guitarists playing blues in the dorian mode

The Dorian mode in the Blues

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

A lot of people — myself included — can feel stuck just playing the minor pentatonic scale over the blues. How can you play off the chord or add some other notes to really make things sound like a solid blues progression and not a bunch of noodling?

Blues and the pentatonic scale

The first step to jamming over a standard blues progression is to use the pentatonic scale of whatever key you’re in. If it’s an A blues, you might use the A minor pentatonic, and maybe even mix the A minor pentatonic with the A major pentatonic. And of course, you’ll bend some of those notes to make them new notes or to target specific notes.

But the next step to playing the blues is to target specific notes depending on what guitar chords you’re soloing over in the progression. You want to start thinking about licks that sound good specifically over the I, the IV, and the V chord.

By diving into that pursuit, you quickly find out that there are tones outside of the pentatonic scale that can really sound powerful depending on what chord you’re playing. You can always use a guitar chord chart to help you.

Adding to the minor pentatonic scale

One way to take a giant leap here is to use the minor pentatonic scale — which is comprised of a tonic, a minor third, a perfect fourth, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh — and add two new notes/intervals to it: a major second and a major sixth.

Now you’re getting two great chord tones for your IV and V chord: the major third of the IV, and the fifth of the V, and two color tones for your I chord: a ninth and a sixth.

Now, play through an A blues progression, and when you’re on the I chord, feel free to play all the available notes here, but really dig the sound of scale degree two on the 7th fret of the high E string. In this case, that’s the note B. Start by just experimenting with that one extra note over the I chord (A7).

Add a major third

Now, over the IV chord (D7), try playing scale degree six, which, relative to D7 is the MAJOR THIRD. In this case, that’s the note F#. This is a really powerful note that is part of the D7 chord, but not in the A minor pentatonic.

And now on the V chord (E7), try to hit scale degree 2 again, which is the fifth of the chord E7, which in this case is the note B.

Now even though these notes will have a particular strength over each chord, remember, there are no rules, and you can try playing these two new notes over all the chords in different ways and get to know the sound! In general, this scale works well over the entire progression.

Video lesson using the Dorian mode

Watch this video lesson where I teach you a few specific riffs to play using the A Dorian Mode over an A blues!

Gary Heimbauer is a writer and instructor at Guitar Tricks, the original online guitar lessons program since 1998. With over four million members, Guitar Tricks is the premier guitar lessons platform for beginner guitarists and advanced players alike.

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