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Jazz Guitar Scales – Common Scales Used In Jazz Guitar
by Craig Bassett

"Are you a jazz guitarist who would like to kick serious butt when you improvise? This three-part lesson about jazz guitar scales helps you to do that!"

PART 1

Learning jazz guitar scales can be a very daunting project. For the jazz newbie there seems to be an endless number of jazz scales that have to be learnt. It can be very overwhelming, and it can often be hard to even know where to start!

In this series of articles we’ll take a look at some of the most important jazz guitar scales that you need to know. Mastering these scales will help you become more fluent and confident with your jazz guitar improvisation. So without any more delay, let’s take a look at the first jazz guitar scale…

Jazz Guitar Scale #1: The Dorian Mode.

The Dorian Mode: Some Basic Theory…

Mastering this scale is vital for improvising in a jazz style. Unless you master it, you WILL struggle playing jazz. Yep…it’s THAT important. It is hard for me to imagine a jazz song where I wouldn’t need to use it!

The dorian mode has the following formula…

1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

This formula tells us what we need to do to the major scale in order to create the dorian mode. Let’s work out the notes of the D dorian mode to make things clearer…

Step 1:
Write down the notes of the D major scale. Doing this gives us these notes…

D E F# G A B C#

Step 2:
Flatten the third and seventh notes of the D major scale. We have to do this because the formula of the dorian more has a b3 and a b7. Flattening these notes gives us this…

D E F G A B C

These are the notes of the D dorian mode.

The Dorian Mode: Where To Use It...

The dorian mode works really well over minor 7th chords. So in our example above, we would use the D dorian mode over D minor 7th chords. The reason why the dorian mode works so well over minor 7th chords is because the formula for minor 7th chords is 1 b3 5 b7. Notice how these chord tones are also in the formula for the dorian mode?

To help you learn the dorian mode, here is a cool sounding four bar chord progression. I highly recommend recording it onto a tape or your computer. Your goal is to master soloing over it…

// Dmin7 / Dmin7 / Fmin7 / Fmin7 //

To improvise over this chord progression use D dorian for the first two bars, and F dorian for the last two bars. It can be quite challenging to switch between the two scales fluently. Especially if you recorded the chord progression at a really fast tempo. But that's what makes jazz fun!

PART 2

Playing jazz guitar fluently is definitely a challenge. It is a lifelong study. People new to jazz often underestimate the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed. Especially in the area of jazz guitar scales!

In this article we continue looking at the most common scales used in jazz guitar. Mastering these common scales will help you build a valuable foundation of guitar scale knowledge and technique. This foundation will eventually enable you to learn more complex jazz guitar scales.

Jazz Guitar Scales #2: The Mixolydian Mode.

The Mixolydian Mode: Some Basic Theory…

This is a great sounding scale! To my ears it has a warm, rounded and bluesy sound. It is absolutely essential that you master it. No excuses. :-)

The mixolydian mode has the following formula…

1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

So what does this formula tell us? It tells us that the mixolydian mode is the same as the major scale (Formula: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7), except it has a flattened 7th. Let’s work out the notes of the G mixolydian mode to make this clear…

Step 1: Write down the notes of the G major scale. This gives us these notes…

G A B C D E F#

Step 2: Flatten the seventh note of the G major scale. We have to do this because the formula of the mixolydian mode has a b7. So if we flattened the seventh, it gives us these notes…

G A B C D E F

These are the notes of the G mixolydian mode.

The Mixolydian Mode: Where To Use It…

The mixolydian mode works really well over dominant 7th chords. This means that in the example above we would use the G mixolydian mode over G dominant 7th chords. The mixolydian mode works over dominant 7th chords because the formula for dominant 7th chords is 1 3 5 b7. These chord tones are also found within the formula of the mixolydian mode.

To finish off this article, here is a chord progression for you to improvise over. To gain maximum benefit, you will need to record it so that you can solo over it. Another option would be to get a friend to play the chords for you…

// G dom7 / G dom7 / Bb dom7 / Bb dom7 //

To solo over this, use G mixolydian for the first two bars and Bb mixolydian for the last two bars. Be patient with yourself if you find this challenging. It just takes time and practice. It WILL get easier. :-)

If you’re more advanced, you could make the chord progression harder by adding some extra chords. Here’s an example of what you could do…

// G dom7 / F dom7 / Bb dom7 / D dom7 //

Or here’s another variation…

// G dom7 / B dom7 / Bb dom7 / Ab dom7 //

Have fun with this stuff!

PART 3

Learning to play jazz guitar can be a frustrating experience if you don’t understand jazz guitar scales. Learning and understanding scales is like learning the alphabet of a new language. It is an absolutely necessary step in learning the “language” of jazz guitar. Without mastery and internalization of jazz scales, fluent and creative jazz guitar soloing becomes virtually impossible!

In this article we take a look at THE most essential scale to learn for jazz guitar. All other scales can be derived from it. If you totally understand this scale you will be able to understand every other scale there is! You hopefully already know this scale, but just in case you don’t let’s take a look at it…

Jazz Guitar Scales #3: The Major Scale

The Major Scale: Some Basic Theory...

The major scale is a very bright and happy sounding scale. It is used extensively in jazz music. For that reason, it is really important that you master it in as many keys as possible.

You may have read in a book that the major scale has the following formula…

W W H W W W H

[W= whole step = 2 fret distance] [H = half step = 1 fret distance]

So what does this formula mean?

This formula tells you the distance in pitch between each note of the major scale. (Some geeky people call this the intervallic structure of the major scale). As an example, let’s take a look at the notes of the C major scale. Notice that I have numbered each note of the scale. (These numbers are called scale degrees)…

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
C D E F G A B C

Before I explain this, please find these notes on your guitar. Make sure that you stick to ONE string only. (The B-string would be a really good choice). After you're done, please read on...

Here are a few observations:

  • The distance between notes 1 and 2 is two frets (W).
  • The distance between notes 2 and 3 is two frets (W).
  • The distance between notes 3 and 4 is one fret (H).
  • The distance between notes 4 and 5 is two frets (W).
  • The distance between notes 5 and 6 is two frets (W).
  • The distance between notes 6 and 7 is two frets (W).
  • The distance between the notes 7 and 1 is one fret (H).

All clear? Great! Let’s now put the major scale into practice…

The Major Scale: Where To Use It…

The major scale sounds great over major 7th chords. This means that we would use the C major scale over C major 7th chords. The formula for a major 7th chord is 1 3 5 7. Notice how these numbers lie within the formula of the major scale. (This is the reason why you can use the major scale over major 7th chords).

Let’s now take a look at a chord progression for you to improvise over. To extract the most value from it, I recommend recording it. That way you can improvise over the progression…

// C maj7 / C major7 / Eb maj7 / Eb maj7 //

Use the C major scale to solo over the first two bars, and use the Eb major scale to solo over the last two bars. Have fun!

Soloing fluently in a jazz guitar style is almost impossible if you don’t completely master jazz guitar scales. If you would like to learn a step-by-step blueprint for doing this, then check out: http://www.GuitarScaleMastery.com


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