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Which scales over maj / min chords?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by FretGrinder, Apr 27, 2001.

  1. Hi. Ive just (finally) started to get into the theory side of bass, and unfortunately i am improving quickly enough to kick myself in the ass for not getting a teacher sooner (stupid DIY moral superiority syndrome).

    Now i have a few basic scales under my belt (major, natural minor, minor pentatonic mainly) which i can pretty much play (and stuff around in) in any key.

    My question is this (and i don't expect the answer to be straightforward): When can i play a different scale over a chord than the scale corresponding to that chord, and with what effect? ie, if the guitarist is playing an E major chord, what scales (other than E major) can i fool around with over the top, and what kind of sound am i likely to achieve by doing so? Oh, and if a guitarist is playing a G major chord in a song where the key sig is C major, do i play in G major or C major? You can see where I'm going with this, right? How do i use these things I learnt to play?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. MJB


    Mar 17, 2000
    This will get you started.

    Major Chord - 1,3,5
    Minor Chord - 1,b3,5
    Diminished Chord - 1,b3,b5,bb7(6)
    Augmented Chord - 1,3,#5
    Dominant 7th Chord - 1,3,5,b7
    Minor 7th Chord - 1,b3,5,b7
    Major 7th Chord - 1,3,5,7
  3. Disclamer: I don't really know much about rock. I'm primarily a jazz player.

    It really depends on how consonant or dissonant you want to sound. If you play something other than E major it will sound dissonant. This may or may not be what you are looking for. One really common thing in jazz is to play the lydian scale (C D E F# G A B) over a major chord.

    You would probably want to play over the chord that the guitarist is playing, not the key of the song.
  4. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    One of the things you've got to get away from, in most modern music, is the key of the song. Pop, and jazz and most other modern music is about the key of the moment. Without going into too much detail (it's late and I just got home from work) songs can go through many keys in a very short time. (most of this applies to jazz harmony, but your question is very jazz related).

    Get a grip on modes. If the guitar player is playing a G major chord, you could play E minor (6th mode) or or D7 (5th mode). A clear understanding of the chords is a plus (to say the least) here, too. If you understand that Gmaj7 is also Em9 and Bm/G you're on to something.....

    [jazzbo voice] Get a Teacher!
    [/jazzbo voice]
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    True, but within the "key of the moment" there often exist a number of key-related chords, and if you can learn to see the relation you can also solo from within the "temporary tonic" tonality. This can save you a lot of trouble in trying to figure out which "mode" to play at the same time, and give your improvisation a much more centered sense of melody. For instance, in the progression:


    If you were thinking of each chord as a separate entity, you'd have to think of five different scales to cover the progression. If you recognized the relation of chords but were still thinking of each mode separately, you'd have to play E Ionian, B Mixolydian, F# Dorian, C# Aeolian, A Lydian, etc....but if you take it one step further, you can begin by improvising from E major across the entire progression, and simply learn to adjust to the passing "subtonalities" from within the same scale. It's often much, MUCH easier approaching improv this way at first.


    (ahem...) Of course, a good teacher could help you with all of that stuff too. (jazzbo voice off. Ed Fuqua voice off. Don Higdon voice off. You get the picture....)
  6. Thanks for the advice, guys. About 40% of it is sinking in ... I'll get back to regular lessons next weekend ... if you have any more advice please keep it coming :)

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