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Scales over Progressions in Jazz

The Basics So you are playing in a gig or composing a solo on your instrument. You know the chord sequence. Because there are several chord progressions in Jazz which are very commonly used, and in order to come up with a solo line you can start by analyzing the chord sequence. You can either look at each chord and try to improvise building lines over each chord, or you can take a holistic (better) approach and look at chord progression chunks which one identified, you can use some common scales associated with each one of them. This will make the scales selection faster and smoother in a improvisation situation.

Of course there is some theory behind the idea of what scale to choose for a given progression but this article will not cover this. Instead it will provide you with some good starting point to look at chord progressions to build up your solo lines. The next question is: if we have a certain chord or chord progression in the piece, should we always use the recommended “acceptable” scales that most Jazz music books provide you with? Well, no, not always, the selection of what scales you use is eventually comes down to the musician, his/her taste, what he/she is after, the intent of the piece and some other considerations. But for those who are exploring the arena of improvisation, then some basic recommendations of scales which work well with some chord progression is a good starting point. So let’s start by identifying some of the common jazz progressions you will find in most Jazz tunes and analyze the background of what scales are best suited to be played. By the way, this is a good indication that you don’t have to learn dozens of scales to improvise over typical chord progressions. Find sometime to get familiar with these scales and you will be on your way relatively fast.

What Should I play? I have prepared a simple chart , as shown below, which shows the different chord progressions and what scale (or scales) are recommended to be used in solo lines in each of them. I have also included some actual chord examples so that you will be able to put them on practice right away.

Don’t be discouraged by the amount of details you will find. Once you have understood the principles used for each progression you will hardly looked at this chart details.

Before I leave you alone with this information, and for those who are not fully familiar with some of the theory involved, let me provide you with some references:

Major Scale Modes: Ionian (I) , Dorian (ii), Phrygian (iii), Lydian (IV), Mixolydian (V), Aeolian (vi) and Locrian (vii).

I hope this has provided you with a good starting point for your improvisation skills.

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