• The EASIEST way to play altered scales

    in Scales

    For the past two posts, we’ve been talking about the altered scale.

    Now I want to teach you a trick that will have you playing ANY altered scale you want in 3 seconds… that is, if you know your major scales!

    Here’s the ONE and only rule you need to know:

    1) Take any major scale and sharp the first and last note. Bam! That’s it!

    Yup! I taught you all that other stuff so that you’d understand it… but this is the shortcut I use to play the altered scale!

    Of course, it can still be thought of as the ascending melodic minor scale, starting and ending on its seventh note. It can still be thought of as the super locrian mode. All that stuff remains the same.

    But what I’m saying is when it’s time to play and you need to think of an altered scale really fast (…because you’re playing some type of dominant chord with a b9 or #9 or b5 or #5… or combination thereof) — this trick will do the job!

    But let me make it even plainer for you…

    1) If you want to play a particular altered scale, go down a half step. That will be the major scale you’ll need to know…

    2) Then basically raise the FIRST and LAST notes of that major scale to get your altered scale. The first and last note will be the same note.

    So if I want to play a C altered scale, what do I do?

    1) I go down a half step to “B” and determine its major scale.

    2) Now I change the “Bs” to “Cs” and I’m ready to go! I’m basically playing a B major scale but replacing the B with C. “B major” just got carjacked! :-)

    WARNING / DISCLOSURE: This is a shortcut! It won’t give you the “CORRECT” way to spell it. You wouldn’t think of the C altered scale as a “B major” from “C” to “C” in a theory class or anything. This is solely a shortcut. You’ll get an “F” grade on your music theory test. I want to be clear. But with all that said, this is certainly the preferred choice for the “I just wanna solo” type of musician!

    Here’s the correct way to spell the C altered scale (the notes will essentially sound the same as the ones above… just spelled to take into account the “Db melodic minor” scale, ascending). Remember, that’s the other way you can think of the C altered scale — as the Db melodic scale from “C” to “C.” But to me, this “major scale” shortcut is a lot easier…

    C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C

    (I would use my piano graphic here but it doesn’t do Fb yet, darn).

    This altered scale will work perfectly over any chord that has the following alterations:

    C7 #9#5
    C7 b9 #5
    C7 b9
    C7 #9
    C7 #5

    These chords are commonly found on 2nd, 3rd and 6th degrees of a scale. They substitute perfectly for minor chords when you need to pull strongly to another minor chord of the scale. I guess you can say they operate as secondary dominant chords… just altered.

    I know, I know! Another big one to digest!

    Take it slowly and let me know what you think.

    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!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    1 Nick

    Wow! WHen you thought it coulnd’t get easier, here you surprise us with this!




    3 ak

    i had given up on ever using the super locrian scale until I saw this shortcut. lol. U couldn’t have made it easier…

    4 ak

    Hello JG,

    this is probably the wrong place to post this, but I know this msg will reach you. I’m really excited about the GMTC. I’m glad you called it Gospel MUSIC Training Center and not say Gospel PIANO Learning Center cuz I hope some day in the near future, we will be able to log into lessons, and instead of just links for Take1 and Take2, we will also be able to click on Drums, and organ, and guitar, and vocals and see how a soloist or drummer, for instance, will rip through an entire song.

    I loved the hear and Play Drum course but one thing I didn’t quite get from the course was how to play drums from the beginning to the end of a song, building it up, breaking it down, knowing when to fill in, knowing when to hold back, etc…

    all in all, the GMTC is the best thing yet. I can’t imagine what it’ll become in another 8yrs. holla

    5 Eresmas

    Cool lesson. much easier to understand.

    6 Nicki

    You have a way of making things that seem difficult, super easy! Love the shortcut!

    7 James

    Hi JG,
    I’m most blessed from your rich lessons periods. God bless you for this immense generosity.

    8 James

    Pls, when is it proper in a song to apply minor, augmented, diminished and 11ths: i know some theory of music but don’t seem to know when to apply them-pls help!!!

    9 sunfly

    Another great musical insight i found by Germaine whilst checking out altered scales and here is a piece of info i also found to make a note of.The one thing to watch for, however, is a dominant chord that has an altered 9th and a natural 13th, notated commonly as G7b9. If a chord has a natural 13th (E in the case of G7) included with altered 9ths (Ab and A# in the case of G7), then playing Eb (or D#), the b13th (same as #5) will conflict with the harmony.

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