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The Dorian Mode Across The Fretboard (with guitar lick examples)

The Dorian mode is very popular among guitar players and is used in various genres of music including Blues, Jazz, Rock, Metal, and Fusion.

In this lesson you will be learning the Dorian mode using five 3 note per string scale patterns that cover the entire guitar fretboard.

With each scale pattern, you will be given a short guitar lick to help you explore the flavor of this mode. Every lick will only consist of the notes that are found in that particular scale pattern.

 At the end of the lesson, you will be given a short guitar solo in the Dorian mode that uses notes from all over the fretboard and is not tied to any particular scale pattern.

If you don’t know the basics behind the modes yet, I suggest you go through this lesson on guitar modes and understand how modes work before proceeding with today’s lesson which will explore the Dorian mode in more detail.

Dorian mode theory

Dorian is the second mode of the major scale.

In this set of lessons on guitar modes we’re using the scale of G major as the parent scale.

Thus since the scale of G major (Ionian) is made of the notes G A B C D E and F#, the Dorian mode derived from the scale would be A Dorian which is made of the same notes but in the following order: A B C D E F# G.

Which give us a scale that is very similar to the natural minor but with a raised 6th (#6)

This makes Dorian the brightest among the minor modes. In this example you’re given an octave of the natural minor (Aeolian mode) and an octave of the Dorian mode so that you can compare the sound flavor of each mode:

Dorian mode guitar scale patterns and licks

In this section, we’ll cover the five 3 note per string patterns that cover this mode over the entire guitar fretboard together with guitar licks that use notes from each pattern.

Pattern 1

The first pattern starts on the 5th fret of the low E string.

Before giving you a guitar lick in the A Dorian mode I would like to explain what makes a lick sound Dorian in the first place.

We’re using the same notes as G major after all, why does the lick sound in A Dorian and not G major?

The answer is that if we were improvising in G major, the most important notes, usually the long notes at the end of each phrase would be the notes of the G major triad: G, B, and D.

But since we’re in A Dorian, these emphasized notes will be the notes of the A minor triad: A, C, and E.

Another important thing to get the Dorian sound is the use of the raised 6th degree, F# in our case.

If this characteristic note is never used, your licks and solos could have been written using the natural minor scale since the notes are the same, and so is the triad.

(Nothing wrong with that of course, your music will still sound good. It just wouldn’t capture the sound flavor of the Dorian mode if that’s what you’re looking for). When playing these guitar licks, always take notice of these two aspects:

  1. The long notes or those that have an important role, such as those ending a phrase are almost always A, C, and E. (To make this easier, I’ve written the name of these notes when they occur above the music notation).
  2. In every lick, the note F# is used at least once. (It’s easy to spot the F# from the music notation since it’s the only note that has a sharp in this particular mode).

Pattern 2

This pattern starts on the 7th fret of the D string

The next guitar lick uses more or less the same ideas as the previous one but also makes use of rests, to add rhythmic variety to the music as well as help emphasize important notes (such as the last note in the lick).

Pattern 3

To play this pattern, put your small finger on the first note.

The next lick introduces string bending technique.

Also notice the use of the notes of the A minor triad at the end of the lick.

Pattern 4

The next pattern starts covering the second half of the guitar fretboard. (That is, If we’re playing in the key of A. To play these patterns in any other key simply shift your fingers to the root note of that key).

In the next lick, notice the notes of the triad at the end of each phrase except for the first (which can also be seen as the first half of a bigger phrase, which does end on a note of the triad).

Using the notes of the A minor triad to end phrases is not some sort of rule that cannot be broken. It simply means that using these notes regularly in such places establishes the A Dorian tonality.

Pattern 5

To play this pattern, put your small finger on the 17th fret of the low E string.

Now, you may notice that there’s an area of the fretboard which we haven’t covered – the first four frets.

This will actually be covered by this pattern since if you shift the whole pattern down an octave and start with your small finger on the 5th fret of the low E string, you will still be playing the A Dorian mode, just an octave lower.

The next lick uses triplets as a rhythmic pattern. When soloing or improvising always keep in mind that while scales, modes, triads, and arpeggios help you choose the ideal notes to express yourself, the notes are not your only options.

Other important options are rhythmic, and the use of phrasing techniques (hammer-ons, slides, vibrato etc).

Dorian guitar solo

As with the guitar licks, this solo emphasizes the notes A, C, and E that make up the minor triad and makes good use of the sharpened 6th (F#) to establish the Dorian tonality.

It doesn’t stay in one 3 note per string pattern though, instead it makes use of the whole guitar fretboard.

Conclusion: Where to go from here

This lesson covered the horizontal aspect of the Dorian mode on the guitar fretboard, that is, the melody.

A more in-depth study of the Dorian mode would also look at the vertical aspect, the harmony. (On which I will be writing a lesson in the future).

Harmony simply refers to the chords that back up the melodies, and the progressions formed from these chords.

That said, I do suggest you use this, and any other scale or mode, to create melodies in the form of licks and solos, before proceeding with the study of its harmony.


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