A hip scale to give your lines some flavor
Major scales, minor scales, modes, and more—there are plenty of scales to choose from when you’re taking a solo or writing a phrase. Some scales are more common than others, while some lend a more unique color to your sound.
Today we’re going to talk about the augmented scale, which is a less common scale you can use on a solo over a major seventh chord, a minor chord, or even a ii-V-I.
To get to know this scale better, we’re going to look at how this scale is built, and we’ll run through five exercises to get you more comfortable using it in your own playing.
How to play the augmented scale
We’ll start by building the scale—which is an alternating pattern of minor thirds and half steps.
Here’s an example of a B-flat augmented scale:
Bb - Db - D - F - Gb - A - Bb
You’ll notice that the scale contains both a major and minor third, which makes this scale very versatile to play over a major or minor chord.
One thing to note, and this is a common misconception—this scale works best over a major 7 chord, because it has the major seventh interval. Many people will use it over a dominant 7 chord, which clashes the major 7 with the b7. That’s not to say you can’t use it over a dominant chord, but a tonic dominant chord is not diatonic to the scale. For an augmented 7th chord (or dominant #5 chord), you’ll want to check out the Mixolydian flat 6 or whole tone scale.
Most of all, the scale works naturally over an augmented (or major sharp 5 chord), as the name implies.
Looking at the chords in the augmented scale we have:
Bb major (Bbmaj7)
D major (Dmaj7)
Gb major (Gbmaj7)
Bb minor (BbmM7)
D minor (DmM7)
Gb minor (GbmM7)
As you can see, the chords from this scale are unique—with plenty of minor-major seventh chords and augmented major seventh chords, sometimes with several chord possibilities from a single root note. By adding suspensions and other extensions, you can coax even more creative combinations out of this scale.
Where does this scale come from?
When you look closely, you notice that it is really a type of hexatonic scale built from a triad pair. The triads are two augmented chords a minor third apart, or in this case, B-flat and D-flat.
Bb - Db - D - F - Gb - A
Bb - D - F# (spelled here as Gb) and Db - F - A.
Now if you remember, augmented chords are symmetrical chords, built from two consecutive major thirds. With that in mind, any note in an augmented chord can be viewed as the root. A B-flat augmented chord is just as well a D augmented or Gb augmented chord.
This quirk of the augmented chord applies to the augmented scale, too—there are really only four unique augmented scales. That said, it is still important to practice in all 12 keys to get the most out of this scale.
Before we get into the five exercises, make sure to check out the PDF 20 Exercises for Augmented Scale Technique to try out all 20 exercises and really master the augmented scale in all 12 keys. Phrases from the augmented scale are super hip and make great licks.
Exercise Group 1: Diatonic scale exercise
Exercise 1 is really simple, we’re going to just step up a few degrees, then step back down to the original note, then we’ll stack that shape moving up each degree of the scale.
Exercise Group 2: Triadic exercises
Like we mentioned before, you can build this scale with two main augmented triads a minor third apart. So let’s alternate on those triads—going up 1, 3, 5, 3 of the first triad and 1, 3, 5, 3 of the second triad. Then we’ll invert them, building them up the scale like an arpeggio exercise.
For the third exercise, we’ll look at the scale a bit differently, with three triads a major third apart—or in B-flat: Bb major, D major, Gb major.
With this, we’ll arpeggiate up 1, 3, 5, 1 (octave above) and then voice lead up to the closest degree to connect to our next triad.
Exercise Group 3: Chromatic exercises
Finally, for our chromatic section, here are two exercises that are going to sound super hip.
Our first exercise will be triadic for the first half—1, 3, 5, 3, then we’ll do an enclosure into the next note as we build up (in this first case, the 3, then the 5 in the next figure). To descend, we’ll just turn the shape around.
For our last exercise, we’re going to do the same first phrase as before, then we’ll descend chromatically into the next augmented triad. When descending, it’ll be similar, with the chromatic line ascending, instead of descending.
Ready to try some more?
That’s all for these five exercises! If you want to try some more, be sure to check out our PDF package 20 Exercises for Augmented Scale Technique. If you’re looking for more help with these 5, check out our video on these exercises.
Happy playing, and we’ll see you again soon!