what other notes should get used along with the modal tonic & the character note, when going for a "modal" sound?

Take Dorian, a minor mode, for example, playing over a (dm7: D-F-A-C) in the key of CMaj

the Dorian formula is (1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7)

the CMaj scale, starting on D is (D-E-F-G-A-B-C)

So I know to highlight the tonic (1) of "D" & the character note (6) of "B", but as far as playing other notes to fill in the solo, I'm lost. Surely the solo doesn't just bounce back & forth between the (1) & (6), beginning on D.

I keep reading about when "playing modally", you surround the tonic & you don't venture too far from it. So this leads me to believe that no matter what mode I'm in, I should make heavy use of whatever the 2nd & 7th are?

So, in the case of Dorian, my understanding is to highlight playing the (1-2-6-b7 & perhaps the b3, because its a "minor" mode?


2-surrounds the tonic

b3-defines quality/guide tone



6-character note

b7-surrounds the tonic/guide tone

So, what role do the (4) & (5) play in dorian? Do these notes sort of act as the "odd ones out" like the 4 & 7 of a Major pentatonic?

  • Possible dupe - 'available tensions for modal scale degrees'?
    – Tim
    Sep 11, 2022 at 7:45
  • The removal of 4 & 7 of a major scale to make a pentatonic scale isn't really comparable to modal music. Although one can use the pentatonic scale in a major piece of music, pieces of music using the major scale often use all of the major scale and pentatonic pieces of music often use all of the pentatonic scale, hence, it's a little misleading to suggest that the pentatonic scale is just the removal of 4 & 7 of a major scale since it in itself is a separate scale and a unique combination of notes that are used as such. A scale often exists to be used in its entirety!
    – Mixnik
    Sep 11, 2022 at 13:54
  • What style? Modal jazz where you might hold that Dm7 for 6 bars, or Renaissance/folk modal music where you might have progressions like Dm F C Dm, 1 chord per bar? Sep 14, 2022 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


Like I've said so many times, all the notes are available.

What's more important is where those notes are played, emphasised or not. There are many, many songs that use 'wrong' notes, which work due to their placement in the bar. Equally, playing the chord tones on the emphasised parts of the bars will help establish the key or mode. So, beats 1 and 3 being the more predominant places in 4/4 time, that's where D, F and A need to come out to play far more often (on the Dm bars, obviously), as they establish the D minorness where it's needed.


Find some songs in the various modes. They'll use all the notes of the scale, and very likely some chromatic auxiliary notes too. That should give you some ideas.

You could start with 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Scarborough Fair'.

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