• Do You Know These Bebop Scales?

    in Jazz music,Scales,Theory

    bebop scales image

    Bebop scales are frequently used in jazz improvisation and come in a few different forms.

    The name “bebop scale” was coined by jazz educator, David Baker, to describe the scales used so often by musicians of the bebop era – Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few.

    If you’re a beginner, don’t dismiss this topic as being too advanced as you’ll be surprised to discover bebop scales only add 1 additional note to the regular major and minor scales you likely already know.

    There are five types of frequently used bebop scales:

    1. Bebop major scale
    2. Bebop dominant scale
    3. Bebop Dorian scale
    4. Bebop harmonic minor scale
    5. Bebop melodic minor scale

    Bebop Scales Explained – Bebop Major Scale

    The bebop major scale simply adds an additional passing tone between the 5th and 6th notes of the traditional major scale.

    This is the regular C major scale:
    bebop scale c major example
    C D E F G A B C

    Here’s what happens when we add the note between the 5th and 6th degree:
    bebop scales c major example
    C D E F G G# A B C

    This scale is commonly used over major 6th and major 7th chords.

    When our scale only consisted of 7 notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), it was said to be a “heptatonic scale.” That is, a scale with 7 pitches per octave (hepta = 7).

    (All major, natural minor, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and their modes are heptatonic scales).

    When you add a note (C, D, E, F, G, G#, A, B), bebop scales join another family called “octatonic scales.” That is, an 8-note scale (octa = 8; as in an “octagon” having 8 sides).

    This also allows for changes in rhythm. When you play a 7-note scale, certain chord tones fall on down and upbeats. Most would prefer that important chord tones fall on downbeats (strong beats) and passing – or non-chord – tones fall on upbeats (weak beats).

    With 8-note bebop scales, when the scale is begun on a chord tone and on the downbeat, all other chord tones will also fall on downbeats, with the remaining tones in the scale occurring on the upbeat.

    Bebop Scales Explained – Bebop Dominant Scale

    This scale is derived from the mixolydian mode and has an added tone between the 7th and the root.

    Explanation of modes are beyond this lesson but we’ve done plenty of lessons on them.

    But here’s an easy way to remember the mixolydian mode. It’s just a major scale with the 7th tone lowered a half step.

    So, if this is our C major scale:
    bebop scales c major example
    C D E F G A B C

    Lowering the B to Bb gives us our C mixolydian scale:
    bebop scale c mixolydian
    C D E F G A Bb C

    The bebop dominant scale uses this mixolydian scale as its starting point.

    It then adds back in the tone between the b7th and the root (which is the major 7th we originally started with).

    C bebop dominant scale
    C D E F G A Bb B C

    So, you can sort of think of this as the major scale with both the major 7th and the dominant 7th included. I say “sort of” because emphasis should be on the dominant 7th (aka – the “b7”). The “Bb” in this case is here to stay. It’s the “B” we’ve added and not the other way around.

    This scale is commonly played over any type of dominant chord (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th) and works well over 2-5-1 progressions. It is the most famous and commonly used of the bebop scales.

    Bebop Scales Explained – Bebop Dorian Scale

    Also known as the “bebop minor scale,” it is derived from the Dorian mode and has an added note between the minor 3rd and the perfect fourth.

    Again, I talk about modes in this post and others, but the Dorian mode is constructed by starting and ending on the 2nd tone of a major scale.

    This naturally gives you a minor scale but with a raised 6th tone.

    For example, the 2nd tone of C major is “D.” Simply play the C major scale from “D” to “D” and you get:

    bebop scales D dorian
    D E F G A B C D

    Now, compare this to a D natural minor scale:

    bebop scales D natural minor
    D E F G A Bb C D

    So the Bb in the natural minor scale is raised to B in the dorian mode. That’s the difference.

    With the bebop dorian scale, we are adding a note between the b3 and 4th degree.

    D dorian bebop scale
    D E F F# G A B C D

    It essentially has the b3 and the major 3 in there.

    This scale can work well over minor and altered chords.

    Bebop Scales Explained – Bebop Harmonic Minor Scale

    While we won’t cover how to form the harmonic minor scale in this post, you can check out this past lesson here.

    It’s essentially a minor scale with a raised 7th degree.

    bebop scales C harmonic minor
    C D Eb F G Ab B C

    Compare this to the C natural minor scale:
    bebop scales C natural minor
    C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

    Natural minor has Bb. Harmonic minor has B.

    But, based on past sections, can you guess what note is going to be added back in?

    Yup, the Bb.

    bebop scales C harmonic minor bebop
    C D Eb F G Ab Bb B C

    It adds the note between the 6th and 7th degrees.

    This scale works well over half-diminished 7th chords in minor music.

    Bebop Scales Explained – Bebop Melodic Minor Scale

    The melodic minor scale not only raises the 7th degree but also the 6th degree of the natural minor scale.

    You can essentially look at it as having the same notes of a major scale with a lowered 3rd tone.

    C D Eb F G A B C

    Compare this with the C natural minor scale:

    C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

    Or even the C harmonic minor scale:

    C D Eb F G Ab B C

    The only difference between the melodic and harmonic minor scales is the 6th tone. In this example, it is raised from Ab to A in the melodic minor scale.

    But in the bebop melodic minor scale, we’re going to bring back the b6 as our added note. It adds the note between the 5th and 6th degrees.

    C D Eb F G Ab A B C

    There you have it. 5 bebop scales you can put to work for you right away.

    Until next time.

    Interested in more? Check out the Jazz Intensive Training Center.
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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Joe

    Nice! So the melodic minor bebop scale can work well over what chords? Thanks.


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