Minorizing Over Altered Dominant Chord

by Emir Hot

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  • Hi and welcome to jazz theory lesson.

    Jazz has never been my "safe" territory when improvising and that fact is still making me unhappy as a musician. I have done all jazz exams at school but I am far from a good jazz player. Recently I have decided to slowly get to know that style better and started digging through my university books and scripts, basically to start from scratch. I found very interesting material and finally started to understand advanced jazz concept which is a whole new world in music and almost impossible to explore in full unless you dedicate your life :) I really can't say the same for my genius jazz teacher Shaun Baxter who started playing guitar after he got the degree in art and in only 10 years mastered nearly every aspect of jazz and became a well known world class player and instructor. Today's lesson is something that he calls "minorizing over altered dominant chord".

    So what is "minorizing"? Let's compare Em7b5 and Gm6 chords. These chords have exactly the same notes. The obvious scale over Em7b5 would be locrian while dorian fits with Gm6. How do you know which scale to play if these two chords have the same notes? The answer is "both" because these two scales also have the same notes. Many players would feel more comfortable thinking of dorian instead of locrian and there is the term "minorizing" – thinking of minor modes while playing over a different chord type. This way you can reduce amount of scales you need to think of when improvising while keeping the right scale choice.

    We will now have a look at how we can apply this principle over an altered dominant chord.

    We know that a dominant chord has major 3rd interval as one of its main ingredients. The obvious scale to play over such chord would be mixolydian. Now that chord can also be altered or extended with various different intervals making it sound more or less dissonant depending on what tension or color you want to achieve in your arrangement. Let's look at the B mixolydian formula:

    Now let's see possible ways of adding chromatic alterations:

    If you work out what possible chords we can make of this (extended) scale you will get these options: B7b9, B7#9, B7b5, B7#5, B7#9#5. Notice that we can't have natural 7th without making the chord maj7 so that extension is left out from this formula. Usual scale option over an altered dominant chord would be superlocrian (the last mode of melodic minor) but today we will look at different minor modes that will introduce many of those (extensions) making it easier to think when improvising and producing interesting melodic lines in jazz phrasing.

    If you have any basic knowledge of modes and their relations you probably know that the V chord tends to resolve to I chord. In today's example I am playing B7(alt) as my V chord resolving to Em9 as my I chord.

    I am sure that you noticed when playing minor pentatonic scale over a major blues that minor 3rd or 4th intervals always have tension to resolve on a major 3rd. The same thing is possible to achieve with several minor scale options that I am going to show you over B7(alt) chord. They all have 1 or 2 notes that have tension to resolve either towards the B root or major 3rd interval found within a B7 chord just by moving the note half step up or down. The list is here:

    In this lesson whenever the chord changes to B7(alt) I switch between these scale options in order as on the picture. Sometimes only dorian and sometimes combination of dorian and melodic minor. Notice that once I included F aeolian in order to target both b2nd and 2nd interval against B root. This can sometimes sound shocking and be very careful when going for this approach. I only used it in a very short lick as it doesn't always fit within the context.

    The most important thing here is to focus on scale shapes instead of learning licks. I left you both dorian and melodic minor shapes in five positions on the neck. Take one position and experiment with different options until you start feeling comfortable then try the same thing in other position. For example play E dorian over Em9 chord and move to A dorian over B7(alt). Second round play C dorian over B7(alt) etc...

    Experienced jazz player probably wouldn't be impressed with the way I demonstrated this approach in today's lesson but at least I explained the concept. You might make it much better than me which I would love to see somewhere on forum in an upload thread.

    I hope you liked this concept and I wish you happy jazzing.


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