In this video at 5:25 Larry says when someone played a Gmajor7 chord he thinks to play a Dmajor scale as those are the money notes.

What is the theory behind that thinking?

  • The GMaj7 is the IV chord of DMaj7, but so what. What this amounts to is using G Lydian over the Gmaj7 chord which adds a sharp 4th. This creates more tension and produces a darker sound in the melodic theme.
    – user50691
    Jun 15, 2019 at 23:24
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    I think he means the D major chord, not scale. At what exact minute:second time position does he say he means the scale? I watched through this video too because it was suggested by Youtube. Jun 15, 2019 at 23:31
  • At 5:35 ... "these are the color notes ... the money notes". Jun 16, 2019 at 0:01
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    @RandyZeitman at 5:28 he outlines a D major chord. He does not play randomly selected notes from the D major scale. From the D major scale, he could also have selected all of the notes that are in a Gmaj7 chord, - or he could have outlined an even more colorful A major chord, but the_point, color notes to play on a written Gmaj7 is to outline a D major chord. Thinking about an entire scale is not helpful in pop songs, if you want to add "money notes" to a solo. What do you do with an entire scale - select notes from it randomly, and every note in the scale will be a color note? Jun 16, 2019 at 8:43
  • He plays eight notes. Are they arpeggios of D or a scale? I don't see any mention of random. Jun 16, 2019 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


Playing D major over Gmaj7 creates the sound of the Lydian mode. These days, most jazz players prefer to use Lydian instead over the major scale (Ionian) - it's part of the sound of jazz since about the 1970s.

The only difference between the major scale and the Lydian mode is that major has a natural 4, while Lydian has a #4. This #4 (also a #11) is considered to be more colorful than the natural. The natural 4 is often referred to as an "avoid note," but the #4 blends more easily with the major 7th chord quality.

I think there is even more insight buried in this quote. He doesn't say, "I play the Lydian mode," he says he plays D major, and that's what has the "money notes."

As players, it is natural for us to start our scales on the root note, but when we improvise, constantly starting on the root of the chord can sound cheesy. By thinking of the scale as D major, he is more likely to start on the D, which is the 5th of G. This has some melodic advantages because when you play the scale ascending in eighth notes, the 7, 9, and #11 notes will land on the downbeats. Conversely, starting a run on the root, will lead to the blander root, 3, 5, 7 notes being emphasized. So by thinking about the scale as having a different root from the accompaniment, he is setting himself up to play more interesting lines.

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    Odd notes on even beats is a simple, powerful, insightful statement! Jun 16, 2019 at 0:06
  • "he is more likely to start on the D" -- somehow I doubt that Larry Carlton has any difficulties starting on whatever note he wants to....
    – user39614
    Jun 16, 2019 at 3:37
  • @DavidBowling Fair enough, but in the context of the video, he is talking about things he played when he started out and didn't know any theory.
    – Peter
    Jun 16, 2019 at 3:52
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    'If he's thinking D major, he's more likely to start on D'...When you get to where Larry is, there's probably a bit more (or quite possibly a lot less!) thinking going on. He's most likely past that stage; he was at that point 50 yrs ago!
    – Tim
    Jun 16, 2019 at 8:10
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    The D major scale happens to have all the notes of a Gmaj7 chord, so why doesn't he play those money notes? Is there some fake money in the scale too? If only some notes of the scale are the real money notes, then wouldn't it be more helpful to think in terms of reduced note sets that contain only the actual money notes, and none of the wrong ones. We could call those reduced sets like ... chords or something. Jun 16, 2019 at 9:21

He means the chord. "D major over G." D major chord over G. Chord symbol: D/G. You can play that in place of Gmaj7, and it will do the "maj7" thing, but in a more colorful way. It's almost Gmaj9, but leaving out the usual G and B notes of a regular G major chord, assuming a bass player plays the G. You can play a maj9 chord almost always if there's a written "maj7", and if you want it to emphasize the chord's "maj7" color, you play only those notes. D/G is kind of like "more strongly maj7 than maj7 itself", playing V chord while keeping bass at tonic.

The thing that happens when you choose to make a regular major chord a maj7 by adding a major seventh note is, it says that it's not a dominant seventh chord. It's like reminding the listener where the harmony is leaning. If you play a V triad while keeping the bass at I, it emphasizes the major seventh note even more.

If you want to do a similar thing with a dominant seventh chord, you play a minor chord. For example if you see a G7 chord symbol, and want to do a similar thing as Larry Carlton's "color notes, money notes", you outline a Dm chord in your solo, so Dm/G. It highlights the dominant seventh note even more than a regular G7. (In addition to that there are other "color notes" chords for a G dominant like Ddim, Ddim7, or "Fm7-5")

By the way, a D/G is sometimes called a "Steely Dan chord", because many Steely Dan songs have that type of chord in many places. For example "Don't take me alive", on the lyrics line "With rage in your eyes and your megaphones", the chords are: Bb/Eb - C/F - D/G. (And then it continues with even more of the same chord type)

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    Well he says "scale" so why do you say he means chord? Jun 15, 2019 at 23:59
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    No mention of either scale or chord at that point. But playing the notes from D major chord will be 2/3 of Gmaj7 anyway - all he's adding is 9, making Gmaj9. A very common occurrence in jazz.
    – Tim
    Jun 16, 2019 at 8:13
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    @Tim Exactly. But pay attention to which notes of Gmaj9 he's not playing... particularly, he leaves out the B note, and that's how you get the Steely Dan chord. :) Jun 16, 2019 at 9:08
  • You're forgetting that the accompaniment is still playing the chord Gmaj7, so the B is still present - Carlton is soloing on the chord extensions. The overall harmony still contains the major 3rd (B), so it's a Gmaj9 not D/G, which is a type of suspended chord.
    – Peter
    Jun 16, 2019 at 19:02
  • @Peter I'm not forgetting anything. It's about emphasizing colors when soloing. Try it yourself, it's not hard, you just need to know which notes are relevant and characteristic for each moment of the harmony progression, keep track of where they are, and emphasize each case by playing color tones. For example, on a written dominant seventh chord: play a minor, diminished or dim7 chord rooted on the fifth of the original chord. Or in this particular case, on a written maj7 chord: play a major chord rooted on the fifth of the original chord. You don't even need scales or modes to do this. :) Jun 16, 2019 at 19:28

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