Some Dissonant Scales for Minor Chords

I've been exploring some choices for minor chords that don't contain the b3, which give a rather open, not-very-minor quality to your lines. They can work over other chord types too. So if Locrian just isn't doing it for you any more, step inside.


In my mind the scales form a little family:

  • Locrian bb3 (mode of Ionian b2)
  • Tanarupi
  • Navaneetam

The first three all contain the b2 and 2, which mean they have an ascending group of three chromatic notes starting at the root. This helps with identifying them. Fingerings for all of them can be found in my free scales book.

Approaching the Scales with Covers

The idea here is to "cover" the scales with familiar arpeggios, so that every note in the scale appears in at least one of the arpeggios and no other notes crop up anywhere.

These are easy to learn and think of when improvising. If you like the sound enough you'll probably want to move away from this way of thinking to seeing the idea as its own thing rather than a derivative of another arpeggio, but this is a quick and easy way to get started.

To get started, learn the following three easy superimpositions. In each case we take the arpeggio of the underlying minor chord -- 1m7 -- and add another arpeggio based a semitone or a tone above it. The idea here is to get used to the sound of each superimposed arpeggio and be able to find it quickly in a chord progression.

1m7 + b2Maj7 is Phrygian

1m7 + 2aug is Dorian #4 (a mode of Harmonic Minor)

1m7 + 2Maj7 is Dorian with an added b9

Exotic Applications

We'll now take these three ideas and combine them to produce more exotic effects. We drop the 1m7 arpeggio and instead choose two of the superimpositions we were working with earlier, weaving them together to create a more unexpected effect.

  • Locrian bb3 is b2Maj7 and 2aug
  • Kanakangi b5 is b2Maj7 and 2Maj7
  • Navaneetam is 2Maj7 and 2aug

Note that once you've got these down, you have seven scales in each of the scale groups to explore -- 21 new sounds, potentially. For example, Hungarian Minor is the same cover as Kanakangi b5 but built on the 5; so to get that sound in A, play EMaj7 and FMaj7. There are many interesting sounds hiding in these for those who have the patience to dig them out.