Funky Chunks & Clunky Chunks

…and dominantsy divey…

Right, I was beer-deep in a chat with a musician the other day who was a bit down about the results he was getting out of 7b9 chords. They sometimes just sounded – well, tame, he felt.

Aha. Need to restore some mojo here. So what was going on?

The 7b9 dominant chord-scale is a classic and versatile sound most associated with the bebop era, but used ever since. It has a funky chunk and a clunky chunk…

The easiest one to look at, from a keyboard perspective, is G7b9, because all the white notes are straight and all the black notes are alterations.

G Ab A# B C# D E F (G)

All the hip action is visually obviously in the first bit – root, b9th, #9th, 3rd #11th. Wild stuff. The rest of it, going all the way back to the root, is really just a normal dominant scale.

Now a G7 chord will generally resolve to a C chord, and you’ll see that the root and 5th of C have some nice funky stuff around them. Not so the 3rd of C – that’s in a rather boring area.

I’m not saying there aren’t ways to handle this, but it is pretty common to centre a lot of action around the lower, funky chunk.


7b9 scales are great in a way, because since they’re symmetrical there are only three shapes to learn. But this can be a problem, because if you just think “E7b9 is the same scale as G7b9” and play the same things over it, you’re not in control of your funk and clunk.

Eventually you should just know what all the chord tones are relative to the dominant root, but a good intermediate step is to just remember that the funky chunk is the five tones up from each candidate root in the scale (G Db Bb and E) and the rest is vanilla.

Mojo restored. Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of symmetrical scales, how about the whole-tone?

Well, the only difference between a 7#5 and a 7alt chord-scale is that the latter has the ninth split in half. If you’re playing a line that you think is altered and you don’t reference the “split” area at all, you might as well be playing whole-tone. Just as playing only the top of the 7b9 scale isn’t actually altering the dominant at all (whatever may be going on in your head).

Which is fine, of course, just something to be aware of.

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes

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