10 Ways To Dominate Dominant Seventh Chords

Jazz Scales Demystified

Do you want to learn more about playing jazz scales and soloing over dominant chords? Awesome.

This article on jazz scales and many other articles on this website will help you. 

To get started quickly you can check out any of the 3 jazz scale lessons below.

3 important minor jazz scales – A free video lesson on how to play and use 3 important minor jazz scales.

How To Use The Blues Scale Over Jazz Tunes – Learn how to use one of the most popular scales over essential jazz tunes.

Major bebop scale piano lesson – One of the most fundamentally important scales used in jazz improvisation and playing over chords progressions in a major key.

Want to learn about dominant jazz scales? Keep reading the lesson below.

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Learning to solo over dominant 7th chords and its myriad alterations is not just an important skill for any jazz improviser to possess. It is essential.

7th chords can be altered in various ways, and applied to a number of jazz song situations in both major and minor keys.

So, take some time in the practice room to explore the 10 different scales and modes that can be used to improvise over 7th chords.

It might take some time to get these sounds fully into your ears and under your fingers.

When you arrive at a point where you feel comfortable navigating any 7th chord in any musical circumstance, you’ll be glad you put the time in to really digest these 10 scales and modes.

(There is also this video lesson you should check out where we discuss dominant chords more in depth dominant chords video.)

7th: Mixolydian Mode

Mixolydian

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The Mixolydian Mode is the bread and butter choice when improvising over any 7th chord.

It is the 5th mode of the major scale system and as such is contains all the notes of the plain 7th chord, R-3-5-b7-9-11-13, without any alterations to the sound of the chord.

Though it is pretty plain sounding compared to the other scales in this articles, it is still probably the most important in terms of beginning to explore improvising over 7th chord sounds.

It can act as a solid foundation for you to build upon when learning the other dominant 7th sounds.

This scale can easily be applied to any V7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression, as well as to any 7th chord found in the blues, I7, IV7 and V7.

Basically, whenever you have a dominant 7th chord that doesn’t resolve to a m7 chord, you can test the waters with Mixolydian as a good starting point for your improvisation, before heading into the alterations provided by the other modes below.

7th: Dominant Bebop Scale

Bebop Scale

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The Dominant Bebop Scale is built by adding a major 7th interval to the Mixolydian mode, creating an eight-note scale that has both a b7 and a nat7.

The extra note is used to create a chromatic passing note movement between the Root and the b7, giving this scale a unique sound as it has three half-steps in a row between those two chord tones.

Here’s a video of Steve Nixon teaching the scale.

This is one of the most commonly used scales in all of jazz, especially Bebop. This scale can be found in the solos of many of the greatest jazz improvisers in history.

It can be used in a similar fashion as a Mixolydian mode, over 7th chords in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression and all the 7th chords in a blues improvisation.

So, it is often used in place of the Mixolydian scale when the soloist wants to add in chromatic notes without getting too far away from the fundamental sound of the 7th chord.

One of the most popular ways to spice up this scale is to thread Bebop scale patterns throughout the mode in order to inject standard vocabulary into any Bebop scale line.

Adding enclosures, chromatic approaches and arpeggios in allows you to come back to this scale time and again in any solo without sounding repetitive or like you are relying too much on one sound for your ideas.

This is a must know scale for any serious jazz improviser.

Here’s a great lick that features the bebop scale interwoven w/ chromatics bebop scale lick.

7#11: 4th Mode Melodic Minor

Mixolydian #11

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Taken from the fourth mode of the melodic minor scale, this mode goes by several different labels including Lydian-Mixolydian, Lydian b7, Mixolydian #11 and Lydian Dominant.

Regardless of which label you prefer for this scale, it is an important tool in the repertoire of any jazz improviser.

The scale is built like Mixolydian mode, except that it has a raised fourth in the scale, creating a 7(#11) chord symbol.

Because the raised fourth has a “sharper” sound than a natural fourth interval, this mode has a distinctly brighter sound than its cousin the Mixolydian mode.

Since it does have one alteration, the raised 4th, this scale needs to be used with a bit more caution then the Mixolydian, when inserting it into an improvisation.

It can be used over any 7th chord in a blues, see Sonny Rollins’ classic jazz tune “Blue Seven” for an example of how this is done, as well as the V7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression.

Whether or not it will sound good is determined by the vibe of the tune, where you just were in the progression and where you are going next.

So, feel free to experiment with this mode in your improvising, but be aware that there may be instances where theoretically you can use the #11 sound, but in practicality it doesn’t sound great, and vice-versa.

7b13: 5th Mode Melodic Minor

Mixolydian b13

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The fifth mode of the melodic minor scale can also be used to improvise over a 7th chord.

In this instance we also have one alteration, as we did with the fourth mode of this scale, only this time the sixth has been flattened to create a 7(b13) sound.

One of the great things about this mode is that there is both a natural fifth and flat sixth interval present, creating an extra half-step between the two that you can use to create tension and release lines in your solo.

Though this mode has an alteration, it can still be used in a wide variety of circumstances. It will sound good over the V7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 and over any 7th chord in a blues when used sparingly.

Again, as was the case with the fourth mode of melodic minor, while this mode can be used in those circumstances, it won’t always sound great depending on the circumstances.

Feel free to experiment with using this scale over different tunes and in different situations when you encounter a 7th chord.

But, don’t let jazz theory dictate whether or not you use it in a practical situation. Let your ears and tastes tell you whether this sound is right or not for any particular tune and progression.

It is always a good idea to take any new scale, especially one with an alteration, into the woodshed before you bring it out on stage or into a jam session.

This will give you ears a chance to adjust to the new sound of the mode, and you’ll be able to at least begin to figure out where you like to use this or any dominant mode in a real-world application.

7(b9,#9,b5,#5): Altered Scale (7th Mode Melodic Minor)

Altered Scale

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The next mode we will look at from the melodic minor scale (there are four in total that work with 7th chords) is the seventh mode.

This mode can also be called the Super Locrian Scale, the Diminished Whole Tone Scale and most commonly, the Altered Scale.

No matter what you decide to label this scale, it is one of the most commonly used in jazz and is the fundamental scale choice for V7 chords in minor keys.

The scale features all of the possible alterations one could use in any dominant 7th chord, hence the name Altered Scale.

Here’s a video of Steve Nixon teaching the scale. 

These alterations are the b9, the #9, the b5 and the #5. Because this mode is filled to the brim with altered notes, it is great for creating tension that will then need to be resolved when you arrive at the next chord in the progression.

Because it doesn’t have any resolution notes, except the root, such as the 9th or 5th, this scale is a tension builder, but these notes can’t be resolved outside of going to the root while sticking to this mode.

So be cautious when applying this scale outside of a iim7b5-V7alt-Im7 progression, where the notes of the mode will be resolved to the notes in the Im7 chord.

This scale can be used over the chords in a blues progression to create tension, or in other instances where the next chord isn’t Im7.

If you decide to apply it to these situations you will need to proceed with caution as you might find yourself stepping out over one chord, but not finding a suitable way to get back and resolve on the next chord in the progression.

Since this mode is so commonly used, you will be able to find countless licks and phrases in the solos of your favorite players that use this scale.

That would be a great place to start when building your Altered Scale vocabulary.

Transcribing licks over V7alt chords will allow you to get into the minds of the top players, building your vocabulary and learning how they apply this mode to real-life situations at the same time.

7Susb9: 2nd Mode Melodic Minor

Susb9

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The last mode of melodic minor that we will check out is built from the second degree of the scale.

This mode is a bit quirky in its makeup, as there is no major third interval in the mode. Instead, there is a b9, #9 and 11th (4th) in the mode, producing the chord symbol 7(b9sus4). Not something you see every day!

Though it is a rare mode to use, you can find examples of this chord in the playing and writing of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall and others.

Though it can be applied to instances in the standard repertoire, this mode sounds best when used in a modal context, or when the composer or arranger has written this specific chord voicing into the chart.

While it may not be as popular as some of the other 7th chord modes, it does produce a very unique sound, one that is worth checking out in the woodshed to see if you can find a place to insert it into your playing.

13b9: 5th Mode Harmonic Major

Mixo b9 MelMaj

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A close relative of the Mixolydian scale, the 5th mode of the Harmonic Major Scale is built like a Mixo but with the second note flattened to produce a C7(b9) chord symbol.

It is a lesser-known mode as far as usage in traditional jazz improvisation.

Though, it is a valuable tool for any improviser as it is one of the few modes that features a natural 13 and b9 within its makeup.

Because the only alteration is the b9, you can use this mode over any 7th chord in a blues or in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 progression. Again, as was the case with other modes featuring one alteration, circumstances and personal taste will dictate when and where you can use this mode in a practical situation.

Try experimenting with it first in the practice room to get a handle on it before taking it out on the bandstand to avoid any awkward moments in your solos as you experiment with this sound.

Though it has a b9 interval, this scale doesn’t work over the V7 chord in a minor key, mostly because the natural 13 over this chord is the major 3rd over the tonic Im7 chord, breaking any connection it has to the tonic minor sound.

So, while it can be used in a number of instances in and around major keys, it is advisable to avoid using this scale in the context of a minor key as the natural 13th will sound very out of place in that context.

7b9b13: 5th Mode Harmonic Minor

Mixo b9b13

 

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The fifth mode of the Harmonic Minor Scale is very similar to the 5th mode of Harmonic Major, though in this case we do find a b13 interval in the scale, creating a 7(b9,b13) chord symbol.

Because it has the b13, this scale can be used in a minor key context, which was not the case with the previous mode.

This mode is a favorite improvisational device of players such as Clifford Brown, check out his solo on “A Night in Tunisia” to find him using this mode to create some classic lines, and along with the Altered Scale is one of the most important modes one can have in their minor key improvisational tool belt.

This mode will work great over the V7 chord in a iim7b5-V7alt-Im7 progression, as the b9 and b13 resolve nicely to chord and scales tones found in the Im7 sound.

To spice things up with this scale, you can add in the Bebop passing note, from the Bebop Scale, between the Root and the b7, producing a run of four chromatic notes in a row, b9-R-7-b7.

This was also a favorite alteration used by Clifford Brown, among others, and it’s a great way to bring the Bebop Scale flavor into your minor key soloing.

#11#5: Whole Tone Scale

Whole Tone Scale

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The first symmetrical scale we will take a look at is the Whole-Tone Scale.

A symmetrical scale is different from a normal scale or mode because the intervals between each note in the scale are the same, whereas they differ in the modes of the major, melodic minor, harmonic minor and harmonic major scales.

In this case, the interval used is a whole-tone, hence the name. So, each note in the scale is separated by a whole-step, producing a sound that is fairly unique, one that has a unified quality to it that separates it from asymmetrical modes.

This scale has both a #11 and a #5 interval, and so it produces the 7(#11,#5) chord symbol.

This scale is a bit tricky to use in an improvisational context unless you see that particular symbol. Because there is a #5 interval it kind of sounds good in a minor key, but the natural 9 interval makes it sound like it fits over a major key.

So, take your time when working on this scale and try it in a number of different situations to see how it sounds to your ears when you apply it to a 7th chord that doesn’t have the #5 written directly into the chord symbol.

When used in the right moment this scale can be very effective, but it does tend to get overused by younger, more inexperienced players.

The results are often mixed at best. So be cautious with this scale and take the time to absorb it in the practice room before venturing out onto the stage with it.

13b9: Diminished Scale

Diminished Scale

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The last scale we will look at in this article is the second symmetrical scale on our list, the Half-Whole Diminished Scale.

This scale is built by alternating half-steps and whole-steps, producing an eight-note scale that has a b9, #9 and #11 in its construction.

Because of these alterations, this chord produces a 13(b9) chord symbol, and again rests somewhere between minor and major tonalities.

This scale can be used in any circumstance when you want to have a natural 13 but a b9 interval.

Check out Jim Hall’s playing for tons of great examples of this chord and how to apply this scale in a practical circumstance.

If you are using this scale in a spot where the chord is not written specifically as 13(b9) you want to proceed with caution. It can be used in some minor key situations, but again be careful of the natural 13, which is the major 3rd in the Im7 chord that this 7th chord resolves to.

It fits well over a V7 chord in a major key, with a b9 and #9 alteration.

The Diminished Scale is a very popular choice for players when bringing alterations over a 7th chord, but it needs to be used with caution as the alterations as well as the natural 13th might cause you some headaches if you don’t approach and resolve them in a proper way.

Final Dominant Scale Notes

Learning to improvise over Dominant 7th chords is an essential skill for any jazz musician to possess. The chord is so versatile in terms of alterations as well as how and where it is used in a musical context.

It provides a unique challenge for those musicians looking to dig deep into its various colors and musical contexts.

By checking out the 10 scales and modes above, you will not only give yourself tons of options when improvising over this scale, but you train your ears to become comfortable to each of the different chord colors that dominant 7th chords provide.

(This is a guest post by Leeds College of Music instructor  Matthew Warnock)******
jazz piano scalesAbout the Author: 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.