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Karzie Key: Allan's "Top 10" Scales, Special Notation

(Originally from Chapter 25, but broken out here for ease of access.)

Just For the Curious
     In his 1993 video (with supplemental book and CD), Allan talks about his favorite scales and some of his ideas about chord-melody composition. Several song selections are played live in the studio with Allan joined by drummer Chad Wackerman, bassist SkĂșli Sverrisson and keyboardist Steve Hunt. Unfortunately, the recording process for these sessions had some engineering issues. Nonetheless, the package was released (and is still in print), although Allan was sorely disappointed in the outcome (sonically, at least).

Scalar Concepts
     In the instructional portion of the video, Allan describes his 10 "most usable" scales. In his mind, he transposes his scale shapes to the nearest Dorian mode shape (which is always - and confusingly - referred to as "the minor scale" in the lessons). The related modes don't matter, since he files every mode for a scale under one umbrella name. The 10 sequences below give varying "flavors" to play with, and you can fit these scales over various kinds of chords to get different effects. The first 4 scales have 7 notes each (like most diatonic scales). Scales 6-9 have 8 notes. Scales 5 and 11 are symmetrical scales, and so are extra "atonal". All of these scales are meant to be transposed to whatever tonic key is appropriate for the underlying chord harmony.

     Personally, and I think most guitarists probably do this, I started learning scales with the classic pentatonic blues scale, and then added in the extra notes to get to a minor scale (Aeolian mode). In that spirit, I also looked at Allan's 10 scales as alterations and additions to an arbitrarily-rooted minor scale. For me, it was easier to learn the scales in this way as a short-cut to get used to the fingering patterns - your mileage may vary. But if you are really into the Dorian mode, then ignore my personal "views".

1. Allan calls this "Dx", which translates as D Dorian (a capital letter with no "x" means major scale, or Ionian). For me, I can see this pattern as a minor scale. For example, A minor, or A Aeolian (D Dorian is the same notes as A minor/Aeolian, but starting on D).

2. D, circled x: D Dorian but sharpen the 7th. This is also called a D melodic minor scale. I think of this as A minor with the 3rd note sharpened into a major 3rd (for example, C becomes C#).

3. A, circled x, -6: A Dorian but sharpen the 7th and flatten the 6th (harmonic minor). I think of this simply as an A minor scale with the 7th note sharpened (in A minor, G becomes G#).

4. A, circled x, +4: A Dorian, but sharpen the 7th and sharpen the 4th (harmonic major). I think of this as an A minor scale with the 4th and 6th notes sharpened (in A minor, D becomes D#, F becomes F#).

5. G and “spectacles” - Allan's notation for the G diminished scale (alternating half steps and whole steps), a pretty good scale for playing "out" runs...

6. B flat followed by a "sloppy loop" (an 8 with the top 4th shaved off): Bb Ionian (major scale) with an added sharp 5 ("jazz major"). In general, the sloppy loop is a clue that "some note was added". I see this as a G minor scale with added sharp 7th note (same as #2, but add instead of shift. This gets 3 semitones leading to the root).

7. C7, sloppy loop: C Ionian with an added flat 7. He also has a G with a circled x under it in parentheses, which I guess means he can use it in minor chords as a G Dorian with added flattened 4th (major 3rd). I see this as an A minor scale with added flat 2nd note (this gets 4 semitones starting from the A root above).

8. B, x, sloppy loop: B Dorian with added sharp 7 ("jazz minor"). I see this as an Ab minor scale with added flat 2nd note (as above), flatten the 5th.

9. A, circled x, sloppy loop: A Dorian with a sharpened 7th (no natural 7), add a sharp 5 (another "jazz minor"). For me, A minor scale with the 7th note sharpened, also add sharpened 6th.

10. Symmetrical: C with a 3-loop spectacles symbol. C is followed by a whole step, then two chromatically-ascending notes (alternating 3 semi-tones in a row with a whole tone). This is one of those "out" scales which Allan uses when ascending or descending from one key to another. ("This particular scale I’ve used quite a lot as a scale to modulate from one chord to another.").

     This above transcription of Allan's original notes shows the scales he would use for the solo section of "Tokyo Dream" (from Road Games). For this tune, he mostly uses the Dorian mode (minor scale), modulating to a new key for each chord. A D diminished scale pops up in the turnaround cadence (it's listed 4 times on top of each other with different notes to indicate their interchangeable roots). The "x II" represents a repeat. The "F#x/E" and the "A/Bx" indicate two places where different modes of the same scale can be used. The symbols at the bottom row are probably alternate scales, since they don't seem to be part of the primary solo harmony (I think). The original "Just For the Curious" book/CD (edited by Aaron Stang) has 5 additional scales, including the whole tone scale and a few additional 8 and 9-note scales.

Chord Concepts
     In the section relating to chordal concepts and chord-melody composition, Allan explains how he can create a chord family by selecting 3 or 4 notes from a particular scale and then move all of the notes in the chord up (or down) simultaneously along the "permitted notes" in the scale pattern. This results in other chords found in that scale (each beginning with a different scale tone and using that voicing). Naturally, the original scale could be used for any song composed using these 8 (or whatever) chords, with the chord tones emphasized for each chord.

     Allan explains that he thinks of each chord as representative notes from a particular "family" of notes (a scale). So, when chords go by (during a solo improvisation), he decides which family (scale) would be appropriate for a given chord, and adjusts his note choices accordingly. He also suggests (probably in relation to comping) that a chord can be "enriched" by substituting it with different inversions of itself, or with related chords found in the same key (ie - from a scale which contains the same notes). This is typically demonstrated whenever Allan is playing "rhythm guitar" underneath a bass or keyboard solo.

     The video/CD/DVD/book package is nicely assembled, and the book which comes with the package includes many examples, exercises and song transcriptions to illustrate Allan's thoughts. Sadly, Allan never made a second volume, which probably would have gone into his ideas about poly-tonal soloing and harmonic modulation in song composition (not to mention his rhythmic ideas).

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