The Dorian Mode for Guitarists – Tabs, Patterns & Theory

Guitarists tend to stumble upon modes when they learn more about improvisation, often in a jazz context.

This KillerGuitarRigs guide will teach you the most important knowledge about the Dorian mode, one of the most popular scales that guitarists enjoy using to compose and improvise music.

The Dorian mode sounds similar to a minor scale, but with an uplifting feeling that comes from its natural 6th. It is frequently used in jazz improvisation over minor chords (minor 7th and minor 6th), and can also be heard in songs such as “Oye Como Va” by Santana, “Impressions” by John Coltrane and “Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk.

Dorian Mode – Overview and Scale Formula

Dorian is one of the seven Greek Modes, which come from the Major Scale.

It is the second mode of the Major scale. This means that we must read the Major scale starting on the second note. That will be the root note of our Dorian scale.

Let’s take C Major as an example and visualize it more clearly.

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - C Major

Now, let’s look at the scale we get by writing these notes, starting on the D instead of the C.

The displacement caused by looking at D as our new root note changes the intervals that exist between each scale degree.

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Displacement

C Major is considered “D Dorian’s parent scale”. 

Since Dorian is the second mode of the Major scale, you can find the parent scale of any Dorian by going back one whole tone. That will give you its corresponding first scale degree.

Use this table as future reference if you’re having trouble finding the parent scale of a Dorian scale:

Parent Scale (Major)Dorian (II Degree)
CD
DbEb
DE
EbF
EF#
FG
F#G#
GA
AbBb
AB
BbC
BC#

The Dorian mode can be described numerically as “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7”. 

It can be seen as a natural minor scale with a natural 6th. That note is the one that gives the Dorian mode its characteristic sound.

The examples shown throughout this guide will feature D Dorian, but every shape and pattern can be easily shifted to play in any other key.

Dorian Mode – Scale Notes in D Dorian, When to Play

Using D Dorian as our example, the notes are:

  • D (Root)
  • E (Major Second)
  • F (Minor Third)
  • G (Perfect Fourth)
  • A (Perfect Fifth)
  • B (Major Sixth)
  • C (Minor Seventh)

It is considered a minor scale due to its minor third interval; and its 6th degree is responsible for its “Dorian” sound. This means you should emphasize this note if you want to convey that color in your playing.


Notes

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

Scale Degrees
1Root2Major Secondb3Minor Third4Perfect Fourth5Perfect Fifth6Major Sixthb7Minor Seventh

Interval

W

H

W

W

W

H

W

Dorian sounds excellent over minor chords. Here are a couple of examples of when you can apply it:

  • Playing D Dorian over a Dm7 in a II V I progression in C (Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7)
  • Playing G Dorian over a Gm6 chord (works especially well due to the major sixth interval in the Gm6)

However, it might not always be the best scale to use. Other options such as the natural minor and melodic minor scales also sound good over minor chords – it all depends on the context and your personal taste.


The Main Scale Patterns for the Dorian Mode – Fretboard Diagrams, Tabs and Notation

This section features diagrams that illustrate the Dorian patterns that exist on the guitar’s fretboard.

Memorizing them will allow you to use this mode more easily and effectively.

As stated above, D Dorian uses the same notes as the C Major scale, centered on a different tonic (D). 

Because of this, you’ll notice that the shapes are the same as you use to play the Major scale, but targeting a different root. Once you figure out which shapes correspond to the mode you want to play, everything becomes much clearer.

Here is the location of every note of this scale on the fretboard, from the open strings to the 12th fret. The tonic is displayed in red and the other notes in black.

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Fretboard Diagrams

This similarity means that if you are aware of where the C Major Scale notes are, you can at least improvise using D Dorian in a somewhat controlled way, since you can at least avoid playing notes outside of the scale.

However, it is much more efficient to learn Dorian scale patterns and apply them to D. 

Here are some of the main scale patterns you should memorize. Remember, these are in D Dorian, but moving the root to any other note allows you to play every Dorian scale.

You also have the corresponding guitar tab for each diagram.

Root on the 6th String (10th Fret) and 4th String (12th Fret)

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Root on the 6th String

Tab:

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Tab

Root on the 5th String (5th Fret) and 3rd String (7th Fret)

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Root on the 5th String

Tab:

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Tab

Root on the 4th String (Open 4th String or 12th Fret) and 2nd String (3rd or 15th Fret)

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Root on the 4th String

Tab:

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Tab

Root on the 3rd String (7th Fret) and 1st String (10th Fret)

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Root on the 3rd String

Tab:

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Tab

You can also combine some of these patterns to cover two octaves of the D Dorian scale. Here are a couple of examples:

D Dorian 2 Octave Pattern #1 (Root 6th String)

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - D Dorian 2 Octave Pattern #1

Fretboard region between the 9th and 13th frets

Tab:

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Tab

D Dorian 2 Octave Pattern #2 (Root 5th String)

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - D Dorian 2 Octave Pattern #2

Fretboard region between the 5th and 10th frets

Tab:

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Tab

Also, while you should be able to play the scale from root to root, you should be aware of the rest of the scale notes in the entire fretboard region. 

To gain that awareness, you should cover every single note within your current fretboard region when practicing scales. 

This is also why the last scale pattern did not start on the root note, but rather on the 5th scale degree (A on the 5th fret of the 6th string).

There are even more patterns to play Dorian scales, but these are enough to get you started.

Refer to the main D Dorian diagram from this guide to find every note of the scale.

In regards to transposing these shapes: let’s say that you want to play E Dorian instead. Since E is one whole step (two semitones) away from D, just move the patterns mentioned above two frets higher on the fretboard.


3 Notes per String Method Applied to D Dorian

The 3 notes per string method teaches you about 7 unique scale patterns that all have 3 notes on each string.

Each pattern starts on a scale degree (root, second, etc.). 

Knowing these patterns helps you locate yourself easily in every fretboard region, and they can be applied to any scale if you transpose them appropriately.

First Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - First Pattern

Second Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Second Pattern

Third Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Third Pattern

Fourth Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Fourth Pattern

Fifth Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Fifth Pattern

Sixth Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Sixth Pattern

Seventh Pattern

The Dorian Mode for Guitarists - Seventh Pattern

Final Thoughts about the Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode is a valuable and versatile musical resource that you should want to have in your vocabulary, whether you’re playing jazz, blues, funk, or any other music genre.

Memorize the main shapes and try to apply them whenever you can until it becomes something natural that you can use without effort.

Gustavo Pereira

Gustavo is a Portuguese musician based in Barcelona, where he’s studying jazz & modern music interpretation on the electric guitar. Favorite genre: blues, jazz, funk, soul

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