Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode is Mode 1 of the church modes used in Gregorian chant. In modern terms, it is most easily described as the scale from D to D using only the white notes of the piano. As improvisers, however, we need to know the structure of the scale in order to apply it from any starting note. The Dorian mode happens to be a symmetric scale in that the same pattern to generate the scale works either ascending or descending from the starting note. For the Dorian mode, that pattern is: whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step.

A handout showing the mode starting from all twelve keys is available here.

The Dorian mode is considered a minor mode because of the minor third above the tonic. It differs from the natural minor scale by having a raised sixth degree, though some chants labeled as mode 1 include the flatted sixth degree. While named for an original Greek mode, the ecclesiastical Dorian mode actually resembles the Greek Phrygian mode (and vice versa).

For suggested ways to practice a mode, please read the newsletter issue on Learning Modes.

Some themes in the Dorian mode include:

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