Improv Column: Terry Seabrook’s Jazz Tip of the Month No. 24

Terry Seabrook’s  Jazz tip of the month No. 24

Some short cuts for scales and modes


In order to improvise in jazz the subject of scales and modes as a tool is usually the first stop for study. It’s very obvious to think of all the modes in jazz as deriving from parent scales e.g. G mixolydian as mode V of C major or D lydian as mode IV of A major. But while it’s important to understand it like this theoretically it doesn’t give you a quick way of finding the notes when you are improvising. If the chord lasts for 2 or even 4 beats, that isn’t very long to do all the above ‘calculations’. So here is a much quicker fix for finding some of the more important jazz scales.



The mixoldian mode is a major scale with a lowered (flattened) 7th note

 i.e. G mixolydian = G A B C D E F G (The F# is lowered to F natural) 

Use for  G7, G9, G13, G7 sus chords



The lydian mode is a major scale with a raised (sharpened) 4th note

i.e. D lydian = D E F# G# A B C# D (The G is raised to a G#) 

Use for Dmaj7, D6, Dmaj#11, D6/9 chords



The dorian mode is a major scale with lowered 7th and lowered 3rd

Or think of it as the major scale a whole step below the root

i.e. C dorian = C D Eb F G A Bb C (looks like Bb major)

Use for Cm, Cm7, C m6 Cm6/9, Cm11, Cm13 chords



The melodic minor (or jazz minor) is a major scale with a lowered (flattened) 3rd

i.e. G melodic minor is G A Bb C D E F# G

Use for Gm, Gm6, Gm6/9, Gm(maj7) chords



The Lydian dominant scale is a major scale with a raised 4th and lowered 7th 

i.e. F Lydian dominant is F G A B C D Eb F

Use for F7+11 chords


The list could go on. Since we tend to learn the major scales fairly early on, it makes sense to relate some of the other scales we need to use a lot to the major scales. After all, improvising is done in real time and we don’t have time to refer to in-depth theory as we’re playing.


Terry Seabrook