Harmonizing scales to create arpeggios

When you learn a new scale it is a good idea to learn how to harmonize it creating arpeggios over it.  You may be asking what that means. This is simply building a triad or seventh chord off of each note in the scale. Using these arpeggios gives you a wide range of arpeggios to use over your playing. When you are generalizing over a song you can pick any of these arpeggios or play the harmonized scale ascending or descending. Any scale can be harmonized.

Before you start to harmonize a Scale let me quickly go over the nerd stuff. The word harmonize comes from the word harmony. Harmony is the underlying progression of notes. Notice, I did not say chords. Harmony can be chords, but it does not always use chunks of notes. Harmony can be split up into broken chords (notes from a chord played individually.) If you want to harmonize a scale you need to build intervals of thirds. You can review intervals here.  A triad is a 3 note chord (with all thirds) and a seventh chord is a 4 note chord (in all thirds.) So in brief, you need to add a couple notes to each scale tone using thirds.

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

Now if you are not generalizing over a chord progression you may want to approach this harmonization a little differently. Take the arpeggio and figure out which arpeggio belongs over the Third of the chord, 5th of the chord or 7th of the chord. This will allow you to focus more on important tones. You will be starting arpeggios on the root position arpeggio which is very connected to the chord. Below is an example of harmonized arpeggios.

Harmonized Arpeggios

Harmonized Arpeggios. Notice if you look at all the notes of the arpeggios in each category they complete the full major scale. However they are built in thirds rather than seconds.

Once you are comfortable with these 2 approaches you can intermix them in your playing for a unique sound and more option. The more options you have, but better you can play a wide range of music and have fresh and new ideas. Spend some time working on harmonizing scales and learning to play them. Once you are comfortable with that spend some time memorizing then harmonized arpeggios.

Using this same system you can start to imply altered tones in your playing by changing your arpeggio choices. You can learn to play extended arpeggios and just be freer with your music. These are not meant to restrict your playing; rather they give you building blocks to use to make music. It is hard to be innovative without knowledge of what came before; it is also hard to be good without the knowledge of the basic building blocks of what you want to do. Arpeggios and scales make up much of the music we hear. Learning to use them to our benefit is well worth the time.

Arpeggios are important to jazz guitar

If you play a popular style of music such as rock, metal, country or blues you are probably very aware of how scales are important to soloing. A common question I hear a lot and have asked myself is “what scale is he using”. However in jazz it isn’t the question stated above it is the question “what arpeggio is he using” and “what alterations is he using” Scales are also used in jazz but a large percentage of true jazz is arpeggio based.

If you listen to jazz music early in jazz history you will see a lot of arpeggios used.  Let’s take Louis Armstrong for example. Listen to his playing and you will hear tons of arpeggios. Listen to Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. All of these musicians and many more use arpeggios extensively.  As mentioned above, scales are used in jazz as well, but they take on a different role. Everything in jazz is based around arpeggios.

Which arpeggios are important? There are only 6 that you need to know.  Only 4 are really important for starting out. The 4 most important arpeggios are Major, Minor, dominant and minor 7(b5). The 3 extra ones you need to learn are diminished and augmented. This beats memorizing a bunch of different scales. It is good to learn to play arpeggios in one octave. 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 are the important notes that make up these arpeggios.

With the knowledge of arpeggios you can add more advanced techniques to them to add more interest and have more available interesting uses.  There is lesson that you may find valuable to get some more bebop sounds using arpeggios. Adding some chromaticism to arpeggios can spice it up and create an interesting melody that sounds really hip.

Try playing around with triads and seeing what melodies you can come up with just using them. They may seem simple at first, but these are the building blocks you can use to build an awesome jazz melody with. Spend some time listening to early jazz and trying to listen to the arpeggios that they use. I also suggest transcribing some of the melodies that you hear. Good luck with your jazz journey.

How to solo over dominant chords

Dominant chords are one of the most enjoyable chords to solo over. Some styles of music rely strongly on the dominant chord. The dominant chord has so many options that you can use to play over it. However, because the chord is so flexible there are challenges to it. We will discuss how you can play over dominant chords and what options you have available to solo over it.

The most common scale that people use to solo over the dominant chord is the Mixolydian. This scale fits to that chord perfectly with hardly any tensions. This is the go to scale for dominant chord. However, this chord can be much more complex than this scale. Typically in jazz you will find people pushing forward and trying new sounds over the dominant chord. If you consider the dominant chord a little bit different, your whole world of soloing will change.

Most dominant chords are part of the altered family. An altered chord is a chord that has chord tones changed. The unaltered dominant chord is 1 3 5 b7 9 11 13. However if you play a dominant chord most of the time any alterations will fit well. If you make the 9th flat or sharp, make the 11th sharp or the 13th flat you now have an altered chord. This means that every single note is available to use to solo over the dominant chord. The hard part, you can play any note and make it sound good, but if you play any notes you want it will sound bad. You need to play those altered notes with a purpose. The best way to do this is to play with a scale.

You have many scales available to use to solo over dominant chords besides the Mixolydian scale. You have the Whole Tone scale, Diminished scale, Phrygian Dominant (5th mode of harmonic minor), Lydian dominant (3rd mode of melodic minor), and many more. These scales mentioned already take up practically all the notes possible. A common scale that is used a lot in jazz is the bebop scale. The Bebop scale is very similar to Mixolydian and allows for more chromaticism in your playing. The Bebop scale would be a great place to start after you are comfortable with the Mixolydian scale.

Dominant chords are a joy to play over and there are so many option that you can use to solo with.  Most dominant chords belong to the altered family which makes virtually every note acceptable. The Mixolydian scale is the go to scale for dominant chords, but there are many other options you can use. Some are similar and others are way different from the Mixolydian. Experiment with different scales and find what works for you.

Guitar Scales – Melodic minor modes and their shapes

The modes of Melodic minor are very similar to the modes of the major scale. The only difference between the modes of the major and the modes of the melodic minor scale is the 3rd. Both scales contain exactly the same notes, except the melodic minor has a lowered third. Each of these scales are their own identity, but for this lesson I am going to teach them how they relate to one key across the neck.

This scale is not used much in musical genres other than jazz and classical. There are differences between the melodic minor scale in jazz and the melodic minor scale in classical. For this lesson I am going to show you the jazz melodic minor scale. The difference is in classical music the melodic minor scale ascends with the melodic minor scale and descends with the natural minor scale. In jazz the melodic minor scale is the ascending part. They exclude the descending switch. The guitar Scales you will learn in this lesson are the jazz melodic minor. Let’s dive in and learn these.

guitar scales

This is the Melodic Minor Mode

guitar scales

This is the Dorian b2 Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Lydian Augmented Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Lydian Dominant Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Mixolydian b6 Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Semilocrian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Superlocrian Mode.

As you can see there are some stretches in the fingerings. I suggest you finger those with the first (index) finger, middle finger and pinky. This is the easiest stretching. If you use your ring finger you will have a huge stretch between your ring and pinky fingers. Most people find stretching their first and middle fingers the easiest way to play those stretches.

Transpose these melodic minor scale shapes to all 12 keys. Make sure you know them well before you move on. These guitar scales are known as the jazz melodic minor scales, because they ascend and descend the same way. A great way to become familiar with these scales is to make up licks with them, play around with them and start using them in your playing. Below are all of these scales listed in order for your convenience in learning. Try to memorize their name with the shape; this will make further learning easier.

Melodic minor, Dorian b2, Phrygian dominant, Lydian dominant, mixolydian b6, semilocrian and superlocrian

How to learn guitar scales more in depth than 2 octave shapes

If you want to truly know the fret board you will need to do more than just memorize 1 shape of a scale. Learning as many ways as possible to play a scale is very beneficial. This does not mean that you have to master each approach to playing scales, however understanding the different approaches and memorizing them would never hurt. So what is the next step to learning scales once you know the 2 octave shapes? It is very simple. Learn one octave shapes.

guitar scales

Color coded diagram of one octave major scales starting on different G notes all over the fret board.

The magic about one octave scales is that the pattern repeats on every note on different strings. Keep in mind you need to shift up a fret on the B string. One octave scales is a great way to visualize the fret board. As long as you can find the root note you know where the right scale is. In this lesson I am going to use the major scale, but you can use this approach with all scales. There are 2 ways to play a major scale in 1 octave.  The first way is to play starting with the second finger; the second way is to start with the fourth finger. When you combine these 2 one octave shapes you cover the whole fret board. Take a look at these diagrams.

These shapes are color coded so you can see how each shape is repeated over the different strings. Once again don’t forget to shift on the B string.  Now let’s look at the other one octave major scale shape.

guitar scales

one octave major scale starting on fourth finger using G as the root note.

When you combine the 2 different diagrams you get a whole range of scale notes on the fret board. This is a great way to improve your knowledge of a scale you already know. Don’t just learn these shapes. Apply the same principle to all the modes in the major scale. Apply them to the harmonic and melodic minor scales as well. This is not the end all be all of guitar scales, but it is a valuable tool to use to help you visualize the guitar neck better. It will make you more comfortable in different part of the neck as well.

As with everything in life, don’t rush to learn it. It is better to know a few things well than to know a bunch of things poorly. Learning all these approaches to using scales is like how you eat an elephant. You take one bite at a time.   You may have also heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Be patient and good luck with the new knowledge!