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How to figure out what scale to play over a chord progression that isn't in one key?

Solution
This is a really interesting progression! I'm not at my Guitar just now, but Scale wise for the first 3 chords you could technically use E Locrian Natural 2 (Really G Melodic minor) - You'll want to miss out the Bb in the scale when the Em chord hits also.

G A Bb C D E F#

It might sound kinda spicy over the D minor chord though as you'll have the F# clashing with the F, but you could always treat it as a #9 or avoid that scale tone completely when the chord hits.

The C# minor is trickier to make the scale fit with unless you wanted loads of altered intervals added to that chord that the scale contains (the Major 7th, b9, b5, b13,)

I'd say for that you could really use any C# minor type scale ( C# Aeolian, Dorian, Harmonic Minor...

Steven Huth

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    The most basic way to learn how to play over chords is breaking down the notes of the chord and finding a scale that has the same notes in it.

    Basically, play just an E minor chord (E (root), G (minor third), and B (fifth) and play over that. you can then do the same for each chord and go from there.
     
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    Chris Johnston

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  • Nov 11, 2019
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    This is a really interesting progression! I'm not at my Guitar just now, but Scale wise for the first 3 chords you could technically use E Locrian Natural 2 (Really G Melodic minor) - You'll want to miss out the Bb in the scale when the Em chord hits also.

    G A Bb C D E F#

    It might sound kinda spicy over the D minor chord though as you'll have the F# clashing with the F, but you could always treat it as a #9 or avoid that scale tone completely when the chord hits.

    The C# minor is trickier to make the scale fit with unless you wanted loads of altered intervals added to that chord that the scale contains (the Major 7th, b9, b5, b13,)

    I'd say for that you could really use any C# minor type scale ( C# Aeolian, Dorian, Harmonic Minor etc) and see what your ears like best?

    All of the above is if you're looking for the best 'one scale fits all' approach.
    However, The way I'd reccomend for soloing or writing over trickier progressions like these is to work to understand them 'Triadically' first. Basically what @Steven Huth said above. (Learning where each chord's Root, 3rd & 5ths are in shapes/mini arpeggios on the neck) You'll end up getting more authentic melodies out of the progression if you understand where all of your chord tones are in relation to one another 😊 This way you'll be playing a note because it's part of the chord, rather than it being in a scale pattern and having that pattern dictate what you play (if that makes sense) You can then branch out from these Triads and add other intervals in that you like the sound of.

    I've been trying to get a chance to do a lesson video on Major & Major Triads so I'll link you up to that once it's uploaded 😊

    If the above seems confusing, don't worry! The triad stuff makes so much more sense when you begin to actually use it in practice.
     
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    Solution

    Steven Huth

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  • Nov 11, 2019
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    This is a really interesting progression! I'm not at my Guitar just now, but Scale wise for the first 3 chords you could technically use E Locrian Natural 2 (Really G Melodic minor)

    G A Bb C D E F#

    It might sound kinda spicy over the D minor chord though as you'll have the F# clashing with the F, but you could always treat it as a #9 or avoid that scale tone completely when the chord hits.

    The C# minor is trickier to make the scale fit with unless you wanted loads of altered intervals added to that chord that the scale contains (the Major 7th, b9, b5, b13,)

    I'd say for that you could really use any C# minor type scale ( C# Aeolian, Dorian, Harmonic Minor etc) and see what your ears like best?

    All of the above is if you're looking for the best 'one scale fits all' approach.
    However, The way I'd reccomend for soloing or writing over trickier progressions like these is to work to understand them 'Triadically' first. Basically what @Steven Huth said above. (Learning where each chord's Root, 3rd & 5ths are in shapes/mini arpeggios on the neck) You'll end up getting more authentic melodies out of the progression if you understand where all of your chord tones are in relation to one another 😊 This way you'll be playing a note because it's part of the chord, rather than it being in a scale pattern and having that pattern dictate what you play (if that makes sense) You can then branch out from these Triads and add other intervals in that you like the sound of.

    I've been trying to get a chance to do a lesson video on Major & Major Triads so I'll link you up to that once it's uploaded 😊

    If the above seems confusing, don't worry! The triad stuff makes so much more sense when you begin to actually use it in practice.
    I knew someone would come in and explain it way better than I could lol. Thanks dude.

    I know enough music theory to get me by. For the last couple of years, I have been working on improvising and learning how to understand the relationship between the chords and the notes and how they fit together. Learning the chord tones was the perfect starting place.
     
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    Riff36

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  • Jan 2, 2022
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    I usually just play in the key of whatever chord I find to be the most driving force in the song
    Back to basic.. circle of fifth and circle of fourth is a guideline for key signature with inner circle as its relative minor. Example ie: C hv no sharp or flat. But when u understand the Circle of fifth.., C F G hv all the same notes in it exceptional for F which consists of 1 flat and with the natural minor which is the the 6 degree scales of those key hv the same notes. So back to basic.., playing metal and rock progression usually be ysing more of keys from circle of 5th unless Jazz and blues whereby they use more of Eb key or Bb. From there knowing and understanding these basic guidelines.. you can start using what ever key you’re in and play the scales modes as a palette and feels or u can start explore more with Natural minor, Harmonic minor, Pyrgian Dominant, chromatic or even Diminished scales for more color and feel. Changing of key progression will be much much easier when we understand the circle of Fifth and the chord progression. To add up. U can also start using Parental Chord, Triads or Tonic, Sub Dominant or Dominant which is actually notes outside the key but related which we called a borrow note. Hope this help. Sorry if i offend any1 here in advance. 😅🙏🏼 - Peace out; Riff36 (Silly Rabbit) 🐰🐇🐇🐇🐰
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    Chris Johnston

    Music Theory Bragger
  • Nov 11, 2019
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    I knew someone would come in and explain it way better than I could lol. Thanks dude.

    I know enough music theory to get me by. For the last couple of years, I have been working on improvising and learning how to understand the relationship between the chords and the notes and how they fit together. Learning the chord tones was the perfect starting place.
    Not at all man! You explained it really concisely and straight to the point 👌

    I've been on the same journey as yourself it seems. If you've never checked out Tomo Fujita's stuff on youtube I'd highly reccomend it for just great ways to think about soloing with chord tones. Coming across his stuff completely changed my playing for the better 🤟
     
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    Lindsey

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  • Nov 16, 2019
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    I usually just play in the key of whatever chord I find to be the most driving force in the song
    That's actually a good and simple tip. I never think of it like that.

    @Steven Huth
    I understand the circle of fifths and triads and all. People left great comments here, I'll take a better look at those in a bit.
     
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    Lindsey

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  • Nov 16, 2019
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    This is a really interesting progression! I'm not at my Guitar just now, but Scale wise for the first 3 chords you could technically use E Locrian Natural 2 (Really G Melodic minor)

    G A Bb C D E F#

    It might sound kinda spicy over the D minor chord though as you'll have the F# clashing with the F, but you could always treat it as a #9 or avoid that scale tone completely when the chord hits.

    The C# minor is trickier to make the scale fit with unless you wanted loads of altered intervals added to that chord that the scale contains (the Major 7th, b9, b5, b13,)

    I'd say for that you could really use any C# minor type scale ( C# Aeolian, Dorian, Harmonic Minor etc) and see what your ears like best?

    All of the above is if you're looking for the best 'one scale fits all' approach.
    However, The way I'd reccomend for soloing or writing over trickier progressions like these is to work to understand them 'Triadically' first. Basically what @Steven Huth said above. (Learning where each chord's Root, 3rd & 5ths are in shapes/mini arpeggios on the neck) You'll end up getting more authentic melodies out of the progression if you understand where all of your chord tones are in relation to one another 😊 This way you'll be playing a note because it's part of the chord, rather than it being in a scale pattern and having that pattern dictate what you play (if that makes sense) You can then branch out from these Triads and add other intervals in that you like the sound of.

    I've been trying to get a chance to do a lesson video on Major & Major Triads so I'll link you up to that once it's uploaded 😊

    If the above seems confusing, don't worry! The triad stuff makes so much more sense when you begin to actually use it in practice.
    Thanks! I got the answers I was looking for.

    I'll start with @Carlos Owens suggestion and I want to add the other scales to it later. To keep it more simple but it sounds like I have many options.
     
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    Riff36

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  • Jan 2, 2022
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    Thanks! I got the answers I was looking for.

    I'll start with @Carlos Owens suggestion and I want to add the other scales to it later. To keep it more simple but it sounds like I have many options.
    Thats the best explanation brotha. ☺️🤘 - Triad over a progression with 1 3 5 triad and slowly add tens 9,11 &13. Love your explanation.
     
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