What Else Can You Play Over a Major Chord?

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I’m sure you’ve been there: the rhythm guitarist is chugging away on some kind of major chord and you’re cringing at the thought of churning out yet more pentatonic licks. You could of course play the major scale but it kind of has this uninspiring niceness about it; the Lydian scale would work nicely with the #4 giving it that edgy sound, or you could bring in the Mixolydian scale for a brighter almost bluesy vibe, but what about something a little more out there? Here are five other scale possibilities to save you (and your audience) from pentatonic-induced boredom.

1) The Lydian b7 Scale (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7)

You could think of this scale as the Mixolydian scale with a #4 or as the name suggests, the Lydian scale with a b7. In my head this has always been the ‘Steve Vai’ scale; I don’t know if he purposely uses it or simply leans more toward the #4/b7 combination over major chords but it always reminds me of his playing. It also works well over a dominant 7 chord without going too far into the realms of jazz, or too out there to gain control over.

2) The Mixolydian b6 Scale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7)

Sometimes referred to as the Hindu scale, this is simply a Mixolydian with a b6 (or b13) instead of a natural 6, and shares its parent scale, the Melodic Minor, with the Lydian b7. It works over major chords, dominant 7 chords and 7b13 chords but you might not want to hang too long on that b6. What I particularly love about this scale is that if you play in ascending fashion it kind of builds in tension because of the contrast of the b6, while if you play it descending it goes from tension to release.

3) The Phrygian Dominant Scale (1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7)

Use this one sparingly to avoid the obvious, and somewhat clichéd, oriental sound due to the tone and half gap between the b2 and the major 3rd. This scale is also the fifth mode of the Harmonic Minor scale, and is often used in jazz to create an altered sound on a V7 chord. For example, you could use it over G7 in a II V I progression in C major (Dm7, G7, Cmaj7) for an interesting effect, or for periods of extended chugging on any power chords, major chords or 7 chords.

4) Lydian #2 Scale (1, #2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7)

For a slightly more out-there sound you could play the Lydian #2 scale. A #2 is another way of saying b3 and is used here for interval spelling purposes to keep it consistent. Again, don’t linger too long on the #2 as you’re really playing a b3 over a major chord, and make sure the other guitarist isn’t playing a 7 (dominant) chord as this scale contains a natural 7 which will clash. You can always use this scale over a maj7 or maj7#9 chord to great effect.

5) Harmonic Major Scale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 7)

This is an interesting and often overlooked scale which spawns its own set of modes, and is a scale of choice for Allan Holdsworth in many of his compositions. It’s also referred to as the Ionian b6 due to its interval structure and can be used for an interesting effect over major and maj7 chords. To my ear it’s kind of half-way between the Major Scale and the Harmonic Minor as it’s only one note away from both.

You can practice all of these scales and many more with our Online Scale Trainer complete with backing tracks. If you’re not yet familiar with the 2 Position Scale System then try the tutorial first.


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