To use this hack, you are going to think of one scale for the entire time you solo – the major scale. If you already know how to play the major scales, great. If not, don’t worry. It is the first thing we will show you. You will keep just this one scale in your head as you solo, while learning to adjust certain notes in the scale at certain times.
What is the major scale?
The major scale is the most common of scales. Most kid´s song melodies are made from it. “Baa Baa black sheep” and “The wheels on the bus” are some examples of song made from the major scale.
There are seven notes in a major scale. On most instruments these 7 notes repeat themselves getting higher and higher. When you have climbed the scale up seven notes, the eighth is the same as the first, only higher.
The seven steps from 1 up to a new, higher 1, is called an octave. Like I said, on most instruments you can play more than one octave of any scale.
We will call these notes from the major scale “1 2 3 4 5 6 7”
In C, these would be C,D,E,F,G,A,B (see image, right)
Every song is made up of different chords, but the overall song will be in a specific key. The key is the major scale that the song is built on (some songs are in a minor key, and some songs temporarily shift key, but we´ll get to that later).
How do you play a jazz solo?
When you say, “solo” in jazz, you mean the part of the song where one instrument improvises an expressive passage while the other players “comp” or play chords in the background.
In a jazz solo, you can choose any note from the major scale and it will sound good with most of the chords in that song.
(The chords we are talking about are called diatonic, by the way, which means they are from the key, and only contain notes from the major scale.)
You create your solo by using different rhythms and note-order, to turn those notes into a melody – and you do it on the fly – you improvise.
Hold on! The major scale doesn´t work over every chord!
The notes of the major scale don’t work perfectly with every chord in the history of the universe. Sometimes you have to change one or more of the notes in the scale to make them match that chord.
We invented a new term for any note that must be temporarily changed to fit a particular chord: deviation.
Some chords require one or more notes from the major scale to “deviate” or be changed briefly. When this happens, you treat the 7 notes in the same way, only that one or more of the notes will be raised or lowered by a half tone while you solo over that specific chord. In other words, while that chord occurs in the song, instead of playing the original note, you play the deviated note (along with any other notes you may draw on from the major scale) as you create your melody.
The change will be either up a fret (#), or down a fret (b). You may for example have to raise the 5th note of the scale a half tone (we write this as #5) or lower it a half tone (we write this as b5) to match a chord.
Now we’re not talking about the #5 of the chord (that´s different – the whole point of this hack is that you don´t have to go down that road!). We are talking about the #5 of the major scale or the key of the song.
So remember, to make the deviation, you simply go down or up one fret on the guitar, or go from a white key to the black key either above or below on a piano.
Remember: six of the notes will stay the same, while one is changed as you solo over that specific chord.
The scale with a deviation in it will now sound good over that particular chord that is not in the key of the song.
Here’s another way to look at it
I’m sure the most of you reading this have seen a piano before. Whether you know how to play it or not, you know there are white keys and black keys.
If you start on C and play seven white notes, that gives you a C major scale. These notes can be used for a solo in the song where all the chords are in the key of C. For the chords outside of the key of C, you will deviate one of those white keys to a black key temporarily to make your scale fit the chord.
I can already solo a bit. Why should I listen to you?
This hack is about knowing where all the safe notes are, so you don´t fumble around awkwardly on wrong-sounding notes. It is also about freeing your mind from the stress of multiple complex scales so you can unlock your creativity instead of getting bogged down.
You don’t have to learn a new scale for each chord.
You just have to adapt the major scale to fit any chord it doesn’t perfectly match with.
This is pretty huge. Say you have been practicing your altered scales. Ok; Here comes the B7. Get ready altered scale. Here it is; Ok; B, C, um.. oh… too late. On to the next chord. Did you create music just then? Did you play a nice melodic phrase? Probably not. It probably sounded like you were drowning and gasping for air. With my system, you can continue your musical thought, perhaps only having to change one note when the time is right. Seems easier? Well, it is.
You don’t need to live the rest of your jazz life by these numbers. It basically trains your fingers and ears to hear the right notes to play over every chord you may come across while soloing. It’s like decades of ear training experience explained, systematized and easily digestable.
This is not a race. Try and create a melody, not a splatter of notes.
How to practice
On this website I have included 5 common jazz standards and backing tracks for them for free. The charts are in order of difficulty. Each song has an explanation page and a chart. The explanation page outlines the 6 steps you use to practice to solo over that song. Work through each step spending the time on them that you need.
Then we have the chart (where the music lives). Beneath the chords in the song that don’t fit with the major scale, I have written which note needs to be adjusted (deviation) by a half tone to fit the chords. Continue soloing with the major scale, only changing the note(s) indicated.