Jazz Major Scales : Dr. Bob Lawrence

discover.learn.play jazz major scales!

Jazz Major Scales

Introduction : Jazz Major Scales

When seeking to learn how to play jazz and improvise, the first piece advice every student receives is, “you’ve got to know your scales” (this blog explores the Jazz Major Scales). Upon receiving this information, the student experiences much joy and exhilaration because it sounds like some really important, solid, and practical advice. Sadly, just a few moments later, they come crashing back to reality with overwhelming feelings of confusion (and in some cases depression) because a barrage of questions flood their minds. How many scales are there? Which scales should I practice? Are all the scales necessary for playing jazz? Is there a correct way to practice scales? Where and when do I use scales after I learn them? Will the scales really help me improvise? How realistic is it for me, really, to learn all of the scales necessary for playing jazz? The list of questions go on and on and quite often (unfortunately) when returning to the individual who initially suggested scale practice with hope of receiving clarification and additional guidance, only vague music theory rhetoric is offered and tossed around. Welcome to the search for the ever elusive “correct” method of studying jazz and jazz improvisation!

Discover : Jazz Major Scales

It is so important to realize that conceptual understanding drives physical development. In other words, you must have a clear and concise understanding/perspective of the musical concept you are wanting to master before beginning any efforts of physically playing it! So, upon discovering a new musical concept (ex. jazz major scales) you must immediately begin seeking necessary answers to some fundamental and crucial questions.

  • How many jazz major scales are there?
  • How are the jazz major scales constructed?
  • Are jazz major scales different from regular major scales?
  • How should I practice the jazz major scales?

Let’s take the time in this blog post to answer each of these questions and solidify our understanding of jazz major scales – in doing so we’ll establish a solid framework for successfully learning them.

How many jazz major scales are there? The answer is 12. How did we arrive at this answer? Simple, there are 12 notes in music (A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E. F, Gb, G, Ab) and we can construct a jazz major scale from each of the notes using a combination of whole steps and half steps. Below are the 12 jazz major scales:

  • A B C# D E F# G#
  • Bb C D Eb F G A
  • B C# D# E F# G# A#
  • C D E F G A B
  • Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
  • D E F# G A B C#
  • Eb F G Ab Bb C D
  • E F# G# A B C# D#
  • F G A Bb C D E
  • Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F
  • G A B C D E F#
  • Ab Bb C Db Eb F G

At this point you may be asking how are these “jazz major scales” any different from the regular major scales used in music? The difference is not found in how they are constructed but rather in how we actually learn and play them which will be explored below.

So, we now know a specific number (12) of jazz major scales exists plus we know how they are constructed. This is a huge step – moving a concept from an abstract label to factual data allows us to wrap our minds (and hands) around the concept thus making it possible to establish a game plan for learning and playing the skill.

Learn : Jazz Major Scales

Once you have a conceptual handle on the musical concept you are wanting to master (i.e. jazz major scales) then you can begin to learn the skill. Your best “learning” will always been done away from your instrument. Yes, that is correct – away from your instrument! I like to refer to this learning as “paper practice”. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil – find a comfy chair and begin sketching out/drawing the data. This type of practicing forces you to “think” through the concept. You should be able to spell each scale with ease. Likewise, you should be able to notate the whole step and half step relationships within each scale. You should be able to identify the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th of each scale. This kind of understanding not only paves the way for your physical mastery of the scale, it sets the stage for the formation of proper ear training.

Play : Jazz Major Scales

Once you have completed the amount of paper practice necessary for you to easily spell each of the jazz major scales and identify interval relationships (3rd, 5th, 7th, etc.) then you are ready to play! Here is where jazz musicians approach the major scales differently than classical musicians. You never want to simply play a major scale from root to root (C to C, A to A, F to F, etc.) in other words, from “Do” to “Do” (as in Do, Re, Mi, etc.). We want our launch point (the root) and our destination point (5th, 7th, 9th, etc.) to always be different. Let’s use the C major scale to illustrate this point:

  • C D E F G (Root to 5th)
  • C D E F G A B (Root to 7th)
  • C D E F G A B C D (Root to 9th)
  • C D E F G A B C D E F (Root to 11th)
  • C D E F G A B C E D E F G A (Root to 13th)

Each example above is a C major scale! When practicing jazz major scales in this manner you have expanded the scale beyond a technique exercise – you have actually established an invaluable responsibility for your ears. Do you hear what the 5th sounds like? How about the sound of the 7th? Do you hear the beauty of the 9th?

For more insight regarding the jazz major scales and especially how to successfully play them over chords and progressions, join discover, learn, play (dlp)!

Final Thoughts : Jazz Major Scales

If you wish to discover, learn, and play jazz major scales (and much more) you should consider becoming a dlp (discover.learn.play) member. You’ll have access to professional jazz instruction and guidance from a professional jazz music educator (me!). Your dlp membership gives you lifetime access to all of my instructional jazz videos (which you can access and study as often as you wish – again, for life!). Additionally, your own private Mavenlink support portal is established, hosted, and maintained allowing you to interact with me as often as needed each and every week. Likewise, you’ll receive tuition discounts if you ever choose to have private online jazz lessons with me through The Dallas School of Music.

I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have regarding discover.learn.play so feel free to Email me drlawrence@dlpjazz.com or call me 972-380-8050 Ext. 211. Please take a moment and listen to a few of my recordings or follow me at SoundCloud to get a feel for how I play and approach this wonderful art form we call jazz.

I look forward to helping you discover, learn, and play jazz!

Best Wishes,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
The Dallas School of Music

Jazz Major Scales

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