The melodic minor scale and the dominant seventh flat9 (V7b9) chord

The melodic minor scale is a handy scale to have in one's sonic repertoire. It not only contains information relevant to minor chords, but it is also useful for a variety of other chords, amongst them the dominant seventh flat 9 (V7b9) chord. In the jazz world, the melodic minor scale is mostly used to express the sound of the dominant seventh sharp 5 flat 9 (V7#5b9) or, as it is referred to by its other name the ALTERED (V7/alt.) chord.

Coincidentally, in Europe where I studied jazz guitar, the V7#5b9 chord is known as the V7b13b9 chord for reasons of resolution. That's another story, however, and maybe I'll get into that at sometime in the future.

When I was studying, it took me quite a while to really comprehend the V7b9 chord, its use and its relationship to the diminished chord. Right now, I want to explain how the sound of the V7b9 chord traditionally is expressed and how I use the melodic minor scale to express that sound.

Let's use G7b9 as an example.

G7b9 contains the root (g), the major third (b), the perfect fifth (d), the dominant seventh (f) and the flatted 9 (a-flat). G7b9 contains 4 diminished chords:
B diminished
D diminished
F diminished
Ab diminished.

These 4 chords are symmetrical. This means that they all have the same notes. B,D,F and Ab diminished all contain the notes b,d,f and a-flat. You can also look at these chords as being a ROOTLESS G7b9 chord. This means that b,d,f and a-flat are all G7b9 chords without the root, G. (Man, I hope that you're all still with me.)

Traditionally, in order to improvise over the G7b9 chord, one uses the DIMINISHED SCALE. This scale is also known as the half-whole and the whole-half scale. It's built like this: start with g, go up a half-step to a-flat, go up a whole step to b-flat, go up a half-step to b, building according to this manner until you reach g again. The scale should then contain these notes:

G,A-FLAT,B-FLAT,B,C-SHARP,D,E AND F. This scale has, in contrast to most other scales, 8 notes instead of 7.

(Actually, you're not supposed to spell scales using flats and sharps together, but I've done this for the sake of expediency.)

This scale sounds fine over the G7b9 chord but it sounds a bit coarse for how I want to express myself. I later discovered a sound more pleasing to me and that is derived from the melodic minor scale.

Personally and totally subjectively, I find that the melodic minor scale, in this use, projects a softer sound; more feminine. Therefor, for G7b9, I use the F MELODIC MINOR SCALE. The notes are:
F,G,A-FLAT,B-FLAT,B,C,D and E.

The difference between these two scales is that G7b9 has 8 notes instead of 7 and that the G7b9 scale has the third of the chord, b, while the melodic minor does not and the G7b9 has a c- sharp while the f melodic minor scale has a c. Strictly speaking, the f melodic minor scale expresses a G7susb9 chord. Once again, my use of the f melodic minor scale is strictly personal.

Another thing that I do alot if I want a more masculine sound would be to arpeggiate an E7#5b9 (in Europe E7b13b9) chord which, incidentally is also found by using the f melodic minor scale. This is how I do it:

I arpeggiate the E7#5b9 chord over 2 octaves by playing E,F,G-SHARP,C,D,F,G-SHARP AND C. EXCEPT,AT THE END, I RESOLVE THE C TO B.

Why does this work?

First of all, the notes in the E7#5b9 chord, are all in the f melodic minor scale. G-sharp is enharmonically equal to a-flat.

Secondly, i resolve the c to b, because it's the third of the G7b9 chord and the thire is one of the two most important notes in dominant seventh chords. And since the chord being played has a b and not a c, you really don't want to hang out on that c too long. You don't stay, you just visit.

So to wrap this up here are some examples of the material I would use to solo over Dm7 G7b9 Cmaj.7

Over Dm7:

D dorian scale, Dm7 arpeggio, Am7 arpeggio, Em7 arpeggio, Fmaj.7 arpeggio and Dm,Am and Em pentatonisch.

Over G7b9:

G7b9 scale (diminished half-whole scale), F MELODIC MINOR SCALE, E7#5b9 ARPEGGIO (also noted as E7/alt. or E7b13b9) resolving the c to b.

Over Cmaj.7:

C majeur scale, Em7 arpeggio, Em pentatonic, G triad, C lydian scale.

by Greg McNair of the Netherlands Jan 15, 1999

Additional Resources

Chords | Learn chords without reading music | Chords - Music Theory


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