The Bebop Scale

Bebop scale is a term coined by David Baker in his book How to Play Bebop, describing a technique Charlie Parker and other bebop players used to make those long, never-ending bebop lines. Today it’s unthinkable for a jazz musician to not at least speak a bit of the bebop language and the bebop scale is a good place to get you started.

In this lesson, you will learn what the bebop scales are, how they look on the guitar and how you can use these scales in your solos.

The bebop scale is an octatonic scale, which means it has 8 notes. It is formed by adding a chromatic passing note to heptatonic (7-note) scales such as the Mixolydian, Dorian, and Ionan modes.

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The Dominant Bebop Scale

Although there are several kinds of bebop scales, the dominant bebop scale is what is normally referred to as “The Bebop Scale”.

 

What Are Bebop Scales and How Do You Use Them?

The bebop scale is a Mixolydian Scale with a descending chromatic note between the root and the b7.

(Dominant) Bebop Scale = Mixolydian Scale + 7

Here is a comparison between the Mixolydian scale and the dominant bebop scale. The note that is added to the G Mixolydian scale is the 7 (F#). I reversed the scale in the diagram because that is how the bebop scale is usually played.

 

G Mixolydian Scale (reversed)GFEDCBA
1b765432
G Bebop Scale (reversed)GF#FEDCBA
17b765432

 

The bebop scale is a dominant scale and has the same function in a key as the Mixolydian scale.

Here is how the bebop scale is usually applied:

  1. On dominant chords: the bebop scale is used to play over dominant chords, such as the 5 in a 2-5-1 progression or the dominant 7 chords in a jazz blues progression.
  2. On minor chords: the bebop scale can also be used to play over minor chords. The G Bebop Scale, for example, can be played over Dm7, giving us a great tool to play over ii V I progressions.
  3. On half-diminished chords: the bebop scale can also be played over half-diminished chords. The G bebop scale, for example, can be played over a Bm7b5 chord, making it a great tool to play over minor ii V I progressions.
  4. On Sus4 chords: the bebop scale also works well over Sus4 chords (play G bebop over Gsus4). This comes in handy for tunes such as Maiden Voyage.

 

What Are The Advantages of the Bebop Scale?

  • The bebop scale gives you a framework for adding chromatic notes to your jazz solos. Chromaticism is an important concept in bebop, and the bebop scale is a good way to get started playing chromatic notes.
  • The bebop scale adds a sense of tension and release to your soloing ideas.
  • When you start the bebop scale on a downbeat and on a chord tone, all the following chord tones of the scale will fall on downbeats and the other notes of the scale on upbeats. This is an effective way to make long phrases while outlining the harmony. Don’t start the bebop scale on upbeats or tensions. Always start on downbeats and on chord tones.

 

Let me illustrate that last concept…

If I play the G Mixolydian scale descending, starting on a downbeat, you will notice that the chord tones of G7 fall on the upbeats (except for the first one):

 

G Mixolydian scale descending

 

Here I play the G bebop scale descending, starting on a downbeat. Notice how all chord tones of G7 fall on downbeats. As a result, the 3 and b7 of the G7 chord are emphasized:

 

G Bebop scale descending

 
Remember that you don’t have to start the bebop scale from the root. You can start this scale from the 1, 3, 5 or b7. You don’t have to play the entire scale as well, it’s ok to use fragments of the scale in your solos.

 

 

Bebop Dominant Scale Fingerings

Here is the G (dominant) bebop scale on the fretboard.

  • The red notes represent the root or 1 of the guitar scale.
  • The blue notes are the chromatic passing tones that are so characteristic for the bebop scale.
  • The black notes are the other scale tones.

These first two positions are the basic positions of the scale and are the best to get you started. Needless to say, you can play the bebop scale in any position you want. Try taking any Mixolydian scale fingering you know and adding the passing maj7 interval to create a bebop scale fingering.

 

Listen & Play Along

G bebop scale fingering 1

 

Listen & Play Along

G bebop scale fingering 2

 

Here is a very convenient way to play the bebop scale on guitar (descending). It involves some slides to reposition your fingers.

G bebop scale diagram

G bebop scale fingering

 

 

Bebop Scale Licks & Phrases

To help you take the bebop scale from the technical side of your practice routine to the improvisational, here are 5 classic jazz guitar licks that use the bebop scale in various situations.

Try working these licks in 12 keys around the fretboard, at various tempos, as well as apply them to any tune you are working as you bring these phrases into your jazz guitar vocabulary.

 

Listen & Play Along

Bebop Scale Lick 1

 

Listen & Play Along

Bebop Scale Lick 2

 

Listen & Play Along

Bebop Scale Lick 3

 

Listen & Play Along

Bebop Scale Lick 4

 

Listen & Play Along

Bebop Scale Lick 5

 

The Minor Bebop Scale (aka Bebop Dorian Scale)

The minor bebop scale is a Dorian Scale with a descending chromatic note between the root and the b7.

Minor Bebop Scale = Dorian Scale + 7

Here is the formula for the minor bebop scale and a comparison with the Dorian mode:

 

D Dorian Scale (reversed)DCBAGFE
1b7654b32
D Minor Bebop Scale (reversed)DC#CBAGFE
17b7654b32

 

This minor bebop scale is directly related to the Dorian Scale, and therefore you can use it to solo over any m7 chord in a jazz standard, including Im7 chords and iim7 chords.

When first working on this scale in your studies, try putting on a static m7 chord vamp and soloing over that chord with the minor bebop scale. From there, try soloing over tunes such as So What, Milestones, and Maiden Voyage in order to take this scale to a full tune in your solos.

The minor bebop scale works best descending, though with practice you can apply it to your lines both ascending and descending through the scale.

 

There is a second form of the minor bebop scale, which features a chromatic note (F#) between the b3 and 4. This scale is actually a mode of the dominant bebop scale and has all the same notes.For example: D minor bebop (second form) = G dominant bebop.

 
 

Minor Bebop Scale Fingerings

Here is the D minor bebop scale on the fretboard for you to work in 12 keys as you take this scale from the theoretical to the practical.

There are two fingerings provided, one with the root on the 6th string and one with the root on the 5th string.

 

Listen & Play Along

D minor bebop scale diagram

 

Listen & Play Along

D minor bebop scale diagram 2

 

Minor Bebop Scale Lines and Phrases

To help you take the minor bebop scale from the technical side of your practicing to the improvisational side of your routine, here are 5 minor bebop scale licks that you can use to solo with this scale over a number of musical situations.

Try working these minor bebop scale licks in 12 keys around the fretboard, at various tempos, as well as apply them to any chord progressions or jazz standards that you are working on as you integrate these phrases into your jazz guitar vocabulary.

 

Listen & Play Along

Minor Bebop Scale Lick 1

 

Listen & Play Along

Minor Bebop Scale Lick 2

 

Listen & Play Along

Minor Bebop Scale Lick 3

 

Listen & Play Along

Minor Bebop Scale Lick 4

 

Listen & Play Along

Minor Bebop Scale Lick 5

 

The Major Bebop Scale

Though not as commonly used as its minor and dominant cousins, the major bebop scale can be used to add a bebop sound to your major family soloing lines and phrases.

Adding the major bebop scale to your repertoire will allow you to bring a sense of tension and release to your maj7, maj9, and maj6 soloing phrases.

The major bebop scale is a major scale with a descending chromatic note between the 6th and the 5th.

Major Bebop Scale = Major Scale + b6

Here is the formula of the major bebop scale and a comparison with the major scale:

 

C Major Scale (reversed)CBAGFED
1765432
C Major Bebop Scale (reversed)CBAAbGFED
176b65432

 

This major bebop scale is directly related to the Major Scale. Because of this, you can use the major bebop scale to solo over any maj7 chord in your jazz guitar solos.

The major bebop scale works best descending, though with practice you can apply it to your lines both ascending and descending through the scale.

 

Major Bebop Scale Fingerings

Here are two fingerings for the C major bebop scale that you can use to get this important sound onto your fretboard.

After you have worked out one or both of these major bebop scales, try putting on a maj7 backing track in any key and use either of these fingerings to solo over the backing track.

 

Listen & Play Along

C major bebop scale fingering 1

 

Listen & Play Along

C major bebop scale fingering 2

 

These two positions are will get you started with the major bebop scale, but it is important to take them further in your practice routine.

To do this, take any major scale fingering you already know, add the b6 passing tone to those scales, and voila, you’ve created new major bebop scale fingerings to use in your soloing ideas and phrases.

 

Major Bebop Scale Lines and Phrases

To help you take the major bebop scale from the technical side of your woodshedding to the improvisational side, here are 5 major bebop scale licks that you can learn in 12 keys, and add to your maj7 soloing ideas and phrases in the practice room.

Try working these major bebop scale licks through different tempos, as well as apply them to any chord progressions or jazz standards that you are working on in order to fully integrate these major bebop lines into your vocabulary.

 

Listen & Play Along

Major Bebop Scale Lick 1

 

Listen & Play Along

Major Bebop Scale Lick 2

 

Listen & Play Along

Major Bebop Scale Lick 3

 

Listen & Play Along

Major Bebop Scale Lick 4

 

Listen & Play Along

Major Bebop Scale Lick 5

 

The Bebop Lydian Dominant Scale

The bebop Lydian scale is a variation of the more common dominant bebop scale. It is formed by adding a chromatic passing note between the 1 and b7 of the Lydian dominant scale (one of the melodic minor modes).

Bebop Lydian Dominant Scale = Lydian Dominant Scale + 7

The bebop Lydian scale can be used on dominant chords with a #11, such as the dominant chords of a tritone substitution.

For example: a normal V-I in C major is G7-Cmaj7. By doing a tritone substitution, we exchange the G7 for a Db7. That Db7 has a #11 and is a good place to play the Lydian bebop scale.

 

Bebop Lydian Dominant Scale Fingerings

Here are the 2 most common fingerings for the Db bebop Lydian dominant scale:

 

Bebop Lydian dominant scale fingering

 

Bebop Lydian dominant scale fingering 2

 

 

Band in a Box 2018

  • Franek says:

    Hi Matt and Dirk

    Unfortunately you point of view leads to losing the main goal of jazz phrasing – controlling the tension over the harmony.
    Why?
    Generally, because you don’t see the harmonic role and harmonic groups within bebop scales. This goes especially in case of major and minor bebop scale. You divided the scale’s content as belonging to three groups:

    You say that: “The red notes represent the root or 1 of the guitar scale. The blue notes are the chromatic passing tones that are so characteristic for the bebop scale. The black notes are the other scale tones.”

    Your description is neither true not useful because there is big difference between harmonic function of 3rd and 4th tone (in major and minor bebop scale as well). The same goes regarding 6th and 7th note of these scales. Why you marked them as belonging to the same group? They are both definitely neither not “chromatic passing tones” nor “characteristic” for bebop scale in the same way. the 3rd and 7th are in fact harmonically “characteristic” while the 4th isn’t.
    While phrasing musician stresses harmonically characteristic tones on beat. Using the 4th note same way as 4rd or 7th leads to treating bebop scale in wrong way.
    Notice that the harmonization of bebop scales provided by Barry Harris showed important harmonic function of each note belonging to the bebop scale and let us divide notes for two groups:
    Let’s have a look at the C major bebop scale: C,D,E,F,G,G#,A,B,C
    1) 1st group (let’s say “tonic”) forms C6 chord (C,E,G,A)
    2) 2nd group (let’s say “dominant”) forms 4 equivalent diminished chords: D,F,G#,B

    Using regular harmonization over octatonic bebop scale you can harmonize each not from “tonic” group. As a result you obtain list of equivalent transformation of the same C6 chord.

    Moreover, when you play resulting harmony on each step of the bebop scale you obtain following chain: T-D-T-D-T-D…. This example shows that the harmonic function of F (which is 4th) step of C major bebop scale is very different – this step belongs to dominant group as an important element of diminished arpeggio while E (the 3rd step) belongs to “tonic” arpeggio.

  • jay says:

    I’m incredibly confused by this – (My specific question about the quoted section is in parentheses):

    Here is how the bebop scale is usually applied:

    On dominant chords: the bebop scale is used to play over dominant chords, such as the 5 in a 2-5-1 progression or the dominant 7 chords in a jazz blues progression. (So if the 5 is, say, an A then I play the A bebop scale, but just over that chord?)
    On minor chords: the bebop scale can also be used to play over minor chords. The G Bebop Scale, for example, can be played over Dm7, giving us a great tool to play over ii V I progressions. (Why can the G bebop scale be played over Dm7? Is the implication here that I can I play the G bebop scale over that whole progression – I’m assuming it was Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 – if so, why…or, how do I figure out which bebop scale to play over other keys)
    On half-diminished chords: the bebop scale can also be played over half-diminished chords. The G bebop scale, for example, can be played over a Bm7b5 chord, making it a great tool to play over minor ii V I progressions. (see above. Why the G bebop scale over this Bm7b5 chord?)

    So sorry for all the questions. I’ve bought a few of your books and as much as I’ve enjoyed them, there are always passages like these that fly way over my head.

  • Felix says:

    Exc lessons!
    I am learning a lot 💯

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