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Altered Scale Primer [With Blue Bossa Solo Study]

One of the most popular scales that guitarists explore when learning how to play jazz guitar is the altered scale.

The 7th mode of the melodic minor scale, the altered scale is used to solo over 7alt chords, as well as over 7th chords when you want to create tension in your lines.

By learning how to build, play, and solo with the altered scale, you give yourself the confidence you need to solo over dominant family chords in a jazz setting.

In this lesson you’ll learn about the altered scale, how to play it on the fretboard, study sample major and minor key lines, and learn a Blue Bossa solo that uses this scale.


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What is the Altered Scale


Before you take this scale onto the guitar, let’s look at what the altered scale is and how it relates to the melodic minor scale.

The easiest definition of this scale, is that the altered scale is the 7th mode of the melodic minor scale.

This means, that if you have a C melodic minor scale, and you played all those same notes from the note B, you create a B Altered scale.

Here’s how that would look from a note standpoint.


  • C Melodic – C D Eb F G A B
  • B Altered – B C D Eb F G A


As you can see, both scales share the same notes, but they produce drastically different sounds on the guitar.

The melodic minor scale is used to solo over m7 chords, and produces a mMaj7 sound over those changes.

On the other hand, the altered scale is used to solo over 7th chords, and produces a 7(b9,#9,b5,#5) sound over those chords.

Here are those two scales on the fretboard to compare both their shapes and sounds on the guitar.


Click to hear altered scale primer 1


altered scale primer 1


After you’ve listened to the above example, play the C melodic minor and B Altered scales back to back to see how they relate to each other on the fretboard.



Altered Scale Fingerings


Now that you know how to build the altered scale, and how it relates to melodic minor, you’re ready to learn how to play this important scale.

Here are two altered scale fingerings that you can learn, practice across the fretboard, and add to your jazz guitar solos.

After you’ve worked either of these altered scale shapes with a metronome, put on the backing track below and jam over the C7alt chord.

Learning how to play jazz guitar means studying scale both with a metronome and over common jazz chords and progressions.

So, make sure you don’t just run these scales over a metronome, take them to your solos in your practice routine as well.


C7alt Backing Track C7alt Backing Track


altered scale primer 2



Altered Scale Soloing – Major ii V I Chords


To begin using the altered scale in a solo situation, you’ll study three major ii V I lines that use this scale over the V7 chord in each lick.

When using the altered scale to solo over V7 chords in a major key, you’re creating tension over that chord.

To ensure that the altered scale sounds like a choice, and not a mistake, you need to resolve that scale into the Imaj7 at the end of the phrase.

By doing so, you create the tension and release sound that’s important to creating the jazz sound in your solos.

Here’s a C major ii V I backing track that you can use to practice each lick, as well as jam over as you take the altered scale to your own jazz guitar solos.


C Major ii V I Backing Track ii V I C Major Backing Track


The first altered lick features a classic Wes Montgomery style line over the G7 chord.

Because the altered scale phrase in bar 2 is an essential jazz phrase, it’s worth running in your practicing over other musical situations.


Click to hear altered scale primer 2




Moving on, the second altered line mixes leaps and steps to create tension over the V7 chord.

You’ll also notice how smoothly the Eb from the G altered scale resolves down to the D over the Cmaj7 chord at start of the third bar.

This is the type of resolution you’ll need to successfully apply the altered scale to a major ii V I chord progression in your own solos.


Click to hear altered scale primer 3




In the final major ii V I lick, you resolve the tension before you reach the Cmaj7 chord in bar 3 of the line.

Here, the Ab resolves to the tonic G at the end of the second bar, allowing you to leap to the D as no further resolution is needed.

Resolving tension over dominant chords takes time and practice.

But, studying lines such as this teach you examples of how to resolve onto the chord you’re on, as well as resolving to the next chord as you did in the previous licks.


Click to hear altered scale primer 4




Once you’ve learned any or all of these three lines, put on the Blue Bossa backing track below and practice applying these lines to that tune.

As well, apply the Ab Altered scale to the Ab7 chord in bar 10 of the progression.



Altered Scale Soloing – Minor ii V I Chords


Moving on in your study of the Altered scale, you’re now going to apply it to a more diatonic setting as you learn to play 3 minor ii V I chord progression licks on guitar.

In a minor key ii V I, the V chord is always some variation of V7alt, and so the altered scale works great when applied to the middle chord in a minor ii V I.

Because the chord is already V7alt, the notes in the Altered scale will sound more diatonic over that chord as compared to a major ii V I, where they clashed with the V7 chord tones.

The Altered scale will still create tension in your lines, but that tension matches the underlying V7alt chord, both of which will resolve to the next chord in the progression, the Im7 chord.

To help you study these Jazz guitar licks, and to practice applying the Altered scale to your minor key soloing studies, here’s a ii V I in Cm backing track that you can jam along with in the woodshed.


C Minor ii V I Backing Track ii V I Cm Backing Track


In this first Altered scale lick, you’ll be applying that scale to the second half of the G7alt chord, with a Bdim7 arpeggio used to outline the first half of the bar.

Often times running scales over chords on their own can sound predictable, so mixing them up with arpeggios such as the Bdim7 in this line can help break things up and prevent your lines from sounding monotonous.


Click to hear altered scale primer 5




The second minor ii V I lick breaks up the Altered scale into steps in the first half of the bar and leaps in the second half of the bar.

Again, by mixing steps and leaps, scales and arpeggios, you can spice up your lines over common Jazz chord progressions.

In this case, you’ll stick to notes from the Altered scale for those leaps, as you focus on using only that scale over the entire V7alt chord in this line.


Click to hear altered scale primer 6




In this final Altered scale lick, you’ll use a very common Bebop phrase over the G7alt chord.

You can break that bar up into two sections, the first five notes, and then the last four note leading into the Ab in the next bar.

Both of those smaller, micro phrases are common Bebop vocabulary, are therefore are worth studying further in the woodshed.


Click to hear altered scale primer 7




After you’ve worked on these lines on their own, put on the Blue Bossa backing track below and practice applying these minor ii V I Altered lines to a Jazz standard in your practice routine.



Blue Bossa Solo – Altered Scales


To apply the altered scale to a musical situation, here’s a sample chorus based on the Blue Bossa chord progression.

In this solo, you use the Altered scale over both major and minor ii V I chord progressions.

Go slow when learning this study, taking it four bars at a time at first before bringing those phrases together in your practice routine.

Applying scales to a musical situation can often sound stiff.

To prevent this from happening, pay close attention to the chromatic notes, arpeggios, and other devices that make these lines sound musical.

While playing the correct scales over chord progressions is essential, it’s often the notes outside those scales that make a solo sound hip.

Check out the solo, study the lines, notice the chromatic notes and micro-phrases that grab your ears, and have fun with this Blue Bossa solo in the woodshed.

To help you study this solo, and practice soloing over Blue Bossa on your own, here’s a backing track.


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Click to hear altered scale primer 8




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