Tip: Scales To Play Over Dominant Chords

We’ve been doing a lot of focusing on finding scales for playing over major chords. Please see the previous entries listed below for details.

Let’s work out some scales to play over dominant chords now. Let’s do a one-chord progression with G7:

||: G7 :||

Record several measures of rhythm, strumming the G7 chord into your Band in a Box software, or a simple tape recorder, or something similar. Power Tab – free software – is highly recommended.

Now play back the recording. What are going to play over that G7? If you’re playing it safe, you can start with an arpeggio rather than a scale. Play a G7 arpeggio such as the following:


What you’re doing is just playing each chord tone of the G7 one note at a time. You’re not hearing anything that’s not in the chord. For a little variety and color play an A note with that arpeggio. Also, try E.

Let’s go back to scales and re-ask the original question: what scales will sound good over G7?

C major is a good candidate. Why? G7 is found in the C major scale (among other scales). In other words, every note in G7 can be found in the C major scale.

Yet, there’s a dissonance if you use C major over G7: the C note. Play the C over the G7 and listen. As mentioned in a previous tip, this note wants to resolve to B.

So you’ve found one scale with a dissonant note and now you say, “Well maybe there’s a scale that contains the notes in G7 but doesn’t have the dissonant C.” You learn a bit of theory and you come up with this scale: G pentatonic. We presented this in a previous tip, so we’re going to zip over to yet another scale: D melodic minor.

Believe it or not, you can use melodic minor scales in at least 4 different ways to play over dominant chords. We’ll start to go over those approaches next time.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2007 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – October 1, 2005 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

Scales and Soloing Series