Bebop scale – bebop jazz

If you want to learn how to play jazz, be sure that you are taking a big step by reading this article!

We will show you a feature here that is extremely used by jazz musicians; and that can also be used in any musical style. Get ready to increase your versatility in all contexts, as the application of this scale is very broad and useful for everyone!

So, first of all, let’s start with a little story about Bebop Jazz.

Bebop Jazz

Bebop Jazz emerged around the 1940s and marked what we call Modern Jazz. The father of this style was saxophonist Charlie Parker, and the spread of Bebop around the world was promoted by many other musicians (such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie).

Due to its complex harmonies and frantic rhythms, this style drew attention, as it was not suitable for dancing, nor for singing, being aimed only at improvisation and instrumental virtuosity.

Bebop music stood out for being very different from popular music, with fast movements and difficult sequences of eighth notes. Improvisations used features known to jazz and also some alterations, such as the augmented fifth. These characteristic alterations, after much use and consecration, originated the so-called Bebop Scale, which we will show below.

The development of bebop has changed some accompanying and solo approaches. Drummers started to depend less on the kick drum and more on the cymbals (ride and hi-hat). Bass players were more responsible for maintaining the rhythmic pulse, marking the harmonic progressions and playing quarter notes almost all the time. Pianists were able to use a lighter touch, since the left hand was no longer required to mark the rhythmic pulse or the fundamental note of the chords. As a result, the standard form of modern jazz has become universal and unmistakable.

Very well, since we are not talking to just simple average readers here, but to musicians, before continuing, go to Youtube and write “Charlie Parker”. Listen to at least one song to get used to it a little before continuing this study.

The Dominant Bebop Scale

Now that you’ve heard a little bit of Bebop, you may have noticed that chromatism is loose in this style. A chromaticism that marked Bebop a lot was the use of the seventh major within the Mixolydian mode. In other words, to improvise over the dominant chords, Bebop musicians added a note to the Mixolydian mode, forming a scale of 8 notes. This scale became known as the dominant Bebop scale. Let’s see how the G dominant Bebop scale looks, compared to G Mixolydian:

  • Notes of the G Mixolydian scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F
  • Notes of the G dominant bebop scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F, F#

G dominant bebop shape:

bebop scale

In the case of G dominant bebop, there is a chromaticism between the F, F# and G notes. Since F# is not part of the diatonic scale, we must avoid resting on it. This major seventh should be used only as a passing note.

The interesting thing is that an 8-note scale allows a more accurate rhythmic subdivision than a 7-note scale. An 8-note scale fits within a 4/4 Bar by playing one note per eighth note (read the sheet music module to understand this better). Thus, the passing note may end up having the same length as the other notes.

The Major Bebop Scale

There is also the Bebop scale which is not dominant. This Bebop scale, known as the major Bebop scale, is used over major chords. It also has 8 notes, and the alteration is in the fifth degree (it has an augmented fifth). Compare the C major scale notes with the C major Bebop scale notes below:

  • C major scale notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
  • C major Bebop scale notes:   C, D, E, F, G, G#, A, B

C major Bebop scale shape:

bebop jazz

Note: In the dominant bebop scale, we saw that the “extra” note was F# (seventh degree of the dominant). This note, starting from C, is the flat fifth. In other words, the two Bebop scales (dominant and major) together represent two alterations: diminished fifth and augmented fifth, in relation to the tonic.

How to use the Bebop Scale

Well, the Bebop scale can be used in any tonal context, as long as those alterations on the fifth serve as passing notes! Of course, these passing notes tend to sound better over the tonic and the dominant V7 (after all, the origin of these scales was based on these chords), but there is no need to be afraid to use it in other tonalities; it’s all about taste.

 Great, you’ve just discovered a new outside note that can always be used as a passing note (as in the example of the blue note in the blues scale).

The difference is everyone already uses and knows the “blue note”, but the Bebop scale on the other hand, is only known by few. So this can be your differentiator!

However, making the Bebop scale sound good requires a bit of training and practice, as those sounds of the augmented fifth and diminished fifth in the tonic are associated with the characteristic style of Jazz.

Today you may use the blue note of the blues scale very well, but notice that this blue note sounds cool only within a peculiar style that you developed (this involves a certain dynamic, accentuation, among other things that your brain is already programmed to do when you think of a blue note). Likewise, the Bebop scale sounds good when applied with the correct dynamics and accentuation. Like everything in life, this skill is not achieved overnight.

The descending Bebop scale generally works better than the ascending one, but this you must realize on your own. In addition to playing, try listening to Bebop Jazz. Soon we will suggest some musicians for you to look up to.

Remember that the aim of studying bebop is not to gain speed! We are not studying technique here, but musical vocabulary. So forget the mechanics of the thing and start worrying about perception. Soon the results will start to show!

Bebop Musicians

Also, research some renowned Bebop musicians to internalize this style once and for all. Examples: Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Oscar Pettiford, Duke Jordan, Miles Davis, Tommy Potter, Al Haig, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Max Roach, Lucky Thompson, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Kenny Clarke, Milt Jackson, Charles Mingus, Roy Haynes, etc.

Go to: Whole tone scale

Back to: Module 10