• Essential Scale Options For Dominant Chords That Resolve To Minor Chords

We’ll be looking at some of the scales that can be played over dominant chords that are resolving to minor chords.

All dominant chords can be classified into these two categories:

Dominant chords that resolve to major chords

Dominant chords that resolve to minor chords

Our focus in this lesson is on dominant chords that resolve to minor chords and we’re specifically looking at the scales that are compatible with these chords.

Let’s start out by identifying the minor chords in the major key and the corresponding dominant chords that resolve to them.

A Short Note On Minor Chords In The Major Key

The major key has seven unique chords from each of the seven unique scale tones. In the key of C major:

…each of the scale tones — C, D, E, F, G, A, and B — has its unique chord.

“Check Them Out…”

C:

…or C major seventh (etc):

D:

…or D minor seventh (etc):

E:

…or E minor seventh (etc):

F:

…or F major seventh (etc):

G:

…or G dominant seventh (etc):

A:

…or A minor seventh (etc):

B:

…or B half-diminished seventh (etc):

Minor Chords In The Major Key

There are three minor chords in the major key: the 2-chord, the 3-chord, and the 6-chord. In the key of C major:

…the three minor chords are as follows:

D minor seventh chord:

E minor seventh chord:

A minor seventh chord:

…and they’re the 2-chord, 3-chord, and 6-chord in the key of C major.

Dominant Chords That Resolve To The Minor Chords In The Major Key

The dominant seventh (flat ninth) and altered chords are two common dominant chords that resolve to minor chords.

“Check Out These Resolutions…”

To the 2-chord:

A altered chord:

D minor ninth chord:

To the 3-chord:

B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

E minor seventh chord:

To the 6-chord:

E altered chord:

A minor ninth chord:

Let’s go ahead and explore the scale options for the following dominant chords (that resolve to minor chords):

A altered chord:

A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

B altered chord:

B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

E altered chord:

E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

…in the key of C major

Scale Option #1 — “The Super Locrian Scale”

The super Locrian scale is a synthetic mode and the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale. Playing the C melodic minor scale:

…from B to B:

…produces the B super Locrian scale:

Attention: Lowering the fourth tone of the Locrian scale produces the super Locrian scale.

Resolving To The 2-chord

The A altered chord:

…resolves to the 2-chord in the key of C major (which is the D minor ninth chord):

The scale option for the A altered chord is the A super Locrian scale:

A super Locrian scale:

A altered chord:

Exercise: Improvise with the A super Locrian over the A altered chord while resolving to the D minor ninth chord.

Resolving To The 3-chord

The passing chord to the 3-chord in the key of C major (which is the E minor seventh chord):

…is the B altered chord:

The B super Locrian is a great scale option over the B altered chord:

B super Locrian:

B altered chord:

Attention: Playing the B super Locrian scale over the 3-chord produces what music scholars call delayed resolution and we’ll be covering it in a subsequent lesson.

Resolving To The 6-chord

The A minor ninth chord is the 6-chord in the key of C major and it’s corresponding dominant chord is the E altered chord:

E altered chord:

A minor ninth chord:

The E super Locrian scale:

…is one of the scale options for the E altered chord:

Attention: The E super Locrian can be challenging to play if you don’t use the right fingering: “3 – 1-2-3-4 – 1-2-3”

Scale Option #2 — “The Spanish Phrygian Scale”

The Spanish Phrygian scale is the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale and also a synthetic mode.

Raising the third tone of the Phrygian mode by a half-step produces the Spanish Phrygian scale. For example, the third tone of the C Phrygian scale:

…which is Eb:

…can be raised by a half-step (to E):

…to produce the C Spanish Phrygian scale:

Resolving To The 2-chord

The dominant chord that resolves to the D minor ninth chord (the 2-chord in the key of C major):

…is the A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

The A Spanish Phrygian scale can be played over the A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

A Spanish Phrygian scale:

A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

Attention: Feel free to experiment playing the scale using rhythmic varieties.

Resolving To The 3-chord

The B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord resolves to the E minor seventh chord:

B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

E minor seventh chord:

…and the scale option for the B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord is the B Spanish Phrygian scale.

B Spanish Phrygian scale:

B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

Submission: If you love the active Bebop lines of Charlie Parker, then I have no doubt that you’re having fun with the Spanish Phrygian scale.

Resolving To The 6-chord

The corresponding dominant chord for the 6-chord (which is the A minor ninth chord):

…is the E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

The E Spanish Phrygian scale is one scale option to play over the E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

E Spanish Phrygian scale:

E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

Attention: You may want to play around the augmented second interval between the second and third tone of the Spanish Phrygian scale (which are F and G# in the E Spanish Phrygian scale).

Scale Option #3 — “The Octatonic (H-W) Scale”

The octatonic (H-W) scale is a symmetrical scale based on half-steps and whole-steps. The C octatonic (H-W):

…consists of a succession of half-steps and whole-steps. For example, the half-step from C to Db:

…is followed by a whole-step from Db to Eb:

…then another half-step, followed by another whole step, etc.

Resolving To The 2-chord

The A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

…resolves to the 2-chord in the key of C major (which is the D minor ninth chord):

The scale option for the A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord is the A octatonic (H-W) scale:

A octatonic (H-W) scale:

A dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

Resolving To The 3-chord

The passing chord to the 3-chord in the key of C major (which is the E minor seventh chord):

…is the B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

The B octatonic (H-W) is a great scale option over the B altered chord:

B octatonic (H-W):

B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:’

Resolving To The 6-chord

The A minor ninth chord is the 6-chord in the key of C major and its corresponding dominant chord is the E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

A minor ninth chord:

The E octatonic (H-W) scale:

…is one of the scale options for the E dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

Final Words

I’m very certain you enjoyed this lesson and I’ll be looking forward to the next lesson where I’ll be sharing with you on the scale options for dominant chords that resolve to major chords.

Thank you for your time and see you in the next lesson.

All the best!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group
Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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