Bebop Scale Variations
The bebop scale comes in three main varieties: dominant, minor (Dorian), and major. The most commonly used of these is the dominant – if you hear someone talk about ‘the bebop scale’, they will probably be referring to the dominant bebop scale.
Bebop Scale Origins
Bebop scales allow jazz improvisors to play fluent scale lines in which chord tones fall on the beat. They are not part of ‘strict’ musical theory – rather, they have evolved out of the kind of lines jazz musicians in the Bebop era were playing.
Bebop Scale Construction
Bebop scales contain one more note than normal major scales (or modes of major scales). If you play an ascending or descending bebop scale in eighth notes (quavers) against a 4:4 rhythm, and then play a major scale over the same rhythm, you will be able to hear how much smoother the bebop scale sounds. The chromatic notes in the scale makes it sound much ‘jazzier’ than the standard major or Mixolydian scale.
Bebop Scale Guitar
Dominant Bebop Scale Guitar
The dominant bebop scale is a Mixolydian scale with an added major 7th note (in the example above, a C Mixolydian scale with an added B natural). (Alternately, the dominant bebop scale can be thought of as a major scale with a minor seventh note added). The dominant bebop scale can be used to play jazz lines over a dominant seventh – type chord (e.g. C7, C9, C13, etc.). An alternative way of playing the dominant bebop scale on guitar is shown below:
Minor Bebop Scale
There are two main ways of playing a minor bebop scale. The first way (shown above) is to play a Dorian scale with an added major third note (i.e. a G Dorian with an added B natural). The second way is to play a Dorian scale with an added major seventh note (i.e. a G Dorian with an added C#). One way of playing this version of a minor bebop scale is shown below:
Either version of the minor bebop scale can be used to solo over minor chords.
Bebop Chords and ii V I progressions
Bebop scales can be used to create flowing lines over ii V I progressions. Lines created with bebop scales can also be extended or combined with other scales or arpeggios. Note that version I of the G minor bebop scale is essentially the same scale as the C dominant bebop scale, just with different starting positions. Therefore, you can play either the dominant bebop scale, or version I minor bebop scale over both the ii and V of the progression.
Major Bebop Scales
Major bebop scales are used to create smooth-sounding lines, in which chord tones fall on the beat, over major and major-type chords (e.g. Major, Maj7, Maj6, etc.). They are essentially major scales with added sharpened fifth notes. In the Bb major bebop scales below, the additional note is a D# (notated in the examples as an Eb).
Bebop Scales Guitar Conclusion
Experiment with bebop scales by creating your own lines playing over single chord vamps and ii V I progressions. Practice starting lines on chord tones, and on non-chord tones, on and off the beat. Get a feel for how the scales flow, and play around with them – switch directions when playing the scales (i.e. play some ascending notes in a descending line), add extra chromatic notes, etc.
As you get acquainted with bebop scales you will begin to realise how much the timing and feel of licks and runs can be improved by the inclusion of that extra note – it is one of the most commonly used techniques in jazz guitar playing.