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Beyond Blues: How to Use the Super Locrian Scale

Beyond Blues: How to Use the Super Locrian Scale

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview:
• Understand how to create the Super Locrian scale.
• Develop “outside” sounds from augmented triads.
• Create interesting lines using alterations.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson’s notation.

In my previous lesson, we explored the concept of generating musical tension and resolution by playing the Super Locrian (or altered scale) over altered dominant 7 chords. Now, let’s continue working with this tonality and investigate some effective ways to reach beyond the typical ascending-and-descending ideas you hear guitarists play when they’re not 100-percent comfortable with a scale.

At this point, some of you may run away with cries of “This is a bit beyond blues for my liking!” While I understand your concerns, I urge you to push on for three reasons: First, this is about as “beyond” as I’m going to take you (unless you really want to get complicated). Second, these ideas can be applied to any scale, from the major scale to the double-harmonic super-Indian pugglebob scale (if such a scale existed). Third, sticking to this tonality for one more lesson will drill it into your ears a little more.

What we’re going for here is a sense of melody, shape, or contour in our lines. Something a little more exciting than those predictable 1st-position blues scale licks—not that we want to lose those, of course. But imagine how great it will sound if you put one of these altered-scale licks in the middle of your standard blues-rock phrases.

The ideas we’re about to look at here aren’t anything new. In fact, if you’re serious about your study, I encourage you to check out the Frank Gambale Technique books, and my favorite, Garrison Fewell’s Jazz Improvisation for Guitar—A Harmonic Approach. Not to mention some serious listening to players who use these ideas in a blues context, and for that, there’s little better than Larry Carlton’s "The B.P. Blues" from his Last Nite album.

To recap what we covered previously, the Super Locrian scale consists of a dominant 7 arpeggio, along with the four alterations (b5, #5, b9, #9). So it really is the height of dissonance and when resolved properly, it sounds incredible. It’s also the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale, so B Super Locrian is the 7th mode of the C melodic minor scale. For this reason we’ll be playing over a B7alt chord in this lesson, but to keep the accidentals at a minimum, I’ll write everything as though it’s C melodic minor. It also means that if you know your melodic minor scale, then shifting up a fret and playing that scale will give you the desired effect. Let’s start by taking a look at the scale fingerings shown below.

For our first exercise, we’ll play this scale using diatonic thirds. In other words, play the first note, then a note a third higher, play the second note, then a note a third higher, and so forth. Fig. 1 illustrates the process. This is really the most basic form of sequence, but right off the bat it sounds a little more interesting than just running up and down the scale. Again, serious students may want to work out how to play the scale in diatonic fourths, fifths, sixths, and sevenths. It’s a great way to increase your fretboard knowledge and technique.

Our second exercise, Fig. 2, is a little bit more harmonically sophisticated because we’ll be playing a diatonic triad off of each note in the scale. I know that sounds complicated, but if we start on B and skip a note we get D, then skip another note and get F—that’s our first triad (B diminished). We can then repeat this process going up the scale.

In Fig. 3 I’ve laid these triads out on the fretboard. I recommend you play each triad over the backing track and really listen to the sounds they produce. As an example, the C minor triad consists of a C, Eb, and G, (root, b3, 5). But over a B bass note, the C is no longer the root, it’s a b9; Eb is now the 3 and G is the #5. This is important because it tells us that playing a C minor triad over a B7 sound will imply a B7#5b9.

Next, in Fig. 4, we take the Eb+ (Eb augmented triad) and play it against the backing track, which gives us a B7#5 sound. This is such an easy sound to conjure up, and because the triad is symmetrical in construction (all major thirds), each note can be seen as the root. So an augmented triad based on the root, 3, or #5 will create this great tension. Listen closely to the example I recorded and try to associate the sound with a feeling, so you can pull it out whenever you need it.