As you read in my previous Jazz Guitar Corner column, one of the ways to outline tritone subs in your playing is to use the related arpeggio patterns.
In this lesson, we’ll be adding to your tritone sub soloing vocabulary as we explore how to add scale ideas to your soloing phrases. We'll also check out a few common licks that use scales to outline tritone subs in a ii V I chord progression.
What is a Tritone Sub?
As a quick review, let’s take a look at what a tritone sub is and where you place it in a ii V I progression.
Simply put, a tritone sub is when you have a V7 chord, and you play a 7th chord a tritone apart from that give chord. So if you see D7, you can play Ab7, since Ab7 is a tritone away from D7.
Both of these chords, the V7 and bII7 (as the tritone is called), share the same 3rds and 7ths, which is why they are so closely related and interchangeable in your playing. This means the 3rd of D7, F#, is the b7th of Ab7, Gb(F#), and the b7th of D7, C, is the 3rd of Ab7.
Here is how those chords look on paper.
When applying a tritone sub, we normally replace the V7 chord in a ii V7 I progression with the bII7 chord to produce a iim7 bII7 Imaj7 chord progression, as you can see in the lick examples below.
The Lydian Dominant Scale
Besides using the arpeggios to solo over the tritone sub, as you did in the previous lesson, you also can use scales to outline this chord in your playing. There are a number of scales you can choose from in this situation, but the most commonly used is the Lydian Dominant Scale.
Built from the 4th mode of the Melodic Minor Scale, the Lydian Dominant Scale has both the #11 and b7 note in it, which makes it perfect for outlining 7#11 chords in your jazz guitar solos.
Here are two examples of D7#11 scale fingerings that you can learn and begin to apply to your tritone sub soloing ideas. Since the chord is D7#11, it is the same as playing an A Melodic Minor Scale starting from D, to produce the 4th mode of that scale.
Tritone Sub Licks
To help you get started in applying the 7#11 scale to your tritone subs, here's a short ii V I lick that uses Ab7 in place of the D7 in the second half of bar one of the phrase.
Try this lick out in G, then take it to other keys as you learn it around the fretboard. From there, try soloing over a ii V I vamp and use this lick as the basis for your soloing ideas, starting to add notes, take notes away and change the rhythm as you begin to make the lick your own and less of a memorized line.
Here is a longer ii V I line in the key of G major that uses the Ab7#11 scale in the second bar, as a tritone sub for the D7 chord.
After you’ve learned this lick in the given key, and at a number of tempos, try taking it to other keys around the neck, and then practice applying it to your soloing ideas as you play it over ii V I changes in any tune you know or are working on in the woodshed.
Now that you know how to add the Lydian Dominant Scale to your tritone subs, try taking this concept into your soloing practice and jam sessions. You can put on a ii V I backing track and solo over those changes using the bII Lydian Dominant Scale over the V chord, as well as practice soloing over tunes and apply the same concept to each ii V I progression you find in any given tune you are blowing over.
Learning how to comfortably and confidently use tritone subs is an important skill for any jazz guitarist to have, so learning how to use the 7#11 scale in this situation will help expand your soloing chops, and get these sounds into your playing today.
Do you have a question or comment about this lesson? Share your thoughts in the COMMENTS section below.
Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a lecturer in Popular Music Performance at the University of Chester and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).