Уроки теории (курс лекций)
  • Register

Melody and harmony conflict

lesson 3 (harmony conflict)See full detailed version This Lesson 3 (link)

Now we will study the blues scale.
We start with blues and we will at the same time deepen our knowledge of blues and learn other forms as a 12 bar blues form represents only minor part of jazz.


Melody and its conflict with harmony are worth talking about. Jazz is based on conflicts, in scientific language – percussively sounding constructions (see the lesson «knock» - you can find the link in the upper part of the page). Melody is the upper part of this construction (even if it sounds in the highest key). We will try to highlight the visible way of creating dissonant vertical structure.


Sept-non-fourth- containing harmony (chord symbols) the use of such chords in the harmony (left hand) itself guarantees that the melody is jazz.
Example 1:
Example 2:
Example 3:

You may have noticed that a light swing is the evident choice here, but given you don’t have enough experience the result is uninteresting and a bit vulgar, something like this:

This sounding is onу of the most simple (basic ones) in jazz. Crudely speaking, it’s like soup without salt and spices. If you use only this sounding you will feel that something is missing, that there are not enough instruments for expressiveness.
You won’t get any spiritual anguish or the highest tension here, but this is soil under your feet that you should feel.

At this stage it is not very bad, later we will learn how to improve it and to make it more interesting, won’t we? – gradually we will gain more and more experience.

The main factor of choosing diatonic sounds for improvisation is the central scale of the theme (part of the theme). Organization of sounds according to the scale tone won’t lead to any discomfort while overlaying on chord function in gradual movement. This kind of organization will create the whole range of inner tensions and resolutions and, it goes without saying, it will sound in the movement of melody on the chord function (sept-non etc.).

Thus, we have learned about simple diatonic jazz constructions. Now we will speak about:


There are at least two additional blues pentatonic scales that are alternative to the main Ionian scale.

Examples for F major

And it also has the right to exist independently as the fifth low scale tone or as advancing forth scaled up scale tone or the fifth scaled down scale tone.

-//- The harmonious blues net may include not chords not only of three main functions. The chords of secondary dominant seventh chords are frequent and this adds in the main scale many sounds that are not typical for the main scale.
The chord function by itself already contains many scale tones (that, thus, have the right to exist in melody) and gives the right to use new diatonic sounds while improvising. Why do I call them diatonic (am calling now, have called before and will call later)? – because chromatic accesses can be used. If we use scale sounds in melody the chord sounds may differ from the main scale sounds (they will contradict each other) -//- We will speak about it in other lessons.

Blues pentatonic scales can be enlarged – that is , to include all sounds of the minor gamut (I had to mention it earlier as pentatonic scale represents only the basis that does not exclude the use of other sounds as well):

Let’s study the variant of conflict sounding while using the blues scale in the melody (at first we will speak about simple functions: I, IV and V, more rarely – VI or VII). It is worth noting here that these functions can be in the harmony (the left hand) diatonic (without accidental) or can have the structure X7 (the small major seventh chord, for example – dominant seventh chord GBDF).

Here I give three examples with three different types of harmonious functions:

Example 1:

Here harmonious functions are shown as simple common chords; but as we see, simplicity doesn’t give the desirable result.
In the next example the harmony will use the seventh chords of the natural scale.
Example 2:
Example 3:
This is the most expressive and at the same time blues variant of sounding. This variant is the most constructive from all three mentioned variants that means that large parts of it can be inserted in different improvisations in the places with similar chord symbols. This skill will be helpful later.
So, we have spoken about the same melody with different type of chords: 1) common chord of natural scale; 2) seventh chord of natural scale; 3) small major sept-non chords sometimes with sixth.

Note. In jazz not only substitution X+7 is allowed, but also Xm7 by X7; besides, in expressive moments it is allowed to bring all chord symbols closer to X7-Y7-Z7 in the harmony, especially when you move along cuarta and quinta circle counter-clockwise. I have not read about it, but have frequently seen how masters do it. In this case in the moment of culmination the theme that doesn’t sound like jazz at all can sound very expressively – this is exactly what we see in the Example 3. And this is how «Vechera» can sound (to make it clear I deliberately harmonized the
theme instead of improvising) in culmination. The example is not from this lesson, but it demonstrates how it is possible to change functions:

To play blues chord symbols:
See the playbacks for training in the upper part of the page
Here in comparison with the case 1 there are more non-harmoniously sounding intervals in the vertical structure.
Now we already have an idea of how the blues pentatonic scale should sound and, thus, we can pass to the blues scale (that contains at least two blues scale tones).
Don’t be confused by the gibbosity or roughness of the general sound. Try without any fear, listen, as you know where to look for. Even if it is simple melody without many elements of jazz impulse.
On the next page we will give one of these examples:
I hope you haven’t yet forgotten that we are speaking about the conflict of melody with harmony. Apart from examples 1 and 2 there is a continuation:
3,4,5… - structure with the use of polytonal chords, constructive gamuts, cadence segmentation of the function, etc. – now you should just have the general idea of it – in a more detailed way we will speak about it later.


Now we will again speak about the use of blues scale in melody, but we will concentrate our attention on the combination of (successive use of) natural (Ionian) and blues scales.

Even in blues, and you have probably noticed that, don’t strain at using the natural scale (especially at the natural key note third). Key note – function as well as melody – sometimes by themselves require natural scale tone, and blues scale tone appear in another function – more often on subdominant. Later blues scale tone can be a keynote in culmination moments (tension in music increases not at once, but gradually). But vivid oppositions of two scales are very typical even for the blues themes (melodies).

Task: to play the mirror in three keynotes using one of three chord symbols (the first 8 bars). You can invent a melody or use the ready one. You can find the chord symbols on page 8 of this lesson.

In most blues before bebop blues scale in the melody is used for less than a half.

And in non-blues forms of jazz it is necessary to think carefully when and where its use will be appropriate.

I would like to draw your attention that there are improvisations that don’t contain blues scale at all and yet, they are quite interesting.

Implication: what lies under the necessity to substitute the Ionian scale in the melody with the blues one? First of all, discordant chord symbols themselves – it would be absurdity to use jazz dissonance in the sentimental and sweet classical harmony (earlier than in the XX century). For the use of dissonance the ground should be prepared and – paradoxically enough – this should be done with the use of dissonance. It is sept-non and more difficult chords that determine the use of the blues scale in a melody.

From the last thing mentioned above it’s possible to conclude that you shouldn’t pass to the basics of improvisation unless you don’t play piano as a musician has to be able to hear the created conflict of sounding. Of course, we will try to help…, but still, we recommend to stick to this rule.

Where is it preferable to use the Ionian scale and where – the blues one?
The most evident variant is, as I have already mentioned, the «mirror» I(7) – IV7 scale tones – it goes without saying that it can be used here.

As for the other cases:

1. IN THE THEME: If blues scale tones are already used in the theme – it is great, it means that the theme itself has the blues sounding. You should be very careful with the theme, and especially when you add something to it. In this course we have not yet aimed at composing chartbuster. But it is possible to make changes to classical and standard themes – this is exactly what many musicians do. And it is possible to use blues scale tones, correspondingly, to give the certain character when performing a theme, this will be great impulse to improvising.

the bottom line illustrates the variant of substituition

2. IN IMPROVISATION: it is the time to concentrate attention on the blues scale. You may use it not at once and not all the time. Now we speak about simple chord symbols where you can limit yourself with the use if only one blues scale. In difficult chord symbols it will be necessary to determine possible space for every possible alternative blues scale in a melody. Thus, simple chord symbols are not mirrors – we just substitute simple scale tones of a melody of the 5th function with the minor (blues) gamut. Let’s give it a try. We are trying and studying. A hint: in the nearest future we will study melodies and riffs. So, it is easier to make melodic construction sound if we use these things. As for now, let’s play as our intuition tells us. It is possible in the moment of break (the part before new improvisation):

It is possible instead of key tone function
Example: Blues «of the tin roof»:

Or another one with simple functions
Example «the girl from Ipanema»:

In culminations, especially in non-blues themes, sometimes it is effective to substitute all key tones in a melody to blues scales and sometimes even to use the fifth low scale tone instead of natural scale tone. This trick enables us to see how it is possible to «blacken» non-jazz classical melody. It is no the rule, but the experiment:

Although there are folk jazz compositions baseв on the folk scales, personally I am not greatly impressed by them. Instead I will point out that here or there the minor dominant is used and etc., implying that the scale still remains the Ionian (Aeolian) one (natural major-minor). It is much easier and you don’t have to remember unnecessary constructions as according to my survey even far not everyone from jazz musicians bothers to perceive all seven scales – it is easier to think in terms of one scale but understand what scale tones in what functions have to change. For those who are still interested in folk scales – this information is available – see the scheme.