Song 2

  1. The Dorian Mode
  2. The Pendulum
  3. Phrasing - Large Intervals
  4. Practice - Dorian Mode
  5. Session Materials

    Winkler's Lament


Song | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | ?? |

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S 2.1 - The Dorian Mode

The modes originate from the ancient Greek culture some 200 years ago.
At that time the musical system consisted of only seven notes (A B C D E F and G) which now represent the white keys on the modern day piano.

Different tonalities were created by selecting a different note as the focal point ('tonic note') for a song. With seven notes obviously seven different tones could be selected as tonic note. This created seven different scales called 'modes'.
Each mode has a unique sound because the two semitone intervals (between E and F, and between B and C) are at different points in each mode.

In Jazz the seven modes are transposed to all 12 keys and used for improvisation over individual chords.

The tonic note selected for the Dorian mode is the second note of any major scale.

the A Dorian mode for example is the G major scale starting on A

the D Dorian mode is the C major scale starting on D

the C Dorian mode is the Bb major scale starting on C, etc.

Audio 2.1 first plays the Bb major scale and then the C Dorian mode.

Audio 2.2 first plays the C major scale, and then the C Dorian mode. This second example especially shows clearly the difference between the major scale and the mode.

Audio 2.1 - Audio 2.2

The Dorian mode is used for improvisation over most minor chords in Jazz songs.
In most cases a minor chord functions as a IIm7 chord belonging to the major scale one tone lower. Especially if the minor chord is followed by the dominant 7th chord next to it on the Circle of 5ths (anti-clockwise). This forms the frequently used chord segment IIm7 - V7, for example Cm7 - F7, or Dm7 - G7, or Bm7 - E7, etc.

The Dorian mode is usually also appropriate on isolated minor chords, and of course in modal songs like The Pendulum.

Audio 2.3

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S 2.2 - The Pendulum

The Pendulum is a Jazz waltz in the C Dorian mode.
The key signature with 2 flats is deliberately used to emphasise this fact. (The normal key signature for C minor has 3 flats). The Bb major chord appears in the song, but clearly in the role of a "servant" to its "master", the C minor chord.


The chord progression in this song has no clear forward direction. It floats away from C minor, then comes back to it, like the tides of the ocean or the swing of a pendulum. This is typical of most modal music, its focus is on the sound of the mode itself.

In modern modal Jazz music clearly defined chord qualities are often entirely avoided and replaced by ambiguous 4th chord voicings.
Over C Dorian mode try these voicings : C F Bb - D G C - Eb A D - C Bb Eb - G C F

There are four different chords used in The Pendulum. They all consist of notes that belong to the mode. Their main function in this song is to spell out the tonality of the mode. In addition the two major chords, Bb and F, provide some rays of hope in an otherwise minor mood.

Audio 2.4

Follow the standard schedule for improvisation practice for this song Audio 2.5 :

  1. play first chord root tones, this time in dotted minims (3-beat notes), then using a rhythm pattern

  2. play chord tones in crotchets, then using a rhythm pattern

  3. play the C Dorian mode in quavers. Start each time on the root of the chord. You can only fit in 6 scale-tones this way, but by starting on the different chord root tones will cover the whole mode.

Write out your own rhythm patterns on the blank sheet provided. You can extract several patterns from The Pendulum's melody.

I have selected the title "The Pendulum" for general consumption. For discerning musicians I have given it the subtitle Winkler's Lament.

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S 2.3 - Phrasing : Large Intervals

An improvisation consists (in terms of note pitches) of four types of elements.

  1. Scale segments, (including small skips and reversals)

  2. arpeggios, broken chord segments

  3. large intervals, of a 4th and larger

  4. non scale-tones, such as chromatic passing tones

For good improvisation you should become aware of these elements and learn to manipulate and combine them into an interesting solo.

Audio 2.6

I recommend you focus in this session your attention on combining scale segments with large intervals.

Some of the notes in a scale or mode are also chord tones. In general these are good choices for emphasis or long notes. If you feel that a particular scale-tone does not sound 'right' it is probably a non chordal scale-tone. Simply move to the next note up or down and you will hit a chord tone.
In a modal song like The Pendulum the scale-tones remain the same throughout the piece, but the chord tones change from chord to chord.

Start your scale segment on different notes, not the tonic note (C) each time.

Large intervals
The Pendulum melody contains several large intervals in the last 8 bars. They are good examples to follow. The sudden large interval amongst smooth scale-tone lines creates musical surprise and interest.

Do not be afraid to make mistakes while experimenting. The more you work on all aspects of phrasing discussed in this Course the better you improvisation ultimately will become.

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S 2.4 - Practice : Dorian Mode

You can transform a major scale into a Dorian mode with the same tonic note in two different ways.

  1. Add 2 flats or subtract 2 sharp to the major scale key signature.
    D major scale (2 sharps) -----> D Dorian mode (no sharps)
    F major scale (1 flat) -----> F Dorian mode (3 flats)
    G major scale (1 sharp) -----> G Dorian mode (1 flat)

  2. Lower the 3rd and 7th note of the major scale each one semitone.
    D major scale (3=F#, 7=C#) -----> D Dorian mode (b3=F, b7=C)
    F major scale (3=A, 7=E) -----> F Dorian mode (b3=Ab, b7=Eb)
    G major scale (3=B, 7=F#) -----> G Dorian mode (b3=Bb, b7=F)

Below examples show the first type of conversion.

Audio 2.7

On the Mode Practice sheet music pages the 3rd and 7th are indicated by pink square note heads. Just lower both notes a semitone to produce the Dorian mode in each key.

Practise the Dorian mode in all keys in Circle of 5ths order as shown in Examples No.1 and No.2 above.

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S 2.5 - Session Materials

ItemMidi filesSheet music
The PendulumDemo P-a-L C instr.Bb instr.Eb instr.
Easy Key for C instr. (Dm)E-PalBb instr.
Dorian mode (Co5s order) 4 bars each8 bar eachp.1p.2
Rhythm Patterns (Waltz tempo) Blank sheets

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© 2003 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)