EXOTIC BLUES Playing the Altered scale
In this exclusive feature John Wheatcroft shows how to broaden your harmonic horizons and add tension, spice and excitement to your blues by using the Altered scale.
John Wheatcroft shows you how to broaden your harmonic horizons and add tension, spice and excitement to your blues by using the Altered scale. Get your thinking caps on!
Got your thinking caps on? Good – we’ve got a lot to get through! I promise that there will be some sexy licks to learn at the end but let’s start with the theory bit – stick with it, as this will help you later on.
It’s possible to view the jazz Melodic Minor scale as a Major scale with a lowered
(R-2-b3-4-5-6-7). 3rd This has a knock-on effect on all the subsequent modes of the Major scale, so that this modified note moves through and impacts upon the scale one note in turn. So this means the second mode is like
(R-b2-b3-4-5-6-b7) a Dorian with a lowered 2nd and by the same logic the seventh mode would
(R-b2-b3-b4-be like Locrian with a lowered 4th b5-b6-b7).
If this sounds like a foreign language then you should recap the basic Major scale modes as a matter of some urgency.
Back to Locrian with a flattened 4th; notice everything is flattened in this scale, so from a
C-Db-Eb-Fb-Gb-Ab-Bb. C root it would look like this:
If we follow conventional chord construction, taking the root, 3rd 5th and so on, with this scale we’d end up with a C b bb diminished triad (C-E -G ) and a C half-diminished b b 7th chord (C-E -G -B ). All well and good, until we listen to the sound that C to Fb
creates. All the theory in the world cannot hide the fact that our flattened 4th sounds undeniably familiar and rather like something else. Why not play those notes now? Sounds like a major 3rd, right?
Well, sound trumps theory on every level, so what we now have is a scale with both major and minor thirds, sonically if not theoretically. Like every good Hollywood movie, light triumphs over dark and the Major pushes the Minor out of position, so the opening steps of this scale now sounds more
Root-b2-#2-3. like this: If we’re opening the door to enharmonic respelling then we can do the same with the next notes in sequence: the b5 b6
can stay but our could in turn be seen as b7 #5, leaving the as we’d find it. This new way of seeing this scale, the ‘Super-Locrian’ now
Root-b2-#2-3-b5-#5-b7 looks more like this: (C-Db-D#-E-Gb-G#-Bb).
Now might be a good time for some tea!
Suitably refreshed? Let’s continue. One of the strongest moves in music is the V7 to I resolution, known in the trade as a ‘perfect cadence’. By definition, a dominant 7th chord needs to have a major 3rd and a flattened 7th to be considered worthy of this title, but we can enhance the sense of tension and release by raising or lowering the 5th degree and raising or lowering the 9th. This works musically because these new notes attach themselves to particular target tones in the intended resolution chord. So, G7 (G-B-D-F) can become G7#5 (G-B-D#-F). The D# note resolves perfectly to the E note found embedded in the structure of our destination C major7 chord (C-E-G-B). This is just one example as we’ll see – and these connections can be found in melody lines, chord voicings and solos. So a Dominant 7th with raised or lowered 5th and raised or lowered 9th comes under the heading of ‘Altered’. If we string the
R-b2-#2-3-b5-#5-b7. notes together we get Recognise it from earlier? Yes, this is the same ‘Super-Locrian’ scale we got from Melodic minor, also known conveniently as the ‘Altered scale’. Hopefully that didn’t hurt too badly (and if it did seem scarily complex, simply read it again, and maybe again until it starts to sink in).
As promised here are those sexy chords and licks I mentioned earlier, guaranteed to turn heads at your next blues jam. You’ll be a huge step closer to the exotic sophistication of Larry, Robben and a host of other blues players with that illusive jazzy edge.