Understanding Jazz Scales in Piano Phraseology.

alex bohrer cool piano teacher jazz scales piano phraseology Nov 24, 2022

OK this is the 3rd in a 3 part blog series providing a basic understanding of how jazz works for the novice. 

The fun part is that there is an endless process of exploration and discovery ahead in your learning path.


It is crucial for both improvisation and composition to have a clear understanding of what scale options you can play over any given chord.

All scale choices should agree with the chord tones of the chord.

For example wIth C major 7 your scale choices should include C, E, G, and B. This is most evident on the strong beats 1,2,3 and 4.

The scale notes falling on weak beats offer more room to explore altered scale notes because they function more as passing tones or chromatic approaches between the chord tones which outline the harmony.

It's the same story with minor 7 chords except adapted to the ♭ 3 and ♭ seven or C, E♭,G,and B♭.

This also applies to the Dominant 7 chord. C, E, G and B♭.

Again as long as there is no clash with the chord tones you have plenty of freedom with the non chord tones especially when played on the weak beats.

An easy and fast way to find the most workable or consanant scale is to simply play the non chord tone one whole step above the chord tones of the base triad.

For example for both C Maj7 and C7 simply add D, F♯ & A above the notes of the C Major triad. Notice how it is simply adding a D Major triad. The resulting scales are Lydian and Lydian ♭7 (Lydian Dominant7).

With C minor 7 add D, F and A which is a Dminor triad. The resulting scale is called Dorian.

With C min7♭5 simply add D, F & A♭ which is a D dimished triad. The resulting scale is called C super locrian
Finally with C full dimished 7 simply add the note a whole step above all four chord tones which works out to be a D dimished 7 chord. The resulting scale is C diminished.

There are several other options for the non chord tones however these are the safest for beginners to improvisation.