Altered States

Hello fellow guitar freaks, this time out we will be discussing something that our cousins in jazz deal with on a regular basis but we rockers are usually barely familiar with, namely altered chords. The most used altered chord is the altered dominant chord. So what is an altered dominant chord? Simply put it is a dominant chord that has an alteration made to a non-essential chord tone. Examples are: E7b9, D9#5, B7#9, etc. The one altered chord that most rockers are familiar with is the Jimi Hendrix chord, which is a dominant sharp nine chord that he used on many famous tracks like, Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, and others. These chords take the already unresolved sound of the dominant chord and up the tension significantly, which is a good thing because tension and release is a lot of what music is about. How do you solo over these? Keep reading.

Soloing Over Altered Dominants

The most obvious scale to use when soloing over an altered dominant chord is the altered scale, which is the seventh mode of melodic minor, and is sometime referred to as super locrian. The construction of this scale contains all the elements of the dominant chord as well as the altered tones. Build this scale by simply starting on the seventh step of the melodic minor scale. If you are unfamiliar with the melodic minor scale please see my previous soloing strategies columns to get some very usable patterns. Try using wide interval skips and chromatics to jazz up the sound (pun intended).

Less obvious scales that you can bring to the party are the diminished or dominant diminished scales which will definitely take you outside a little bit, but in rock that is usually a good thing as cliches abound in rock music. The difference between the diminished and dominant diminished is simply the way the pattern begins. A diminished scale is whole-half-whole-half, whereas a dominant diminished scale is half-whole-half-whole. On the opposite side of the coin is the yin to diminished scales yang which is the whole tone scale. This scale is not surprisingly constructed entirely out of whole steps and is incredibly cool over dominant chords that contain a sharp five, as the bottom of this chord is an augmented triad.

The last tool I will mention is the altered pentatonic scale, which is something I will elaborate on in future columns. This is not your usual pentatonic that you have heard B.B. King use but rather a dominant seventh arpeggio that has an altered tone added to it. An example would be 1-3-5-b7-#9. To build this scale just start with a seventh chord and add the altered tone. Please check out my arpeggios column to get some usable arpeggios to modify into altered pentatonic scales.

To hear this in action please check out the solo to my song
"The Bastard Son of Disco Dan" on my new album "From the Blindside". Go to to check it out.

Scott Allen is a 1996 graduate of the Musician's Institute, G.I.T. He currently teaches guitar to 65 to 70 students weekly at Northridge Music Center.

His latest CD is entitled "III", featuring his impressively fluid playing, with a style marked by an incendiary sense of phrasing.

Scott Allen