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All the notes

So now you have all the notes in the scale. Or do you?

Well, you do if we’re talking about the seven-note, diatonic major scale. But you don’t have all the notes if you’re talking about the chromatic scale. That takes five more notes, and you should be asking yourself, “Can I use those when I’m improvising, too?”

The answer is yes. But you have to be careful because they all sit a half-step away from a chord tone. Here they are:

Db  D  D#  E  F  Gb  G  G#  A  Bb  B

    b9        #9          b5        #5       b7

These notes are most often used on the dominant 7th chord, which accepts the tension of these notes more readily than do the minor7 and major7 chords. But if you use them wisely, you can use them anywhere.

Using tension    

Since these notes are a half-step away from chord tones, the obvious strategy when using them is to resolve them to the chord tone. But there are other things you can do that might be more interesting.

Here’s an example of a phrase played over a G7 chord. The altered tones are Ab (b9), Bb (#9), Db (b5), and D# (#5). The phrase here doesn’t use the D#.

This is an example of using these tones to create arpeggios that are outside of the key, creating a sense of movement that disguises to some extent the dissonance of these notes.

Arpeggios are things that humans have been hearing for centuries. They’re in our DNA (figuratively speaking). They’re so familiar that you can put them in weird contexts and, while they might sound strange, they don’t sound completely out of place.

The three arpeggios in the above phrase are relatively normal. The Gmin arpeggio has the root and the fifth of the G7 chord, and a #9 sandwiched between them. This just winds up sounding a bit bluesy. The Bbmaj arpeggio has the fifth and the seventh of the G7 along with that #9 – a bit more tension, but not much.

You can also think of the combined notes of the Gmin and the Bb arpeggios (G, Bb, D, F) in this example as a Gmin7 chord. I’m presenting them like this to demonstrate two different strategies.

The Amaj arpeggio is the most dissonant/interesting with the 9, the b5, and the 13 of the G7 chord: two extensions and chromatic note, no chord tones.


Create a list of triad arpeggios using the b9, #9, b5, and #5 of the G7 chord. Then try using them  in some improvisations. Just make a G7 backing track and practice using the arpeggios you create by inserting them into scalar passages, remembering to resolve the arpeggios to diatonic notes.

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