Jazz Scales

One important aspect of jazz is its use of many complementary scales and the modification of these scales by the introduction of blue notes. In addition to the scales of Western European classical music, diminished, pentatonic and altered scales are very important.

Two pentatonic scales common to jazz are the major pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale.

The major pentatonic scale begins with a major scale and omits the fourth and the seventh scale degrees: a C major scale is {C, D, E, F, G, A, B}, so a C major pentatonic scale would be {C, D, E, G, A}:
C major pentatonic scale

The minor pentatonic scale uses the same notes as the major pentatonic scale, but begins on the sixth scale degree of the corresponding major scale. Continuing the example above, A is the sixth scale degree of C major, so the A minor pentatonic scale would be {A, C, D, E, G}:
A minor pentatonic scale

The nomenclature, “minor pentatonic scale,” minor is employed in the sense of relative key, as the diatonic A minor scale is the relative minor of the diatonic C major scale.

The minor pentatonic scale with a flattened fifth followed by the fifth is sometimes called the blues scale, on A {A, C, D, Eb, E, G}:
Pentatonic blues scale on A

The number of scales available to improvising musicians continues to expand. As modern techniques and musical constructions appear, jazz players find the ones they can put into compositions or use as material for melodic exploration. Prominent examples are the seven modes and added-note scales.


Ionian mode= C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
Dorian mode= C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C
Phrygian mode= C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C
Lydian mode= C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C
Mixolydian mode=C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C
Aeolian mode= C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C
Locrian mode= C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C

Compare each of the modes to the major scale for clues as to the subtle differences between them. Ionian is based on the 1st degree of the major scale, Dorian on the 2nd, Phrygian on the 3rd, etc.

Combinations of the characteristic details of these modes are also in common use. For example, the Lydian Dominant uses the raised 4th degree of the Lydian with the Flatted seventh of the Mixolydian, yielding C-D-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C. Chromatic alterations are also useful, as in the Altered Lydian scale, C-D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C for use on the chord Cmaj7+5.

Another type of scale uses an added note to create an 8-tone scale. This construction yields a melodic pattern that fits two groups of four 1/8 notes each into a 4/4 measure, making the characteristic swing rhythm of jazz improv very evident.

An example is the C jazz or be-bop major scale C-D-E-F-G-G#-A-B-C ascending or C-B-A-Ab-G-F-E-D-C- descending. Use the flatted 3rd, Eb, and get the jazz or bebop minor.

The harmonic minor scale is also of great value to the improvisor, as it provides an alternative color for many common chords and chord progressions. An example is C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-B-C.

This scale can be used on the chords of a song in C minor, or in a song in C major, where the resolution at the end of a series of chords returns to the major.

Blues scales also come in major and minor varieties. The C major blues scale is C-D-D#-E-G-G#-A-C ascending or C-A-Ab-G-E-Eb-D-C descending.

The C minor blues scale is C-Eb-F-F#-G-Bb-B-C ascending or C-B-Bb-G-Gb-F-Eb-C descending. The differences in the up and down versions are only one of musical spelling, e.i. Gb vs F#.

A great deal of jazz harmony arises from the modes of the melodic minor scale. This scale is essentially a diatonic major scale with a flatted third, for example C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C. As with any other scale, the modes are derived from playing the scale from different root notes, causing a series of jazz scales to emerge. In ascending order they are: I: Melodic minor, II: Phrygian #6 (or Dorian b2), III: Lydian augmented, IV: Lydian dominant, V: Mixolydian b6 (or simply “fifth mode”), VI: Locrian #2, VII: Super Locrian (or altered scale, altered mode). It should be noted that the names of these scales compare them to the modes of the diatonic major scale, for example the Phrygian #6, a mode of the melodic minor, is named because it is the same as the Phrygian mode of the major scale except with a sharped sixth.





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It uses material from the Wikipedia article – Jazz scale