MODERN, BLUESY, MAJOR-, AND MINOR-ISH
all at once: I heard the sound when I was listening to Bob
Mintzer’s “Aha” [For the Moment, MCG Jazz, 2012], with the fabulous
rhythm section of Lincoln Goines (bass) and Peter Erskine
(drums). Saxophonist and composer Mintzer wrote the angular line
over an intense baião bass line. His melody is based on major triads,
played in sequence in major-3rd intervals, a device that was introduced
in the ’60s by saxophonist Oliver Nelson, and has since been
used in jazz tunes by everyone from Michael Brecker to Joe Zawinul.
On the “Aha” track, Goines lays down a solid bass groove that
anchors the D to E minor sound, while the melody instruments
render the ever-so-hip line built on the augmented scale (Ex. 1).
Why do bassists need to understand the augmented scale, arguably
a saxophone-like harmonic and melodic structure? Because the
augmented scale’s modern sound has become part of the jazz language.
Plus, the augmented scale lies nicely on the bass, and you can
use it to scare the wits out of your not-so-scale-savvy bandmates.
Like the diminished scale, the whole-tone scale, and the chromatic
scale, the augmented scale is symmetrical: It is built using a
repeated pattern of intervals, where more than one root will yield
the same set of notes. For example, play a D whole-tone scale (Ex. 2,
built using all whole-step intervals), and then use any of its notes—
E, Gb, Ab, Bb, C—as a root to start another whole-tone scale, and
you still have the same group of notes. Since the whole-tone scale
and the augmented scale both have only six notes, they are in the
family of hexatonic scales.
Example 3 shows the construction of the augmented scale:
half-step, minor 3rd, half-step, minor 3rd, half-step, minor 3rd. The
combination of half-step and minor 3rd intervals gives this scale a
funky quality. Because of the symmetry, every pattern derived from
the scale sounds logical. Unfortunately, though, the scale doesn’t
quite fit any chord perfectly. There’s always a rub between certain
notes of the scale and most traditional chords, which is why the
scale sounds hip and funky.
Example 4 is the alternate construction of the
augmented scale: minor 3rd, half-step, minor 3rd,
half-step, minor 3rd, half-step. Example 3 begins with
a half-step interval, and Ex. 4 has the same notes,
beginning with a minor 3rd interval. Since the scale
is symmetrical, both scales sound the same, but the
starting point will influence your left-hand fingering,
and—more important—how you hear a scale against
a particular harmony.
Example 5 shows the granddaddy of all augmented
scale licks, heard in the song “Hoe-Down”
[Oliver Nelson, Blues and the Abstract Truth, Impulse,
1961]. The tune starts with a call-and-response
hoedown-sounding horn melody, and the bridge reveals
this line using the augmented scale. Paul Chambers
outlines the descending major triads in his bass line.
Chambers was familiar with chords moving in major
3rd intervals from his work with saxophonist John
Coltrane. Check out the major-3rd harmonic scheme
of “Giant Steps” [John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic,
1960], which Chambers also anchored.
There are several ways to think about and practice
the augmented scale. It’s composed of two augmented
triads, one half-step apart (Ex. 6). For example, try
playing both the Bb and B augmented triads over a
Bmaj7(#5) containing the notes B, D#, G, and A# (or
Bb). Approach each note of the B augmented triad
from a half-step below to lead into the target note
(Bb to B, D to D#, F# to G).
The scale contains three major triads. Try playing
the three major triads shown in Ex. 7 in a pattern
over various chords, for example: Dmaj7#5,
Ebm(maj7#11), or D7#9b13. There is always at least
one note in the scale that doesn’t fit the chord perfectly,
but to the listener, the logic of the symmetrical
structure will prevail.
Rearranging the notes in the scale also produces
three minor triads (Ex. 8). Experiment with building
melodies and patterns using the triads in Examples
6–8. You’ll surprise yourself with lots of new sounds
once you can hear the major 3rd movement.
Example 9 shows a typical pattern using the augmented
sound over a G altered chord (in this case, a
G7#9b13) to a Cm(maj7). As a reference point, you can
start the augmented pattern on the G7 chord’s b13
(#5), 3rd, or root. In the 3rd bar, play the augmented
scale over the Cm(maj7), which emphasizes the chord’s
b7th, major 7th, 9th, b3rd, #4th, and 5th.
Have a good listen to augmented triads, and the
augmented scale, and pay attention to how they sound
up and down the bass. Even if you’ve never thought
much beyond major and minor chords in your bassplaying
career, you might find that the augmented scale
becomes your new secret friend.
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