The Dorian mode is a fantastic musical mode. A lot of guitar music is based on a Dorian foundation. But what is the mood of the Dorian mode? It has a unique mix of sadness and happiness in it and it has been used by many composers, songwriters and musicians. Let’s find out what makes the Dorian mode and how to use the Dorian scale to create beautiful melodies and chord progressions!

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As I already mentioned a lot of guitar music uses the Dorian mode. Especially rock and blues are known to have some tasty Dorian licks and chord progressions. But just like the other modal chord progressions, Dorian can be used in many different styles of music. And you can make happy, sad or mysterious music with it. But my favourite quality of the Dorian mode is that it is a lot brighter than the Aeolian mode or natural minor. This is due to the raised 6th scale degree. So how do you start writing Dorian music?

Video Tutorial: Make Dorian mode chord progressions and Melodies

If you want to hear all these examples with real music, then check out my video on the Dorian mode and listen to some real modal chord progressions and melodies in action!

YouTube video

Modes made easy: Many people see the musical modes as being part of a bigger mode or parent scale, which is the Ionian mode. But 90% of the time I don’t approach the music modes this way. I like to see each mode as a separate scale. So it’s not part of something bigger. The Dorian mode scale is what it is and not some kind of small brother from the major scale. So is D Dorian the same as C major? Short answer: No

I will explain how you make a Dorian scale and chord progression. You can use this for writing beautiful melodies and complete songs. Just follow these four steps below.

How to write music in the Dorian mode:

  • Create a natural minor scale / Aeolian scale
  • Raise the 6th note with half a step
  • Create a triad or chord on each scale degree
  • Focus your chords and melody on the root note, minor third and major sixth.
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How do you make a Dorian Scale?

Music is almost always in a certain key. Which could be A minor or D major for example. If music is in a certain key we refer to the notes that can be used in our song or composition. And also which note feels most like our home base. Together these notes often form a scale. To start writing music in the Dorian mode we first need the formula for a minor scale.

Minor scale blueprint / minor scale formula

When you follow this formula or blueprint of whole and half steps, then you can make a natural minor scale in any key that you like! Whole step – Half step – Whole step – Whole step – Half step – Whole step – Whole step

One thing to pay attention to is the naming of the notes. Each step needs to be a different letter from the alphabet. You cannot have E and Eb or G and G#. It should be C and D# or G and Ab.

A minor scale
The formula for an A minor scale / A Aeolian scale
The formula for an A minor scale / A Aeolian scale in midi
In Midi roll: The formula for an A minor scale / A Aeolian scale

How to make a Dorian scale?

Remember our A minor scale from above? To make the A Dorian scale, you just raise the 6th note or the note on the 6th scale degree with half a step. The rest of the notes in the scale stay the same! So the formula for making a Dorian scale is: Whole Step – Half Step -Whole Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step.

An A Dorian Scale
An A Dorian Scale
Midi example: An A Dorian Scale
Midi example: An A Dorian Scale

How To Make Dorian Mode Chord Progressions

Just as with all other modal chord progressions. We will use the Dorian scale to find out what chords you can play or what chords you have in this musical mode. You need to create a chord or triad on each scale degree. And you do this by only using notes from the scale!

How do you make a triad? When you make a chord, just skip one scale tone and choose the next one. So for example in A Dorian, the chord on the first scale degree is A Minor. And the notes are A-C-E. We skipped the tones B and D.

A Dorian chords / harmonies
A Dorian chords/harmonies
Midi example: A Dorian chords / harmonies
Midi example: A Dorian chords/harmonies
D Dorian chords and D Dorian 7th chords
D Dorian chords and D Dorian 7th chords
Midi example of 7th chords in D Dorian
Midi example of 7th chords in D Dorian

Chord Progression No.1 in B Dorian (the jam session)

The Dorian mode is perfect for when you want to have a jam session. The best chord progression for some tasty melodies is going from the minor tonic chord to the major chord on the 4th scale degree. Pink Floyd has used this with great success in their Dorian mode songs.

B Dorian jam
B Dorian jam (a great chord progression)
Midi example: B Dorian jam
Midi example: B Dorian jam

Chord Progression No.2 in D Dorian

If you stick to ‘normal’ chords or triads, then you have three chords that have a tone that’s unique to the Dorian mode in them. But if you would add 7th chords to your chord progression, then another chord becomes available. In this example, the C major seven chord has the B in it, which is the raised sixth scale degree.

Chord progression in D Dorian
A chord progression in D Dorian
Midi example of a Chord progression in D dorian.
Midi example of a Chord progression in D Dorian

Chord Progression No.3 in A Dorian

A great way to discover any musical mode is to improvise over a pedal note. A pedal note is a sustained tone (that does not change) on which you play chords or notes. This next chord progression in A Dorian can be used for some dark rock or for some beautiful film music. Try it out for yourself!

You decide what mood the Dorian mode can have. Mysterious, dark, edgy or melancholic.

A Dorian chord progression on a pedal point
A Dorian chord progression on a pedal point
Midi example: A Dorian chord progression on a pedal point
Midi example: A Dorian chord progression on a pedal point

Chord Progression No.4 in E Dorian

In this chord progression in E Dorian, you see the beautiful possibilities that the Dorian mode has. It can sound bright and just a couple of seconds later it sounds dark and full of tension. This is especially true if you add some extensions to your chords.

A longer chord progression in E Dorian
A longer chord progression in E Dorian
Midi: A longer chord progression in E Dorian
Midi: A longer chord progression in E Dorian

Chord Progression No.5 and Melody in D Dorian

When you really want to use the Dorian sound and feel, then you have to also use the Dorian note in your melody. In this chord progression, the B is the raised 6th scale degree. This is the note unique to D Dorian.

When you look at the chord progression, we have a G major chord. The notes of G major are G – B – D. This means that G major has the raised 6th scale degree in it. So with the chords in our chord progression, we are ok.

Now with the melody you also want to emphasize the B note, because this will confirm the Dorian mode. You can either play it on the tonic chord, or on the chord that is on the 4th scale degree, which is G major.

Melody and chord progression in D Dorian
Melody and chord progression in D Dorian


If you have watched the video tutorial or played these progressions yourself, then I think you will agree that the Dorian mode can be used for almost anything. By now you should know what chords and notes go with the Dorian mode. Also, from these chord progression examples, it is quite obvious that for example, E Dorian is not in the key of D major.


Here is a summary in bullet points from this lesson. You can follow these guidelines when you write music in the Dorian mode.

  • Find and use the most important notes of the scale or mode
  • Find out which chords have these notes in them
  • Use these chords and the tonic to strongly confirm the mode/key
  • Use the melody to accentuate essential notes. Like in Dorian: Root, Minor 3rd, Major 6th.

Other videos and articles on the musical modes

Do you want to read more articles and see more videos about the musical modes? Then have a look at my other videos on the Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Aeolian modes. And if you are interested in making modal melodies, check out my article and video on how to make Phrygian melodies.

You can also dive into the technique of modal mixture, modal interchange or borrowed chords. To start learning check out my lessons on combining Lydian & Ionian and Phrygian & Aeolian.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Dorian Mode Progressions

You can play many different chords over the Dorian Mode. But in general popular chord progressions are:

  • i – IV (Dm – Gmaj)
  • i – VII7 – ii – III – ii (Dm – Cmaj7 – Em – F – Em)
  • i – viø – i – IV (on a pedal point D. Dm – Bm7b5/D – Dm – G/D)
  • i – v – IV – i (Dm – Am – G – Dm)
  • i – ii – v – IV (Dm – Em – Am – G)
  • i – VII – IV – v (Dm – C – G – Am)

The notes for the C Dorian scale are: C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb. To make a C Dorian Progression, it’s important to use the tonic chord Cminor and the chords that have the raised 6th scale degree in them. These chords are D minor, F major, and Bbmaj7. The Am half diminished could also be an option.

If you are playing in D Dorian, then yes. But otherwise, if you are writing in A Dorian for example, then the mode starts on A.

The Dorian mode is minor-oriented. But it is not the same as the minor scale. The chords in D Dorian and D minor are different. In the Dorian Mode, you have a raised 6th scale degree, while in minor you have a minor 6th scale degree.

The notes of D Dorian are D, E, F, G, A, B, and C while the notes of D minor are: D, E, F, G, A, Bb, and C

Suggested Video Tutorial: Combining The Lydian Mode and Ionian Mode through Modal Interchange

YouTube video

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