So I got more serious about guitar recently and I learned the major scale and all of the modes.

My question is, what is the difference, assuming you’re in the key of G major, in playing A Dorian, and playing G Dorian?

As best I can remember both sounded good but a bit different. What’s happening here?

  • 2
    "G Dorian" ... did you mean G Ionian perhaps? Jan 21 at 14:15
  • I assume you mean G Ionian. No difference as this is the same set of notes. If you literally play A Dorian scale in the key of G then you are still effectively use Ionian mode but play the sequence starting from the second degree of the scale
    – Jarek.D
    Jan 22 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


The factors which determine keys and modes are not only the notes involved, but targeting the root, or tonic. In your example, G major (parent) and A Dorian both contain G A B C D E and F♯. Playing in G means G notes will feel like 'home', often heralded by the appearance of the dominant D chord. Whereas playing in A Dorian has the tendency to use A and A minor as the 'home' places.

G Dorian, though? Its parent key is F major, with F G A B♭ C and D. So it's slightly different, in that F/F♯ and B/B♭ are changed over.

Don't get confused with labelling: G Dorian is not the same as the Dorian of G, a simple mistake we can make.

I used to sometimes play an accompaniment in A major, often using 7ths, while a student used the notes from G major - a similar sort of thing that you're finding. Although at the end of the day, as I very often say, any note, in any key, can be made to fit anywhere.

  • 2
    @rcd To be clear: I could say “this song contains this set of notes; what key or mode is it in,” and you can’t know the answer with only that information. Jan 21 at 16:03

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