The Dorian Mode

This is about the Dorian Mode, this is one of the most common other than major and minor. It has a sound that resembles mid-evil times and such but also jazzy and latin music as well. Let’s look at the dorian mode again:  Now obviously, changing the home chord to a different note and changing mode, harmony changes as well. Why? Well because major and minor are very different so any other mode also is different. You have to use your ear to find where the sweet spots in all the modes are. Although I’ll help you out.

In D Dorian : D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D  , D minor is the Tonic chord. We also know that D is the second note in C major so that means that when you want to play a dorian scale, all you have to do it think about what the major scale or ionian mode of that would be below that note and bam! You then should know how to play the scale.  Like this, think “F Dorian… so it’s the same notes as Eb Major” or Ab Dorian would be Gb major, you get the idea. We know Dm is our tonic or home chord in the scale so right now play a Dm chord and then play or sing the D dorian scale up and down for a while and try to get a good grasp on what it sounds like.  You’ll notice it sounds like a minor scale but somewhat brighter and more uplifting than normal minor. Now we’re going to compare Dorian to Minor to get a good grasp at some of the key differences they have.

D Dorian : D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D
D Minor (or Aeolian)  : D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C – D    So the only difference is that that the B is flat on minor or Aeolian and natural on Dorian. This is where that brighter sound comes from.   What this means is another way of thinking in dorian is playing a minor scale with a natural sixth since B is the sixth of D dorian and Bb is the Sixth of D minor.  Now we’re going to harmonize the D dorian scale. Harmonize is just a word for making the notes into triads or three note chords:

Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim – C – Dm    Play these chords up and down and again try to get a feel for their sound in this context.

So typically, the two chords that make the Dm stand out as dorian are the G and Em chords. D minor doesn’t have such chords. So to get a good feel for this, we’re going to play a progression between Dm and G major while playing our D dorian scale up and down. Up for D minor and down with G major and back to Dm at the end. Do this a couple times to get used to it. Now do the Same with Dm to Em.  You might think that the Dm to G sounds better though.  Keep playing the Dorian mode in as many keys as possible, all twelve would be best.    Now here’s a basic cadence in D Dorian:

You’ll notice how it’s very similar to the D minor cadence  Dm – Gm – Am – Dm. You can even throw in the major chord on the five if you want to just like in aeolian but you’ll be loosing some of the dorian color as a result:   Dm – G – A – Dm

Some Dorian Chord progressions

Basic Dorian:  Dm to G

Dm – Am – C – G

Dm – Em – C – G

Dm – F – Bdim – Em   Very Dark sounding progression in Dorian

In other keys:

Cm – Gm – Bb – F

Gm – Bb – C

I’ll try write the phrygian tutorial soon as I can! 🙂


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