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Songs in the Dorian Mode

Updated: May 5, 2021

Man playing guitar

Recently I wrote in this blog a short guitar lesson on how to play the Dorian mode. Since then I've been asked for more examples of songs that use Dorian.

Let's break these songs down into three different categories. First is the most common group of songs that use what I call the "Dorian Vamp:" Im to IV major.

The example I tend to give my students in guitar lessons here in Vancouver, is Santana's "Oye Como Va." The chord vamp goes Am7 to D9. The first chord is an extension of Am (the I chord in Dorian), and the second is an extension of D (the V chord in Dorian).

Dorian Vamp Im to IV

  • Oye Como Va - Santana - Am7 to D9

  • Evil Ways - Santana - Gm to C

  • Breathe - Pink Floyd - Em to A

  • Great Gig in the Sky - Gm7 to C9

  • Another Brick in the Wall - Dm to G

  • Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd - Em to A

  • I Wish - Stevie Wonder - Ebm7 to Ab7

  • Good Times - Chic - Em7 to A7

  • Use Me - Bill Withers - Em7 to A7

  • Chameleon - Herbie Hancock Bbm7 to Eb7

  • Lucky - Radiohead - Em to A

  • Apache - The Shadows Am to D

  • No Quarter - Led Zeppelin C#m7 to F#7

  • Reptilia - The Strokes - Bm to E

  • Pick Up the Pieces - Average White Band - Fm7 to Bb7

One of the things that makes this sound so cool is that the IV chord in Dorian includes that special note that's inherent to Dorian: The raised 6th. The Natural Minor scale doesn't have this note. If "Oye Como Va" was in Natural Minor, the chords would have been Am7 to Dm.

Dorian Vamp Im to IIm

Another common chord move in Dorian is the Im to IIm vamp. This also sounds great because the II minor includes that special note, the raised 6th. In this case, that note is the 5th of the IIm chord. Without that note, it wouldn't sound Dorian. Here are some examples of songs that include this type of vamp:

Moondance - Van Morrison - Am7 Bm7

Light My Fire - The Doors - Am7 Bm7

Other Dorian Songs

Of course there are many ways we can use the Dorian sound. Some songs will only use it for one section of a song, perhaps a vamp and solo at the end. It not necessary for an entire song to be in Dorian. All the above songs use just two-chord vamps of Dorian, but of course we can use any combination of the chords of the Dorian mode. Here are some more examples of songs that use Dorian.

  • Riders on the Storm - The Doors

  • Mad World - Tears for Fears

  • Wicked Game - Chris Isaak

  • Woodstock - Joni Mitchell

  • Scarborough Fair - Traditional folk song

  • Drive - REM

  • So What - Miles Davis

If you want to learn more about Dorian and guitar, and you live in the Vancouver area, give me a ring and we can set up some guitar lessons together.

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