Piano Tips for understanding Jazz and Bebop scale theory modes (with audio)

*Firstly, if you don’t have Quicktime it is recommended that you download it to hear the audio in this post.

A well known jazz musician once said, “jazz can be taught in just three

  • 1st lesson: practice for 10 years; 
  • 2nd lesson: practice and
    perform for 10 years; 
  • 3rd lesson: practice, perform and develop your art
    for 10 years.”

When learning a new scale it is worth memorizing the
notes and not relying on the shape or the fingering to play a scale
correctly. I would also learn the scales as degrees. So for C Major the
degrees would be:


Ultimately, the
scales should help you to construct interesting and melodic solos, you
can use them as a pool of notes to choose from out of which to construct
your solo, rather than relying on them to be the solo. 

Modes of the major scale


Pattern of whole and half steps in the major scale.   

There are seven modes of the diatonic major scale and added-note scales.

I Ionian mode C D E F G A B C (associated with C Major 7 chord)
ii Dorian mode C D E♭ F G A B♭ C (associated with C-6 or C-7 13 chord)
iii Phrygian mode C D♭ E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C (associated with Csus4 ♭9)
IV Lydian mode C D E F♯ G A B C (associated with C Maj7 ♯11 chord)
V Mixolydian mode C D E F G A B♭ C (associated with C7 chord)
vi Aeolian mode C D E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C (associated with C-7 ♭13 chord)
viiø Locrian mode C D♭ E♭ F G♭ A♭ B♭ C (associated with C-7♭5 chord)

Compare each of the modes to the major scale for clues as to the
differences between them. Ionian is based on the 1st degree of
the major scale, Dorian on the 2nd, Phrygian on the 3rd, etc.

C Ionian C D E F G A B C (associated with C Major 7 chord)
D Dorian D E F G A B C D (associated with D-6 or D-7 13 chord)
E Phrygian E F G A B C D E (associated with Esus4 ♭9 chord)
F Lydian F G A B C D E F (associated with F Maj7 ♯11 chord)
G Mixolydian G A B C D E F G (associated with G7 chord)
A Aeolian A B C D E F G A (associated with A-7 ♭13 chord)
B Locrian B C D E F G A B (associated with B-7♭5 chord)

Combinations of the characteristic details of these modes are also in
common use. For example, the Lydian dominant uses the raised 4th degree
of the Lydian with the flattened seventh of the Mixolydian, yielding C D E
♯ G A B♭ C. Chromatic alterations are also useful,as in the Lydian Augumented scale C D E F♯ G♯ A B C for use on the chord Cmaj7+5.

Bebop scales

Bebop scales are frequently used in jazz improvisation and are derived from the modes of the major scale, the melodic minor scale, and the harmonic minor scale. Bebop scales
add a single chromatic passing tone to the 7 note major scale (Ionian
and Mixolydian modes). The added passing tone creates an 8 tone scale
that is rhythmically even when played in 4/4 time of eight quavers/8th notes,
thus making it useful in practicing. 

When a quaver/8th note bebop scale starts on the downbeat from a chord tone (Root, 3rd, 5th or ♭7th) all other chord tones will also fall on downbeats, with the remaining tones (or “non-chord tones”) in the scale occurring on the upbeat (the “ands” when counting “one and two and three and four and“)

There are four types of
frequently used bebop scales: the Dominant bebop scale, the Dorian
bebop scale, the bebop major scale, and the bebop melodic minor scale.  

  • The Dominant bebop scale, adds the raised 7th to Mixolydian: Ascending: 1 2 3 4 5 6 ♭7 7 (8) Descending: 8 ♭7 6 ♭6 5 4 3 2 (1). Listen below:

  • The Major Bebop I scale belongs to the group of American scales
    because of the geographical location where it was born and its typical
    sound. If you are looking forward to improvise American music, then the
    Major Bebop I scale can be an excellent choice.The Major Bebop I
    scale can be used to create a cheerful of uplifiting mood as it is
    belongs to the groups of Major scales. It is also very useful for jazz
    improvisation as well as blues, and is widely used in Western music. 
  • The Minor Bebop scale comprises the melodic scale (which has a major third) and the harmonic (with a minor third),
    making it a ‘dual’ scale. This means that the scale can be used to both
    create melancholic or cheerful music depending on which notes you use.
    The Minor Bebop is usually used for improvising ethnic music and can be a
    great addition for your blues piano licks. The bebop harmonic minor scale is derived from the harmonic minor scale and has a chromatic passing tone (an additional ♭7) between the 6th and the 7th notes. It can be used on all three chords of a minor II-V-I progression.

Modes of the melodic minor scale


A melodic minor ascending Listen 

 C D E♭ F G A B C D E♭ F G A

The ascending form of the melodic minor scale, (also known as the jazz melodic minor scale) can be found in many modern jazz harmonies. This scale is essentially a diatonic major scale with a flattened third, for example C D E♭
F G A B C (unlike scales and ‘traditional’ music theory, in
Jazz, the melodic minor scale’s sixth and seventh are not necessarily
flattened when descending). As with any other scale, the modes are
derived from playing the scale from different root notes, causing a
series of jazz scales to emerge.

Modes of C ascending melodic minor (T = tonic):

i ascending melodic minor T, 2,♭3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (associated with C- maj7 or C-6 chords, functions as a i minor)
II Phrygian ♮6 (or Dorian ♭2) T,♭2,♭3, 4, 5, 6,♭7 (associated with D7 suspended ♭9 chord, functions as a dominant)
III Lydian augmented (Lydian ♯5) T, 2, 3,♯4,♯5, 6, 7 (associated with E♭ maj7 +5 chord, functions as a I+)
IV Lydian dominant (also, “Lydian ♭7”)(also known as Mixolydian ♯4) T, 2, 3,♯4, 5, 6,♭7 (associated with F7 ♯11 chord, functions as a dominant not going to I)
V Mixolydian ♭6 (or simply “fifth mode”) T, 2, 3, 4, 5,♭6,♭7 (associated with G7 ♭13 chord, functions as a dominant)
vi Locrian ♮2 (also known as “half-diminished” scale) T, 2,♭3, 4, ♭5,♭6,♭7 (associated with Ami7 ♭5, which functions as a ii chord in minor)
VII Super Locrian (also “altered dominant scale”, or “altered scale”) T,♭2,♭3, ♭4,♭5,♭6,♭7 (associated with B7 ♯9 ♭13 chord, functions as a dominant)


Blues scale

Blues scale as minor pentatonic plus flat-5th/sharp-4th  

Blues scales also come in major and minor varieties. The C minor blues scale is C E♭ F F♯ G B♭ C ascending or C B♭ G G♭ F E♭ C descending. The difference in the up and down versions is only in its enharmonic spelling, i.e. G♭ vs F♯.
The C major blues scale is C D D♯ E G A C ascending or C A G E E♭ D C descending.
Guitarists often mix the major and minor pentatonics together along
with the blues scale. The dorian and mixolydian modes are similar to
this combination and they can also be used in the same context.

Blues scale as a chromatic variant of the major scale:  

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