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The ‘Void Note’

Jazzed Magazine • Basic TrainingCurrent IssueOctober 2018 • November 16, 2018

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The Mixolydian Mode (scale) starts on the 5th degree of a major scale (i.e G Mixolydian has no sharps or flats, as G is the 5th degree of  the C major scale. The chord this scale would produce is a dominant 7th chord; thus the scale is G A B C D E F – and the chord is G B D F.

With regard to improvisation, I have heard teachers say that when you play “Autumn Leaves” (because most of the chords are diatonic) just play any note in the key of the song, while others say that when you play the blues, just play the blues scale. When people follow this method they will invariably land on the 4 of the dominant chord. This note is a void note  (a wrong note unless you are aware of how to use it correctly). The point is: when you improvise, you make the sound of the chord and you use the scale to that end.

Below are four examples of solos that illustrate how to  play the 4 and use it to make the sound of the chord: Cannonball Adderly from the song “All Blues;” Hank Mobley from the song “Phrancing;” Dexter Gordon from the song “Tenor Madness;” and McCoy Tyner’s solo from “Blues for Gwen.”

After you have checked that out, let’s move on and talk about the #4 – also known as the #11. You can land on this note and it will add an element of harmonic sophistication to your solo. Here are a couple of songs that demonstrate this concept: on the second bar of the composition, “Take the A Train,” the melody uses the 9th and then the #11. On the 10th and the 12th bars of the bridge of “Girl From Ipanema,” the #11 is the target note in both of these measures.


In a career spanning 50 years, New England–based bandleader, sax player, and jazz educator Miles Donahue has performed and recorded 14 albums, many of which are available on iTunes. His site,, offers an effective course for new players to learn jazz improvisation and for seasoned players to learn fresh approaches to soloing.

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