Chord-Scale Primer

Posted on Posted in Harmony, Improvisation, Theory

By no means does this develop one’s vocabulary extensively, but listed here are scalar options for chords often found in the jazz idiom. Also, there are more possibilities when studying modes derived from major, melodic minor, harmonic minor and harmonic major. The goal would be to develop hearing these scale options over chords as well as creating melodic ideas.

1.) C7 – melodic minor scale a half step above the root (Db melodic minor). Also, C half-whole diminished. C major and minor pentatonic works, too.

2.) C-7b5 – melodic minor a minor third above the root (Eb melodic minor). Also, Locrian (Db Major scale starting on the seventh) and Locrian Natural 2 (sixth mode of Eb melodic minor). Diminished half-whole will work, too.

3.) C7(b9) to F-7 – F harmonic minor.

4.) C7sus4 – dorian mode a fifth above the root (G dorian).

5.) C7(#11) – melodic minor a fifth above the root (G melodic minor).

6.) CMaj7(#5) – melodic minor a major sixth above the root (A melodic minor). Also, C whole-tone or C harmonic major.

7.) Cdim7 –  C whole-half diminished (contains major 7th interval). Guitarists should also work with tonic diminished (diminished chord with a major 7th; C, Eb, Gb, B). Though a tricky chord, often I look at the function of it. Diminished chords tend to be passing chords. If Cdim7 resolves to DbMaj7, I can also think in terms of Ab7(b9) resolving to DbMaj7 (Cdim7 becomes Ab7(b9) if I put an Ab in the bass).

8.) Cmin7(b9b6) – C phrygian.

Practice Tips: Master these in twelve keys and apply them to tunes. I’d recommend writing these out in notation to see how the notes in the scale function over the chord. Find a piano and play the chord followed by the scale or record a vamp and practice playing the scale options. I would and could explain this in the blog, but I love the concept of self-discovery. Feel free to comment on any discoveries and any other chord-scale options.

About Nick Grinlinton

Nick Grinlinton has written 113 entries on this blog.

Nick Grinlinton is a guitarist, composer and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He is a two-time ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award finalist and has composed and played music for Jerry Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee". A speedy runner, Nick currently focuses on racing distances from the mile all the way to the marathon. As he continues to train daily, he is currently examining what effect music has towards running. To learn more and to contact Nick, visit his website.

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