What Do I Do With All These Scales: The Dorian Scale

What Do I Do With All These Scales: The Dorian Scale

Guitar Theory, Ear Training, & Reading

Need to brush up on your music theory? Check out these articles:  
Understanding The Major Scale
Four Music Theory Fundamentals 
The Major Scale Formula

Learning the modes can feel pretty intimidating -- especially if you don’t understand what they are and how they work.

In this lesson, I want to teach you a bit about the Dorian mode a simple scale shape, and break down the fear and/or hesitancy you may have in learning these types of scales. I also want to show you some examples of how to use it when improvising along with songs.

To break it down as simple as possible, the Dorian mode is taking a major scale and moving the tonal center to the second note of the scale. For example, to play the Dorian mode of the G major scale, you would start on the A note -- the second note in the G major scale -- and play the remaining notes in the G major scale, but you’d resolve your scale on the higher octave of A.

G major: G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G (octave)

A Dorian: A - B - C - D - E - F# - G - A (octave)

When you start a major scale on the second note as you are doing in Dorian mode, you are shifting the tonal center of the scale. So in the example above, you’re shifting the tonal center from G to A. Doing so creates a more “minor”-sounding scale -- and, in fact -- Dorian is nearly identical to the natural minor scale (the Aeolian mode) with the exception of the raised sixth note found in the Dorian mode (for example: F# in A Dorian, and F in A minor).

A minor: A - B - C - D - E - F - G - A (octave)

A Dorian: A - B - C - D - E - F# - G - A (octave)

You can also see below how A Dorian mode differs from the A major scale; A Dorian has both a flatted 3rd and flatted 7th note, as highlighted below:

A major: A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - A (octave)

A Dorian: A - B - C - D - E - F# - G - A (octave)

After watching the lesson above, you’ll know how to turn the Dorian mode & scale into something useful and musical, and how to improvise with it over popular songs like Moondance and Evil Ways.

Remember to grab the scale diagrams here and the jam track here. Check out the previous lesson in this series going over the Major Pentatonic Scale here.