3 Sure-Fire Ways To Match The Right Scale With The Right Chord

Posted on 18. Sep, 2013 by in Music Theory

Match Chord & Scales


How do you know what scale to play with certain chords?”. For example if I played a Cmaj7 chord what scale should I use?


There are many applications for chord and scale relationships.  Jazz studies provides the best resources for this principal and creates the platform for improvisation. For example, the F blues scale, the F natural minor and the F minor dorian scale can all be played over an F minor chord.

Without getting into complicated jazz theory, let me show you a basic approach to matching scales and chords that you can start using right away. It’s all a numbers game.

Your original question was, “What scale should be used with the Cmaj7 chord? First let’s spell out the notes to this chord. They are C E G B. See the C major scale and the scale tone numbers below.


Notice the Cmaj7 chord contains the 1, 3, 5, and 7 scale tones. We will definitely use these four notes in our scale but we need four more. Here’s a non-conventional rule of thumb.

1) Identify the Chord name

2) Expand the chord all the way out to the thirteenth chord.

3) Reorganized the note into a stepwise pattern.


For example, the chord you mentioned is a Cmaj7. If we expand it out to the thirteenth,

the new chord will be a Cmaj13.  The formula for this chord is: 1  3  5  7  9  11  13.

The notes for the Cmaj13 are  C   E  G   B  D  F  A. We now have enough notes to

create a scale.


Do you notice anything interesting about the Cmaj13 chord? Let’s reorganized these

noted into a step-wise pattern. This is our new creation:  C   D   E   F  G  A  B  C.

Notice that our Cmaj13 chord contains the same note as the 8-tone C major scale.
By expanding the chord out to the 13th we have enough notes to create a scale that
we can use for improvisation.


When using dominant or any type of chord, the same principle can be applied. For example,
the formula for the C7 chord is 1, 3, 5 and b7. If we expand it to a C13 the formula will be
1   3  5   b7   9  11  13.  By applying this formula to the C major scale above, we create the
following: C   E  G  Bb  D  F  A. If we reorganizedthese note in a stepwise pattern, here’s
the result:  C   D  E   F   G   A   Bb  C.  This new scale is call the C Mixolydian scale, or simply
an F major scale beginning on the C.

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