Altered Scales and Chords
One of the subjects I get asked about much more frequently these days is the subject of altered scales and chords. It is a fairly large and
sometimes confusing subject, due to the ambiguous nature of certain definitions describing many associated musical terms and concepts. For our
purposes, we will categorize an altered chord as simply a dominant chord in which either the fifth or ninth has been raised or lowered by a half
step. The most popular altered chord played on guitar is probably the #9 chord, commonly referred to as “the Hendrix Chord,” shown in Fig. 1.
Fig. 2 shows a three-note-per-string C altered scale. The easiest way to play the altered scale is to move up a half step from the established
root and play the Melodic minor scale. Fig. 1
Three-Note-Per-String C Altered Scale Fig. 1 Fig. 2
9 11 13
8 9 11
7 9 11
8 9 11
Fig. 3 enables us to play the notes of C altered simply by playing D% Melodic minor. It can also be helpful if you preface the scale by playing an
altered chord. Fig. 4 is a C7#5 chord, which is altered and sounds very compatible with the C altered or D% Melodic minor scale.
Three-note-per-string D Melodic Minor scale
11 12 14
11 13 14
9 11 13
10 11 13
9 11 13
9 11 12
C# minor major 7th arpeggio Fig. 5
In this scenario, we will also focus on
two arpeggios that can be very effective
in emphasizing the tonal characteristic
underlying the altered sound. The shapes in
Fig. 5 and Fig. 6 are very similar to shapes
we’ve seen before, in that they are based off
a 5th string root with the exact same format
as those in previous articles.
The simplistic version of what’s happening
here is that we are playing D% Melodic
minor over a C altered chord. Though this
is not the only method that can be used in
addressing altered chords, it is certainly one
of the more popular methods and definitely
my favorite. I will discuss typical chord
progressions that enable us to use altered
chords and scales in my next article.
8 11 12 11 8
My next article will also focus on modifying this month’s shapes, so becoming familiar
with them will help you see the logic in the design of the upcoming licks. In the
meantime, have fun with these shapes and work on getting your ears accustomed to
these tonal qualities. See ya next time.
Greg Howe has enjoyed a successful recording career
since bursting onto the scene in 1988, and his talents
have been sought after by some of the biggest names
in the music entertainment industry, such as Michael
Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias.