Choosing Altered Scales for Dominant 7th

Question by Pete
(Erie , Pa USA)

Hello Marc from Erie, Pa.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

I’ve been working on altered 7th scales. My question is while you are improvising are you thinking “Okay ,I’m going to flat the 9 and sharp the 11 on this next 7th chord”, or is it just from a non-thinking place that comes from years of practice? Or both?


M-A’s Answer:

Hello Pete,

To make a long story short: a bit of both!
(not much of a surprise isn’t?)

But, while actually improvising, if I’m really “in the moment” and listening, there’s no real thinking going on. If I’m thinking about note choices and other musical parameters in a solo, it’s usually the “beginning of the end” so to speak …

How To

So let’s say, you want to expand that area of you playing, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Pick ONE altered dominant sound/scale and get familiar with it.It takes place in your ears mostly and in your fingers secondly.
  2. Understand the implications of this sound/scale very deeply.For example: know the underlying theory, look for instances of this sound in tunes or compose with it, know the common resolutions, transcribe lines that use that sound, etc.
  3. Lastly, you have to let go and don’t try to apply this knowledge right away. It will show up by itself when it’s totally “ripe” in your ears. “Not trying” can often lead to beautiful music…

Working on new musical materials in this way requires a tremendous amount of discipline. You have to be patient and trust that the work you put on the instrument will eventually serve a greater purpose.

Scale Choices

On the theory side, here’s in what order I suggest working on the sounds/scales:

Start with Basic Mixolydian (G7)
1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

Changing one note only:

  • Mixo b13
    (V of melodic minor scale)
  • Mixo #11
    (IV of melodic minor scale)
  • Mixo b13 b9
    (V of harmonic minor scale)
  • Mixo b9
    (V of harmonic major scale)
    This is a weird one because it comes from an uncommon place.

Then the other “hard ones” …

  • Altered Scale
    (VII of melodic minor)
    Requires work and patience; very dissonant.
  • Diminished Scale
    (Symmetrical, 8-note scale)
    It’s the “classic” b9 sound for bebop.
    Many implications check it out!
  • Whole-Tone Scale
    (Symmetrical, 6-note scale)
    This is the dominant 7th #11 #5 sound…

Working step-by-step will ensure that you really hear the difference between the scales/sounds. You will start to identify it BY EAR in tunes and in other people’s playing. I always like to have a point a reference (shown above), instead of trying to blindly alter the 9th, of the 5th, or whatever…

I hope is makes sense and helps you incorporate those sounds into your playing.

Practice Well,
Marc-Andre Seguin

Old Comments for Choosing Altered Scales for Dominant 7th


Oct 27, 2014
Answer to Yair
by: Marc-Andre (admin)

I would tend to believe that time is the answer. Personally, I don’t really “remember” the fingerings all over the fretboard. I have a few good stencils (ie reference points) that I always use. For instance, the major scale is only one note away from the Mixolydian mode, etc.

With time, you can start to remember (and use musically) lots of scales, sound, textures, etc.


Oct 26, 2014
The greatest obstacle for me is remembering the scale fingerings
by: Yair

When learning a new scale I find that the biggest obstacle for me is remembering the fingerings all over the neck. The problem gets bigger when I add more scales on top of more scales. As of now I find it impossible to even remember the major scale “blindly” all over the neck. For example, if I play somewhere on the neck and want locate quickly the 5th of the A major scale, I cannot do that. I need to count notes from some other known position. That’s really frustrating.
How do you guys remember all the fingerings for all the scales all over the guitar neck?

May 01, 2010
2 approaches
by: Anonymous

I practice the scales to memorize fingerings and then I try to get a melodic approach when I solo on these scales on a chord progession, I listen to the relation of a note with the chord, and try to make a beautiful melodic line, that expresses a feeling: like a bird flying curves in the air (melodic)….in relation to the ground (harmony)(The Miles Davis approach: he only wanted to know what scales were used by Gil Evans for the passages he played on Porgy and Bess, he didn’t want a written melody, nor the chord progession. It really comes from within and he checks with his ears the note/chord relationship (harmony))
In fact, Miles loved Charlie Christian’s sound (guitarist), and tried to sound like him on the trumpet. He hears well that register for its warm tone (definitely not a screamer!). When he started with Dizzy and Bird in the 30s, he asked Dizzy Gillespie “Why can’t I play like you?”, Dizzy replied “You play like me! but in your register…”
Unfortunately recording techniques really sounded awful in these years, hearing them live would be much better (time capsule, anyone? :))

Another approach: Johan Sebastian Bach! Take a 2 voice music (inventions are a good starting point), get another guit or bass player, and play it Swing! (remember: accents are on the upbeats). It really opens up your ears to have a counterpoint (melody=horizontal) and harmonic (chords=vertical) with a tonal sense (path=spirit=meaning)
His music is pure genious because every single line is a melody, in harmony with others, with a spirit guiding them. HE’S JAZZ! (in french, “jaser”=chit-chat, talking….)
Maybe he’s jamming with Miles now! (with Wolfy on keyboards maybe…and Beethov on double bass! But whose on drums? Your heartbeat!! oh boy it’s gonna be a great show! :D)

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