BeBop Scales

Question by Anonymous

Hello Marc,

Some thoughts and question(s) regarding BeBop Scales: lately I’ve been revisiting them and have observed a thing or two:

Take the Dorian BeBop; it is common practice to add a note (M3) between the m3rd and fourth scale steps.

D Dorian BeBop: D-E-F-F#-G-A-B-C-D.

I can’t help noticing that when using (ascending) eighth notes we get the fourth degree, G, a tension/extension, on the downbeat of three. But when I place an added half step between the 6th and 7th, it gives me all the chord tones on the strong down beats (using eighth notes), and the tensions/extensions on the weaker upbeats, thus lining up nicely – descending as well as ascending.

Starting on the root of D dorian:

one D=root & E=9th (tension
two F=3rd, & G=4th (tension
three A=5th, & B=6th (tension
four C=7th, & C# added passing tone (tension

Next measure:
one D= root, & etc.

I know some jazzers don’t make much to do about the bebop scales in that they are scales with an added note used to even out the placement of SCALE tones, etc. but in regard to CHORD TONES placement on strong beats, the accepted practice urges one to adjust the placement of the passing added note as necessary in regard to strong metrical note placement.

Am I off the mark? Or am I mixing apples and oranges? Your insight is appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

M-A’s Answer:


Great question.

The short answer : the passing tone F-F#-G would obviously outline more of a G7 mixolydian sound as we get the notes G-B-D-F on the downbeats (but not in that order).

As you were stating, the passing tone C-C#-D really outlines the Dm7 chord with D-F-A-C notes.

You are not “off the mark” or mixing apples and oranges at all. I think you are simply understanding the process very well.

That being said, I would highly encourage you to learn, use, hear, understand and analyze this crucial concept :

The major scale with ANY added passing tone can work on all of it’s modes.

Think about it : the major scale has 7 notes, so we are left with only 5 possible “passing notes” because the whole musical universe has 12 distinct pitches.

Shown ascending here, using sharps :

C Major = C D E F G A B, so…

C C# D E F G A B
C D D# E F G A B
C D E F F# G A B
C D E F G G# A B
C D E F G A A# B

Now, provided that the “outside” notes fall on an upbeat, you can use any of those five possible bebop scales on a single C major chord!

… and any of the natural notes can be placed on “beat one” …

… and you can figure this out with any/all of the seven diatonic chords in C major…

That’s a lot of options! I once wrote out all the possibilities in 4/4, I think it went 25 pages long… (-:

Of course, some of the possible scales will outline just tension notes. Some examples of rather “out” choices for a C major chord :

(Downbeats in bold)

F F# G A B C D E
B C D E F G A A#
C C# D E F G A B

My final recommendation is to try: write down, play and listen for the options that make more sense to you. Apply in the right contexts. It has to come from the ears!

To conclude, it’s futile to associate a certain “bebop scale” with strictly one chord. It’s clear that it could work for at least 7 chords. One of the possible uses will surely outline a certain chord best, but the other options are still “viable” as we say in french.

You can get to a point were you can use bebop scales to outline a mixture of chord tones, extensions and blend them with beautiful resolutions.

I hope this helps,
Investigate and Practice Well,

Marc-Andre Seguin


If you really want to mess around, start looking at melodic minor modes and their passing tones.


Old Comments for BeBop Scales

Apr 13, 2012
it’s about the music.
by: Anonymous

Examples! Exercises! Please!

A few bars of music would be so helpful.

Mar 03, 2011
If it helps
by: Nick

I’m currently working on
I’m gathering a collection of free guitar backing tracks created by different people and organizing them by key, tempo, suggested scales. I would love to get any feedback I can get so I can make the site more useful.

Mar 01, 2011
an additional note about F# passing tone implying G7
by: Vincent Stephen-Ong

Hey folks, just an additional note/emphasis about the F# passing tone. The fact that using an F# passing tone outlines a G7 is no accident- relative to D- dorian this is the diatonic IV, or the V of a II-V (if D- is your II). So using the F# passing tone on D dorian is like super-imposing the V of a II-V on the II.


D- | G7 | CMaj7
G7/D | G7 | CMaj7

Outside of the context of a II-V, you can still do this substitution (often used for tonic minor chords) to get a neat quasi-suspended resolution sound. e.g.:

E-7b5 | A7b9 | D-
E-7b5 | A7b9 | G7/D

Feb 28, 2011
Bebop Scales
by: Anonymous

*If you really want to mess around, start looking at melodic minor modes and their passing tones.*

Hello Marc,

Thank you so much for your reply and great insight. Yes, I *hear* everything you say very clearly!

As per your recommendation about messing around with the melodic minor modes: I have been doing just that! Not only melodic minor, but the diminished as well as whole tone scale.

I have been juxtaposing notes in said scales as material for outside notes in conjunction with the chord of the moment. More precisely, I have been doing the V7-1 cadence, but using altered scales for the V7 and drawing from them their inherent notes as outside tension notes in contrast to the “home chord” – kind of a pendulum effect. Using eighth notes: in out, in out, etc. and eventually resolving to a chord tone of the home chord, if that made sense?

Some people might think this a cumbersome way of infusing chromatics, but for me it is a very concrete and mathematical way of making lines (and harmonic progressions)sound “correct” as notes are delegated to their rightful place, depending if they are tensions or restful chord tones. AND, I’m having a good time, despite the work 😉

I must admit that Hal Galper’s Forward Motion book has been a tremendous help in getting me to think on my own two feet. Also a big thanks to you and other excellent teachers that contribute their time and knowledge; it is very kind and very appreciated.

Best regards …

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