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I was watching a tutorial on how this guy finds scales to play on top of jazz chords. And I was wondering if this a good method to use, and if not how do I know which scales to improvise on chords. Do I use a table, or is this technique sound?

In this "whole-step" technique the chord tones are shown in bold. The notes that we figure out (the ones that are not bold) are a whole step away from each chord tone. The notes then make up a certain scale we can improvise on.

Cmaj7: C E G B

C D E F# G A B

These notes make up the scale: C Lydian


Cmin7: C Eb G Bb

C D Eb F G A Bb

C Dorian


C7: C E G Bb

C D E F# G A Bb

C Lydian Dominant

Which basically means that for every Major scale I use a Lydian, and for every Minor scale I use a Dorian, and for every Dominant Major chord I use a Lydian-Dominant.

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    This isn't really the chord-scale approach, but it is one way of arriving at a chord-scale. I would say that it has limited usefulness; why not just learn what Dorian and Aeolian sound like, what Mixolydian and Lydian Dominant sound like, etc., and go from there? In practice (when I am improvising, at least), I usually think less about "what scale am I playing" and more about "I want a #4 here," or even more "I want this sound (which happens to be a #4) here." – ex nihilo Apr 17 at 17:34
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    @foreyez -- I don't know why I didn't notice this before: sometimes, when I am improvising in a chord-tone-centered way, I'll play the notes of a triad a whole-step above the chord that I am playing over to get the extensions. For example, over a C, playing the notes of a Dm triad gets you the 9, 11, and 13; playing a D triad gets you the 9, #11, and 13. This is essentially what this trick you have brought us is doing, yes? – ex nihilo Apr 18 at 1:26
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    @DavidBowling I like it that sounds useful. but in your technique you'd have to know what type of chord to make with the right hand based on the given chord type. so for minor7, just make a minor triad in right hand, for dominant7 and major7 make a major triad in right hand. (using left/right hand to distinguish the seventh from the extensions) – foreyez Apr 18 at 1:44
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    @foreyez -- calling it a technique might be a little generous ;) It is just one of the tricks in my bag. All you have to know is that a minor triad a whole step above some root gives you the 9, 11, and 13 associated with that root; A major triad a whole step above some root gives you the 9, #11, and 13 associated with that root. An augmented triad would give you the the 9, #11, and #13; a diminished triad would give you the 9, 11, and b13. You could work out similarly for triads a half-step (minor 2nd) over the root, or an augmented 2nd over the root. I've never plumbed the depths of this.... – ex nihilo Apr 18 at 1:51
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    @foreyez Votes refreshed, so take my upvote from earlier. – user45266 Apr 18 at 2:44
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This is a technique that will result in scales with no avoid notes. A few more are

m6: melodic minor

m7(b5): locrian ♮2

dim7: diminished scale (whole-half)

Note that the latter scale has eight notes instead of the usual seven (this is a consequence of the chord having a diminished seventh).

It should be clear that this technique for finding chord scales just gives you a certain subset of scales (the ones without avoid notes), but you won't get the whole spectrum of scales necessary to play different styles and to create certain moods. There's a good reason why people use the major scale (which has one avoid note), and others, such as natural and harmonic minor, mixolydian, phrygian, etc.

  • Can't you just use the the modes of Melodic Minor to acheive no avoid-notes? – ex nihilo Apr 17 at 17:35
  • @DavidBowling, won't the ^2 to ^3 half-step in melodic minor result in an avoid tone depending on chord and scale roots? – Michael Curtis Apr 17 at 17:43
  • @MichaelCurtis -- the half-step definition for avoid notes I seem to remember from Nettles and Graf; I like that book, but I don't think that everyone adheres to that rule for naming avoid notes. Somewhere along the line I picked up the notion that there are no avoid notes in Melodic Minor harmony. I don't have a better justification at the moment. – ex nihilo Apr 17 at 17:57
  • I dislike the name of the term. should an accented appoggiatura be "avoided?" Of course not! The name seems to imply a 'training wheels' attitude instead of understanding harmony/melody/tonality. – Michael Curtis Apr 17 at 18:11
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    @DavidBowling, that's definitely something I heard along the way too, which has seemed to agree with my personal experiences using melodic minor modes. – jdjazz Apr 18 at 2:03
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I think you want to add Cmin7b5 so you get all the basic diatonic seventh chord types.

C (D) Eb (F) Gb (Ab) Bb C

...I believe that will be a Locrian #2 scale which I've seen in chord/scale charts.

Two thoughts:

  1. This is a practical application of the avoid tone concept. As explained on this forum, an avoid tone is any tone a half-step above a chord tone. Adding whole steps above all chord tones will result in no avoid tones. Conveniently this process produces common jazz scales!

  2. You can flip this whole idea around and simply say "you don't need a chord/scale theory, you only need to know your arpeggios then fill in the gaps between chord tones. In fact this is how jazz players did it all through the first have of the 20th century. They played embellished arpeggios.

  • yeah he also talked about that fourth chord type in the vid he called the matching scale C half diminished. I need to read more about these avoid tones now.. – foreyez Apr 17 at 18:20
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    @foreyez -- I wouldn't get too hung up on avoid notes; the main point is that some notes don't tend to sound good on strong beats or sustained for long durations. It's a good idea to have a sense of this, but not to get too religious about it. – ex nihilo Apr 17 at 18:34
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Yes, 'chord=scale' is a well established approach to jazz improvisation.

The Wikipedia article describes it pretty well.

It has the advantage of being teachable. It has the disadvantage that it tends to encourage people with no melodic ideas to improvise for FAR too long! I exaggerate, but not much.

Before 'chord=scale' we had 'avoid notes'. You avoided the pitches a semitone above a chord note. This system would have just 'avoided' 4 in chords built on a major triad. The 'tone up' method insists on a full scale, so it substitutes #4, a very colourful note that could be accused of being a cliche of modern jazz. (I suppose blues licks were the previous cliche.)

  • Don't know why this got a downvote; it is pretty on-the-money. – ex nihilo Apr 17 at 17:30
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    ...It's correct, but I think the question might be more about the specific system of going a whole-step up from every note. I wasn't the one who downvoted, however. – user45266 Apr 17 at 17:39

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