There is a connection between the scales and the chords that we use in musical improvisation. To demonstrate this connection, let’s use a Cmaj7 chord as an example. If we continue to stack diatonic thirds beyond the seventh of this chord we get the pitches D (the 9th), F (the 11th) and A (the 13th). If we lower these three pitches one octave, and insert them between the chord tones of the Cmaj7 chord we end up with a C major scale. In this same fashion, we can used the upper extensions of most seventh chords to create scales that can be used for musical improvisation.
However, only certain upper extension are applied to various seventh chord when performing in most common musical styles. For major seventh chords, the most common upper extensions are the natural 9th and the # 11th. In addition the 6th can be used in place of the 7th. Since the upper extensions commonly used for minor seventh and dominant seventh chords differ from this, I will display exercises that cover each of these qualities of chords.
In these first three exercises, the pitches of each major 9th chord are arpeggiated in three different ways. The first exercise arpegiates the chord up and back down by starting on the root. Every key is covered by ascending through the keys in half-step increments. The next exercise arpegiates down and up the chord starting on the root. This time we cycle through the keys by descending chromatically. The third exercise arpegiates up and back down starting on the root, just like the first exercise. However, now we cycle through the chords by descending through the circle of fifths.
The next two exercises arpeggiate the pitches of the major 9(#11) chord and the major 7 chord where the 6th is a substitution for the 7th. Each seventh chord is arpeggiated up and back down by starting on the root. Every key is covered by ascending through the keys in half-step increments.
The musician should start with a simple applications like this, and then create more complex arpeggiated patterns. The ultimate application is to create a free form musical improvisation that only utilizes the pitches of each seventh chord, and outlines the chord changes of the progression.
In this Learning Music With Ray video I demonstrate various upper extension chord exercises that can be used to develop the rapid recall of the pitches of any seventh chord with upper extensions for use in musical improvisation. Each exercise is demonstrated with major seventh, minor seventh and dominant seventh chords. I explain which upper extensions are common to each of these types of seventh chords. Then I apply the theory behind these exercises to create a 2-5-1 arpeggio exercise. Finally, I apply the same exercises to the chords of a song.