? Dorian Mode

? Dorian Mode

Would someone please offer an explanation as to the formation of Dorian mode? I have come unstuck in trying to transpose ABC notation by hand.

Re: ? Dorian Mode

Dorian mode has a flatted third and a flatted seventh.
i.e. E-dorian uses the same notes as a D major scale (F# , C#)
A-dorian uses the same notes as a G major scale (F#)
B-dorian uses the same pitches as an A-major scale (F#, G#, C#)

Re: ? Dorian Mode

It’s like a minor scale with one extra sharp. For example: A minor, no sharps; A dorian, 1 sharp; E minor, 1 sharp, E dorian, 2 sharps.

Here’s a good resource:

Re: ? Dorian Mode

Dorian mode means starting on the second note of the scale of the key you’re actually in. For example, D dorian means play a C major scale, but start and end on D instead of C (D E F G A B C D).

It’s considered a “minor” scale because the 3rd is flattened. For example, in the case of D dorian, your Fs are natural (as in D minor), not sharp (as in D major).


Re: ? Dorian Mode

As if all those comments haven’t confused you enough, I shall make things even worse by attempting to summarise, in the simplest way possible, what everybody else has said.

1. Taking a major scale, playing an octave starting from the second note in that scale will give the Dorian mode with its home note one note above that of the major scale (e.g. C-major scale => D-Dorian)

2. Taking a major scale and lowering by a semitone the 3rd and 7th notes will give the Dorian mode with the same home note as the major scale (e.g. D-major with flattened 3rd & 7th => D-Dorian)

3. The Dorian mode is considered a “minor mode” because the interval between the 1st and 3rd notes is a “minor 3rd”.
Playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes together gives a minor chord.

Try them all and you’ll see what we all mean.


To complicate again 🙂
If you take the C major scale as a model, here are the modes you get when you start on each note:

C -> Ionian
D -> Dorian
E -> Phrygian
F -> Lydian
G -> Mixolydian
A -> Aeolian
B -> Locrian

So, Ionian is what we now call “major” scale, and Aeolian is the “natural minor” scale. Besides these 2, the modes i see most of the time are the Dorian (in Irish music, usually E or A Dorian) and Mixolydian (G Mixolydian, usually). I’m sure others are used too.

Besides old folk music and old Church music, you use these modes often in jazz.

The other scale that shows up all the time in folk music (but somehow not often in Irish music) is the major pentatonic: CDEGA


Re: ? Dorian Mode

That’s how I remember them – the way glauber has them, using the piano C scale. And to “hear” the major pentatonic in your head the easy way (for me anyway) it’s the five black keys on the piano: starting on Gb (or F#), play the set of 3 black keys, then the set of 2 black keys.

White: GAB DE
Black: Gb Ab Bb Db Eb


White: FGA CD
Black F# G# A# C# D#


Another interesting thing with the pentatonic is that if you transpose the notes that the string instruments are tuned to, you get the pentatonic: CDEGA (C is the low string on the Cello, the Violin goes GDAE).

The pentatonic is useful when improvising, because it’s hard to make anything sound bad if you use only those notes. You can bang the black piano keys at random and the result is usually Oriental sounding, but not altogether unpleasant.

Re: ? Dorian Mode

Jeanette hasn’t responded, I think we scared her away! 🙂

Re: ? Dorian Mode

There is lots of information here, more than enough to get me past my stuck spot and lots to think about as a bonus! I hope that others are interested too. Thanks everyone for your informative replies. A learning forum on line is such a helpful tool. I could not find a written referance to help me with this specific angle without wading through lots of data - and didn’t know where to start anyway.

Re: ? Dorian Mode

As a whistle player I get confused when people talk about trad tunes in terms of the classical keys - I’ve always known the whistle as a modal instrument, and as I understand it the modes are what really give trad music it’s flavour, not major/minor and particularly not what key it’s in (if you swap a D whistle for a C whistle the tune sounds the same, except a little higher)

Am I barking up the wrong tree - confirm or deny, someone - please!



Re: ? Dorian Mode

Hmmmm. Well, it’s my understanding that part of the problem is that Irish trad music is an aurally learned music form. It wasn’t really made to be transmitted by written materials. When you try to write the stuff down, you’re having to cram it into the confines of classical music theory and methods of transcription.

I’m terrible at this modal stuff – I go round and round trying to figure out which key the thing is in, much less the mode. Jeremy’s always having to correct my tune postings. (thanks again, jeremy, sorry about that.) If someone would post how you go about taking a tune you know and figuring out the key and mode, that’d be awesome.


Re: ? Dorian Mode

Z, I go for simplicity combined with what I know about trad tunes. For example, The Butterfly, taken from a purely classical perspective, is in e minor because there’s only one sharped note, f. But because so many Irish tunes are in dorian mode, it’s usually written out in that key (e dorian uses the D major key signature).

Dorian mode is so common because most early folk instruments were only capable of playing in one “native” key (like D whistles, harps which are usually in C, etc.) - this is before sharping levers on harps, of course! So when you want to play a tune in d minor on your C whistle, you’re really still in the key of C, you’re just starting on a diffrent note. Later on, as sharping levers, advanced techniques like partially covering a hole, and more complex keyed flutes came along, players had the ability to actually play in the different keys, but by then the tradition was firmly established with its modal “flavor”.

BTW, one of the things that makes me think of O’Carolan as a classical composer (or at least classically trained) is how often you find accidentals in his music - a rare thing in traditional modal music.


Thanks Jeff

Have you ever noticed, that whenever a guitar player is totally lost, the one chord that almost always seems to get yelled out for them is “G”?!

Thanks, Jeff. So, how do you go about figuring out what key and mode a tune you’ve never heard before is in on the fly, Jeff, Will, anybody? I’m mainly curious because so many players seem to be so good and hearing a tune and knowing almost immediately what key and mode it’s in. It’d also be helpful for me to know since I don’t play guitar but am often in the position of staring blankly at a beginning guitar player who wants to know what to play…