An Easy Approach for Playing Over Major 7 and Major 7#11 Chords
In this lesson we are going to be looking at a cool substitute that you can easily apply over Lydian/Major7#11 chords, which will also work and give extra spice when we are improvising over standard major 7 chords.
First of all, if there is anyone wondering what a Major 7 #11 chord is, it is simply a regular major 7th chord with an added #11 (or #4) instead of a natural 5th. It is sometimes referred to as a Lydian chord because this is the mode of the major scale in which it derives from.
The #11 chord extension is more commonly seen in ‘modern’ jazz tunes than regular standards, but we can sometimes impose or imply it over regular major 7ths which will be discussed later.
Now that we understand what chord is we can start to think about the improvisation. Obviously, we can use the prescribed Lydian scale to improvise over a #11 chord which is fine, because it contains all the necessary chord tones and extensions. However there is another scale that we can use which is very comfortable for us guitarists. What is our favourite scale? The one most of us probably learnt before any other scale? That’s right, the minor pentatonic scale.
We can use the minor pentatonic to improvise over major 7 #11 chords. All we need to do is think a semi-tone below from the major #11 chord. So over Cmaj7#11 for example, the correct pentatonic to use would be B Minor. The B minor pentatonic gives us the essential chord tones of the C Major 7th as well as some extra spice:
The notes from the minor pentatonic are also found in the Lydian scale, but by using minor pentatonic we avoid playing some of the less tasty intervals such as the root and fifth. There is also less notes to think of when we need to outline quick moving #11 chords at fast tempos too being that the pentatonic scale is only 5 notes. And of course pentatonic scales are very ‘guitar friendly’, so most of us will already know them in multiple positions on the neck.
As guitarists we can use all our bluesy triplet licks over major 7 and major 7#11 chords and they will outline the harmony fine.
The minor pentatonic scale can also sound more jazzy too
For practising I recommend taking the concept through all 12 keys and looking apply it on tunes. One tune that uses #11 chords extensively is Joe Henderson’s ‘Inner Urge’. Below is a chart with the chords on, see if you can work out the correct pentatonic scale to use for each chord.
Click to enlarge and see the chord sheet clearly
Then check with the PDF to see if you are right
As well as working fine over #11 chords this substitute gives us a nice crunch over a regular major 7th chords. All we need to do is use the same concept we did for the #11 chord, think a semi-tone below.
As well as major 7 #11 we can also get dominant 7 #11 chords.
For the dominant #11 we can play another favourite guitar scale, the melodic minor. To use the melodic minor over a Lydian dominant chord, all we need to do is think a 5th above the Dom#11 chord. So over a C7#11 we would use G melodic minor
This gives us the same notes as the Lydian dominant scale, but chances are that most guitarists are more familiar with melodic minor scales.
We can also use the mixolydian scale up a tone from the #11 chord at hand which also gives us the same notes. So for C7#11 we can also think D7.
I hope this lesson has been of some use to you. If you have any questions or thoughts regarding this article or suggestions for future lessons, send me a comment in the box below, or alternatively use my contact page.