How To Play The Dorian Mode For Guitar

Hey there, budding guitarist! So you’ve stumbled upon the melodically mystical world of the Dorian scale and are eager to unravel its secrets on your six strings? Well, you’re in the right place!

The Dorian scale, with its jazzy, bluesy, and sometimes even rocky demeanor, is a fascinating subject to explore. Let’s embark on this journey through the sonic landscape of the Dorian mode together, where we shall dive into its depths, dissect its anatomy, and discover “How to Play the Dorian Scale for Guitar.”


Historical Context of the Dorian Scale

The Root of the Sound

Originating from ancient Greece, the Dorian scale has tiptoed through the ages, finding its resonance across various musical epochs. This scale has painted colorful tones across diverse canvases, from medieval and classical music to jazz, rock, and beyond.

Just think of the iconic solo in “Scarborough Fair” by Simon & Garfunkel, a song rooted in an age-old English ballad – it’s pure Dorian magic that effortlessly transports you to another realm.

Guitar player with an electric guitar

Making Marks in Jazz and Rock

The Dorian mode isn’t merely history; it’s very much alive and sizzling in modern music genres. Jazz musicians adore it for its slightly melancholic yet uplifting nature, while rock guitarists, like Carlos Santana in “Oye Como Va”, have harnessed its exotic and electrifying qualities to create blazing solos.

Basic Music Theory Behind the Dorian Scale

Understanding Modes

Peeling back the layers, let’s talk modes! Modes are essentially scales derived from other scales. Picture them as different flavors of ice cream: all unique and delightful in their own right. The Dorian scale is, notably, the second mode of the major scale, characterized by its signature interval structure: whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, whole.

Characterizing the Dorian Scale

This minor scale’s distinct sound arises from its natural sixth note, differing from the typical flat sixth of a standard minor scale. This nuance injects a dash of optimism into an otherwise melancholic minor scale, granting the Dorian its unique emotional blend.

The Dorian scale is a minor scale with a natural sixth note, which gives it a jazzy, bluesy sound. Here’s a step-by-step guide to playing the Dorian scale on the guitar. Let’s take the example of the A Dorian scale for ease of understanding:

Understanding the A Dorian Scale:

The notes in the A Dorian scale are: A, B, C, D, E, F#, and G. It’s very similar to the A minor scale, but with a raised 6th note (F# instead of F).

Fingering the A Dorian Scale:

One common way to play the A Dorian scale on the guitar, starting from the 5th fret of the low E (6th) string, is as follows:

  • 6th String: 5th fret (A), 7th fret (B), 8th fret (C)
  • 5th String: 5th fret (D), 7th fret (E), 9th fret (F#)
  • 4th String: 5th fret (G), 7th fret (A), 9th fret (B)
  • 3rd String: 5th fret (C), 7th fret (D), 9th fret (E)
  • 2nd String: 7th fret (F#), 8th fret (G), 10th fret (A)
  • 1st String: 7th fret (B), 8th fret (C), 10th fret (D)

Playing the A Dorian Scale:

  1. Start Slowly: Begin by slowly playing each note of the scale, making sure to use the appropriate fingers for each fret as outlined above.
  2. Use Alternate Picking: Ensure that your picking hand is using alternate picking (down-up-down-up) to efficiently play through the scale.
  3. Play in Octaves: Once you’re comfortable playing through the scale in one position, try playing it in different octaves across the fretboard to gain familiarity with the scale in various positions.
  4. Practice with a Metronome: To develop your timing and speed, practice playing the scale along with a metronome. Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase it as you become more comfortable.
  5. Create Melodies: Start creating your own melodies and licks using the A Dorian scale. Focus on emphasizing the unique sound of the scale, which is often the raised 6th note (F# in this case).
  6. Explore Other Modes: Once you’re comfortable with the A Dorian scale, explore playing Dorian scales starting on different root notes, and also delve into other modes like Ionian, Phrygian, and Mixolydian to expand your musical vocabulary.

How to Play the Dorian Mode / Dorian Scale for Guitar

Remember that practicing slowly and consistently is key to mastering any scale on the guitar. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the sound and feel of the Dorian scale and experiment with it in your playing!

FAQ Section: Dorian Scale on the Guitar

Q1: What is the Dorian scale?

A1: The Dorian scale is a type of minor scale derived from the major scale. It is characterized by its jazzy, bluesy tonality, mainly due to its raised 6th note compared to the natural minor scale. It is widely used in jazz, blues, rock, and fusion music genres.

Q2: How does the Dorian scale differ from the natural minor scale?

A2: The Dorian scale is almost identical to the natural minor scale, with one key difference: the 6th note of the Dorian scale is raised by a half step. For example, in A minor scale, the notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, whereas, in A Dorian, the notes are A, B, C, D, E, F#, and G.

Q3: In what musical contexts is the Dorian scale commonly used?

A3: The Dorian scale is commonly used in jazz, blues, rock, and some folk music. Its characteristic sound can be employed in solos, for creating melodic lines, or even for composing chord progressions in a variety of musical settings.

Q4: How can I practice the Dorian scale effectively on the guitar?

A4: Begin by learning the note positions and fingering for the Dorian scale in one key. Practice it slowly, focusing on clean note articulation and consistent fingering. Use a metronome to develop your timing, and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable. Additionally, apply the scale in a musical context by creating licks, phrases, and solos using the Dorian scale.

Q5: Can I use the Dorian scale over minor chords?

A5: Yes, the Dorian scale can be effectively used over minor chords and is especially fitting for minor 7th chords. Its distinct sound often provides a jazzy, bluesy feel which can be utilized to create intriguing solos and melodies.

Q6: Why is it important to learn different scales like the Dorian scale on the guitar?

A6: Learning different scales enhances your understanding of the fretboard and broadens your musical vocabulary. It enables you to navigate various musical styles and genres with ease and provides you with more options when it comes to improvisation and composition.

Q7: How can I incorporate the Dorian scale into my existing guitar playing?

A7: Start by identifying songs or pieces of music that utilize the Dorian mode and learn the associated licks or solos to understand its practical application. Additionally, try improvising over backing tracks using the Dorian scale, and experiment with creating your own musical phrases and compositions utilizing its unique tonality.

Q8: Are there any famous guitarists known for using the Dorian scale?

A8: Yes, several renowned guitarists like Carlos Santana, John Mayer, and BB King have often utilized the Dorian scale in their playing, exploiting its bluesy and jazzy sound to create memorable licks and solos.

Q9: Can I create my own solos using the Dorian scale?

A9: Absolutely! The Dorian scale can be a fantastic tool for crafting your own solos. Focus on emphasizing the characteristic note (the raised 6th) and explore combining the scale with other scales and modes for a richer melodic palette. Practicing over backing tracks in the corresponding key can also be an invaluable practice.

“In the expressive world of music, the Dorian scale stands out as a path to weave licks and melodies that resound with a signature bluesy, jazzy essence. Embraced by numerous guitar legends across diverse musical epochs, it has forged solos that linger hauntingly in our musical memories.

Your journey through the notes and frets of this enchanting scale not only enriches your melodic vocabulary but also opens a portal to explore and create in a soundscape that has enchanted audiences for decades.

May your exploration of the Dorian scale unlock new horizons in your guitar playing, infusing your melodies with the timeless allure that has captivated listeners and musicians alike through the ages. Here’s to new beginnings, soulful play, and the unending journey of musical exploration!”

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