Modes (Dorian Mode Simplified)

For those that have keen interest in learning and understanding music theory, starting with modes could be the easiest way out. On the periphery, the modes, chords and even intervals that music theory is made up of can appear to be cumbersome. This notwithstanding, all the elements surrounding the music we listen to day in day out is dictated by series of permanent but simple patterns and this entails the learning of the sequences which are unique to notes once.

We are going to be talking about the Dorian mode but before we start, let us consider what modes are.

Definition of Modes

Modes are simply notes sequences with melodic characteristics. The major and minor scales you play on your instruments (if you’ve ever played it), should expose you to what a mode looks and sound like.

Just like the aeolian and ionian scales, all modes are unique in their own sound and with their own sound signature. Most modes have a sense of completion and fullness (consonance) in their sound while others do may sound dissonant and incomplete. With a good knowledge of Modes, it can be used to create moods and atmospheres of diverse kind.


Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode which is otherwise known as the Russian minor is a scale that sounds almost like the natural minor scale (Aeolian) except for the 6th degree of the scale that is sharpened (raised). Also the scale is almost identical to the melodic minor scale when ascending but not for the fact that the 7th degree of the Dorian mode is not raised. This mode could be a gold mine for players and composers who want more of the minor feel in their music and performances.

Examples of Dorian Mode in Music

Examples of the Dorian mode in history and of course music styles and even music genres today are enormous and cannot be overemphasized. One of such is Scarborough Fair (an English folk song). Another one is a song by the famous beetles called ELEANOR RIGBY. The Dorian scale was used rampantly in the music of the Middle English Era.

How to Build Dorian Mode

Just like we said before now, scales, intervallic structure and even the chords that you listen to are built and can better be understood with patterns. Note that the same thing applies to modes. When you hear us mention patterns, we’re simply talking about Tones and semitones (Whole steps and Half steps). Take for example, the guitar is made up of frets, it means all the frets of the guitar are half step from each other so to get a whole step, you’ll have to move two frets (two steps) and one fret for a half step. The piano is made up of keys so you move a step for a half step and two steps for a whole step.

Memorising the unique pattern of each mode will give you the ability to play the modes in all the keys and will also give you a clue to identify the mode in songs you hear daily.


You can build the Dorian mode on any key of your choice but first of all, you must learn how to build it on the key of D first. This is for clarity sake and so you don’t get confused.
Playing your Dorian mode from D means you will be playing all the white keys (no black note) till you move to your octave D.
Let’s put what we studied earlier into practice.
Having D as your tonic (you should know what Tonic is but if you don’t know, check out my write up on that), move a whole step and you’ll land at E, a half step which will land you at F…
Let’s pause and have this class work.

W means whole step
H means half step

So the scale is W-h-W-W-W-h-W

N/B: The notes of the Dorian will be D, E, F, G, A, B, C and back to D if we are to play it in the key of D.

Hope you can do that.

Techniques/Tips on How to Master the Dorian Mode

The moment you are done playing the Dorian mode on your instrument (preferably on D), then use the same pattern you used in playing it on D to play on other keys. Memorise the pattern so you can do it without looking at your book. Once this is done, do well to increase the speed as you go and also record yourself to hear what you sound like. As you get familiar with this mode, look out for music around you that has the mode and you’ll get to appreciate it more.

If you have any question, suggestion or contribution,feel free to use the comment box. We appreciate your feedback.

Share your thoughts on this post

%d bloggers like this: