The sound of the bebop dominant scale is everywhere; from bebop to pop, from R & B to modern jazz. Once you hear it you’ll know you need to be playing it yesterday. Bebop dominant is way more than just a scale. It’s how to get the chord tones on the downbeats…and sound good fast. Here’s how it works. Get on it now! 

Check out this Freddie Hubbard chorus on an F blues.

 Here’s a Wayne Shorter chorus from the same recording.

Here’s a short, concise example. It’s Wayne again, gliding down an F bebop dominant scale on Contemplation from Art Blakey’s Buhaina’s Delight.

What you’re hearing in all of these great solo fragments is the sound of bebop dominant. 

Used to be that the mixolydian mode, (a major scale with a b7) was considered the correct chord scale to use on an unaltered dominant 7 chord.  It’s not a bad choice since it does have the major 3rd and b7,  the essential parts of a dominant 7 chord.  So while that bit of scale theory is generally correct, it misses one huge thing…the rhythmic placement of the notes.

The rhythmic placement of scale tones, whether notes fall on the upbeats or the downbeats, is critical to whether scales sound good or bad…here’s why.

The ear perceives a scale as an accurate representation of the chord when the chord tones, (the root, major 3rd, 5th, and b7), fall on the downbeats.

Take a look at this descending mixolydian (dominant) scale.  The arrows point to the downbeats, which as you can see, spell Dmi7, and not C7.  Because the notes that spell Dmi7 fall on the downbeats, the scale doesn’t sound like C7. The ear hears Dmi7, so this line sounds wrong.

The solution is to insert the major 7th between the root and the flat 7th, (indicated by the asterisk). This chromatic note realigns the rest of the scale, so that the chord tones, b7, 5, and 3, are all now on the downbeats. Voila…the bebop dominant scale is born!

The bebop dominant scale is a huge part of the improvisations of players from Charlie Parker to today’s jazz giants. Mastery of this scale is an absolute essential for any aspiring improviser. For starters learn the scale in all 12 keys. Play it over a two-octave range. As with all jazz vocabulary, playing it needs to become absolutley automatic.

When you’re ready to begin exploring bebop dominant in greater depth, check out the interactive lessons, Level 3 – Bebop Dominant (coming soon!).  These lessons will provide you with an organized, progressive framework for practicing and internalizing this essential sound.