If I'm playing a song in Dorian D would I say that the song is in the key of C? Or is the song in the key of D, cause that my true tonic?

I guess the question can be boiled down to, is the tonic the same as the key?

So if Dorian D is in the Key of D, would I say, this song is in the Key of D in Dorian? Or just, this song is in the Key of D(if I say this i suspect they will assume I'm saying major)?

  • I've just been looking at the same issue. The Dorian tune I'm looking at is written in key of Dm, which seems strange because all the Bb's are turned into B naturals. So why bother with a Bb in the key signature at all, just have the same key signature as as C major. But as explained above that's just not the way it's done. – Gerry Mar 13 '20 at 8:20

First off, the key of D is ambiguous. A key represents a tonal center and expected harmony with the the normal two being major and minor. Just saying key of D you aren't specifying if it is major or minor.

Again modes are not tonal and the idea of a key is so not everything translates 100% between tonal and modal ideas. You could say the key is D Dorian which has the same key signature as C major and A minor, but rarely is that ever done in print. The more natural route especially in notation is to say if it's a major mode say it's in D major and use that key signature or if it's a minor mode to say it's in D minor and use that key signature. This seems counter intuitive, but it stresses the tonic and gives a pretty close harmony that is typically just off by one accidental in the key signature. So for D Dorian you would notate the key signature as D minor, but you would write in naturals for all of your B notes to make them natural.

A good example of this in the wild is Led Zepplin's Good Times Bad Times which is almost always written with a key signature of E major, but it's pretty obvious that it is in E Mixolydian with it constantly during the verse going from E to D back to E.

  • 1
    that is really not intuitive. – JohnandLyn Henry Jul 15 '16 at 16:17
  • @JohnandLynHenry most people don't think in mode, but in major or minor. As such it makes sense to use a major or minor key signature to denote it. – Dom Jul 15 '16 at 16:20
  • that is really not intuitive. It doesn't seem like that could be correct, cause that would mean, if i wrote something in D Locrian it would have that sound, but the key would be D Major. This means that the scale Locrian is derived from, E flat would be the true major scale from which the song is written, but the notation would use D major. The issue with this, is they are very very different(you'd have accidents everywhere) – JohnandLyn Henry Jul 15 '16 at 16:27
  • If people don't think in modes, then in the example you gave for Zepplin, it would make more sense that the song be notated in the key of A major – JohnandLyn Henry Jul 15 '16 at 16:29
  • No, because the tonic is E Good Times Bad Times so if the key signature is A major that can confuse basic readers. Locrian is not a major mode and is diminished so is an oddball and most likely would not use the term key when talking about it. You only do what I said if it's a major or minor mode. When you say key of D Dorian you are trying to fit a modal idea into a tonal idea which doesn't make sense most of the time hence why talking about it in terms of major and minor is more natural to most. – Dom Jul 15 '16 at 16:31

You'd say it's in D Dorian, rather than Dorian D.Like you say C major rather than major C. But be careful, as there are two ways to describe it. The Dorian of D is different from D Dorian. The former has 2 sharps, because it's the mode of D that centres around E, whereas the latter uses C major notes, but is centred around D. I've heard both used, and it can get confusing at a jam session, believe me!

Also, I think you'd write the key signature of the parent key, otherwise if you write a D key sig. with its two sharps, to show a kind of D-ness, there'll be a lot of accidentals on the way! You could write it out with a D minor key sig., as it's a minor mode, and then you'd only have the B/Bb to change.

  • I don't want to cause a little bit of conflict. However, I'm already confused so I need to address it. Your answer and Dom's answer seem to say contrary things. Or am I just really really confused? (BTW re: D Dorian vs Dorian D, thanks, that makes sense, I'll be careful with that) – JohnandLyn Henry Jul 15 '16 at 16:43
  • Where is the conflict? Dom knows his stuff so what have he and I said that are not the same? – Tim Jul 15 '16 at 16:49
  • Dom said the key would be written in D, you are saying the key would be written in C major – JohnandLyn Henry Jul 15 '16 at 16:51
  • @JohnandLynHenry I'm saying you could write it in C, but it's very rare to see it that way. Most of the time you'll use D minor instead. – Dom Jul 15 '16 at 17:00

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