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LJS 61: How to Use Scales In Your Jazz Solos the Right Way

Welcome to episode 61 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about how to use scales in your jazz solos the right way. You’ll learn what scales are good and bad for, how to think about scales as pitch collections, and examples of how to convert them into actual melodies. Listen in!

Listen to episode 61

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In this episode

What scales are bad for:

  • Learning jazz language.
  • Creating melodies.
  • Improving your ear.

What scales are good for:

  • Improving technique.
  • Learning your instrument.
  • Conceptualizing musical ideas.

Think about scales as pitch collections.

  • Imagine pitch collections as a “map” of a chord.

Cmaj7 lick using the major scale:

Dmin7 lick using the Dorian mode:

C7 lick using the Mixolydian mode:

Bmin7(b5) lick using the Locrian mode:

A minor pentatonic over a Bmaj7(#11):

Listen to episode 60: How to Develop Relative Pitch (feat Aimee Nolte)

Mentioned in the show

Zero to Improv eBook

Our flagship eBook, Zero to Improv, is a book that teaches you how to become a great jazz improviser from the ground up. No stone is left un-turned. This isn’t your ordinary music book. Zero to Improv calls you to action! Packed full of improv and jazz theory lessons, you’ll start from the beginning and build up all of the skills and knowledge you need. Audio examples are included for all music notation.

Versions are available for C, Bb, Eb and Bass Clef instruments. Designed for all skill levels.

Have anything to add to today’s show? Leave us a comment below.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. I think when most musicians ask the question, ” What scale could i use over ___ chord , they’re basically asking what set of notes, or, as you eloquently put it, what collection of pitches works within this chord, or progression. Well, at least that’s what is in my mind when I’m approaching it.
    Thank you so much for all of this , I love you podcasts, and videos

  2. Reflecting on this podcast I think that as long as you are hitting the chord tones (including the extensions noted or implied in the chord), then what other notes you choose to play define the scale you are using. Building the pitch collections to use needs to include the chord tones, but the rest is interpretation. This way, I can concentrate less on what "scale" I am using. I do have to hit the chord tones, which are important for the harmony, and use my ear to reflect how "inside" or "outside" I want it to sound..

    For example, if you have a CMaj7 chord, the chord tones are C, E, G, B.. In your line you could chose to play an F (implying C ionian), or an F# (implying C lydian, or G ionian, or D mixolydian). Or even an Em bebop (with Db F# and Eb, but the C, E, G and B are all maintained).

    The "non-chord tones" you choose are really dependant on how you want it to sound, and perhaps how far outside the key centre you really want to go. As long as the chord tones are included, the rest are just "colour".

    What do you think? Is this too far outside of what is possible?

  3. I learned (and continue to learn) using Aebersold's material and he really pushed scales, so I think you're being a little disingenuous with this podcast. Of course you have to move beyond scales eventually; they're just a starting point, and if people are asking you what scales to play you shouldn't cringe, but rather realize that those particular players haven't moved beyond that phase of the long hard road of learning to improvise conceptually.


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