Octonic Altered Scale

The Octonic Altered Scale, The Holy Grail of Jazz Scales

The study of jazz is fascinating. It is amazing to me that every musician I know views and approaches music differently. Music theory is a mechanism to explain what musicians play and has helped me as an aspiring jazz guitarist.

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.

About eight years ago I started playing (non-pedal) steel guitar. The instrument is endlessly fascinating to me. The bending of pitch for both melodic and harmonic effects is intuitive and beautiful. There are many thing 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 and there are dozens of standard tunings for the steel guitar. Every great steel player can play in several different tuning without hesitation.

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 all together and dedicated the rest of my life to playing jazz steel guitar. But even if I did go that route, I 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. A substitution for all the exotic scale I have used that I would never be able to master on the steel guitar. I was looking for a group of notes that would play easily on the steel guitar over chords that had extended harmonic options outside of the major scale. I wasn’t even looking for a harmonically pure scale. As long as it was usable and played well on the steel guitar I would be happy. A scale that is “Good Enough” to get by.

But, what I found in this investigation is a new scale that I can use for all complex chords that have extended harmonic options outside of the major scale. This scale is called the “Octonic Altered” scale.

This scale is easy to construct. It is the 1-3-5b7 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’s the notes of C-Db-Eb-E-F#-G-G#-Bb.

As an altered scale this scale makes perfect sense, but what I didn’t see coming was that this scale also has seven useful modes. You can study the paper I wrote below on this at: https://www.mikejamesmusic.com/octonic-altered-scale

As a jazz guitarist the Octonic Altered scale has been a wonderful tool and has taken my guitar playing to a new level. But on steel guitar the Octonic Altered scale is not the solution and perhaps 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 at my new jazz scale approach!

Mike James


Octonic Altered Scale.pdf