25. How to use any scale
Today I'd like to share with you a couple of tips and technics on how to use any scale. Because there are a lot of scales I added at the end of my music theory cheat sheet, so I figured it would be easier to use with some tips on how to work with a scale you never worked with before.
To follow this, it's better if you know how to built major and minor chords as I won't really explain that in depth here. But I already made a video about triads that covers all that.
So let's get started.
The best way to start with any new scale, is to first figure out the chords we can use with it. As an example I will take the double harmonic major scale, which is also called byzantine scale.
In C, the notes of the scale are:
C - Db - E - F - G - Ab and B
It's a very interesting scale with a lot a semi-tone intervals and a couple of 1,5 tones steps. It sounds very cool.
So to know which chords we can play with this scale, we'll simply see what triads we can build with its notes.
So we start with the first one, and from there we'll follow the notes of the scale and keep one every 2 for our chord. This will give us the first chord of the scale.
Then we'll do the same starting with each note.
With exotic scales you will sometimes have several options for one chord, when the chord can be either major or minor for example. And sometimes you will have weird intervals that can make it hard to identify the chord. Or they won't make a proper chord at all, so you may not use them.
I took the byzantine scale because it has an example of each, so let's see how it goes.
So we start from C, then we take one note every 2. That makes C - E - G, which makes a C major chord. Cool, we write that down, and move to the next.
From Db, one note every 2, that makes Db - F - Ab, which is a Db major chord.
But then, see with the options we have, we could make a Db minor chord if we take the Db, the E (which is like a Fb), and the Ab. D - F - A, all flat, that's a Db minor chord.
From E, we have E - G - B, which is a E minor chord. So far so good.
But here again, we could make this chord major. Because we have a Ab in the scale, which is like a G#. So E - G# - B, that would be a E major chord
From F, we have F - Ab and C, which is a F minor chord.
From G, we have G - B and Db, this is a weird one as we have a major 3rd with a diminished fifth.
Well if we can add a minor 7th, that could make a 7b5 chord. And sure enough, this minor 7th would be a F, which is in the scale.
So we can add G7b5 to our list of chords.
Which works well in this particular case, because that's a chord that is mostly used on a Vth degree, and we find it here is our Vth degree. All good.
Then from Ab, we have Ab - C - E, which make a Ab augmented chord.
And from B, we have B - Db - F, which is a major second with a diminished fifth. Which doesn't really make a chord, it looks more like just the upper part of the 7b5 chord we saw earlier. So we won't use it.
If you have a hard time identifying a chord, it's okay to leave it aside. You may not use them all anyways, all you need is chords that work and that inspire you.
So for this scale, the chords we have are these : C major, Db major, Db minor, E minor, E major, F minor, G7b5 and Ab augmented.
Now, looking back at it, I realize I didn't consider some diminished or augmented chords we could also make with this scale.
In C, we could make a C augmented chord with the notes C - E - Ab, which is like C - E - G#.
In Db, we could make a Db diminished chord with the notes Db - E - G. Which is like Db - Fb - G.
In E we could make a E augmented chord with the notes E - Ab - C, which is like E - G# - B#.
And in F we could make a F diminished chord with the notes F - Ab - B. Which is like F - Ab - Cb.
So you can start combining them to make a chord progression, and improvise on it with the scale to find some good melodies.
In the context of a solo, you can hold one chord and improvise with the whole scale on top of it. It works particularly well with the first chord of the scale, the degree I, because that's the most stable with the tonality you're using.
But holding a chord for a while can also allow you to switch to another scale while remaining on the same chord.
The principle is that if you can make the chord with the notes of the new scale you want to use, then they are compatible.
So you can mix and match all that. Begin with one scale with its chord progression, then hold a chord for a while to add tension, then you can change the scale you play on top of it, and then you're free to go back to the first scale or to stick with new one, and use its own new set of chords with it.