These scales are considered the minor scales:

natural:  1  2 b3  4  5 b6 b7
harmonic: 1  2 b3  4  5 b6  7
melodic:  1  2 b3  4  5  6  7  (ascending)

However, this scale:

4th min:  1  2 b3  4  5  6 b7

is referred to as the Dorian mode, but not as a minor scale. Is there a reason, besides maybe that it isn't used as often as the other three, for not giving it a name like, say, the sardonic minor scale? Is there something inherent in this scale that doesn't lend itself to minor harmony?

Wikipedia states that:

[The Dorian mode] may be considered an "excerpt" of a major scale played from the pitch a whole tone above the major scale's tonic , i.e., a major scale played from its second scale degree up to its second degree again. The resulting scale is, however, minor in quality (...)

So if it is a scale that is "minor in quality", why is it not the fourth minor scale?

To be clear: I'm not so much concerned with this scale not having a name, but rather with the absence of a name implying that it isn't a useful scale. If you have a minor scale with a flat 6 and 7, a minor scale with a natural 6 and 7, and a minor scale with a flat 6 and natural 7, why not have one with a natural 6 and a flat 7? Why is this scale so useless that you wouldn't even bother to label it?


3 Answers 3


The minor scales (natural, harmonic, and melodic) are intended as descriptive of compositional practice.

The dorian and aeolian (minor) modes are permutations of the major scale and have different functional meaning.

The dorian mode is actually quite a lot older than the minor scales: its modern form dating back to the early church modes, and that named after the even earlier Greek mode that used similar intervals.

However, it jazz and popular music, dorian is considered a minor mode, as it works well against minor chords and, especially, minor seventh chords.

For some relevant discussion, see Difference between keys and scales?


A brief explanation of why Dorian isn't considered a "functional" minor scale:

  • Natural minor: occurs "naturally" as a mode of major; however it lacks a leading tone.
  • Harmonic minor: has a leading tone; however, it also has a "weird" augmented second.
  • Melodic minor: has a leading tone when ascending, when it's needed, but also a raised sixth to avoid the augmented second. Going down, though the leading tone is not needed, so neither is the raised sixth.
  • Dorian has a raised sixth, but no leading tone, so serves no special purposes in major/minor tonality.
  • Does your first paragraph imply that the Dorian mode wasn't considered as a fourth minor scale because it wasn't used in classical music, or at least not as frequently as the other three? Or is the difference also qualitative rather than just quantitative?
    – New User
    Feb 28, 2021 at 2:11
  • @NewUser In essence, yes. Classical music is based around major and minor and doesn't use dorian in that context. The three minor scales you're asking about are really just variants of a single scale (natural minor); whereas dorian is a different mode altogether. It has a "minor quality" but is distinct from minor.
    – Aaron
    Feb 28, 2021 at 2:23
  • "that used similar intervals": the Greek Dorian mode was most comparable to the medieval Phrygian mode.
    – phoog
    Oct 4, 2023 at 21:59

The minor scale with a "sharp" sixth and "natural" seventh (C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C) has the same pattern as a Bb major scale (or a Gm minor scale or a Proteus modal scale.) It can be a bit difficult to keep the tonic (in the example) on C; most common melodic patterns will sound like they are in either Bb, Gm, or Proteus mode.


OK, it's the 4th minor scale. And Mixolydian is the 2nd major one.

It's interesting to know whether a mode is major or minor in quality. Maybe, if you're really into labelling, interesting to debate whether Locrian is minor or in a diminished class of its own. We don't normally number them within these categories. But you can, if you like.

Historically, at least in the Common Practice era, functional harmony - dominants going to tonics - was the predominant framework. The useful modes were those that contained a perfect 4th and major 7th, ones you could build a dominant 7th chord in. Major, Harmonic Minor and (at a pinch) Melodic Minor. So, when the language of music theory was established, these were considered more important.

When I started noticing music theory, in the 1950s, Natural Minor wasn't mentioned much. We KNEW about it, as we knew about the other 'antique modes'. But it wasn't really a part of the functional harmony taught in schools. (Yes, I know, this was 80 years after Debussy, 50 after Stravinsky. Pedagogy often takes time to catch up!)

  • Nah, Locrian is definitely major. (A major pain, that is.) Feb 28, 2021 at 1:19
  • I understand that what label you give to a musical concept isn't all that important, and doesn't make the music any better or worse. However, whether something has a label or not is an indication of whether people at a certain point in time found that thing important or useful or interesting or just not worth mentioning. That's what my questions was about, why is this scale not considered as useful as the other three.
    – New User
    Feb 28, 2021 at 2:41

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