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    The Dorian Mode : Typical Dorian Mode Licks and Chord Progressions

    by Joseph Alexander

    Dissecting Modal Scales

    Instead of viewing a scale as simply a long sequence of notes, the modern way to approach improvising with scales is to split them up into small subdivisions. Hiding within each scale are various melodic units that we can use as unique soloing concepts. By viewing any scale as a set of smaller chunks, it is easy to find new ways to play and be creative. One of the main benefits of this is that instead of playing scalically, we automatically introduce jumps and leaps into our playing which help to break up the monotony of long step-wise lines.

    Another important advantage of this is that we can cherry pick the colourful notes of a scale and imply its unique colour by only playing a limited number of notes.

    Each scale can be broken down into the following main structures:

    2 Note Intervals Jumps

    An interval is the distance between two notes and we can practice interval jumps between two notes at a time. Just as we formed chords by leapfrogging one note in the major scale, for example C to E, (intervals of a 3rd) we can jump other distances, for example, two notes; C to F (4ths), three notes, C to G (5ths) etc. By skipping intervals when we play, we start to break up the linear nature of a scale. We introduce melodic leaps and patterns. While the overall tonality of the mode we are playing remains the same, you may be surprised at the different textures we can create by thinking intervals instead of scales.

    3-Note Triads

    In Part One, we used triads to form chords. One triad is 3 skipped 3rds,for example C to E to G. However, we do not have to play them simultaneously as a chord. If we play the notes one after another we generate many melodic possibilities by leaving out most of the scale tones. A triad, as you know, can be formed on every note of a scale, for instance C to E to G, D to F to A, E to G to B etc.

    When we pick out specific triads instead of using full scales we can cherry pick the scale degrees that we play in our solos.

    By taking a triadic approach instead of a scalic one, we not only target the specific scale tones we want to hear, we automatically introduce melodic leaps into our playing and move away from predictable scale runs. Triads do not have to be played in order, for example, CEG is the same triad as EGC. This gives us a myriad of soloing possibilities

    4-Note Arpeggios

    In a similar fashion to 3 note triads, 4 note arpeggios are simply triads that have an extra 3rd added on top, (in other words, a 7th chord). Instead of playing the triad C-E-G, we extend it so it becomes an arpeggio: C-E-G-B. Once again, we do not have to play these notes in order so the permutations now possible are immense. There is an arpeggio choice built off every note of each scale and again, we are being selective about the scale degrees we play.

    5-Note Pentatonic Scales

    Most players see a chord progression in the key of A, and immediately play an A minor pentatonic scale. In actual fact, you can build minor pentatonic scales on various degrees of any major mode, not just the root.

    There are 3 minor pentatonic scales hiding within each mode of the major scale. Knowing where these are instantly allows us to use many of the pentatonic licks we already know to give a rich modal sound. As you can imagine, tripling your existing licks in this way is extremely useful.

    In this lesson we will take a look at the formula, harmonization and useful chord sequences and licks we can form with the Dorian Mode and then in the remaining lessons in this series we will examine how the structures I have outlined above can be put into practice.

    The Dorian Mode

    The Dorian mode is extremely common in most forms of rock, funk, jazz and fusion music. It has a minor, but not too minor characteristic which lends itself well to bluesy jazz solos. It is common to play Dorian over static (one chord) vamps of minor 7, minor 9 or minor 11 chords.

    Some important songs that use Dorian are:

    So What by Miles Davis

    Billie Jean by Michael Jackson

    Long Train Running by The Doobie Brothers

    Tender Surrender by Steve Vai


    Formula and Harmonisation of the Dorian Mode

    As already seen, the formula of the Dorian mode is:

    1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

    And is played like this on the guitar (this example is A Dorian from the G Major parent scale):

    a dorian scale  

    Below is a fretboard diagram of the A Dorian Scale. The red dots are the tonic minor 7 chord that you should visualise and hear when you play through the scale.

    d dorian scale  

    Harmonised to triads and 7ths, the Dorian mode generates the following set of chords:

    dorian mode triads  

    You sometimes see extended chords used in a progression (9ths, 11ths and 13ths). By adding higher extensions you can define a particular modal sound more accurately.

    For example, Dorian is the only mode to have a b3, natural 11 and natural 13. By playing a minor 13 chord with the 11th included you have completely defined the Dorian sound, however this density of harmony is often too great to be palatable to the listener. More often than not, minor 7 chords will be played with a maximum of one extension, and the other scale extensions are contained in different chords in the progression.

    Typical Dorian Chord Progressions

    The following chord progressions clearly outline the unique character of the Dorian mode. For simplicity, they are all in the key of A However I encourage you to transpose them into different keys.

    Example 1

    dorian chord progression  

    Example 2

    dorian chord progression  

    Example 3

    dorian chord progression  

    5 Useful Dorian licks

    The following 5 licks use the Dorian mode in its first position.

    Dorian Lick 1

    dorian lick  

    Dorian Lick 2

    dorian lick  

    Dorian Lick 3

    dorian lick  

    Dorian Lick 4

    dorian lick  

    Dorian Lick 5

    dorian lick  

    In the next lesson we will take a look at an intervallic approach to soloing with the Dorian mode.

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