10 Jazz Scales You Should Know (Part 1)

jazz scalesDo you want to learn more about jazz scales? Congratulations you’ve come to the right place.

This jazz scales article and many others on this site will help you!

Musicians love scales. We really do!

They sit nicely on our instruments, they are easy to play over changes, and many of us have been playing them for years and years.

Early on in our development most of us probably learned to play the the major scale, maybe it’s modes, and possibly the minor blues scales.

This is usually passable enough for classical, pop, and some rock songs.

But There’s More Music To Learn

Unfortunately, we are often stuck when we begin to explore scales within the context of jazz music.

Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, and Wes Montgomery aren’t just going up and down major scales right?

How do we get the sounds we hear our favorite jazz musicians playing?

Scale Exploration

In the first part of this article series, we will explore 5 essential scales that every jazz musician should check out.

This will help you expand your playing beyond minor pentatonic/blues scales and the modes of the major scale.

I also recommend you check out several other jazz scale lessons on this site here.

Major Jazz Scales : A simple guide to scales that work over major chords and major chord progressions.

Minor Jazz Scales : A simple guide to scales that work over minor chords.

The Altered Scale If you’re looking for more of an advanced jazz scale you can use over dominant chords this is the lesson for you!

Now, no scale will make you sound “jazzy” on its own.

But, a thorough knowledge of the scales below will allow you to properly navigate many of the common changes and progressions found in the standard jazz repertoire.

Now, on to the scales in this article!

1. Dominant Bebop Scale

You can start learn by watching this video taught by Steve Nixon

Dominant Bebop

(click to expand)

Interval Structure: R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7 M7 R

How To Apply

The Dominant Bebop Scale is one of the most commonly used and important scales in the jazz musician’s bag of tricks.

The scale is built by taking the Mixolydian scale, the 5th mode of the major scale, and adding in a passing note between the b7 and R to produce an eight-note scale.

If you’ve started to check out transcriptions or licks by Charlie Parker, Pat Martino, George Benson or Mike Stern, you’ll have come across this scale in the lines of these great players.

When applying this scale or licks derived from this scale, you can use it to improvise over a dominant 7th chord, such as any 7th chord in a Blues progression.

Or even the V7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression.

(For more examples of this scale, I highly recommend you check out this dominant bebop scale video lesson and this bebop lick video lesson .)


Dominant 7th chords are found in many tunes in the jazz repertoire and some would say the 7th chord is the foundation of the traditional jazz sound.

So, learning the Dominant Bebop Scale will provide and essential improvisation tool for any jazz musician.

2. Minor Bebop Scale

Minor Bebop scale

(click to expand)

Interval Structure: R M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 m7 M7 R

How To Apply

Just like its cousin the Dominant Bebop Scale, the Minor Bebop Scale is derived from a mode of the major scale.

In this case, we are taking a Dorian mode, the second mode of the major scale, and adding in a passing note between the b7 and R to produce an eight-note scale.

jazz scalesThe Minor Bebop Scale can be used to improvise in many different musical situations.

The m7 chords in a minor blues progression, or the iim7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression will work great with it!

Because of this, it is an important scale to master as you will be able to apply it to many of the jazz standards you already know.

You’ll also be to apply it to ones that you’ll learn as you continue your development as a jazz musician.

How Do You Practice Minor Bebop Scales?

A great way to practice this scale is to set up a iim7-V7 vamp in one or more keys.

Then, practice improvising using the Minor Bebop Scale over the iim7 chord, followed by the Dominant Bebop Scale over the V7 chord.

Being able to apply both of these scales to your improvising will go a long way in building up your jazz guitar vocabulary as well as helping you outline chord changes at the same time.

3. Major Bebop Scale

Major Bebop
(click to expand)

Interval Structure: R M2 M3 P4 P5 m6 M6 M7 R

How To Apply

To finish up the major-scale based Bebop scales, we have the Major Bebop Scale.

Just like the previous two Bebop scales, this scale is based on the first mode of the major scale, with an added note between the fifth and major 6th intervals to produce an eight-note scale.

This scale can be used to improvise over any Maj7 chord, using your ears and tastes as yourguide as to when and where you want to apply this sound.

It does sound particularly good over the Imaj7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression though.

(Here’s a bonus video lesson that demonstrates the major bebop scale)

How Do You Practice Major Bebop Scales?

A good exercise to work on this, and the previous two Bebop Scales, is to work up a iim7-V7-Imaj7 vamp in one or more keys.

If you are just beginning to explore these sounds then you might want to make each chord longer that one bar.

Maybe start with four bars of iim7, four bars of V7 and 8 bars of Imaj7, then work your way down to one bar each from there.

As you improvise over these chords, use the Minor Bebop Scale to blow over the iim7 chord, the Dominant Bebop Scale over the V7 chord and the Major Bebop Scale over the Imaj7.

This will help you to apply these different Bebop sounds in your solos, as well as learn how to outline each change in a ii-V-I at the same time.

4. Harmonic Minor Bebop Scale

Harmonic Minor Bebop
(click to expand)

Interval Structure: R m2 M3 P4 P5 m6 m7 M7 R

How To Apply

The Harmonic Minor Bebop Scale is similar to the first three scales we looked at, in that it is an eight-note scale with a passing tone.

In this case it is built by adding a note between the b7and root of the 5th mode of the Harmonic Minor Scale.

Because this scale is built off of the Harmonic Minor Scale, it can be used to improvise over the iim7b5 and V7alt chords of a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 progression.

Because we tend to spend more time practicing our major key progressions, having a good grasp of this scale can go a long way in bringing our minor key soloing up to the same level.

Tips For Practicing The Harmonic Minor Bebop Scale

When practicing this scale, you can set up a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 vamp, and use this scale to improvise over the iim7b5 and V7alt chords.

Start from the the root of the V7alt chord over both.

So, if you are improvising over a Dm7b5-G7alt progression, you would play the G Harmonic Minor Bebop Scale over both of those chords.

Then, when you get to the im7 chord, you could improvise using the Minor Bebop Scale, training your ears and fingers to mix these two sounds together.

For a number of great licks using this scale, check out Clifford Brown’s solo on “A Night in Tunisia.” Clifford was a master with this sound and his solo on this tune is chalk full of great ideas on how to blow using this scale.

( On a related note if you love Clifford then you should also check out this Clifford Brown jazz lick)

5. Lydian Dominant Scale

Lydian Dominant
(click to expand)

Interval Structure: R M2 M3 A4 P5 M6 m7 R

How To Apply

When exploring the Melodic Minor Scale and its various modes, one of the first scales most jazz musicians stumble upon is the 4th mode.

This scale is actually known as the Lydian Dominant Scale.

Because it doesn’t contain a natural 4, such as the Mixolydian scale does, this scale has a brighter, more dissonant sound as compared to its major-scale counterpart, giving more grit to any line using this scale in an improvised solo.

The Lydian Dominant Scale is used to improvise over a 7th chord, or more specifically, a 7#11 chord.

To check out this scale in action, read through Sonny Rollins’ classic blues “Blues Seven,” which uses the Lydian Dominant Scale for each chord in the progression.

As well, check out the solos of Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino George Benson and Jake Langley.

All of these great players frequently use this scale in their improvising.

How Do You Practice The Lydian Dominant Scale?

To practice this scale, you can put on a 7th chord vamp and then improvise using this scale, the Mixolydian mode and even the Dominant Bebop Scale.

As you move between these different scales in your lines, notice how each new mode creates a new sonic color that is slightly different from the other two.

Having a strong command over how each of these dominant 7th chord scales sound will go a long way in allowing you to use them in your solos in a natural and organic fashion.

Be sure to check out the next article in the “10 Jazz Scales You Should Know” series where we continue to explore all the great jazz scales you need to play this fantastic style of music.

Update: Here’s the second article in the series: 10 jazz scales you should know part 2

In the meantime you can leave a comment below to discuss your favorite scales and/or ask a question!

Be sure to also subscribe to the freejazzlessons.com mailing list to receive over 20 free lessons right in your inbox! You can subscribe right below this article or on the top left of the site

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Dr. Matthew Warnock is a jazz educator and performer in Manchester, UK. He owns and operates www.mattwarnockguitar.com, a free online resource for jazz guitarists and is on the faculty of the Leeds College of Music. You can also connect with him on Facebook.  You can also download a pdf file for this lesson with all the scales notated right here jazz scales pdf.

 

  • C R

    I’m learning some scales at the moment, so this article is really relevant to me. Many thanks for writing it. 
    I like the way that a bebop scale can be easily created by the addition of one note to another scale. It follows on nicely from the ’28 scales from one fingering’ lesson (on the MattWarnock Jazz Guitar site), which I have been studying recently.
    cheers
    Charlie

    • Mattwarnockguitar

       Thanks for checking out the article CR. Yeah, the Bebop scales are great and they fit well on the guitar, and many other instruments, so they are fairly easy to learn and apply. Enjoy these scales!

  • Lisanne Otten

    Hi Steve, Thanks so much for this website, it is truely awesome! I love jazz but am classically trained and am at times somewhat limited by my own rule-based thinking. This brings theory and improvising together nicely, I have learnt so much already! Just one question: the Harmonic Bebop scale is based on a mode of the harmonic minor, which is the same as the Phrygian Dominant, am I correct? In the second bar of the notation there is an Eb, shouldn’t it be E natural to produce that slightly mysterious “arabic” sound?
    Haha sorry for being picky, I just wondered about it that was all. Your website is awesome! Thanks,

    Lisanne

  • sahvannah

    this is great!

  • Den

    Hi,can i play bebop dominant scale over m7 chords like iim7 and over half-diminished chords like vii(dim)?

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      You could. You’ll just want the bebop dominant scale to be the scale from the V chord. So, if you’re playing over IIm7 (lets say Dm7) you’ll want to play the V7 bebop dominant (G7).

    • Den

      sorry, i see now an answer in this post.

      • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

        No worries! :)

  • Marcus Cornelius Aurelius

    I have a question: If I am playing the Dorian over the iim7, and the mixolydian over the V7, and the major scale over the Imaj7, then aren’t I in fact just playing the mixolydian (and its extensions) with different roots? I mean, don’t they all belong to different modes within the same major scale? In other words, if I am playing a Em7-G7-Amaj7, wouldn’t I just be playing extensions of the G mixo with roots that follow the progression? For example, my lead might be E A B D G D (for the Em7), then A D G F# (for the G7), and A C# D E D (for the Amaj7), but aren’t all those notes just from the G mixo scale? In other words, if you extend out from the G mixo, you find the E dorian notes and the also the A major notes. G mixo seems to encompass all the notes I need, so why not just say “play mixo with different roots?” I’m confused.

  • Curtis

    Hey Steve, For the Harmonic minor bebop scale you have listed the minor 2nd, but on another website. They have the 2nd listed as Major. http://www.kendaljazz.com/lessons/scales/harmonic-minor-bebop-scale/.. .. Which one is it? LOL THanks

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      I actually didn’t write this article Matt Warnock did.