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Music Theory for Guitar - Modal scales and harmony - Dorian

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Modal Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Modal scales and harmony - Phrygian

Modal scales and harmony - Dorian

Dorian Mode is the scale you get when you play one octave up from the second note of a major scale.

Dorian is also the basis of one the best jazz recordings ever: Miles Davis So What on his ground breaking Kind of Blue album from 1959. Click here for a list of songs in Dorian mode.

The dorian mode or dorian scale is a minor scale, as it has a minor third. But it is a little different from the natural minor scale, which is also known as aeolian mode, that was covered in the Relative Minor lesson. The difference between natural minor and dorian, is that the natural minor has a minor sixth, while the dorian has a major sixth. The relations between whole and half steps in the two scales compares like this:

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If we compare natural d-minor and dorian d-minor, they will be like this:

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If we compare dorian and major, we see that Dorian i a scale starting on the second note of the relevant major. If we compare C-major and Dorian D-minor, you get the D-dorian by playing the notes of the C-major scale from D to d.

The most important notes in the dorian scale are the root (which gives the identity), the third (which gives minor character), and the major sixth (which makes it dorian minor, and distinguish the scale from aeolian/natural minor).

The basic chord progression I am used to think of as dorian mode - at least in folk songs - is i-VIIb. In Dorian D-minor, which is a very nice key for dorian, the basic chords are Dm and C. In Dorian A-minor, another good key for dorian, is Am and G. This is the key of Working-class Hero. I choose to say "use to think of as dorian", because I have realized that many of the tunes I think of as dorian has not 6th in them. The note that would have distinguished the modality from aeolian/natural minor is not there. But I will still think of songs with this progression as dorian, unless someone can explain to me why this should be wrong.

One tune that is clearly dorian is Scarborough Fair.

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The note that is marked with a M6 is the note that makes it dorian (B-natural in D). Listen to it and note how it add a little flavour af major, and is a kind of refreshment in the melody. Try the same line in Aeolian/Natural Minor, and listen to the difference.

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We can make a harmonized scale based on D-dorian, and it will be like this:

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As said above, the three most important notes in the dorian mode are the root, the third and the sixth. The root chord, Dm in our example, will take care of the root note and the third. To harmonize the M6 note (B-natural), we have to choose a chord with this note in it. As long as we stick to the diatonic chords, the chords with a B-natural are Em, G and Bdim. The Bdim chord calls for a resolution to C, and will tend to throw us out of key. So we will avoid this chord. In the context of D-dorian, you should notice that the Bdim has the notes B, D and F, or the M6, root and third. It is made from the three most important notes of the mode, but still we cannot use it – or at least we should be very careful with it. In Scarborough Fair I have chosen G to go with the M6 note. But you can also try Em. In the example where it is rewritten in Aeolian/Natural minor, you have to choose another chord. I could be Gm or Bb. In D-dorian, the G chord also goes with the root note, and the third can be harmonized with F.

It seems to be different opinions on which chords are the most important in dorian mode. In D-dorian, I would say that the three most important chords are the ones I used in Scarborough Fair: Dm, C and G. In generic Roman numbering, this would be i - IV - bVII. But I have seen others say that the most important chords are i - ii - IV, or Dm, Em and G. I would rank the ii chord as No 4, but I accept that there are different opinions on this. Then I would add bIII and v, or F and Am as long as we are in D-dorian.

Modal harmonies are more fragile than major, and you should be more careful with the harmonies. I have said that Bdim may throw you out of key. The same goes for G7, if we stay in D-dorian.

The dorian scale works well with minor chords, minor 7th chords and power chords. Carlos Santana and Tommi Iommi (Black Sabbath) often use dorian mode in their solos. If you listen to Irish music in minor keys, it will probably be in dorian mode.

For more on dorian mode, including links to songs etc, go to the Dorian mode in the mode section.

Some Modes Scales - books

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Modal Soloing Strategies for Guitar
Modal Soloing Strategies for Guitar is a comprehensive, multi-faceted study of the seven major-scale modes. Start applying and understanding the modes through sample licks, extended solos, and play-along tracks. In addition, you'll play each mode in all 12 keys, learn different types of fingerings, and even learn the formula for each mode and its relationship to the diatonic chord. Soon, you'll be harmonizing the modes and deriving them by altering other scales. A CD with play-along tracks and demonstrations of all the examples in the book is included.
RefNr: AP35461
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Modal Mastery for Jazz Guitar Improvisation
Diatonic modal knowledge is essential to the guitarist as a tool for soloing. A solo should be a spontaneous improvisation. Modal Mastery can help store enough information to free yourself from having to search for what you want to play, thus aiding in spontaneity.
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Using the Modes for Solo Guitar. Not only will this book show you how to play the modes, it will also show you the theory behind mode construction, how to play any mode in any key, how to play the proper mode over a given chord progression, and how to write chord progressions for each of the seven modes.
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In this master class DVD, Peckham unlocks the mysteries of modal tonality, with a series of exercises and demonstrations that will expand your vocabulary, no matter what instrument you play.
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Frank presents a clear and easy-to-understand guide to using modes in soloing.
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