• Who else wants to learn how to solo with the “altered scale?”

    in Scales

    In this past lesson, we covered the melodic minor scale. And in this past lesson, we covered the modes of the major scale.

    In today’s lesson, we’ll actually combine the two concepts.

    But let’s review first…

    Recall my easy way of remembering the melodic minor scale. There’s tons of ways to think about the melodic minor scale but the easiest way is to simply look at it as a major scale with a lowered 3rd tone.

    C major scale

    C melodic minor scale

    The only difference is the 3rd tone. In the melodic minor scale, it is lowered by a half step. Simple!

    Now that you’re caught up on playing melodic minor scales, let’s recap on the concept of “modes.”

    Modes are a system of scales that began in Ancient Greece. Basically, if you start and end on a different degree of the major scale, you’ll get a different mode.

    Let me explain…

    If you play the C major scale starting and ending on C, that’s called the Ionian mode. Now most of us would think of this as the regular C major scale and we’re correct… it is! The Ionian mode is the regular major scale. But this isn’t the case for the other modes of the scale.

    For example, if you play the same C major scale starting and ending on D, this is what we call the “Dorian” mode.

    And when you look at what’s really going on when you play a “C major” scale from “D” to “D,” you’d realize that it’s basically a regular minor scale with the 6th tone raised a half step.

    Think about it…

    The regular D minor scale is…

    And the “D Dorian” mode is…

    The only difference is the 6th tone.

    So basically, every mode gives you these unique changes and therefore provides great soloing tools over certain chords.

    Here are all 7 modes…

    If you play a major scale from the first tone of the scale to the first tone of the scale (e.g. – “C major scale from ‘C’ to ‘C’), this is called the IONIAN mode.

    If you play a major scale from the second tone of the scale to the second tone of the scale, this is called the DORIAN mode.

    If you play a major scale from the third tone of the scale to the third tone of the scale, this is called the PHRYGIAN mode.

    If you play a major scale from the fourth tone of the scale to the fourth tone of the scale, this is called the LYDIAN mode.

    If you play a major scale from the fifth tone of the scale to the fifth tone of the scale, this is called the MIXOLYDIAN mode.

    If you play a major scale from the sixth tone of the scale to the sixth tone of the scale, this is called the AEOLIAN mode (you should know this as the “natural minor scale”).

    If you play a major scale from the seventh tone of the scale to the seventh tone of the scale, this is called the LOCRIAN mode.

    So now that you’re refreshed on the modes, let me combine the two concepts.

    See that last mode… the Locrian mode?

    Well, what if you applied that same thinking to the melodic minor scale?

    What if you played the melodic minor scale from the 7th tone of the scale to the 7th tone? This is what we call the “altered” or super locrian mode.

    Here’s the scale you’d get…

    B Super Locrian

    In terms of the scale itself, here’s what you end up with…

    Altered / Super Locrian scale = 1, b9, #9, 3, b5, #5, b7

    If you think about it, this is the basis for a lot of altered chords.

    For example, if you’ve watch our GospelKeys 202 or GospelKeys Urban Pro 600 courses, you’ve undoubtedly seen these chords:

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

    All these chords come from the altered scale. That means if you just find out what the C altered scale is, you could play that scale over any of these chords and it would sound awesome!

    So let’s recap…

    How do you play an altered scale?

    1) You’ll need to know your melodic minor scales

    2) That’s easy! Just play a major scale with lowered 3rd note

    3) And then play THAT scale from the 7th tone to the 7th tone. So if you know your locrian mode, just change your mindset a bit to think of the 7th tone of the melodic minor scale and you’re good to go!

    In other words, if you play this chord on your left hand:

    B7 #9#5 (B on bass not shown)

    …and solo with the B super locrian mode…

    …you’ll sound great and people will think you’ve been playing for years!

    Well, I know this is a lot to digest so take your time!

    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 Peter

    Woooooooooo hooooooooooooooooooooo!

    J! you have ways of dropping big bombs on us! Good bombs!

    I never knew any of this and you’ve made it crystal clear.

    Thanks bro,

    2 ann st clair

    Hi Jermaine,

    Thank you very much this is great. Can you do the 12 major scales please.

    3 Nicki

    WOW! Now HOW do you play B7 #9#5 (B on bass) with the left hand?? I don’t think my hands are big enough to reach all the notes :( LOL…in fact I know my hands aren’t big enough! I’ve been trying to do hand gymnastics without success :)

    Great lesson…thanks Jermaine! I have learned something brand new!



    5 Jermaine

    @nicki: YOu can make the chord rootless (meaning you don’t play the bass but the chord still makes sense where it’s played) or if you have a bass player, they take care of it. Or if you’re on organ, your foot plays it. Or you can hit the B real quick, then follow up with chord… then mess around with notes from the “altered” scale on your right hand.

    Possibilities are endless!

    6 Nicki

    Brilliant! Thanks Jermaine..that’s very helpful!

    7 Jonathan

    Another great lesson!!! Question: with your example on the B7 #9 #5, are we still playing in the Key of C? I will have more questions after this is answered.
    Thanks alot

    8 Jermaine

    @Jonathan: Not necessarily… it’s really where ever a B7 #9#5 would be used.

    Back in GospelKeys 202, I introduced this tone as a great chord to play on the 3rd tone of the scale to lead you to the 6 tone (which is minor).

    So given those rules, this would be a 3-chord in the key of G major. So you can go from a G major chord to this B chord… then to an E minor chord.

    While on the B chord, play this voicing on your left hand and mess around with the B altered scale and you’ll get a very nice sound. You can do it going up (ascending), going down (descending), omitting and skipping notes… use your creativity.

    Also, this same type of chord can be used on the 6-chord when you want to lead to the 2 chord. So this same B chord can also be used in the key of D major… like if you want to get from B minor to E minor (which is what we call a 6-2), start off by playing the minor chord on B, then half way, switch to this #9#5 chord which will sound nice going to the Eminor chord. Try the scale over that chord.

    Now in terms of how you think of the scale… YES, since it operates like the locrian mode (thus the name “super” locrian), you will be thinking of the B altered scale as the C melodic minor from B to B… that is true. You’re basically playing a “mode” of the C melodic minor.

    It’s a lot to connect but it comes easy once you understand it. Very easy!

    9 steve

    Excellent blog which i,m beginning to get the jist of second time of reading.Probably take me a while to incorporatie it into my playing but it,s excellent advice.Thanks again JG.

    10 tamara

    When you say the altered scale, are you not talking about the “blues” scales?

    11 cfab

    Thank u very much.For now i play only on F# so can i resolve it into other keys for more possibilities.

    12 Thomson kb

    Jamaine, thanks for this is so helpful to me and my ministry.

    13 r mach

    Thank you!!!

    I’ve been playing for 20 years and for many of them strived to break out of monotonous rock and blues and improve my jazz skills. I’ve read numerous articles and practice often. Things were going reasonably well and I’ve felt for awhile that I was nearing a breakthrough. Your articles on super locrian and mixo modes over dominant 7s put me over the top. Your explanation is direct and sensible compared to several other resources that confuse more than explain. I have the positions under my belt and your advice makes it simple to put into action on the fly.

    14 Troy

    Loved the response above. You are great Jermaine….one question…how would you know to pull that mode for that chord? Why would you not use the mixolydian mode or another mode with the B? That’s what I struggle with is knowing what mode to pull for any given chord. For instance, what’s a good mode to pull for an Am7 chord for a song in C? The A mixolydian? The A melodic minor??? That’s my confusion. Thanks.

    15 Favour

    It can also be played in d key of cmajor scale. We have 7 3 6. So the B7 #9 #5 is the 7 while the 3 is E min and 6 A min.that’s to say it can be used on c major scale

    16 Matthew

    Great JG. you’ve always being a blessing.

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