The Universal Scale over Circular Progressions


What I call the "Universal Scale" is a 48-note scale consisting of 12 stacked tetrachords.

The basic tetrachord I'm using introduces ambiguity by not containing a third.

It consists of the Root, b7th, 6th, and 5th ( R b7 6 5 ).

Due to the "missing" third, "universal tetrachord" E-D-C#-B works equally well over both Em7 AND  E7 !!!.

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Consider the common progression | Em7 A7 | Dm7 G7 | Cmaj | Cmaj |


E D C# B over Em7
1 b7 6 5

A G F# E over A7
1 b7 6 5

D C B A over Dm7
1 b7 6 5

G F E D over G7
1 b7 6 5

Note that there are many overlapping/interlocking aspects to these combinations of tetrachords.

Em7's E-D-C#-B tetrachord works well over A7,
as does A7's A-G-F#-E tetrachord over Em7.

* * * * * * *

Another beautiful thing is that ALL of these tetrachords use exactly the same fingering:

Root = ring finger

b7th = middle finger

6th = index finger

5th = thumb

Also keep in mind that you can always flick the pinky to grab the 9th whenever you're in the mood for that.

* * * * * * *

In the case of tritone substitute chords or altered chords, the tritone substitute tetrachord can be used.

A7's tritone substitute tetrachord is D#/Eb - C#/Db - C - A#/Bb, analyzed over A7 yields: #4/b5 - 3rd - #9/b3 - b9. Pretty cool huh?

Notice that A7's tritone substitute tetrachord is one half-step lower than its precedent Em7 tetrachord (E-D-C#-C ) and one half-step above its subsequent Dm7 tetrachord ( D-C-B-A ).

If you have a longer chord (eg. 4 beats instead of 2) you can combine the regular "universal" tetrachord with its tritone substitute. This yields the "dimHW scale".

Example over A7:

A - G  - F# - E - Eb - C# -   C   - Bb
1 - b7 - 6  - 5 - #4 - 3  - b3/#9 - b9

* * * * * * *

When you finally hit the Cmaj chord, you can use the bottom 3 tetrachords to base your improvisations on:

G7's D-E-F-G

Dm7's A-B-C-D

A7's E-F#-G-A

In other words:
D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G-A over Cmaj

I think it's cool the way these interlock and work together, and its simplicity is a beauty to behold. I've been having a lot of fun using this concept, maybe you will too.

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These live examples of the use of the Universal Scale over iii-VI7-ii-V7-I progressions illustrate what kind of ideas can be extracted from these principles:





It should be noted that similar scales can be derived starting on any chord tone (although they are not always quite as "universal"):

Using the same progression | Em7 A7 | Dm7 G7 | Cmaj | Cmaj | starting on the 3rd would result in

G F# E D over Em7
b3 2 1 b7

C# B A G over A7
3 2 1 b7

F E D C over Dm7
b3 2 1 b7

B A G F over G7
3 2 1 b7

Starting on the 5th would result in

B A G F# over Em7
5 4 b3 2

E D C# B over A7
5 4 3 2

A G F E over Dm7
5 4 b3 2

D C B A over G7
5 4 3 2

Starting on the 7th would result in

D C# B A over Em7
b7 6 5 4

G F# E D over A7
b7 6 5 4

C B A G over Dm7
b7 6 5 4

F E D C over G7
b7 6 5 4

Starting on the 9th would result in

F# E D C# over Em7
9 1 b7 6

B A G F# over A7
9 1 b7 6

E D C B over Dm7
9 1 b7 6

A G F E over G7
9 1 b7 6


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copyright 2004 and 2007 Jeff Brent

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