Creating the Dorian Mode Flavour

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dorian mode

The key to improvising is to do something creative with the melody. To recompose it or to broaden it out or to instinctively develop the harmony. Most people take to the modes though with a compulsion to play “Carte Blanche” scale over a chord ad nauseam.

In this Blog/Vlog we will look at some ideas for bringing out the actual flavour of the most talked about mode of them all the “Dorian Mode”.

Most people look at the dorian mode as being a scale of C major starting on the note D. But here is how it works.

ANSWER=D is one tone up from C for D Dorian, so C is one tone up from Bb for C Dorian.

C DORIAN MODE [D Dorian as people learn it]

Below we see the difference between C minor and C dorian. C minor has the semitone between the 6th and 5th whereas C Dorian has a tone between the 5th and 6th notes. Dorian Raises the 6th note up a semitone. Without the raised 6th note C would just sound minor and not dorian, so bringing out this 6th note [as it will be in a melody to imply that we are in the dorian mode] is essential to creating actual music and phrasing and not just playing a scale over a chord.


In order to bring out that A natural note in C dorian an easy way is to employ an arpeggio like Bb major 7th. This is very useful, melodic and can be played in 4 note groupings.

Bb major 7th for C dorian Mode Improvising

Next we can employ some basic chord pairs.

C minor 7 and F major

Dorian Mode triad pairs

F major and Eb major

Dorian Mode triad pairs

Now we can broaden out on this with C minor and D minor

Dorian Mode Example of bringing out the flavour/sound

Bb and G minor

Dorian mode example for improvising arpeggios

We can also employ pentatonics to bring out the flavour [melody] of a tune.

Dorian Mode pentatonics example

Another example =Short pentatonic scale that ends/resolves with the A natural note [Raised 6th] and played in 4 note cells [Tetrachords]

Dorian Mode pentatonics example

Finally it’s a good idea to look at the arpeggios available that line up one after the other.

Dorian Mode Arpeggios

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Fretboard Harmony: Harmonising the Dorian Mode

Harmonising the Dorian Mode video: Please watch for explanation:

In the exercises below you will see how to make the dorian mode sound “Jazzy”. We do this by harmonising the scale [Mode] in chords made of 4ths.

Not all are perfect 4ths though as you will see in the example below:


Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths. This use of 4ths creates what is known as quartal harmony.


Dorian Mode Harmonised in chordsC DORIAN MODE BROKEN UP INTO 4THS

Dorian mode chord scale 4ths outlineC DORIAN MODE “CHORDAL PICKING” IN 4THS

Dorian Mode fretboard harmony scale chordFor more on the dorian mode, quartal harmony and modal jazz in general take a listen to the great Jazz pianist Mcoy Tyner.



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