Learn to Play the Dorian minor blues form

        The Dorian minor blues offers up a palette which some consider to be richer and more emotionally expressive than the major blues.  Below is a simple step-by-step method for mastering this fun to play genre.

        What makes the minor blues so full of melodic & harmonic possibilities?  Well, to start with, the minor scale is really 4 scales (all of which are characterized by a lowered third degree):

  • The Aeolian mode (or natural minor) with its lowered 6th & lowered 7th degrees
  • The harmonic minor with its lowered 6th & raised 7th degrees
  • The melodic minor with its raised 6th & raised 7th degrees
  • The Dorian with its raised 6th & lowered 7th degrees

        These variations can be combined in infinite ways by adding in the flat 5, various leading tones, chromatic passing tones, etc.

        Here is how to do it:

1.  Play a concert Bb scale up and down, adding the ninth on top as shown in table 1. below.  Pick the column indicated for your instrument.

  • Examples of C instruments are:
    flute, violin, trombone, piano, vibes, guitar, bass
  • Examples of Bb instruments are:
    clarinet, trumpet, soprano & tenor saxes
  • Examples of Eb instruments are:
    alto & baritone saxes

Table 1.

INST.

 

Eb

Bb

 

C

 

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

DO

D

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

TI

C#

F#

B

E

A

D

LA

B

E

A

D

G

C

SO

A

D

G

C

F

Bb

FA

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

MI

F#

B

E

A

D

G

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

DO

D

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

 

2.  Delete “DO” (the bottom note) as shown in Table 2 below.  This does not change the key.  The key can be discerned by looking at the high DO (the 7th note in the mode).

Table 2.

INST.

 

Eb

Bb

 

C

 

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

DO

D

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

TI

C#

F#

B

E

A

D

LA

B

E

A

D

G

C

SO

A

D

G

C

F

Bb

FA

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

MI

F#

B

E

A

D

G

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

 

3.  Delete the 2nd & 6th notes (MI & TI) as shown in Table 3.

Table 3.

INST.

 

Eb

Bb

 

C

 

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

DO

D

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

LA

B

E

A

D

G

C

SO

A

D

G

C

F

Bb

FA

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

 

4.  Add a note in between SO and LA, as shown in table 4.  This note can either be called “SI” (pronounced “SEE”) if you are ascending (sharp SO) or “LE” (pronounced “LAY”) if you are descending (flat LA).

Table 4.

INST.

 

Eb

Bb

 

C

 

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

DO

D

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

LA

B

E

A

D

G

C

SI / LE

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

F#

B

SO

A

D

G

C

F

Bb

FA

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

RE

E

A

D

G

C

F

        You have now derived the standard blues scale.  Play this scale up & down several times, until you can perform it smoothly & effortlessly.

NOTE TO THEORY STUDENTS:  As you can see from table 4, this mode begins on the syllable RE, which means the blues scale is relative to the major key 1 whole step lower (e.g. E blues relates to D major).

FOR ADVANCED THEORY STUDENTS:  Strictly speaking, since there is no 6th degree, we can not be absolutely sure whether this mode is built on the Dorian (RE) or Aeolian (LA).  Tradition favors the raised 6th of the Dorian, since it gives a brighter sheen.  However, both 6th degrees are employed, depending on the context.   For example, listen to Miles Davis play “Autumn Leaves” or “Round Midnight.”

 

In order to use table 4. to play a blues, you need to familiarize yourself with the common 12-bar blues form, found in table 5.

Table 5.

Cm7//// Cm7//// Cm7//// Cm7////
Fm7//// Fm7//// Cm7//// Cm7////
Gm7//// Gm7//// Cm7//// Cm7////

Note that there are countless variations on this simple 12-bar Dorian minor blues.  Table 5 gives you a starting point from which you can deviate, once you are familiar with the basic form.  If you have Band in a Box, type the information from Table 5 into Band in a Box and give it the name “Dorian minor blues.”  If you do not have Band in a Box (you should), download the FREE program Audacity which will allow you to record the background track and then play along with it.

        Now you can play the scales found in table 4 over the form shown in table 5.  Measures 5 & 6 (Fm7) use the scale to the right of your starting column.  Measures 9 & 10 (Gm7) use the scale to the left of your starting column.

        Pick the groove, style, & tempo of your choice.  Play through the form using your 3 scales until you are comfortable with both the scales and the form.  Try various styles, grooves, & tempi.

        Now you are able to alter the scales by:

  • Starting on a different note
  • Changing direction
  • Changing rhythms
  • Forming arpeggios
  • Use leading tones (the note ½ step below any of the notes in the scale
  • Filling in the gaps with passing notes & neighbor tones
  • Expand your range by adding the octave above & below
  • Add in the notes we took out (see Table 1.)
  • Experiment with adding other tones.  Some will work, some won’t.  Let your ear be the judge.  Some non-harmonic tones will only work on weak beats.

        By the time you have tried these alterations, you have become an improviser!  Have fun, use your imagination, and you will soon discover that the possibilities are infinite.  If you are still having trouble understanding this, email me at craig@craigbuhler.com .

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