The Altered Scale – A Simple How To Guide

Are your dominant chords getting a bit boring? Do you wish you knew some more interesting scales to use over them?

Well, in today’s jazz scale lesson I’m going to teach you a very cool sounding scale you can play over your dominant chords.

This scale is called the altered scale. Check out the video below and then scroll down to check out the notation and get more tips on how to play and use it.

altered scale

Scales and Chords Are Good Friends

In order for us to better understand the altered scale we need to understand one simple thing about jazz chords.

It’s pretty much standard fair that when we play jazz most of our chords will have added extensions on there (some combination of 9′s, 11′s, 13′s).

So, for example if you see a C7 written in a chords symbol you won’t just play the notes C, E, G, Bb (1, 3, 5, 7). Jazz harmony is much richer than that. Chords have more notes that are played.

You’ll often times add in a D, or an F, or an A  on your chord (9, 11, and 13th of the chord).

How To Build The Altered Scale

We can alter these extensions of the chord we just mentioned as well by playing b9′s, #9′s, #11, and b13′s. This is how we get the altered scale.

We alter every extension of the chord.  No natural extensions like 9, 11, and 13. Everything will be flatted or sharped!

The altered scale features 3 of the 4 chord tones of a dominant 7th chord (1, 3, and b7) plus all the extensions of the chord altered.

altered scale

So, the theory for the altered scale is 1, b9, 3rd, #9, #11, b13, and b7.

So, whenever you see a dominant V7 chord to I written within a chord progression you can play an altered scale over the dominant chord.

By altering these notes on a dominant chord it really increases the tension. As we demonstrated in the video above if you really learn how to smoothly resolve this scale into your I chord it can create some very beautiful sounds.

Music is all about controlled tension and release. :)

More Scale And Chord Resources

If dominant chord extensions are brand new to you than I highly recommend you check out this dominant chord extensions starter lesson to get you up to speed.

If you would like more information on some other useful jazz scales than you should check out this major chord scale lesson, this minor chord scale lesson, or this dominant chord scale article.

******

- If you enjoyed this lesson please leave a comment below and share it with your friends! 

- If you are new here be sure to subscribe to the free jazz lessons email list (right below this article) to receive all the latest and greatest articles right in your inbox.

- You’ll be joining the fastest growing jazz education community on the internet!

Steve Nixon is the proud owner of Freejazzlessons.com. He is a world touring jazz and blues keyboard player and educator.

Steve is the author of Premium Jazz Lessons Elite Membership (A comprehensive all-in-one online jazz piano course.)

He is also the author of the The Jazz Masters Method DVD (A study of 9 legendary jazz piano players).

If you are a blues piano fan you can also check out his popular Learn Blues Piano DVD Course.


Subscriber Counter
  • Rico

    very good lesson Steve. I really didnt know what altered scales were and this adds interest to my playing.

    Rico

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

      Great to hear.  Yeah, it’s used all over jazz so you’ll have fun with it :)

  • Chris

    Thanks for the lesson Steve. Really helpful. My head is in bits with all this jazz!
    Chris
    p.s.  I think this is a good thing?

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

      Hi Chris,
        Yeah jazz is the merging of art and soul.  It’s a very deep style of music.  Take your time and have fun on the journey.

  • dami

    you are doing a great job.creating an atmosphere of learning for the upcoming jazz musicians.God bless you.

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

      Thanks for your kind words dami. Atmosphere is my goal :)

  • Thinh luuduc

    I’m really exciting in reaing this lesson. thank you very much.

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

      No problem Thinh. Have fun with this one!

  • http://www.facebook.com/obioma.ugwa Obioma Ugwa

    The most exciting simple lessons of my life: You are a gift!!

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

      Very nice of you to say Obioma!! Thanks for your nice comment.

  • Paul mbewe

    Nice lesson thank you so much!

  • zahiir

    I admire what you do and look forward to each lesson….My question is  this  the same as the vii of melodic minor..

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

      Great thanks Zahiir. Yes, you are correct it is based off the 7th scale degree of melodic minor

    • zahiir

      Fantastic no better feeling than beginning to recognize scales…Because of this article I will not sleep tonight and shed this puppy through ” ALL OF ME “… Thanx again

  • Brian

    Steve..the world needs more people like you…gifted, generous and giving..Thanks so much for the lessons!!

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

      Wow that’s really cool of you to say that Brian.  I really appreciate you’re nice words!

  • Jim

    I love playing the altered scale C when playing in the key of F…So cool running up with the scale to Gb9 Left hand resolving to F…Thanks so much for sharing your gifted talent…You are truly a selfless person with your rich music…Jim

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

      It’s a great sound isn’t it Jim? It’s my pleasure to teach and hope you’re really learning a lot here!

  • Bill

    Great lesson! Do you have any pointers on actually memorizing the altered scale in all 12 keys? (And do you offer private lessons?)

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

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks! First, you should know all your major scales in all 12 keys. From there you can just start working out your altered scales in relation to the major scales. Use the concept 1, b2, b3, 3, #4, b6, b7 if it’s easier for you.

      Yes, I do give private lessons as well :)

    • J

      think first four notes of a half/whole diminished scale, the rest is whole tone to the tonic.

  • Curtis

    Hey Steve, In this lesson you say the flat 9 pulls down to the 5th in the altered scale? How is this so when you hit C as a pull down note? Do you mean the 1st? I guess I’m not understanding your pull down notes. Thanks

  • Ani

    Great lesson Nixon, I suppose that’s a 5-1 on key F

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

      Yep

  • Paulbb62

    AWESOME LESSON ON THE ALTERED SCALE STEVE…ive been studying piano and jazz piano for a very long time…and my teacher NEVER told me about this SCALE..

    THANK YOU SO MUCH BRO…love your site!

    paul barrett
    south jersey
    USA

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

      Thanks a lot Paul. It’s a very popular scale that’s used all the time.

  • Jon roberts

    Steve–you mention that the altered scale contains all the chord tones of a dominant 7 scale including the 5th, however I don’t see the 5th in the scale illustration. Maybe I’m missing something here

  • Tfateen95

    The note you give remind me of a Dd scale, but the way you explained it opened up a world of possibility, thanks for the mind opening lesson.

  • Hornsmachine

    You’re the man. Its really been an eye opener. Its not just useful in jazz alone but even in black gospels. Thanks

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

      Thanks my friend! Yeah it’s a very versatile sound in many styles.

  • Tendai

    great lesson!

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

      Cool. Thanks and glad you enjoyed it.

  • Ian

    Sorry the spell check keeps messing up my comments I meant the altered scale is the 7th mode of the melodic minor scale.

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

      Yes you are correct Ian! Great point and thanks for mentioning that.

  • Bob

    Hi Steve,

    Many thanks again for a great lesson. One question.

    You write:

    “So, whenever you see a dominant V7 chord to I written within a chord progression you can play an altered scale over the dominant chord.”

    Do you mean “over the ALTERED dominant chord”? The left hand chord you used in the demo seems to be an altered C7. But unaltered seems to work a well, although
    with more tension. Can you comment?

    Thanks!

    Bob

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

      Yes, over the altered dominant chord.

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

    Hey Tom,
    There are several different ways to finger them and each key is a bit different. You could definitely use melodic minor as your guide though and start on the last finger you would use on the 7th scale degree of your melodic minor. Hope that helps!

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

    Hey Derrick,
    Start exploring the jazz scales lessons, chord progression lessons, and the lick lessons on this site. There is a search bar on the top of the site. This should help you start organizing a lot of the information and definitely start answering your questions.