I have a problem with the minor Dorian scale. You see, the natural minor scale for the key A is A B C D E F G and the Dorian minor scale for the key of A is A B C D E F# G. But E natural minor scale has the same notes too. So, are they the same?

  • I have to admit, for a very short moment I was confusing by your question! But it happened also once to me that I was wondering what we will see from a partial solar eclipse by demilune. ( only for a part of second!) Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 16:51
  • Because your question mentions Dorian scale, you got answers literally about scales. Why do you ask if scales "are" the same? You see that they have the same set of pitches. If you knew what modes and tonic feel like in practice, you wouldn't ask such a question about scales. Mode = set of pitches + tonic. The change in tonic is very important, and it has to be felt. In my answer to another mode-related question there are some audible examples of what happens when you move the tonic but keep the same set of notes. music.stackexchange.com/a/87952/51766 Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 8:33

3 Answers 3


The minor part of any scale is simply the interval between the root and the 3rd note. That will be apparent in the Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian of each parent key. Thus the notes featuring in A Dorian will have that A>C m3. But, because A Dorian has a parent key of G major, there's F#.

E natural minor comes from the same parent, G major, so will have exactly the same notes, too.

Take any mode back to the parent key/scale, and that will tell which notes are involved.

EDIT: you're a little confused with the concept of scales. They're not the same as keys. A scale is simply an ordered set of notes - we like to organise stuff - so the set A B C D E F♯ G can be called many different names, depending mainly on which note we decide is root. It we decide that will be G, then the set of notes is G A B C D E F♯ G, and gets called G major. Of we decide it's going to be A B C D E F♯ G A, then it's called A Dorian (or, the Dorian of G), and, with your example - E F♯ G A B C D E, it gets called E Aeoilian, or E natural minor. Each one will have a different name, as each is a different scale, with a different root, or home chord.

  • now it is more clear for me. i should study more on this thing, but you showed me the way. it is easier now. thank you , and thank you all
    – dana
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 14:11
  • Great explanation Tim ! Thanks for everything you've done for this site, and congrats on 100k!
    – user45266
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 15:57

No. Not the same.

It is the same set of pitches, but the tonic , the starting note, is different.

That isn't a small detail, it's vitally important.

For an analogy think of the words of a sentence. "The dog bit a man." "The man bit a dog." Same set of words, but rearranging the words changes the meaning. Even more important the grammatical roles change. The subject "dog" becomes in the second case the object "dog" and the subject changes to "man".

Think of the scale tonic sort of like the subject in those example sentences. In musical 'grammar' the tonic has significant meaning.


Adding a bit more about how the tonic is defined. I will quote a definition from my Siegmeister Harmony textbook:

A key is a familiy of tones closely related to each other, but most closely related to the fundamental tone, or tonic. As the first and basic tone, the tonic forms a center of gravity from which the musical action springs and to which it ultimately returns. Even in the complex relationships of twentieth-century music, the tonic is often referred to as the tonal center.

In a practical sense the tonic is defined by conventional melodic and harmonic patterns in cadences. Another convention is to start and end music on the tonic.

Merely putting notes into the order of a scale does not define a tonic. Using the example of E natural minor and A Dorian as scales we could have a setting like this...

enter image description here

...the tonic here is most clearly defined in the bass with the D# leading tone and B7 chord forming the critical cadential harmony. The scale A5 to A4 does not shift the music in A Dorian simply because all the notes are lined up into that scale. The music is in E minor.

The two scales could be put into another setting with different rhythm and harmony such that a different tonic would be defined.

So, again, a mere set of tones, or a mere line of tones, does not define a tonic. The context, the musical grammar defines the tonic.

  • There could be something like a melodic sequence with the two given lines without a key change. But that was not how the question was worded.The question assumes the tonic changes. There doesn't seem to be a need to explain how the tonic changed. The point is to not mistake a mere list of tones for a key. Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 21:46
  • now i am a little confuse again. so if changing the order of the notes does not affect the scale, then how could you tell which scale a music is written on?
    – dana
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 0:12
  • @dana I added an edit Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 0:56

No, they have the same key of G but they are different scales as all church scales are different.

You could also ask:

  • C ionian
  • d dorian
  • e phrygian
  • F lydian
  • etc.

are they the same as they have the same notes?

The point is that they have a different root tone and a different fifth.

The best thing is you write all scales your self in the scheme of a scale or a ladder with the degrees and the referring distances (whole step or half step), and then notate them in all keys in a staff system.

This will provide you more clearness than reading lots of papers and ariticles about this stuff.

you might also look up the characteristics of the modes here in music SE

similar question with same confusion!

and study this site:


  • 1
    thank you both for your answers. so you mean that even if they have same notes, if i change the starting note (and also the first chord) , i will have a different scale. right?
    – dana
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 18:16
  • Yes! And sorry: I have mixed up the mixolydian scale the other day. This wann‘t because of the names: I didn‘t see that the phrygian mode had dropped out when numbered rhe modes. Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 6:34

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