Alternatives to plain-vanilla Dorian when soloing over a min7

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Peter McFerrin, Mar 11, 2002.


  1. Peter McFerrin

    Peter McFerrin

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    Is it acceptable to use Dorian b9 (second mode of melodic minor) or Dorian #11 (fourth mode of harmonic minor) when soloing over a minor seventh chord? The easy answer is, "yes, anything's acceptable as long as you intend to play it," but let's not be silly here. How much will it piss people off if I play that tritone or that b9?
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    PETER McPIPER,

    It's not so much a matter of "how much it will p!$$ people off" as it is a matter of "will it sound good"? And a lot of that depends on CONTEXT. Minor7 chords fill many different roles in jazz, and dorian minor is only a small piece of the puzzle. Dorian tends to sound good when the mi7 chord is the the first chord of a ii-V-I (subdominant function), or when there is a long repeated passage of mi7, as in "Impressions" (modal tonic function). Other times, a min7 chord will function as a iii chord in the overall tonality (in which case the standard choice would be Phrygian), and other times it will function as the vi chord (in which case the standard choice would be Aeolian, or natural Minor).

    The most complicated type of minor harmony to deal with is Tonic minor, because it can imply so many things - all depending on what you and the other people you are playing with are hearing, and where you want to go with it. Think of minor scales in jazz (with the exception of Phrygian) as being the notes 1, 2, b3, 4, and 5, with the 6th and 7th degrees being variable: either the b6 or 6 may be used, and either the b7 or 7 as well. This offers several permutations which can all be useful:

    b6, b7 = Natural minor
    b6, 7 = Harmonic minor
    6, b7 = Dorian minor
    6, 7 = Melodic minor
    b6, b7, 7 = "Bebop" minor (you can also use 6 for this)

    Thinking this way gives you a good solid minor starting point and various options near the top of the scale. Most often, I find myself using this approach, and choosing the 6th or 7th that sounds right to me at that particular moment.

    Also, the #4 sound (when inserted between 4 and 5) over minor implies minor blues, which is another soloing option.

    Hope this helps.


    NOBODY'S DURRL
  3. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer Supporting Member

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    WHICH m7 in what context?
  4. Peter McFerrin

    Peter McFerrin

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    The 6 and the 2, respectively. I've been told by both my teacher and some of my jazzer friends that one should almost always use Dorian over these chords, even though PISS EMERALD recommended using an Aeolian over the 6.
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  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    This is a pet peeve of mine about jazz education. Say we're in C major, and you have an Ami chord in the progression. If you play Dorian, you introduce an F# into the key, thus weakening it. If you play Dorian over the iii chord (Emi), you add not only an F#, but also a C#.

    If you're playing this because it's a musical sound that you're hearing in your head and actually like the sound of it, cool. But if you play this because somebody said, "play Dorian over all jazz minor chords", you're missing the boat on a lot of other interesting and MUSICAL sounds you could be adding to your vocabulary.

    FISTSOFJELLO
  7. Peter McFerrin

    Peter McFerrin

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    That's what I was thinking. Thanks for your advice.
  8. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer Supporting Member

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    I like this example of iiim7 in C major. If it's headed for vim, in a solo I would probably consider playing a Bb leading to the A. What mode is that? Dunno. I know the Bb is not in the CHORD, but then F# isn't in ANY of the chords in C blues but it gets used all the time anyway. Since all modes are only derivatives of the MAJOR scale, they are simply NOT going to fit all situations. NO mode fits a diminished chord, for example.

    The point is: as DISS FITZPATRICK says, you don't want to blindly apply rules like that to everywhere you play. The whole modes/scales thing can be useful at times, but it isn't always the answer. You have to analyze what key you're actually playing in AT THE MOMENTand choose NOTES, not necessarily scales, that fit the harmonic structure.
  9. Intrepid

    Intrepid

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    You forgot to mention that the b6 on the bepop scale has to be on the upbeat...
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    Unless the person playing it hears it on the downbeat, in which case they can put it on the downbeat and "resolve" it. Or unless the piano player plays a minor walkup. Or unless you're playing the tonic scale over the dominant chord, in which case the b6 of tonic functions as b9 of the dominant. Or unless......(insert one of a thousand other musical circumstances here)

    There's no "has to" about any of this. It's about what you're hearing. Period.
  11. Jacoproud

    Jacoproud

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    Your choice of scale can also depend on the idiom you are playing. If you playing, say, a flamenco style over a E major chord in a piece whose and you want to stick with a strong idiomatic sound ( the whole flamenco sound) . Then using the straight E major scale would be 'incorrect' (can't think of a better word :( ) in an idiomatic sense. The 'correct' scale to use would be the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale, commonly known as the flamenco scale.

    Obviuosly nothing can be catergorically incorrect in this sort of area, but if you are going for a definitive sound of an idiom then some scales are better to use that others. :)

    Oops, that would be the 5th mode of A harmonic minor. Starting on E obviuosly. :rolleyes:

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