Getting Started with The Dorian Mode

If you’re just starting to take your scale theory to the next level, you will love the Dorian Mode. Don’t worry if the idea of modes seems scary. In this lesson you’re going to learn how to approach this mode in a very simple way.

So simple in fact, you’ll play it without even realising you’re doing it!

Keep reading to learn the Dorian Mode and find out how to incorporate it into your playing..

Before we can start learning this mode, we first need to understand what modes are.

Modes at a basic level are the 7 notes of the major scale, restacked to start from a different root note. Each of these new stacks of the same notes gives us a different mode of the major scale.

Let’s start by looking at the G Major scale:

The G Major scale is made up of the notes G, A, B, C, D, E and F#. The Dorian Mode we are going to look at in this lesson is part of the G Major family of notes and chords. This is known as the parent major.

If we take these same 7 notes and we re-stack them from an A note, which is the second note of the scale, we get a Dorian Mode:

While all the notes are the same as the G Major scale, the A is now our resolving note. It acts as a root note, even though we aren’t in the key of A here. If you play this over a G Major backing track, it will function as G Major.

Where the modes really become interesting is when paired with chord progressions created from that scale. Now we can look more closely at how to use the Dorian mode in your playing.

G A B C D E F#
Maj Min Min Maj Maj Min Dim

By restacking the notes to start from an A, we not only get the chord types in a different order, but we also get a slightly different interval structure:

A B C D E F# G
Min Min Maj Maj Min Dim Maj

To make sure the notes are the same, we must flatten the third and seventh notes of the scale. The chords also start from an Amin now (Previously this was the 2nd chord).

The progression used in the backing track is made up of an Am7, C, G and Em chord. The Am7 is a substitution for an Amin. The Dorian Mode works great over an Amin, but because the scale has that bVII note, it compliments a min7 chord very well.

The chords, although they seem to be in the key of Amin, are still from the Gmaj family. Am7 is now the emphasis chord. The Dorian puts the emphasis on the II note and chord of the major scale.

Try jamming over this backing track with this scale and see how you get on using the Dorian mode!

Linking it to Pentatonic

Along with using Dorian as an extension of your major scale, or to emphasise another chord in your major progression, you can also tie this in with what you already know.

Here is where it gets easy to use!

Think about your minor pentatonic scale:

That’s just 5 notes. G, A#. C, D, and F. This is in the key of G Minor.

You also know the intervals for that:

G A# C D F

Look at those intervals, compared to the ones in the Dorian Mode. You’ll notice it’s the same but with a missing II and VI. If we add those in, we get:

G A A# C D E F
Min Min Maj Maj Min Dim Maj

The G Dorian (From the parent major of F Major), shares common notes with the minor pentatonic in G Minor. This means, we can play a G Minor Pentatonic, over a G Minor track, and just add the II and VI notes to our existing scale shape.

This is a fun, and easy, way to add some Dorian modal flavour to your existing blues and rock licks.

You can use this G Minor Blues backing track to jam along!

If you need some fresh riffs to show off at band practice hit Back to learn a selection of the most fun guitar intros as chosen by PMT College students. Click Home to find another guitar lesson, and stay tuned for more PMT College lessons coming soon!

This PMT College lesson was brought to you in partnership with, and written by experienced guitar teacher Leigh Fuge. Leigh works as part of a community of guitar teachers based across the UK. Click here to find a teacher near you.