Students often ask me for help improvising on major 7 chords. The major bebop scale is the place to start. It’s simply a major scale with one added note. Like bebop dominant, it places the chord tones on the downbeats, which makes you sound good right away. It’s all you need to go from noodlin’ to groovin’. Dive in!
How does it work?
The major bebop scale functions similarly to the bebop dominant scale, it that it rhythmically realigns the scale, so that the chord tones, the root, 3rd, 5th, 6th and major 7th, all fall on downbeats.
You can see how the ordinary major scale places the notes C, A, F, D on the downbeats. The ear thus perceives this as a Dmi7, not a Cmaj7, so the scale sounds wrong. The addition of the b6 (asterisk), fixes the problem by realigning the scale so that the 5th and 3rd (G and E), now fall on downbeats.
Why you need to know it…
The bebop major scale is the default scale choice of players in the know. If you choose the major scale when blowing on maj7 and maj69 chords, you’ll find yourself sounding ‘off’. That’s because invariably, you’ll end up playing the 4th or the 9th on the downbeats. The 9th actually sounds fine; it’s the 4th that’s the big offender. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the 9th and 4th on successive downbeats doesn’t effectively convey the essence of the chord.
The bebop major scale is a foundational part of your jazz vocabulary. It should flow out of you without effort when blowing on maj7 and maj69 chords. Do yourself a favor…master the bebop major scale. Start by learning to play it in all 12 keys. Internalize its sound, interval patterns, and fingerings on your instrument. Then, all you need to do is to play good time, and you’ll always sound ‘right’ when improvising on maj7 and maj69 chords…promise!
When you’re ready to begin practicing the major bebop sound, check out the interactive lessons, Level 3 – Bebop Major (coming soon!). These lessons will provide you with an organized, progressive framework for practicing and internalizing this essential sound.