More Dorian scale ideas for bass players

Bass Advice

As the title suggests, we’re going to continue on from our foray into Mixolydian last month and check out Dorian, the second mode from the Major Scale. Using C Major as our starting point, Dorian starts on the second note (D) and runs through until D an octave higher, keeping the key signature from C Major (in this case no sharps or flats). That gives us Figure A, which is D Dorian. Play through the mode and get your ear used to its sound. What do you hear? It kind of sounds Minor? But it’s from a Major scale? Yep and yep. The 3rd of a scale or chord tells us if something sounds major or minor, and with an F natural as the 3rd (a minor 3rd up from D) it definitely has a minor sound. But it’s not D natural minor (which would have a Bb). This is because it’s the Dorian mode which comes from C Major; it’s not D Natural minor that is related to F Major although it has a Minor sound. So the difference is the B note (the raised 6th in the case of the Dorian) and it gives the mode a funky flavour that has consequently been used (and is still used) in everything from funk to rock to jazz to blues and so on.

Figure B could be played as a slow straight funk groove (try 70 – 80bpm). Notice the B natural in the second bar? It seems to take away some of the darker minor sound (of Bb, from D Natural Minor) and adds a funky edge.  

Figure C reiterates the sound of the B natural. Starting on C (the dominant 7th of D) the line descends to the minor 3rd and root note in Bar 1. Bar 2 then takes the same opening phrase and descends down to low G and F. Again, this could work as a slow to mid tempo straight funk groove utilising the B natural for some flavour.

Similar to last month’s look at Mixolydian, it’s obviously useful to know these scales and modes all over the neck which allows us to move around the fretboard at will and come up with cool sounds, chords and lines from that particular scale or mode. There are lots of great options in Dorian, but let’s start with a few pairs of notes (Figure D).

Try taking any of these two note chords and incorporating them into a line or comping behind a funky D Dorian bass line. Maybe play a bar of groove and then fill with one or more of these voicings in the next bar. Then repeat/loop until you’ve got your hands on some cool ideas. You’d be amazed at how many possibilities there are and how quickly you can incorporate some of these ideas. The rhythm doesn’t have to be complex and you don’t need to know a million voicings; just pick a couple and gradually build your knowledge of D Dorian on the fretboard. I’m sure you can then see how many other possibilities there are when you move this to other keys, strings and areas of the fretboard. All good fun and great for building your vocabulary on the bass.