Jazz Guitar Scales

The term “Jazz Scales” is somewhat misleading. There are no scales that have exclusive use in jazz. But there are scales which are so commonly used in jazz as to make their study valuable to the jazz musician.

Let’s begin with the Blues scale. This scale is associated with the musical style known as Blues. Since Blues was enormously influential in the development of jazz, it’s a good place to start. The Blues scale, also known as the Minor Pentatonic, is a five note scale consisting of a root, b3rd, 4th, 5th, b7 and octave. In C, these notes would be C Eb F G Bb C’. Wes Montgomery once told me that the Blues is responsible for the fire in jazz. I agree. 50% of Wes’ original songs used the Blues scale in the melody.

As will be true of all the scales discussed here, the harmonic context (ie the chords) and the inflection of the scale is an important factor in effectively using any scale in jazz.

Understanding the distances between the notes of a scale will allow you to transpose any scale into any key.

The Blues scale uses the following step distances between its notes: 1+1/2, 1, 1, 1+1/2, 1. Play it in any key!

The Pentatonic scale is a five note scale consisting of a root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and octave. It is also part of the seminal sound of Blues but it’s brighter than the dark and moody Blues scale.

In C, the notes would be C, D, E, G, A, C’. The distances would be a 1, 1, 1+1/2, 1 and 1+1/2.

The next group of scales are the Modal scales: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. They are all presented with the C note as the root.

Ionian: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C’

Dorian : C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C’.

Phrygian: C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C’

Lydian: C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C’

Mixolydian: C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C’

Aeolian : C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C’

Locrian : C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C’

Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian are considered major modes . Dorian, Aeolian, and Phrygian are minor modes. The Locrian is technically a Diminished mode but is often used in the context of an altered minor mode.

The traditional scales are:

Harmonic Minor – C root: C D Eb F G Ab B C’

Jazz Melodic Minor – C root: C D Eb F G A B C’

Diminished – C root: C D Eb F Gb Ab A B C’

Whole Tone – C root: C D E F# G# A# C’

The most common altered scales are:

Mixolydian with the raised fourth – also know as the Lydian Dominant.

The Mixolydian with the lowered second and/or the lowered sixth is also common.

Lydian Dominant: C D E F# G A Bb C’

Mixolydian -2 – 6: C Db E F G Ab Bb C ‘

Mixolydian -2: C Db E F G A Bb C’

Mixolydian -6: C D E F G Ab Bb C’

Two supplemental scales worth listing are the Inverted Diminished and the Super Locrian scale.

Inverted Diminished : C Db D# E F# G A Bb C’

Super Locrian: C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C’

The raising of the fourth degree by half step is a strong characteristic of jazz scales. This can only be applied to scales containing a perfect fourth degree. Examples: Dorian +4, Harmonic Minor +4, Jazz Melodic Minor +4

The Bebop scales add an extra chromatic note to a common seven note scale. This is a general category in that there are many options in creating “bebop” scales. Here are some five common examples.

Bebop Dominant: CDEFGABbBC”

Bebop Dorian: CDEbFGABbBC”

Bebop Major: CDEFGG#ABC”

Bebop Aeolian: CDEbFGABbBC”

Bebop Locrian: CDbEbFGbAbBbBC”

Calculate the step patterns for each scale in this study and explore them in every key.


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