The Altered Scale | Guitar Lesson with Diagrams, Scale charts, Theory and Licks

The altered scale

What's the altered scale

The altered scale is the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale.  It contains one altered fifth (b5), two altered ninth (b9 and #9) and one altered thirteenth (b13). This scale is used to solo over Dominant chords when you want to create tension in your jazz lines. The altered scale is sometimes referred to as super Locrian mode or Locrian b4.

Altered scale for guitar

 

G altered scale G Ab Bb B Db Eb F
Formula 1 b9 #9 3 b5 b13 b7
Intervals H W H W W W W

Altered scale against dominant chords

The altered scale is so-called because it contains all four common altered notes generally used to add tension when soloing over a dominant chord. These four notes altered notes are b9 - #9 - b13 - b5. 

G altered scale G Ab Bb B Db Eb F
Formula 1 b9 #9 3 b5 b13 b7
G Dominant chord  G   B   D   F
Formula 1   3   5   b7

 

Related altered chords 

Altered chords are generally simplified and written "ALT", for example G7b5 or G7b13 can be written G7alt. There are many possible combinations of altered chords because it's impossible to play all of those altered notes in a same chord at the same time. So, the choice is yours, you are free to add one or two extensions to your altered chord, which could give several options : 

  • G7b5
  • G7b9
  • G7#9
  • G7b13
  • G7b5
  • G7#5b9
  • G7b5#9
  • G7#9b13
  • and many more...

You need to know that the altered scale sounds good with other altered chords as 7#11 or 7#5, indeed the b5 can be considered as a #11 and the b13 as a #5. In conclusion, every time you see a dominant chord for example, in a II-V-I sequence, you can play an altered scale over the V to create a little bit of tension.

Altered guitar voicings

Here are some guitar neck diagrams of altered chords that fit with the altered scale.

Altered chords voicings for guitar

Altered scale | Guitar position 1

How to play the altered scale on guitar

There are many ways to play the altered scale on a guitar. Here are two recommended patterns. To "hear" the sound of this scale it is important to play these patterns starting from the root "R". To play the B altered scale using the first pattern you must put your third finger on the sixth string at the seventh fret.

 

The altered scale guitar diagram 2

 

Altered scale | Guitar position 2

To play the B altered scale using the second pattern you must put your third finger on the fifth string at the fourteenth fret. You have to learn and transpose these patterns in twelve keys by moving the root "R" to the right note keeping the same intervals.

The altered scale guitar diagram

Altered jazz guitar lines

How to play an altered line with a minor triad

In this example, we will apply a minor triad on G7alt to create a strong pull towards CMaj7. Playing a minor triad starting on the b9 of a dominant chord highlight some interesting altered notes as the b9, b13 and #9. This means that in a II-V-I progression in C major you can play an Ab minor triad over G7alt. If you have carefully read the previous section of this lesson named "RELATIVE CHORDS" you will understand that you can play a G7b9 chord, or a G7b13, a G7#9 or even a G7b13#9.

Altered jazz guitar lick

How to play an altered line with the dominant pentatonic scale

You are probably wondering what's the dominant pentatonic scale. It contains the four notes of a dominant chord namely root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7) with a supplementary note, the second (2) which can be seen as the ninth (9). The dominant pentatonic scale is commonly used over dominant 7 chords starting on the root, but can be used as a tritone substitution, this where it gets very interesting. Indeed, when playing a Mixolydian pentatonic scale starting on the b5 of a dominant chord you highlight three altered notes, the b5 (aka #11), b13 and b9. The following example takes a major II-V-I progression in C major. You can notice the use of the Db7 dominant pentatonic scale over G7. This creates an interesting sound and a bit of tension.

G altered guitar lick tritone substitution

 

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Last edited: 25/05/2018

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