Major Bebop Scale and Jazz Arranging

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The major bebop scale is a very powerful scale that can be incredibly helpful to jazz pianists in a number of ways. It’s a tool that can be an excellent device for improvisation as well as jazz arranging. The 8-note scale is built by combining two different chords. In this article we’ll discuss the theory behind the major bebop scale and explain how it works. We’ll also demonstrate how this versatile scale can be used in arranging a classic Ellington jazz standard.

Major Bebop Scale: The Theory…

The major bebop scale is an 8-note scale. It is built by combining a major 6th chord (root, 3rd, 5th, and 6th), and a fully diminished 7th chord. In the key of C, these two chords would be a C major 6th chord and a D diminished 7th chord.

major bebop scale 1

Notice that the notes that makeup these two chords contain all 8 notes of the major bebop scale.

But why these two chords? Why are they important?

Major Bebop Scale: …And How It Works

Okay, we have to get into a little bit of music theory in order to understand how the major bebop scale works. In the key of C major the ‘I’ chord would be C major (seems pretty obvious, right? Stay with me). We know that the V7 chord resolving to the I chord is one of the strongest resolutions in all of music. In the key of C, what is the V7 chord? Answer = G7. Well, the D diminished 7th chord is functioning just like a V7 chord. Actually, the notes D, F, Ab, and B represent the 5th, 7th, flat-9th, and 3rd of a G7 chord. So this entire scale is constructed by using a ‘I’ chord (C major 6) and a ‘V7’ chord (G7 flat 9).

Major Bebop Scale: Using It In Practice

Here’s a great exercise that shows how this scale can work for you in arranging jazz tunes. Let’s harmonize a simple C major scale descending from ‘E’ down an octave to ‘E’ using the C major bebop scale.

major bebop scale 2

What can you tell about the example above? Every time we encountered a C, E, G, or A (the notes of the C major 6th chord) we harmonized as a C major 6th chord. Every time we encountered a D, B, Ab, or F (the notes of the D diminished 7th chord) we harmonized as a D diminished 7th chord. In practice what we’re doing is creating little mini “V7 to I” resolutions all the way down the scale. And this inherent ‘V to I’ resolution motion is built into this scale!

Major Bebop Scale: Applying to a Jazz Tune

Let’s use the opening bars of Ellington’s classic “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and harmonize using the C major bebop scale. Here are the first few measures of the tune:

major bebop scale 3

Applying the C major bebop scale as an arranging technique results in the following harmonization:

major bebop scale 4

This creates a much fuller, denser sound at the piano. Try applying this scale in your own arrangements of jazz tunes, and don’t forget to check out our other lessons on jazz arranging.

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Welcome Paul Buono

Paul Buono has returned to the JazzEdge family as an instructor.  His professional piano/keyboard experience includes national and international touring, university professor, musical director, pit

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JPC glossary / key

  • RH – right hand
  • LH – left hand
  • HT – hands together
  • CM – contrary motion (to move in opposite directions)
  • Harmonically – to play as chords (all notes together at once)
  • Melodically – to play as a melody (single note) – arpeggiate
  • R7, R3, R37 – chord shells (Root-7th, Root-3rd, Root-3rd-7th respectively)
  • bpm – beats per minute. Refers to the metronome setting