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Types Of Bebop Scales – Things You Should Know

Some are bound to ask the question, “What is bebop?” Musically minded individuals might follow that by discussing its structure and asking about the Types Of Bebop Scales.

Its name doesn’t do it justice, in my opinion. Doesn’t have a serious edge to it. It was probably derived from those jazz “scat” singers who improvised sounds rather than words, like Ella Fitzgerald.

A Musical Rebellion?

A Musical Rebellion

It might have been. Music and even jazz have some fixed harmonic and melodic restraints in the way it was played. Some didn’t like that and wanted to break free of what was inhibiting them. Bebop was all about freedom of expression and getting away from those restraints.

A new musical style…

It wasn’t that hard to recognize it. It usually hits you like a truck. The music is fast. There are lots of fast-changing chords, and the progressions are complex. The best bebop musicians are considered some of the finest we have ever seen.

This “Bird” can sing…

One of the most influential bebop artists was Charlie “Bird” Parker. A mercurial alto sax player, he pioneered and developed it and then pushed this style to its limits. Listen to the speed he plays at in this Anthropology- Charlie Parker, and you will see what I mean.

Not Just Charlie

There are others as well. Dizzy Gillespie, who co-wrote ‘Anthropology,’ and pianist Bud Powell. Dexter Gordon and one of my personal favorites, tenor sax player Sonny Rollins.

We are going to look at pieces that were improvised using these bebop scales. There was a structure that was followed very strictly using the harmonics and the scales. Interesting in itself because the original bebop Jazz players were trying to break away from structures and formality.


This was all so different from the Jazz style of people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Their style was slower and much looser in its format. Check out this Miles & Coltrane compilation for a better comparison.

On to the Bebop Scales

First, let’s remind ourselves what a scale contains. A scale is a series of notes laid out in ascending or descending order. They are laid out in increments of a single step. Simply put, if you have an ascending scale, each note is a step higher than the last. For a descending scale, the reverse applies. One step lower than the previous note.

Most scales, major and minor, are what we call heptatonic. This means they have seven notes with the last note, the 8th, the same as the first. An octave higher or lower, obviously.

There Is No Bebop Scale

There Is No Bebop Scale

What we mean by that is that the bebop scale comes from an existing major or a minor scale. There are, therefore, plenty of variations which is why I say there isn’t a single Bebop scale.

To create a Bebop scale, you place an extra note in a scale that already exists. It is essentially what you can call a “passing” note. It inserts the note in between a whole step creating two half steps. The bebop scale, therefore, has eight different notes, not seven.

Five Scales

There are five different types of the Bebop scale. Each one with an extra passing note added.

  1. Major Bebop scale – in the key of C includes the passing note between the G and the A, a G#.
  2. The Dorian scale – which in the key of C includes an E separating the third and fourth degrees.
  3. Third Melodic Minor scale – has the third note flattened by a semitone to make the minor scale. To make it a Bebop scale, the G# is again added between the G and the A.
  4. The Harmonic Minor scale – has the 3rd and the 6th flattened by a semitone. To make it a C harmonic bebop scale, just add the B-flat passing note between the 6th and 7th degrees. This leads perfectly into the B natural.
  5. The Dominant Bebop scale – possibly the most common and certainly the most well-known. This is created in the key of C by adding a B between the 7th and 8th degrees. This takes you in its progression from B-flat to B natural and then to C.

If you are just beginning with this style of Jazz, it might help to look into Easy easy bebop: Bebop licks and phrases put into words (Jazz phrases for instruments and singers).

Interested in Playing Jazz?

We can help you find a great instrument for getting into Jazz. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Selmer Saxophones, the Best Yamaha Saxophones, the Best Alto Saxophones, the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Soprano Saxophones, and the Best Beginner Saxophones you can buy in 2023.

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Types Of Bebop Scales – Final Thoughts

The Bebop scale is complex. And because it has eight notes in the scale, it sets itself apart as being one of the few “octatonic” scales. Depending on the chords you are playing, there are multiple options. And it’s certainly one of the hardest styles to come to terms with.

Until next time, let the music play.

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