How to Create Licks With the Dorian Mode

In this lesson we’re going to make soup. Musical soup of course. A delicious soup of the dorian mode variety. But first, let’s talk a little bit about scales and modes in general.

The Problem with Scales/Modes:

The problem with scales and modes is that they can be hard to use musically without a clear sense of direction. It’s quite easy to learn to play the mode (shape, notes, theory etc.) but how do you make it sound cool? Playing the mode from one octave to the next sounds ok, but a little boring and predictable. So what can you do? Play as many notes in random order as long as the fit with the scale/mode? While this is a common approach, it usually sounds very unmusical.

What’s the Solution?

Enter the soup analogy. Think of the notes in a scale or mode as having a certain flavor. Not every note is equal but each has its own unique flavor. There are the main ingredients (the chicken, corn, water, etc.) and there are also the ingredients that are used to add interest, or spice, or a bit of a ‘kick’.

In this lesson we are going explore the dorian mode using the chicken and corn soup approach. Of course, we could apply this to any scale or mode, each with its unique flavors. But in this lesson, we will look at the dorian mode.

Firstly, we’re going to look at the dorian mode using the parallel approach. If you’re not sure what that means, perhaps have a read of the ‘modes explained’ lesson. To be honest, the terminology is not super important, but basically it means that we are looking at the dorian mode in it’s own right, not in relation to other chords/modes that are in the same key.

Anyway, the dorian mode looks like this:

R – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – b7

The Basic Ingredients (Arpeggios):

The first thing we need to do, after forming a basic familiarity with the scale itself, is to add the basic ingredients. These ingredients are the main ingredients of our soup and establish the type of soup that we’re making. For this, we need some arpeggios.

Arpeggios are the most effective way to establish a sense of a chord. Because arpeggios are inherently just broken up chords, played in an organized order, there is no clearer way to establish the sound of a chord than through arpeggios. This is why we use arpeggios as our main ingredients.

Because of the ‘flat 3’, the dorian mode is usually used over minor chords. It is said to be (in very general terms) a minor scale. Therefor, we are going to use the minor 7 arpeggio for the main ingredients of our dorian soup.

For the sake of this lesson, we are going to use D Dorian as our example mode. Of course, the theory can be used in any key (or mode for that matter).

We are also going to choose one position to use for this lesson (although we may step outside a little bit). We have already established the make up of the dorian mode. In D Dorian specifically, we have the following notes:

D – E – F – G – A – B – C

We can play the D Dorian mode starting on the 5th fret, with our first finger:


Back to the main ingredients – the arpeggio. Because we are going to use the minor 7 arpeggio, and we are effectively looking at a D minor scale, we want to use the D minor 7 arpeggio. Let’s play the Dm7 arpeggio in the same position and then relate it back to our soup analogy:


As you can hear by playing the arpeggio, we are clearly establishing the sound of D minor. Each note of this arpeggio is like a main ingredient of our soup. They are not interchangeable (each one is its own unique ingredient), but each note is a main ingredient.

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The root note (in this case, D) can be thought of like the water, the base of the soup. It is perhaps a little bland, but obviously very important to the soup itself. The b3 (F) is the chicken. The main ingredient. It might seem strange appear to place more importance on the b3 than the root, but keep in mind that the b3 is what establishes the scale as a minor scale. The 5 is our corn. Another main ingredient, but perhaps not as important as the chicken. The b7 is our salt, an important addition to the soup, but perhaps not as noticeable as the other ingredients.

Cooking Instructions

Let’s have a look at 2 basic exercise using these 4 main ingredients so far. Essentially, this is just a Dm7 arpeggio, but we will develop it further.

Exercise 1:

dorian soup ex 1

Exercise 2:

dorian soup ex 2

You should come up with and practice many phrases such as this, to get familiar with the main ingredients of our soup. Also, free improvisation using just these notes is also important. Because of the nature of this lesson, we need to use actual musical examples, but at home, in practice, its important to improvise freely and explore the sounds of each of these notes in a more open ended fashion.

Ok, so we have had a taste of the main ingredients. Also keep in mind that we could have looked at each ingredient one at a time. We’ve basically started with 4 notes, because they make up the arpeggio, which is a great starting point. But there’s no reason why we can’t start with 2 notes (perhaps the root and b3), then add the 5 and then add the b7.

So we’ve experimented a bit with the main ingredients, but we haven’t really delved into dorian territory just yet. Now one by one, we are going to add the other ingredients and taste as we go. Let’s add the 4. We can think of the 4 as being the parsley. It adds a bit of taste and texture, without being very noticeable. Because we already have a solid soup simmering away, adding the parsley is easy. We’re not going to throw out what we already have and start again, we’re just going to add the 4 into our delicious pot of soup and listen to what it sounds like:

Exercise 3:

dorian soup ex 3

Exercise 4:

dorian soup ex 4

As you can probably hear, it has just added a subtle flavor and texture to our soup. Again, you should improvise freely with the ingredients up until this point, trying to stay true to the importance of the ingredients and the approximate measurements that we have established so far.

Another thing to note here is that we have now used the following notes:

R – b3 – 4 – 5 – b7

This is actually a minor pentatonic scale. But let’s keep adding to the soup. We have two more ingredients to go. The 2 and the 6. Let’s go with the 2 first. The 2 is the garlic. Quite delicious. Quite strong yet not too overpowering. We’re going to add this to the pot and have a taste:

Exercise 5:

dorian soup ex 5

Exercise 6:

dorian soup ex 6

You should follow the advice mentioned above regarding both free improvisation within the guidelines and also learning specific phrases, such as the example exercises. Another important thing to do is to compare the soup with and without the most recent addition. This allows you to really hear (taste) the note (ingredient) that is being added with a great sense of context.

Lastly, we’re going to add the 6. I’m going to call this the chili. Does chicken soup even have chili? It doesn’t matter, this one does. What’s important is that it gives the soup a definite ‘kick’. This is what the 6 does to the dorian mode. Other minor modes, such as the Aeolian mode and Phrygian mode have a flat 6, so the natural 6 in the case of the Dorian mode adds a distinct flavor. Let’s look at some examples with the 6 added in. Keep in mind that with the addition of the 6, we now have the full range of notes that are in the Dorian mode:

Exercise 7:

dorian soup ex 7

Exercise 8:

dorian soup ex 8


The examples above started with the basic ingredients (the minor arpeggio) and then each ingredient was added one at a time. While we left each ingredient in when adding the next, another good approach is to explore each new ingredient on its own with the arpeggio. For example, in the case of D Dorian, we could explore the 6 (chili) by adding it to the minor 7 arpeggio, but leaving out the 2 and the 4. This allows us to really taste the flavor of the 6 by itself. What’s important though is that the main ingredients are still there.

That’s not to say that you can’t explore the dorian mode (or any other mode) by using a different approach, but I believe that this approach is a clear and functional way to breaking down any mode and putting it in to practice. Often, when we learn a new scale or mode, it can seem like a bunch of unconnected notes strung together and taking the plunge into using the scale or mode in a musical situation can be quite daunting. The chicken and corn soup approach is really an approach based on principles that say that  each note has a certain role or flavor.

Buon appetito!


  • Make sure you understand the Dorian mode in theory and practice
  • Become familiar with the minor 7 arpeggio
  • Learn the exercises in this lesson
  • Improvise freely using the soup-making principles
  • Compose your own exercises
  • Share and comment on this lesson!

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