I've just come back from my jazz workshop and the lines I played over a G7 C7 G7 D7#9 Eb7#9 D7#9b13 G7 progression were ok, -ish. When asked, our teacher told me to try dorian scales, over mixolydian and altered chords. What is your angle on this?

  • 4
    All Blues? If so, it helps a lot to listen to the soloists on that recording.
    – Matt L.
    Dec 6 '17 at 21:48
  • You spotted it right away of course. I didn't know if it was alright to actually name the tune. You guys are so strict. But I suppose you have to. I agree with you: listen listen, listen...but I'm just an amateur and although I try to train my ear as best I can, I'd love to have some tips about that tune. I have fun on swing progressions but blues progressions are a big deal for me. I'm European, you see. I played bebop C all over the progression but wasn't really happy about it, obviously. I have good phrasing and a good sense of time but I want to improve.
    – user45784
    Dec 6 '17 at 22:02
  • @user45784, a full transcription of Coltrane's solo can be found on page 60 of this document.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 8 '17 at 1:26
  • @jdjazz, Thanks. I think I'll try to figure out which scales he plays throughout and when. Miles Davis' solo is easier to follow on the guitar but Trane's is a hard nut to crack. I appreciate.
    – user45784
    Dec 8 '17 at 8:12

Common scales that "fit" the 7th chord include:

  • Myxolydian (b7)
  • Major pentatonic (1, 2, 3, 5, 6)
  • Bebop (b7, natural 7)
  • Lydian dominant (#4, b7)
  • Whole tone
  • Diminished (half, then whole steps)
  • Diminished whole tone (b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, b7 - most common on "#9b13" chords)

If you haven't seen this video from the "Jazz Tutorials" channel, I would strongly suggest it. The Lydian Dominant scale emerges from the teacher's "chord tones + whole step" philosophy.

  • You can find these (and more!) scales in Jamey Aebersold's Scale Syllabus: jazzbooks.com/mm5/download/FREE-scale-syllabus.pdf Dec 7 '17 at 5:04
  • Might be worth adding the relative Dorian for a sus sound. For example, over G7, play D dorian.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 7 '17 at 5:07
  • Indeed. The scale syllabus uses a separate notation (G7 sus 4, or D-/G), so maybe I'll just relegate this info to the comments! Dec 7 '17 at 5:52
  • Do you consider a change from G7 to G7sus4 to be in a different category from G7 → G7#11 or G7 → G7alt? Don't they all use separate notations?
    – jdjazz
    Dec 7 '17 at 6:28
  • I don't know of a consistent way to measure how different one chord symbol (or chord) is from the next, but "not having a 3rd" seems like a big enough distinction. Dec 7 '17 at 14:18

It's important to realize that not every scale that can theoretically be played over a dominant seventh chord is also a good choice in a specific musical context. In the case of the given progression the following scales are used in practice:

G7     G mixolydian
C7     C mixolydian
D7#9   D half-whole, D altered, D (minor) blues
Eb7#9  Eb half-whole, Eb altered, Eb (minor) blues

Note that there's not a lot of time to play scales over the D7#9 and the Eb7#9 chords, so what people usually do is play (incomplete) arpeggios. As I've mentioned in a comment, you can learn a lot by analyzing the solos played by the greats. As an example, try to play an Fm7 arpeggio over D7#9, and a Gbm7 arpeggio over Eb7#9. In this way you'll play the 7, b9, #9, and the #11 of the respective chord.

It's also helpful to analyze the melody, and use it in your improvisations. The first thing that one notices it that over D7#9 the perfect fifth (A) as well as the #5 (b13) are used. Over Eb7#9 it's also the perfect fifth, not an altered fifth, that is used. This would imply the half-whole scale rather than the altered scale over these two chords. Another suitable choice matching the note choice of the melody over these two chords is the (minor) blues scale, which will give you the 5, 7, and #9.

  • This is very interesting: you use arpeggios from the II chord of the melodic minor scale from which the alt. chord is derived, right? Yet the quality should be half-diminished... so you actually substitute the Fmb5 for Fm7.
    – user45784
    Dec 7 '17 at 9:11
  • @user45784: The ii chord of melodic minor is a minor 7 chord, not a half-diminished chord (the half-diminished would occur in harmonic and natural minor).
    – Matt L.
    Dec 7 '17 at 10:22
  • you're right. Got it mixed up because II chords in minor are generally half-diminished. It's a Xsusb9 chord. Thx
    – user45784
    Dec 7 '17 at 11:33
  • 1
    +1 Nice overview. Might be worth mentioning the ways one can stretch the song over the I7 and IV7 chords as that seems to be what the instructor was suggesting. @user45784, if you listen to Coltrane's solo on All Blues, you can hear the whole tone scale at 6:48, the lydian dominant scale at 7:30, who knows at 7:43, a relative minor lick at 7:46, and an altered scale at 7:51 and 7:55.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 8 '17 at 1:25

You're not really asking the right question! It's taking a narrow, inward-looking, mechanical approach to a wide topic - how to play good jazz.

It's often a good idea to find a song using the chord sequence and see what the original melody was. That may well be the BEST thing to play over that sequence. And I bet is isn't just scales.

  • 2
    Is this an answer? The question is "what scales can I use?" It seems like you're answering a different question, "how do I learn to improvise over these changes?"
    – jdjazz
    Dec 7 '17 at 7:08
  • 1
    @jdjazz - Right now, the question reads: When asked, our teacher told me to try dorian scales, over mixolydian and altered chords. What is your angle on this? So IMO this is a perfectly valid answer: The angle is "Find a tune that uses those changes, hear the melody line and listen to what the soloists do with it." I upvoted this answer. I think it's a very good "angle".
    – Stinkfoot
    Dec 7 '17 at 8:51
  • @Stinkfoot, the question is in the title: "which scale(s) can I use?" The asker offers three example scales. He asks what folks think about the three example scales in the context of a question about scales. I agree that "listen to the tune" is useful advice, but it's not an answer to this question which is very narrowly focused on scales. I don't think the usefulness supersedes the lack of answer to the actual question.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 8 '17 at 0:31
  • 1
    He wants to play good jazz. Let's not find reasons to stop us suggesting how. Dec 8 '17 at 1:43
  • 1
    @LaurencePayne, oftentimes in my learning a specific question will arise. To continue progressing, the most helpful thing is often a specific answer. Other general advice can be helpful, but the primary reason for asking a question to get an answer. I think you've left the question unanswered.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 8 '17 at 2:14

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