The Dorian Mode: What Is It?

There are lots of different types of scales in music, some are a lot more familiar than others. There are a series of scales called modes which are types of scales based on the major scale. One of those is called the dorian mode.

In this post we’re going to cover what the dorian mode is along with how to form it and how it’s used in music today.

What are modes?

As I mentioned, the modal scales (sometimes called the greek modes) are a series of seven diatonic scales that are based on the major scale. Each of them are constructed by playing a major scale but starting on a different scale degree.

For instance, if you were to play all the notes of C major scale starting on G, you will be playing G mixolydian mode.

Or if you were to play the notes of C major starting on E, you would have played E phrygian mode.

Mode nameNotes
C Ionian modeC – D – E – F – G – A – B
D Dorian modeD – E – F – G – A – B – C
E Phrygian modeE – F – G – A – B – C – D
F Lydian modeF – G – A – B – C – D – E
G Mixolydian modeG – A – B – C – D – E – F
A Aeolian modeA – B – C – D – E – F – G
B Locrian modeB – C – D – E – F – G – A

What is the dorian mode?

The dorian mode, sometimes called the the doric mode, is the second of seven modes of the major scale.

If you were to play all the notes from C major but starting on D you would have played D dorian scale.

D dorian scale

It use the formula of semitones and tones: TSTTTST.

Which in half and whole steps is: WHWWWHW.

Degrees of the dorian scale

The dorian scale is a type of minor mode which means that the 3rd not of the scale is lowered by a semitone (half step). It also has a flattened 7th note.

  • 1. Root
  • 2. Major second
  • b3. Minor third
  • 4. Perfect fourth
  • 5. Perfect fifth
  • 6. Major sixth
  • b7. Minor seventh
C dorian mode

The fact that it has a minor 3rd and 7th which makes it quite a dark and sad sounding mode coupled with the major 6th makes it an interesting scale to play around with. It has a brightness to it that the other minor modes don’t have.

Music written in the dorian mode

There have been a number of famous music written using the dorian scale. Probably my favourite example is So What by Miles Davis. This is a great piece to introduce musicians to the dorian scale as it’s mostly in D dorian scale (which is just all the white notes on the piano). It does modulate to Eb dorian which is a little trickier but definitely a good place to start.

So What – Miles Davis

Another famous song that is written using the dorian scale is Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles. It really shows the sound of the mode off well as it is clearly quite a melancholic sound utilising the minor 3rd but the major 6th throws you off a bit with its brightness and optimism.

Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles

List of dorian scales

Below is a list of all the dorian modes and I’ve listed the notes for each scale too.

KeyNotes in the dorian scale
CC – D – Eb – F – G – A – Bb – C
C#C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A# – B – C#
DbDb – Eb – Fb – Gb – Ab – Bb – Cb – Db
DD – E – F – G – A – B – C – D
D#D# – E# – F# – G# – A# – B# – C# – D#
EbEb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb
EE – F# – G – A – B – C# – D – E
FF – G – Ab – Bb – C – D – Eb – F
F#F# – G# – A – B – C# – D# – E – F#
GbGb – Ab – Bbb – Cb – Db – Eb – Fb – Gb
GG – A – Bb – C – D – E – F – G
G#G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E# – F# – G#
AbAb – Bb – Cb – Db – Eb – F – Gb – Ab
AA – B – C – D – E – F# – G – A
BbBb – C – Db – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb
BB – C# – D – E – F# – G# – A – B

Summing up the dorian scale

I hope that helps make a bit more sense of the dorian scale. It’s fun to play around with and has quite a different sound from other minor scales. If you have any questions just post a comment below.

Dan Farrant

Dan Farrant

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.

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