Dorian Mode Explained

Before starting on this post, it is worth reading through this post to be brought up to speed on the basics of the music theory that underpins modal playing & composition.

To create a modal chord progression in the Dorian mode, which is Mode II, the II chord from the harmonized Major Scale now has to be heard as the ‘home’ chord. We now give the II chord a more prominent place in the progression to mark it as ‘home’. As explained, my preferred way to do this is to give the II chord a whole bar at the start of the progression and use a second bar of 2 chords for which I play half of that bar each – not a rule but a nice easy foot in the door to experimenting with these new sounds.

This is a process I like to follow, and will do so throughout this series of posts, to offer up a basic understanding of modal theory and compliment this with some chord theory and melodic improvisation/composition. Once the basic composition or bed has been set, we can play the notes of the Dorian mode melodically (remember my advice in the last post about chord tones and complimentary melody notes)

Dorian Mode Explained

The intervals that hit our ear to form the Dorian mode are –

Root Note (A)

Major 2nd (B)

Minor 3rd (C)

Perfect 4th (D)

Perfect 5th (E)

Major 6th (F#)

Minor 7th (G)

This mode is best described as a minor sounding scale with a Major 6th. This makes it less dark sounding than both the Phrygian & Aeolian modes (the 3rd & 6th modes respectively) and the combination of a minor sound with the less dark major 6th interval makes it an exotic scale choice over a minor chord backing.

Here are a few chord progressions using the Dorian mode and the above basic chord progression building process –

Chord Progression 1

Am7       |C  / D

The dorian mode is suited to many styles of music. I will stick to my own genre but it is worth experimenting with some different styles, in particular, samba & salsa music


Backing Track


Download (PDF, 28KB)

Chord Progression 2


A riff based idea bringing more notes into the pool to present our dorian sound. I see this as a way of making the already tasty sound even more sophisticated and original


Backing Track


Download (PDF, 36KB)

Chord Progression 3

 Am7         | Am7 / Bm7

And now to contrast the previous attempt at a more ambitious sound with a straightforward dorian chord progression, not clichéd but more of a safe, obvious dorian sound


Backing Track


Download (PDF, 25KB)

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