6 Jazz Guitar Scales Every Advanced Guitarist Must Know

Do you want to know how to play jazz guitar scales? This ultimate guide will show you everything you need to know!

jazz guitar scales

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • 5 jazz guitar scales which every advanced guitarist needs to know.
  • 2 quick and easy tips that will make you sound amazing!
  • 4 super easy jazz licks that will turn you into a virtuoso.
  • A top secret tip which will help you learn jazz guitar scales FAST.

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What are jazz guitar scales?

A scale is a group of musical notes which work well together.

Jazz guitar scales are musical scales which can be used specifically over jazz music.

A core element of jazz music is, improvisation. If you want to learn how to improvise in jazz, you must learn jazz guitar scales.

Want to learn how to improvise? Go here: How To Play Lead Guitar

Jazz guitar scales fall into two categories: major and minor.

Let’s take a look at some.

jazz guitar scales

Major Jazz Guitar Scales

There are hundreds of jazz guitar scales out there. However, it’s not essential to know every single one.

We’re going to learn two of the most popular major jazz guitar scales.

Those are the:

  • The Major Scale. (Ionian Mode.)
  • The Lydian Mode.

All of these jazz guitar scales can be used over a major chord progression or a major chord.

To learn more about major chord progressions and musical keys, check out these articles:

For the purpose of today’s lesson. We’re going to learn ALL of our jazz guitar scales in the key of C.

Major Jazz Guitar Scales – The Major Scale

The major scale is one of the most popular jazz guitar scales.

Some musicians often refer to this as  ‘The Ionian Mode’.

Great jazz musicians such as George Benson and Wes Montgomery are known for using this awesome jazz guitar scale.

It’s a great starting point for anyone who is a beginner jazz guitarist.

Here’s the tab:

jazz guitar scales

It should sound like this:

The major scale is made up of these intervals:

  • Root.
  • Major Second.
  • Major Third.
  • Perfect Fourth.
  • Perfect Fifth.
  • Major Sixth.
  • Major Seventh.

Major Jazz Guitar Scales – The Lydian Scale

The lydian scale shares a lot of the same notes as the major scale.

Only one note is different. That note is the 4th degree of the scale.

The major scale uses a perfect fourth. Where as the lydian scale, sharpens the 4th note of the scale.

This gives the scale more of an eastern vibe, but still sounds interesting and colourful over any major key or chord progression.

Here’s the notation and tab:

Here’s what it sounds like:

The lydian scale is made up of the following intervals:

  • Root.
  • Major Second.
  • Major Third.
  • Sharpened Fourth.
  • Perfect Fifth.
  • Major Sixth.
  • Major Seventh.

Dominant Jazz Guitar Scales – The Mixolydian Scale

One of the most common chord used in jazz music is a ‘7’ chord. This chord is usually used in a jazz blues or in funk music.

If you want to play blues music, you should use this scale.

You could also use it over any major chord progression to add interest to your jazz guitar solos.

Here’s the tab and notation:

Here’s what it sounds like:

The mixolydian scale uses a lot of the same notes as the major scale. However, one note is different. That note is the 7th.

To play the mixolydian scale, you must flatten the 7th degree of the major scale.

Here are the intervals for the mixolydian scale:

  • Root.
  • Major Second.
  • Major Third.
  • Perfect Fourth.
  • Perfect Fifth.
  • Major Sixth.
  • Flattened Seventh.

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Minor Jazz Guitar Scales

Now we’ve taken a look at major jazz guitar scales. The next type of scales you must learn are minor jazz guitar scales.

These scales can be used over any minor chord progression, or minor chord.

For the purpose of today’s example, we’re going to learn these jazz guitar scales in the key of C.

Minor Jazz Guitar Scales – The Dorian Scale

This jazz guitar scale is popular amongst latin and jazz guitarists. If you want to hear how this scale sounds in a musical context, listen to Carlos Santana.

This scale crops up in his guitar solos ALL the time.

Often, minor chord progression can sound a little sad. If you want to add a little brightness to your minor solos, try using this scale.

Here’s the tab and notation:

Here’s what it sounds like:

The dorian scale consists of the following intervals:

  • Root.
  • Major Second.
  • Minor Third.
  • Perfect Fourth.
  • Perfect Fifth.
  • Major Sixth.
  • Minor Seventh.

Minor Jazz Guitar Scales – The Natural Minor Scale

The natural minor scale also known as the ‘Aeolian Mode’ is one of the most popular minor jazz guitar scales.

This scale is a lot darker sounding compared to the dorian scale.

If you want to achieve mysterious sounds in your jazz guitar solos, you should use this scale.

Here’s the tab and notation:

Here’s what it sounds like:

The natural minor scale is made up of the following intervals:

  • Root.
  • Major Second.
  • Minor Third.
  • Perfect Fourth.
  • Perfect Fifth.
  • Minor Sixth.
  • Minor Seventh.

Minor Jazz Guitar Scales – The Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale is must-know for any jazz guitarist, there are some interesting sounds hidden in this scale!

This scale has a spanish flavour. So, if you want to add some extra spice to your guitar solos, use this scale.

Here’s the tab and notation:

The intervals for the harmonic minor scale are:

  • Root.
  • Major Second.
  • Minor Third.
  • Perfect Fourth.
  • Perfect Fifth.
  • Minor Sixth.
  • Major Seventh.

Here’s what it sounds like:

Notice how the seventh note of this scale has changed, instead of a flattened 7th. Now we have a major 7th. This is what gives the scale it’s latin flavour.

Want to buy a jazz guitar? Check out this article from Dawsons to find the best jazz guitar: Five Best Jazz Guitars |Dawsons Music

How do I play jazz guitar scales in other keys?

To become an amazing guitarist it’s essential to learn jazz guitar scales in all 12 keys.

To change the key of the scale, you must start the scale on a different fret.

Try this; play a C major scale starting on the 8th fret of the low E string. (6th string.)

Now, move that scale shape to the 10th fret. This now becomes the ‘D major scale’.

Why Does This Work?

When you move your scale shape to a different fret, you are changing the root note of the scale.

The root note of the scale determines what key the scale is in.

All of the scales we have learned so far, start on the low E string. (6th string.)

Therefore, if we want to change the key of the scale, we must know what the root notes are on the low E string. (6th string.) Here they are:

When you move your scale to a different fret, the key of the scale changes.

For example, if you played a ‘dorian scale’ starting on the 2nd fret. It would become a ‘F# Dorian Scale’.

Bonus Challenge

If you fancy an added challenge, try this:

  • Play the major scale in every key.
  • Play the lydian scale in every key.
  • Play the mixolydian scale in every key.
  • Play the dorian scale in every key.
  • Play the aeolian scale in every key.
  • Play the harmonic minor scale in every key.

If you can master this, you will be well on your way to be becoming an amazing jazz guitarist.

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.


jazz guitar scales

Why should I learn jazz guitar scales?

The two main reasons you should learn jazz guitar scales is to:

  • Help with your improvisation.
  • Help with your guitar theory.

Jazz Improvisation

Jazz music is famous for having a history of fantastic improvisers. Jazz improvisation is impossible to do without any knowledge about jazz guitar scales.

To be able to improvise well, you must learn jazz guitar scales.

Jazz Theory

Learning jazz guitar scales helps your guitar theory.

Guitar theory can be difficult. However, most guitarists enjoy learning guitar scales. The more you learn about jazz guitar scales, the better your theory will be come.

Learning jazz guitar scales is guaranteed to make you a better guitarist.

jazz guitar scales

The secret to enhancing your jazz guitar scales

All of the jazz guitar scales you have learned so far sound great on their own. However, there’s one final touch we can do to help you become a flawless guitarist.

Here’s a quick and easy trick which will help you become a jazz master:

Add chromatic notes in between any two fret gaps within a scale.

Chromatic notes are notes which don’t belong in the scale.

Here’s what you’re going to do:

  • Every time there’s a two fret gap in your scale, add a chromatic note in between those two notes.

For example, the first two notes of a C major scale go from the:

  • 8th fret to the 10th fret on the low E string to the 10th fret.

To add a chromatic note to this pattern, all you have to do is add in the 9th fret.

Here’s a tab which shows the major scale with its chromatic additions:

jazz guitar scales

The Major Scale:

The Chromatic Major Scale:

You can do this easy jazz trick with EVERY scale. Here’s each of the jazz guitar scales you have learned so far with their chromatic revisions.

Jazz Guitar Scales – The Lydian Scale

lydian-scale-chromatic

The C Lydian Scale:

The Chromatic C Lydian Scale:

 

Jazz Guitar Scales – The Mixolydian Scale

chromatic-mixolydian-scale


The Mixolydian Scale:

The Chromatic Mixolydian Scale:

Jazz Guitar Scales – The Dorian Scale

jazz guitar scales

The Dorian Scale:

The Dorian Chromatic Scale:

 

Jazz Guitar Scales – The Natural Minor Scale

natural-minor-chromatic

The Natural Minor Scale:

The Natural Minor Chromatic Scale:

Jazz Guitar Scales – The Harmonic Minor Scale

chromatic-harmonic-minor

The Harmonic Minor Scale:

The Harmonic Minor Chromatic Scale:

When improvising with these scales, you don’t have to include EVERY chromatic note. Try and explore a few chromatic points within the scale.

Learning Jazz Guitar Licks

One of the best ways to sound like a jazz guitarist quickly, is to learn jazz guitar licks. Learning jazz guitar licks is one of the best ways to speed up your guitar progress.

Learning jazz guitar scales is like learning the words to a language. Words are important to know, but they don’t teach you how to speak a language.

Learning small phrases helps you understand how a language is constructed. Jazz is exactly the same; to sound like a jazz guitarist you must learn jazz guitar licks.

We’re going to show you 6 of our best jazz guitar licks. Hold tight, this is going to be awesome.

jazz guitar scales

1) The Major Scale Lick

This one’s a finger twister. Practice each note slowly.

This lick would work perfectly over anything in the key of C major.

To learn about the key of C major go here: Understanding the chords in the key of C

Here’s the tab:

major-scale-lick

Here’s what it sounds like:

Once you’re comfortable with playing this lick, try and use it in a musical situation.

2) The Lydian Lick

This lick is perfect if you want to add interest to your major chord progression. Use this lick to create tension within your improvisations.

Here’s the tab:

lydian-lick

Here’s how it sounds:

Once you’re happy with how this lick sounds, try and use it in a musical context. It’s important to use these ideas straight away after you’ve learned them.

3) The Mixolydian Lick

If you like soloing over a jazz blues, this lick is perfect for you. Use this quick fire lick over a C blues.

Here’s the tab:

mixolydian-lick

Here’s what it sounds like:

For more blues lessons, go here: Blues Guitar Lessons For Beginners : 4 Ways To Sound Awesome Quickly

4) The Dorian Lick

If you want to bright up your minor guitar solos, you should try and use this awesome guitar lick.

Here’s the tab:

dorian-lick

Here’s what it should sound like:

You can practice this lick over a C minor chord progression.

5) The Aeolian Lick

This lick is perfect to add mystery and darkness to your guitar solos. If you want to create tension and suspense, use this guitar lick.

Here’s the tab:

aeolian-lick-1

Here’s what it should sound like:

This lick would work great over a C minor vamp.

6) The Harmonic Minor Lick

This lick is FAST. If you can play this lick, you’re guaranteed to turn a few heads at the next jam session!

You can use this lick over anything in the key of C minor.

.Here’s the tab:

harmonic-minor-lick

Here’s what it should sound like:

Want to learn more about jazz guitar? Go here: Jazz Guitar: A 5-Step Programme For Rapid Jazz Skill

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

We made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. We hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

Join over 30,000 other guitar learners and subscribe to our guitar-tips-by-email service. (It's free.)

We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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