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  • Marks of the Dorian family

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    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:


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


    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.


    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.


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


    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.

    Recordings with Dorian - Mode

  • The Allman Brothers Band - Dreams -
  • The Allman Brothers Band - In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed -
  • The Allman Brothers Band - Whipping Post -
  • The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby -
  • The Beatles - Love You To -
  • Jeff Beck - Greensleeves -
  • Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive -
  • Ben Bolt - Scarborough Fair -
  • Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead Or Alive -
  • Larry Carlton - So What -
  • Chicago - Stay The Night -
  • Eric Clapton - Knockin' On Heavens Door -
  • Eric Clapton - White Room -
  • Bob Dylan - Knockin' On Heaven's Door -
  • Fuel - Hemmorrhage (In My Hands) -
  • Dan Gelo - Sergant Early's Dream -
  • Godsmack - Bad Religion -
  • Godsmack - Voodoo -
  • Great White - Rock Me -
  • Buddy Guy - Mustang Sally (with Jeff Beck) -
  • Janis Ian - Society's Child -
  • Steve Kaufman - Coolie's Reel -
  • Led Zeppelin - You Shook Me -
  • John Lennon - Working Class Hero -
  • Gary Lewis - This Diamond Ring -
  • Van Morrison - Moondance -
  • Tom Petty - Runnin' Down A Dream -
  • REO Speedwagon - Ridin' The Storm Out -
  • Rick Ruskin - Return Of The Flute -
  • Carlos Santana - Oye Como Va -
  • Carlos Santana - Soul Sacrifice -
  • Sting - If You Love Somebody Set Them Free -
  • Styx - Renegade -
  • Sublime - Doin' Time -
  • Traffic - John Barleycorn -
  • Robin Trower - Bridge Of Sighs -
  • Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want -
  • Wishbone Ash - King Will Come -
  • John Zaradin - Brisas Nordestinas -
  • The Zombies - She's Not There -

  • Books


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    Ultimate Guitar Techniques - Soloing With Modes
    In this indispensable DVD, Danny Gill takes an in-depth look at the seven major scale modes.
    RefNr: RDR0129
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    The Dorian Mode (Carlos Santana)
    Learn to improvise, compose and recognize modal music. Also includes a guitar jam track and licks in the style of Santana. Lessons by Danny Gill. The modes of the major scale have been used for centuries as a compositional tool and as a source for improvisation.
    RefNr: RDR0387
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