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
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
Here are some scales of keys together with possible main chords
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.
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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