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Altered scale

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Altered scale

In jazz, the altered scale or altered dominant scale is a seven-note scale that is a dominant scale where all non-essential tones have been altered. This means that it comprises the three irreducibly essential tones that define a dominant seventh chord, which are root, major third, and minor seventh and that all other chord tones have been altered. These are:

  • the ninth, which has two altered forms: minor ninth and augmented ninth
  • the eleventh, which has one altered form: the augmented eleventh
  • the fifth, which has two altered forms: the diminished fifth and the augmented fifth
  • and the thirteenth, which has one altered form: the minor thirteenth

The altered forms of some of the non-essential tones coincide (augmented eleventh with diminished fifth and augmented fifth with minor thirteenth) meaning those scale degrees are enharmonically identical and have multiple potential spellings. The natural forms of the non-essential tones are not present in the scale. This means it contains no major ninth, no perfect eleventh, no perfect fifth, and no major thirteenth. An altered scale on C contains the notes:

  • C (root),
  • D (minor ninth)
  • D (augmented ninth)
  • E (major third)
  • F (augmented eleventh) or G (diminished fifth)
  • G (augmented fifth) or A (minor thirteenth)
  • B (minor seventh).

This is written below in musical notation with the essential chordtones coloured black and the non-essential altered chordtones coloured red.

About this sound   .

The altered scale is made by the sequence: semitone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – tone.

The abbreviation “alt” (for “altered”) used in chord symbols enhances readability by reducing the number of characters otherwise needed to define the chord and avoids the confusion of multiple equivalent complex names. For example, "C7alt" supplants "C7#59#9#11", "C7-5+5-9+9", "Caug7-9+9+11", etc.


  • Enharmonic spellings and alternate names 1
  • Usage 2
  • See also 3
  • Sources 4
  • External links 5

Enharmonic spellings and alternate names

The altered scale is also enharmonically the C Locrian mode, C-D-E-F-G-A-B, with F changed to F. For this reason, the altered scale is sometimes called the "super Locrian mode". It is also enharmonically the seventh mode of the ascending melodic minor scale. The altered scale is also known as the Pomeroy scale after Herb Pomeroy ( ; ), the Ravel scale (after Maurice Ravel), and the diminished whole-tone scale due to its resemblance to the lower part of the diminished scale and the upper part of the whole-tone scale (Haerle 1975, 15), as well as the dominant whole-tone scale and Locrian flat four (Service 1993, 28).

The super locrian scale (enharmonically identical to the altered scale) is obtained by lowering the fourth scale degree of the diatonic locrian. With a tonic of C, it is spelt: C. D. E. F. G. A. B, and C:

C super locrian scale with flats, enharmonically equivalent to C altered scale About this sound   .

Another way to obtain the altered scale is by raising the tonic of a major scale by a half step; for example, taking the tonic of the B-major scale, B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B,

B major scale with sharps.

and raising the tonic by a half step produces the scale C-C-D-E-F-G-A-C,

C altered scale spelled enharmonically with sharps About this sound   .
Like the other modes of the melodic minor ascending or jazz minor scale, the altered scale shares six of its seven notes with an octatonic (or "diminished") scale, and five of the six notes of a whole-tone scale, and thus is occasionally referred to as the "diminished whole tone scale". For example, the altered scale C-D-D-E-G-A-B shares all but its A with the octatonic scale C-D-D-E-F-G-A-B; while sharing five of the six notes in the whole-tone scale C-D-E-G-A-B. This accounts for some of its popularity in both the classical and jazz traditions ( ,; ).


The altered scale appears sporadically in the works of Debussy and Ravel (Tymoczko 1997). See: chord-scale system.

See also


  • Bahha, Nor Eddine, and Robert Rawlins. 2005. Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians, edited by Barrett Tagliarino. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0-634-08678-6.
  • Callender, Clifton. 1998. "Voice-leading parsimony in the music of Alexander Scriabin", Journal of Music Theory 42, no. 2 ("Neo-Riemannian Theory", Autumn): 219–33.
  • Haerle, Dan. 1975. Scales for Jazz Improvisation: A Practice Method for All Instruments. Lebanan, Indiana: Studio P/R; Miami: Warner Bros.; Hialeah : Columbia Pictures Publications. ISBN 978-0-89898-705-8.
  • Miller, Ron. 1996. Modal Jazz Composition & Harmony, volume 1. Rottenburg: Advance Music.
  • Service, Saxophone. 1993. "The Altered Scale In Jazz Improvisation". Saxophone Journal 18, no. 4 (July–August):
  • Tymoczko, Dmitri. 1997. “The Consecutive-Semitone Constraint on Scalar Structure: A Link Between Impressionism and Jazz.” Integral 11:135–79.
  • Tymoczko, Dmitri. 2004. “Scale Networks in Debussy.” Journal of Music Theory 48, no. 2 (Autumn): 215–92.

External links

  • Super Locrian arranged for Guitar as 3 note per string and 3 octave patterns
  • The altered scale for guitar
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