Jazz Scales     

The jazz scales can be thought of in the same way as modes: a set of scales starting on different degrees of an underlying scale that use only the notes of that scale. In the case of 'standard' modes the underlying scale is the Ionian or major scale.

The jazz scales are based on an underlying ascending melodic minor scale which can also be thought of as a rising major scale but with the third degree lowered (or flattened). As with the 'standard' modes, each scale starts on a different degree of the ascending melodic minor scale. Unlike the 'classical' melodic minor scale, the jazz scales (and modes) remains the same when played up or down.

Jazz Scales based on the C Melodic Minor
D Dorian 2b (Dorian Flat 2): D Eb F G A B C D STTTTST
Eb Lydian augmented (Lydian 5# or Lydian Sharp 5): Eb F G A B C D Eb TTTTSTS
F Lydian 7b (Mixolydian 4# or Mixolydian Sharp 4): F G A B C D Eb F TTTSTST
G Mixolydian 6b (Mixolydian Flat 6): G A B C D Eb F G TTSTSTT
A Aeolian 5b (Minor 5b or Minor Flat 5): A B C D Eb F G A TSTSTTT
B Superlocrian
(Locrian 4b, Locrian Flat 4 or Diminished Whole Tone):
B C D Eb F G A B STSTTTT
C Hypoionian (Melodic Minor): C D Eb F G A B C TSTTTTS

Shown below, the G minor jazz melodic minor scale.

Various chords may be used to support this scale.

The important thing to remember is that, in jazz, chords and scales are considered equivalent. The wide use of harmonic extensions offers many more close relations between scales and chords than in a harmony based only on the standard triads with the addition of the occasional seventh.

Jazz is a broad term with many sub-categories and fusion styles. Maybe it would be more accurate to apply the name to the type of audience it attracts rather than the type of music being played. Jazz harmony often chooses as its foundation a 12-bar blues.

Here is an example of simple 12-bar blues:

4
4
C F C C F F C C G7 F C G7

This can be harmonised using the main major modes, the scales you get when you play the same note row (for example, the scale of C major), and start in on a different note (when played from D to D, you get the Dorian Mode). The major modes in a harmonised C major scale are shown below.

 

Chord Start/End Note Mode Tonality Played over
1 C to C Ionian Major Major or M7 chord
2 D to D Dorian Minor Minor or m7
3 E to E Phrigian Minor Minor
4 F to F Lydian Major Maj7
5 G to G Mixolydian Major Dominant 7, 13 or 9
6 A to A Aeolian Minor Minor
7 B to B Locrian Minor7b5 m7b5 or diminished

From the choice of chord one picks a particular scale, and vice versa; this mutual association gives jazz harmony chords and scales not found in other styles of music. We offer a jazz 12-bar to give an idea of what is possible.

 

4
4
Bb13 Eb9 Bb13 Fm9 Bbalt Eb9 Edim Dm7 G7b9 Cm7 F7#9 Bb9 G7 Cm7 G7#9

The above modes can also be derived from melodic minor scales.

One particularly interesting example is the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale, one that starts and ends on the seventh note of the scale (for example, with C melodic minor, we play from B to B, the superlocrian mode). Its distinctive sound is heard in many jazz pieces and is main use is over an altered dominant seventh chord. For example, in the sequence above, it would be used on the last, G7#9, chord, and also the two G7b9 and F7#9 chords. In each case respectively, we use G superlocrian and F superlocrian. Applying the scales to the appropriate chords, and we produce the required harmony.

 

4
4
Bb Mixolydian Eb Mixolydian Bb Mixolydian F Dorian
Bb Superlocrian
Eb Mixolydian E Diminished D Dorian G Superlocrian C Dorian F Superlocrian Bb Mixolydian
G Mixolydian
C Dorian
G Superlocrian

Summarising the Lydian scales which are so important in jazz.

 

Lydian scales
Lydian scale (or mode) major scale with a raised fourth
scale that borrows the major key signature from a perfect fourth below or a perfect fifth above
Lydian augmented scale major scale with raised fourth and fifth degrees
Lydian scale with a raised fifth degree
scale that borrows the ascending form of the melodic minor scale from a minor third below or a major sixth above
Mixture scale
also called
Lydian b7, Mixolydian #4, Lydian-Mixolydian, Mixolydian-Lydian, Lydian Dominant
major scale with raised fourth and lowered seventh degrees
Lydian scale with a lowered seventh degree
Mixolydian scale with a raised fourth degree
scale that borrows the ascending form of the melodic minor scale from a perfect fourth below or a perfect fifth above
Synthetic Mixture #5 scale major scale with raised fourth and fifth degrees along with a lowered seventh
Lydian scale with raised fifth and lowered seventh degrees
Lydian augmented scale with a lowered seventh degree
Mixture scale with a raised fifth degree

 

 

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