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Scales and Nomenclature

(Major, Dominant, and Dorian Minor Scales)

Lesson Overview:

  • Introduction to Major, Dorian minor, and Dominant scales

  • Introduction to Jazz Nomenclature

  • Use of scales when improvising jazz music

  • Ear training exercise to develop hearing scales as music



Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will become familiar with the Major, Dominant, and Dorian Minor scales

  • Students will gain a deeper understanding how these scales function in Jazz music

  • Students will visually recognize common jazz nomenclature (C∆7, C-7 C7)

  • Students will orally differentiate between Major, Minor, and Dominant scales





  1. Have the class warm-up with Major scales in all 12 keys. Use Jamey Aebersold Play-a-Long Volume #21, CD #1, Track #1 and Lesson #1 Handout. Play scales from the root to the 9th in 8th notes. 

  2.   Share with the class how jazz musicians utilize scales.

Practicing scales can be a mundane chore. Novice musicians often hear and play scales in a fixed way, from root to root, for example. However, we believe that an effective way to approach scales is to view them as a collection of notes you can improvise with. As students become more comfortable with scales they will begin to understand the tendencies and function of each scale degree. As their ear accepts the sound of the scale, they will be able to make the sound of the scale without necessarily starting on the root. 


  3.   Ask the students which two scale degrees are the most important in the major scale and why.

Discuss the answers. 


  4.   Explain to the class that the 3rd and the 7th scale degrees are the most important because

they define the scale's/chord's quality. When you raise and/or lower the 3rd and/or 7th scale degrees the quality of the scale/chord changes.


  5.   Write the scale and introduce the scale degrees. Ask students to identify the interval between

1st and 3rd, and 1st and 7thnotes. Whenever you have a chord or a scale with a Major 3rd and a Major 7th – it is Major.

See Figure 1






  6.   Explain Nomenclature for Major scale.There are several ways in which chord can be written.

Unfortunately, there is no one set way to notate jazz chords. Click on Nomenclature by Jamey Aebersold which thoroughly shows the common ways chords are notated. For clarity, all Major chords will be notated with ∆7. Ex. C∆7



  7.  Scale exploration. 

Have the students play through Examples 1 – 5 Unaccompanied.  Preferably in a few keys. 


Note to Instructor: Tendency Tone is a term we have coined to draw ones attention to how pairs of scale degrees within in a scale are linearly driven. Easily comparable to suspensions, 9 resolves naturally to 8, 6 to5, and 4 to 3. Developing an awareness to these tendency tones will help students in the melodic construction of their improvised phrases.


  8.  Tendency tones – Major scale.

Here are the diatonic tendency notes in a Major scale. Have the class play through  Out of time. Teacher sustains a Bb Major chord on the piano. Sample voicing provided below. Be sure to spend enough time on each set so that the students can really hear each resolution. With this exercise, students are learning to hear and identify pitches with scale degrees. So be sure not to do this!!




Have class play Example 6 with Aebersold Play-a-Long Vol.116 tracks 1 and/or 3 












As an additional exercise, have the class play ex.6 in other keys. (No Play-a-long provided) Segue to Teaching jazz video. 



  9.  Play Lesson 1 Video #1

Note to Instructor: This video will cover: 

1. Brief intro/recap of covered lesson material. 

2. MAJOR SCALE EAR SESSION emphasizing the 3rds AND 7ths

Vol. 21 Major - 4 Bars Each ChromaticallJamey Aebersold
00:00 / 04:38
Bb Major Scale.jpg
Bb Major Chord.jpg
Vol. 116 Track 01 - Simplicity.mp3Jamey Aebersold
00:00 / 04:04
Vol. 116 Track 03 - Simply Swing.mp3Jamey Aebersold
00:00 / 02:57
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