Weekly Workout: Chord Scales from the Jazz Standard ‘Autumn Leaves’

As you practice your scales, it’s good to remind yourself of the function of the individual notes of those scales. Here we start with open-position scales taken from the chord progression for "Autumn Leaves."

Most guitarists learn the fingerboard through scale practice. But, as you practice your scales, it’s good to remind yourself of the function of the individual notes of those scales. One way to do this is by practicing “chord scales”—the appropriate scale for each chord in a song’s progression. In this workout, we’ll do that with the chords to the first eight bars of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.” The first half of this progression is basically Am–D–G–C (a vi–V–I–VI progression in the key of G) and the second half is a ii–V–i in the key of Em, two basic progressions nearly anyone can relate to.

Musical examples to accompany this guitar lesson on playing chord scales. Scales are shown in standard notation and TAB (tablature) for the chords to the opening 8 bars of "Autumn Leaves."

The workout starts with open-position scales that begin on the root of each chord and run up to the seventh, using one chord per measure in the “Autumn Leaves” progression:  Am7–D7–Gmaj7–Cmaj7–F#m7b–B7b9–Em7. Except for the scale used for B7b9, every one of these scales uses the notes of the G major scale, starting on the root of each chord. So, for example, on the Am7 in measure 1, we start on an A (the root) and run up to G, the seventh. In the second bar, D7, we start on the D and run up to the C.


In the second half of this workout, the chord scales start on the seventh and run back down to the root. You might think about recording yourself playing the underlying progression so you can hear how these scales sound against the chords. Otherwise, for example, the scale in measure 9, where the chord is Am7, will just sound like a descending G major scale that didn’t make it down to the G. Hearing this scale in relation to the Am7, where the initial G note is the seventh of the chord, will sound completely different than if you have a G major tonality in your head.

Excerpted From: Weekly Workout: Chord Scales

weekly workout - get your fingers moving with a series of interesting technical exercises
Scott Nygaard
Scott Nygaard

Grammy-winning guitarist Scott Nygaard has decades of teaching, performing, and recording experience. He is a former editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and the author of Fiddle Tunes and Folk Songs.

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