Discovering Dorian Mode

If you feel stuck just playing pentatonic scales and want to get into playing modes, Dorian mode is a great mode to discover. Modes are simply scales starting at a different note other than the “root” note (e.g. C for C major scale). Generally when people talk about modes they mean the “modes of the major scale” which are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. For more info and examples of the modes of the major scale check out this previous post.

Dorian is a minor mode which means that it works in a minor key. The exercises here will use the A Dorian mode which uses the notes of the G major scale starting on A (A B C D E F# G) and played in the key of A minor. Some songs that use the Dorian mode include:

  • Another Brick in The Wall Part 2 (Solo) – Pink Floyd
  • Get Lucky – Daft Punk
  • Light My Fire (solos) – The Doors
  • Oye Come Va – Santana
  • Riders On The Storm – The Doors
  • Surfing With The Alien – Joe Satriani
  • So What – Miles Davis

The main pattern used for A Dorian is easy to learn as its very similar to the main pattern used for the A minor pentatonic scale. I like to view it as the A minor pentatonic scale pattern with a couple of extra notes added.


Mp3 Track
A Dorian | Download
Listen to the audio of A Dorian.

santanaThe following A Dorian exercise will help you to learn to the main fretboard pattern that the mode uses and can also be used for ideas in guitar solos based on the mode. All of these exercises work well over an A minor (or Am7) and D major (or D7) chords which are the 2 chords used in Oye Come Va recorded by Carlos Santana. You can use the backing track to practice the exercises over and even to improvise solos using the Dorian mode or even the A minor pentatonic scale.

Mp3 Track
A Dorian Backing | Download
Listen to the audio of A Dorian Backing.

Skipping 3rds
The first exercise plays through the mode pattern skipping one note at a time which also happens to play scale steps in 3rds. A good example of this is the keyboard run down at the start of The Doors song Riders On The Storm.


Mp3 Track
A Dorian Skipping 3rds | Download
Listen to the audio of A Dorian Skipping 3rds.

Skipping 4ths
This exercise is similar to the skipping 3rds exercise except it skips in 4ths scale steps for a more angular sound. Here work on rolling the fingers where there are 2 notes on the same frets over two strings. For example roll finger 1 across the two 5th fret notes at the start of the exercise then finger 3 over the two 7th fret notes and so on.


Mp3 Track
A Dorian Skipping 4ths | Download
Listen to the audio of A Dorian Skipping 4ths.

3 Scale Steps
The next exercise is a bit different as it plays 3 scale steps in a row then up one note and another 3 scale steps.


Mp3 Track
A Dorian 3 Steps | Download
Listen to the audio of A Dorian 3 Steps.

4 Scale Steps
The final exercise is similar to the last except it plays 4 scale steps in a row.


Mp3 Track
A Dorian 4 Steps | Download
Listen to the audio of A Dorian 4 Steps.

You can also challenge yourself further by skipping 5ths of 6ths or 5 or 6 scale steps. One other variation of these exercises to vary the rhythms used try playing them in triplets (3 notes over 2 beats).

There are many ways you can play the Dorian mode so have fun discovering what you can do with it.

Legato Lead Guitar Techniques

How do guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai play super fast and smooth? The answer is that they’re using legato (smooth) techniques called Hammer-ons and Pull-offs. The exercises in this guitar lesson will help you develop your legato technique.


A hammer-on is where the 1st note is plucked then the 2nd is sounded by hammering a finger onto the guitar fretboard. This creates smooth legato connection between the notes and also allows you to play these notes faster as you don’t have to coordinate the guitar pick to pluck the 2nd note.

Depending on the gauge (thickness) of your guitar strings you may have to hammer quite hard onto the fretboard to ensure that the 2nd note rings out. If you’re playing on an electric guitar using a bit of overdrive or distortion can make it easier to play as it gives the notes more sustain. However ultimately you should be able to play hammer-ons using a clean tone or even on an acoustic guitar.

Hammer-on Exercise #1
The exercise below is great to practice as it uses all 4 fingers and will develop the strength required to play hammer-ons with all 4 fingers. Ensure that you practice this exercise on all 6 strings.

Try this exercise with a metronome starting at 80BPM and then speed it up as you get comfortable with the exercise. Use a metronome when practicing all the other exercises in is guitar lesson too.


Hammer-on Exercise #2
The next hammer-on exercise to practice uses all 4 fingers together. Here you only pluck the 1st note and Hammer-on each note one after another. Joe Satriani uses this technique in many of his songs including Always With Me, Always With You.


A pull-off is the reverse of a hammer-on. A pull-off is played by picking the 1st note then the 2nd note is sounded by flicking the string as you pull your finger off the fret board. Check out the guitar lesson video below demonstrating the hammer-on and pull-off technique.

Pull-off Exercise #1
This exercise uses all 4 fingers and will help build the strength required to play pull-offs with all fingers. Again ensure that you practice this exercise on all 6 strings.


Pull-off Exercise #2
The next pull-off exercise uses all 4 fingers together. Like hammer-on exercise #2 you only pluck the 1st note but now the following 3 notes are played as pull-offs.


Hammer-ons and Pull-offs in Scales
Another way to practice your hammer-ons and pull-offs is to use them in scales. An easy one to start with is the E minor pentatonic scale as it uses all the open strings.


Next try A minor pentatonic as with this scale pattern you get to practice your hammer-on and pull-off technique using fingers 1, 3 and 4.


Finally try using hammer-ons and pull-offs in the G major scale. Here you will need to play 2 hammer-ons and pull-offs on certain strings.


By the time you’ve mastered these legato exercises you will be well on your way to incorporating hammer-ons and pull-offs into your guitar playing.

Perfecting Your Picking

This guitar lesson will help you to develop and perfect your picking technique helping you to play guitar riffs, melodies and solos more smoothly and fluently.

Alternate Picking
The first aspect that needs to be looked at is your Alternate Picking technique. This is the most commonly used and useful picking technique. Alternate Picking is simply a fancy name for picking up and down. The majority of single note playing is done using this technique. The logic is that if you’re going to pick down for one note why not pick up on the next one?

A simple effective exercise to practice your Alternate Picking is to use a metronome to time yourself. Play eighth notes picking UP and DOWN for each metronome click. Just use open strings and focus on your picking technique making the DOWN picks sound the same as your UP picks. A good speed to start this exercise at is 80bpm (beats per minute). Once you’re comfortable with this sped ramp it up to 100bpm and quicken it further once you’ve mastered each faster tempo.


Using 4 Fingers On The Fretboard
The next step is to get your fretting hand to work with your picking hand. Many guitarists have a weak and uncoordinated 4th (little) finger on the fretboard. To develop the 4th finger while practicing your Alternate Picking try this exercise. On each string play the frets as indicated alternate picking each note. Also practice this exercise with a metronome starting at 80bpm only increasing speed once mastering the slower tempo.


Bar Chord ThumbAlso note that to have the proper stretch for all 4 fingers in these exercises keep the thumb behind the neck and pointing upwards.

Outside Picking
The next picking/4 finger exercise works on your Outside Picking technique. Outside Picking involves picking between a pair of strings. An example is picking DOWN on the 6th string and UP on the 5th string. The four fingers of the fretting hand can also be developed with your outside picking by following the zig-zag patterns shown below. Play them up and down the guitar neck on all adjacent pairs of strings.


For more advanced players try skipping a string in the middle of the pattern (e.g. picking between the 1st and 3rd strings). Again for these exercises use a metronome to check your timing and ensure that every note sounds consistent and clear.


Inside Picking
Inside Picking is the opposite of Outside Picking where you’re picking inside a pair of strings. For example UP on the 6th string and DOWN on the 5th string. To practice your Inside Picking use exactly the same exercises as used for the Outside Picking. Generally most people find it easier to outside pick but inside picking is a handy technique to master for certain riffs, melodies and solos.


Other Guitar Picking Techniques
Other picking techniques include Double Down, Double Up and for more advanced players Sweep Picking. Sweep Picking uses multiple down or up picks played quickly with the fretting hand ensuring that only one note is heard at a time. We will look at these picking techniques in another article.

Practice these guitar picking exercises daily as shown in the lesson. Use them as a warm up before playing songs and you will find that your picking and fingering coordination will improve immensely over just a few short weeks.

Open String Minor Chord Variations

Last time we looked at variations you can use for open string major chords. Of course for every major chord there is a minor chord too. So of course there are variations for the open string minor chords too.

D Minor
For the open string D minor chord there are 2 common suspended chords.

D Minor ChordD Minor Chord

Which are actually the same as the Dsus2 and Dsus4 chords used with the D major chord. However in this case the fingers used will be different. To go to Dsus2 from D minor finger 1 is removed with fingers 2 and 3 staying in place. For Dsus4 fingers 2 and 3 remain in place again and finger 4 is added to fret 3 on the 1st string.

D sus 2 Chord D sus 4 Chord







D Minor 7 Chord



D minor 7 is another handy chord variation to know. This is basically the F major chord with D note in the bass. Here finger 1 plays a double stop on fret 1 of the 1st 2 strings and finger 2 is on fret 2 of the 3rd string.




A Minor
For A minor the suspended chords are also the same as for the parallel major chord (A). However the fingers used are different.

A Minor Chordam_chord







Take note of how the fingers are used with fingers 2 and 3 not moving when changing from A minor to either suspended chord.

A Minor sus 2A sus 4 Chord









Another easy A minor chord variation is A minor 7. This chord just requires 2 fingers to play with the change from A minor requiring that you take finger 3 off the fretboard. Even easier is A7sus2 which only uses finger 2 on fret 2 of the 4th string.

A Minor 7A Minor 7 sus 2 Chord









E Minor
The E minor chord has a range of variations with the most common being the E minor 7 chord.

E MinorE Minor Chord






This chord is E minor with an added D note. There are 3 main ways of playing this as an open string chord. The fist is the easiest as it only requires one finger on fret 2 of the 5th string. This chord is used in Weather With You by Crowded House.

E Minor 7 ChordE Minor 7 Chord









The next E minor 7 chord variation adds the D note with finger 3 on fret 3 of the 2nd string. The final version uses all 4 fingers with the addition of the G note on the 1st string to give the chord a chiming sound. This chord is used in Wonderwall by Oasis and Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show.

em7_chordv3Old Corw Medicine Show






E minor add 2 works by adding an F# note on fret 2 of the 1st string, Another common variation of this chord has the F# note played on fret 4 of the 4th string. This chord is used by Faith No More in Zombie Eaters and by Metallica in Sanitarium.

E Minor Add 2 ChordE Minor Add 2 Chord








E Minor 6 Chord
The final variation is E minor 6 which adds C# on fret 2 of the 2nd string

Of course there are heaps of other chord variations but these should be enough to get you started in exploring ways to make your chords sound interesting and fresh.

Download Kindle Edition Ebook Learning To Play The Guitar

Open String Major Chord Variations

One of the most common questions my students ask is how to make a 3 or 4 chord song interesting.

The trick is to play variations of the chords using different notes than just the ones the standard major or minor chord shapes use. Here we will look at some common open string chord variations that can be used to make any song sound more interesting.

D Major
First off we’ll look at one of the 2 most common chord variations on guitar based around the D major chord.



dsus4_chordDsus2 or D suspended 2nd is a chord that replaces the 3rd (or in this case the major 3rd F#) with the 2nd note of the scale which for a D chord is the E note. So here you play the open 1st E string which means that you only need 2 fingers to play this chord.

The partner to this chord is Dsus4 (D suspended 4th) which uses the note G instead of F#. Here the 4th finger is used to play this note on the 3rd fret of the 1st string.

Guns n Roses - Patience uses the Dsus2 Dsus4 chords.



The Dsus2 and Dsus4 are often used together with the regular D major chord. A good example of this is Patience by Guns n Roses. Other songs that use this include Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and Desolation Row by Bob Dylan.

D major 7 is relatively easy chord to play as it only requires 1 finger to play 3 strings in a row across the 2nds fret of 3 strings. This is a jazzy/loungy chord that works only in some songs so be careful where you use it as it can be too light and breezy for some rock songs. Bossa Nova tunes like Girl form Impanema often use major 7 chords.


A Major
Very similar to the variations for D are the 2 common chord variations for A, Asus2 and Asus4.


Asus2 has a B note replacing the major 3rd (C#) while Asus4 has a D note replacing the major 3rd.


A6 is relatively easy chord to play as it only requires 1 finger to play 4 strings in a row across the 2nds fret of 3 strings. Very similar in shape to Dmajor7 While not as light and breezy as a major 7 chord again it only in some songs so be careful where you use it. The Beatles use 6 chords often in their songs and they can sound good as the last chord of a 50s rock tune.

E Major

E Major also has an easy sus4 chord with the A note replacing the major 3rd (G#). Here it is recommended to use your 4th finger to play the A note making it easy to switch back and for the from Esus4 to E major.

While it is possible to play Esus2 using an open string chord it is easier and more common to play Eadd2 where the G# note (fret 1 on the 3rd string) still rings out. Here the add2 note is the F# played by finger 4 on the 4th fret of 4th string. This is bit of a stretch so make sure that you’re thumb is behind the neck and pointing upwards to make it easier to play.


e6_chordThe Esus4 and Eadd2 can be used in combination with an E major chord just like D and its sus2 sus4 chords. Another variation of Eadd2 is to play the F# with finger 4 on fret 2 of the 1st string.

E6 is and E major chord with a C# added by placing finger 4 on fret 2 of the 2nd string.




G Major
Good old G major has some variations too.


First off is what I like to call “rock G” which is G with a D note on the 2nd string. This is still just G major but it tends to ring out more clearly than the traditional G with the open B string. Songs that use this chord include More Than Words by Extreme, Wonderwall by Oasis, 3am by Matchbox 20 and many more.

Gadd2 is G with an A note added by moving finger 1 to fret 2 on the 3rd string. Here the 5th string is muted with the edge of finger 2 leaning over. The most famous example of this chord is the first chord of Every Breath You Take by The Police.

gadd2_chordEvery Breath You Take by The Police uses the Gadd2 chord.

Gmajor7 is played by placing finger 1 on fret 2 of the 1st string and again muting the 5th string with the edge of finger 2.


Finally for G there is Gsus4 which is the C note replacing the major 3rd note of B. This chord is played by flipping the fingers around so that finger 1 can play the C note on fret 1 of the 2nd string. 2 songs that use this chord are Why Georgia by John Mayer and Riptide by Vance Joy.

C Major


For C major the first example is again just C major but with a G note played on fret 3 of the 1st string with the little finger. This creates C chord that rings out more clearly. Check out the arpeggio intro to Paradise City to hear this chord in action.

Wonderwall by Oasis uses the Cadd2 chord.In rock music a variation of this shape is Cadd2 which is adding a D note to the chord. The cool thing with this version is that its easy to change from “rock G” to this “rock C” as fingers 3 & 4 don’t have to move. This chord is in Wonderwall by Oasis, Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show and Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. Cadd2 can also be played with an open 1st E string.


cmajor7_chordCmajor7 is super easy chord as it only requires 2 fingers. Again this chord works well for jazzy/loungy sounding songs.

So as you can see there are heaps of variations for the standard open string chords on the guitar. So how you can use them in the songs that you play. Next time we will look at variations for open string minor chords to mix up your playing further.

Download Kindle Edition Ebook Learning To Play The Guitar