I just need some clarification at the moment. So I know a bit about modes, and their relation to a parent scale. What I'm failing to understand is how exactly to play in a modal way on guitar. I remember reading somewhere that what you do is basically transpose a mode's patterns onto the parent scale's key.

For example, say we're dealing with C Major, and we want to go to a D Dorian, what I understand is that to play D Dorian, you would move it from D to a C, and then play a Dorian pattern starting from C. Is this a correct way to go about playing in a modal sense? If so, then I'm also failing how to bring out the flavor of each mode, like in the sense of doing backing rhythm sections. To some degree, I understand that you should start playing, using the above example, a Dm and establish D as the tonal center.

For full disclosure, to aid my learning, I'm trying to use the scale finder on all-guitar-chords, and to say the least, it's all very confusing to me: all that I said above seems to work fine if I take a major scale and look at the major modes, but it all falls apart if I try to apply this same logic to any of the minor modes, which I fail to understand at all. From what I've been learning, all the modes should work under a parent scale, but from what I'm seeing, that's not the case, indicating a flaw in what I've been learning.

To sum it all up: how would you bring out a mode's flavor and establish that mode's mood for a section of music, in both a lead and rhythm sense and how exactly do you use the all-guitar-chords site to show modes in what would be considered a correct way?


If I understand your wording in the question, there's confusion over terminology. D Dorian is the Dorian mode centered around and rooted on D. It contains all of the notes from its parent scale of C major. The Dorian of C is another, less common, way of naming it. Subtle difference in name, but using different notes! D Dorian - D E F G A B C, Dorian OF D - E F# G A B C# D.

"Play a Dorian pattern starting from C" will give C Dorian, with Bb and Eb as 'accidentals'. Not fitting too well into a D minor type of tune.

Whilst D Dorian is in essence a minor mode, with D minor being a good start/finish chord, it doesn't follow a normal minor geography. In Dm proper, G minor and probably A (7) will appear. These are not featured in D Dorian, as the Gm is G and A is Am. So the transition from one to another is not like it would be in D minor. In fact, aurally, the pull is more towards C, not surprising, as it's the parent.

Listen to some old Celtic music, as well as old folk songs, which tended towards modal music. Also some of the religious songs from long ago.

  • Very interesting, and thank you for your response! I guess all-in-all, you are correct: I don't fully understand all the terminology. Music theory is one of those areas I've only recently delved into, despite playing instruments for probably eight or nine years now (that probably seems odd, and it seems odd even to me!) So let me see if I understand you correctly: to play a modal backing track, I would need to find chords that fit in said mode? Sorry, I don't quite follow you 100%, is all. Like I said, music theory and I aren't on good terms yet. – Hypocrita Mar 28 '15 at 17:06
  • The simple triads that fit into a key are - I,ii,iii,IV,V,vi and viio. That's code for - capitals=major, lower case=minor. Those chords will work in the parent key. Say C. So, in key C, the chords will be C,Dm, Em, F,G,Am and Bo. So, in D Dorian, the same set of chords work, because the same notes are being used, just centering on D rather that C. Other chords can come into play, just as they may in any song, but those are the mainstay. How's that? – Tim Mar 28 '15 at 18:05
  • Ok, so what you do is take chords from the C parent scale, and play them over a D Dorian, making sure to start on say a Dm to establish D as the tonal center? – Hypocrita Mar 28 '15 at 20:38
  • Hm, so it's basically just a trick of the ear? – Hypocrita Mar 28 '15 at 21:22
  • When C maj or Amin are used for the key of a song, it's the same idea. Sometimes the V of Amin (Emaj) is used to emphasise the push towards Amin, but not always. So, yes. – Tim Mar 29 '15 at 6:59

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