How To Improvise With Scales On Guitar

 

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There are different ways to approach improvising and using a scale-based approach is very useful because it means you can practice scale patterns which you can then call upon when you are improvising.

Learn the notes in C (natural notes) on the fretboard

Following on from our previous lesson we will look at the chords in C major. These chords will translate to scales within this framework of notes.

C to C

We start with C major, use these two scale patterns for exploring the notes of C major over a C major chord.

D to D = D Dorian = D minor

E to E = E Phrygian = E min 7

 

F to F = F Lydian = F maj 7, maj 9, maj 11

G to G = G Mixolydian = G7, G9, G13
A to A = A Aeolian = A min 7

 

B to B = B Locrian = Bm7b5

 

Developing a vocabulary

Part of your work in becoming a good Latin Jazz improviser is to develop a vocabulary of scales and scale patterns which you can call upon as needed. The good thing about the guitar is that once you have learned a scale pattern you can transpose it easily to to other keys by moving it to a different position on the fretboard.

The Major Scale, Modes and Chords

A good place to start is the major scale because the major scale can be divided into other scale or modes that you can use in a variety of ways. So in learning the pattern for C major for example you will also be able to play to D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian (or Natural minor), and B Locrian. These scales can then be used respectively over the following chords:

D Dorian Dm
E Phrygian E or  Emin
F Lydian F maj, F^11
G Mixolydian G7, G9
A Aolian (or Natural minor)  Am
B Locrian B min7b5

Tonal Centre

Even though soloing using a mode per chord can be quite useful I’d like to focus today’s lesson on tonal centers . By knowing the tonal centre of the music your are currently improvising over you can group chords together and think about using one scales over tall of them. Then with each chord you are soloing over you can decide if you want to bring out that particular mode, chord tone or extension.

 

Comments

  • Dominic Swords

    Thanks for these lessons around the fundamentals of improv. It’s a lot more logical to me now. When ppl throw around modes and scales and changing over the chords it all seems a complete mystery. So, here we are. Instead of thinking modes as a focus for your playing, you can think of the basic scale that relates to the song (and its melody) and modify it according to the chord tones. And that kind of automatically makes you play the mode that’s relevant to the chord. Is that why you can get away with a simple pentatonic +/- a blue note or two over most rock and blues music? Because the pentatonic notes will fit over all the chords you will play nicely?

    • Sergio

      That’s correct. Also in blues and rock, the chord progressions focus on chords I IV and V so and the pentatonic scale with only 5 notes will work over those 3 chords nicely. It’s an interesting topic that I might look into a bit more. Pentatonics have their own set of rules that help them work effectively.

  • Tuan

    OK