10 Jazz Scales You Should Know (Part 2)

This is a guest post by Leeds College of Music Professor Dr. Matt Warnock. Matt is a scale expert!

This is the second part in our series of 10 jazz scales you should know. If you missed the first article you should absolutely check it out right here 10 jazz scales you should know (part 1) .

In the first part of the article we explored some more fundamental scales.  Now, lets turn the temperature up a bit and explore some spicier sounds 🙂

These are alot of the sounds you’ll hear in modern post bop jazz.

You can click on all the scales to expand them and print them out. 

Altered Scalealtered scale

Interval Structure: R m2 A2 M3 A4 A5 m7 R


The next mode of Melodic Minor that we will look at is the 7th mode, otherwise known as the Altered Scale. This mode is a favorite of many jazz guitarists, especially when playing over a V7alt chord in a minor key, such as the V7alt of a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 progression.

If you’d like to hear an example of this sound please check out this Red Garland lick lesson.

Since this scale has all the possible alterations one can find on a dominant 7th chord, b9-#9-b5-#5, it can be used to create a high-level of tension in your playing, that you can later resolve to a more stable chord, such as the im7 in the above progression.

(For an example of the altered scale scale being used to resolve to a major chords check out this Bud Powell inspired jazz lick video )

How To Practice The Altered Scale

Another way to apply this scale is to use it in bar 4 of a minor blues progression, as there is often a V7alt/iv in that measure. In this case, you can then resolve any tension you use from this scale to the ivm7 chord found in bar 5.

As well, you can apply the Altered Scale to 7th chords in major keys, but this sound isn’t for everyone. Some people, like myself, really like playing the Altered Scale over major key 7th chords, but you might not find the same thing.

Try it out over any 7th chord in a major blues or iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression to see how your ears react to this new and tense sound.

Melodic Minor ScaleAltered Scale

Interval Structure: R M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 M7 R


The last mode of Melodic Minor we will check out is the first mode of the scale, which can be used to improvise over a m7 or mMaj7 chord. If you are going to use this scale to solo over a m7 chord, just be aware that the #7 interval will clash with the m7 interval played by any other chordal instrument in the ensemble.

Some people will like this sound, others won’t. So, be sure to try this sound out in the practice room before you bring it out on the bandstand.

How To Apply this Mode Of Melodic Minor

You can use this scale to improvise over the im7 chord in a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 chord progression, as well as the m7 chords found in the minor blues form. And, a lot of players really like to use this scale over the iim7 chord of a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression.

If you choose to use the Melodic Minor Scale over the iim7 chord, you can continue to use it over the V7 chord as well.

In the key of C major, this would mean playing D Melodic Minor over Dm7 and G7, making those chords sound like DmMaj7 and G7#11, two very popular chord alterations in the jazz idiom.

5th Mode of Harmonic Minor5th mode of harmonic minor

Interval Structure: R m2 M3 P4 P5 m6 m7 R


The only Harmonic Minor mode we will be looking at in this article is the 5th mode, which can be used to improvise over a 7(b9,b13) chord.

This scale is important to have under your fingers, as it allows you to use a b9 sound, but one that differs from the Half-Whole Diminished scale in that it also has a b13, whereas the Diminished Scale has a natural 13.

Because this scale has a b2 and b13(b6), it can be used to improvise over dominant chords in minor keys, such as the V7alt chord in a iim7-V7alt-im7 progression.

As well, this scale can be used to improvise over 7th chords if your ears are comfortable with that sound. But again, trythat application out in the practice room before you bring it out to a gig.

How To Practice This Mode Of Harmonic Minor

To practice this scale, it’s a good idea to create a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 vamp, and then alternate between improvising with the Altered Scale and the 5th Mode of Harmonic Minor over the V7alt chord.

This will allow your ears to become used to how each of these two scales sounds when applied to a 7alt chord, which will give you great confidence as to when and where you want to use these two different sounds in your improvising.

Half-Whole Diminished Scalehttp://jazzscales.s3.amazonaws.com/Dim.jpg

Interval Structure: R m2 A2 M3 A4 P5 M6 m7 R


As opposed to all of the previous scales in this article, which were all asymmetrical scales, the Half-Whole Diminished Scale is what we call a symmetrical scale.

This means that the scale is built off of a repeated interval pattern, in this case a half-step followed by a whole-step. These intervals are symmetrical in nature,

The Half-Whole Diminished Scale can be used to improvise over a dominant 7th chord when you want to bring out a b9 sound, as well as the #11 which is also found in this scale.

Because it has a natural 13th in its construction, this scale works better in major keys when you want to spice up a 7th chord.  Herbie Hancock is a big fan of this sound.

Since the 13th of any V7 chord is the 3rd of the tonic key, that means that this scale
produces a major 3rd interval, which would clash if used in a minor key situation, where the 3rd of the tonic chord is minor.

How To Practice The Half Whole Diminished Scale

Try using this scale over the V7 chord of a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression, as well as the V7 chord in a blues progression. If you really like this sound, you can apply it to all of the 7th chords in a major blues tune.

Again, let your ears and taste be your guide when applying this scale to any musical situation.

Major Blues Scale

Major Blues

Interval Structure: R M2 m3 M3 P5 M6 R


As most guitarists learn the Minor Blues Scale when they first start exploring single-note
playing, I will conclude this article with its closely related cousin, the Major Blues Scale.

This scale can be used to improvise over both a Maj7 and 7 chords, as there is no 7th in the scale it is free to move between both of these major triad based sounds.

The Major Blues Scale can be used over each of the dominant 7 chords in a major blues
progression, but it can also be used over both the 7 and maj7 chords in a iim7-V7-Imaj7

How To Practice The Major Blues Scale

As an exercise, improvise over a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression, in the key of C
for instance. When you solo over the G7 chord, use the G Major Blues Scale. When you solo over the Cmaj7, use the C Major Blues Scale.

Notice how the scale has the same underlying construction, but sounds different when used over the 7 and maj7 chords in this progression.

Though the Minor Blues Scale is the first scale most of us learn, the Major Blues Scale can be just as important a tool in our improvisational kit as its minor cousin. Check this scale out and see what you can come up with using this common and very important sound.

If you want a jam track to practice this scale over you can check out this blues lesson.  There is a free jam track on the bottom of the lesson.

Please leave a comment below to discuss your favorite scales and/or ask a question!


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 onFacebook.  You can also download a pdf file for this lesson with all the scales notated right here jazz scales pdf.