The Easiest Method To Use Dorian And Mixolydian In Your Blues Guitar Solos

Modal Blues Guitar Playing 101

By Antony Reynaert

Tired of being restricted by the pentatonic scale all the time? As the pentatonic scale will leave you with a rudimentary sound, you won’t be able to stand out when playing blues lead guitar.

Although you might have heard of modes to spice up your blues guitar playing, the theory behind it can easily sound really confusing. In this article I will present you the absolute most easy approach to add modal sounds (using ‘the dorian mode’ and ‘the mixolydian mode’) to your blues guitar solos. This way you will be able to create more interesting sounds in your guitar playing immediately.

What Are Modes?

For many aspiring guitar students, modes can be a tough learning terrain. In fact, a lot of these guitar students enter this terrain of modal playing with the wrong understanding of what modes actually are. A good start is half the battle so I’ll give you a simple, maybe slightly incorrect (*), but really useful answer right now: A mode is just a scale. And just like a scale has a certain feel attached to itself, so does a mode. Going about modes this way will set you in the right direction to master modal blues guitar playing once and for all.

(*) Theoretically speaking this answer isn't 100% correct, but from the point of view of learning the modes from the very beginning it is better for now that you think of a mode as just a scale. A lot of confusion enters the mind of many who attempt to learn the modes when they start from a music theory approach, without being able to use the modes in their playing right away. As you will see, it is much more powerful to experience the different sounds you can make with a modal approach, then it is when you focus too much on mastering every little bit of the music theory behind it. 

The Best Method On How To Add (A Touch Of The) DORIAN Mode In Your Blues Guitar Solos

You might not expect it, but transitioning from your minor pentatonic scale to a mode such as dorian is actually insanely easy.

You only need to add one simple note to your standard minor pentatonic scale box position and you immediately create a dorian flavour to your entire blues lead guitar playing:

The create a clear dorian sound on the other hand it is also important that you use this characteristic note over the right chord. Incorporate the extra note in your blues licks over the I chord and it will lead you to cool dorian sounds.

It is on the other hand also possible to use this added note over the IV chord, but it won’t leave you with a dorian sound as the added note is in this case just a chord tone from the IV chord.

The Best Method On How To Add (A Touch Of The) The MIXOLYDIAN Mode In Your Blues Guitar Solos

It is important to know that the minor pentatonic scale isn’t always the best option to use over dominant seventh chords. For example, when playing the A minor pentatonic over an A7 chord, the C note from the scale can clash quite a bit with the C# note from the chord.

A possible solution for this is to simply incorporate the parallel major pentatonic scale in your lead parts. I’ll explain how to do this in this article: ‘How To Use Major Pentatonic In Blues Solos’.

Now, by adding only one simple note to your standard box position of the major pentatonic scale, you can immediately create a mixolydian flavour in your blues lead guitar playing:

Just like you did with the characteristic note from dorian over the I chord in a standard 12 bar blues, it is important that you use the characteristic mixolydian note also over the I chord. So to create a mixolydian sound you incorporate the added mixolydian note in your blues solos over the I chord.

How To Solo Over Your Blues Chords

These tricks on how to add a dorian and mixolydian flavour to your blues guitar playing is a great start to really develop your blues lead guitar playing. But did you know that professional guitarists use a different scale over each chord they are playing over? When done right, this results in a very melodic soloing approach. You can learn these secret soloing techniques of great blues guitarists in my free downloadable guide ‘How To Solo Over Blues Chords’.


Feel like your blues guitar skills aren't progressing? Stuck with the same old patterns and don’t know how to break out of it? Free your guitar playing with my Essential Blues Lesson For Soloing.