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Changing Scales W/non-Diatonic Chords

Carl Johnson (141) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 160
Pages: 1

In an earlier lesson, I discussed the chords common to every key. These are the 'diatonic' chords, at least I call them that. In this lesson, I'll show you a common chord progression which is fun to jam over, where one chord departs from the tonal center/key, and allows the use of another scale, which will have your friends drooling with envy about your lead playing. Departing from the key adds a cool sound, and knowing how to change your lead playing over that chord makes you sound like a guitar god. Here's the progression:


You may recognize the progression - it's used in many songs, such as "Hit the Road, Jack", and "Stray Cat Strut". I love to practice lead playing over this progression, because by altering the style and tempo of the groove, it opens up many possibilities for improvising interesting leads. Literally hours will pass as I jam endlessly over progressions such as this, and to me, it's an effortless way to advance my lead playing without boring scales practice. I learn the scales intimately all up and down the neck, while also improving my phrasing, timing, speed playing, and dynamics as well.

Which chord is 'out of place', and doesn't belong to the C minor key? Can you tell?

Here' how to figure it out. First determine what the relative major key for this key is. For songs in a minor key, such as this, count three frets up from the root note of the 1st chord, which in most cases indicates the key. In this case, it's an E Flat. So, E flat major is the relative major. You can play an E flat major scale over this, and you are playing the exact same notes as the C minor scale, they just start and end on different notes (C for the minor scale, Eb for the major scale).

Another way to look at it is that the relative minor to a particular major key or chord is the sixth scale degree of that key or chord. For Eb, the 6th scale degree, or 6th note in the Eb major scale is C, and it's a minor, as shown:


I ...... Eb ... Major or Major 7th II ..... F .... Minor or Minor 7th III .... G .... Minor or Minor 7th IV ..... Ab ... Major or Major 7th V ...... Bb ... Major or Dominant 7th VI ..... C .... Minor or Minor 7th VII .... D .... Diminished or Minor 7th flat 5

By the way, scale degrees are usually written as upper case roman numerals.

According to my previous lesson, #8434: The Harmonized C Major Scale, each of these scale degrees relates to a particular type of chord. The sixth is always a minor (or minor 7th), and is always the 'relative minor' to any given key. So given that, the chord which doesn't fit into the diatonic pattern for the key of C minor/Eb major is the G major chord. G is the third degree of the Eb major scale, but to fit into the 'diatonic formula' of chords for any given key, it must be a minor.

By raising the third of any minor chord up half a step, you get a major chord. The third of G minor is Bb, so raising it half a step (one fret) to B, we get a major chord, and by doing so leave the tonal center of this key when playing this chord. If you were to play the standard C minor scale over this chord, the minor second interval between the C minor scale (which has a Bb as it's 7th degree) and the third note in the G major chord (B), and the would sound discordant or just plain bad. The solution? We raise the Bb note in the C minor scale to B when playing over G major, turning the scale into the "C harmonic minor" or "Spanish Phrygian" scale.

If this sounds way too technical, don't worry, when you hear it, you'll understand. Try it out for yourself! Play the C minor scale over this groove, and when that last chord hits, be sure to play a B instead of a Bb, and you'll notice the unique sound this provides. Here are two positions of each scale. Remember, they repeat after the 12th fret, so you really will have 4 places to play. Try figuring out the other positions yourself, using your ears to guide you! Jot them down on a piece of graph paper or blank fretboard chart.

C minor 1
C minor 2

Does that second pattern look familiar? It should, it's the exact same pattern as the major scale, starting on the 3rd scale degree. Soon, the pieces of the puzzle will all make sense, and you'll realize that major scales, minor scales and modes are all the exact same pattern simply played in different positions. Below is the harmonic minor scale, which is the minor scale with a raised 7th. Metalheads will love this scale, Yngwie uses it tons, and besides the pentatonic and major/minor scales, it's probably the most used scale in metal or 'neoclassical' music.

C minor 1
C minor 2
Changing Scales W/non-Diatonic Chords