Harmonic Continuity

Hey Jazz Guy,

When I improvise, I’m switching to different sounds on every chord, how can I get more harmonic continuity in my linear playing? -Switching in Scranton


Dear Switching,

Much of jazz improvisation is based on playing different types of scales for each chord, for example, playing a Lydian scale on a Maj 7th chord or an Altered scale on a dominant chord. These scales come from different “parent scales”, that is the Lydian is the 4th mode of a Major Scale and the Altered is the 7th mode of a Melodic Minor scale. One way to achieve a spectacular harmonic effect with your lines is to improvise using only scales from the same parent. This works by choosing the parent sound, then finding modes of that scale that will fit over each chord in the song. Differences between these modes and the given changes will provide the harmonic character for the improvisation. Let us dive right in and declare that in our example, we will use exclusively scales derived from Melodic Minor. Once we have decided on “our sound” we must examine the scale’s modes to evaluate what to use on any given chord (Note – one can either think of each scale as a mode of melodic minor, or as a melodic minor based on a different root note). In Ex. 1 we have a CMaj7 chord and we can play a C Lydian #5 scale. Lydian #5 is the 3rd mode of the A Melodic Minor scale. The dissonance between the natural 5th in the Cmaj7 and the raised 5th in the scale is part of the effect we are trying to create. In next example we have a regular C Melodic Minor [Ex. 2], our scale choice for a Cmin7 chord. There are two possibilities for the Dominant 7th, the first being the Altered scale [Ex. 3], which is the 7th mode of a melodic minor scale. This can also be described as playing a melodic minor a half step up, or in this case, Db Melodic Minor on C7. We also have the Mixolydian b13 scale [Ex. 4], which is the 5th mode of melodic minor, so F Melodic Minor on a C7. The 4th mode of melodic minor is the “Lydian-Dominant” scale, or Lydian b7.  If you come across a 7#11 chord [Ex. 5] this is the scale to use! Finally, a min7b5 chord corresponds nicely to the 6th mode of the melodic minor as in Ex. 6, the Locrian Natural 9 scale, or Eb Melodic Minor on a Cmin7b5. With this deeper understanding of the parent scale, we can apply it to some chord changes. In the following short solo [Ex. 7], we apply all these scale to chord pairings as described above. Because we are using melodic minor scales the entire time, we get a very consistent sound. Play this with some type of accompaniment to really hear the effect. There are some great dissonances that occur between the simple changes and the scales imposed over them. Notice that we are using the Lydian #5 over the Maj7 chords, the Melodic Minor over the minor chords, and the Altered scale on the dominants. On the E7 we use a Mixolydian b13 to demonstrate the difference from the altered. Locrian Natural 9 is used on the min7b5 chords and a few simple phrasing tricks are included so it doesn’t get boring. Remember, you can do this with any parent scale, harmonic minor, harmonic major and more! Harmonic continuity takes a long time to work into your playing, as it involves such a detailed “map” of the chord scales, but it can catapult you to the next level when done creatively. It also takes quite a few bars to really drive the sound home to your audience. So be patient, research well and jazz hard!


Categories: Chords, Harmony, Specifically Soloing, Uncategorized

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