~ improv ~

~ parent scale ~

'simply finding the organic source of a musical element ...'

In a nutshell. The idea of a 'parent scale' is based on the theory principle that all of our pitch created resources; the scales, arpeggios and chords, are related to a set grouping of pitches creating the diatonic realm of a key center or signature. This group of pitches, most often a relative major / natural minor scale, becomes the parent scale for all its modes, arpeggios and chords.

the diatonic
key center
key signature
modes~arpeggios~chords

Parent scales are 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 improvs. 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. When this happens right quickly which it often does, we're glad for our theories of a 'parent scale.'

borrow

And like nearly all of our resources, what group we choose as a parent scale today might in a year or so become cliché, as we exhaust its resources and look for the new; new combinations thus new expressiveness with our core 12 pitches. For what is today the perfect parent scale for a G7 chord might in a year or so become cliche for us, as say thinking from b9 evolves :)

evolution of the artist
core 12
thinking from b9

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.

Americana artists
group of pitches
sounds cool

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 ?

vocabulary parent scale
diatonic

To read or not to read. While some players of most of the Americana styles create their parts from rote memory, thus not reading the music they are performing, some do and in doing so, often dig to improvise their solos / melody lines from the written changes, the chord symbols just like C7, as found in a lead sheet format; which combines standard pitch notation of the melody on a cleff with chord symbols aligned just above.

rote memory
jazz players
lead sheet
notation
learn to read

Locate parent scales. So let's use a lead sheet and its symbols here to organize this next bit of our improv discussions; locating the parent scale of a chord. We can start by examining the standard "Careless Love," so old old old now there's no coryrights and with this gem, the composer's name has seemingly been lost to us too :(

standard
copyright

The vast constellation of Americana stars that covered this song on their albulms over the decades is quite stunning to behold. Join them in learning this song now if need be, here in the 'earthy' key of F major. '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.

key centers
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 F major or D minor, its relative minor, a parent scale for all of these chords can be the diatonic pitches of F major / D natural minor. And in most of our Americana improv, this diatonic relationship provides the improv pitches. Sprinkle in some blue notes, or reduce these groups to their pentatonic groups and that creates most of the Americana improv we hear.

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 American 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 improv-ing on these chords, the pitches of F major are all cool. Some better than others depending but all cool non the less. Let's spell the chords to prove up. Example 3b.

spell the chords

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?

the modes

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. As the 'o' designation on the chord means diminished (dim), let's spell the chord. Example 3c.

adding sharps
diminished
chord symbols
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. Ex. 3d.

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

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.

minor 3rd interval
loops of pitches
perfect closure

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.

diminished scale
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 chart for the progression, hear its sounds in the following realization. Example 3g.

scale formulas

One

# One dim 7
Two
Five
realization

Hear and see that 3/4's of this 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. 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.

chromatic
b9
passing tones
through the changes

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 the know will know the excitement and challenge to 'conquer' these sorts of varieties of coolness that can fine tune the art of the art.

palette
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 excitment of the irresistable 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.

ah yes ... the great accelerator
forward motion

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. Both of these pitches create ascending chromatic motion, passing tones to diatonic scale tones of our parent scale of F major. Example 3h.

apex
motion to Four
accidentals
chromatic motions
passing tones
F major scale
F
G
.
A
Bb
C
.
D
E
F
add two accindentals
.
.
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 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.

root motion to Four
dominant chord type
tritone catatlyst
cadential motions
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.

Bb major

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.

whole tone 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. So the pitches of Gb major become a parent scale for Db7.

Gb major
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 pedagological basis of the the jazz guitar method in this text. Something Gb ... hmmm? Let's spell out the whole tamale with these pitches. Example 3k.

Gb major
inside the changes
jazz guitar method
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.

inside and correct
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.

loops of pitches
perfect closure

Cool? Note the passing tone C# in the Bb major group, otherwise rather straight forward and sounding diatonic.

passing tone

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.

chord inversions

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.

four bar phrase
original motive
rhythm time values
three times and out
melodic sequence
#9

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.

diminished colors
jazz up
Two / Five
turnaround
the top
musical forms
next chorus

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.

spell the chords
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 iscool as our parent scale, with all the resource a key center brings.

key center

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.

#9
common tones between chords

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 als 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 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.

Gb major

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, it works just fine.

theme and variations

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 to swing first, chances are improved that we can get whole phrases to swing also. Common tones are a solid place to start the swing process.

common tone
swing

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 if not down right good. And 'if it sounds good it is good.' Duke Ellington

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 defines a parent scale.

chord type

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.

the blues

That is if the note is played with some conviction. Seems that regardless of the harmony, the blue notes become the trump cards for melody. These are the pitches most often sung in support of the words of a song.

with conviction
blue notes

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.

12 bar form

Cool with the basics of finding a parent scale for a chord? It's an interesting concept that covers a lot of ground so it might take some time to sink in. In the meantime what's next? From the following list of links it looks the the discussion for 'turnarounds' or 'turnbacks.' A term I heard way back a couple of times and probably not since :) Pick and click and off ya go.

"The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known."

Pete Seeger

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.