The major bebop scale is a very powerful scale that can be incredibly helpful to jazz pianists in a number of ways. It's a tool that can be an excellent device for improvisation as well as jazz arranging. The 8-note scale is built by combining two different chords. In this article we'll discuss the theory behind the major bebop scale and explain how it works. We'll also demonstrate how this versatile scale can be used in arranging a classic Ellington jazz standard.
The major bebop scale is an 8-note scale. It is built by combining a major 6th chord (root, 3rd, 5th, and 6th), and a fully diminished 7th chord. In the key of C, these two chords would be a C major 6th chord and a D diminished 7th chord.
Notice that the notes that makeup these two chords contain all 8 notes of the major bebop scale.
But why these two chords? Why are they important?
Okay, we have to get into a little bit of music theory in order to understand how the major bebop scale works. In the key of C major the 'I' chord would be C major (seems pretty obvious, right? Stay with me). We know that the V7 chord resolving to the I chord is one of the strongest resolutions in all of music. In the key of C, what is the V7 chord? Answer = G7. Well, the D diminished 7th chord is functioning just like a V7 chord. Actually, the notes D, F, Ab, and B represent the 5th, 7th, flat-9th, and 3rd of a G7 chord. So this entire scale is constructed by using a 'I' chord (C major 6) and a 'V7' chord (G7 flat 9).
Here's a great exercise that shows how this scale can work for you in arranging jazz tunes. Let's harmonize a simple C major scale descending from 'E' down an octave to 'E' using the C major bebop scale.
What can you tell about the example above? Every time we encountered a C, E, G, or A (the notes of the C major 6th chord) we harmonized as a C major 6th chord. Every time we encountered a D, B, Ab, or F (the notes of the D diminished 7th chord) we harmonized as a D diminished 7th chord. In practice what we're doing is creating little mini "V7 to I" resolutions all the way down the scale. And this inherent 'V to I' resolution motion is built into this scale!
Let's use the opening bars of Ellington's classic "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and harmonize using the C major bebop scale. Here are the first few measures of the tune:
Applying the C major bebop scale as an arranging technique results in the following harmonization:
This creates a much fuller, denser sound at the piano. Try applying this scale in your own arrangements of jazz tunes, and don't forget to check out our other lessons on jazz arranging.
This jazz improvisation tutorial features one of the all-time most requested and recorded jazz standards - "Autumn Leaves" written by Joseph Kosma way back in 1945. The song continues to be a favorite among jazz players and audiences today. In this article we'll take a closer look at the chords of the 'A' section and explain how to think about improvising over them.
Let's say you're working on soloing over the 'A' section of this tune (the first 8 measures, which repeat). At first glance it looks like a lot of chords, right? One chord per measure, so every four beats you encounter a new chord.
Some players (and teachers, and books, and jazz theory classes, etc), look at these chords as requiring a new chord scale for each new chord (a "chord scale" is a scale that corresponds to a particular chord, making it a great scale to choose when improvising over that chord). So you might get a very dense and confusing answer like this:
"For Am7 you can solo using an A dorian chord scale, for D7 a D mixolydian scale, for G major a G ionian scale, for C major a C lydian scale, for F#m7b5 an F# locrian scale, for B7 an E harmonic minor scale starting on B, and for Em an E aeolian scale."
WOW! That's a mouthful to say AND to write. The chord scales mentioned above (referred to as "modes") are accurate, and in the hands of a good player will sound really good when used for soloing. But, there is an easier an to break these chords down.
Let's remember that almost ALL of these chords are found in the key of G major. These chords (below) are referred to as diatonic chords because they are all found in the key of G major.
Why is this important? Because if these chords are all built by using only the notes from G major, then we can solo over ALL of them using just one scale - G MAJOR! Why try to remember 7 different chords scales and their names when all 7 of those scales are simply a G major scale that starts on a different note? For example, A dorian is just a G major scale starting on A. And an F# locrian scale is just a G major scale starting on F#.
There is one chord in the progression (B7) for which a G major scale is not the best choice when improvising. Why? Because a crucial note in a B7 chord is the D# (the 3rd of the chord) and D3 is not found in a G major scale. We need to make sure we have a scale to play that includes the D# when soloing over B7. We can simply play a G major scale with a raised 5th, which is the same as an E harmonic minor scale. That's it, just change that one note and now we have a scale that "works" over B7.
The tritone is a very common device used in the jazz and Great American Songbook repertoire. It's responsible for some of those very interesting, authentic jazz harmony sounds that sets jazz apart from other genres. But although the tritone (also known as the tritone substitution) is common in jazz and cocktail music it is often seen as confusing and difficult to understand. And of course, if you don't understand something you're going to be hesitant to approach it or try to use it. In this article, we're going to clear up that confusion by explaining:
A tritone is actually an interval. That's right - a tritone is simply a specific distance between two notes, and in music we measure distance in terms of intervals. The tritone interval is another way of referring to an augmented 4th or diminished 5th. (An augmented 4th is really the same thing as a diminished 5th, just a different way to spell the same interval).
This is where the confusion usually begins for students. A tritone substitution is the process of replacing one dominant 7th chord with another dominant 7th chord located a tritone away from the original. We're only talking about dominant 7th chords, not major or minor chords.
So let's plug in some variables. Consider a "ii-V-I" progression in the key of C major (Dmin7 - G7 - Cmaj7). We can substitute the G7 chord with a different dominant 7th chord. In order to know which dominant 7th chord we have to know the note that is a tritone away from G. In other words, what note is a diminished 5th (or augmented 4th) away from G? The answer is Db. So we can replace the G7 chord with a Db7 chord, resulting in a progression that reads Dmin7 - Db7 - Cmaj7.
Keep in mind that dominant chords want to resolve to their 'I' chord. There is inherent musical tension inside a dominant chord that makes it feel unstable. Dominant chords have a musical pull to their 'I' chord. What gives it this pull? The guide tones (the 3rd and 7th of a chord) want to resolve by half step (called voice-leading) in contrary motion. This half-step/contrary motion is some of the strongest resolution in music. Consider the G7 to C major chord progression below:
So the 3rd and 7th of the G7 chord are the two notes which are responsible for the function of a dominant chord. Those are the notes which pull the dominant chord to their resolution on the 'I' chord. Notice anything that the G7 and Db7 chord have in common? That's right, the 3rd and 7th are the same in both chords (B and F = 3rd/7th of G7, 7th/3rd of Db7). And since the guide tones are the same, the inherent tension functions in the same way, allowing both the G7 and Db7 to pull to the C major chord in the same manner.
Wanna spice up your blues playing? Of course you do! Whether you’re into rock, jazz, blues, or funk, the 12-bar blues is a chord progression that you’re sure to encounter. In this article I’ll show you 3 ways to improve your blues playing, and they all start by gaining a deeper understanding of the harmony. That’s right, we’re talking chords here. Not licks, scales, or riffs. We’re digging deep into the harmony to learn a few ways to get some of those advanced, pro sounds that are so elusive.
Most of us know the basic chord changes to the 12-bar blues progression, which is based on three primary chords - the I, IV, and V chord (all dominant 7th chords) of a given key. Let’s take a quick look at the most basic form of the 12-bar blues progression in the key of F.
In each of the spice-enhancing tips below I’ll show you a chord (or chords) that can be substituted in order to create some more advanced harmonic options. You can use these new chords for both comping and improvisation ideas. We’ll use the F blues example throughout.
Tip #1 - Try playing a #IV diminished 7th chord in measure 6
Putting this chord in measure 6, immediately after the IV chord in measure 5, gives the progression a little bump that creates some more forward motion. Why do we use this chord and how does it work? It’s really just an extension of the IV chord from measure 5. The IV chord (Bb7 in measure 5) has the following chord tones: Bb, D, F, and Ab. The #IV diminished 7 chord (B dim.7 in measure 6) has the following chord tones - B, D, F, and Ab. Notice any similarities? They share most of the same chord tones. Think of the B diminished 7 chord as a Bb7(b9) chord (with a ‘B’ as its root). If you’re using the F blues scale for soloing, you can still use that same scale when soloing over the B diminished 7 chord.
Tip #2 - Insert a ii - V progression in measures 9 and 10
This simple chord substitution is quite common in jazz interpretations of the blues form. Inserting a “ii-V” progression means playing we will play a ii-7 chord (G-7) in measure 9 and a V7 chord (C7) in measure 10. Doing this again creates forward motion to the F7 chord in measure 11 (thus, a “ii-V-I” progression). When soloing you can play a G dorian scale in measure 9, a C mixolydian scale in measure 10, and an F mixolydian scale in measure 11. Or you can play the F blues scale through the entire progression.
Tip #3 - Put a V7/ii chord in measure 8
First off, what is a “V7/ii” chord (pronounced “Five seven of two”)? The “ii” chord refers to the G-7 chord we inserted in measure 9. So what we’re really trying to do is create some motion to the G-7 chord. What is the “V” of G-7? The answer is D7. So we insert a D7 chord in measure 8 which resolves to G-7. Many players will commonly use extensions on this chord, such as #9, b9, and b13. For soloing, use the F blues scale or try playing a G harmonic minor scale over D7.
When learning to play rock piano one of the most important skills you can acquire is learning to play all of your major triads (and later minor triads) in each of the 12 keys. The major and minor triads that can be found within a particular key are referred to as the “diatonic” triads. This is a term that you may have heard before but perhaps not fully understood. In this article, we’ll do three things:
This term often confuses students but is actually quite easy to understand once explained. Think of any major scale (for example, D major). The notes contained in that D major scale are diatonic to D major (ie, the notes D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#). The notes not contained in the scale (ie, the notes outside of the key, meaning D#, F, G#, A#, and C) are called chromatic. That’s it. Pretty simple, right?
Diatonic chords refer to the chords which can be created within a key by following a few easy steps.
Step #1: Number each note of the scale in order.
Step #2: Stack 3rds on each note of the scale to build triads (3-note chords).
Step #3: Identify and play (and memorize) these diatonic chords.
Notice anything different about Steps 2 and 3 above? We switched from using regular numbers to Roman numerals when we labeled the diatonic chords. In music theory, we talk about individual notes by using regular numbers and chords by using Roman numerals. We also talk about chords by their Roman numeral name. So, if someone asks you to play a IV chord in the key of D, you would play a G major chord. (We also use upper and lower-case for major and minor, respectively).
Diatonic Chord Exercise
Here’s a great exercise that gets you playing through many (not all) of the diatonic chords in a given key. In your left hand you will simply play a descending major scale one note at a time. In your right hand you will play various inversions of the diatonic chords. Check it out!
This exercise gets you playing through many of the diatonic chords AND the various inversions of those chords. If this chord progression sounds familiar it’s because it’s the same chord progression that Billy Joel uses in his hit song “Piano Man” (although he plays it in the key of C major). This progression is also very similar to the chord progression used for the intro of Elton John’s song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” It’s an often-used progression in rock music and an excellent exercise for learning your diatonic chords and their inversions. In order to get the most bang for your buck, be sure to practice this progression in a few different keys and use your metronome!