The Altered Scale: Three Approaches

It’s often difficult to get started with playing the altered scale over dominat 7th chords, mostly because we are not used to thinking in altered extensions and have no real idea what they sound like. In this lesson I am going to go over 3 different ways to view the altered scale that should help you get used to the sound and give you a way to make good lines with it.

If you are already using the altered scale you might find some new perspectives that could give you some fresh ideas for lines.


I have already made a lesson on the altered scale where I cover how to resolve each note in it and discuss arpeggios that you can use etc. If you haven’t already you can check it out here: Melodic Minor: Altered Scale .

In this lesson I won’t go into too much detail, but I will show you how you can think a bit differently about what you play over an altered dom7th chord to make it easier to make lines without having to think about all the b9s, b5s and b13s.

All the examples are in the key of C, so the basic cadence is a II Valt I in C:

Melodic Minor - Altered Scale in three approaches - ex 1

The G altered scale is the same is an Abm melodic scale:

Melodic Minor - Altered Scale in three approaches - ex 2

If you play this scale in diatonic chords you’ll notice that it does not have a G7 as a diatonic chord on G, so we have to look a bit harder to find a G7 arpeggio at all, again something that is making it difficult for a lot of students.

Since the G altered/Ab min melodic minor scale does contain a lot of other chords we can try to take some of those and make lines on them to think on an “easier” chord instead of the G7alt chord.

Db7 lydian dominant

The first chord you could use instead of the G7alt would be Db7(#11), which is the chord on the 4th degree of Ab mel min. There are two reasons why this is a very good place to start, firstly the Db7 is the tritone substitute of G7 and therefore the chord still functions as a dominant resolving to the chord after it, and secondly it is a dominant chord and very similar to a normal mixolydian dominant so making lines on it should not be too big a problem. I assume that you know how to play a normal dominant before you start messing with the altered dom7th chord.

Here is first the cadence with a Db7 instead of the G7 and then a very basic line outlining a Db7 arpeggio that resolves to Cmaj7.

Melodic Minor - Altered Scale in three approaches - ex 3

It is of course important to remember that you can use not only the Db7 arpeggio but also all the other arpeggios you’d normally employ over a dominant chord. I just chose the Db7 arp to illustrate how it sounded in this context.

AbminMaj7 The melodic minor root

Using the AbminMaj7 as a starting point for making lines might make it easy to come up with melodies if you are a bit more used to playing Melodic minor, and you can also translate a lot of your tonic minor material into altered dominant lines in this way by playing them and resolving to the Cmaj chord. The sound is a step further away from the G7 than the Db7 in my opinion but it does work well if you can get used to resolving you minor lines to anoter place.

Melodic Minor - Altered Scale in three approaches - ex 4

In this example I am again keeping it very basic in the line so that you can really hear that if you play the AbmMaj7 part alone it really spells out Ab melodic minor. But also here you can again use other arpeggios and even quotes from songs in minor to make altered dominant lines.

G7b5 or G7#5 The basic altered sound?

As I mentioned in the beginning the diatonic chord on the G in the G altered scale is not a G7 at all, it is a Gm7b5, but if we try to build a G7 chord that is of course possible and we have two variations available: G7b5 or G7#5. Taking these two arpeggios as a starting point is a fine way to start working on altered lines, of course you need to check out those arpeggios since I suspect most people never practiced them that much (but maybe I am wrong on that..).

Taking one of these arpeggios will give us a basic starting point to make lines from that (hopefully) will make sense to your ears, help with adding making lines on the altered dominant that makes sense to us.

In the example below I chose the G7b5 arpeggio and then made a line using that to illustrate how you might use it in this context.

Melodic Minor - Altered Scale in three approaches - ex 5

In a way this last approach is the goal, so in my opinion you need to relate everything you play to the chord that is actually there and while it may help to think one of the other chords in the beginning you are probably better of and more flexible if you end up hearing/thinking it as G7 altered lines. That doesn’t mean that you can work with drawing melodies from the other modes too, since that will give you much more material to use. That approach to modal interchange is very useful to expand you vocabulary and also to draw out specific sounds on top of the harmony. I think it is a subject that I will return to in other lessons to give some ideas for other types of chords.

I hope you can use the examples and ideas in this lesson to get better at playing altered dominants and also to give you some new ideas for melodies you can use as altered dominant lines.

If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here you can do so here:

Altered Scale in three approaches

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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