This next installment of "Think Outside the Box" turns to alternative scales you can use while composing or improvising. You've probably heard of major and minor scales, the various modes of each, and the major and minor pentatonic scale. Today I'm going to cover chord scales: scales built off of chord tones. They can have anywhere from four to six tones, and each one has its own distinctive sound. I have to give a nod to the late Ted Greene who introduced me to this way of thinking in his book, "Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing."
Chord scales come out of jazz theory, but I find them incredibly useful for plenty of styles. At the most basic level they're arpeggios. Example 1 is an Am7 arpeggio starting on the D string.
If you follow jazz chord construction, the next logical extension is Am9 (scale degrees 1-b3-5-b7-9) When constructing your chord scale, you drop the 9th down an octave so it becomes the second. Basically for any chord scale, drop any chord tone above the 7th down one octave, and integrate into the existing arpeggio. Following this procedure, the scale now looks like Example 2.
Example 3 is an Am13 (1-b3-5-b7-9-13) chord scale. The 11th is often skipped because in the natural harmonic series the 11th is a #11, which involves a whole different family of chords.
Of course if you want to create an Am7 add 11 scale (1, b3, 5, b7, 11) you're back to your favorite minor pentatonic scale.
Since we're in the minor family for this lesson, Example 5 is an Am6 chord scale (1, b3, 5, b6). It has a somewhat darker sound.
For one final, bluesy scale here is an A7#9 chord scale (1-3-5-b7-#9). The interesting thing about this scale is that the #9 is the same tone as a b3, which gives both the chord and the scale a minor/major kind of sound.
So the question is always going to be, what do I use them for? The nice part is that any one of these chord scales will work over most, if not all, minor chords. As I said earlier, each scale has its own unique sound and feel, and your use of them will depend on the mood you're trying to elicit.
Another place where you can explore is developing chord scales from other families of chords. Try developing them from either major or dominant chords, and try them out while improvising.
But to really appreciate these scales, learn them all over the fret board using the strategy I laid out in part one of this series. Then branch out and learn them in different keys. Try them out while improvising and composing to get a sense of where they can take you. The tasteful use of these chord scales can create some really interesting music.
About the Author:Kevin Armagh has been playing the guitar for over 20 years, and has developed a revolutionary method of learning that combines theory, technique, and ear training in a single approach. Visit his website for more lessons, a free report, and his flagship product, Six Months of Speed Guitar Training Course.