by Garrison Fewell
Here’s a sharp way to brighten your lines when improvising over dominant- 7th chords: Raise the fourth degree of the Mixolydian mode (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7) by one half-step, and you’ll get a scale known as Lydian b7 (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7). Sometimes called the Lydian Dominant, this scale will give your lines a hipper sound without wrenching you out of the basic dominant-7th tonality.
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For example, Ex. 1a is an FMixolydian lick. By simply raising Bb to Bn, you’ll transform this into an F Lydian-b7 line (Ex. 1b). Try each phrase over an F7 vamp to appreciate the difference one note can make.
The Melodic-Minor Connection
A quick way to generate Lydian b7 sounds is to play a melodic-minor scale (1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7) starting on the dominant-7th chord’s fifth degree. This creates cool tensions—9, #11, and 13—against the chord. For example, play C melodic minor (C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B) over F7.
See how the C melodic-minor scale contains a G major triad (G, B, D)? Spinning G arpeggios over F dominant chords, as in Ex. 2, is a quick-and-dirty way to conjure the Lydian-b7 sound. Play this line slowly at first, then turn it into a double-time, sixteenth-note funk groove.
You can expand this chord-over-chord idea by stretching the G triad into a G7 (G, B, D, F ). Featuring G and G7 arpeggios, Examples 3 and 4 are typical blues licks. First, check out how they sound over a G7 chord, then give your ears a twist by playing the same lines over F7.
Finally, jazz up your Lydian b7 lines even more by adding choice chromatics (Ex. 5).
To summarize, here are three ways to create a raised-4 (or #11) sound against a dominant-7th chord:
• Play a Lydian b7 scale from the target chord’s root.
• Work through a melodic-minor scale starting from the chord’s fifth.
• Arpeggiate a major triad (or dominant 7) whose root is a whole-step above the target chord.
Get familiar with each strategy, and remember to look at the bright side of dominant harmony.
Garrison Fewell juggles touring and teaching at Berklee College of Music. Hear his introspective lines and round, dusky tone on A Blue Deeper Than Blue, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Reflection of a Clear Moon.