Learn to improvise. 2004-2005. Lesson 07: scales.

The distances between the notes of the scale of a major key are respectively 2212221 key steps.
Click to hear: c d e f g a b.
There are many different scales, usually expressed in these distances. E.g., the Spanish gipsy scale is 1312122.
Click to hear: a b-flat c# d e f g.

For improvisation it is more convenient to think in three main chords of a key than in the distances of the notes of a scale. E.g. the Spanish gipsy scale of A may be considered to be build from the chords A, Dm and Gm. Chord A may be considered as the root, Dm as the subdominant and Gm as the dominant. The notes of this scale happen to be the same as of the (harmonic) key Dm, but the root is different (a in stead of d).
Click to hear: chords A, Dm and Gm with the Spanish gipsy scale.

The scale of a church mode may be found by plying a scale like the common one of C on the white keys of the piano, but any note may be used as the starting one. This way there are 7 church modes: abcdefg, bcdefga, cdefgab, etc.
Click to hear them.
They are called respectively: Aeolian, Locrian, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian en Mixolydian.

A trick to learn how to play with these modes is to play firstly a piece in C with the three main chords in the following position: C=c+e+g, F=c+f+a, G=b+d+g. This way they can be changed by a fixed procedure. The next step is to shift the hands one key to the right and repeat exactly the same motions. What you will hear sounds Dorian as now the root chord is Dm, the subdominant chord G and the dominant chord Am.
Click to hear the same hand motion firstly Ionian (common C) and afterwards Dorian.

Dorian music may be heard in folksongs of Hungary. Mixolydian music reminds of the Middle Ages.
Click to hear an example with chords G, C and Dm.

You have to specialize before you will be able to improvise in a certain mode, as the feeling of each note depends on it. E.g. in the Ionian mode C (common key of C) the note a-flat has a dramatic atmosphere, but in another mode the effect of a-flat has to be reconsidered.

Here are some scales of keys together with possible main chords between brackets:
2122122 Aeolian (Am + Dm + Em),
2122212 Dorian (Dm + G + Am),
2212212 Mixolydian (G + C + Dm),
2131131 Hungarian gipsy (Am + E + F7),
1312131 Persian gipsy (E + Am + F7) chords like Hungarian but with a different root,
1312122 Spanish gipsy (A + Dm + Gm) chords like harmonic Dm with a different root.

Some more heptatonic (consisting of 7 notes) scales: 3121212 Hungarian, 1312131 Byzantine, 2122122 Ethiopian, 2212122 Hindustanian, 1212222 Altered, 2122131 Mohammedan, 1222131 Neopolitan, 1222212 Javanian, 1311222 Oriental, 1311231 Persian, 1222122 Raga Hanumat Todi, 2211222 Arabian.

Pentatonic (5 notes) scales: 42141 Chinese, 14214 Japanese.

Whole note scale (6 notes): 222222.

Octotonic scales (8 notes): 12121212, 21212121 diminished scales.

Scales with more than 8 notes: Chromatic, Algerian, and some Arabian and Japanese scales.
HOMEWORK: Experiment with one or more of the following keys: Aeolian, Dorian, Mixolydian and the three gipsy keys. If you discover useful effects, you may use them in the future in your improvisations.
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