Altered Scale – A Simple How To Guide

Are you curious how to use the altered scale? 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 scaleSo, 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.

It’s also a very powerful concept when you learn how to use the altered notes inside your harmony. Many of the coolest sounding jazz chords and voicings come from the altered scale.

If you want to learn how to use it inside chords and songs then check out the intermediate and advanced arrangements inside the Premium Jazz Membership Course.

If you want to learn how to use it in your improvisation then I also encourage you to check out my jazz improvisation instructional DVD here.

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. I also recommend you start learning how to use augmented chord arpeggios in your jazz improvisation because they come from the altered scale.

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! 

Thank you as always for your support of jazz education. Happy practicing and make some amazing music!


Steve Nixon