Applying the Altered Dominant Scale in Heavy Metal Guitar
For this column, I'd like to talk about applying the altered dominant scale over a dominant seventh chord in a minor chord progression.
The altered dominant scale (sometimes referred to as super Locrian) is the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale. It is a widely used favorite among jazz guitarists because of its eerie dissonant tension on the dominant chord, creating a pleasant resolution to the tonic chord.
The formula for the altered dominant/super Locrian scale is 1-b2-b3-b4-b5-b6-b7. You can clearly see that within the scale are all the possible alterations of a dominant seventh chord. The sound of the scale is a bit jazzy in nature and may take some getting used to for your typical melodic rockers and shredders alike, but keep your mind and ears open and you may be pleasantly surprised at how useful and tasty this unique scale can be.
I am a huge fan of melodic metal. I admire the fact that it can simultaneously possess deafening brutal power and subtle, delicate beauty. Creating and listening to thousands of metal riffs, solos and chord progressions, I have often wanted to import other musical elements in my creative process to help keep my ideas fresh and not stale and derivative.
A common rock or metal chord progression is Imi, flat VImaj, flat VII maj and V7. Most conventional metal soloists would be delighted to apply their favorite harmonic minor and Phrygian dominant licks on the V7 chord. As a fan of all things Bach and Yngwie, you might notice that these types of licks will yield a very melodic neo-classical sound.
If this is not the sound you are chasing in your head, the altered dominant scale might be a great new choice. If you are searching for a darker, stranger, left-of-center musical statement, the altered dominant scale might just be your trusty dissonant ally.
For example, in the key of D minor (the saddest of all keys) your Imi is D minor, flat VI maj is B flat, flat VII maj is C, and by raising the seventh scale degree of D minor scale we now have dominant V chord instead of a Vmi. Now to keep the sound even and sweet with tons of distortion, just play the root, seventh and third of the A7 chord; this will also avoid the clashing of notes of the altered dominant scale.
Now using the scale, create some cool original sequences or licks to apply over the V7 chord. Notice how dissonant and yet hip sounding your licks are and how the perfectly resolve to the D minor chord. Varying your licks and phrases between altered dominant and harmonic minor is a surefire way to keep your audience on their toes.
Another fun idea to couple with the use of altered dominant scale is the use of chromatic passing tones between scale steps. This scale already has a noticeably jazzy sound and feel, why not use it as a launching pad for some cool chromatic tension and rhythmic motifs generally native to jazz?
If you feel chromatic ideas sometimes sound “out of place” in your soloing, try to use phrases derived from the altered dominant scale to prepare the listener and then give in to your chaotic chromatic creations over the next pass or two! Have fun with the altered scale and continue to be adventurous with your playing!
Shawn McGovern is a GIT graduate and sought-out guitar instructor in Providence, Rhode Island, and Los Angeles and may be contacted through his site, shawnmcgovern.com.