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Secrets of Jazz guitar: The Bebop Scale

Rating: 0 user(s) have rated this lesson Posted by: leokisomma, on Apr 18,2012, in category Scales Views: this lesson has been read 2085 times
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Okay guys, in this lesson I’m going to teach you about the Bebop Scale that has been used in jazz for a long time, probably since its birth. Now just as a warning, this scale does feature some strange sounding notes to those of you who are new to jazz, but don’t worry as I will show you the way to avoid making your playing sound discordant as best I can.

Firstly a brief history lesson: the Bebop scale was invented by some jazz musicians who wanted to be able to play a jazzy sounding jam, but found that when they were playing using the natural major scale there were too few notes for them to use effectively. As such, the Bebop scale is one note longer than the usual seven note scale, but is very similar in structure to the natural major scale. Have a look below to see the difference.

Natural Major Scale in E

E||------------------|------------------||------------------|------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------------------|------------------|
G||------------------|------6----8---9--||------------------|------------------|
D||-----------6---7--|--9---------------||------------------|------------------|
A||---7---9----------|------------------||------------------|------------------|
E||------------------|------------------||------------------|------------------|

Bebop Scale in E

E||------------------|------------------||------------------|------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------------------|------------------|
G||------------------|-----6---7---8---9||------------------|------------------|
D||-----------6---7--|-9----------------||------------------|------------------|
A||---7---9----------|------------------||------------------|------------------|
E||------------------|------------------||------------------|------------------|

So why did they want a longer scale? Well, if you are playing in a 4/4 time signature (when there are four beats in every bar of music you play, and four bars in each line of music if you are playing. Most people who don’t know much at classical music will recognise this as just counting to four mentally in their heads to keep in time) then there are four beats in each bar. However, these jazz musicians wanted to be able to start a phrase on the 1st beat of one bar, and end it on the 1st beat of another bar. However, that is 9 notes if you play one note one each beat. Using the natural major scale from top to bottom will only give you 8. To get round this they added an extra note so that they could get their phrases to fit more neatly. In that respect you could say that the Bebop scale is a scale born purely out of convenience.

The note that I have highlighted is the extra note that has been added. You need to beware of this note. Like the extra note that gets the ‘bluesy’ sound in the blues scale, this extra ‘jazzy’ note, will most likely not sound very pleasing to your ears if you land on that note just by itself. The trick is to blend this note in with other notes so that it kind of adds to the flavour, but doesn’t overpower the other notes.

Have a look below to see an example:

 

E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
G||------------------|-6----7----8----9-||-8h9p8-----6h7p6--|-------------------|
D||------7----9----7-|------------------||------------------|-7h9p7-------------|
A||-7----------------|------------------||------------------|----------7v-------|
E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|

 

E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
G||------------------|---------6-7-8-9--||------------------|-----------9-8-7-6-|
D||-------6--h7--p7--|------------------||---------9--7--p6-|-------------------|
A||-7----------------|-7----------------||-7----------------|-7-----------------|
E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|

 

The thing to focus on is making sure that you feel comfortable with playing this scale. A lot of the time, jazz music is almost entirely improvisation with just a basic rhythm being shared amongst the band. The bebop scale was made up to help with this, but that doesn’t mean that just by looking at it you will automatically sound jazzy.

You have to realise that there are notes in every scale that sound tense, and notes that sound more resolved. The notes that sound more resolved are the notes that the music generally feels like it’s heading towards, for example if you’re playing a song in the key of E then the song will most likely always sound like it’s trying to get back to hitting an E note. However, these notes lose their ‘power’ if they are used too often without mixing in some other notes that feel like the song is moving in another direction. I suppose a way to think of this is that the more tense notes are more unstable, so generally feel like they’re about to fall over onto a more ‘stable’ note. It will take a bit of practice, but believe me it’s worth it.

In terms of song-writing this scale perhaps isn’t the best as it was basically put together just to suit on group of people’s particular needs, however, if you are playing a song that is written in the natural major scale, you could use this scale to solo over it and get a slightly more jazzy tone, because all of the notes are already there as I’ve shown at the beginning of this lesson.

To end I would strongly recommend learning this scale to anybody who wants to break out of the scale boxes that they are used to, because this teaches your mind to think in a new way about the notes you’re playing. Hitting just any note from it won’t work, so you will have to practice phrasing with it to find out which notes suit what you are playing the best. Once you’ve practiced this, you can take this knowledge with you to other scales and approach them in the same way, no longer taking every note for granted. To finish I’ll give you an example of how you could mix this scale with one of the modes, namely, the Dorian mode.

(Both scales shown are in key of E)

The Dorian mode

E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
G||------------------|------6----7----9-||------------------|-------------------|
D||----------------7-|-9----------------||------------------|-------------------|
A||-7----9----10-----|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|

Altered version to include an extra ‘jazzy’ note

E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
G||------------------|------6--7--8--9--||------------------|-------------------|
D||----------------7-|-9----------------||------------------|-------------------|
A||-7----9----10-----|------------------||------------------|-------------------|
E||------------------|------------------||------------------|-------------------|

See how I just filled in a gap so that I had a clear run to just climb up the notes one by one if I wanted to? That’s basically the only reason that extra note is there, so that it makes it more interesting if I was to play a phrase by not just sticking perfectly to the scale. This is just one way that you can try breaking out of those little scale boxes that a lot of people have become trapped in. You need to remember that scales have their limits, and to push beyond those limits you’re going to have to go beyond those scales.

That’s pretty much it for this lesson, but as always, let me know if there is anything that I can do to help that you feel that I haven’t mentioned here. I hope this lesson has helped some of you out there.

Take care guys and I’ll see you next time! 

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