December 1, 2013

Dorian Jigs, Laments and Shifting Moods

This post is part of a series on the modes.

You can hear a Dorian mode by playing the white keys from D to D. To play a Dorian scale starting on another note, use a minor scale with a raised 6th step. Ex; the key D minor has a B flat. Since B is the 6th step of the scale, we play B natural when starting on D.

Dorian is one of the modes that turns up in Celtic tunes fairly often. Morrison's Jig is fine example. It is a bright and shiny little tune that hurtles along and does a beautiful job of using its mode to add a bit of spice to the jig style. It is often played at Ren Faires but not everyone realizes it is a modal tune. Once, a guitarist who didn't know the tune was told to just play in E minor but, since she has a very good ear, she kept getting frustrated over the chords that didn't fit. When I told her to add a C sharp (C is the 6th step in an E minor scale), her face lit up as all the odd chords suddenly made sense.
Some of my favorite troubadour tunes use Dorian (well, not exactly but close enough for our ears). Comtessa de Dia's song "Chantar m'er" caught my ear the first time I heard it in a rather dull music history class. The raised 6th pops out and creates a longing sound in the middle of the tune that complements the falling melody. But when this song is taken at a faster tempo with some triplet rhythms added in, the raised 6th transforms into the brightest, cheeriest sound you could want.
This is the first verse only and one of the (slightly) simpler versions of the melody. The last note is sometimes shown as an E (when planning to play another verse) but D was likely the note played on the final verse.
Dorian can be a tragic sounding scale or one of the happiest. But my favorite way to use it is for sad songs with a hopeful twist hidden within them. Dorian is one of the easier modes to learn how to play since the note that is different (the 6th) is not a standard part of the final cadence progression. But that raised 6th adds a wonderful pull up to the tonic or a surprise uplifting sound to a line descending through the 5th once you get the hang of using it.

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