How to Play the Dorian Mode on Guitar

The second mode of the major scale is our good friend, the dorian mode.

This mode is most often used over minor 7 chords functioning as II chords. The most colorful note in the dorian mode is the major 6th. In this lesson I will show you the easiest and most effective approach to improvising with dorian mode.

Use this lesson to:

  • Learn basic modal theory.
  • Tune your ears to this mode’s unique sound.
  • Know how to improvise with it musically.
  • Have fun while you learn!

Dorian Example

dorian mode

Can you see how D dorian has the same notes as C major scale?

Visual Example of Dorian

dorian mode

Real Life Example

chord progression

In this example Dm7 is the II chord in the key of C major. You can play D dorian over this D minor 7.

Here is how to play the dorian mode on the guitar in two positions. A white circle means that note is the root note of the scale. Numbers indicate what finger to use (1: first finger, 2: second finger, etc). You can easily move the Dorian shape up and down the fret board to play in different keys, just position the white dot over your chosen root note.

dorian mode fingering

How to HEAR the Dorian Mode

To start off with, you can think of D dorian = C major scale. But to really HEAR the unique sound of any mode you need appreciate this mode as its own entity.

Try this:

  • Forget about C major.
  • Play a Dm7 chord and play through D dorian slowly.
  • Accustom your ears to the sound of the scale, especially the natural 6th (13).
  • Try this with all your modes, think of each scale as its own unique scale.

To sum up, modes are easy to learn because they share the same notes. But to get your ears around them, think of each mode as a unique scale and key center. I remember modes being confusing to me when I started out, let me know in the comment section below if this trick works for you!

When to Use the Dorian Mode

  • Minor 7 chords (functioning as II chords).
  • Tonic minor 7 chords (for an example of this, on Miles Davis’ ‘So What’).
  • Over endless min7 funk jams (you know what I am talking about).

How to Use the Dorian Mode

  • Over a minor 7 chord, the 9th, 11th and especially the 13th (or 6th) will sound really colorful.
  • The root, b3, 5 and b7 are your ‘inside’ notes.

Dorian Mode Summary

ScaleDorian Mode
ChordMin7, Min9, Min11, Min13
NotesR, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7
C DorianC, D, Eb, F, G, A , Bb
Chord/ Guide Tonesb3rd and b7th
Color Tones9th, 11th, 13th,
Avoid Notesnone
Sam's TipUse this awesome mode over IIm7 chords and on minor vamps and funk jams.

The Bebop Dorian Scale

A better option for more advanced jazz guitarists is the Bebop Dorian Scale. Here is why bebop scales are better:

  • They add chromatic notes to your lines.
  • Your lines will sound fluid and more ‘jazzy.’
  • Most modern jazz guitarists use the bebop vocabulary is some way or another. Even if they aren’t PLAYING bebop, they USE bebop lines.
  • They just sound cool.

Congratulations on making it through this lesson! You did great. I recommend you immediately check out ‘How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales’ to ingrain the dorian mode in your ears and fingers. Aim to know the Dorian Mode really well. You won’t regret it, I promise!

Further Learning

Free Major Scale Mode Lessons

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phryigian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

 

Comments

  1. Jonathan says

    The root strong 5th pattern is identical to the 6th string root pattern for Aeolian. This is a huge shortcut to think about in my mind, is there a name for this coincidence and does it happen with many of the other modes?

    • Sam Blakelock says

      Yep, good find! It’s the concept of modes – same notes but different way to think about them. The actual scale shape will look the same!

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