How to play the Dorian scale on guitar (with application examples)


The dorian scale is the second mode of the Major scale and is one of the essential scales to know in jazz. This scale is closely related to the minor scale but with a small twist by changing one of the notes which gives it its unique sound.

In this lesson, we’ll cover the music theory for the dorian scale, examples in different keys, learn the 5 dorian scale shapes on the guitar, and application examples! Let’s get started.

Dorian scale formula

If you start and end on the 2nd degree of the Major scale, you are playing a dorian scale. For example, the D dorian scale would have the notes D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. In terms of scale degrees, the notes are root, 2nd, b3, 4, 5, 6, and b7.

If you notice, there is only one note difference between the dorian and natural minor scale. The dorian scale has a 6th scale degree, while the natural minor scale has a flat 6 scale degree. For example:

  • D dorian scale: D, E, F, G, A, B, and C.
  • D natural minor: D, E, F, G, A, Bb, and C.

We can also look at the dorian scale formula in terms of whole and half steps. The formula would be whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, and whole step between the scale notes.

Dorian scale formula

You can also simply think of the parent scale it comes from, which is one whole step below. For example, G dorian would have the notes of an F Major scale. Or E dorian would have the notes of a D Major scale.

Dorian scale examples with tabs

Here are some different dorian scales in music notation with guitar tabs below. The numbers above the notes on the top staff indicated which fingers to use on your fretting hand. If needed, check out how to read guitar notation symbols.

The following examples show you one way to play different scales in one octave but we’ll also cover how to play beyond one octave later in this lesson.

C dorian scale example

C dorian scale example


D dorian scale example

D dorian scale example

E dorian scale example


F dorian scale example

F dorian scale example

G dorian scale example

G dorian scale example

A dorian scale example

A dorian scale example

B dorian scale example

B dorian scale example

Dorian scale chart

The following chart includes the notes for all dorian scales.

Dorian scale12b3456b7
C dorian scaleCDEbFGABb
D dorian scaleDEFGABC
E dorian scaleEF#GABC#D
F dorian scaleFGAbBbCDEb
G dorian scaleGABbCDEF
A dorian scaleABCDEF#G
B dorian scaleBC#DEF#G#A
Db dorian scaleDbEbEGbAbBbB
Eb dorian scaleEbFGbAbBbCDb
Gb dorian scaleGbAbABDbEbE
Ab dorian scaleAbBbBDbEbFGb
Bb dorian scaleBbCDbEbFGAb

Dorian scale shapes on the fretboard

The following section shows you the dorian scale in five different sections of the fretboard.

How to read the scale charts

For the charts below:

  • The lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E). The top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E). 
  • The green circles represent the root note of the dorian scale and the blue notes are every scale note in between.
  • The numbers inside the circles represent the suggested fingering to use on your fretting hand.

If needed, check out how to read guitar notation symbols.

Dorian scale shape 1

Dorian scale shape 1

Dorian scale shape 2

Dorian scale shape 2 on guitar

Dorian scale shape 3


Dorian scale shape 4


Dorian scale shape 5


Dorian scale application examples

The dorian scale works well over minor triad chords, minor 7th, and minor 6 chords. Here are 6 application examples over different chords.

1. Dorian scale example – D minor

For this example, we are using a D dorian scale over the D minor chord.


2. Dorian scale example – E minor

Here we are using the E dorian scale over an E minor chord.


3. Dorian scale example – G minor 7

Like I mentioned, you can also use the dorian scale over minor 7 chords. This is the G dorian scale over a G minor 7 chord.


4. Dorian scale example – F minor to Bb minor

For this example, I’m using the F dorian scale over the F minor chord and then switching to a Bb dorian scale over the Bb minor chord.


5. Dorian scale example – C minor 7 to F 7

If we look at the chords C minor 7 and F 7, we can trace them back to the key of Bb Major. This is known as a 2 to 5 movement, meaning the we play the related 2 and 5 chord in that key. We can play a C dorian scale over both chords and it works smoothly.


6. Dorian scale example – A minor

For this example, I am harmonizing the A dorian scale notes in intervals of 6ths over an A minor chord. You can use this technique as a way to bring contrast to parts of the melody or when improvising.


Wrapping up

If you want to dive deeper into improvisation, the dorian scale is going to be a scale you want to know well. Instead of thinking the natural minor scale, try using the dorian scale to give add a different color to your solos.

You want to be able to memorize all the shapes well and then work on how to make the scale sound musical. For some ideas on how to do this, check out this lesson on how to practice scales on guitar. You may also want to learn how make your melody lines sound jazzy.

To learn other scales related to the Major scale, see how to play the:

You can also see an overview of the Major scale modes and their related emotions here or learn the specific scales below:

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

Best,

JG Music Lessons


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