Scales – A More Musical Perspective
For too many of us musicians, “Scale” is a dirty word.
Unfortunately all too often very little thought is given towards either understanding the implications of, or using the specific properties inherent in scales to create, improvise and even re-harmonize musical ideas.
What I hope to do is open your mind, eyes and perspective as to how to analyze, practice
and use scales in ways beyond what you currently do to help you play, improvise, plus create and become a better overall musician.
Rather than reinforcing the conventional “this scale: played by this fingering and then being practiced in very rote, boring and relatively unmusical ways” approach, we are going to look
at a broader, more useful and musically practical approach towards using ANY scale.
So let’s begin to explore and adopt a whole-brain perspective towards music scales: one where we consciously evaluate any and every scale for unlimited use on our instruments melodically, harmonically and creatively.
There will be observations for this process, but the one and only “rule” is to always try to analyze and practice any and every scale that you study in musically sounding ways!
This sounds obvious, but unfortunately it is rarely ever applied.
A glaring example is how we all come up being taught the notes, plus a fingering… or two… of say… the Major Scale… on our instruments.
Do, Re, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do… forward and reverse… is what we learn and practice, but there is so much more in terms of musical implications and usage when analyze the Major, or any other scale.
This basic approach does not begin to explore useful, creative, or interesting musical phrasing, nor modal melodic lines, let alone scratch the surface of the scales’ chords and harmonic potential uses.
What are its Notes?
What are the Interval Relationships present, both from the Root and Modally?
What are the (potential) Harmonies within?
What are the Interval Counts?
Discover WHY and HOW the ability to determine all of these Qualities / Relationships within Scales can really help you begin to BEAST as a composer, improviser and player.
Again, always seek to PLAY, HEAR and CREATE MUSICAL PHRASES… creating the feeling of motion towards tension and release… when using scales: and not just SCALAR lines!
Also try experimenting with ascending and descending lines using diatonic intervals.
Scales for Improvisation vs. Scales for Composition
(Sure, they can exist as one in the same, but not necessarily)
Scales for Improvisation Characteristics
Harmonically / Melodically Focused: 4, 5,6 notes to “Jazzy”… 8 notes
Focus on crafting lines that outline changes / chord tones and flow within time signature.
Odd-time Signatures vs. Even Time Signatures:
Making even note scales “fit” music composed in odd time signatures
Making odd note scales “fit” music composed in even time signatures
The challenge becomes creating strong lines by strategically placing chord (embellishment or emphasis) tones on the STRONG or “down” beats to flow towards tension (alterations and non-diatonic) tones on the WEAK, “off” or “up” beats.
The goal is to make lines that express Melodic tension and release through “motion”.
Considering the awkward application of 7 note scales in 4/4 (even-time) music, fostered the adoption of 8-note “Jazz” Scales to allow for chord tones to be continually played on all measure down-beats. Fast, smooth, forward, MOTION.
Scales for Composition Characteristics
Scales can be Harmonically and Melodically Focused, or be Unlimited: 6 to 12 notes
(ie: a 4 note scale is very focused (limited), while a chromatic scale… containing 12 or more notes (microtonal?)… would facilitate unlimited but also unfocused compositional potential.
Diatonic vs. Non-diatonic
Goal is creating tension and resolution (release) through harmonic quality motion.
Harmonic quality examples:
Unison “Chord” (made by multiple… in tune instruments): Most Resolved
Octave “Chord”: Extremely Resolved
Fifth Interval “Chord”: Strongly Resolved
Major Triad: Quite Resolved
Major 6th chords: Very Resolved quality!
Major 6th add 9th chords: Very Resolved quality, but slightly less than Major 6th.
Major 7th chords: Resolved quality, but less than both Major 6th or Major 6th add 9th.
(Why? Hint: the MINOR 2nd… half-step… interval existing between Major 7th and Root notes creates tension that dilutes the strength of
Major 9th chords: Resolved quality, but less than all above.
Apply this thinking to Minor, then to Dominant Chords.
How about these:
Augmented chords – Very Unresolved Quality
Diminished 7th chords: Most Unresolved Quality?
Harmonic / Chordal Motion Considerations:
Traditional: Harmonic motion using Perfect 4ths
Also Try Minor 2nds, Minor 3rds (Miles Davis), Major 3rds (Coltrane), Major 6ths, Flatted 5ths
Specificity of voicing / inversions (drop 2,3,4 chords inversions all sound different and can serve specific sonorities and or fingering purposes.
Quartal Harmony: ala McCoy Tyner
Instead of creating chords based on 3rds intervals, perfect 4ths interval stacks are used.
This creates chords possessing a more ambiguous and unresolved flavor.
Quintal Harmony: ala Bill Evans
Instead of creating chords based on 3rds intervals, perfect 5ths interval stacks are used.
This creates chords possessing a very stark, distinctive flavor.
Sixth Diminished Scale Harmonies for richer, jazzier, modern sounding compositions.
There are many subtle and intermediate possibilities, but the basic idea within this scale application (the concept associated with and credited to Pianist Barry Harris) is to create thematic diatonic tension and resolution by alternating motion between the Scale’s Diatonic Major 6th chords / inversions and that scale’s diatonic diminished 7th chords / inversions.
Block Chord Scales (Using chromatic / non-diatonic notes via Diminished passing chords ala Montgomery)
In summary, the 2 basic “takeaways” are these:
Begin to develop the ability to think more broadly and openly about the potential for using scales purposely to create your own music plus to improvise over and re-harmonize existing compositions.
Learn how to use scales… any scale… very specifically for the purposes of composition and / or improvisation and /or re-harmonization.
THERE ARE LITERALLY A WEALTH of HIDDEN TREASURES WITHIN ANY SCALE!
ALL THAT IS NEEDED IS THE WILL (supplied by you) AND THE RESOURCE: supplied by the MAMI Musical Scales Atlas.
Give a man a fish, he eats for a day.
Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.
Give a man a scale, he curses for 15 minutes.
Teach a man to apply scales with MAMI, he creates music abundantly for a lifetime!
Hopefully you’ve learned something useful, thank you kindly for your attention,
Richard “Spock” Armstrong