~ improvisation ~

~ a beginning ~ the parent scale ~

'simply finding the center ... '

'just developing some core ideas, theories and skills to make it all up as we go along ...'

~

In a nutshell. The idea of a 'parent scale' is based on the theory and composition principle of a tonal center, one pitch to rule them all as the saying goes.

That a song written in the key of 'C' major, the 'C' major scale is the parent scale.

That a song written in the key of 'C' minor, the 'C natural minor' scale is the parent scale.

That a song written in the key of 'Eb' major, the 'Eb' major scale is the parent scale.

That the 'C' natural minor scale is the relative minor pairing for the 'Eb' major scale, is in essence why we're having this discussion :)

For 'parent' scales often have extended families that make for some very cool and interesting get togethers for all interested folks in our musical families.

That all of our pitch created resources; the scales, arpeggios and chords, the modes, are related by one pitch to a set grouping of pitches, creating the diatonic realm of a key center and its identifying signature. This group of pitches in composing our Americana musics is most often a relative major / natural minor scale, the parent scale from which we create our musics.

Parent scales are also way useful when our chords and their progressions venture 'beyond the realm of the diatonic' and we need a solid, organic group of pitches for our various improvisational journeys. In most Americana musics, we usually momentarily 'borrow' these parent scale pitches, cover whatever the 'beyond' is and then return right back to the diatonic pitches / key center of the song. This very often happens right quickly say, two measures of 'A' major come along in a tune written in 'C' major, we're three sharps away from home so our understanding of a 'parent scale' helps us blaze right on through this temporary shifting of our center.

And like nearly all of our resources, our enthusiasm for what group we choose as a parent scale today might wane in a year or so and become cliché to us, so we evolve and look for the new; new combinations thus new expressiveness with our core 12 pitches. Today maybe it is Mixolydian over G7, tomorrow the diminished colors from b9, and on Saturday off to a softer side with the melodic minor substitutions for V7. So we can accumulate the colors and find the right spots as we play and improvise within our Americana genres.

Finding a chord's 'parent scale.' When playing music with friends did you ever hear ... 'got an 8 bars over C7 to start this one off?' A common enough moment for performing Americana musical artists, having some of the C7's 'parent scale' under our fingers quickly gives us a group of pitches with which to generate melodic ideas that sound cool right off with this C7 harmony.

So this idea and vocabulary term 'parent scale' is simply a theory way to understand the diatonic relationships between scales and chords. For example, let's say this chord is C7, what group of pitches has a good selection of 'correct' sounding pitches for creating melody ideas over the sounding of this C7 chord? While there's a few ways to take this style wise, there's also the theory basis of C7 to work from. Read on for more :)

A lead sheet. While most of the diatonic Americana styles create their parts from rote memory, thus not reading while performing, jazz leaners do, often working off what is termed a lead sheet of a song. Lead sheets combine standard notation for the written melody line, and letter / number chord symbols, like C7, to describe the written harmony. The following discussion examines these relationships of parent scale and chord symbols, and even a bit beyond when necessary :)

"Careless Love", locating parent scales. We'll use a lead sheet and its symbols here to organize this next bit of our improv discussions; locating the parent scale of a chord. Examining the standard "Careless Love," so old old old now there's no copyrights and the composer's name has seemingly been lost. That its story and melody are pure Americana, it has some extra cool chord changes and a perfectly balanced 16 bar form. So a gem of a song? Yep, another gem :)

The vast constellation of Americana stars that have covered this gem on their albums over the decades is quite stunning to behold. Join them in learning this song now if need be, here written out in the 'earthy F' major. Give it a once through.

'Love ... oh love oh careless love ...'

Example 3.

Pitches of F major; scale, arpeggio, chords. To identify any chord in a song's parent scale, first we examine the pitches of the song's key center; use these pitches to build up its diatonic scale, its arpeggio and then spell out its diatonic chords. Examine the pitches. Example 3a.

1 ~ 8
one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
F major scale
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F
1 ~ 15
two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
F major arpeggio
F
A
C
E
G
Bb
D
F
chord degrees
Imaj7
ii-7
iii-7
IVmaj7
V7
vi-7
vii-7b5
VIII
diatonic 7th chords
FACE
GBbDF
ACEG
BbDFA
CEGBb
DFAC
EGBbD
FACE
chord symbols
F maj7
G-7
A-7
Bb maj7
C7
D-7
E-7b5
F

Cool with this organization of the pitches? Whole tamale of the relatives F major and D natural minor. That all of this information and chart fits on a paper napkin over coffee is nothing short of a miracle, just saying.

Parent scale / quick review. So in improvising over the chord changes of a song in the relative keys of F major or D minor, the parent scale for all of these chords is the F major / D natural minor group. And in most of our Americana improv, this diatonic relationship provides the pitches. Sprinkle in some blue notes, or reduce these groups to their pentatonic groups, and that creates most of the Americana music we hear on the entire radio dial.

An analysis / first phrase. Let's take this song apart a bit and see what shakes loose; one flat in the key signature puts us in the key of F major, 16 bars total, so probably four / four bar phrases, as four bars rules the day in Americana phrasing; 2 4 6 8 ... :)

one flat
key signature
four bar phrase
2 4 6 8

The chords of the first phrase; F, C7 and G-7, are termed 'diatonic to F major'; that all of the pitches needed to build up these chords are the exact ones to build up the F major scale. This one bit of theory is the basis for determining a chord's parent scale. It'll come up a lot as we journey along. Example 3b.

F major scale
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F
chord degrees
Imaj7
ii-7
.
.
V7
.
.
VIII
diatonic 7th chords
F A C E
G Bb D F
.
.
C E G Bb
.
.
F A C E

Our parent scale is F major. So for improvising on these chords, all the pitches of F major are all cool. Some better than others depending of course but all cool (diatonic) as a group of pitches with which to create our melodic ideas from.

So if ... So if F major is the parent scale of these chords, are the modes associated with the diatonic major scale also parent scales for these chords? Could very well be. Do some work better than others? Have a favorite? All of the modes are within this loop of pitches, in any key.

Second four bar phrase. So we've already seen three of these chords in the first phrase and know they are diatonic to F major. By the second bar we see the chord symbol for an 'F#' rooted chord. There's no F# in the key of F major. The 'o' designation on the chord means diminished (dim), so we've an 'F#' diminished 7th chord. Let's spell this chord. Example 3c.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
F major scale
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F
F# dim 7
F#
.
A
.
C
.
Eb
.

So while two of our chord pitches are diatonic, two are not ( I added in the 7th). And with the root of the chord an F#, F major as a parent scale for F# dim 7th is a stretch really. So is there a different parent scale for these diminished chords within a regular key center like F major? Absolutely. Let's spell the chord and examine the intervals. Example 3d.

F# dim 7 arpeggio
F#
.
A
.
C
.
Eb
.
F major scale
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F

Able to catch by pitch letter name the interval symmetry of the diminished chord / arpeggio? All minor 3rds? Yep, all minor 3rd interval. Beginning F# to A to C to Eb to F#, so a loop of pitches constructed of only the minor 3rd interval. A perfectly closed loop of pitches? Absolutely. Here are these pitches notated. Example 3e.

Diminished chord parent scale. So the F major scale melody over the F# dim 7 chord just not so hot. Why not just build up a diminished scale from the root pitch of the chord / arpeggio. Bingo, let's do that. Example 3f.

F# dim 7 arpeggio
F#
.
A
.
C
.
Eb
.
F#
scale formula
.
1
1/2
1
1/2
1
1/2
1
1/2
F major scale
F#
G#
A
B
C
D
Eb
E# (F)
F#

That was easy. Simply divide up the minor 3rd interval into whole step / half step to create a symmetrical diminished scale. While in other discussions we use a group of pitches or scale to create an arpeggio and chords, here we use the chord and its arpeggio to build up a scale. Looking back to the music for the chord progression, hear its sounds in the following realization. Example 3g.

One

Hear and see that 3/4's of this above phrase uses F major as the parent scale? The diminished color shows up in the second bar to 'parent' just the diminished chord then right back to the diatonic pitches of F major.

Repeat: Hear and see that 3/4's of this last phrase uses F major as the parent scale? The diminished color shows up in the second bar to 'parent' just the diminished chord then right back to the diatonic pitches of F major.

Sorry but that was worth repeating. That 75% of the phrase is diatonic to the pitches of 'F' major.

The one extra chromatic b9 passing tone over V7 in the last bar. This sort of shifting of parent scales between chords is rather common, especially in performance where the improv is also working through the chord changes, so certainly leaning to the sensibilities of jazz.

This quick shifting harmonic landscape demands a sort of moving musical palette is a challenge often met by jazz leaning musicians on near every song they play. Those in the know will know the excitement and challenge to 'conquer' these sorts of varieties of coolness that can fine tune the 'art' in the art.

Some also believe in the supernatural gifts of the symmetrical diminished color's abilities as the 'great accelerator', creating legendary musical powers to create the instant excitement of the irresistible sense of forward motion. The kind that makes ya want to dance and shout and jump around a bit? Exactly. Some music will make you want to do just that.

Third phrase. The third phrase of "Careless Love" finds the melody heading towards and reaching its apex with the arrival to Four in the third bar of the following music. From the written notation we read that there's now two accidentals in the line; a C# first then G# right at the close of the phrase. These pitches are totally not in the 'F' major scale. Both of these pitches do create a cool ascending chromatic motion, passing tones to diatonic scale tones of our parent scale of F major. Example 3h.

F major scale
F
G
.
A
Bb
C
.
D
E
F
add two accidentals
.
.
G#
.
.
.
C#
F
E
F
     
minor 3rd blue note
     
aug. 5th
     

The C#, which creates the '+' on the F7, simply augments the major triad of the chord. Examine the pitches, their evolutions and sounds. Example 3i.

F major triad
F
A
C
Eb
F augmented triad
F
A
C#
Eb

The root motion to Four, F to Bb, using an F7 dominant type chord and its inner tritone catalyst, creates this cadential motion that gets us to Four / Bb major with some authority. So with these new pitches and chords we gain new potentials for finding additional parent scales in this phrase. Let's spell out the chords and then run each one down for their parent scale choice. Example 3j.

chord degrees
.
1
3
5
7
V7
F 7
F
A
C
Eb
V+7
F + 7
F
A
C#
Eb
V7 of ...
Db7
Db (C#)
F
Ab (G#)
Cb (B)

V7. Any V7 dominant chord's parent scale can initially go right back to its diatonic source. In this case, the chord F7 is the V7 chord of Bb major. V7 of IV.

V + 7. Any time the 5th of our triad is augmented, we add the potential of adding in the whole tone colors as part of a possible parent scale.

V7 of ... ? As with the F7 just above, we can locate a parent scale from any V7 chord by relating it to its diatonic tonic pitch. So in this case, our Db7 chord is the V7 chord of what major key center? Right, Gb major. 'Db' is the 5th scale degree of 'Gb' major. So the pitches of Gb major become a parent scale for Db7 :) Cool?

Gb major scale
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Db 7
Db
F
Ab
Cb
.
.
.
.

So even just for the one bar of music, if we want to improvise an idea that is 'inside' the changes as the saying goes, jumping to something Gb works the magic. This last idea, that relates any chord's parent scale to a major key center, is the pedological basis of the the jazz guitar method in this text. Let's spell out the whole tamale with these pitches. Example 3k.

1 ~ 8
one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
Gb major scale
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
Gb
1 ~ 15
two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
F major arpeggio
Gb
Bb
Db
F
Ab
Cb
Eb
Gb
chord degrees
Imaj7
ii-7
iii-7
IVmaj7
V7
vi-7
vii-7b5
VIII
diatonic 7th chords

Gb Bb

Db F

Ab Cb

Eb Gb

Bb Db

F Ab

Cb Eb

Gb Bb

Db F

Ab Cb

Eb Gb

Bb Db

F Ab

Cb Eb

.
chord symbols
Gb maj7
Ab-7
Bb-7
Cb maj7
Db 7
Eb -7
F -7b5
Gb

Is all of this Gb major key resource available as 'parent scale' material for Db7? Sure is. Some parts work better than others for sure but the pitches are all diatonic; 'inside and correct', in relations between its scales and chords. This theory happens because of the way our music theory evolved historically, as the tuning up of the pitches was refined into today's equal temper tuning.

Third phrase improv. So a bit of a tangent there sorry, but the theory is the theory and it loves to loop and loop and loop with perfect closure back to its starting point :) Picking up where we last left off, the following idea uses these parent scales in creating an improvised melodic line over these chords. Here's the excerpt from the chart followed by the improv idea. Example 3k.

Cool? Hearing the chord changes in the line?

F+7 / A. This as written is simply wants to see this chord in first inversion with the third of the F major triad 'A' as the lowest pitch which did not happen in the example.

Fourth and last phrase. The four bar last phrase finds the original motive starting off the line with a rhythm that is reduced in time values from its original statement at the beginning. Repeated three times as the pitches diatonically descend, creates a melodic sequence to close out the line. Three of the chords in the first two bars here are diatonic which makes F major our parent scale. The 'D7#9' is not. Venture a guess as to the letter name pitch of the #9 colortone? And isn't the V7#9 the 'Jimi chord?'

We've a similar situation with the chords of the last two bars; F major parent group for three diatonic chords and one non diatonic chord, Ab diminished. Same diminished color and theory as above just different root? Yep. Here the diminished sounds jazzed up with the Two / Five turnaround chords to get us back to the top of the song's form for the beginning of the next chorus. Here's the lead sheet chart. Example 3k.

Parent scale is mostly F major. So our parent scale for this last phrase is F major with two chances for adding in something a bit more exotic pitch wise. Let's spell the chords. Example 3l.

F major arpeggio
F
A
C
E
G
Bb
D
F
F major
F
A
C
E
.
.
.
.
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
b7
#9
.
.
.
D 7#9
D
F#
A
C
E# (F)
.
.
.
G -7
.
.
.
.
G
Bb
D
F
C 7
.
.
C
E
G
Bb
.
.
Ab diminished
.
Ab
B
D
F
.
.
.

F major, G -7, C 7. All diatonic so F major is cool as our parent scale, with all the resource a key center brings.

D7#9. As a V7 chord type we could look to its diatonic parent scale of G major for ideas. The third of this chord is the stickler here as the pitch is F#, close to our tonic pitch F so something to be handled with care. We see from spelling the chord in the table that the '#9' is none other than the pitch F natural. There's our commonality.

Ab diminished 7th. From the spelling of the chord we see the pitch F in this chord also as its diminished 7th. Chances are that'll be part of our improv commonality. Ab is also a blue note in relation to F major, so we've an opportunity with this pitch to slip in a bit of the blues hue and rub. And once sounded, any sort of bluesy idea will probably feed the turnaround bulldog getting us into the next chorus. Here's an improvised line over these changes with all of this in mind. Example 3m.

Well after all that discussion the line turns out to be mostly the melody, straight diatonic eighth note lick and then using the tonic pitch 'F' as a common tone between the chords for the turnaround. And it can all just sound perfectly fine and musical too.

The melody. Improv is organically founded in theme and variations and depending on what is asked for from the soloist, jazzing up the melody, or not, works just fine.

A common tone. When there's a common tone thread through the chords of a phrase we get an opportunity to focus our improv attention on the rhythm of our line in relation to what the band is laying down. If we can get one pitch at a time to really swing, chances are improved that on down the road we can get whole phrases to swing also. Common tones are a solid place to start the swing process.

Review / parent scale. So is there a parent scale for every chord ? In theory there could very well be. That nearly everything is diatonic to something somewhere is a way to pursue this parent scale idea and diatonic should always sound ok if not fine and down right good. And 'if it sounds good it is good.' Duke Ellington.

Chord type, placing a chord into a category based on the qualities of its 3rd and 7th degrees, plays a solid role in parent scales. Where a chord lives within a numerical chord progression also helps define its parent scale.

In the blues all bets are off really for some of this parent scale theory. For there's just not the 'bolts right up' quality between its scales for melodies and chords. For while a basic blues chord is say 'A7', with its major 3rd 'C#' and b7 'G' making its tritone, the 'A' blues scale has a minor 3rd 'C' which sounds perfect over the chord.

That is if the blue note is played with some conviction. And maybe rub it around a bit, or even a lot. Got light strings ... ? Find the blue, its there. Seems that regardless of the harmony, the blue notes become the trump cards for melody. And these are the pitches most often sung in support of the words of a song, a joy to master.

In the blues, especially in a 12 bar form, the strength of the form and its history in Americana today itself can 'demand' that certain pitches happen at certain times in the form, again like the blue notes, regardless of the supporting harmony.

Cool with the basics of finding a parent scale for a chord? It's an interesting concept that covers a lot of ground. A great simplifier really, especially when chord type comes along to homogenize the changes. Homogenize? No not really, but chord type does streamline the learning process for those so inclined.

And so what's next? From the following list of links I'd choose the discussion for 'turnarounds' or 'turnbacks', a term I heard way back maybe a couple of times and probably not since :) Turnaround is the one but pick and click and off ya go ... just pick and click and off ya go.

"Not all those who wander are lost."

wiki ~ Tolkien

Grout, Donald Jay. A History of Western Music, p. 10. W.W.Norton and Company Inc. New York, 1960.

 

Aebersold, James and Slone, Ken. Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978. I know this is a troubling stand to take but I felt I had to and as jazz player, I based it on Charlie Parker's compositions in the Omnibook. Find a copy, count the number of tunes, then compare the number of major key to minor key songs. Any real book of popular American song, by a mix of composers, will follow along similar lines in this regard.regard.