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Mastering Guitar: Utilizing the Dorian Mode

Welcome to today's guitar lesson! Today, we're going to be talking about one of the most popular modes in music: the Dorian mode. The Dorian mode is a minor mode that has a unique sound that's both bright and melancholic. It's been used in countless songs across many different genres, from rock to jazz to pop.

So, what is the Dorian mode, and how do we use it? The Dorian mode is the second mode of the major scale, and it has a minor third and a major sixth. In other words, it's a minor scale with a raised sixth. The Dorian mode is often used in minor key songs, especially in blues and rock music.

One of the great things about the Dorian mode is that it's very easy to play. You can use the same fingerings and positions that you would use for the natural minor scale, with just one small change. Instead of playing the flat sixth note, you'll play the natural sixth note. This gives the Dorian mode its unique sound.

Alright, let's get groovy and compare the A natural minor scale and the A Dorian mode!

First off, the A natural minor scale consists of the following notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. In terms of intervals, the scale follows the pattern of whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, and whole.

Now, let's talk about the A Dorian mode. This mode is similar to the natural minor scale, but with a raised sixth scale degree. In other words, it follows the pattern of whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, and whole. So, the notes in the A Dorian mode are A, B, C, D, E, F#, and G.

Here's the A natural minor scale. Notice the flat 6th, the F note, is marked in Blue:

And here's the A Dorian. Note the Natural 6th, also marked in Blue:

Play through these two scales and listen carefully to how they sound different.

Try playing them over this backing track, which is in A minor throughout to add a little context and really hear the difference:

Okay, so now we now what the Dorian is and how we can play it, let's look at some licks.

Listen here:

Lick 1.mp3
Download ZIP • 168KB

Listen here:

Lick 2.mp3
Download ZIP • 173KB

Listen here:

Lick 3.mp3
Download ZIP • 173KB

Another interesting point about using the A Dorian instead of the natural minor is that the chord progressions will also change. As the A natural minor comes from the C major parent scale, the chords used in it are:

Am Bm7b5 C Dm Em F G

Now you might not think that just the one simple change of the minor 6th F note to the natural 6 of F# would make much of a difference, but let's now look at the chords in A Dorian:

Am Bm C D Em F#m7b5 G

The main things to notice are that the 2nd chord is now a Bm, and the 4th is a major. This will have an impact on many common chord progressions.

Try playing these:

A Natural Minor: Am, Dm, Em, Am and Bm7b5, Em, Am

A Dorian: Am, D, Em, Am and Bm, Em, Am

Although the Em in these is often swapped out for an E7 in many jazz and blues progressions, it's the Bm here and the D that really makes the difference.

Many chord progressions that really want to emphasise the Dorian mode will use the 2nd chord and 4th chord prominently. So a really simple but common idea is to move between the Am and Bm.

Experiment with this, focus on those changed chord tones with the Bm and D major in the Dorian Mode.

Take your time with these ideas, experiment and just have fun!

If you want to understand chords and chord progressions better, you might want to check out the lessons here:

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