Jazz scale

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Jazz scale
One chord-scale option for an augmented dominant seventh chord (+7th) is the whole tone scale. [1]

A jazz scale is any musical scale used in jazz. Many "jazz scales" are common scales drawn from Western European classical music, including the diatonic, whole-tone, octatonic (or diminished), and the modes of the ascending melodic minor. All of these scales were commonly used by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, often in ways that directly anticipate jazz practice. [2] Some jazz scales, such as the bebop scales, add additional chromatic passing tones to the familiar diatonic scales.



Jazz scale
Jazz scale
Jazz scale
Jazz scale
Four scales compatible with G75

One important feature of jazz is what theorists call "the principles of chord-scale compatibility": the idea that a sequence of chords will generate a sequence of compatible scales. In classical major-mode harmony, chords typically belong to the same scale. For example, a ii–V–I progression in C major will typically use only the notes of the C diatonic collection. In jazz, a four-chord progression may use four different scales, often as the result of chordal alterations.

For instance, in C major, a jazz musician may alter the V chord, G7 (G–B–D–F), with a flattened fifth, producing the chord G75 (G–B–D–F). An improviser might then choose a scale containing these four notes, such as the G whole tone scale, the G octatonic scale, or a mode of either D or A melodic minor ascending. In each case, the scale contains the chord tones G–B–D–F and is said to be compatible with it. This notion of "chord scale compatibility" marks a fundamental difference between jazz harmony and traditional classical practice.

An avoid note is a note in a jazz scale that is considered, in jazz theory and practice, too dissonant to be played against the underlying chord, and so is either avoided or chromatically altered. [3] For example, in major-key harmony the 4th, and thus the 11th, is an avoid note and is therefore either treated as a passing tone or is augmented (raised a semitone). [4] Avoid notes are often a minor second (or a minor ninth) above a chord tone [5] or a perfect fourth above the root of the chord. [6]

[One] can get a good sense of the difference between classical and non-classical harmony from looking at how they deal with dissonances. Classical treats all notes that don't belong to the chord (i.e., the triad) as potential dissonances to be resolved. ... Non-classical harmony just tells you which note in the scale to avoid ["what is sometimes called an avoid-note"] (because it's really dissonant), meaning that all the others are okay. [6]

Modes of the major scale

The number of scales available to improvising musicians continues to expand. As modern techniques and musical constructions appear, jazz players find the ones they can put into compositions or use as material for melodic exploration. Prominent examples are the seven modes of the diatonic major scale and added-note scales.

Modes of the major scale
ModeNameScale on CAssociated chord [7]
I Ionian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CCmaj7 (9, 13)
II Dorian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CCm6 or Cm7 (9, 11, 13)
III Phrygian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CC7sus (9)
IV Lydian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CCmaj711 (9, 13)
V Mixolydian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CC7 (9, 13)
VI Aeolian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CCm7 (9, 11)
VII Locrian C–D–E–F–G–A–B–CCm75 or Cø7 (11, 13)

Compare each of the modes to the major scale for clues as to the subtle differences between them. Ionian is based on the 1st degree of the major scale, Dorian on the 2nd, Phrygian on the 3rd, etc.

Modes of the C major scale (White-note scales)
NameScaleAssociated chord[ citation needed ]
C IonianC–D–E–F–G–A–B–CCmaj7 (9, 13)
D DorianD–E–F–G–A–B–C–DDm6 or Dm7 (9, 11, 13)
E PhrygianE–F–G–A–B–C–D–EEm7 (9)
F LydianF–G–A–B–C–D–E–FFmaj711 (9, 13)
G MixolydianG–A–B–C–D–E–F–GG7 (9, 13)
A AeolianA–B–C–D–E–F–G–AAm7 (9, 11)
B LocrianB–C–D–E–F–G–A–BBm75 or Bø7 (11, 13)

Bebop scales

Bebop scales add a single chromatic passing tone to the seven-note major scale (Ionian and Mixolydian modes). The added passing tone creates an eight-note scale that fits rhythmically evenly within a 4
measure of 8 eighth notes, thus making it useful in practicing. When an eighth note bebop scale run starts on the beat from a chord tone (i.e. the root, third, fifth or seventh) the other chord notes will also fall on the beat. As a result, all of the nonchord tones will fall on upbeats.

There are two commonly used types of bebop scales:

  1. The dominant bebop scale, which adds a chromatic passing tone between the 7th and the root.
    Jazz scale
  2. The major bebop scale, which adds a chromatic passing tone between the 5th and 6th notes.
    Jazz scale

Modes of the melodic minor scale

Jazz scale
The ascending melodic minor scaleMbr />built on A

A great deal of modern jazz harmony arises from the modes of the ascending form of the melodic minor scale, also known as the jazz melodic minor scale. [8] This scale is essentially a diatonic major scale with a lowered third, for example C–D–E–F–G–A–B–C. As with any other scale, the modes are derived from playing the scale from different root notes, causing a series of jazz scales to emerge. [8]

Modes of the ascending melodic minor scale on C
ModeNameScale on CAssociated chords[ citation needed ]
I Ascending melodic minor C–D–E–F–G–A–BCmmaj7 (9, 11, 13) or Cm6 chords (functions as i minor)
IIPhrygian 6, Dorian 2, Assyrian, or PhrygidorianC–D–E–F–G–A–BC7sus (9, 9, 13) chord, with 2 as a non-chord tone producing a minor ninth
III Lydian augmented or Lydian 5C–D–E–F–G–A–BCmaj75 (9, 11) chord (functions as a III+)
IV Lydian dominant, Lydian 7, Acoustic scale, Mixolydian 4, Overtone, or LydomyxianC–D–E–F–G–A–BC7 (9, 11, 13) chord (functions as a dominant, secondary, or substitute dominant)
V Mixolydian 6, Melodic major, fifth mode of Melodic minor, Hindu, or MyxaeolianC–D–E–F–G–A–BC7 (9, 13) chord (functions as a dominant with 13 as a non-chord tone or the fifth avoided in the chord voicing as they produce a minor ninth)
VILocrian 2, Half-diminished, or AeolocrianC–D–E–F–G–A–BCm75 (9, 11, 13) (functions as a ii chord in the fifth mode of melodic minor)
VIISuper Locrian, Altered dominant scale, or altered scale C–D–E–F–G–A–BC7 (9 or 9, 11, 13) chord (functions as a dominant with the fifth of the chord replaced by 11 or 13, may also be used to harmonize a viiø chord in melodic minor)

The melodic minor scale is actually based on dorian mode, but its seventh is natural rather than flatted in normal dorian.

ModeNameScaleAssociated chords[ citation needed ]
I Ascending melodic minor C–D–E–F–G–A–BCmmaj7 (9, 11, 13) or C minor 6 chords The B note (as maj7 note) distinguishes C dorian and C ascending melodic minor.
IIPhrygian 6 or Dorian 2 D–E–F–G–A–B–CD7sus (9, 9, 13) chord, with 2 as a non-chord tone producing a minor ninth. B note brings Dorian taste on a normal D phrygian.
III Lydian augmented E–F–G–A–B–C–DEmaj75 (9, 11) chord (functions as a III+). E chord usually acts as the IV chord in the parent of C dorian (B ionian)
IV Lydian dominant F–G–A–B–C–D–EF7 (9, 11, 13) chord (functions as a dominant, secondary, or substitute dominant). The dominant function is held by F7 in C Dorian (or B Ionian)
V Mixolydian 6 G–A–B–C–D–E–FG7 (9, 13) chord (functions as a dominant). Thanks to B (major third) rather than B, the likely G Aeolian now has the dominant function as what G is expected in C Sorian (as V7). This is one of rare cases when the VI chord (in B Ionian, as the parent of C Dorian scale) are major/dominant rather than normal minor.
VILocrian 2A–B–C–D–E–F–GAm75 (9, 11, 13) (functions as a ii chord in the fifth mode of melodic minor).
VIISuper Locrian or altered scale B–C–D–E–F–G–AB7 (9 or 9, 11, 13) chord (functions as a dominant with the fifth of the chord replaced by 11 or 13, may also be used to harmonize a viiø chord in melodic minor). This scale is the same as B Ionian (as the VII scale of I (C) dorian), but the root itself raised a half-step to B.

The names of these scales are variations of the names used for some of the modes of the diatonic major scale, for example the Phrygian 6, the second mode of the melodic minor, is named so because it is the same as the Phrygian mode of the major scale with a major sixth.

Diminished scale

Jazz scale
Jazz scale
Jazz scale
The three octatonic scales

Sometimes called the octatonic scale because it contains eight tones, the diminished scale is composed of a series of alternating half and whole steps. There are two types of diminished scales, one starts with a half step and the other starts with a whole step. The two scales are modes of one another.

Because of the repetition of the interval pattern after only two notes, each note in the scale can be the root in another symmetric diminished scale. For example, the C diminished scale of the half-step-first type, has the same notes as the half-step-first E diminished scale as well as the whole-step-first D diminished scale. All three are composed of the same eight pitches: C–D–E–E–F–G–A–B–C.

Because of the symmetry of the diminished scale, there are only three distinct diminished scales (shown to the right). The others are all modes of these three.

Whole tone scale

Jazz scale
The whole tone scale built on C

The whole tone scale, consisting exclusively of whole steps, is often used on V75 chords.

Pentatonic scales

Jazz scale
Jazz scale
The white-note major and minor pentatonic scales

Two pentatonic scales common to jazz are the major pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale. They are both modes of one another.

The major pentatonic scale begins with a major scale and omits the fourth and the seventh scale degrees. The minor pentatonic scale uses the same notes as the major pentatonic scale, but begins on the sixth scale degree of the corresponding major scale. In this nomenclature, minor is employed in the sense of relative key, as the diatonic A minor scale is the relative minor of the diatonic C major scale.

Jazz improvisers, particularly bassist and guitarist, use these scales in a number of interesting ways. For example, over Bmaj711, one can use a major pentatonic based on the 2nd scale degree of B (C–D–E–G–A) to imply 9–3–11–13–7, respectively. Similarly, over a fully altered F7 chord, one can use the same major pentatonic, this time based on the tritone (C–D–E–G–A) to imply 5–13–7–9–9, respectively.

Blues scale

Jazz scale
Jazz scale
Two types of blues scales

The term blues scale refers to several different scales with differing numbers of pitches and related characteristics. The six-note blues scale consists of the minor pentatonic scale plus a chromatic passing tone between the 4 and 5. This added note can be spelled as either 5 or 4. Guitarists often mix the major and minor pentatonics together along with the blues scale.

Another common blues scale has nine notes (shown to the right). Winthrop Sargeant defines this scale as "a definite series of tones within an octave used as the basis of a musical composition," compiled instead from multiple compositions and improvisations (according to Stearns: "a great many jazz records") and is hypothesized as displaying the influence of African music. [9] The E and B are blue notes. [10]

Harmonic minor scale

Jazz scale
The harmonic minor scale built on A

The harmonic minor scale is also of value to many improvisors, as it provides an alternative color for many common chords and chord progressions. The A harmonic minor scale can be used on the chords of a piece in A minor, especially on the minor ii–V–i chord progression.

One of the most common uses of the harmonic minor scale is its fifth mode, which is a frequently heard sound over dominant chords.

Altered dominant scale

Jazz scale
The altered dominant scale built on C

The altered dominant scale, also loosely called the altered scale, is so named because all the scale members that can be altered relative to the basic dominant scale (the Mixolydian mode), without losing the dominant quality, are altered. The scale includes both altered fifths (5 and 5) and both altered ninths (9 and 9).

The altered fifths coincide enharmonically with the 11 and the 13 which would also be considered altered relative to their Mixolydian forms. The tonic, major third (as a diminished fourth), and dominant seventh are retained as essential to the dominant quality.

The scale can also be understood as a mode of the ascending melodic minor scale starting from the 7th scale degree. For a C7 chord, the C melodic minor scale starting from B (C enharmonically) produces the C altered dominant scale enharmonically.

This scale is also called the super-Locrian scale, as it is indeed reminiscent of a Locrian scale with a 4, but it is usually regarded as that of major quality. Another name for this scale is the diminished whole-tone scale because the first tetrachord is that of a diminished scale and the second tetrachord is whole-tone.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Major scale</span> Diatonic scale made of seven notes

The major scale is one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music. It is one of the diatonic scales. Like many musical scales, it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note.

In music theory, the minor scale is three scale patterns – the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale – rather than just two as with the major scale, which also has a harmonic form but lacks a melodic form.

In music theory, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, and a scale ordered by decreasing pitch is a descending scale.

In music theory, a leading-tone is a note or pitch which resolves or "leads" to a note one semitone higher or lower, being a lower and upper leading-tone, respectively. Typically, the leading tone refers to the seventh scale degree of a major scale, a major seventh above the tonic. In the movable do solfège system, the leading-tone is sung as ti.

An octatonic scale is any eight-note musical scale. However, the term most often refers to the symmetric scale composed of alternating whole and half steps, as shown at right. In classical theory, this scale is commonly called the octatonic scale, although there are a total of 42 enharmonically non-equivalent, transpositionally non-equivalent eight-note sets.

In jazz, the altered scale, altered dominant scale, Palamidian Scale, or Super Locrian scale is a seven-note scale that is a dominant scale where all non-essential tones have been altered. This means that it comprises the three irreducibly essential tones that define a dominant seventh chord, which are root, major third, and minor seventh and that all other chord tones have been altered. These are:

In a musical composition, a chord progression or harmonic progression is a succession of chords. Chord progressions are the foundation of harmony in Western musical tradition from the common practice era of Classical music to the 21st century. Chord progressions are the foundation of Western popular music styles, traditional music, as well as genres such as blues and jazz. In these genres, chord progressions are the defining feature on which melody and rhythm are built.

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism and modality. Chromatic elements are considered, "elaborations of or substitutions for diatonic scale members".

Not only at the beginning of a composition but also in the midst of it, each scale-step [degree] manifests an irresistible urge to attain the value of the tonic for itself as that of the strongest scale-step. If the composer yields to this urge of the scale-step within the diatonic system of which this scale-step forms part, I call this process tonicalization and the phenomenon itself chromatic.

Chromaticism is almost by definition an alteration of, an interpolation in or deviation from this basic diatonic organization.

Throughout the nineteenth century, composers felt free to alter any or all chord members of a given tertian structure [chord built from thirds] according to their compositional needs and dictates. Pronounced or continuous chordal alteration [and 'extension'] resulted in chromaticism. Chromaticism, together with frequent modulations and an abundance of non-harmonicism [non-chord tones], initially effected an expansion of the tertian system; the overuse of the procedures late in the century forewarned the decline and near collapse [atonality] of the system [tonality].

Chromaticism is the name given to the use of tones outside the major or minor scales. Chromatic tones began to appear in music long before the common-practice period, and by the beginning of that period were an important part of its melodic and harmonic resources. Chromatic tones arise in music partly from inflection [alteration] of scale degrees in the major and minor modes, partly from secondary dominant harmony, from a special vocabulary of altered chords, and from certain nonharmonic tones... Notes outside the scale do not necessarily affect the tonality...tonality is established by the progression of roots and the tonal functions of the chords, even though the details of the music may contain all the tones of the chromatic scale.

Sometimes...a melody based on a regular diatonic scale is laced with many accidentals, and although all 12 tones of the chromatic scale may appear, the tonal characteristics of the diatonic scale are maintained. ... Chromaticism [is t]he introduction of some pitches of the chromatic scale into music that is basically diatonic in orientation, or music that is based on the chromatic scale instead of the diatonic scales.

Mixolydian mode may refer to one of three things: the name applied to one of the ancient Greek harmoniai or tonoi, based on a particular octave species or scale; one of the medieval church modes; or a modern musical mode or diatonic scale, related to the medieval mode.

In music, the Phrygian dominant scale is the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale, the fifth being the dominant. Also called the altered Phrygian scale, dominant flat 2 flat 6 (in jazz), the Freygish scale (also spelled Fraigish), harmonic dominant, or simply the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale. It resembles the scale of the Phrygian mode but has a major third. In the Berklee method, it is known as the Mixolydian 9 13 chord scale, a Mixolydian scale with a lowered 9th (2nd) and lowered 13th (6th), used in secondary dominant chord scales for V7/III and V7/VI.

A heptatonic scale is a musical scale that has seven pitches, or tones, per octave. Examples include the major scale or minor scale; e.g., in C major: C D E F G A B C—and in the relative minor, A minor, natural minor: A B C D E F G A; the melodic minor scale, A B C D E FGA ascending, A G F E D C B A descending; the harmonic minor scale, A B C D E F GA; and a scale variously known as the Byzantine, and Hungarian, scale, C D E F G A B C. Indian classical theory postulates seventy-two seven-tone scale types, collectively called thaat, whereas others postulate twelve or ten seven-tone scale types.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harmonic major scale</span>

In music theory, the harmonic major scale is a musical scale found in some music from the common practice era and now used occasionally, most often in jazz. In George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept it is the fifth mode (V) of the Lydian Diminished scale. It corresponds to the Raga Sarasangi in Indian Carnatic music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jazz harmony</span> Harmonic music theory as it applies to Jazz

Jazz harmony is the theory and practice of how chords are used in jazz music. Jazz bears certain similarities to other practices in the tradition of Western harmony, such as many chord progressions, and the incorporation of the major and minor scales as a basis for chordal construction. In jazz, chords are often arranged vertically in major or minor thirds, although stacked fourths are also quite common. Also, jazz music tends to favor certain harmonic progressions and includes the addition of tensions, intervals such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths to chords. Additionally, scales unique to style are used as the basis of many harmonic elements found in jazz. Jazz harmony is notable for the use of seventh chords as the basic harmonic unit more often than triads, as in classical music. In the words of Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha, "7th chords provide the building blocks of jazz harmony."

In music, the acoustic scale, overtone scale, Lydian dominant scale, Lydian 7 scale, or the Pontikonisian Scale is a seven-note synthetic scale.

In music theory, the half-diminished seventh chord is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on C, commonly written as Cm7(♭5), or Cø7, has pitches C–E–G–B:

In music, the major Locrian scale, also called the Locrian major scale, is the scale obtained by sharpening the second and third notes of the diatonic Locrian mode. With a tonic of C, it consists of the notes C D E F G A B. It can be described as a whole tone scale extending from G to E, with F introduced within the diminished third interval from E to G. The scale therefore shares with the Locrian mode the property of having a diminished fifth above the tonic.

Bebop scale is a term referring to common seven-note scales that have an added chromatic passing note. These are frequently used in jazz improvisation and are derived from the modes of the major scale, the melodic minor scale, and the harmonic minor scale. These scales are most often used by David Baker and Barry Harris as a tool to teach jazz improvisation. According to Corey Christiansen, "David Baker, one of the world's finest jazz educators, named these scales the 'bebop scales' because they were used so often by jazz artists from the Bebop Era. These artists include Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few." Barry Harris builds these scales from two unrelated 4-note chords, which gives them their names in his system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jazz improvisation</span> Spontaneous composition in jazz

Jazz improvisation is the spontaneous invention of melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts in a performance of jazz music. It is one of the defining elements of jazz. Improvisation is composing on the spot, when a singer or instrumentalist invents melodies and lines over a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments and accompanied by drums. Although blues, rock, and other genres use improvisation, it is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often remain in one key.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diatonic and chromatic</span> Terms in music theory to characterize scales

Diatonic and chromatic are terms in music theory that are most often used to characterize scales, and are also applied to musical instruments, intervals, chords, notes, musical styles, and kinds of harmony. They are very often used as a pair, especially when applied to contrasting features of the common practice music of the period 1600–1900.

The chord-scale system is a method of matching, from a list of possible chords, a list of possible scales. The system has been widely used since the 1970s and is "generally accepted in the jazz world today".


  1. Hatfield, Ken (2005). Jazz and the Classical Guitar Theory and Applications, p. 121. ISBN   0-7866-7236-6.
  2. Tymoczko, Dmitri (1997). "The Consecutive-Semitone Constraint on Scalar Structure: A Link Between Impressionism and Jazz", Integral 11:135–79.
  3. Humphries, Carl (2002). The Piano Handbook. Backbeat. p. 262. ISBN   0-87930-727-7.
  4. Humphries (2002), p. 128.
  5. Nettles, Barrie (1987). Harmony 1. Berklee College of Music. p. 34.[ full citation needed ]
  6. 1 2 Humphries (2002), p. 126.
  7. "Jazz Modes Chart". www.apassion4jazz.net. Retrieved 2021-07-02.
  8. 1 2 Baerman, Noah (1998). Complete Jazz Keyboard Method: Mastering Jazz Keyboard, p. 34. ISBN   0-88284-913-1.
  9. Sargeant, Winthrop (1946). Jazz: Hot and Hybrid. New York, Dutton. Cited in Marshall Winslow Stearns (1970). The Story of Jazz, [ full citation needed ] p. 278. ISBN   0-19-501269-0.
  10. Metfessel, Milton, cited in Stearns (1970), p. 278.

Further reading