Octonic Altered Scale

The Octonic Altered Scale, The Holy Grail of Jazz Scales

It's amazing to me that every jazz musician I know approaches the music a bit differently. The study of music and the use of music theory in jazz is fascinating.

Over the last 30 years I have studied and applied all of the common harmonic and melodic concepts used in jazz. Major scales, jazz minor, harmonic minor, whole tone, diminished and countless arpeggios have been the means to an end for me.

The discovery of the Octonic Altered Scale was a bit of a journey. About eight years ago I started playing (non-pedal) steel guitar. The instrument is endlessly fascinating. The bending of pitch for both melodic and harmonic effects is intuitive and beautiful. There are many things I can do on the steel guitar that are impossible to do on guitar. But, this comes at a cost. On steel guitar you are enslaved to the slide (The steel tone bar you hold in your left hand) and the tuning of the instrument. There are dozens of standard tunings for the steel guitar and most steel players can play in several tunings.

Being an aspiring jazz guitarist I really wanted to bring my jazz guitar skills to the steel guitar. I quickly realized there was no way I could accomplish this unless I stopped playing regular guitar and dedicated all my efforts to playing jazz steel guitar. I also wasn’t sure the limitations of the instrument would ever allow me to have the harmonic freedom that I easily enjoy on the guitar.

So with this disposition and my determination to play jazz on steel guitar I went looking for a harmonic short cut to one of the challenges I was having on the steel guitar when improvising over complex chords. I was looking for a group of notes that would play easily on the steel guitar. I wasn’t even looking for a harmonically pure scale. As long as it played well on the steel guitar and was “Good Enough” to get by.

But, what I found in this investigation is a new and undiscovered scale that can be used for all complex chords that have extended harmonic options outside of the major scale. I named this scale the “Octonic Altered Scale". I have done many extensive searches through music theory books and the internet and I have never found this scale anywhere. That is why I call it the "Holly Grail of Jazz Scales".

This scale is easy to construct. It is the 1-3-5-b7 of a dominant 7th chord combined with all the altered tensions of the dominant 7th chord. b9, #9, #11 and b13. This makes for an eight tone scale. In the key of C it has the notes of C-Db-D#-E-F#-G-Ab-Bb.

As an altered scale this scale makes perfect sense, but what I didn’t see coming was that this scale has seven useful modes. You can study the article I wrote below to learn the concepts.

As a jazz guitarist the Octonic Altered Scale has been a wonderful tool and has taken my jazz guitar playing to a new level. But, on steel guitar the Octonic Altered Scale is not the solution I was looking for. My days as a jazz steel guitar player will have to wait until this journey with this new scale becomes hard wired to my creative consciousness on guitar.

Thank you for having a look my work!

Mike James

Octonic Altered Scale.pdf