Guitar Hacks: Making the Connection Between Chords and Scales

how to connect chords and scales guitar

This little guitar hack is particularly useful if you’re at that stage in your learning where you want to know which scales work over which chords without having to trawl through theory books, or rely on some app to tell you. You want to be able to do this practically on the fly so that you can apply it to any playing situation you might find yourself in, especially when it comes to more complex chords such as 9s, 11s and 13s. Read on…

The Altered Scale
The altered scale is the seventh mode of the harmonic minor scale and is our key to making a better connection between chords and scales; it contains the following intervals:

1, b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, b7

Wait… a b4? Intervals aren’t normally written this way but for the sake of having consecutive numbers this is how you could write out the intervals in the altered scale. They’re not actually written, or indeed learned, this way of course; here’s how they’re usually written out:

1, b9, #9, 3, b5, #5, b7

Now, this makes far more sense! If you know even a little theory, you can see that the altered scale would work well over altered 7th chords such as 7b9, 7#9, 7b5, and 7#5 because it contains the essence of a 7th chord (1, 3, b7), plus four alterations you could make to it.

The takeaway here is that if we apply this to the scales we already know, they’ll also make far more sense when it comes to matching them up with more complex chords.

How it works
Take the intervals from scale you know well; let’s use the Mixolydian scale, and replace the 2 with a 9, the 4 with an 11, and the 6 with a 13.

You probably learned the intervals of a Mixolydian scale like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7.

Write it out like this to understand it on a deeper level: 1, 9, 3, 11, 5, 13, b7.

Here’s how it looks on the fretboard:

It’s far easier to visualize the connection between the Mixolydian scale and other dominant chords such as 9, 11, and 13 because like the altered scale, you can see the dominant 7 chord (1, 3, b7) and the extensions you can add to it to make other dominant chords.

The Dorian Scale
The Dorian scale contains the intervals 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7 but if we swap out the intervals for their upper extensions, we get: 1, 9, b3, 11, 5, 13, b7 which should help you relate this scale to m9, m11 and m13 chords among others.

Here’s what it looks like on the fretboard:

This guitar hack will also help you understand how to use some of the more complex scales over various types of chords. I could tell you that the Lydian Dominant scale works very well over a 13#11 chord, but you won’t really internalize this if you think of a Lydian Dominant scale as just a Lydian scale with a b7. This scale contains the intervals 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7 but if we swap out the intervals, you’ll be able to relate it better to something like a 13#11 chord.
Now you should be able to see the relationship between the scale and a 13#11 chord, or a 9#11 chord for that matter.

Try this with any other scales you know and you should be able to break down the barriers between chords and scales, or at least feel a little more confident when you go to solo over more complex chords.

See also: Guitar Hacks for Soloing Over Complicated Chords

About Graham Tippett 301 Articles
Compulsive guitar blogger and writer of many innovative guitar books.

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