How to Play Chords in Dorian Mode?

What Is Dorian Mode?

To understand what the Dorian mode is, we first need to take a look at the natural major scale. Essentially, modes are diatonic scales with different distributions of whole and half steps. In modern Western music, they're defined through the major scale.

The simplest way to put it is that they're seven different scales built from the major scale by starting from each of the seven notes in it. By going from, let's say, the third degree and up one octave, you'll get a completely different distribution of notes.

In a practical sense, you just get more options than just the natural major or the natural minor scale. Each mode has a different mood and there are seven of them. For this guide, we'll show how it works in the key of C major. As for the Dorian mode, below you can see that it's built by starting from the second degree of the natural major scale.

  • Ionian (same as the natural major scale) - C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

  • Dorian - D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D

  • Phrygian - E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E

  • Lydian - F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F

  • Mixolydian - G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G

  • Aeolian (same as the natural minor scale) - A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

  • Locrian - B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B

Sound of the Dorian Mode

To understand the Dorian mode, we'll have to take a closer look at it, as well as its distribution of whole and half steps. This is ultimately what defines the Dorian mode and its sound. Ultimately, this also determines how you can use it in practice.

D Dorian:

D dorian

Below, you can find a C Dorian scale, pretty much a modified C major scale. Technically, this could also be defined as the key of B-flat major starting from its second degree. It goes:

d dorain

If represented numerically, by its degrees, it looks like this:

  • 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7

Whole and half-step distribution:

  • Whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, whole

You can create a Dorian scale starting with any note. If you're familiar with the major scale shapes and positions on the fretboard, you can easily make a Dorian scale from them. There's one simple rule – you just lower the 3rd and the 7th degree.

Examining it further, we can see that the Dorian mode is almost similar to the natural minor scale. The only difference is that it has a major 6th interval instead of a minor 6th. It can be used instead of the minor scale as it also builds a minor triad and a minor 7th chord.

Phrygian and Aeolian modes also build these same chords. However, Phrygian has some Eastern-sounding vibes due to the minor 2nd interval. And the Aeolian mode, or the natural minor scale, is a bit more melancholic than the Dorian mode.

We could describe the Dorian scale as a slightly more cheerful version of the minor scale. It's actually very useful for rock, hard rock, and even heavy metal music. It has also found its way into blues music, and it's one of the most commonly used scales in jazz.

The combination of basic minor scale elements paired with a major 6th interval is what makes it unique. It's a great substitute to the minor pentatonic and blues scales if you feel like you've overused them.

Which Chords are Used in Dorian Mode?

The distribution of chords built using the Dorian mode is also what makes it interesting. So let's take a closer look at the triads.

For this purpose, we'll use C Dorian.

C dorian

As you can see, the chords here are in this order: minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished, major, and back to minor.

If you were to write a song in Dorian mode, you'd have to use these chords. For instance, a I-IV-V progression would be different.

If we were to use the C Dorian scale, it would go C minor, F major, G minor. The same progression in the natural C minor scale would go C minor, F minor, G minor.

Now going over to 7th chords, this is how it all looks like in C Dorian:

c dorian scale

Quartal harmony in C Dorian (chords built of all fourths):

c scale dorian

7 Chord Progressions in the Dorian Mode

There are some famous songs written in the Dorian mode. We'll share some of these tunes and their chord progressions, as well as the exact Dorian scale that they're in.

Daft Punk - Get Lucky

A Dorian

|A minor | C major | E minor | D major |

Numeric: |I min |III maj | V min |VII maj |

Simon & Garfunkel - Scarborough Fair

E Dorian

|E minor | D major, E minor |E minor, G major|

|E minor, G major, A major |E minor |E minor |

|E minor, G major |G major, D major|D major |

|E minor, D major |D major, E minor |E minor |


|I min |VII maj, I min |I min, VII maj |

|I min, III maj, IV maj |I min |I min |

|I minor, III maj |III major, VII maj |VII maj |

|I min, VII maj |VII maj, I min |I min |

Chris Isaac - Wicked Game

B Dorian

|B minor |A major |E major | E major|


|I min |VII maj |IV maj |IV maj |

Green Day - Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Verses Only)

E Dorian

|E minor |G major |D major |A major |


|I min |III maj |VII maj |IV maj |

America - Horse With No Name

E Dorian

|E minor |D6/9 |

Then changes to:

|E minor |D maj7 |

The D major 7 chord indicates that this is a Dorian mode rather than the natural minor. If it were E minor, then it would be D7 instead.


|I min |VII maj7 |

Pink Floyd - Breathe (Verse Only)

E Dorian

|E minor |A7 |


|I min |IV7 |

Van Morrison - Moondance (Verse Only)

|A min7 |B min7 |


|I min7 |II min7 |

Santana - Oye Como Va

A Dorian

|A min7 |D7 |


|I min7 |IV7 |


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