A common question broached by many of my students is, “How do I get away from playing the same old blues licks over Dominant 7th Chords?” Employing some concepts from jazz harmony opens a world of possibilities for new Dominant 7th licks to try out.
As guitarists, pentatonic and blues scales are hammered into our foundation at an early juncture. While the sound of these scales is universally familiar and widely appreciated, it’s sometimes nice to go beyond the blues, and explore exotic tonalities and different approaches.
The following five examples each have their own theme and are constructed around an A Dominant 7th chord. They can be transposed to any key and should provide good mileage on the path to dominating Dominant 7th Chords!
(All of these 5 licks are available in tab/notation format at the bottom of this page.)
Lick 1 – Chromatic Approaches:
Chromatic approaches are a great way to outline a specific chord. The neighboring chromatic notes that enclose the chord tone twist the ear and dramatically improve the contour of the line when used correctly.
This example starts around the 5th fret and outlines an A Maj Triad (A, C#, E) as it travels through the line. Toward the end of the line the Dominant 7th note (G) is outlined. Throughout the line, different chromatic devices enclose the chord tones. Notice that the line moves up the fret-board diagonally as the pitch is lowered which is somewhat unconventional.
Lick 2 – Upper Structure 7th Arps Superimposed over A7:
Perhaps one of the most usable harmonic concepts is that 7th arpeggios can be built off of the 3rd, 5th, and 7th of the parent chord. Unfortunately, many guitar players don’t access this world of possibilities.
Conversely, piano players swear by these “upper structures” and superimpose them on a frequent basis. An A7 chord is spelled A, C#, E, G. That means we can use C#min7b5 (built off the 3rd), Emin7 (built off the 5th), and Gmaj7 (built off the 7th) over A7.
These arpeggios will add different tensions to our parent A7 chord. The C#min7b5 accentuates the 9th (B), while the Emin7 highlights the 11th (D) and the Gmaj7 showcases the 13th (F#). This lick snakes through all three of these arpeggios (bar 1: C#-7b5, bar 2: Emi7, bar 3: Gmaj7) using economy picking and some more chromatic approaches and covers a good majority of the fret-board in a short amount of time.
Lick 3: Triads borrowed from D Harmonic Minor:
Harmonic minor played up a fourth from whatever Dominant 7th you’re working with produces an unmistakable sound and is an outstanding outside scale to borrow from.
Since our parent chord is an A Dom 7th, the corresponding scale is D Harmonic Minor. This example is primarily built off of two triads taken from D Harmonic minor: Amaj and Bbmaj.
The beauty of these triads is that they are a half step apart, so a bevy of licks are right under the fingers. This particular lick weaves through each inversion of the triads and resolves with a descending blues run. The juxtaposition of the sounds makes this lick really pop.
Lick 4 – Melodic Minor up a 4th:
Becoming comfortable with melodic minor can unlock a new realm of tonal opportunity. There are four different melodic minor scales that can be played over a dominant 7th chord. In this case, we are going to make use of melodic minor played up a fourth (D melodic minor), which will give us tensions of 9 (B) and #5 (F). The #5 tension is the one that will really make people turn their heads.
In this lick we start around the 5th fret and descend through D melodic minor with chromatic approaches. The end of the lick ascends with an F augmented arpeggio, which reinforces the #5 sound that is the cornerstone of this phrase.
Lick 5 – Devilish Diminished:
One of my favorite scales to use over a Dominant 7th chord is a ½ whole diminished. This symmetric scale offers endless variations and is easy to get under the fingers since any lick can be played up or down a minor 3rd the same exact way.
I’m a huge fan of anything that can be played the same way in a different spot on the fret-board. It’s like pressing the ‘Easy Button’ for guitar, and lets face it… we all need as many presses as we can get! This lick moves between A ½ Whole diminished and A blues. The ascending economy pick run towards the end of the lick is ‘Holdsworthian’ in nature as it uses wide interval stretches.
Download Christian’s Dominating Dominant 7th Licks in this PDF guide :