Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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September 2, 2010 | Altered States

Recently we received a question about Altered Scales we thought appropriate to share. Peter writes, "I have practiced the diminished whole tone, half tone scale which you introduced in Jazz Mandology. I am somewhat curious as to whether this scale is only used to resolve to minor keys (such as in Minor in Possession) or does it resolve equally to major keys as well?"

The answer is yes, it can be used in Major Scales. Simply a matter of personal taste, we like its harmonic flavoring in the minor mode, but nothing says you can't use it elsewhere. When you spell out the individual elements of a V7 chord, especially one with a b9 added, you have some commonality:

Key of B minor, V7(b9) = F#, A#, C#, E, G
F# Altered scale = F#, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F#

Note the harmonic and enharmonic similarities; really, the only superfluous notes are A and C (Bb and A# are the same note). A is the 7th, and can either be raised or lowered as part of the B minor scale. C is a color tone we added when we arbitrarily flatted the 9th of the V7 chord.

We believe the Altered Scale is the second most important scale you can learn. The first? Why a major scale of course, because with its WWHWWH step sequence, you have all the modes (Dorian, Mixolydian, Lydian, etc) covered. Learn a major scale cold, and all you have to do is start it on a different scale degree to get these other precious modes.

In an Altered Scale, you have three in one. With the F# Altered Scale, you also have a tasty treat, our favorite Aug 11th Scale (start on the C):


Notice if you start the same sequence of notes on the G, you have a third delicious scale, a G Melodic Minor Scale, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F# G.

How can you beat that? The trick is to get this into your fingers, the fret relationships, where you skip frets and/or cross strings, and over time, they become subliminally fertile. Granted, initially the Altered Scale can be quite foreign to the unaccustomed ear. This is one you'll just have to trust on, for now. Spend a few months on it. Get a tactile intimacy with it.

Someday your ear will get friendly with it, too!

Bebop Mandology
Some Minor issues: Seeking Resolutions
Sometimes things are less than they seem.
Fingers, Ears, Brain.
Easing into Modal Jazz

Posted by Ted at September 2, 2010 5:50 AM

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