When does a Chord Changes in a diatonic progression?

Is it most common to solo using the scale of that chord (non tonic)? For example, using the d minor scale to solo over d minor in the c major key. Or do i just stick with using the scale of the tonic (c major) and land on the chord tones of d minor?

Also when a non diatonic chord is used in a progression, do you use the scale of that chord as its being played then land on its chord tones?


4 Answers 4


It's more common to think in terms of modes. In C, on Dm, D Dorian works fine. The changed notes of Dm - Bb and perhaps C# can work, but depending on context. The main criterion for all this sort of theoretical thinking is 'if it sounds good - it probably is'.


There are many scales that could work with each chord, but in diatonic progressions it's common practice to use the scale of the current chord, with the alterations of the tonic (Example: D Dorian scale when you play D minor and the tonic is C).

When it comes to playing over non diatonic chords, you should try to analyze the harmonic function that chord has, and using a scale that makes sense with it (Example: A D7 chord when the tonic is C could probably mean it's the dominant of the dominant, and the appropriate scales to play over it could be the mixolydian mode scale or altered scale).

Really choosing a scale to play over a chord has a lot of theory behind it, but in practice you should listen to what you play, and decide whether the scale you are playing sounds good or not.


If I'm not mistaken, you would always stick with the tonic scale (major, in this case) but you can apply different modes to bring out a different mood to your major scale. If you were to solo using a minor scale, it wouldn't actually be considered a scale at all but a mode instead. Also you would use A minor, not D minor.

In short, if you start with a major scale, keep it major and solo by starting from the major 6th of your tonic, and stay within the major scale of your tonic.

EDIT: If I am wrong, please explain. I'm no expert.


If you are using diatonic chords - that, by definition, use the notes of the home scale - it would be perverse to use anything other than those notes as the basis of your playing. (Though note that some perversity can be interesting!)

I have never quite understood why some people insist on renaming the scale according to WHICH diatonic chord is being played - D Dorian for a Dm chord, E Phrygian for an Em chord - when they all contain the same notes. What's wrong with admitting it's all the scale of C major? But they want to learn 7 different scales instead of just one.

When a chromatic chord is used, you can think of it as being diatonic in some OTHER key, or as a splash of colour in the original key. Your choice may depend on how quickly returns to the home tonality.

Don't rely too much on 'theory'. Improvisation should grow from playing lots of music (you DO read music, don't you?) from transcribing and copying other players' soloing, not from learning a set of rules. Don't improvise until you can PLAY!

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