Dorian mode

The Dorian concept goes all the way back in our historical records of western civilization. In music, architecture, all the fine arts, we continually find forms of expression termed Dorian. Musically creating a minor tonal environment, part of the Dorian colors uniqueness is that within it's mostly minor intervalic structure, we find the interval of a major sixth above the root. The following chart compares the pitches of the Dorian group to the natural minor and melodic minor scales. Example 1.

scale degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
natural minor A B C D E F G A
Dorian minor A B C D E F# G A
melodic minor A B C D E F# G# A

From the above illustration we can see that the Dorian group is a step away from the softer natural minor and heading perhaps towards the brighter melodic minor color, but not quite there. Compare the sounds of these three minor colors. Example 1a.

   natural minor   Dorian minor   melodic minor

dor1.TIF (7432 bytes)

Thus, if we define the "gravitation pull" and sense of tonal stability by the location of the half steps in the intervalic formula, the Dorian sound is perhaps just a bit anxious? Here is a chart of the Dorian mode pitch intervals using A as the root. Example 2.

scale degree / interval 1 / root 2 / major 2nd 3 / minor 3rd 4 / perfect 4th 5 / perfect 5th 6 / major 6th 7 / minor 7th 8 / octave
pitches of Dorian mode A B C D E F# G A

The strength of the B / C half step is reduced by the tritone between C and F#. The F# / G half step is very strong, as the F# in the Dorian color is the leading tone or seventh degree of G major. So, our tonic A is perhaps a bit weakened as a tonal center, adding to the Dorian's potentially anxious, aggressive nature. As with our explorations with other minor colors, the above comparison reveals again that it is the 6th and 7th scale degrees that are generally affected in the various minor color configurations. Here is the Dorian's sound. Example 1b.

dor2.TIF (7362 bytes)

So why is the Dorian color potentially important today? Historically, this intervalic configuration and resulting sound has been around at least since the ancient Greeks, ( see "Dorians" ) so 2 to 3000 years or so, there are written records. That when used as a tonal center, compositions written in the Dorian mode have it's unique character, perhaps a certain "boldness" not found in the other minor groups. That within the modern harmonic or chordal scheme of things, we find the Dorian color diatonically within the major scale created from it's second degree, thus becoming an integral part of the well worn, cool and swinging jazz cadence commonly known as the Two / Five One. Modern players love to pair the Dorian color with Lydian, creating exciting vamps for blowing in the Latin / samba environment. Dorian is very hip.

As a jazz compositional environment, the Dorian sound creates some wonderful melodies and has traditionally created a cool and important initial environment from which players have expanded into a more "free improvisation" format, always having the "earthy" Dorian color to return to. Miles Davis's "So What" and John Coltrane's "Impressions", written during the modal 1960's, are both Dorian based and should be examined by the advancing learner. Both these compositions are simply one 8 bar melodic idea placed into the 32 bar A / A / B / A song form, with the 8 bars of the B section moving up by half step, using the same melodic and harmonic idea transposed up. Here is my Dorian contribution reminiscent of the above titles entitled, "I Can’t Believe You Didn’t Know", using the compositional format described above. Example 2.

dortune1.TIF (16942 bytes)

"I Can’t Believe You Didn’t Know" by Joseph A. Craig, 2004.

One of the nice things about the A / A / B / A / song form is that by learning the A section, we’ve potentially learned 3 / 4’s of the tune! And in the tune above, since the B section is the initial line up a half step, this above 8 bars constitutes the whole tamale! Given the right players, tunes in this basic format can be fun to open up and jam on.

In the world of jazz standards, the Two / Five / One chord progression is one of the cadential motions that identifies the artform. There is a sleekness about this harmonic motion that is elusive, thus sought after. Not as cumbersome as the perhaps more common Four / Five / One as so often used in the other styles of American music, the Two / Five cadential motion is ideally suited for the rapidly modulating key schemes of many great Jazz compositions. So where does the Dorian mode figure in? Well, using the initial perspective of the Ionian mode / major scale as the center of one musical universe, the scale and chord built on Two, the second scale degree of the major scale, is the Dorian mode. The pitches of the Dorian group provide an ideal resource for creating melodic ideas over the Two / Five / One cadential motion. The following idea is vanilla Dorian over Two / Five / One in C major. Example 3.

  D min 7   G 7  C maj 7  C maj 7

dor3.TIF (7346 bytes)

If your hip to the Two / Five motion, scour the tunes in your real book and look for cellular melodic ideas, and if you find one you dig, perhaps run the lick through the cycle of fifths. If a real book is not available, no worries, we’ll thoroughly examine this harmonic motion’s possibilities in the improvisation section.

In music created with a tonality without a tritone, the Dorian naturally evolves to Lydian as we extend into the upper pitches of the arpeggios. Paired together, coolness emerges. A Dorian to Ab Lydian. Example 4.

dorlyd1.gif (9480 bytes)

Nice huh? Maybe write this type vamp into one of your own arrangements.

Here is a chart spelling out the letter names of the 12 Dorian scales as created within equal temper. Example 5.

C Dorian C D Eb F G A Bb C
F Dorian F G Ab Bb C D Eb F
Bb Dorian Bb C Db Eb F G Ab Bb
Eb Dorian Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb
Ab Dorian Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb Ab
C# Dorian C# D# E F# G# A# B C#
F# Dorian F# G# A B C# D# E F#
B Dorian B C# D E F# G# A B
E Dorian E F# G A B C# D E
A Dorian A B C D E F# G A
D Dorian D E F G A B C D
G Dorian G A Bb C D E F G

Here are the above scales written out in standard notation. Example 5a.

C Dorian

dor4.TIF (7580 bytes)

F Dorian

dor5.TIF (7464 bytes)

Bb Dorian

dor6.TIF (7736 bytes)

Eb Dorian

dor7.TIF (8158 bytes)

Ab Dorian

dor8a.TIF (8366 bytes)

C# Dorian

dor9.TIF (8130 bytes)

F# Dorian

dor10.TIF (8326 bytes)

B Dorian

dor11.TIF (7610 bytes)

E Dorian

dor12.TIF (7418 bytes)

A Dorian

dor13.TIF (7126 bytes)

D Dorian

dor14.TIF (7276 bytes)

G Dorian

dor15.TIF (7456 bytes)

Got these under your fingers? Are you thinking major scale pitches from the 2nd scale degree? Does thinking this way help?

Where to next?
review new ideas
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Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold water becomes frozen, even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind. Leonardo da Vinci