Jazz and Scales

Jazz and Scales picasso

In our previous discussion [Guitar Peaks] you mentioned several jazz guitar players. A lot of rock and blues guitarists are attracted to jazz, as a later stage of their development as musicians.
- You are right. Jazz offers a more complex harmonic background and, paradoxically, more freedom for the improviser. It goes both ways, sometimes. Jeff Beck crossed the line from blues and early Brit pop to fusion, while Scott Henderson renewed the approach to blues after he became an appreciated fusion player. John McLaughlin blended rock and jazz, played Indian music and modern fusion. Maybe we all look for a means of expression and we don’t really care about the name of the style and other categories.
- You mentioned the complexity of jazz versus the simplicity of blues. This is a thing that can intimidate young guitarists.
- It shouldn’t. Even a blues player must be aware of the harmonic environment. The first chord of a simple blues progression may ask for its blues scale (when it’s a seventh chord), its major pentatonic (when it’s a major chord) or its minor scale (when it’s a minor chord). The second chord (at the fourth from the root) may ask for a mixolydian mode (when it’s a seventh chord), a pentatonic scale or a dorian mode (when it’s a minor chord). On the third chord (at the fifth from the root) you may play its blues scale, its mixolydian or its major pentatonic. From here, it’s not that hard to upgrade to jazz harmonic understanding.
- Well, you’ve got all those scales and modes…
- First of all, jazz is founded on blues; therefore it mostly uses blues scales and blues harmonic approach. There are, however, chordal sequences that require a more complex approach. Or, maybe you’ll want to play in a more interesting, sophisticated way.
- Can you give me some simple relations between chords and modes?
- I’ll give examples on E chords, E being guitarists’ most loved and overused root. You’ll have to transpose to other roots which is a good exercise.
Chord: E (major); Modes: major pentatonic, E major or E lydian (the fourth mode of the B major scale).  
Chord: Em (minor); Modes: blues scale, E minor or E dorian (the second mode of the D major scale).
Chord: E7; Modes: blues scale, E mixolydian (the fifth mode of the A major scale)
Chord: E7#11; Modes: E Lydian b7 (the fifth mode of the B melodic minor scale)
Chord: E7b9#9; Modes: E half-whole tone
Chord: E7alt; Modes: E superlocrian (the seventh mode of the F melodic minor scale)   
Chord: E7#5; Modes: E whole tone
Chord: Edim; Modes: E whole-half tone or the seventh mode of F harmonic minor scale
- Oh, it seems so hard and complicated!
- Not at all. I gave you only eight kinds of chords. It will take a month to learn the theoretical part of it. Of course, if you already know how to play blues scales, major scales, harmonic and melodic minor scales, diminished and whole-tone scales.
- Is that all?
- No. You have to get familiar with them and this takes a much longer period.
- How can I get familiar with such a theoretical approach?
- Not being theoretical about it but playing. Take the Jazz Fake Book and improvise on all the chords sequences that you’ll find there. It may go slower in the beginning but, after a short while, you’ll get used to all the possible jazz patterns and you’ll have no difficulty to find the right mode for any chord.


Jeff Beck - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat / Brush With the Blues

Scott Henderson - Tore Down House

Shakti (John McLaughlin) – Ma No Pa

Max 90 Winter Sneakerboot