The Dorian mode is the second mode of the Major scale and is used by many guitarists.
Before you learn the Dorian mode, I recommend first learning the Ionian mode.
This guide will look at:
- What the Dorian mode is
- How the Dorian mode compares to other modes
- Basic Music Theory and Mode Formula
- Fretboard Diagrams for Every Dorian Mode on Guitar
- How to Use the Dorian Mode
- Songs Using the Dorian Mode
After reading this guide, read this guide to learn how to practice modes and scales.
What is the Dorian Mode
The Dorian mode is the second mode of the Major scale. This means the Dorian mode can be built by looking at the second note of any Major scale.
Dorian is a great mode to play on guitar thanks to the interesting mix of bright/dark or happy/sad sounds you can get from it.
A lot of guitarists rate the Dorian mode as their favorite to play. The minor 3rd and 7th intervals give the mode a closer sound to the minor scale, but the Major 6th adds a brightness to the mode.
Some people think of the Dorian mode as having a smooth or jazzy sound while others feel it has an almost medieval sound. It’s often used in rock, blues, folk, and metal as well as plenty of other styles.
If you’re feeling a bit bored by jamming with Pentatonic scales, the Dorian mode is worth learning.
Dorian Mode Formula
The Dorian mode can be understood with a formula that compares it against the Major scale. Understanding mode formulas will help you understand the difference between each mode.
The formula for the Dorian mode is: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
If you compare this to the formula for the Major Scale (1 2 3 4 5 6 7), you will see there are two notes that are altered.
The third note and the seventh notes are lowered by one semitone to create the Dorian mode. These two notes are the core of what gives Dorian its unique sound.
How to Find The Notes in Dorian
There are three different methods you can use to find the notes in any mode.
Modes are often confusing at first because different books and videos will use different methods to explain modes, so you end up with a confusing blur of explanations.
I’ll go through the three easiest ways to find the notes in the Dorian mode and you can decide which method makes the most sense to you to use.
Method 1: Use the Mode Formula
The first method to figure out the notes in any mode is to use the mode formula as mentioned earlier.
The formula for Dorian is: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
To use this formula, pick a root note for the mode you want to figure out.
Here are the steps to using the mode formula to find the notes in any mode:
- Choose a mode to learn
- Find the Major Scale that starts on the same note
- Use the mode formula to change that scale into the mode
Let’s go through these steps with a couple of examples to show how you can use the formula to figure out any Dorian mode. But the same above steps apply when learning other modes.
Example 1: C Dorian
Let’s say you want to figure out the notes for C Dorian.
The root note (the first note) for C Dorian is C. This means to use the mode formula, we need to start with the notes in the C Major Scale. You simply find the scale that matches the starting note C.
Here are the notes of the C Major Scale:
Now we can use the Dorian formula (1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7) to change the C Major scale into the C Dorian mode.
Most of the notes will stay the same (1 2 4 5 6), so the only changes we need to make are the b3 and b7.
The ‘b’ before the number tells use that the note needs to be lowered by one semitone or a half-step (one fret on guitar). ‘b3’ is called a ‘flat third’ and ‘b7’ is called a ‘flat seventh’.
The third note in the C Major scale is E, so to create a flat third, we lower it by one semitone or fret down to E flat.
The seventh note in the C Major scale is B, to create a flat seventh, we lower it down to B flat.
Here’s a chart comparing the C Major scale to the notes in the C Dorian mode:
By changing the third and seventh notes, we end up with all the notes in the C Dorian mode.
The notes in C Dorian are: C D Eb F G A Bb
Example 2: A Dorian
The root note (the first note) for A Dorian is A. This means to use the mode formula, we need to start with the notes in the A Major Scale.
Here are the notes of the A Major Scale:
Don’t let the sharp notes confuse you, it doesn’t make any difference in how we figure out what the notes are in a mode.
The formula for Dorian is 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 so we need to lower the third and seventh notes in the A Major scale down by one fret to find the notes for Dorian.
The third note in the A Major scale is C# (C sharp), so to create a flat third, we lower it by one semitone or fret down to C.
The seventh note in the A Major scale is G#, to create a flat seventh, we lower it down to get G.
Here’s a chart comparing the A Major scale to the A Dorian mode:
So the notes in A Dorian are: A B C D E F# G.
I recommend trying to figure out a few Dorian modes on your own following these steps to learn this method.
Try figuring out the notes to E Dorian. To get you started, the notes in the E Major Scale are: E F# G# A B C# D#. You can compare your answer with the notes in E Dorian covered later in this guide.
Method 2: Match the Major Scale
The second method is to figure out which Major scale matches the mode you want to find.
There are seven modes of the Major scale – one built from every note in the scale.
Dorian is the second mode of the Major scale, so Dorian is built using the second note of the Major scale.
Example 1: D Dorian
We want to find a Major scale that uses the note ‘D’ as the second note in the scale.
An easy way to do this is to look up a chart of Major scales to find the one that uses D in the second position.
The other way is to look at the note two frets down from your chosen Dorian mode root.
Two frets down from D is C, so the matching Major scale is the C Major scale (C D E F G A B).
This means the C Major scale and the D Dorian mode use the same notes. The only difference is D Dorian starts on D and C Major starts on C.
So the notes in D Dorian are: D E F G A B C.
Example 2: F# Dorian
We want to find a Major scale that uses the note ‘F#’ as the second note in the scale.
You can look up a chart of Major scales to find the one that uses F# in the second position.
The other way is to look at the note two frets down from your chosen Dorian mode root.
Two frets down from F# is E, so the matching Major scale is the E Major scale (E F# G# A B C# D#).
This means the E Major scale and the F# Dorian mode use the same notes. The only difference is F# Dorian starts on F# and E Major starts on E.
So the notes in F# Dorian are: F# G# A B C# D# E.
Method 3: Build Using Intervals
The third method is to build the mode using intervals and an interval formula.
Intervals are the building blocks of scales as explained in detail in this lesson.
Learning how to build a scale or mode using intervals will help you understand what makes each mode or scale different.
The way you build the Dorian mode using intervals is similar to how we built the mode using the formula covered earlier.
The interval formula for the Dorian mode is: W H W W W H W
W = whole-tone (two frets on guitar)
H = half-tone or semitone (one fret on guitar)
To use this formula, you pick the mode you want to build (eg: C Dorian), then follow the formula to figure out the rest of the notes.
Once you learn how to do this, you’ll see that you can easily build any Dorian mode you want without having to know any Major scales.
Example: E Dorian
Here’s a fretboard diagram showing how simple this method is to work out the E Dorian mode:
Here are the steps explained:
- Start on the root note for the mode (eg: E for E Dorian)
- Move up two frets to find the next note for any W in the formula
- Move up one fret to find the next note for any H in the formula
- By the end of the formula, you should end up on the same note as the root one octave higher (eg: E for E Dorian)
Once you memorize the formulas for all seven modes, you can easily find all the notes to any mode without having to look up any scale.
This method might seem like a lot of work at first, but if you have memorized the notes on the fretboard, you’ll find that this is an incredibly quick and easy method to use.
Dorian Mode Reference Chart
Here is a handy reference chart showing all possible Dorian Modes:
If you know a few Major scales, have a close look at this chart and see if you can figure out where those Major scales are and how they compare to the Dorian mode.
The more time you spend looking for patterns with scales, modes, and chords, the easier it will be to use this theory.
Every Dorian Mode Fretboard Diagram
There are 12 possible Dorian modes to match the 12 notes we can play on guitar. Before we look at how to use the Dorian mode as well as songs that use Dorian, here is a fretboard diagram for every Dorian mode you can play on guitar.
A Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in A Dorian mode are: A B C D E F# G
A Dorian is a great mode to learn because it uses all of the open strings and works with plenty of common open chords.
If you know your common guitar scales, you might recognize that A Dorian uses the same notes as the G Major Scale.
Bb Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in Bb Dorian mode are: Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Scales that don’t make use of the open strings aren’t very popular with guitarists, but if there’s a Bb minor or Bbm7 chord being played, this is a great mode to use.
B Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in B Dorian mode are: B C# D E F# G# A
C Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in C Dorian mode are: C D Eb F G A Bb
C# Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in C# Dorian mode are: C# D# E F# G# A# B
D Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in D Dorian mode are: D E F G A B C
You might instantly recognize that the D Dorian mode uses the same notes as the C Major Scale.
If you’re jamming and there’s a D minor or Dm7 chord playing in the background, try using the D Dorian mode in your improvising.
Eb Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in Eb Dorian mode are: Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
E Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in E Dorian mode are: E F# G A B C# D
F Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in F Dorian mode are: F G Ab Bb C D Eb
F# Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in F# Dorian mode are: F# G# A B C# D# E
G Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in G Dorian mode are: G A Bb C D E F
G# Dorian Fretboard Diagram
The notes in G# Dorian mode are: G# A# B C# D# E# F#
How to Use the Dorian Mode
The best way to learn how to use the Dorian mode is to spend time jamming with it over the top of a minor chord.
For example, use a looper pedal to record yourself strumming a D minor chord.
Now you can jam over the top of that chord using the D Dorian mode. Try coming up with licks and melodies and listen to how the mode sounds over the top of the chord.
Make sure you match the minor chord to the root note of the mode you’re using. So if you want to jam in E Dorian, play over an E minor chord.
The Dorian Sound
When you jam in Dorian, there are two notes in the mode you should pay extra attention to: the flat third and the flat seventh.
The b3 and b7 notes in Dorian are what give it its interesting sound. The altered notes in any mode are what make each mode sound different.
If you were to play up and down the notes in the mode and skipped the b3 and b7, you won’t hear any Dorian ‘flavor’ or ‘color’. It’ll just sound like a standard scale.
As soon as you play the b3 and b7 notes, the Dorian sound comes alive.
If you’re jamming in D Dorian (D E F G A B C), this means you should pay extra attention to the notes F and C.
Try to focus your playing on and around those notes and listen to how they bring out interesting moods or flavors to your playing.
Dorian isn’t an exotic-sounding scale compared to Phrygian or Lydian, but those two altered notes can give your playing a completely different vibe.
The sixth note in Dorian is also important to play to bring out the Dorian sound. If you look at the Aeolian mode, it uses a b3, b6, & b7. This means the only difference between Aeolian and Dorian is the sixth note. If you were to skip playing the sixth note, you wouldn’t be able to hear whether the mode is Dorian or Aeolian.
Another reason why the sixth note is important in Dorian is that it’s the only note that separates it from the minor scale. This is explained more in the guide on Aeolian mode.
Comparing Dorian to Other Modes
The best way to truly understand Dorian is to directly compare it against other modes and against the Major scale.
Pick your low open E string to let it ring out. Either record that sound with a looper pedal or repeatedly pick it while improvising to keep that low E note droning in the background.
Now start improvising using the E Dorian mode (see the earlier fretboard diagram). Keep the low E string ringing out so your ears can compare the notes in E Dorian against the low E.
Now switch to improvising using the E Ionian mode (see the fretboard diagrams for Ionian here). Keep the low E note ringing out as you improvise.
As you switch back and forth between E Dorian and E Ionian, the different qualities of each mode will become obvious.
You’ll hear how the b3 and b7 in Dorian completely changes the feeling of what you’re playing compared to Ionian.
As you learn more modes, practice switching between them like this to truly learn how each mode sounds.
Songs Using the Dorian Mode
Dorian is an extremely versatile mode and is used in a wide variety of music. Many guitarists prefer Dorian as their go-to mode instead of relying completely on the minor Pentatonic scale or the minor scale.
Have a listen to the following songs and see if you can get a feel for the Dorian sound. With enough practice, you’ll start to recognize all the different modes in music by ear.
Here are some songs that make great use of the Dorian mode:
- Another Bring in the Wall (Part 2) by Pink Floyd
- Oye Como Va by Santana
- Bad Horsie by Steve Vai
- Tender Surrender by Steve Vai
- Mountain Song by Joe Satriani
- Surfing With the Alien by Joe Satriani
- A Horse With No Name by America
- Riders On the Storm by The Doors
- Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles
Look up the Guitar TAB for these songs and see if you can figure out exactly what Dorian mode is used in each one. Compare the notes used in the song against the fretboard diagrams from earlier and you can figure out each mode.
Dorian Mode FAQs
Here are some common questions you might have about the Dorian mode.
Is D Dorian the same as C Major?
D Dorian uses the same notes as C Major, but they are not the same. Playing with modes is a completely different thought process compared to playing with scales. A song written in D Dorian will sound very different than a song written with C Major.
What is the Difference Between Dorian and Mixolydian?
The Dorian mode uses a flat third (b3) and a flat seventh (b7). The Mixolydian mode uses a flat seventh (b7). This means the Mixolydian mode sounds different because it uses a Major third while Dorian uses a minor third.
What Notes are in the Dorian Mode?
The Dorian mode takes the notes from the Major Scale and flattens the third and seventh notes by one semitone. There are twelve Dorian modes that match the 12 notes you can play on guitar.
Read the earlier section to understand how to find the notes in the Dorian mode.
What Mood is Dorian Mode?
Some guitarists think of Dorian as having a sad mood with a hint of happiness. Others think of Dorian as having a smooth or jazzy mood. The mood you can get out of the Dorian mode depends on how you use it and the style of music you play.
When Should I Play Dorian Mode?
The Dorian mode works best when playing over minor chords or minor 7th chords. It’s a great alternative to the minor Pentatonic scale and works in many different music styles.
Is Dorian Mode Major or Minor?
The Dorian mode is almost identical to the minor scale except for the sixth note. Dorian uses a Major sixth while the minor scale uses a minor sixth. This is why Dorian is often said to have a sad sound with a hint of happiness.
How Can You Tell if a Song is Dorian?
You can tell if a song is Dorian if it uses a minor third, a Major sixth, and a minor seventh. If the song uses a minor third, minor sixth, and minor seventh, it is likely using the minor scale and isn’t Dorian.
Here are more useful guides on the modes and practicing them:
- Guide to Ionian Mode
- Guide to Phrygian Mode
- Guide to Lydian Mode
- Guide to Mixolydian Mode
- Guide to Aeolian Mode
- How to Practice Guitar Scales and Modes
- How to Memorize the Fretboard
- More guides on modes coming soon