Learning some funk scales is a great way to start practicing improvisation. And the great thing about funk tunes is that they often use only a few repetitive chords, which means you can generate a lot of improvisation material from just a few scales. In this article we’ll focus on three funk scales that you can use when soloing and practicing improvisation. Two of the scales are essential, must-have information. The third scale is lesser known but an excellent scale to know with quite a unique sound. Let’s check ’em out!
Funk Scales for Soloing #1: The Blues Scale
Every funk and rock player needs to have a command of this absolutely essential and powerful little scale. Some of the masters – like BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Maceo Parker – have created entire killin’ solos using only this scale. (Below is the C blues scale)
A big part of learning to improvise is simply having the confidence that the notes you’re playing will “work” and sound good. So here’s a great way to practice the blues scale: Take a funky 12-bar blues in any key and use the blues scale for that key to solo over the entire form. You can play a single blues scale over the I, IV, and V chord.
Funk Scales for Soloing #2: The Pentatonic Scale
The pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale (penta = “five”; tonic = “tones”. So literally a “5-tone” scale). There are 2 forms of the pentatonic scale – the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic.
Notice that the C blues scale (a 6-note scale) contains all of the notes of the C minor pentatonic scale. This means that you can also use the C minor pentatonic scale to solo over all of the chords in the C blues form and trust that the notes will sound good.
Funk Scales for Soloing #3: The Lydian Dominant Scale
The lydian dominant is a hybrid scale. As the name suggests, we’re actually combining the lydian scale (a major scale with a raised 4th) and a mixolydian scale (a major scale with a flatted 7th. We refer to this as a “dominant” scale because we commonly use mixolydian scales to solo over dominant chords). Let’s take a look at a C lydian dominant scale:
For those of you who understand modes, the C lydian dominant scale is really just the 4th degree of a G melodic minor scale (this is an advanced discussion for a later date). You would most likely use the lydian dominant for playing over dominant chords.
Now consider why this scale can be so different, so cool, and so effective for soloing. It contains two major triads: a C major triad, and a D major triad. It also contains 2 dominant 7th chords: C7 and D7. This is what gives the scale a sound of polytonality (i.e., the sound of multiple tonal centers within a single scale).
Consider how you can use this in your soloing, outlining the chord tones to seemingly move back and forth between two tonal centers over a single chord. For more information and demonstrations, check out our video lesson on the lydian dominant scale.