Scales and Modes

A thorough knowledge of your scales and modes will help your improvisation a great deal as it gives you a bigger stock of notes from which you can draw.

I am using the C major scale in all my examples, but it is important that you apply them to all keys when you practise.

Key:
∆ = Major7
o = Diminished
ø = Half Diminished/ min7b5 (or -7b5)

Put simply, a scale is the term given to a series of notes in an octave and a mode is the term given to the way in which these notes are ordered.

For example, the modes of the C major scale are as follows:



Each mode is the C major scale, starting on a different note of the scale. These modes give you 7th chords. If you take the root (C), the 3rd (E) the 5th (G) and the 7th (B) note of the C major (Ionian) scale and play them as a chord, you will have the chord of Cmaj7.

A major 7th chord has a major 3rd, a perfect 5th and a major 7th. This is called a I chord, because it is made up from the notes of the 1st (Ionian) mode.



The second (Dorian) mode is the C major scale starting from D. If you take the root (D), 3rd (F), 5th (A) and 7th (C) of the scale and play them as a chord, you will have a D-7 chord.

A dash is the most commonly used symbol for a minor chord. Alternative symbols are Dm7 and Dmin7.

A minor seventh chord has a minor 3rd, a perfect 5th and a minor 7th. It is called II chord because it is made up from the notes of the 2nd (Dorian) mode.



The 5th (Mixolydian) mode is the C major scale starting from G. If you take the root (G), 3rd (B), 5th (D) and 7th (F) of this scale and play them as a chord, you will have a G7 chord or G Dominant 7th.

A dominant 7th chord has a major 3rd, a perfect 5th and a minor 7th. It is called a V chord because it is made up from the notes of the 5th (Mixolydian) mode.


The three chords, (II minor 7th, V dominant 7th and I major 7th) form the II-V-I chord progression. This is probably the most commonly used chord progression in jazz.

Try this progression stripped down to simple 3 note voicings, you'll notice that the 7th of the II chord drops to become the 3rd of the V chord, whilst the 3rd of the II chord, stays where it is and becomes the 7th of the V chord. The 7th of the V chord then drops to become the 3rd of the I chord, whilst the 3rd of the V chord stays where it is and becomes the 7th of the I chord.





The 4th (Lydian) Mode





As you can see, the F Lydian scale differs from the F major scale, because it has a B natural or a raised 4th. This is because it is the scale of C, starting on F. This scale gives you an F∆+4 chord, because it has a major 3rd, a major 7th and a raised (or +) 4.

The 7th (Lochrian) Mode




Here is the scale of B Lochrian (the scale of C major played from B to B).

Underneath the scale is the chord of Bø (Bmin7b5). Many jazz musicians chose the lochrian scale when soloing over a half diminished chord. The second note of the scale (C - the b9 of the chord) sounds dissonant and is usually treated with care, as a passing note.

There is another scale used on half diminished chords (see melodic minor scale harmony). that is the 6th mode of the melodic minor scale, known as the half diminished or lochrian #2. For many musicians this is the preferred mode for half diminished chords, because the second note is the 9th, rather than the dissonant b9.


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