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August Issue
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Beyond Blues: Altered-Scale Secrets

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Beyond Blues: Altered-Scale Secrets

If we include the four alterations when playing a dominant 7 chord, we’d get: root–b9–#9–3–b5–#5–b7. Or (in A) A–Bb–C–C#–Eb–F–G which actually contains all of the notes of a Bb melodic minor scale. So if you want to cheat, we have a few options:

  • Learn the A altered (also known as the Super Locrian) scale (recommended).
  • Play a melodic minor scale a half-step higher than the root of our chord.
  • Play the Lydian dominant scale based on the b5 of the chord.
  • Play a dominant 7 arpeggio a b5 higher than the root, which gives you a 7b5b9 sound.

Now to capitalize on the skills we covered last month [“12 Keys, 5 Shapes, and the Blues”], I’m going to give you five licks, one starting in each position of the CAGED system. Each one will resolve to the closest chord shape for the IV chord. If you missed last month’s lesson, you’re really going to want to put some time into that because what you’ll find is that when you learn to resolve smoothly, you can actually play any old nonsense on this tension and resolution idea. It doesn’t work the other way round though—the best altered lick in the world is a waste of notes if you don’t properly resolve the tension when the chord changes.

Fig. 1 starts in the first position of the CAGED system over A7 and combines the Mixolydian (A–B–C#–D–E–F#–G) and blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G) before playing an A Super Locrian (A–Bb–C–C#–Eb–F–G) lick resolving to a D7 sound.

Fig. 2 begins with an A minor pentatonic (A–C–D–E–G) sound over the A7 chord before resolving to a D7 sound, via a sneaky little Super Locrian run.

We take advantage of the B.B King “blues box” in Fig. 3. It fits very nicely in the third CAGED position. We’re creating a motif using the root and 6, and then bending to the 3 before playing a nice country-flavored lick (yes, that’s one we’ve played in a previous lesson) and then finally moving into an arpeggio idea outlining an Eb7. Remember that playing a dominant 7 arpeggio from the b5 will give us an A7b5b9 sound. This phrase resolves to the first position of CAGED which is probably the reason I like third position so much—the resolution is very easy to visualize and make musical statements with.

Beginning in the fourth position of CAGED, we blend major and minor sounds in Fig. 4. We then use a Super Locrian idea that’s focused around an augmented triad (Db–F–A) that’s found in the Super Locrian scale.

Our last lick (Fig. 5) is a bluesy bop number starting in the fifth position of CAGED with a simple scalar idea resolving to the a D7 arpeggio.

Finally, check out the backing track in Fig. 6. It covers the first four measures of a blues in A and will give you plenty of room to explore all the sounds we discussed in this lesson.

Obviously I’ve only glanced over Super Locrian fingerings because the goals right now are to drill down into the sound, understand the purpose of the Super Locrian scale, and harness it to the chord changes we learned last month. When I catch up with you next time, I’ll show you all the fingerings for the Super Locrian scale, some tricks to get it in your playing, and some great exercises you can use to practice it. See you then!


Levi Clay
Levi Clay is a London-based guitar player, teacher, and transcriber. His unique approach to learning keeps him in constant demand from students the world over, and his expertise as a transcriber has introduced his work to a whole new audience. For more information, check out leviclay.com.

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