Santana type vibe:
 
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Now that you should be able to play the dorian scale at the drop of a hat, it's time to get you improvising over some different chord progressions. The first four bars are all D minor. What major scale are you going to play to get the D dorian mode? Remember you need to play the major scale that is down a major 2nd from D. The answer is? C major. How about the next four bars of F# minor? The major scale that is a major 2nd down from F# is? E. You'll need to play a E major scale over the F# minor chord.
 
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Try to make up some chord progressions of your own using two different minor chords.

A Few Tips on Improvisation

Just by simply playing the proper major scale over the chord is a simple and quick method to get the mode you want or need, it will not necessarily turn into a captivating solo however. A few points to keep in mind:

  • Start on chord tones. Yes, a C major scale over a Dmin7 chord is D dorian, but you will want to play chord tones on the strong beats (or at least on the first beat of the measure when the chord changes). Using our last progression, try to start on a D, F or A note on the Dmin9 chord, and F#, A or C# on the F#min9 chord
  • Play over barlines. The most important place to be playing is over the barline where the chord is changing. Using or last progression, try leaving some space on the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th measures, play on the 4th, 5th, 8th and 1st measures. A good way to practice this, is to force yourself to play without stopping
  • Repeat yourself. The listener loves familiarity so create motifs by simply repeating what you play once or twice. You have to tell a story when you solo
 

Creating lines using the dorian mode
The first line below is one I tend to play constantly. The C# that I repeat twice in the first measure is a passing tone that gives the line a jazzier sound. Although it is only a passing tone, if your music theory teacher insisted that you explain it, you could say that you briefly switched to the melodic minor scale for the last half of the measure. I wrote out the phrase as rhythmically simple as I could so you could learn it easily but you should experiment with the timing and phrasing.
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The second line starts off with an Fmaj7 arpeggio. The Gb at the end of the first measure is a passing tone that often falls between the 4th and min3rd in a descending dorian phrase. Try to slide the A# passing tone at the end of the second measure to the B note using your third finger. Again, experiment with phrasing.
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Dorian video. If not viewable, go to this link >>>
 

Test Answers
 
Test 1
1. B 11. D
2. E 12. G#
3. E 13. F
4. G# 14. D
5. D 15. G
6. Bb 16. Bb
7. Bb 17. A#
8. E 18. D#
9. G 19. C#
10. B 20. E
 
Test 2
1. C 11. D#
2. G 12. Gb
3. Bb 13. Ab
4. F 14. Db
5. G 15. G
6. Ab 16. Eb
7. Cb 17. Ab
8. E# 18. D
9. B# 19. Gb
10. A# 20. E
 
Test 3
1. D major 6. Ab major
2. A major 7. C major
3. F major 8. G major
4. Bb major 9. Eb major
5. E major 10. Db major

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