Chord/Scale Chart

The accompanying chart lists the most commonly occurring chords in jazz harmony along with the scales normally associated with each. The chords are grouped into the four basic categories of major, minor, dominant, and half diminished. In a pinch, any scale from any chord in any one of these categories can be used for any other chord in that category. There is an additional category for miscellaneous chords at the end. There are many more possible scales and chords. However, these are the most important ones in traditional jazz harmony.

        Chord                                 Scale

                       C major, C lydian, C major bebop
 Cmaj7, Cmaj9, C6, C   C major pentatonic, G major pentatonic

 Cmaj7#11              C lydian, B in sen

                       C dorian, C minor bebop, C minor pentatonic
 Cm7, Cm9, Cm11, Cm    F major pentatonic, Bb major pentatonic
                       Eb major bebop, C blues, C minor

                       C dorian, C melodic minor, C minor pentatonic,
 Cm6, Cm               F major pentatonic, Bb major pentatonic,
                       C minor bebop, Eb major bebop, D in sen

 Cm-maj7               C melodic minor, C harmonic minor, Eb major bebop

 Cm7b6                 C minor, Ab major pentatonic

 Cm7b9                 C phrygian, C phrygian #6

                       C mixolydian, C lydian dominant, C dominant bebop,
 C7, C9, C13, C        C blues, C major pentatonic

 C7sus, Csus, C11      C mixolydian
 Bb/C, Gm7/C           C suspended pentatonic, F major pentatonic

 C7#11, C7             C lydian dominant

 C7alt, C7#9#5, C7#9   C altered, F harmonic minor, F melodic minor

 C7b9b5, C7b9          C HW diminished, F harmonic minor, F melodic minor

 C7aug, C7+, C7#5      C whole tone

 Cm7b5                 C locrian #2, C locrian

 Cdim7                 C WH diminished

                       C phrygian, C phrygian #6, C Spanish phrygian
 Cphryg                C in sen

 Cmaj7#5               C lydian augmented, C major bebop

 C7susb9               C phrygian #6, C phrygian

Derived Scales

The scales in this section are mostly derived from chord progressions rather than specific chords. For the most part, they can be used as bridges between chords, allowing you to play either the same or very closely related scales over two or more different chords. This is sometimes called harmonic generalization.

The Blues Scale

The blues scale is often the first scale, after the major scale, taught to beginning improvisers, and is in some cases the only other scale they ever learn. This scale supposedly has its roots in African American music dating back to the days of slavery, but the exact origins of its modern incarnation are unknown. The C blues scale consists of “C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb”. The second degree of this scale, which is the flatted third of the minor scale, is called a blue note. In vocal music, it is often sung somewhere between an Eb and an E. In instrumental music, various techniques are employed to achieve the same effect, such as stretching the string while playing an Eb on a stringed instrument, lipping down an E on a wind instrument, or striking both the Eb and E simultaneously on a keyboard instrument. The flatted seventh and fifth are also sometimes called blue notes, and are not always sung or played exactly on the notated pitch. Variations on the blues scale that include the natural third, fifth, or seventh can be used as well. Also, note that if the flatted fifth is omitted, the resultant scale is the minor pentatonic scale. The minor pentatonic scale can thus be used as a substitute for the blues scale, and vice versa.

The beauty of the blues scale is that it can be played over an entire blues progression with no real avoid notes. If you try playing lines based on this usage, for instance, a C blues scale over a C7 chord, you get instant positive feedback, since almost everything you can do sounds good. This unfortunately leads many players to overuse the scale, and to run out of interesting ideas quickly. There are only so many phrases (licks) that can be played over a six note scale, and most of them have already been played thousands of times by now. This is not to say you should never use the blues scale; on the contrary, it is vitally important to jazz. But do not become so enamored of the easy gratification it can yield that you practice blues licks over and over rather than expand your harmonic vocabulary.

The language metaphor is a good one. It is hard to say interesting things with a limited vocabulary. Often players like Count Basie are offered as examples of musicians who manage to make a lot out of a little, but there is a difference between saying few words because you are choosing them carefully, and saying few words because you have nothing to say or because your vocabulary is too limited to express your thoughts. This advice transcends the blues scale, of course.

It is not always necessary to vary the harmonic content of your playing if you are sufficiently creative with other aspects. One way to introduce added interest when using the blues scale is to use any special effects at your disposal to vary your sound. This can include honking and screaming for saxophonists, growling for brass players, or using clusters on the piano.

Minor Scales

The harmonic minor scale is sometimes played over m-maj7 chords. Its modes have no common names, and they are rarely used by jazz musicians except as bridges over a ii-V-i chord progression. For example, consider the chord progression | Bm7b5 | E7alt | Am-maj7 |. An A harmonic minor scale can be played over all three of these chords, instead of the traditional B locrian, E altered, and A melodic minor scales. Another way of saying this is that the second mode can be played over a m7b5 chord, and that the fifth mode can be used over an altered dominant chord. Even when you are not using the harmonic minor scale over an entire progression, you may wish to use its fifth mode over the V chord in a minor key ii-V-i progression. The advantage of using this scale in this example is that it differs from the B locrian and A melodic minor scales by only one note each. The disadvantage is that the root of the scale is an avoid note in this context.

The melodic minor can be used in this same way; its fifth mode can be used over the V chord in a ii-V-i progression to keep some commonality between the scales used. Note however that the second mode of the A melodic minor is not an ideal choice over the Bm7b5 chord, because this scale has F# instead of F. This is the only difference between the harmonic and melodic minor scales. Your choice of whether to use the fifth mode of the harmonic or melodic minor scales over a dominant seventh chord may partially depend on the key of the tune. If F# is in the key signature, then the melodic minor may sound more diatonic. You may choose that scale if this is the sound you are trying to achieve, or the harmonic minor if you are trying to avoid sounding diatonic. Conversely, if F# is not in the key signature, then the harmonic minor may sound more diatonic. Another issue to consider is which of these scales is closer to the scale you are using on the preceding or following chord. Depending on the sound you are trying to achieve, you may wish to choose the scale that has either more or fewer notes in common with the surrounding scales.

Bebop Scales

The major bebop scale is a major scale with an added raised fifth or lowered sixth. The C major bebop scale is “C, D, E, F, G, G#, A, B”. This scale can be used over major seventh or major seventh augmented chords. The C major bebop scale can also be used as a bridge between chords in a progression like | Cmaj7 | Bm7b5 E7 | Am |; that is, the same scale can be played over the entire progression. Another way of looking at this is to say that we are playing the C major bebop scale itself over the Cmaj7 chord, playing its eighth mode over the Bm7b5 chord, playing its third mode over the E7 chord, and playing its seventh mode over the Am chord. These modes closely resembly the major, locrian, altered and minor scales respectively. Note that we are using the C major bebop scale over a ii-V-i progression in A minor. In general, we can use the major bebop scale in any given key over a ii-V-i progression in the relative minor to that key.

Other bebop scales include the dominant bebop scale, which is similar to the mixolydian mode but with an additional major seventh. The C dominant bebop scale is thus “C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, B”. This scale can be used over dominant seventh chords. The major seventh is not really an avoid note if you use it as a passing tone between the C and Bb. It also serves as the raised fourth in the Fmaj7 chord that is likely to follow the C7 chord. There is also the minor bebop scale, which is a dorian scale with an added raised third. The C minor bebop scale is thus “C, D, Eb, E, F, G, A, Bb”. This scale can be used over minor seventh chords, and is often used in minor key blues progressions to give more of a dominant seventh feel to the chords.

Synthetic Scales

The blues and bebop scales are sometimes called synthetic scales, because they do not fit in well with classical theory and appear to have been invented to fit a particular situation. In general, any number of synthetic scales can be constructed using just intervals of minor, major, and augmented seconds. You may wish to try experimenting with developing your own scales and looking for opportunities to use them.

Pentatonic Scales

There are a group of five note scales known collectively as pentatonic scales. Intervals in a traditional pentatonic scale are normally limited to whole steps and minor thirds. Many performers use these relatively simple scales to good effect, including McCoy Tyner and Woody Shaw. The two basic pentatonic scales are the major pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale. A C major pentatonic scale is “C, D, E, G, A”, and a C minor pentatonic scale “C, Eb, F, G, Bb”. Note that the C minor pentatonic scale is actually the fifth mode of an Eb major pentatonic scale. Other modes of the pentatonic scales are used as well, such as “C, D, F, G, Bb”, which is the second mode of the Bb major pentatonic scale. This scale can be called the suspended pentatonic scale, although this usage is by no means standard.

As their names imply, the major, minor, and suspended pentatonic scales can be used over major, minor, and suspended chords respectively. For instance, the C major pentatonic scale can be used over Cmaj7. Sometimes this chord is written C6 to imply more strongly that the major pentatonic scale is to be used. The C minor pentatonic scale can be used over Cm7. The C suspended pentatonic scale can be used over a C7sus chord.

Other five note scales are used occasionally as well. For instance, the scale “E, F, A, B, D” is the traditional Japanese “in sen scale”. It can be used as a substitute for the E phrygian mode (note it in fact defines the E phrygian chord) to impart an Asian flavor to the music. Useful variations of this scale include the second mode, “F, A, B, D, E”, which can be used over a Fmaj7#11 chord; the fourth mode, “B, D, E, F, A”, which can be used over a Bm7b5 chord; and the fifth mode, “D, E, F, A, B”, which can be used over a Dm6 chord.

Since there are relatively few notes in a pentatonic scale, one pentatonic scale can often be used over several different chords with no real avoid notes. For instance, the C major pentatonic scale “C, D, E, G, A” could be used over Cmaj7, C7, D7sus, Dm7, Em7b6, Fmaj7, G7sus, Gm7, or Am7.

Symmetric Scales

When a mode of given scale produces the same type of scale as the original, the scale is said to be symmetric. Several of the important scales used by jazz musicians are symmetric. For instance, the chromatic scale is symmetric, in that every single mode of it is another chromatic scale. In this case, there is really only one unique chromatic scale; all others are just modes of it. In general, if N modes of a given scale produce the same type of scale (including the first mode, the original scale itself), then there are only 12/N different scales of that type.

One thing to watch out for in the scales discussed in this section is that they seem to lend themselves to playing patterns, and sometimes it is difficult to avoid sounding cliched when using these scales. When you have several measures of a given chord, a common technique is to play a short figure in the associated scale and repeat it transposed to several different positions. For instance, a possible pattern in C major would be “C, D, E, G”. This pattern could be repeated several times starting at different positions, perhaps as “D, E, F, A” or “E, F, G, B”. For some reason, many of the scales listed below invite this type of approach, and it is easy to end up with with a few cliches you use every time you are confronted with these scales. Always be conscious of this. You should not feel that a scale is dictating to you what you can or should play.

Whole Tone Scale

A particularly easy scale is the whole tone scale, so called because all the steps in the scale are whole steps. A C whole tone scale consists of “C, D, E, F#, G#, Bb”. It has only six notes, and all six of its modes (including itself) form whole tone scales. There are thus only 12/6 or 2 different whole tone scales. The other one is “Db, Eb, F, G, A, B”.

Since the first, third, and fifth degrees of this scale form an aug- mented triad, this scale can be be played over augmented chords. This scale also contains the note that would be the seventh in a dominant chord (that is, Bb in a C7). The chord implied by this scale is written either as C7aug, Caug, C7+, C+, or C7#5.

The Diminished Scales

Another symmetric scale is the diminished scale. This scale is also called the whole step half step scale, or the half step whole step scale, because it is constructed from alternating half and whole steps. A whole step half step (abbreviated WH) scale on C consists of “C, D, D#, F, F#, G#, A, B”; a half step whole step (abbreviated HW) scale consists of “C, Db, Eb, E, F#, G, A, Bb”. These scales each contain eight notes. Note that, in addition to the original scale, the third, fifth, and seventh modes of either a WH or HW scale (in addition to the first mode) form another WH or HW scale, so there are only 12/4 or 3 different diminished scales of each type. Also, note that the WH diminished scale is just the second mode of the HW diminished scale, so that in fact, there are only three distinct diminished scales in all. The WH and HW versions of this scale are used in different situations, however.

The HW diminished scale outlines a dominant seventh chord with a lowered ninth and fifth. For example, C7b9b5 is “C E Gb Bb Db” and these notes, as well as the sixth, the natural fifth and the raised ninth, are all present in the C HW diminished scale. The HW scale is thus a good choice to use over dominant seventh b9b5 chords. John Coltrane used this sound a lot.

This scale is very similar to the altered scale, which you may recall is also called the diminished whole tone scale. The C altered scale contains the first five notes of the C HW diminished scale and the last four (overlapping the E and F#) of the C whole tone scale. Since both scales contain lowered fifths and lowered and raised ninths, they are sometimes used interchangeably over dominant seventh chords. Try going to a piano and practicing both scales in your right hand over the root, third, and seventh in your left. They sound very similar. Many fakebooks are inconsistent in using the symbols alt, #9, b9, b5, #9#5, and b9b5. The lesson here is, you will have to depend on your ears and common sense to guide you in the use of these two scales.

The WH diminished scale outlines a fully diminished seventh chord and is thus used over diminished chords. For instance, the C WH diminished scale “C, D, D#, F, F#, G#, A, B” can be played over Cdim or Cdim7. The classical symbol for diminished, a small circle, is sometimes used as well. Note that this scale is the same as the D#, F#, and A WH diminished scales, and in fact Cdim7, D#dim7, F#dim7, and Adim7 are all inversions of the same chord. They may be used interchangeably.

More importantly, this scale is also the same the D, F, G#, and B HW diminished scales. These scales are associated with their respective b9b5 dominant chords. The C, Eb, F#, and A diminished chords are thus often used as chord substitutions for the associated dominant chords, and vice versa. In most places where you see a diminished chord, you can substitute one of the related dominant chords. One particularly common chord progression is | Cmaj7 | C#dim | Dm7 |. The C#dim chord here implies the C# WH diminished scale, which is the same as the C, Eb, F#, and A HW diminished scale. In this case, the A7b9b5 chord can be substituted for the C#dim chord. Not only do A7b9b5 and C#dim share the same scale, but the A dominant chord also resolves well to the D minor chord. Any of the scales associated with A dominant chords, such as A mixolydian, A lydian dominant, A altered, or A blues, can thus be played over the C#dim chord in this context.

Melodic Minor Harmony

In classical theory, there are three types of minor scale. The minor scale we have already discussed, the aeolian mode, is also called the natural minor or pure minor. The two other minor scales were derived from it to provide more interesting harmonic and melodic possibilities. If you construct a ii-V-I progression in a minor key, you will find that the seventh chord built on the root is a minor seventh chord, and the seventh chord built on the second step is a half diminished seventh chord. For example, Am7 and Bm7b5 in the key of A minor. The chord built on the fifth step of this scale is a minor chord, for example Em7 in A minor. The resolution of Em7 to Am7 is not as strong as E7 to Am7. Also, the Am7 does not sound like a tonic; it sounds like it should resolve to a D chord. By raising the seventh degree of the minor scale by a half step (that is, raising the G of A minor to G#), these problems are solved. The chord built on the fifth is now E7, and the seventh chord built on the root is an A minor triad with a major seventh, often notated Am-maj7. This creates a much stronger ii-V-i. The resultant scale, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G#”, is called the harmonic minor, since it is perceived to yield more interesting harmonies than the natural minor.

The seventh degree of a major scale is sometimes called the leading tone, since it is only a half step below the tonic and leads very well into it melodically. The seventh degree of the natural minor scale, on the other hand, is a whole step below the tonic and does not lead nearly as well into it. Although the harmonic minor scale contains a leading tone, if you play that scale, you may note that the interval between the sixth and seventh steps (the F and G# in A harmonic minor) is awkward melodically. This interval is called an augmented second. Although it sounds just like a minor third, there are no scale tones between the two notes. This interval was considered to be dissonant in classical harmony, In order to rectify this situation, the sixth can be raised a half step as well (from F to F#) to yield the melodic minor. In classical theory, this scale is often used ascending only. When descending, since the G# is not used to lead into the tonic A, the natural minor is often used instead. Jazz harmony does not normally distinguish these cases, however. The melodic minor scale “A, B, C, D, E, F#, G#” is used both when ascending and descending.

Both the harmonic and melodic minors outline a m-maj7 i chord, for example Am-maj7 (“A C E G#”) in A minor. Either of the harmonic or melodic minor scales can be used on this chord. The melodic minor is also used on chords marked simply m6, although, as was noted earlier, this symbol can also imply the dorian mode. Several of the modes of the melodic minor scale yield particularly interesting harmonies and are commonly played in jazz. These scales are not commonly described in classical theory, so their names are less standardized than the modes of the major scale.

Phrygian #6

There is no common term for the second mode of the melodic minor scale. The second mode of A melodic minor is “B, C, D, E, F#, G#, A”. This scale is similar to the phrygian mode except that it has a raised sixth. For this reason it can be called phrygian #6, although that name is not by any means standard. It is most often used as a substitute for the phrygian mode.

Lydian Augmented

The third mode of the melodic minor scale is known as the lydian augmented scale. In A melodic minor, a lydian augmented scale is built on C and consists of “C, D, E, F#, G#, A, B”. This scale contains an augmented major seventh chord “C E G# B”. There is no standard symbol for this chord, but Cmaj7#5 is used occasionally, as is Cmaj7-aug or Cmaj7+. When this chord is called for, the lydian augmented scale is an appropriate choice. The maj7#5 chord is mostly used as a substitute for an ordinary major seventh.

Lydian Dominant

The fourth mode of the melodic minor scale is often called the lydian dominant or the lydian b7. If you construct it, you should see why. In A melodic minor, a lydian dominant scale is built on D and consists of “D, E, F#, G#, A, B, C”. This scale resembles the D major scale “D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#” but with two alterations: the raised fourth characteristic of the lydian mode, and the lowered seventh characteristic of the mixolydian mode. The mixolydian mode was described as a possible scale choice to use over a dominant seventh chord, but the fourth step was an avoid note. The lydian dominant scale does not contain this avoid note. As with the lydian scale and the raised fourth over a major seventh chord, the lydian dominant may sound unusual at first, but it is generally more interesting than the mixolydian when played over a dominant seventh.

This particular sound, the raised fourth over a dominant seventh chord, was widely used in the bebop era, and earned the early bebop musicians a lot of criticism for their use of such non-traditional sounds. This sound was also the genesis of the Thelonious Monk composition “Raise Four”, which prominently features the raised fourth in the melody. The use of this scale is often explicitly indicated by the symbol D7#11. Bebop musicians often called this a flatted fifth, writing the chord symbol as D7b5, although this normally implies the diminished scale, which is discussed later.

Fifth Mode

The fifth mode of the melodic minor scale has no common name, and is normally used only over the V chord in a minor key ii-V-i progression. This usage will be discussed later.

Locrian #2

The sixth mode of the melodic minor is often called locrian #2, since it is actually the locrian mode with a raised second step. For example, the F# locrian mode is based on G major and consists of “F#, G, A, B, C, D, E”, but the F# locrian #2 scale is based on A melodic minor and consists of “F#, G#, A, B, C, D, E”. Since the second step of the locrian mode is an avoid note over a m7b5 chord, the locrian #2 scale is often used instead. This scale is also sometimes called the half diminished scale.

Altered Scale

The seventh mode of the melodic minor scale is often called the diminished whole tone scale, because it combines elements of the diminished and whole tone scales discussed later. Another name for this scale is the altered scale. To see why, recall the introductory discussion on chords. Chords are constructed by stacking thirds. Triads consisting of three notes were discussed, as were seventh chords consisting of four notes. In the key of C, G7 is the dominant seventh chord. It contains a root (G), a third (B), a fifth (D), and a seventh (F). If we add another third on top, A, we have a ninth chord G9. If we add another third, C, we have an eleventh chord G11. The C is the fourth of the scale, and is normally an avoid note. This symbol is normally used only when the fourth is explicitly required, as in a suspended chord. If we then add another third, E, we have a thirteenth chord G13. The C is normally omitted from this chord. Another third would bring us back to G.

This chord can be altered by raising or lowering individual notes by a half step. The root, third, and seventh are not normally altered, since they are in large part what define the chord. A change to any of these destroys the dominant feel of the chord. The raised eleventh has already been discussed. The other interesting alterations are to the fifth and the ninth. For a G7 chord, this means the lowered or flat fifth (Db), the raised or sharp fifth (D#), the lowered or flat ninth (Ab), and the raised or sharp ninth (A#).

So now let us return to the so-called altered scale. A G altered scale can be built from Ab melodic minor, and consists of “G, Ab, Bb/A#, Cb/B, Db, Eb/D#, F”. First note that this scale contains G, B, and F, the root, third, and seventh of the G7 chord. The rest of the notes, Ab, Bb, Db, and Eb, are respectively, the flatted ninth, the raised ninth, the flatted fifth, and the raised fifth. In other words, all the possible alterations in a ninth chord are included in this scale. The chord implied by this scale is often notated simply G7alt, although G7#9#5 is used as well, as is G7#9. The b9 and b5 symbols are not normally used in this context, despite being present in the scale, because they imply the diminished scale which is discussed later.

The sound of the altered scale and the chord it implies is much more complex than any other dominant seventh chord/scale so far presented, and it is one of the most important sounds in post bop jazz. You may wish to spend more time on this scale to get used to it. Try going to a piano and playing the root, third, and seventh in your left hand while playing the altered scale, and lines based on it, in your right. You may use this scale even when the chord appears to be an ordinary dominant seventh, but you should do so cautiously in a group setting, because other members of the group may be playing mixolydian or lydian dominant sounds, and your altered scale will sound dissonant against them. This is not necessarily wrong, but you should be conscious of the effect produced.

Major Scale Harmony

A large part of jazz harmony is based on the major scale. As discussed earlier, every major scale has a relative minor that is formed by playing the same sequence of notes but starting on the sixth step of the scale. In fact, a scale can be formed using the sequence of notes from a major scale starting on any step of the scale. These scales are called modes of the scale. The major scale itself is called the ionian mode. The sixth mode, the relative minor, is called the aeolian mode. The names of these modes, as well as the others discussed below, come from ancient Greece, although the names are rumored to have been mixed up in translation long ago. While the Greek modes are mainly only of historical interest in classical theory, they are fundamental to jazz.

Major Scale

The major scale, or ionian mode, should be quite familiar by now. It is associated with major seventh chords. In the key of C, for example, the C major seventh chord, notated Cmaj7 (or C with a little triangle next to it, or sometimes CM7), is “C E G B”, and these notes outline the C major scale. If a measure in a piece of music is harmonized with a Cmaj7 chord, then the C major scale is one appropriate scale to use when improvising. The only note in this scale that sounds bad when played against a Cmaj7 chord is the fourth note, F. You may wish to convince yourself of this by going to a piano and playing Cmaj7 in your left hand while playing various notes from the C major scale in your right. The fourth of the major is often called an avoid note over a major seventh chord. This does not mean you are not allowed to ever play F over a Cmaj7, of course, but you should be conscious of the dissonant effect it produces.

The chord obtained by adding another third on top (“C E G B D”) would be called a Cmaj9, and it implies the same scale. Adding another third on top would yield “C, E, G, B, D, F”, and this chord would be called a Cmaj11. Because of the dissonant nature of the F in this context, however, neither this chord, nor the Cmaj13 chord obtained by adding an additional third (A), are used very much.

Dorian Mode

The dorian mode is built on the second step of the major scale, using the same notes. For example, the D dorian scale is built from the notes of the C major scale, starting on D, and consists of “D, E, F, G, A, B, C”. The dorian mode is a lot like minor scale, but the sixth step is raised a half step. That is, the D minor scale would have a Bb while the dorian has a B. Because it is so similar to the minor scale, it is natural to play this scale over a minor seventh chord. In fact, it is used more often than the minor scale itself. If you go to a piano and play a Dm7 chord (“D F A C”) in your left hand, and play notes from the D dorian and D minor scales in your right, you will probably find that the dorian mode sounds better, because the B is less dissonant against the Dm7 than the Bb is. If you use the dorian mode over a minor seventh chord, there are no notes to avoid.

Like the major seventh chord, you can add more thirds to the minor seventh chord to obtain Dm9, Dm11, and Dm13. These chords still imply the same dorian mode. If you use the natural minor scale, the thirteen chord contains the note Bb, which is somewhat dissonant in this context. This chord is seldom used, but when it is called for, it is often notated Dm7b6, and is one of the few exceptions to the rule that most chords are written in terms of odd numbered extensions above the seventh. This rule comes from the fact that chords are traditionally built by stacking thirds. The notation Dm6 is sometimes as a synonym for Dm13 when the B natural is explicitly meant.

Phrygian Mode

The third mode of the major scale is called the phrygian mode. In the key of C, a phrygian scale is built on E, and consists of “E, F, G, A, B, C, D”. This scale, like the dorian mode, is also similar to the minor scale, except that the second step in the phrygian mode is lowered by a half step. That is, an E minor scale would have an F# while the phrygian has an F. If you try playing the phrygian scale over a minor seventh chord, you will probably find it more dissonant than the minor scale, because of the lowered second. The phrygian mode is used occasionally over a minor seventh chord, although often the chord is written as m7b9 as a hint to the improviser that the phrygian scale is to be used. There are certain other situations in which the phrygian scale sounds good. One is over a dominant seventh chord with a suspended fourth (see mixolydian mode, below) and a lowered ninth, notated susb9. Another is over a particular chord that I will simply call a phrygian chord. A phrygian chord in E would be “E F A B D”. When the phrygian mode is played over this type of chord, the result is a somewhat Spanish sound, particularly if you add a G# to the scale, yielding what is sometimes called the Spanish phrygian scale. Several Chick Corea tunes, including “La Fiesta”, and much of the music from Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain feature this sound extensively.

Lydian Mode

The fourth mode of the major scale is the lydian mode. In the key of C, a lydian scale is built on F, and consists of “F, G, A, B, C, D, E”. This scale is like the major scale except that it contains a raised fourth step. That is, an F major scale would contain a Bb while the lydian contains a B. Since the fourth step of the major scale is an avoid note over a major seventh chord, this scale gives the improviser an alternative. While the raised fourth might sound a little unusual at first, you should find that it is in general preferable to the natural fourth of the major scale. When the symbol Cmaj7 appears, you have a choice between the major and lydian scales. Often, if the lydian mode is specifically intended, the symbol Cmaj7#11 will appear instead. Recall that Cmaj11 contains an F as the eleventh; Cmaj7#11 denotes that this note should be raised by a half step.

Mixolydian Mode

The fifth mode of the major scale is the mixolydian mode. In the key of C, a mixolydian scale is built on G, and consists of “G, A, B, C, D, E, F”. This scale is like the major scale except that the seventh step is lowered a half step. That is, a G major scale would contain an F# while the mixolydian contains an F. Since the seventh chord built on the fifth degree of the major scale is a dominant seventh, it is natural to play lines based on the mixolydian mode over a dominant seventh chord. For instance, the G mixolydian scale might be used over a G7 chord.

As with the major scale over a major seventh chord, the fourth step of the scale (C in the case of G mixolydian) is somewhat of an avoid note over a dominant seventh chord. However, there is a chord called a suspended chord, notated Gsus, Gsus4, G7sus, G7sus4, F/G, Dm7/G, or G11 over which there are no avoid notes in the G mixolydian mode. The notation F/G indicates an F major triad over the single note G in the bass. The term “suspension” comes from classical harmony and refers to the temporary delaying of the third in a dominant chord by first playing the fourth before resolving it to the third. In jazz, however, the fourth often is never resolved. The suspended chord consists of the root, fourth, fifth, and usually the seventh as well. Herbie Hancock’s tune “Maiden Voyage” consists solely of unresolved suspended chords.

Minor Scale

The aeolian mode, or minor scale, has already been discussed. It can be played over a minor seventh chord, although the dorian or phrygian modes are used more often. It is most often played over a m7b6 chord.

Locrian Mode

The seventh and final mode of the major scale is the locrian mode. In the key of C, a locrian scale is built on B, and consists of “B, C, D, E, F, G, A”. The seventh chord built on this scale (“B D F A”) is a half diminished seventh chord, Bm7b5. This symbol comes from the fact that this chord is similar to a Bm7, except that the fifth is lowered by a half step. The classical symbol for this chord is a circle with a “/” through it. The locrian scale can be used over a half diminished (also called a minor seven flat five) chord, but the second step is somewhat dissonant and is sometimes considered an avoid note.