What is the Dorian mode?

UPDATE – For a comprehensive guide to the Dorian mode, please read the post Dorian Mode Explained.

Once you have a basic understanding of major scales and how to manipulate them in order to play modes, you will want to start getting familiar with each of the 7 modes. The first mode is the Ionian mode. This is simply a major scale. Therefor, whenever you play a major scale, you are in fact playing the Ionian mode.

The 7 modes and their names are as follows:

1. Ionian (Root note, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

2. Dorian (Root note, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7)

3. Phrygian (Root note, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7)

4. Lydian (Root note, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7)

5. Mixolydian (Root note, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7)

6. Aeolian (Root note, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7)

6. Locrean (Root note, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7)

These are the 7 modes of a major scale (1 for every note of the original scale). If you can’t quite get your head around it just yet, don’t worry. For now, we just want to look at mode number 2 – Dorian.

Firstly, just to recap, the mode is achieved by playing a major scale, starting on the second note. For example, to play a C major scale, we would play the following notes

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

If we were to start on the second note, we would play the following:

D – E – F – G – A – B – C

Notice, that all the notes are still the same (because we are still in the key of C) but we are starting from D. This is known as a D Dorian.

To understand the properties of any mode, you HAVE to know your major scales in every key. If you don’t, it’s easy to figure out (what is a major scale?). In this case, to understand D Dorian, we need to know what notes are in C major, but also, what notes are in D major. Here’s why:

D Dorian has the notes D – E – F – G – A – B – C

D Major has the notes D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#

Therefor, only in comparing D Dorian to the original key of D Major, can we say that D Dorian has a flat 3rd, and a flat 7th. Why? Because the only differences between D Dorian and D Major are those 2 notes. The 3rd note in D major is F#, yet the 3rd note in D Dorian is F. Therefor, D Dorian has a flat 3rd. The 7th note in D Major is C#, yet the 7th note in D Dorian is C. Therefor D Dorian has a flat 7th also. In fact, any time you play a Dorian mode in any key, you are playing a scale that has a flat 3rd and a flat 7th.

Let’s test this out in another Key. Let’s try Ab Major.

Ab major has the following notes.

Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – G

To play the Dorian mode, we would need to start on the 2nd note. Therefor, we would be playing a Bb Dorian:

Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – G – Ab

Now that we have a Bb Dorian mode, we need to compare it to the original key of Bb Major, in order to understand it’s properties. Bb Major is:

Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A

As you can see, the difference between Bb Dorian and Bb Major is that Bb Dorian has a flat 3rd and a Flat 7th.

You can try this in any key and you will find that the Dorian mode has a flat 3rd and a flat 7th. That’s what makes it a Dorian mode. Because of these properties, the scale works very well over Minor chords.

UPDATE – For a comprehensive guide to the Dorian mode, please read the post Dorian Mode Explained.

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