• Harmonizing the Bebop Major Scale

    in Chords & Progressions,Jazz music,Piano

    harmonizing the bebop major scale image

    Harmonizing the bebop major scale can give you access to a whole new set of chord substitutions that’ll instantly spice up any melody.

    As we’ve learned in past lessons, most chords are built off thirds – or every other tone of the scale. (We call chords built off thirds “tertian chords.”)

    When you take the regular major scale:

    And create tertian chords on every degree by combining every other tone, you get this:
    C major 7

    D minor 7

    E minor 7

    F major 7

    G dominant 7

    A minor 7

    B half diminished 7

    These are what we call the “diatonic” chords of C major. Diatonic means “involving only notes proper to the prevailing key without any alterations.”

    In the bebop major scale lesson, you may recall that we added a note to the typical major scale.

    C bebop major scale (added note between the 5th and 6th degrees):

    *Note: Some people call this note the #5 (sharped 5) or G#. For the purposes of creating chords, we will refer to this tone as the b6 (flatted 6) or Ab.

    Believe it or not, this small added note changes the chords derived from the scale when you combine every other note:

    C major 6

    *What would normally be a major 7 (C E G B) now becomes a major 6 (because the added note causes the “A” to be the last note of the chord as opposed to the “B” in the C major 7 chord).

    D diminished 7

    *We’ve changed “B” to be called “Cb” (C flat) in this chord, as tertian chords always skip an alphabet letter to create true third intervals. Using “Ab” — then “B” does not create the third interval we seek. Therefore, we change the “B” to “Cb” in the D diminished 7 chord.

    C major 6

    *We get the same chord from the first degree, just inverted up! (First inversion).

    D diminished 7

    *We get the same chord from the second degree, just inverted! With diminished chords, each note in the chord can actually be the title of the chord. That means, these notes are not only unique to the D diminished 7 chord, but the F diminished 7, Ab diminished 7, and Cb (or B) diminished 7 chords. Each of these chords share the same notes (although the notes may be spelled differently; that is, Cb vs B).

    C major 6

    *We get the same chord from the first degree, just inverted up! (Second inversion).

    D diminished 7

    *Same chord, moved up!

    C major 6

    *This is obviously also an A minor 7 chord but can also be seen as another one of our inverted C major 6 chords.

    D diminished 7

    *Same diminished 7 chord, moved up!

    Note: Although I’ve started the the first chord of this scale with the root (C) on the bottom, I prefer to start this scale with the chord that puts “C” on top. That’s this chord:

    C major 6

    …then work my way up the scale using the next diminished 7 chord that puts D on top. Then the next C major 6 chord that puts E on top, so on and so forth.

    Harmonizing the Bebop Major Scale – Explained

    As you can see, by adding the extra note to the scale, it gave us an interesting mix between the same two chords: major 6 and diminished 7.

    Jazz Musician and Instructor, Barry Harris, has his own name for this scale – “The 6th Diminished Scale.”

    If you find this concept intriguing, check out his video.

    For example, harmonizing the first few melody notes of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” with these chords sounds a lot better than major and minor chords.

    “Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb”
    E D C D E E E

    “Ma”
    C major 6

    “ry”
    D diminished 7

    “had”
    C major 6

    “a”
    D diminished 7

    “Lit”
    C major 6

    “tle”
    C major 6

    “lamb”
    C major 6

    The major 6 to diminished creates stronger movements and can be used to tie other chord progressions together. Try it!

    Enjoy this one.

    Until next time.

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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