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10 Scales for Jazz Improvisation - 01/02/2022

Listening to Gary Burton's improvisation lecture (Loyola University, July 2011), learning about 3 new scales, and trying to internalize their relevance within the context of the 7 major modes.
Symmetrical diminished has 8 notes isn't that WEIRD HMM I WONDER WHY THEY CALL IT SYMMETRICAL


This particular lecture has been floating in and out of my YouTube recomendations for the last several months. I don't have a formal music education, but I've been self-teaching theory for a few years in hopes of becoming a passable pianist. I've been wanting to expand my melodic vocabulary, and this seemed like a great place to start.

For starters. Here are some concepts I knew prior to watching the lecture:

  • There are 7 'modes' of the major scale
  • Starting from any of the 7 scale degrees will change the relevance of that scale (if you play C major, but start from A, your major scale is now a minor scale)
  • The 7 modes in chromatic order are:
    1. Ionian(major)
    2. Dorian
    3. Phrygian
    4. Lydian
    5. Mixolydian
    6. Aeolian(minor)
    7. Locrian
  • I also know that some of these modes are 'brighter' or 'darker' in the same way that major and minor are

Now, here are some of the new and useful things I learned:

  • Each of these modes is associated with a chord type. Interestingly, only Lydian, Ionian, and Mixolydian are associated with Major
  • Lydian is even brighter than Major/Ionian
  • Locrian is darker than Phrygian
  • The 7 modes in order of bright to dark are:
    1. Lydian
    2. Ionian(major)
    3. Mixolydian
    4. Dorian
    5. Aeolian(minor)
    6. Phrygian
    7. Locrian

That's 7 Scales. What about the other 3?

The remaining 3 scales are a bit more difficult for me to wrap my head around. But the more I think about them, the more I hear them being used in jazz solos (particularly bebop, e.g. Bobby Timmons' Donna Lee).

(included intervals notated using 1-13, adding b/# (flat/sharp) when necessary)

  • Lydian b7

    • ( 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7 )
    • This one isn't too crazy- using Lydian mode is just like playing the Major scale, except you sharp/# the 4th degree. This scale just takes it one step further, adding the flat/b 7th.
    • Soloing in Lydian works great over Major chords, but I find it too easily kills the ambiguity when teasing major vs. minor in a progression (remember: musical tension is merely a high/low mixup. pretend this is street fighter). Adding the b7, however, makes this a bit more compatible with pentatonic minor licks. Definitely going to try substituting some minor scales with Lydian b7
  • Altered scale

    • ( 1, 3, b7, b9, #9, #11, b13 )
    • Mannnnnnnnn I don't know upper extensions like that
    • Okay, I know how they work, sort of, but I need to convert in my head to make it easier
    • 1, b2, #2, 3, #4, b6, b7
    • What makes this scale special is the fact that it includes all possible altered intervals
    • This will need more thinking. But initial thoughts are: holy ambiguity, batman
  • Symmetrical Diminished

    • ( 1, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7, b9, #9)
    • This one seems even crazier, at first glance. But immediately I recognize that this is actually a scale I use already?
    • In my head, when I play with these notes, I'm swinging from one chord type to another- or even changing keys with this
    • This feels really natural, because the 3, 5, and 6 lend themselves to major chords
    • Meanwhile, the remaining intervals either lend themselves to minor, or something much spookier (e.g. b9 makes me think: phrygian/locrian)

Key takeaways:

  • I need to solidify my understanding of upper extensions (9,11,13,including b/#)
  • While it feels familiar to use the Symmetrical Diminished scale- it wasn't something I was particularly conscious of doing. I should try to become more conscious of using it, in an effort to solidify my understanding of those ideas
  • bigger picture- I've actually never listened to somebody talk about musical improvisation in such a way. It's really satisying to hear the way he talks about it- it enforces my beliefs about musical improv being the kind of language that can absolutely be taught, and can be explained in a tangible way (much like how we analyze literature, or even just the mechanics of language themselves)

Anyway. This will be the first of many whiteboard postings to come! I find it helpful to write about things I am trying to learn/parse/understand. And I think it's worth documenting this learning process, so maybe somebody out there could read this and be like "wait, did you just call major/minor tension a high/low mixup? do you think music is a fighting game?"

And then I can be like "No no of course not thats crazy hahaaaaa"

- bSharp

Brad Shaffer

Music, fighting games, and various esoteric fascinations

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