Jazz Scales Lesson



Knowing which scale to play over each chord in a lead sheet is a common source of confusion. Many books tell you which scale to play, but don’t explain why, so in this lesson – I explain why.

Chord and scale are related – the notes you play in your left hand (chord) should match the notes you play from in your right hand (melody / improvisation).

Most importantly, the chordal tones should agree with each other – the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th should be present in the scale you play. If the chord symbol is Cm7 (C minor 7 – C Eb G Bb), then the scale you play needs to contain C Eb G Bb to sound consonant. Or if the chord symbol is G7 (G dominant 7 – G B D F), then the scale you play needs to contain G B D F to sound consonant.

Once these notes are in place in your scale, you have some freedom to get creative with the remaining notes, which are the extended harmony notes – 9th 11th 13th. You can flatten the 9th, or sharpen it, and the same with the 11th and 13th.