I am a keyboard player and as an exercise, I like to figure out riffs or background chords to songs I like and improvise over them. I chose to tackle this riff, starting at 6:14 with a guitar soloing at 6:42. I have transcribed my best guess at the piano in the background here, but due to my limited ear training this may be incorrect.

From what I hear it sounds as if the scale being used is natural minor, however if so, I don't see how it would work. The minor scale, I believe, would work fine over the dominant chord outlined by the first four eighth notes, but not the next six, which I see as fitting in Lydian dominant.

If the scale being used is minor, could someone explain why it works so well? Also, regardless of what scale is being played in the actual recording, I would like to know what other scale I could use. I have tried various dominant scales, but the only other scale I've gotten to not sound too "outside" is Dorian. Also, if my transcription of the riff was off to begin with, please let me know and I can reevaluate.

  • Sorry, typo: the second paragraph should read "but not the next six"
    – hvksh
    Aug 6, 2019 at 14:04
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    I made that edit for you. If you look at the bottom of your question you should see the word “edit”. If you click on that you can make whatever changes you want to the question, including changing the title. Aug 6, 2019 at 14:13
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    You seem to be either asking us to guide you through the creative process of improv or a full set of music theory lessons to explain what modes match what chords. Either is a bit too much imo. If minor works then you are likely in a minor key. I'd suspect any minor mode could work, Phygian, Locrian, blues, some exotic mode with a b3. The piece sounds a little "out" in the first place so you should feel free to explore outside western music ideas. Really the solo should complement the song and vice verse. You could try something percussive and rhythmically out rather than melodic.
    – user50691
    Aug 6, 2019 at 14:48
  • @ggcg Yeah, I think I'll end up sticking with a diatonic minor mode, just because I've heard that it works out. My main point of confusion comes with understanding why Aeolian works. The riff has a natural third, and I can rationalize using a minor scale over that because the b3 is enharmonically equivalent to a #9. However, I don't really see how that still works over a #4dim. After practicing with it now, I have gotten used to playing it, and can make a decent sounding solo, but I'd like to understand the theory behind why it works, in hopes that I can use that knowledge elsewhere.
    – hvksh
    Aug 6, 2019 at 16:50
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    Asking which scale to use is borderline off-topic. Asking why a particular scale sounds good over those chord changes is a better question. Aug 6, 2019 at 17:07

1 Answer 1


First of all your transcription:

I believe the chord on 2nd beat is G Ab C instead of A C Eb.

Then the scales to use: If you listen at the bass and top notes, then you get a powerful riff in F minor with a m6. So F natural minor is the most obvious mode to use.

The only thing that disagrees is that chord after the 3rd beat. But that sounds very dissonant even by itself (having both Db and D). That’s why the soloist on the recording also flirts a bit with F Dorian.

  • Hi, I got in contact with the keyboardist of that band, Dave Stewart, and he said the chord on the second beat was G-Bb-D, and the chord after that was Ab-B-D-F. That more clearly exemplifies Dorian.
    – hvksh
    Aug 14, 2019 at 2:05

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