The first thing that is usually taught in a Jazz Improv class is to match a chord with its appropriate scale or Mode. For example, when looking at a Dm7 chord, we are usually told to play the D Dorian Mode. For a FMaj7 chord it will be F Ionian or even F Lydian, etc... All the notes of the chord (the chord-tones) are supposed to be found in the Mode that will be used for improvisation. It all sounds right, and everything is wonderful...

(You may want to read my previous article on Chords And Scales for more ideas on how we can use the Modes)

But what if there were other ways to use those modes ? What would happen for instance, if we forced the "wrong" mode over a given chord ?

For instance, we think of the DORIAN Mode as a scale to play over a Minor 7th chord, right ? Well, let's expand our horizon, and see what happens if we play it over a Dominant 7th chord...

So for a G7, we now have G DORIAN: G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F.

The notes give us: R, 9, #9, 11, P5, 13, m7

All we have to do to justify our choice is call the Bb the #9 (A#) instead of the m3, and just say that the scale does not contain a 3rd-- it is as simple as that !

We have just stepped into a new world here: if we accept the fact that all of the 4 chord-tones do not have to be in the Mode we choose to play over a given chord, we are seriously broadening our choices. We have now some more "outside" colors to add to our lines.

Here are some of the "wrong" modes we can play over a G Dominant 7th chord:

G DORIAN (R, 9, #9, 11, P5, 13, m7)
G PHRYGIAN (R, b9, #9, 11, P5, b13, m7)
G AEOLIAN (R, 9, #9, 11, P5, b13, m7)
G LOCRIAN (R, b9, #9, 11, b5, b13, m7)

Those 4 Modes are all generated by the Major scale.

When you realize that we can (and will...) also use some of the modes generated by the other Parent scales (see my article on Chords And Scales for a list of the Modes generated by the 4 Parent Scales) you will get a glimpse of the many options we now have over a given chord. Mamma mia !

The new rule for selecting a Mode to play over a Dominant 7th chord is that the Mode simply needs to have a m7 in it. This means that all of the m7, m7(b5), dim7, and sus7 Modes will do. How many can you count ?

Some of my favorite ones are:

PHRYGIAN #6 (R, b9, #9, 11, P5, 13, m7)
LOCRIAN #2 (R, 9, #9, 11, b5, b13, m7)
LOCRIAN #6 (R, b9, #9, 11, b5, 13, m7)

Here are some of the "wrong" modes we can play over a D Minor 7th chord:

D DORIAN #7 (aka D Melodic Minor) (R, 9, m3, 11, P5, 13, M7)
D AEOLIAN #7 (aka D Harmonic Minor) (R, 9, m3, 11, P5, b13, M7)
D LYDIAN-MINOR (R, 9, m3, #11, P5, 13, M7)

Our new rule here is that we will accept the M7 in place of the m7. It is actually a nice tension note against any Minor 7th Chord.

We may also experiment with any of the m7(b5) Modes against a regular m7 chord. The b5 will merely be an alteration of the 5th.

Are there any "wrong" modes to play over a C Major 7th chord ? Well, if you insist...

C DORIAN #7 (aka C Melodic Minor) (R, 9, #9, 11, P5, 13, M7)
C AEOLIAN #7 (aka C Harmonic Minor) (R, 9, #9, 11, P5, b13, M7)
C LYDIAN-MINOR (R, 9, #9, #11, P5, 13, M7)

Granted, those last 3 are to be handled with care... Don't expect a particularly strong resolution on the IMaj7 Chord with those modes, as they will sound quite "outside". None of them has a M3 !!!

The better situations for our new "wrong" modes are definitely found over Dominant 7th Chords: arguably, any note could be justified against a Dominant chord... The point here is that those "any notes" will sound organized (and therefore more acceptable to the ear) when presented as a Mode coming from the 4 Parent Scales-- it gives them more credibility ! (did I mean more credentials ?)

Ultimately, your ears set the limits-- and I'm sure you've heard that one before...



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