Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Playing Over Dominant Chords

Q: Hi Chris! I really dig your lydian dominant video on youtube and want to get that type of sound. I sort of understand how you mix different scales to get that kind of fusion vibe, what choices do you have for a dominant chord?

A: Thanks! Musicians really like soloing over dominant chords simply because you have so many choices. Actually, you can use all 12 notes, even the major 7th if you place it on an up-beat. As far as scales there are a bunch you can use and each has its own mood. Let's say you have to play over a static dominant 7 chord (the bigger the chord, the less choices you have so we'll go with a simple dominant 7 chord). Let's look at our possibilities, from inside to outside (click on the links for more on these scales):

1. Major pentatonic (1-2-3-5-6): this is a really inside sound and popular for all styles of music. 

2. Mixolydian (1-2-3-4-5-6-b7): no bad notes here really, you might want to be a little weary of the 4th as it sort of has issues with the 3rd in the chord (if you were playing over a 7sus4 chord, it would be perfect). 

3. Lydian Dominant (1-2-3-#4-5-6-b7): some people could actually argue that this scale is more inside that even the mixolydian scale. The reason is obviously because the issue regarding the 4th clashing with the 3rd in the chord has been dealt with. Regardless, the melodic minor scale, simply because of its intervalic structure, has a quirky sound, so I'll list it after the mixolydian scale on our list.

4. minor pentatonic or blues scale (1-b3-4-(b5)-5-b7): It might seem strange to put this scale at 4 on our list because out of all the scales, this one is probably the most accepted by our ears for a dominant chord. I think that is simply because we have heard and used it so much. But in all reality, it is a pretty abrasive sound if you think about it. Its got a b3 that you really have to be careful of because of the major 3 in the chord. Experienced players know that this note should be bend up. We still have the 4th to be weary of as well. 

5. H/W diminished (1-b2-#2-3-#4-5-6-b7): Against a 13b9 or 13#9 chord, this wouldn't be such an outside choice but against a plain old dominant chord, it has more tension, simply because of the flat and sharp 9ths (2nds). The scale is symmetrical so it has a very angular sound. You can create dramatic effects with this scale mixed with, let's say, the major and minor pentatonic scales. In a lot of ways, it looks like the blues scale right?

6. Altered (1-b2-#2-3-b5-#5-b7): Again, against an altered dominant chord, this scale is not so outside, but against an unaltered dominant chord, it will really rub. But by strategically placing it between two inside choices, you can create some great tension.