Is A Dorian a G major scale? I’m not a theory guy at all, just looking for some help.

  • Just to add the answers below, I always used to think of modes as different ways to play a scale. So A Dorian would be a different way to play the G major scale (by starting at A), but it's not the G major scale. Mar 26, 2020 at 6:55
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    You may think about changing the title from "what about it" to "So What".
    – user50691
    Mar 26, 2020 at 14:19
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    @ggcg then he'd have to change "A Dorian" to "D Dorian" as well Mar 26, 2020 at 15:13
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    Not really. You can play it in a and I interpret the "A" as an indefinite article.
    – user50691
    Mar 26, 2020 at 15:37
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    Does this answer your question? Is F Lydian mode in the "key" of C Major?
    – Bladewood
    Mar 26, 2020 at 17:15

7 Answers 7


You may be aware of the interval formula for building the major scale,

(w - w - h) - w - (w - w - h)

where w = whole step and h = half step. There are 8 notes, one repeated, and 7 intervals or spaces between notes. I put parenthesis around a common, and repeated, pattern called a tetrachord.

Dorian is built in the following manner,

(w - h - w) - w - (w - h - w)

Here, as with the major scale, or Ionian mode as it is sometimes called, there is a similar construction involving a repeated pattern separated by a whole step.

The Dorian mode stands alone and historically has three or four constructions, some involving intervals smaller than a half step. This evolved over time and with the invention of equal tempered tuning we have the merging of several ancient scales into the diatonic modes. On a piano, or other equal tempered instrument (or playing equal temperament on any instrument) one have 7 modes that can all be built from the major scale by starting on a different note and play up to the octave of the starting note.

Starting on 1 we get the Ionian mode

Starting on 2 we get the Dorian mode

Starting on 3 we get the Phrygian mode

Starting on 4 we get the Lydian mode

Starting on 5 we get the Mixolydian mode

Starting on 6 we get the Aeolian mode

Starting on 7 we get the Locrian mode

While it is true that all these modes are in the same key musical ideas expressed in each have unique characteristics. For example try playing the opening line to Joy to the World (a descending Ionian scale) in each and see what you think.

You can find info on the different manifestations of the Dorian mode online, on Wikipedia for example. When modern musicians refer to mode they are almost certianly referring to the diatonic modes.

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    I recently wrote a scale study covering all modes. What I learned: the Locrian sounds really really weird! Mar 26, 2020 at 13:50

Is A Dorian a G major scale


Both have the same key signature of one sharp.

But they have different tonics. The tonic is the "home" tone of the mode/key.

If you just noodle around either of the two, they might seem interchangeable. If you play with some harmonic sensibility, you will hear the seemingly exact same tones between the two scales don't have the same harmonic roles.

An A in A Dorian does not work the same way as an A in G major. The former is a point of resolution - the tonic, the latter is not - the supertonic. It's the exact same pitch, but not the exact same scale degree within the respective scales.

You can think of the two like homophones in English: rite versus write.

Stravinsky wrote the Rites of Spring not the Writes of Spring.


A Dorian is one of the 7 scale modes built from the G major scale. It starts and ends on an A so it has all the same notes in it as a G scale. Playing a G scale starting on a B, C, D, etc. will give you 7 different modes (scales) all built from the same 7 notes and each one is unique. It's best not to think of it as a G scale because it has a different tonal center (A) and is a minor scale. Feel free to reach out if you'd like to know more.

  • If you need to know what notes are in it, it's the same notes as the G major scale, and you can also think of it as A minor with a sharpened 6th degree.
    – awe lotta
    Mar 26, 2020 at 4:14

A-dorian is the Re-Re ladder of the related G-Ionian mode (G-Ionian => "G-major")

As D-dorian is the Re-ladder (related to C-Ionian: C=Do, D=Re and Re is the root tone) A-Dorian is the Re-ladder in G from A-A (Do=G, Ti=F#). So this means A is the root tone of A- "minor" ladder (scale) with an augmented sixth. The melody begins with A and the finalis will be A. Another feature in Gregorian Chant is the repercussion tone ("tenor" = kind of "dominant tone"): The tenor tone of the modes containing a perfect 5th is usually the 5th:

Two characteristic notes or pitches in a modal melody are the final and cofinal (tenor, dominant, or reciting tone). These are the primary degrees (often l, 5) on which the melody is conceived and on which it most often comes to rest, in graduated stages of finality (Berry 1987,[page needed]). The final is the pitch in which the chant usually ends; it may be approximately regarded as analogous (but not identical) to the tonic in the Western classical tradition.

I've never heard or read this, but actually ...

we can say: like relative keys and relative scales are related as because of the same pool of tones as C-major and a-minor (with other words Ionian and Aeolian of C) all modes with the same signatur of sharps or flats are similarly related too.


(With other words: like we have a movable Do - in German we call it the relative Do-Ladder - we can construct a relative scale of all other degrees, their names are related and referring to the absolute pitch and the root tone referring to the movable Do.)


The scale of the A Dorian mode contains all the same notes as the G major scale, and the set of notes can be found by starting on the second note of the G major scale. But that fact doesn't tell you anything about what A Dorian sounds like. The A Dorian modal feeling has almost nothing in common with G major.

A Dorian is a minor mode, G major is not. A Dorian's "home chord" is a minor chord, A minor, and almost all of the chord degrees are different as well.

You can construct different Modes of the world by starting from a commonly used Straightuppian Mode where the "forward" axis from your nose points horizontally along the Earth's surface, and your left-right axis is also along the Earth's surface, but perpendicular to the forward axis, and your feet-to-head axis points away from the center of gravity of the Earth. Most activities are performed in the Straightuppian Mode. You can obtain the Upsidedownian Mode by rotating your body 180 degrees about the forward axis starting from the Straightuppian Mode. And you can obtain the Sidewaysian Mode by rotating your body 90 degrees about the forward axis. And incredibly, you can obtain the Sleepian Mode by rotating your body 90 degrees about the left-right axis... but depending on the direction of rotation, you can end up in either the Onyourfacian-Sleepian or Onyourbackian-Sleepian Mode. So do you now know all the Modes? Or should you spend some time trying to do things in each mode, so you know the dynamics? For example, it's not recommended to eat or go to the toilet in the Upsidedownian Mode ... it's not an absolute rule, but things can be a bit awkward in that mode.

In other words, the often-heard theoretical definitions of modes, starting from different notes of the major scale, don't really tell you anything about what the world is like in that mode. Dorian just means that things work like in regular minor, but the fourth degree chord is a major instead of minor. Usually you have Am and Dm and Am is home. In A Dorian, Am is still home, but you have D major, not minor. And you can't have an F chord or note in A Dorian, you have an F# note. You can do many of the same things you do in A minor, but not quite. What happens in A Dorian, has very little to do with what happens in G major.

  • Mr. Persnicketty claims those are States of body position, not Modes :-) . Mar 26, 2020 at 13:51
  • "...A Dorian ...can be found by starting on the second note of the G major scale..." this common description seems to be the source of so much confusion about modes. What is the problem with simply saying A Dorian is a Dorian scale starting on A. Just say what it is. Mar 26, 2020 at 15:27
  • +1 for pointing out the most immediate difference: one is minor the other major. Mar 26, 2020 at 15:29
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    @MichaelCurtis I was trying to say that even though the usual way to derive the scales cannot be said to be untrue, it doesn't tell anything about what modes really are like. It's like referring to a lying down position by deriving it as a modification to some other position with a specific rotation about an axis. The idea of talking about modes as primarily a scale is missing the whole point completely. Modes are about harmony around a tonic, not about an ordered sequence of pitches, even though a scale can also be seen if you look at a mode without understanding what to do with it. Mar 26, 2020 at 17:39

Strictly speaking, A Dorian is not a G major scale. It's not a major scale, and it's not G based.

True, it uses each and every note found in the G major scale, so we call G major its parent scale/key.

But it's actually a minor scale, having its third note (C) a m3 from the root, which is note A.

Dorian is the second mode of major scales, and uses exactly the same notes, but runs from the scale's second note, making that the root, or home. It's a very old mode, in fact the orginal, and can be considered also as the A natural minor scale with a sharpened 6th note.


"Is A Dorian a G major scale?"

Structurally, yes. It has the same notes in it as G major.

Musically, it has its own identity. The tonic (if we can use terms from functional harmony when takling about modal music) is A. The G note is a minor 7th.

"I’m not a theory guy at all just looking for some help"

Help in doing what?

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    "Help in doing what?" -> I'm guessing understanding the difference between A Dorian and G Major scale Mar 26, 2020 at 11:48
  • He's just a Theory Guy, from a Theory Family, he needs no Harmony, Easy Mode, Easy Scale,.... any way the accidentals go.... Mar 26, 2020 at 13:52

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