Jazz Guitar Corner: Break Open ii-V’s With This Nine-Note Scale
ii-Vs are some of the most commonly used and important chords in the jazz repertoire. It’s a progression you’ll see often as a jazz guitarist, so being able to confidently solo over these chords is an essential skill.
When first learning to blow over these chords, we often start with the Dorian and Mixolydian modes over each chord, respectively. But, while playing these modes is correct, they often sound too diatonic, not enough tension to really be “jazzy.”
This is where Bebop Scales come into play. In this article, we’ll explore the Minor Bebop Scale, the Dominant Bebop Scale and a hybrid I like to call the Combined Bebop Scale.
As a bonus, there’s a video included to show you how these scales sound in an improvisational context.
So grab your guitar, crank your amp and get ready to add a little jazziness to your solos.
Minor Bebop Scale
The first scale we’ll look at is the Minor Bebop Scale. This scale is built by taking the Dorian Mode and adding in a #7 interval. You can use this scale to solo over a m7 chord as it uses the related mode, and the #7 provides that extra “jazziness” the diatonic modes don’t provide on their own.
Once you have the Minor Bebop Scale under your fingers in the position below, with the root on the 5th string, put on a Dm7 backing track and practice improvising with this scale. Then, move it to other keys around the neck to really ingrain this fingering in your hands and your ears.
As you move on to the next scale in this lesson, you’ll use the Minor Bebop Scale as the foundation for further adaptation. So, having a strong grasp on this fingering and scale is an important step in ensuring that you get the most out of the next sections in this lesson.
Dominant Bebop Scale
With the Minor Bebop Scale under your fingers you can move on to the V chord in the ii-V progression and learn the Dominant Bebop Scale in this position. Notice that you don’t have to move your hand on the neck to get this next scale under your fingers. It sits right above the Minor Bebop Scale on the fretboard.
The Dominant Bebop Scale is built by taking the Mixolydian Mode and adding in one extra note, the #7 interval. This produces an eight-note scale, just like the Minor Bebop Scale, except it’s used to solo over 7th chords.
Once you have the fingering down in the example below, put on a G7 backing track and solo over that chord with this scale. Then, take it to the other 11 keys to see how it sits in different areas of the neck.
If you are feeling confident with these two scales at this point, you can put on a ii-V backing track, maybe starting with 4-bars per chord, and improvise over each chord using the appropriate scale. For Dm7 you would solo for four bars using the D Minor Bebop scale, then switch over to four bars of the G Dominant Bebop Scale over G7.
Once you have a handle on the four-bar phrases, you can shrink it down to two-bars per chord, then one-bar per chord and finally if you’re feeling adventurous, two-beats per chord. The goal is to be able to use each scale to improvise over the appropriate chord in a progression, helping you to inject the Bebop Scale sound into your playing, while thinking about each chord as a separate entity at the same time.
The “Combined” Bebop Scale
One of the cool things I discovered when I was first studying these scales is that not only can you apply them separately to each chord in a ii-V, but you can use them together over both of these chords with a “Combined” Bebop Scale.
When doing so, the passing notes from each individual scale create a new tension over the other chord in the progression, which you can see here as a reference.
Key of C
Dm7 = C# (#7) and F# (M3)
G7 = C# (b5 Blues Note) and F# (#7)
Like any chromatic note, you probably don’t want to sit on these passing notes in your lines. It’s cool to start an idea on these notes, or to inject them into the middle of a line, but unless you’re looking to create a high-level of tension in your solo, it’s probably not a great idea to end a line on one of these notes, or pause on them for a long time in your playing.
Once you have this fingering down, I added the A B C on the top string to fill out the fingering in this position, put on a Dm7-G7 backing track and solo over both chords using this scale. This gives you an added layer of melodic material to choose from over these chords, on top of the individual scales addressed earlier.
Accompanying Video Lesson
Check out the video lesson below to see this scale explained in detail, hear it played on the guitar and check out this great sounding scale in action in an improvised solo.
Did you check this “combined” bebop scale out in the practice room? What are your thoughts on this nine-note scale?
Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a senior lecturer at the Leeds College of Music and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).