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Dorian Scale – Diagrams, Patterns, and Licks

The second mode of the major scale, Dorian is used to solo over minor family chords, and built by playing the C major scale from the notes D to D.

Dorian is one of the most important scales in jazz and fusion, and is an essential scale for any modern guitarist to have under their fingers.

In this lesson you’ll learn how to build Dorian, apply it to your solos, study one and two-octave fingerings, scale patterns, and licks in the style of Miles Davis.



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Dorian Scale Construction


The Dorian scale has seven notes and no accidentals when written in the key of D Dorian.

This means that if you play D Dorian on the piano, you play only the white keys on the keyboard.

These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:




Or as specific intervals such as:




In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:


  • P = Perfect Interval
  • M = Major Interval
  • m = Minor Interval


While these intervals are commonly used, you can think of the upper notes as extensions.

This means that you think of Dorian with this pattern:




I prefer this way, as you visualize the upper colors of the scale, creating the upper chord extensions over any chord.

Here’s how D Dorian looks on the fretboard, with both notes and intervals.


dorian scales 1


You can use either system, 2-4-6 or 9-11-13, or a mixture of both, depending on the musical situation.

Either way, Dorian has a natural 6th, which distinguishes it from the Aeolian and Phrygian scales, both of which have b6 intervals.

When soloing over a m7 chord, highlighting the 6th brings out the Dorian sound, which you’ll hear in the licks below.




Dorian Scale Application


Now that you know how to build the Dorian scale, take a look at how you apply this scale to a soloing situation.

Dorian is used to solo over chords in the minor family.

Minor family chords include:


  • m7
  • m6
  • m9
  • m6/9
  • m11


These chords are built from notes in the Dorian scale, and therefore Dorian is used to solo over these chords.

Here’s an example of a Dorian fingering and three chords derived from that scale to see how they relate on paper and on the fretboard.


dorian scales 2


Here is a Dorian backing track that you can use to practice any of the shapes, patterns, or licks in this lesson.


YouTube Preview Image



Dorian Chords


To help you expand your harmony, here are 8 more Dorian chords that you can learn and apply to your playing.

Each of these chord shapes is built from the Dorian scale, which allows them to be used in situations where Dorian is applicable.

Learn each shape first, then add them to your rhythm guitar playing over progressions and songs.




You can now learn four Dorian chords on the 5th string.

Again, work these shapes on their own, then use them to comp over tunes and progressions in your studies.





Dorian Scale One Octave Fingerings


Here are 12 one-octave Dorian shapes that you can work on in your practice routine.

These shapes come in handy when soloing over fast moving chords or at fast tempos.

Work these scales in 12 keys, as well as solo over minor-family chords, using these shapes as the basis for your lines.

This ensures that you work Dorian scales from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.


dorian scales 3


You can also practice Dorian scales with your middle finger on the first note.

Once you have these four Dorian shapes down, move between the first four and these four in your practice routine.


dorian scales 4


Lastly, here are four Dorian shapes that begin with your pinky finger.

Work these shapes in 12 keys as well as solo over backing tracks with these scales in the woodshed.


dorian scales 5


Once you have these shapes under your fingers, move between these scales in your technical and improvisational practice routine.

Explore all 12 Dorian fingerings, but don’t feel that you have to have these Dorian shapes under your fingers at all times.

Over time, you’ll pick favorites and they’ll work their way into your playing, while others you might not use that much.

This is fine, and is part of the learning process as you work through technical items in your studies.




Dorian Scale Two Octave Fingerings


You can now take these Dorian scales a step further by learning two-octave shapes on the fretboard.

These shapes come in handy when you’re soloing over longer chords in tunes like “So What” and “Maiden Voyage.”

There are a number of ways that you can build two-octave Dorian scales, here are four of my favorites to get you started.


dorian scales 6


Learn these shapes one at a time, and then combine two or more in your guitar practice routine as you expand these important scale shapes.

With these Dorian shapes down, you’re ready to learn scale patterns as you use this scale to build technique, fretboard knowledge, and improvisational confidence.




Dorian Scale Patterns


You will now check out scale patterns over the Dorian scales that you’ve learned up to this point in the lesson.

To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that you can use to expand your technique.

The pattern is built by playing the scale in 4ths, in this case ascending.

This means that you play 1-4, 2-5, 3-6, etc. as you work your way up the scale.

Go slow with this pattern, work it through one and two-octave shapes and different keys as you take this pattern around the fretboard.


Click to listen to dorian scales 1




You can also work this pattern descending, which you can see in the D Dorian fingering below.

To create 4ths, you play every third note, creating the intervals 8-5, 7-4, 6-3, etc. as you work your way down the Dorian scale.


Click to listen to dorian scales 2




Once you have these patterns under your fingers, put on a minor backing track and add 4ths to your solos.

You don’t have to play them in every phrase, but adding 4ths here and there will spice up your improvised lines.




3 Dorian Scale Licks


As well as learning practice patterns, you can study common jazz licks to expand your vocabulary and build your understanding of Dorian in a soloing context.

This first lick is the opening line to Miles Davis’ solo on “So What,” and is one of the most recognizable Dorian lines in jazz history.


Click to listen to dorian scales 3




The second lick is also from Miles’ solo on “So What,” and highlights the characteristic 6th of the Dorian scale in the final bar.


Click to listen to dorian scales 4




Here’s a lick from Miles’ solo on “Milestones,” which uses different rhythms that you can explore in your soloing practice routine.


Click to listen to dorian scales 5




Once you have these licks down, write out 3 Dorian licks of your own to build your vocabulary with this important scale.

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