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Applying the Altered Scale

Elaborating on the altered scale shapes with licks built from last month''s ideas.

In my last column, I talked about the altered scale and provided some shapes in order to help emphasize and exaggerate the altered sound. This time around, we’re going to elaborate on those ideas by playing licks built from some of those previous shapes.

As you may recall, C altered is directly related to Db melodic minor—it contains the exact same notes as Db melodic minor. Therefore all of these examples can be used not only in the context of C altered, but also in the context of any mode related to, and including, Db melodic minor.

For an altered sound, simply play these licks over any kind of altered C7 chord. As I mentioned last time, you may want to start by playing over a C7#5 chord, since the chord itself is altered and will initially sound very complimentary.

Another way to use this scale effectively is in a typical ii–V–I chord progression, which, in this case, would be in the key of F. A typical version of this progression would be Gm9 (ii) to C7#5 (V) to Fmaj7 (I). Remember, the idea is to build tension over the dominant 7th chord and release it over the I chord. Without resolution, the tension just sounds unfocused and not as melodic as it could be.

For a Lydian dominant sound, try playing these licks over an F#7 chord. In doing so, you will effectively be playing the notes of the F# Lydian dominant scale (F#–G#–A#–B#– C#–D#–E). When applying the licks in this manner, I personally get the best results by going back and forth between Mixolydian and Lydian dominant. For a melodic minor sound, simply play these licks over a Db minor chord.

If you’re unfamiliar with the sound of altered scales and chords, these concepts will help you get oriented. There is much, much more to this subject, but this is a good place to start getting acquainted with the sound of altered licks. We’ll see you next time.

Greg Howe
Greg Howe has enjoyed a successful recording career since bursting onto the scene in 1988, and his talents have been sought after by some of the biggest names in the music entertainment industry, such as Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias.