I know that:

  • Cmag7 is Ionic mode
  • D-7 is Dorian mode
  • F delta #11 is Lydian mode
  • G7 is Mixolydian mode

But I don't understand of two obtain the scale starting from the chords.

For example, in the sheet of Time Remembered of Bill Evans, I see on the first line, this chords progression:

B-9 Cmaj7(#11) Fmaj7 E-9

What are the modal scales to be played with this progression and how to calculate them?

  • 1
    I was recently wondering the same... May 21, 2017 at 17:55

2 Answers 2


There is not really a right answer when it comes to choosing which mode of which scale should be played on the chords of a chart. The most fundamental answer is to let your ears be your guide. Yet, some choices may be better than others.

Beyond simply looking at the chords above the staff, it is often useful to acknowledge the melody. Consider the progression in question:

B-9 - Cmaj7(#11) - Fmaj7 - E-9

The first chord could go with B Dorian, or B Aeolian, or maybe B Locrian if you don't take B-9 too strictly. Looking at the Real Book, the first bar contains only an F♯ in the melody, so whatever scale you choose should probably contain an unaltered 5th. The second bar contains a G in the melody, and in the notated chord; this is the 6th of a B-9, so you might consider using B Dorian on the first chord; on the other hand, you might like the sound of a G♭ in B Aeolian moving up to G♮ in the next bar; there really isn't a right answer here.

The second chord could be C Lydian; since the melody in this bar contains a G, you should probably favor this to C Lydian Augmented, which would contain a G♯.

The third bar contains a B in the melody, which is the ♯4 of the Fmaj7 chord. So while you might play F Ionian here if you were only reading the chord names, you should probably consider F Lydian or F Lydian Augmented to acknowledge the melody.

The fourth bar contains an F♯ and a C♯, so you might consider that the piece is temporarily in the key of D, choosing E Dorian for this bar. This acknowledges all of the notes in the melody in this bar, and acknowledges the D that ended the previous bar.

So, there really isn't a right answer to the choices made here, but a good strategy is to look at the melody as a guide. You may also reharmonize the melody; the new chords would then suggest new choices. If there is an underlying principle here, I would say it is that you should consider the options for a particular chord quality, and then look to the melody (before, during, and after the chord) to see what the melody is doing.

  • 1
    I think the B-9 is referring to the natural 9, as in <B,D,F#,A,C#> where C# is the nat 9; this chord comes from the A maj scale. Another way to express the chord is B-7add9. I don't think B Locrian would be good because it has the b9 which is C, unless you are ready for an "outside sound"... which by no means is a bad thing May 21, 2017 at 17:56
  • @KolobCanyon-- agreed that B Locrian would probably not be the best choice in the first bar, which is why I mentioned this in the context of not taking B-9 strictly. The point was that there is some flexibility in choosing modes; the first bar only contains an F♯, so the ♭5 in B Locrian may introduce an outside sound wrt the melody.
    – user39614
    May 21, 2017 at 18:30

I would play:

B-9 B Dorian or B Aeolian (key = A maj)

C∆#4 C Lydian (key = G maj)

F∆ F Ionian or F Major Pentatonic (key = F maj)

E-9 E Dorian or E Aeolian (key = D maj)

The -9 chord just means 1 b3 5 b7 9. Here, the 9 is a chord tone. The non-chord tones are up to you and what sound you like...

There's a million different scales you could play over this because you can go "outside" the changes.

Usually when you are beginning you want to start with this and move eventually to going outside the changes.

The most important part is knowing what key you are in.

If you ever see a that means you can play the #4 even if it is the tonic... I've actually come to prefer this

  • Either you have a couple mistakes or I'm missing something. Cmaj7#4 / C Lydian should be the key of G Major (C Lydian is the 4th mode of G). And E-9 / E Dorian should be the key of D Major. Right? Or what do you mean by "key"?
    – user37496
    May 21, 2017 at 19:23
  • @user37496 You are right. Correcting right now. May 21, 2017 at 19:59

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