Saturday, September 12, 2015

Chord Shapes - Getting the Most Bang For Your Harmonic Buck

Q: Hi Chris, I am having a really hard time remembering chords. I just got into college and am playing in the Jazz orchestra. I have never really played too much Jazz and I can't come up with the chords quick enough. I got myself one of those chord books but there are too many to remember. Should I just learn one or two of them and use those all the time? Even when I do know the chord, my classmates tell me that the voicing I use isn't really right. Do you have any advice for me?

A: Yes, I totally understand where you are coming from. Your question brings back memories of my college days where I struggled with the same things. This is what I can tell you:

The chord voicings you choose depend on several different factors:

1. Situation - Playing in a Big Band is a lot different than playing with a trio, especially if there is a pianist involved. There are two approaches here. First is play super simple. Don't worry about the tops and bottoms too much, the middle is fine. Look at the example below for a ii-V-I in C, I'm just playing two notes per chord and both the notes are only the 3rds and 7ths:

    D-7  G7  Cmaj7

I'm just playing the b3 and b7 for the D-7 chord, the b7 an 3rd for the G7 chord and the 3rd and 7th for the C chord. This kind of thing will totally keep you out of trouble and out of the pianists way. The improviser is happy too because you aren't dictating what he has to play as well. If I had played a G7(#5,#9) chord here, the soloist would be stuck playing altered and if the pianist played some different chord, it would cause all sorts of chaos and you would be getting stares from him. I'm not in the way of the bassist so he is free to do whatever bass players do. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crazy Scales and Chords

Q: Hey Chris, Aside from the major scale, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and
harmonic major - are you aware of any scales that can be harmonized into interesting modes of unique flavor? I imagine I can come up with a few with two half steps in a row, but that seems like the middle note would just act as a passing tone, right?  Or could complex harmony exist with a scale with three notes in a row?

Thanks, Josh

A: If you mean harmonizing to chords, The half/whole diminished scale does some interesting things. It has a bunch of major triads in it so there are various slash chord things you can do. It is symmetrical so it doesn't turn into modes though. 

If you want to talk about harmonizing to chords, let's talk first about the half/whole diminished scale. It is a symmetrical scale which makes it unlike all other scales (the other symmetrical scale is the whole tone scale, all whole steps).

Here is a standard pattern for the scale:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

6 Chords Explained

Q: Hey Chris, thanks for all the great content on both your blog and your site. I’m also going to get both your books as well. I have a question: I’ve been listening to and trying to play some of Brian Setzer’s big band stuff lately. What is the deal with the 6 chords? You don’t hear them so much in other genres but Brian seems to love them. Is there anything I should know about these chords? 

A: Brian is really a great musician. I have the greatest appreciation of him because he has really come a long way. I mean, he was great back with The Stray Cats but he has really stretched a lot with his big band thing and you can tell he has really been studying over the years - Pretty rare with successful musicians. Anyway, getting to your question regarding 6 chords.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Soloing Like a Pro

Q: I've come to realize that playing a good solo isn't really so much about technique but a bunch of other factors. I just haven't figured it out exactly. I've been working on scales and arpeggios but I'm not sure that my guitar solos are interesting at all. Is there some sort of moment when all this work I've been doing will pay off and my solos are going to start sounding great?

A: Because I teach, I think about these things all the time. I sort of traced my career backwards and looked at the way I progressed as a soloist to the point I am today. These are the things I think one has to do to become a really good soloist:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Guitar and Singing?

Q: Hey Chris, What's your opinion about the importance of singing as well as playing? I know besides playing guitar, you sing too. Did you start singing when you started paying guitar or did that come about somewhere down the line? I'm wondering because I want to sing as well and think I could broaden my horizons, so to speak doing more than just playing guitar. What are your thoughts?

A: I started singing after the fact. I actually began by singing chorus in my band, they made me do it. I think you have a better chance at getting a gig if you can sing as well as play. Things I've learned about singing from singing myself and watching students at college: 

Pitch - Singers who can play an instrument have good pitch. There are things you can do to change your singing voice to some extent but, I don't know, some singers just have great tone. Pitch more so than tone can certainly be developed and having a good relationship with an instrument is sort of a short cut. So if you play guitar already, you'll have a decent shot at singing as well. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Scale Patterns

Q: I was wondering about scale patterns. Looking through your lessons, I notice that the major scale patterns that you use are unlike the ones that my teacher showed me. He seems to think that the 3-note per string patterns are the best ones to use. The problem is that there are 7 different patterns to remember while the ones that you refer to have only 5. What is your opinion?

A: The ones that I generally refer to are sort of the standard patterns for teaching. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are the best but they are the more or less, generic (for the lack of better words). They are just simple to play and remember, and as you said, there are only five. 

In truth, there are countless ways to play any one scale. Take a C major scale for example. It is just a C-D-E-F-G-A-B note scale. We, as guitar players, tend to think in physical patterns but it doesn't have to be so. Just play every C-D-E-F-G-A-B note on your fretboard, and you will be playing a C major scale regardless of where you start or finish. I can play it from my open 6th string (which is an E note) all the way to the 22nd fret on my first string bent up to E hitting every diatonic note in-between.  I can shift strings here and there to get up there, and by my calculations, from E to E, makes it a four octave major scale (technically E phrygian, a C major scale mode). 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dominant 11 vs. 9sus4 Chords

Dear Chris: downloaded your book today and I'm really enjoying it. The way you explain where the altered chords come from scale wise, I feel is really going to open a lot of doors for me. So thanks.

Q: I've found your explanation of sus4 chords and 11 chords quite new. I got stuck with the idea in Mark Levine's books. I've been having to read a lot of Top 40, pop and rock in a cruise band and I'm finding many 11 chords which (I'm pretty certain) are looking for a F/G voicing. I'm gleamed from this that its all context based. The wikipedia article says similar things to your book...