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The Altered Dominant Scale


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                                                                                                By: Lucas Pickford



In my last few columns weve looked closely at the Symmetric Diminished Scales (SDS) and how they can be applied over dominant seventh chords. Another scale that is very useful over dominant chords is the one called the Altered Dominant Scale (ADS). The ADS looks like this: C-Db-Eb-E-Gb-Ab-Bb-C.  

The ADS is different by only one note from its SDS counterpart but that one note is very crucial in determining when to use it. The note that is different is the 13th degree of the scale. The 13th is also referred to as the 6th degree of a scale but when you extend the scale up beyond one octave, the 6th degree becomes the 13th degree. In a SDS, the 13th degree is natural. A SDS starting on C would look like this: C-Db-Eb-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C. 

Notice that the A note is natural. In an ADS, the 13th degree is flatted so the A becomes Ab. Whats the big deal if the scale is only different by one note? Its a big deal because you use the ADS when the harmony indicates a  II-V-I chord progression going to minor. The 13th degree of the scale you use on the dominant chord becomes the 3rd degree of the scale of the I chord. 


Ex.1- In a common II-V-I progression such as Gmi7 C7 Fmaj7, the A note (which is in the SDS scale we would use over the C7, its the natural 13th) becomes the 3rd of the Fmaj7 chord. A is the third note in an F major scale. Make sense?


Ex. 2 In a II-V-I progression that ends up on a minor chord such as Gmin(b5) C7(b13)- Fmin7, we must anticipate the harmony of the Fmin7 by playing the flat 13th in the scale right before it which is the ADS played over the C7(b13) chord. That Ab note makes the ear hear that the I chord is going to be minor in tonality.


This all might seem like its very intricate and to some degree it is, but the main thing to remember is that when the chord progression is heading towards major, like in Ex1, play the SDS.  When its heading toward minor like in Ex.2, play the ADS. Of course you can break these rules as all good improvisers do but please learn the rules first, then break them. The ADS fits any dominant chord but it is not symmetrical like the SDS. Use it in place of the SDS in the appropriate places. More on this and all things having to do with scales in the next issue.



Lucas Pickford can be reached via e-mail at PicksProductions AT yahoo DOT com 
and at his web site

Read this article in Spanish




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