Finding The Right Song, To Practice With The Right Scale

A student recently asked me this question: “How do I find the right scale to fit a certain song? Or if I want to work on a certain scale, how do I know what song would fit that scale?

For example, if I wanted to practice the A Dorian mode, what song would that fit with?”

The Quick Answer

The quick answer: Find out the key of the song. Any song that’s in the Key of G, you can play A Dorian over it.

Here are some examples of songs in the key of G:

Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton
Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
Knockin On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Redemption Song - Bob Marley

So you can play the “A Dorian” shape over any of these songs. You can also google "songs in the key of G" to find more of them.

Longer Answer

Here’s where it gets a little bit trickier to understand: if you play the A Dorian over a song in the key of G like one listed above, it won’t SOUND like the Dorian mode unless the song is in the key of A Dorian, which involves understanding a bit more about keys and modes.

An easy way to practice A Dorian over something in the key of A Dorian is to search on YouTube for an A Dorian backing track such as this one:

So what is a “mode”, and how is it different from a scale? Modes have funny Greek names like Dorian and Phyrgian. There are 7 modes for every major scale. The scale is like a parent that has 7 children. Each child is similar, they are all from the same family, but they have differences too. Likewise, each of the 7 modes fits together in the same key, like a family, but they each have a different sound.

Think of how the word "mode" sounds like the word "mood". Each mode has a different mood. Happier, sadder, brighter, darker... you can get lots of different moods from the same scale by playing the different modes. 

How do you get different modes from a scale?

Simple, you just start on a different note. 

Take the C major scale: C D E F G A B C

Start on the 2nd note, you get the Dorian Mode: D E F G A B C D

This is called D Dorian.

Or in the key of G, you have the G Major scale: G A B C D E F# G

Start on the 2nd note, you get the A Dorian Mode: A B C D E F# G.

The notes are exactly the same as the G Major Scale! But they are in a different order, and this gives them a different sound.

The 7 Modes

The 7 modes in the key of C are:


C Ionian

• D Dorian

• E Phyrgian

• F Lydian

• G Mixolydian

• A Aeolian

• B Locrian

You can make your guitar soloing a lot more interesting by learning how to properly use the modes, and knowing how to use on which modes on which songs.

If you are looking for great guitar lessons in Dublin, that will get you improvising with the modes, check out our website today.

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