lesson will show you some of the most commonly used jazz guitar scales,
although keep in mind you shouldn't necessarily be limited to using
scales. Jazz is an experimental genre and guitarists are constantly
exploring new scales (and modifying old ones) in their improvisation.
Each scale below is
shown in its first position box pattern, but you can learn how to
"unbox" these scales in their individual lessons. I'll also note the
associated chord type for each scale so you have some idea of when to
Remember, learning scales
is just one part of jazz
guitar, but it is a crucial part, as a lot of
your playing time will be spent on lead improvisation. For now, just
get to know the basic interval structure and color of these scales.
Each one offers its own unique sound...
are your standard improvisation scales over major, minor and diminished
In the diagrams below, take a look at how the intervals
correspond with those in the associated chord. For example, Lydian is
suited to maj7#11 chords because of its #4 (augmented 4th) interval (4
is technically the
same as 11 in music theory).
Looking for chord backing tracks to practice these scales over? I
recommend the (free) Random Chord Generator. Select the
appropriate chord type from the drop down menu.
7th chords (e.g. C Major over Cmaj7)
Characterised by the major 7th (7) added to the major triad (1, 3, 5).
7th (Sharp 11th) chords (e.g. C Lydian over Cmaj7 or Cmaj7#11)
The #4 (#11) gives Lydian its distinctive flavour over major 7th chords
(1, 3, 5, 7).
7th chords (e.g. C Mixolydian over C7)
The basic dominant scale (1, 3, 5, b7).
7th / Minor 6th chords (e.g. C Dorian over Cm7 / Cm6)
Characterised by its major 6th (6) over minor 7th chords (1, b3, 5, b7).
Half Diminished chords (e.g. C Locrian over Cm7b5)
minor jazz guitar scales
melodic minor scale also has its own modal system, producing 7 of its
own modes/scales, each one rooted on a degree of the scale. These
derived scales have qualities that are well suited to those tense,
altered jazz chords.
Notice how the names of some of these scales refer
to modes of the major scale (e.g. Dorian, Mixolydian) but with slight
alterations (e.g. Dorian b2) that make significant differences to the
scale's overal sound...
Minor Major 7th / Minor 6th chords (e.g. C Melodic Minor over CmM7 /
Same as Dorian, but with a major 7th instead of a minor 7th. Often
called the "jazz minor scale".
over: Suspended 4th, Flat 9th chords (e.g. C Dorian b2
Dorian with a minor 2nd. Generally used as an
alternative to Phrygian minor.
over: Major 7th, Augmented 5th chords (e.g. C Lydian
Augmented over Cmaj7#5)
Lydian with an augmented 5th.
over: Dominant 7th, Sharp 11th chords (e.g. C Lydian
Dominant over C7 or C7#11)
A nice (and often preferable) alternative to Mixolydian, the only
difference between the two being the 4th.
over: Dominant 7th, Flat 13th chords (e.g. C Mixolydian b6
over C7 or C7b13)
Remember the 13th is the same as the 6th, so we're looking for a flat
6th (b6) interval over flat 13th chords. But it's also just another
option for coloring dominant 7th chords with no extensions.
over: Half Diminished chords (e.g. C Half Diminished over
only difference between this scale and the other natural half
diminished scale, Locrian, is the major 2nd instead of the minor 2nd.
over: Augmented 7th or Dominant 7th, Sharp 9th, Flat 13th
chords (e.g. C
Altered over C7#9b13 or Caug7)
So-called because it colors the "altered" extensions of the #9 (#2) and
b13 (b6) in dominant 7th chords.
Pentatonic & blues
jazz guitar scales
The minor and major pentatonic scales play a significant role in jazz.
pentatonic can be used over minor chords and certain minor key
progressions. But it can also be positioned relative to major chords to
outline specific chord tones. For example, you can start the following
minor pentatonic pattern on the major 3rd of a major 7th chord to
outline the maj7 chord tones (e.g. play E minor pentatonic over Cmaj7).
pentatonic can be used in a similar way. For example, as well as using
it over maj7 and dom7 chords, you could also start it on the 2nd degree
of a maj7 chord to highlight the 9, #11, 13 and 7 tones
respectively (e.g. D major pentatonic over Cmaj7).
Adding a flat 5th (b5) and major 7th (7) to minor pentatonic gives us a
jazzier variation on the standard blues
can also add an extra tone to major pentatonic to give it more
jazzy/bluesy flavour. Essentially, we're adding a chromatic minor 3rd
pentatonic. In the context of a major key progression (e.g. I IV V),
the minor 3rd will often resolve quickly down to the 2nd or up to the
In jazz, combinations of major and minor pentatonic blues scales will
be used in the same lead passages.
jazz guitar scales
scales add chromatic "passing tones" to standard 7
note scales. You'll also often hear the bass following these
chromatic passages. Passing tones should be glanced over rather than
emphasised/held. See them as part of the path or bridge between the
destination notes of a phrase.
Holding the major 3rd over a minor chord, for example, will sound
dissonant, but if you pass over it quickly, as part of a larger phrase,
it'll fall into context. This chromatic
phrasing is a large part of
jazz's distinctive sound.
over: Major 7th chords
Ionian with a passing flat 5th.
over: Dominant 7th
Mixolydian with a passing major 7th.
over: Minor 7th and minor 6th chords Dorian with a passing major 3rd.
Remember, this is a minor
scale used in a minor context, so don't dwell on the major 3rd. Use it
as a passing tone...
whole tone scale is so-called because it consists entirely of whole
step intervals. It's used to colour augmented 7th chords (e.g. Caug7 /
is an eight note (octatonic) scale that works over diminished 7th (e.g.
Cdim7) chords. It's characterised by its repetitive interval step
H W H W H W H)...
I hope you found this lesson useful! For a more comprehensive guide to
jazz guitar, I highly recommend the Jamplay
series. They take you through all the important techniques
with high quality video, jam tracks and more.