Jazz Scales for Jazz Improvisation
Reference for Most Common Jazz Scales (for Guitar)
Is jazz improvisation a big mystery to you? Do have questions as to "what notes are good" when soloing? Use this handy jazz scales reference chart to learn the most common sounds in jazz ...
Using formulas is the best and most convenient way to write down, read, learn and memorize jazz scales. We use numbers instead of notes so you can easily apply the scale formula starting on any note...
The basis for the system of notation is the major scale structure.
This : C D E F G A B (1)
Becomes : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (1)
I know this has been posted everywhere on this website... but, I repeat :
The Major Scale IS the prime reference
for building all the other scales!
At first, you should learn the jazz scales that are very closely related to the major scale (because they have only one or two note difference.)
Later, you'll be able tackle more challenging formulas (other more complex jazz scales) with a solid foundation. If you have any kind of question, please ask it here (at the bottom of the page).
Before going any further, just watch this video. Basically, I demonstrate the three basic chords - scales - arpeggios sounds needed for Jazz guitar improvisation on a basic II-V-I cadence. After you get this under your fingers, your can get going and create you own solos.
The chords, scales and arpeggios from the video are found in this PDF file here...
And now for some more theory on jazz scales ...
The 3 "Biggies": Major, Minor and Dominant
- The major scale symbol is often a little triangle. You can also see the nomenclature "maj7" on charts.
- The major scale is also known as the Ionian mode.
- The dominant 7th scale has only one note different from the major. Which one?
- The dominant 7th scale is also known as the Mixolydian mode (and it is found on the 5th degree of the major scale).
- That basic minor sound is also known as the Dorian mode (and it is found on the 2nd degree of the major scale).
- This minor scale has only two notes different from the major scale. Which ones?
- The minor symbol is often a little minus sign. You can also see the nomenclature "minor7" or even just "m7" on charts.
Memorizing the three basic formulas is primordial. Then spell out the major, mixolydian (dominant) and minor (dorian) scales. I mean, recite the names of the note out loud! This helps a lot.
If you do all three scales from root C, it goes like this...
C D E F G A B
C D E F G A Bb
C D Eb F G A Bb
I stronly suggest that you pick *one* of the three scale and recite it in all the 12 keys. See this page for different cycles you can practice with (including the invaluable cycle of fourths).
All memorized? Let's go practice the three basic jazz scales on your instrument now!
To learn these three jazz scales well, you have to think about the following at all times:
-Maintain a good sound on each note;
-Knowing exactly what scales / notes your are playing!
-Listen closely to the result.
Practice Steps: (pick one of the three jazz scales)
- In *any* fingering: play the chosen scale from 1 to 7 and back down. Repeat in a few keys around the instrument / fretboard. Go slow, get accustomed to the sound.
- Learn the scale starting on string 6 (biggest) and then on strings 5, 4, 3 and 2. Explore different starting fingers for each scale.
- Consolidate between 2 and 4 fingerings that work well for you.
- [You'll want to do that step carefully for each scale, because when the formula changes, so do the fingerings!]
Practice the scale from 1 to 7 and back down in all the twelve keys. Use the cycle of fourths as you root order: C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, etc.
- Practice the same as last step but only ascending the scale (1 to 7)
- Same as last step but only descending the scale (7 to 1)
[Last three steps here: play in time!!!]
More Practice Steps
-Now mixing the three scales together: practice the Dorian, Mixolydian in Major jazz scales together in the context of the II-V-I progression.
Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7 (this is a II-V-I in C major)
Play D dorian (minor) ascending and descending
then G mixolydian (dominant) ascending and descending
then C major ascending and descending
repeat with just the ascending version
... and just the descending version...
and then repeat with a the II-V-I progression in all the remaining keys...
Gm7 - C7 - Fmaj7
Cm7 - F7 - Bbmaj7
Fm7 - Bb7 - Ebmaj7
Bbm7 - Eb7 - Abmaj7
Ebm7 - Ab7 - Dbmaj7 .... (or D#m7 - G#7 - C#maj7)
Abm7 - Db7 - Gbmaj7 .... (or G#m7 - C#7 - F#maj7)
C#m7 - F#7 - Bmaj7
F#m7 - B7 - Emaj7
Bm7 - E7 - Amaj7
Em7 - A7 - Dmaj7
Am7 - D7 - Gmaj7
Congratulations! If you can play the above suggestions well enough, your jazz language can develop in many beautiful ways (in phrasing, ornamentations, licks, etc.) Learning, memorizing and playing those three basic jazz scales can get you very far in jazz improvisation.
Please ask you question(s) below (scroll down).
You May Also be Interested in ... Related Pages
VIDEO: Three Jazz Scales
Great if you want to "go through the motion" with the video above, but on Youtube. Covers approximately the same topics as the above text. Basic improv on II-V-I progression.
The Major Scale
The reference point every should have memorized and handy...
Diagonal Playing on Guitar
Feel "boxed in" a little? Get out of the position-playing prison now!
Have a Question about Jazz Scales ?
Do you have a question about anything discussed in this article? Ask it here! It will be answered soon.