Pretty new to jazz and I just had a question about soloing

So for example we have a progression Dm7| Bm7| so I understand we can play D Dorian then B Dorian with each of the chords. My question is about the physical scale you play. So would you play D Dorian shape (root on E) then move to the B Dorian shape to the 7th fret on E or 14th on A? Or would you start on D dorian on the E string (root on E string) then play D Lydian (because D Lydian is the same as B dorian?)

  • Lydian, not Locrian!
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 14:19
  • Context is everything. What is the progression for 8 or 16 bars?
    – empty
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 15:54

4 Answers 4


There are several different ways to approach this sort of situation. This approach of using scales is more generally referred to as Chord Scales. If you were to play these scales to accompany these chords by starting with the root in any given place, they are more likely to sound less smooth within your solo, though not necessarily. If you are jumping from one to the next, as opposed to making your line on one scale move toward the start of the next scale, then the lines will not sound very connected; it will sound more like you have one idea, then move to the other scale for the other idea. You would be playing all of the "correct" notes for those chord scales but it would sound chunky. The approach you suggest of using D Locrian could sound interesting but you are mistaken that this scale contains the same set of notes as B Dorian. D Lydian contains the same notes as B Dorian. If you were to use D Lydian, you're more likely going to have a line that is smooth going from one to the other, as you're relating them both to a single starting point.

The thing to avoid is thinking of starting each of these ideas at the root of the scale every time the chord changes. This can make things feel disconnected or very dry/bland. Generally speaking, the solos that speak to us the most as listeners are the ones that don't feel like they are relying on scales for their content and instead are just melodic lines or riffs that exist on their own and just happen to contain the notes in the chord scales. This is difficult to do early on, as you are less familiar with such an approach, but does become easier with practice. You want to become familiar with the notes that make up each scale and how they fit together with each other. Which notes do the two different scales have in common and which are different? How would you move each note that is different to the other note?

It's important to note that this is a very sterile way to approach everything, as it's less about what sounds good and more about what is "acceptable" or fits a given "rule". The idea is to learn these things to become familiar with the approach, then, hopefully, forget about it all and just play what sounds/feels good. For most people, you don't want to be thinking about scales and rules when you're improvising; you want to just know everything well enough that it is a part of your vocabulary. It's like learning a foreign language. At first you have to try to remember specific words and how to conjugate verbs and which order your nouns and adjectives are supposed to appear, but once you're familiar enough with the language, those things happen automatically.

If I were to break down these two scales, I would make a chart to see these differences, somewhat like the below. I will be using the same starting point for each scale so that we can do a side by side comparison.

D Dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C

B Dorian: D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C# (Same notes as D Lydian)

We can see that there are 4 notes in common and the other three are all raised a half step. This allows you to see that as you are going through your lines, if you are trying to stick to chord scales, you will want to be aware of the notes that remain the same. For example, if I'm on F on the Dm, I can move to F# on the Bm. Emphasizing the notes that change between the two scales can add a lot of color but can also sound less cohesive. Emphasizing the notes that the two scales have in common will make the linear transitions sound a bit smoother. You want to try to get in touch with how using the notes that are different from scale to scale impact the overall feel of what you are playing and actively choose whether it is best to emphasize the similarities or differences. It can also add a lot of variety to your solo/melody if you utilize both approaches, sometimes emphasizing the common tones, other times emphasizing the differences.

Again, these are exercises that have the goal of ingraining these concepts into your vocabulary. A lot of people will criticize this approach, suggesting that it's too academic and takes away from the art, which it could, but it is a perfectly acceptable approach to learning these concepts.


There is no compunction to play anywhere in particular. Knowing that D Dorian contains all the notes from C major, just rooted on D, and B Dorian contains all the notes from A major, and all those notes can be found crossing each other just about anywhere on the fretboard, it doesn't mean you have to 'start' anywhere special. Having said that, if you've learned a particular pattern, and want to feel safe, use that pattern for D, then move down 3 frets and use the same pattern for B.

just because it's minor 7 doesn't mean you have to use Dorian - Aeolian will do just as well. And try A Phrygian for a slightly different taste.

  • 1
    The common approach to Jazz at this point is to use chord scales, which suggest Dorian for minor 7 chords, but you're absolutely right that one shouldn't feel as though it's a rule. It's a good idea to become familiar enough with the feel of each and be able to use either when it feels appropriate. Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 15:12

When playing scales, the position of the notes from the scale over the fret isn't (at least at the beginning) important. So playing note B at the 7th fret on the E (6th) string is exactly the same as playing it on the 2nd fret at the A string. What is different is that the arrange of the positions for that scale has to be shifted. This takes practice to memorize.

When you play over scales, there is no "root" in the way you mention. The current harmony's chord will lead and at the same time restrain you from certain notes (that's why you can use D Dorian scale with Dm7 and why using D Major scale will sound very dissonant). The scale has a tonic or base note in which is based, which is D in your example. Unlike chords, you can't use a scale with a "root" in another note.

To follow your example, while the chords play Dm7, basic D Dorian positions are the following:

enter image description here

You can see there are no accidentals, so this scale on this base note correlates to A Minor, B Locrian, C Major, etc.. If we actually mark all these notes on all the frets:

enter image description here

As long as you play these notes, position over the fret doesn't matter, you will still be inside D Dorian scale and at the same time at B Locrian (because they are the same notes!!). The following is B Locrian, note that the same exact positions are marked, just the base note from the scale is changed.

enter image description here

With this in mind, the only thing restraining you when you improvise are the notes from the backing chord. So when the chord is Dm7, that is, 1st D, 3rd minor F, perfect 5th A and 7th minor C, any scale that respects these intervals won't sound bad. You might like one more than another, but it won't generate a completely displeasant melody. These are the notes from the chord:

enter image description here

You could play the D Minor scale:

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D Blues minor scale:

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D Phrygian scale (although a minor 2nd should sound a little aggressive), etc.:

enter image description here

Knowing how to combine different scales and the same time be consistent with the harmony (together with varying notes timings and different picking techniques) is what will make you a great jammer on guitar.

  • Great answer, easy to follow even for a banjo player. Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 18:15

Progressions do not define a song, melody does. If you're looking at a improv over changes book you may want to look at more resources. You don't need to play D dorian over D-7 and B dorian over B-7. You can play any of the minor modes are they will "work" in a sense. The real question is whether the song just jumps back and forth between two keys (like between two ferns but more musical) or whether there is some context to this chord movement. Are they in a common key? If so then that key may be a better choice. Since the 5th of B-7 is F# which is also the Major 3rd of D I'd say no to that option. So What, for example, has a 1 chord vamp that moves up a half step after a while and you really do tend to solo D dorian then Eb dorian, but occasionally people get creative and throw in licks from Aeolian and Blues (with the flat 5). You have a lot of options open to you.

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