Jazz Scales – A Complete List
Do 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.
How To Actually Use Jazz Scales To Make Music
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?
Jazz Scales Exploration
In the first part of this article series, we will explore 5 essential scales for jazz improvisation that every jazz musician should know.
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 Scales : A simple guide to scales that work over major chords and major chord progressions.
Minor 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 jazz 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
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Interval Structure: R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7 M7 R
How To Apply This Jazz Scale
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.
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
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Interval Structure: R M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 m7 M7 R
How To Apply This Jazz Scale
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.
The 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.
Apply both of these scales used in jazz to your improvising. It will go a long way in building up your piano jazz scales toolkit, your jazz theory knowledge, as well as helping you outline chord changes at the same time.
3. Major Bebop Scale
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Interval Structure: R M2 M3 P4 P5 m6 M6 M7 R
How To Apply This Jazz Scale
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 your guide 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
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Interval Structure: R m2 M3 P4 P5 m6 m7 M7 R
How To Apply This Jazz Scale
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. Then, 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.
His brilliant use of chromaticism all features a huge variety of jazz notes and modes.
( On a related note if you love Clifford then you should also check out this Clifford Brown jazz lick)
5. Lydian Dominant Scale
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Interval Structure: R M2 M3 A4 P5 M6 m7 R
How To Apply This Jazz Scale
The Melodic Minor Scale and its various modes is very rich with possibilities. In fact the 4th mode of the melodic minor is super popular.
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. This is especially true if you compare it’s major-scale counterpart. So, the lydian dominant gives more grit to any line using that uses this scale in an improvised solo.
Jazz Scales Piano Concepts For Any Instrument
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”. This tune 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 jazz improvisation.
By the way, if you like this lydian or sharp #11 sound I recommend you also check out this free jazz scales piano lesson on the lydian mode.
And you can also learn more about the power of the melodic minor scale and all it’s jazz modes by watching this video here.
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. Use the Mixolydian mode and even the Dominant Bebop Scale.
Notice what happens when you move between these different scales in your lines? Can you hear how each mode creates a new sonic color? Can you hear how 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. Thiswill allow you to use them in your solos in a natural and organic fashion.
9 More Jazz Scales You Should Know (Bonus)
In this jazz scales article we mostly covered scales that work over dominant chords. But, I’m going to give you a head start on some more common jazz scales that work over different chords. If you want to get better at jazz composition, built a beautiful arsenal of jazz scales piano drills, or just want to get better at jazz improvisation, you’ll find these useful. Here’s 9 more jazz scales you need to know.
- Dorian mode
- Lydian scale
- Melodic minor scale
- Mixolydian Scale
- Ionian Scale
- Diminished Scale
- Phrygian mode
- Aeolian mode
- Locrian mode.
By the way, want to learn how to create amazing improvised music and killer solos with all these scale? Check out the Jazz Improvisation Super System.
Jazz Scales Big Picture Summary
Jazz scales are like the ABCs of this great art form. They are obviously very important. But, always remember that they are the starting point for your music. Yes, it’s important that you learn scales. But, if you want to make great music you’ll need to memorize them, internalize them, and ultimately learn how to make beautiful melodies with them.
That being said, my musical life definitely got easier once I became an expert in them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 on Facebook.
Do You Know These 3 Important Jazz Scales?
In today’s lesson we’re going to explore 3 very important jazz scales. I’m also going to show you how to use these scales in your jazz improvisation.
It’s always a good idea to apply what we learn to real music. So, we’re also going to learn how to use these scales over the famous Miles Davis’ tune So What.
This is a classic tune and a great beginner jazz song to learn to improvise on.
If you need to improve your jazz improvisation or want to learn more scales you should hopefully find this lesson very useful! 🙂
I’ve included a video, notation, and tips to help you learn these jazz scales and incorporate them in your playing quickly.
(By the way, this is another small sample of one of the lessons in my brand new Premium Membership Course.)
If you want to explore another free sample of the powerful content that’s in there I highly recommend you also check out this All The Things You Are jazz piano lesson.)
So, let’s get started exploring these scales now….
Jazz Scales Video
Take a few minutes and watch this video. I’ll show you step by step how to play the 3 different scales and also show you how to jam with them.
(If you already know these scales and just want to hear me jam on So What you can fast forward to 4 minutes 55 seconds. You’ll hear me mix the scales all together in a real playing situation.)
Jazz Scales Notation
Here’s the notation for the scales in the video. Make sure you also scroll down and definitely check out the 8 extra tips. They’re important and will help you master the lesson!
(Click on the notation to expand and open in a new window. Feel free to share this online but please provide a link back to freejazzlessons.com)
8 Tips To Help You Master This Lesson
1. So What is a 32 bar jazz tune with an AABA form and it’s a modal jazz tune. This means that we stay on the same chord for long periods of time and there is less harmonic motion.
2. The chords are D minor for 8 bars (A section). Dminor for 8 bars (2nd A section). Ebminor for 8 bars (B section). Dminor for 8 bars (last A section).
4. I specifically focused on these scales because Miles Davis actually uses them all over the place in his original solo on So What. If you’re not familiar with his solo I created a whole free lesson on it. You can check out the Miles Davis lesson right here.
5. If you want more of a bebop sound you could also superimpose some minor bebop licks over the top of these chords. Even though there are more chord changes they’ll still work as long as you resolve them properly. This can be thought of as a simple form of chord substitution 🙂
6. If you want to learn more about some basic concepts of chord substitutions you should also check out this lesson on jazz turnarounds.
7. As far as practice tips, I recommend you practice playing up and down each scale in several octaves. Getting your ears and hands comfortable with the sound and feel of these scales will go a long way.
8. Each scale has it’s own distinctive sound or ‘color’. You should play these scales enough times that you start to associate an emotion or a feeling with their sound.
There is no right or wrong answer for these emotions of course. Everybody’s answer will be a little different but forming these personal relationships can help you decide what scale to choose by the feeling you want to create.
So, please let me know in the comments area. What’s your favorite scale sound on this tune? Does dorian create a certain feeling for you? How about melodic minor? Blues Scale?
Leave a comment below and let me know. I read all of the comments.
P.S. If you haven’t explored the Premium Membership course you can check out all the course details right here https://www.freejazzlessons.com/premium
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