I practice modes on my guitar nowadays, but when I try to solo freely (without a backing track) in a mode (D dorian in key of C major), I usually don't find it as a "modal music", I only hear its parent scale. (C major)

How should I approach playing in modes to sound like what it should be? I try to emphasize the "new" root note, but it doesn't fit right.

Maybe an aiding chord progression like this could help, right?

Dm (I) G(IV) Am(V).

Playing modally is possible without aiding chords? I'm a bit confused and I didn't find any helping answer on the internet (including this site).

  • Have you tried the Aeolian mode? If you think you've soloed successfully on that mode, apply that to soloing on the other modes. (Note that the Aeolian mode is the same as the natural minor.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 0:23
  • Nope, thats the problem, I cannot emphasize enough to sound modal. Leading note usually a good way to lend on the root, but some mode doenst have it.
    – Gery
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 9:37
  • Hang on. D Dorian in the key C major may not be what you want. If the chord is Em the Dorian will be the notes of the D major scale. If the chord is Dm then the Dorian will be the notes of the C major scale.
    – PeterJ
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


Thinking of D Dorian as having the "same notes" as C major is true in absolute terms. But most people hear music relatively to the tonal centre of gravity of the piece. The notes D, E, F, G, A, B, C have completely different relationships to a D tonic than they do to a C tonic, so D Dorian shouldn't sound like C major at all.

One practical step to take might be to just have a good listen to a few songs and solos in the Dorian mode, and get an idea for how it sounds and feels completely different to major. What is a good solo to learn in the Dorian mode? has a few suggestions for solos, and there are lots of web pages with suggestions of Dorian songs. Oye Como Va (Santana), Wicked Game (Chris Isaac), and Scarborough Fair (trad./Simon & Garfunkel) are often mentioned. I'm not sure they all stick rigidly to Dorian - doing that analysis yourself might be a good exercise.

With its minor/flattened third, playing in D Dorian should feel quite like playing in D minor. in fact you could think of the Dorian mode as being like the 'melodic' minor scale, but always with the 'ascending' 6th, and the 'descending' 7th. If you use all the wiggle room in the concept of minor tonality, maybe you don't 'need' Dorian at all!

… Or it may just be that thinking of Dorian is fine, but the idea of it coming from a major 'parent scale' isn't helping you. Perhaps it would be better just to think of Dorian as a scale pattern in its own right? Personally, I don't think of the modes as coming from a major parent scale - I think of the diatonic scale (i.e. the note pattern, without any particular root) as the "parent" concept, and then of major/minor tonality and modal tonality as both being concepts derived from that.

  • So if I solo then I have to use certain notes to emphasize the characteristic of the mode? If plan in C major then the way I play makes it modal?
    – Gery
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 9:36
  • 2
    @Gery If you want to sound like you're in D Dorian, you need to make D the 'centre of gravity' of your playing, and focus on the notes in D dorian - D, E, F, G, A, B, C. You might want to emphasise the the tonic (D), fourth (G), and fifth (A) to put the focus on D as the tonic; and the third, to give it the 'sad' quality (F). So far, that will feel quite similar to playing in D minor - then if you want to emphasise that it's Dorian rather than minor, emphasise the sixth and seventh (A, B), as well. Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 10:13
  • When you're playing in D Dorian, you're not in C major. C major might be an easy tonality to move to from D Dorian, but unless you're planning such a move, you probably don't want to be thinking about C major at all. Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 10:14
  • @Gery sorry, there's a mistake in my last comment - last sentence should say "...emphasise the sixth and seventh (B, C), as well" Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 12:14

If you think of D Dorian as a version of C Major, you'll be stuck with what you are used to play in C Major, i.e. its tonal progressions and cadences.

Try thinking of a different flavour of D natural minor, so you'll play:

D E F G A B C D // (D Dorian)

Instead of:

D E F G A Bb C D // (D natural minor/aeolian)

Now you can solo over Dm / G7 (instead of Dm/Gm), emphasising that natural B note, and get the spacious and windy feeling of the dorian mode, as you can recognise it in the "it makes me wonder" part of Stairway to Heaven for instance.

I learnt that the fact that Dm and G7 are diatonic to C major as well, and that D dorian shares its same notes, isn't of much help after the first ah-ah moment.

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