The Bebop Minor Scale

For young players looking for a scale for improvising in minor keys, the Bebop Minor scale is an excellent option. It is spelled as follows:

1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5- b6 – b7 – 7 – 8

This is a natural (Aeolian) scale with a raised seventh added to it. Some people, such as Randy Halberstad, refer to this as the bebop harmonic minor scale. Mark Levine calls it the Bebop natural minor scale. The so-called bebop scales are normal diatonic scales or modes with one extra passing note added so that there are 8 different notes in the octave. The bebop minor scale is the relative of the bebop major scale, which has a #5 added to it. Such scales, for bebop players, facilitated the long flowing quaver lines favored by bebop musicians from the 1940’s on.

Whatever we call it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that is an effective choice for improvising in a tune, or section of a tune, that is in a minor key. That is a tune with a minor key center, especially if there is V – I harmony or II-V-I harmony present. The bebop minor scale, starting on the tonic, emphasizes the chord tones in a minor 7 chord (1, b3, 5, b7). When it is played from the leading note (the raised seventh) it outlines chord tones from chord V in the minor key (3, 5, b7, b9). It is also a close match to chord II (b6, 1, b3, b5).

In fact, using a Shearing-style block chord harmony approach, the bebop minor scale can pretty effectively outline every chord in a minor key, just by changing emphasis (or mode). Take care with the raised 7th against chord IV, which can be a little ugly.

Here are some examples of how a beginning improviser might effectively play, using a key center approach, through a tune with two or three key centers.

[box]Example One
Mr PC is a 12 bar minor blues in concert C Minor. It has only one key centre, C minor. A student can use the C bebop minor scale throughout to create a convincing improvisation that approximates the sound and style of a jazz player playing through the changes. By emphasising different parts of the scale, the musician can capture the sound of the chord changes without ever changing key.[/box] [box]Example Two
Bernie’s Tune is a 32 bar AABA song. The A sections are in D minor (I, VI, II, V, I) and the B section is in Bb major (I, VI, II, V). In the A sections, then, use the D bebop minor scale, which can easily outline all the chords. In the B section use the major blues scale (1 – b3- 3 – 5 – 6 – 8).[/box] [box]Example Three
A Night In Tunisia is another 32 bar AABA song. The A sections are, once again, in D minor (bII7 – I – II – V – I). The Eb7 chord is effectively a tritone substitute for chord V (A7). The D bebop minor scale can be used throughout the A section.
The B section is II-V-I in G minor followed by II-V-I in F major. For the first four bars of the B section the G bebop minor scale can be used. For the second four bars of the bridge the F major blues scale can be used, or whatever other approach the student knows for major keys.[/box]

This approach gives the less experienced improviser something they can play without too much difficulty that will allow them to sound good and in style. There are other things more advanced players do, but this is a really effective “entry level” technique. In fact, it is more than that, as it is very close to what many professional players do too.

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]With any jazz solo, the most important things to work on are sound and rhythm. Both of these things need to be recognisably “jazz” and in the right style for the tune being played. Good notes are not enough, they just help. Students should put a lot of work into the sound and rhythmic aspects of their playing.[/box]

To summarize, then: If a tune (or section of a tune) is in a minor key, the bebop minor scale is a great choice.

5 thoughts on “The Bebop Minor Scale

  1. Pingback: Tunes for beginning improvisers | Jazz Workshop Australia

  2. Brock says:

    The 3 diminished scales which are the network connecting everything musical, could you do a deep dive on this publicly unaware phenomenon please ?

  3. Lee says:

    I’ve been having some confusion about this. I never was strong on theory, so please bear with me…

    And that being the case, when I write something in an odd key, lately I’ve been using a website ( to figure out what it is. With the most recent composition, it told me I was using the A# Bebop Minor scale, but I could not wrap my head around this as I couldn’t see how it corresponded to the A# natural, harmonic, or melodic minor.

    I read your article while trying to clarify this for myself, and what you describe is different to what they have listed as the ‘Bebop Minor’ (

    After staring at that page a little longer, I finally understood that what they were calling the A# Bebop Minor was an A# Dorian with a natural 3 in addition to the flat 3.

    Can you clarify? I understand that Dorian could be considered a ‘minor mode’, so to speak, but it seems to me that a ‘Bebop Minor’ should properly be a natural minor with an added note.

    I also realised that in the context of the piece I was writing, I understood the scale better as an A# Mixolydian with an added flat 3 than as an A# Dorian with an added natural 3.

    I guess what I’m asking comes down to: is there a standard name/understanding of ‘Bebop’ scales built upon the various modes, as distinct from just a ‘Bebop Major’ and a ‘Bebop Minor’? And if so, are ‘A# Bebop Mixolydian’ and ‘A# Bebop Dorian’s the same scale? If so, isn’t that interesting! And if not, which one is my composition written in, and correspondingly what is the other one actually?

    Apologies for the long-windedness

  4. Saul Richardson says:

    The bebop minor scale I describe 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7,#7, 8) is simply the relative of the bebop major scale (1,2,3,4,5,#5,6,7,8). I’m not privy to all the same insights as whoever the chord rocks people might be, but I have never heard of their Dorian with a major 3rd added, and I wonder what its use even is. Dorian is a minor mode – anything with a minor 3rd probably is.

    I have heard of Dorian with raised 7th added to it called bebop minor as well. I guess labels are hard. Don’t worry about them so much. Instead, worry about what the notes of the scale do and how they relate to your use case or what you need them to do.

    The so-called bebop scales are diatonic scales with one extra note added to the octave to better facilitate emphasising chord tones when playing lines of 8th notes. The “chord rocks” version would do that – it just has its passing note on the 3rd instead of the major 7th. The major 6th could be problematic against chord iv in a minor key which reduces its utility for playing in a minor key centre. However, against a stand-along min7 chord or over a ii chord in a major key it would fit nicely inside.

    Hope this helps a bit. Good luck with your writing.

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