How to Play Bebop Scales on Guitar
When it comes to learning scales on the guitar, there’s certainly no shortage with so many to learn, so which ones do musician’s actually use and incorporate into their playing that will make you a better jazz guitarist?
Well there’s no shortcut for knowing the major scale, it’s the most important scale for any musician to learn because countless scales, modes, and shapes are derived from it, and it’s essential that a thorough knowledge of this scale is established before working through this lesson.
This article will investigate the four common bebop scales and how you can incorporate them into your guitar playing by creating bebop lines from them to use in improvisation.
Why use bebop scales? Using modes and major scales for playing over changes is great and you need to be able to do it, but bebop scales give us some extra flavour that can be used to embellish the fundamental scales.
For example if you used a major scale to improvise over a major chord only notes within that chord harmony are produced which is great but bebop scales allow use add some extra notes that are not diatonic within the scale which will be explored.
For each of the three main chord types (major, minor and dominant) there is a bebop scale that can be used to achieve some of these crunchier sounds.
Bebop scales are 8 note scales so they fit the 4/4 time signature very well because when a bebop scale is played in eighth notes each chord tone lands on a downbeat, and the non-diatonic notes land on an upbeat that creates tension and resolution.
Major Bebop Scale
The major bebop scale is just a regular C major scale but with an added b6th or #5th used a passing note to add crunch.
Major Bebop Scale Formula: R, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 6, 7
Major Bebop Scale in C: C, D, E, F, G, Ab, A, B, C.
The major bebop scale can be used over any major 7th chord so 6, 6/9, major 9, major 7 and the many variations.
Below is a practical fingering for a two octave major bebop scale and a lick that uses the major bebop scale lick which you can apply to tunes that you are working on. Click the play button below each example to hear how it sounds.
Once you have the major bebop scale under your fingers start to create lines using it. Here is a Bill Evans style lick that uses the major bebop scale, note how the b6 bebop note is used in passing chromatically here on the and of beat 4.
Minor Bebop Scale
There are two minor bebop scales that jazz musicians use, the first one has the same notes as a Dorian mode but with an added major 3rd
Minor Bebop Scale Formula: R, 2, -3, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7
Minor Bebop Scale in the C: C, D, Eb, E, F, G, A, Bb
This is a great bebop scale, but it’s worth noting that in a II-V-I this will just give you the same notes as the dominant 7th bebop scale.
D-7 Bebop Scale = D, E, F, F#, G, A, B, C
G7 Bebop Scale = G, A, B, C, D, E, F, F#, G
This minor bebop scale can be used to play over minor 7th chords and its various chord types such as minor 7th, minor 6, minor 9, minor 11, etc. Check out the example below for a two octave fingering of this scale
The second minor bebop scale has no major 3rd but has a raised 7th as well as a flattened 7th, so it is like a melodic minor scale with one extra note, the flattened 7th.
Minor Bebop Scale 2 Formula: R, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7, #7
Minor Bebop Scale in the key of C: C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, B
Here is an efficient two octave finger that you can use for this scale followed by a cool II-V-I lick using this scale.
Check out this cool lick that used the minor bebop scale. Note the use of the b9 which is a very common over dominant 7th chords as it provides effective tension before resolving.
Dominant Bebop Scale
The last bebop scale to look at is the dominant 7th bebop scale. As mentioned earlier it has the same notes as the first minor bebop scale but it can be used effectively in it’s own right.
The dominant bebop scale is a mixolydian scale but with an added major 7th note.
Dominant Bebop Scale Formula: R, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, b7th, #7th
Dominant Bebop Scale in C: C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, B
Here is a two octave fingering of the dominant bebop scale
There is a very common part that comes from the dominant 7th bebop scale that every jazz guitar should know which is R, #7, 7, 9th, 6th, 4th. The following example shows how the pattern can be used in a II-V-I situation.
Notice by starting this pattern on beat 3 it resolves perfectly into a one chord by landing on the 3rd on the 1st beat.
This dominant 7th pattern sounds even more effective when combined with the popular Coltrane 1235 patten as seen in the example below. Notice there is a slight variation on the bebop scale pattern here the 4th note has been changed to the root instead of the 9th but both would work well equally well.
This pattern can also work great just over the V chord like in the following example. Notice the use of another common jazz pattern here, ‘the honeysuckle rose’ lick is used to start the line in bar 1.
Remember that all these dominant bebop scale patterns can be applied over minor 7th chords too because they contain the same notes and that each of the licks you learn can be applied over different chords.
Hopefully this lesson has been useful in showing you how to play bebop scales and use them in your jazz guitar playing. Do you have a way of practicing or using bebop scales not discussed in this article? Share your comments below.