Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Avoid Notes

Q: My question is about avoid notes. There seems to be something about keeping an F over an Cmaj7 chord and for what I've read about it so far it has to do with the F clashing with the (major) E: E being one of the basic chord notes (3rd) and the F only being a half step apart. Can this be applied to other stuff: playing the C major scale notes over an E-7 will give me the phrygian feeling, but isn't then the flattened 2nd an avoid note too, although the flatened 2nd is characteristic of the phrygian mode?

A: I'm not a big subscriber to the "avoid note" concept. I think some of it may hold true for chords but as far as scales go, it depends completely on the chord you are playing over and the way it is voiced.

Granted there are some notes that have be handled with a little more care, but the musical caste system is a little too much. Let's take your example of the C major scale over an Emin7 chord. What makes this mode phrygian? It is the b2 (or b9) of the scale. If you were to avoid it completely, you wouldn't be playing phrygian anymore, you would be playing some kind of neutered scale. The b2 is possibly the most important note. Granted, it will want to resolve down to the root, so play it and let it resolve. Your ear might not be pleased with the effect of sitting on the note for a long time, so don't sit on it if your ear protests. The important thing to remember here is where the root is placed in the chord voicing makes a big difference. If the root is placed near the bottom of the chord voicing your ear will protest less about you playing the b2 in a higher register. Usually whatever note is on top of the chord is the strongest note. Also, remember that if you played the definitive phrygian chord, a sus(b9) the supposed avoid note, the b2 is going to become the un-avoid note.

Teachers love to divide thing up into good and bad but music doesn't really work that way. They will tell you that the 4th in the mixolydian scale should be avoided but if the chord you are playing over was a 9sus chord, it would be a great note to play. Okay, the 6th! That note has to be weak and avoided at all costs! Yeah, what if the chord were to be a 13th chord? For that matter, what if the chord was a 13sus chord? The 4th and 6th would be the notes to be shooting for in your solo.

Your ears will tell what is strong and weak anyway, believe in your ears and listen when you play and you should be okay. If there really were "avoid notes," musicians would have eliminated them from scales a long time ago.

Anyway, the point I am making is that any note in the chord is a strong note and any note not included is going to be weaker and possibly rub against the notes in the chord. In the latter case, they need not be avoided but treated with more care.

Developing a modal practice routine pt.1
Developing a modal practice routine pt.2
Got a question? I'll answer it if it's a good one!


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