Jazzhacker® Scales and Modes

This page presents a bit of music theory to set the context for scale and mode study. Scales and modes are derived from the 12-note chromatic scale that forms the basis of most Occidental (i.e., Western) music. The chromatic scale consists of 8 natural and 4 accidental notes. Accidentals occur between some of the naturals. Any accidental may be rendered as flat (˝ step lower in pitch than the next higher natural) or as sharp (˝ step higher than the next lower natural). Accidentals are thus enharmonic, e.g., a sharped 4th is identical in pitch to a flatted 5th, a sharped 5th is identical in pitch to a flatted 6th, etc. To explore this subject matter further, please check out any music theory publication or website.

 

Jazzhacker Ebooks use the symbol b to indicate flatted notes or intervals and the symbol # to indicate sharped notes or intervals. Accidentals are rendered as flats if the scale includes a flatted 3rd and as sharps (#4 and #5 only) if the scale does not include a flatted 3rd; all other accidentals are rendered as flats. (This is merely the personal preference of the author; as a musician, you could encounter accidentals rendered as (or described as) sharps or flats in any context and you should be prepared to handle them.)

 

The 16 scales and modes decoded in these study guides are (in order): Major (Ionian Mode), Natural Minor (Aeolian Mode), Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Locrian, Harmonic Minor, Melodic (Jazz) Minor, Lydian Flat-Seven, Whole-Tone, Diminished (Whole-Half), Major Pentatonic, Minor Pentatonic, Blues and Blues with Major 3rd. These are among the most useful and popular scales and modes for all genres of music.

 

It can be a bit tricky to associate scales and modes with musical genres, or styles, because some of the most creative musicians in any genre break the conventions anyway. So, please consider the following to be a mere starting point for your own explorations.

Scale or Mode

Formula

Typical Musical Styles

Major (Ionian)

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

Rock, Pop, Country, Jazz, Fusion

Natural Minor (Aeolian)

1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-8

Pop, Blues, Rock, Heavy Metal, Country, Fusion

Dorian

1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7-8

Jazz, Fusion, Blues, Rock

Phrygian

1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-8

Flamenco, Fusion, Speed Metal

Lydian

1-2-3-#4-5-6-7-8

Jazz, Fusion, Rock, Country

Mixolydian

1-2-3-4-5-6-b7-8

Blues, Country, Rockabilly, Rock

Locrian

1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7-8

Jazz, Fusion

Harmonic Minor

1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7-8

Classical, Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz

Melodic (Jazz) Minor

1-2-b3-4-5-6-7-8

Jazz

Lydian Flat-Seven

1-2-3-#4-5-6-b7-8

Jazz, Fusion, Rock, Country

Whole-Tone

1-2-3-#4-#5-b7-8

Jazz, Fusion, Contemporary Classical

Diminished (Whole-Half)

1-2-b3-4-b5-b6-6-7-8

Jazz, Fusion, Heavy Metal, Blues

Major Pentatonic

1-2-3-5-6-8

Country, Blues, Fusion, Jazz, Rock

Minor Pentatonic

1-b3-4-5-b7-8

Rock, Blues, Heavy Metal, Fusion, Jazz

Blues

1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-8

Blues, Rock, Jazz, Fusion

Blues with Major 3rd

1-b3-3-4-b5-5-b7-8

Blues, Rock, Jazz, Fusion

 

The table, above, includes info derived from Alfred’s Basic Bass Scales and Modes and Alfred’s Basic Guitar Scales and Modes (both by Steve Hall and Ron Manus, Copyright © Alfred Music Publishing). These are great publications, highly recommended (as are virtually all bass and guitar study guides -- they are the culmination of much tedious work by their authors, convey much useful information, and are usually very inexpensive, so please consider purchasing all of them :).

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