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Locrian Scale – Guitar Shapes, Chords, and Licks

The seventh mode of the major scale, the Locrian scale is used to solo over m7b5 chords, especially in a minor ii V I chord progression.

Because of this, it’s an essential scale for any jazz, fusion, or other modern-style guitarist to have under their fingers.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to build the Locrian scale, apply it to your solos, one and two-octave fingerings, patterns and licks in the style of Jim Hall and others.



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Locrian Scale Construction


The Locrian scale contains seven notes and has no accidentals when written in the key of B Locrian.

This means that if you play B Locrian on the piano, you only play the white keys, no black keys.

These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:




Or you can think of them as specific intervals such as:




In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:


  • P = Perfect Interval
  • M = Major Interval
  • m = Minor Interval
  • D = Diminished Interval


While these intervals are common, you can also think of the upper notes as extensions.

This means that you think of Locrian with this pattern:




I prefer this way of thinking as it allows you to visualize the upper chord extensions for any chord you’re soloing over.

Here’s how the B Locrian scale looks with both notes and intervals.


locrian scales 1


You can use either system, b2-4-b6, b9-11-b13, or a mixture of both depending on the musical situation you’re in.

Try both out and see which fits better, and then go forward with that interval system.

Either way, notice that Locrian has a b5, which is the characteristic note of the scale and distinguishes it from Phrygian, which has a natural 5th.

When soloing over m7b5 chords, highlighting the b5 bring out the Locrian sound over that chord, which you’ll hear in the licks below.



Locrian Scale Application


Now that you know how to build Locrian, let’s take a look at how you can apply this scale to a soloing situation.

The Locrian scale can be used to solo over a few chords in the m7b5 family.

These chords are:


  • m7b5
  • m11b5


These m7b5 family chords are all built from the Locrian scale, and therefore Locrian is used to solo over these chords.

Here’s an example of a Locrian fingering and three chords from that fingering to see how the two relate on the fretboard.


locrian scales 2


To begin using this knowledge, put on a m7b5 or m11b5 backing track and solo over with any Locrian fingering in this lesson.

You can also apply Locrian to the iim7b5 chord in a minor ii-V-I progression in your soloing studies.

To help you practice the material in this lesson, here’s a Fusion Locrian backing track to jam over.


YouTube Preview Image



Locrian Chords


Here are eight Locrian chords that you can learn and add to your comping and chord melody playing.

To begin, here are four Locrian chords with the root on the 6th string.




Moving on, here are four Locrian chords with the root on the 5th string. Make sure to take all 8 chords to different keys in your practice routine.






Locrian Scale One Octave Fingerings


To help you take this scale to the fretboard, here are one-octave shapes that you can work in your practice routine.

One-octave shapes come in handy when soloing over fast moving chord changes or at fast tempos.

There are three groups of scale fingerings for one-octave Locrian shapes, starting with shapes that use your index finger on the first note.

Work them in all keys, and solo over various m7b5 chords using these shapes as the basis for your improvised lines.

This ensures that you’re working Locrian scales from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.


locrian scales 3
You can also practice with your middle finger on the first note of each one-octave shape.

Once you have these four shapes down, move between the first four and these four in your technical and improvisational practicing.


locrian scales 4


Lastly, here are four shapes that begin with your pinky finger on the first note.

Again, work these shapes in 12 keys and solo over backing tracks in order to be creative with these scales in the woodshed.


locrian scales 5





Locrian Scale Two Octave Fingerings


As well as learning one-octave shapes, you can take Locrian a step further by learning two-octave shapes in 12 keys.

Two-octave Locrian shapes come in handy when soloing over longer changes or tunes that don’t change keys very often.

There are a number of ways that you can build two-octave Locrian scales, here are four of my favorites to get you started.

Learn one shape at a time, and then combine two or more of these shapes in your practice routine as you dig further into these important scales.


locrian scales 6





Locrian Scale Patterns


You’ll now check out cool-sounding scale patterns over the Locrian scales that you’ve learned up to this point in the lesson.

To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that you can use to expand your technique and learn scale shapes at the same time.

The pattern is built by playing alternating 3rds, repeating this pattern from each note in the scale, in this case ascending.

This means that you play 31, 24, 53, 46, etc. as you work your way up the scale.


Click to hear locrian scales 1




You can also work this pattern descending any scale pattern you’re working on.

Again, you play every second note to create the pattern, which creates the intervals 86, 57, 64, 35, etc. as you work your way down the fingering.


Click to hear locrian scales 2




Once you have these patterns under your fingers, put on a backing track and add this pattern to your soloing ideas.

You don’t have to play them in every phrase, but adding these patterns here and there spices up your improvised phrases.




3 Locrian Scale Licks


You can also study common licks and phrases to expand your vocabulary and build your understanding of this scale in a soloing context.

The first lick is inspired by Jim Hall and focuses on the b9 interval in the first half of the line, switching to the b5 in the second half.


Click to hear locrian scales 3




Here, you learn a pattern that brings out the root-11-b5-b7 of the Bm7b5 chord, showing how you can bring out specific chord tones in your Locrian phrases.


Click to hear locrian scales 4




The final lick is a phrase that uses syncopation to highlight the root, 11th and b5 of the Bm7b5 chord that you’re soloing over.


Click to hear locrian scales 5




Once you have these licks down, write out 3 Locrian licks of your own as you build your soloing vocabulary with this important scale.

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