Cheat Sheets - This is how it works

You can see a complete Cheat Sheet below:

On the left side, the original sheet, you can pick

Lets go into details:

Every bar of the song contents four rows. But you don't have to read all of them...

Chord

The third line from the top contains the actual changes (using standard chord symbols). All of the songs we analyze can be (and have been) harmonized in many different ways. For our purpose we have used the most commonly played changes. One of our goals is to use chords that have a high degree of functional harmonic consistency. Consequently, many of the substitutions and embellishments that can be found in various fake books were - wherever possible - omitted in favor of highlighting the basic harmonic structures. Commonly used alternative changes to our basic approach are discussed in the comment page for each song.

  • maj - major chord, if applicable with extension (eg. maj7)
  • min - minor chord, if applicable with extension (eg. min7 or min∆7)
  • 7 - dominant chord, if applicable with alteration (eg. 7#9)
  • 9, 11, 13 - dominant chord with extension
  • min7b5 - half-diminished chord
  • dim - diminished chord
  • aug - augmented chord

Tonality

The first line (which may be most crucial to some musicians) states the “master scale” or “parent scale” from which the suggested scale for the chord is derived. For example: the G-mixolydian scale is the scale that emerges once the C-Major scale is played from its fifth (i.e. G). It therefore contains the same tonality as its parent scale C-Major. This approach allows the user to quickly detect the overarching harmonic context of a tune.

  • maj - major
  • HM - harmonic minor
  • MM - melodic minor
  • HTWT - halftone-wholetone scale
  • WTHT - wholetone-halftone scale
  • WT - wholetone scale

Mode

The second line shows the number of the mode of the underlying parent scale - commonly known as the “Roman Numeral”.

  • I - VII - mode nr. of parent scale, also Roman Numeral for major chords
  • i - vii - mode nr. of parent scale, also Roman Numeral for minor chords
  • V/x - secondary dominant with target roman numeral (z.B. V/ii), includes alterations where applicable
  • Vb9 - Roman Numeral for diminished chords which are interpreted as dominant -7b9 chords
  • tr.sub - Tritone-substitution for a dominant chord

Where the mode nr. does not coincide with the Roman Numeral of the chord (e.g. due to modal interchange), the different Roman Numeral is additionally being stated in brackets

Roman Numerals with b or # are used for chords with roots that are non-diatonic to the basic scale of the tune and are shown in brackets. Commonly used examples are:

  • VII (Vb9) - normally used for diminished chords with HM as parent scale (7th Mode) which function as altered dominant (sometimes also includes target chord numeral, eg. VII (Vb9/ii)
  • ii (iv min) - minor four-chord (iv min) with dorian (ii) as corresponding scale
  • V (bVII/I) - “backdoor-five” (bVII/I) with mixolydian (V) as corresponding scale

Scale

Last but not least the fourth line matches the most appropriate scale to the chord above. Of course, many different scales can be played over a given chord. However – since “cheat sheets” are primarily targeted at entry/intermediate level players – preference is given to the most “simple” and easy to play solution. In particular we opted for the following choices:

  • wherever possible, we use diatonic scales (ie. derived from the major scale)
  • for minor ii-V-i we generally use the harmonic minor scale of the i chord and its modes throughout the progression. Most modern players clearly prefer the use of three different scales in this situation (locrian 2, altered, melodic minor). However, we felt that - for entry level players - the advantage of having to navigate just one scale outweighs the disadvantage of a slightly less “hip” sound.
  • altered and symmetrical scales are only proposed where this is clearly the most appropriate approach
  • Alternate scale options are - wherever appropriate - discussed in the comment page for each song.

We use the established terminology (e.g. ionian, dorian etc.) for the modes of the (diatonic) major scale. As there are myriads of different terms to describe the modes of harmonic and melodic minor (eg. lydian dominant, ultraclocrian etc.) we rather chose a system which describes these modes as alteration of the closest diatonic scale. For example, the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale is given as mixo(lydian)#4 rather than lydian-dominant as it is a mixolydian scale with a raised 4. For detailed reference see the glossary below.

Additional Notes and Glossary:

First Line – Parent Scales (master scales)

  • maj - major
  • HM - harmonic minor
  • MM - melodic minor
  • HTWT - halftone-wholetone scale
  • WTHT - wholetone-halftone scale
  • WT - wholetone scale

Second Line

  • I - VII - mode nr. of parent scale, also Roman Numeral for major chords
  • i - vii - mode nr. of parent scale, also Roman Numeral for minor chords
  • V/x - secondary dominant with target roman numeral (z.B. V/ii), includes alterations where applicable
  • Vb9 - Roman Numeral for diminished chords which are interpreted as dominant -7b9 chords
  • tr.sub - Tritone-substitution for a dominant chord

Where the mode nr. does not coincide with the Roman Numeral of the chord (e.g. due to modal interchange), the different Roman Numeral is additionally being stated in brackets

Roman Numerals with b or # are used for chords with roots that are non-diatonic to the basic scale of the tune and are shown in brackets. Commonly used examples are:

  • VII (Vb9) - normally used for diminished chords with HM as parent scale (7th Mode) which function as altered dominant (sometimes also includes target chord numeral, eg. VII (Vb9/ii)
  • ii (iv min) - minor four-chord (iv min) with dorian (ii) as corresponding scale
  • V (bVII/I) - “backdoor-five” (bVII/I) with mixolydian (V) as corresponding scale

Third Line

  • maj - major chord, if applicable with extension (eg. maj7)
  • min - minor chord, if applicable with extension (eg. min7 or min∆7)
  • 7 - dominant chord, if applicable with alteration (eg. 7#9)
  • 9, 11, 13 - dominant chord with extension
  • min7b5 - half-diminished chord
  • dim - diminished chord
  • aug - augmented chord

Fourth line

Some notes on the most commonly used non-diatonic scale terms:

  • dorian∆7 - dorian with major 7th (aka melodic minor) - 1st mode of MM
  • mixo b2b6 - mixolydian with minor 2nd and minor 6th (aka phrygian dominant) - 5th mode of HM
  • mixo b6 - mixolydian with minor 6th (aka aeolian dominant) - 5th mode of MM
  • mixo #4 - mixolydian with raised 4th (aka lydian dominant) - 4th mode of MM
  • aeolian∆7 - aeolian with major 7th (aka harmonic minor) - 1st mode of HM
  • locrian 6 - locrian with major 6th (aka locrian sharp 6) - 2nd mode of HM
  • locrian 2 - locrian with major 2nd (aka semilocrian) - 6th mode of MM
  • locrian b4bb7 - locrian with flat 4th and diminished 7th (aka ultralocrian) - 7th mode of HM
  • altered - altered scale (aka superlocrian or mixo b2#2#4#5) - 7th mode of MM

Basic Scale underlying main parent scale of the tune

There is a comment page on the right side to each analysis that provides further insights, alternate scales and changes and performance notes such as the most commonly used endings etc.

Cheat Sheets are written to help entry-level players and amateurs to improvise by providing a quick and easy to understand view of the tonal material that can be used.

Of course, just knowing and playing scales does not make you a jazz improviser and most of the spice in any improvisation stems from breaking the rules and inventing new ones. But the first step towards using the tonal material creatively and extending the language is to have a good awareness of the basic harmonic structure of a tune. We know from experience as performers and teachers that a lack of harmonic understanding prevents many beginners and even intermediate players from fully exploring their creative potential.

Cheat Sheets were written to help you with this and open up the fascinating and limitless world of jazz improvisation.

Enjoy!

Gerhard Brunner & Martin Eisenmeyer

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