How to Play Bebop Scales on Jazz Guitar

Every guitarist should have a good understanding of Bebop. A great place for you to start is with the Bebop Scale.

Use this lesson to:

  • Understand the theory behind bebop scales.
  • Learn the easiest approach to improvising with them.
  • Accustom your ears to their sound.
  • Have fun while learning!

First of all, is there more than one Bebop Scale?

As described in Mark Levine’s theory book, there is actually three main Bebop scales. A Bebop scale is simply a 7 note scale with an added chromatic passing note. Similarly to how we add a chromatic passing note to the minor pentatonic scale to create the blues scale, we can add a chromatic passing note to the Ionian, Dorian, Mexolydian and Melodic Minor scales.

Why Do Bebop Scales Exist?

Rhythm.

Bebop scales have 8 notes instead of the usual 7. Having 8 notes means that the important notes of the scale fall ON the beat and the passing notes will fall OFF the beat. Bebop scales were created by jazz musicians to create rhythmically smooth lines that emphasis the important notes of the scale.

Make sure you have a good understanding of the major scale, dorian mode and mixolydian mode before continuing. Now let’s examine each Bebop Scale:

The Major Bebop Scale

bebop scales

Can you see how the C major bebop scale is normal C major with just one added note (in green)? All your major scale positions will work with the Major Bebop Scale.

Here is an audio example:

Here is how to play the Major Bebop Scale on the guitar, in two positions. Numbers indicate fingers. The white circle is the root note of the scale. The diamond is the bebop note.

bebop scales

bebop scales

Important: Depending if I am ascending of descending, I change where I place the bebop note. Find YOUR own approach, you already know the major scale, so add in the bebop note wherever feels most comfortable to you.

Learning guitar is about creating your own unique approach. Take any musical advice (including mine) with a grain of salt – YOU are your best guitar teacher.

The Dorian Bebop Scale

bebop scales

Can you see how D Dorian Bebop Scale is just D Dorian with an extra note?

Here is how to play it on the guitar:

bebop scales bebop scales

The Mixolydian Bebop Scale

mixolydian mode bebop

bebop scales bebop scales

Simplifying Bebop Scales – A Handy Hint

Before we get any further, here is a simple trick to make your life easier: Dorian bebop scale = Mixolydian bebop scale.

Why?

Lets say we are playing a II V I in C major.

Dm7 G7 C

As an accomplished bebop jazz guitar player you naturally play D Dorian bebop scale, G Mixolydian Bebop scale, then C Major bebop Scale. The added ‘bebop note’ in your Dorian scale is the same as the added ‘bebop’ note in G Mixolydian. Long story short, keep it simple and play either D dorian bebop and G Mixolydian bebop because they are the SAME THING. (The added note in C major bebop scale is different so you will have change your scale there, sorry).

4 Tips For Using Bebop Scales

  1. Play chord tones on down beats. The 1, 3, 5, 6 notes of a scale are you ‘downbeat’ notes.
  2. Play passing notes on up beats. The Bebop Note, 2, 4, 7 notes of a scale are you upbeat notes.
  3. Use a down stroke on a down beat.
  4. Up stroke up beats.

Why Should I Use the Bebop Scales?

  • They add chromatic notes to your lines.
  • Your lines will sound fluid and more ‘jazzy.’
  • Most modern jazz guitarists use the bebop vocabulary is some way or another. Even if they aren’t PLAYING bebop, they USE bebop lines.
  • They just sound cool.

Bebop Scales Summary

ScaleCore ScaleAdded noteScale Values
Major BebopIonian Scale#5R, 2, 3, 4, 5, #5, 6, 7
Dorian BebopDorian ModeMajor 3rdR, 2, b3, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7
Mixolydian BebopMixolydian ModeMajor 7thR, 2,, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7, 7

Further Reading

Congratulations on making it through this lesson! I recommend you try out these lessons to keep learning:

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions you may have.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

Comments

  1. David Kochevar says

    Hey man! Cool! I found it. I follow you on Instagram and saw you play the scale but missed the story. SO I GOOGLED IT, and here it is! G-d bless you man!

  2. Adeeko olatunde says

    Please can you give out the toni sol fa for better understanding am from ogbomoso oyo state tnx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *