What Scale to Choose for Improvising?
One of the most common question a beginner asks when he wants to start improvising on guitar is : Which scale to choose over which chords? However, there is a lot of scale and a lot of chord, it is easy to get lost. That's why it is important to make the relation between them, trying to understand what is the appropriate scale that fit the chord and vice versa.
This guitar lesson provides the seventeen most important scales with shapes and formulas to know for improvising over the most used chord types in jazz music (major, minor, dominant and diminished).
Dominant 7 flat ninth chords (7b9) are generally related to the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale known as Phrygian dominant scale, which makes it the most obvious choice for improvising over 7b9 chords. However, we will see in this article that there are many other options.
Pentatonic scales are scales with five notes per octave. They are frequently used in music all over the world. The word "pentatonic" comes from the Greek word "pente" meaning five and "tonic" meaning tone.
Talk of "the" pentatonic scale generally make reference to the major pentatonic scale and its relative minor. It's a mistake, indeed there are many types of pentatonic scales (Egyptian, Ritusen, Man gong, Altered, Locrian...).
Pentatonic scales are considered earlier than heptatonic scales (seven-note scales) and can be divided into two categories :
- Containing semitones (hemitonic)
- Without semitones (anhemitonic)
The purpose of this post is to propose some tips and ideas for practicing and develop pentatonic scales.
When we think about major scales, the first that comes to mind is the Ionian mode, best know as THE major scale. However, there are several other types of major scales (Ionian #5, Lydian augmented #2, Ionian b6) which deserve a little more attention. Here they are listed with guitar shapes and formulas.
Locrian Mode Cheat Sheet For Guitar
The Locrian mode is the seventh mode of the major scale. It has a particular sound because of the b2, b3, b5, b6 and b7. It is probably the least used and the most misunderstood of all of the modes of the major scale. The Locrian mode is usually played over minor seventh flat ninth chords (m7b5).
The Aeolian mode is built with : root (1), minor second (b2), minor third (b3), perfect fourth (4), diminished fifth (b5), minor sixth (b6) and minor seventh (b7).
locrian-mode-guitar-cheat-sheet.pdf (145.18 Ko)
Aeolian Mode Cheat Sheet
The Aeolian mode (also called "natural minor scale" or "relative minor scale) is the sixth mode of the major scale, it is known as a relative minor to the ionian mode. It is a minor scale containing a minor third (b3), a minor seventh (b7) and a minor sixth (b6).
The Aeolian mode is built with : root (1), second (2), minor third (b3), perfect fourth (4), perfect fifth (5), minor sixth (b6) and minor seventh (b7).
aeolian-mode-cheat-sheet-for-guitarist.pdf (137.92 Ko)
Mixolydian Scale Guitar Cheat Sheet - PDF / JPEG
The Mixolydian mode, also called dominant scale is the fifth mode of the major scale. It is a major type scale. This is the mode to know when you want to play over dominant chords (not altered). The Mixolydian mode is widely used in jazz and blues music and one of the most important to master.
The Mixolydian mode is built with : root (1), second (2), third (3), perfect fourth (4), perfect fifth (5), sixth (6) and minor seventh (b7).
mixolydian-mode-sheet-cheat-for-guitar.pdf (134.74 Ko)
Lydian Mode Cheat Sheet
The Lydian mode is the fourth mode of the major scale. It is a major type scale very used to play over major chords. It gets interesting when it is played over a major chord, indeed it brings a little bit of tension because of the raised fourth / raised eleventh (#11).
The Lydian mode is built with : root (1), second (2), third (3), augmented fourth (#4), perfect fifth (5), sixth (6) and seventh (7).
lydian-mode-cheat-sheet.pdf (130.63 Ko)
Printable Phrygian Cheat Sheet
The Phrygian mode is the third mode of the major scale. It is one of the three minor modes of the major scale. The Phrygian mode is a minor type scale, indeed it contains a b3. It can be played over minor chords but it is rarely used because of the b2 scale tone.
The Phrygian mode interval pattern is : root (1), minor second (b2), minor third (b3), fourth (4), perfect fifth (5), minor sixth (b6) and minor seventh (b7).
phrygian-mode-cheat-sheet-for-guitar.pdf (138.44 Ko)
Printable PDF / JPEG Dorian Mode Cheat Sheet
The Dorian mode is the second of the seven musical modes.It is a minor type scale because of its minor third (b3), often the first choice to play over minor chords and one of the most important scales to know.
The Dorian mode is built with a root (1), a second (2), minor third (b3), fourth (4), perfect fifth (5), sixth (6) and minor seventh (b7).
dorian-mode-sheet-cheat-for-guitar.pdf (131.29 Ko)
Printable PDF / JPEG Ionian Mode Cheat Sheet
The Ionian mode (aka major scale) is the first of the seven musical modes. The other Greek modes are Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian modes. The Ionian mode has exactly the same notes as the major scale and surely the first scale to learn for a beginner musician.
The major scale consists of a root (1), second (2), major third (3), fourth (4), fifth (5), sixth (6) and major seventh (7).
major-scale-sheet-cheat.pdf (138.61 Ko)
The minor blues scale is mostly referred to as the minor pentatonic scale with a b5 thus giving the interval pattern 1 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 5 - b7. However, few musicians know that there are three types of minor blues scales depending on wether you incorporate the flat fifth (b5), the major third (3) or the major seventh (7) to the minor pentatonic scale. In this lesson you will learn how to build, play and recognize each of these three minor blues scales.
This infographic provide guitar shapes that will help you to make the link between the seven modes of the major scale and their related drop 2 and drop 3 chords.
Here is a list of the main musical scales and modes.
This infographic with three neck diagrams is a useful reminder for beginner guitarists and composers. It shows how to build a drop 2 seventh chord from each note of the major scale.
Giant Steps is one of those tunes in jazz that sends a bolt of fear through a lot of young or even experienced jazz musicians. It certainly does that to me anyway! The fast harmonic rhythm and the seemingly distant relationships between the chords means it is a very daunting challenge.
However, there is a very cool and simple way of practicing navigating through these changes and it involves using 3 different pentatonic scales.