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Keys to the Altered Scale
Posted By Forrest On July 16, 2010 @ 9:59 pm In Chords,Concepts,Tips | 1 Comment

The altered scale allows access to the beautiful tensions of a dominant chord in a flash. The
effective use of this scale, however, is not easy. In this article, I’ve assembled what I have
found to be the keys to utilizing the altered scale to its full potential.

Get beyond the shortcut to the altered scale
To find the appropriate notes for an altered scale, simply go up a half step from the root of the
chord and play the ascending form of the melodic minor scale (a major scale with a flatted
third). So, on G7, you would play Ab melodic minor starting on G, and voila, you’re playing G
altered. I call this a shortcut for a reason. Because it is! Gradually, get beyond it…by knowing
the scale as it’s own entity.

Know the scale as its own entity
I remember attending Jamey Aebersold’s jazz camp in Louisville, Kentucky, at age 18 and
having an absolute blast! Playing with great musicians, learning from professionals, I truly
enjoyed every minute. One instance relevant to the discussion of altered scales comes to
mind. Jerry Coker told our class that he and Jamey disagreed on one primary issue about the
altered scale.
Jamey felt it no big deal to think of the altered scale as a mode of the melodic minor, however,
Jerry Coker firmly, but respectfully, opposed Jamey, stating that knowing the scale as its ‘own
thing’ was absolutely necessary to using it effectively. Jerry believed that knowing the scale
independently from the melodic minor scale would allow improvisers to access the scale more
quickly, and therefore, use it more easily.
Sorry Jamey, but I gotta go with Jerry on this one. Using the melodic minor scale to derive the
altered scale is fine for starting out, but to utilize the altered scale to its full potential, it’s
important to have the scale under your fingers and in your mind without having to think of its
related melodic minor.

Know when to use the altered scale
Chord symbols implying the altered scale are G7alt., G7#9, G7 b13 and I’m sure other
variations exist. The use of the altered scale is by no means limited to where a chart explicitly
calls for it. Really, any dominant chord resolving down a fifth (G7 to C major) can take the
altered scale.
The one thing to watch for, however, is a dominant chord that has an altered 9th

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the b13th (same as #5) will conflict with the harmony. is knowing how each note in the scale relates to the chord. knowing instantly that D# is the #5 of G7. The #5 (same as b6 and b13. C# is the #11. but shown here as Bb) resolves down to ‘A’. for example. Understand that there are only four altered tensions present in the altered scale and that people frequently call them by different names. Get an idea of how the masters do it Could I list a bunch of altered licks here for you to practice? Of course. In contrast. If a chord has a natural 13th (E in the case of G7) included with altered 9ths (Ab and A# in the case of G7). Would it help you. Transcribe your heroes yourself to get a concept of how they draw from the altered scale/sounds and you will benefit immensely. than down to the root of C major.jazzadvice. Eb or D#) resolves down to ‘D’. will allow you to wield the power of this scale. the 13th of C major The b5 (same as #4 and #11. resolves down to E.com http://www. having a strong foundation of jazz language to draw from. (This is not an altered tension) There is a lot of information packed in to this little example.Altered Scale | jazzadvice. However. coupled with an understanding of how to seamlessly resolve these tensions. the altered scale is just a convenient way to conceptualize the altered sounds on a dominant chord and make them available quickly. then playing Eb (or D#). The b9 (Ab) resolves down to ‘G’. the 9th of C major. This in itself is not very powerful. Db or C#) resolves more strongly up to ‘D’ the 9th of C. Learning the scale is only the beginning. No. Know what the altered notes are in relation to the chord Even more important than knowing the scale. Do not just run up and down the scale It sounds obvious. Remember. Knowing these resolutions does not mean you need to play them overtly in your lines. notated commonly as G7b9. so why do people insist on continuing to simply run up and down scales as though it were improvising? It’s not. making for a world of confusion. Understand all the resolutions in the altered scale The altered scale is a just a quick way of accessing the altered tensions. 2 of 6 2/4/16 5:17 PM . the 5th of C major The #9 (technically A#. and A# (Bb) is the #9. Get familiar with each of these tensions and how each one resolves. Feel free to disagree.com/keys-to-the-altered-scale/print/ and a natural 13th. Ab is the b9. the third of C major. The b7 (F).

you may have still have to think of the related melodic minor. Sonny uses the b9 and #9 to create a sequenced melody. Playing a few notes of the scale can be very effective Sonny Rollins frequently takes a couple altered notes and creates beautiful melodies and sequences from them. Here I chose #5 and #9 and would go through an entire tune playing this pair wherever I could. #9. Gradually. You’ll just know that Ab is the b9 of G7.com http://www. Raise the 11th of Db7 (Raise the F# to G so the scale does not contain the major seventh of G7) making the chord Db7#11 and you’ve got the exact same notes as the G altered scale.jazzadvice. Knowing that the altered scale and the tritone sub are essentially two ways of looking at the same thing. Make up your own scalar segments in a similar fashion. This example is 12345321 of Ab melodic minor. Scalar segments are a good way to start out. you will have these notes at your finger tips without having to think of the related melodic minor. or in this case the tritone sub pentatonic (Db/C# pentatonic) as Michael Brecker does in measure four of his solo on “Suspone. When transcribing your favorite players. Check out this example from his solo on “Tenor Madness” on the turnaround of the second chorus. Understand the tritone substitution relationship to the altered scale The tritone sub of G7 is Db7. see how they resolve and deal with these tensions. It occurs at 2:39 in the video.” Use scalar segments of the scale When you first start to use the altered scale in your solos.com/keys-to-the-altered-scale/print/ Knowing them gives you a firm understanding of what is happening harmonically and will help guide your ear. #11 (same as #4 3 of 6 2/4/16 5:17 PM . and so on and so forth. Rich Perry had me practice using a couple notes of the altered scale by going through tunes and selecting pairs of altered notes to play on every chord as in the example below.Altered Scale | jazzadvice. You could make up your own pairs selecting from the altered tensions: b9. you could choose to play the tritone sub (Db7#11).

take this example from Michael Brecker: By inserting chromatic passing tones between altered notes. This is the altered scale with a passing tones in between 4 of 6 2/4/16 5:17 PM . Brecker puts the b7. Try this over a blues or a standard you are working on. you can create your own altered bebop scales. #5 (same as b6 and b13).com/keys-to-the-altered-scale/print/ and b5). #9. and #9 on downbeats. Watch how the greats use passing tones to purposefully land on specific altered notes on the downbeats. similar to the bebop dominant scale. This is the altered scale with a passing tone in between the b13 and #11. Once you get the general idea of inserting passing tones. b13. b7. and b9 on down beats. b13. #11. Here’s a ten note altered bebop scale. Brecker controls which tensions land on downbeats (the notes on the downbeats are going to suggest the underlying structure of the line. For instance. It puts 1.) In this line over the G7. and #9 on downbeats.Altered Scale | jazzadvice. Here are some examples: This is the altered scale with a passing tone in between the root and dominant seventh. It puts 1. #11.jazzadvice. It’s obvious Rich has practiced and mastered these altered sounds! Use chromatic passing tones between altered notes Adding chromatic passing tones in between altered notes is an effective way to emphasize specific altered tensions.com http://www.

and then left the 3rd (E) out of the scale. I’ve imposed the altered scale over the line. The most important thing about using these bebop scales is knowing how to integrate them musically into your playing. do not just mindlessly run up and down scales. This method will help you rapidly integrate the altered scale into your playing in a musical way based upon the jazz language.jazzadvice.com/keys-to-the-altered-scale/print/ the root and b7. Incorporating the altered scale into your playing This is a combination of understanding the scale inside and out (resolutions. You can also leave notes of the scale out as in this example. and between b7 and #11. Try writing out some variations as I did here and then try improvising (instead of writing) around the transcribed line. To reiterate.Altered Scale | jazzadvice. In the following example. That’s not improvising. b7. b13. I inserted passing tones in between the root and b7. You can do this with any line you transcribe. #11. and #9 on downbeats. and between b7 and #11. It puts 1. using the altered sounds as a basis for how you change the line. Transcending the altered scale 5 of 6 2/4/16 5:17 PM . each tension’s relationship to the chord.com http://www. A simple way to do that is the following process: Here’s a charlie parker lick over a one measure ii V This is a frequent situation: I’ve transcribed a line and now I want to make it my own. and the rest of the points discussed previously) and combing that understanding with language.

All rights reserved.jazzadvice.com: http://www.-)) Choose which altered tensions you want on downbeats by inserting half steps in various places Be able to take lines you transcribe and impose the altered sound on top of them by writing out a new line Be able to take lines you transcribe and impose the altered sound on top of them by improvising around the shape and structure of the line Freely.” The point is. while understanding each resolution.com/keys-to-the-altered-scale/ Copyright © 2015 jazzadvice. Bb (A#) is the #9.com/keys-to-the-altered-scale/print/ As you practice all this altered stuff. Be able to think of Db7#11 (tritone sub) as another point of view of the same altered sounds Transcribe some more altered language you hear on a recording (this could be inserted as every other step . D# is the #5.com http://www.com. 6 of 6 2/4/16 5:17 PM .jazzadvice. Supposing you’re learning G7alt.jazzadvice. You’ll transcend the idea of the altered scale. confidently. and musically begin to apply the altered sounds to dominant chords in tunes you are working on This process is a sample.com URL to article: http://www. a paradigm shift will occur. you begin very simply with a small amount of information and in a short period of time. and C# is the #11 Start to use pairs of altered notes over dominant chords. The paradigm shift is the mixing and matching of all this information. Article printed from jazzadvice. It is not a step by step “how to. you amass much information of looking at the same thing. The process may go something like this: Play Ab melodic minor Play Ab melodic minor from G to G Play a blues and play 12345321 of Ab melodic minor on every G7 chord Transcribe some altered language you hear on a recording to get an idea of how the masters do it Begin to feel and hear G altered as it’s own entity Start to know instantaneously that Ab is the b9. automatically knowing the altered sounds you wish to emphasize and how best to do it.Altered Scale | jazzadvice.