Sunday, December 14, 2008

Easier Voicings

Q: I was looking through some of your lessons (which, by the way, are all very well written), and wondered something. I was checking out the "Thinking out of the Cage" lesson and thought to myself that there are a lot of easier voicings than the ones you have. Is there any reason for the difficult voicings? Wouldn't it be quicker and easier just to play the standard voicings rather than struggle with the ones you have as examples?

Yes it would be quicker and easier to play the garden variety voicings that everyone plays. It just depends on whether or not you want to play chords like everyone else or not. Guitar players always give me a good crack up because, at least regarding chords, we only want to play what is easy, even if the voicing sounds goofy. And the rational is that it if it can't be learned in a few minutes, it isn't worth working on. Think about it for a second: how long did it take you to learn the F chord? The answer is usually a month or two. How come guitarists seem to think that the F chord is the right of passage and no other chord should take that long? When I was learning guitar, I thought that all chords were supposed to take weeks or months to be able to hold down so I worked on them for long periods of time and that is why I can play big hairy chords that very few other guitarists can, even though my hands are relatively small.
I will concede that it is better to play simple in certain situations, but I personally believe that showing an interest in, and learning interesting voicings is important unless harmonic mediocrity is something you can be satisfied with. Listen to Herbie Hancock play chords and tell me you wouldn't want to sound like that.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

triads and the half/whole diminished scale

Q: look at the ii-V-I that I attached, the key is C Major. What is going on over the V chord, G13? I see two arpegios, E major and the other of Db major Why?

A: Yes, this is a trick for the half/whole diminished scale. Actually four triads placed minor 3rds from the root of the dominant chord work well. For example, a G7 chord: G, Bb, Db and E placed over the G7 chord are all good choices for arpeggios. Obviously G placed over G7 would just be the root, 3rd and 5th of the chord. Bb would be the #9th, 5th and b7th. Db would be the b5th, b7th and b9 and E would be the 13th, b9th and 3rd. These are pretty common arpeggios to play over the G7 chord. The sound is from the diminished scale creating a 13b9 and 13#9 tonality. Check here: diminished scale

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Phrygian over ii-Vs

Q: I'm learning jazz from a book by Mark Levine called The Jazz Piano Book and where I can't understand the book, I use your website and it has been really useful so far. But now I'm kinda stuck at a point about Phrygian chords. Mark Levine says that you can combine an E-7 and A7, a II-V in the key of D, into an A Phrygian chord (For example in Victor Young's "Stella By Starlight"). I can't get my mind to it why you can combine those two chords into an A Phygian chord. On your site I can't find an answer, so maybe you can help me.

A: I would have to assume that it is not a Emin7 but Emin7b5, and that would also be the right progression for "Stella." It makes pretty good sense:

You see, A phrygian = F major, and F major = E locrian. So that scale is a good match for Emin7b5 right? And the A phrygian is a pretty good match for the A7, especially as the A7 chord, like in stella, is a A7b9 chord. A phrygian = A-Bb-C-D-E-F-G = 1-b9-#9-4-5-b6-b7. I don't think these are the best scale choices for the progression but it will work. Better would be G melodic minor for the Emin7b5 chord (E locrian#2), and Bb MM for the A7 chord (A altered). The A phrygian mode would work better for a A7b9sus4 chord.

The Phrygian Mode >>>

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mics and Goofy Engineers

This post didn't start with a question but because of some goofy recording engineers. I went in the studio for a session yesterday, set up my head on a cab that they had there and went out for a coffee while they got their mics set up. When I came back, there was 12 mics on and around the amp. Needless to say, this gave me a good crack-up. I've never seen so many mics on one amp. Anyways, they had me play an improvised solo for a minute and they recorded 12 separate tracks (one for each of the mics). Then they had me listen, without knowing what was what, to each one and pick the mics I liked the best. As usual, the Shure '57 won. The SM57 is about the cheapest mic there is (about 80 bucks) and always sounds great on Celestion speakers. Coming in second was the Sennheiser e906, going for about $180.00. It is supposedly designed specifically for guitar amps. It seems to have a little bit more high end compared to the '57, while the '57 offers nice midrange. For the ambient mic, I picked the AKG C414 B-XLS/ST, which is about a two-thousand dollar mic. I actually liked these three mics in combination, panning the '57 and e906 slightly left and right. They later mixed the track with reverb on the ambient track and stereo delay on the two close mic tracks. Pretty fat sound:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Min(maj7) chords

Q: I have a question about the min(maj7) chord. its supposed to be the strongest resolve to the melodic minor and harmonic minor scales. but when i play it on the guitar, it just sounds wrong like it needs to be resolve itself. Is there a common progression for the melodic minor using the min(maj7) that works? i remember you saying in one of your articles that when you first encountered some of these chords, that you ears just hadn't been 'opened' yet. but i've listened to a lot of the jazz guys, to know what sounds properly resolved. so why is this one chord a problem?? Thanks for your time sir.

A: The i chord in MM takes some getting used to and is not as common as you would imagine. It doesn't need to be resolved and usually functions as a resolved i chord. It just has to be in context and voiced the right way. By context, I mean in the right genre. Jazz is the only real place it gets used as a resolved i chord. The other way it gets used is in a progression that goes:

min - min(maj7) - min7 - min6. You see the root keeps moving down in half steps:

Amin: XX7555, Amin(maj7): XX6555, Amin7: XX5555, Amin6: XX4555. Add in your open 5th string if you want to hear the A bass note underneath.


As a resolved i chord, it usually shows up in a iio - V(alt) - i : Emin7b5: X7878X, A7#5: 5X566X, Dmin9(maj7): X5365X. See the way the #5 in the A7#5 stays on as the maj7 in the min9(maj7) chord? Good voice leading utilizing common tones helps. It is not the easiest chord to use.


Chris this answer really hits home with me. i enjoyed reading this explanation. I do have a couple of questions just to make sure that i understand how to use these "awkward" chords from now on, especially with voice leading, resolving etc.

Question 1: Would an easy way to learn chord voicings be to memorize five shapes of each chord type? or learn the intervals of the scale 'solid' and build the chords that way? (easiest most efficient way?)

A: I would say, learn the chords inside the scales. You can usually achieve good voice leading by staying inside one scale for most of the chords. If the chords are unrelated, you can still get similar results by staying in the same position. I think it is important to learn your chords both ways, from shapes and by being able to understand the intervals and being able to manipulate them.

Question 2: Would it be correct to say that voice leading is a more elaborate way of phrasing, a non-diatonic approach, and as long as there is a common tone you can connect just about any neighboring chord?

A: I'm not sure if phrasing is the right word but I think you can make unrelated chords blend together by using voice leading, such as keeping common tones. There has to be a thread running through the progression. This thread could be common tones or some kind of motif. Slash chords are a good example. For example Amin7-Dbmaj. This would seem like a very difficult progression to make work as the chords are completely unrelated. But they have one common tone, a C note. And, they can both be though of as slash chords, a C/A and a Ab/Db. The two triads one after another, is a sort of motif.

Question 3: Your example: Amin - Amin(maj7) - Amin7 - Amin6: This is in my opinion kind of like a "pitch-axis" scenario. changing key, but keep the same tonal center. If you were to go back into a diatonic progression after this "series", how would you go about doing that...(give me another example, please).

A: The Amin - Amin(maj7) - Amin7 - Amin6 thing is not changing keys. It is a very common thing for any i chord that you would do if you have enough time to do it. Like two measures, or even a slow tempo number with the four chords played as quarter notes. This works for jazz, Latin and even rock to some extent

Question 4: I would like to hear a bit more on resolving. knowing which chord naturally leads to another, and why theory makes it that way. for example, i have a theory book that tells that the I chord can lead to any chord, the ii leads to IV and vi, the iii leads to V or viio, etc, just as examples. is there a reason behind this? tones going up major/minor thirds, or tonic note resolving up and down perfect 4ths and 5ths ? is there really a 'systematic' way of approaching this sort of thing, or is it based off entirely chord voice leading?? Thanks so much for your time.There is no other source i've found better than yours! Good solid answers.

A: It has a lot to do with intervals of 4ths and tritones. That is why a V chord likes to go to a I chord. The B and F tritone in the G7 want to resolve to C and E, the root and 3rd of the C chord. The root likes to move up a 4th to C, the root of the chord. 4ths are very strong, play a progression using the diatonic chords in C starting on the ii chord moving up in 4ths and you'll hear it: Dmin - G -C - F - Bdim - Emin - Amin.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dorian in a Blues

Q: Any tips on using the dorian mode over a 12 bar blues?

A: The dorian mode looks a lot like the major pentatonic and minor pentatonic scale superimposed over one another. In this respect, it seems like a logical choice to use over the blues progression but there are problems with this approach. I think it is a little too bulky for this application myself and leaves out the most important note, the major 3rd over the "I" chord. I think better use for the dorian mode would be over the "IV" chord. Let me explain: let's say we are playing an A Blues, I might use:

1) A minor pentatonic scale over the A7 chord (this might just as well be the major pentatonic or combintation of the two as well).

2) The A dorian mode over the D7 chord. The A minor pentatonic scale sits inside the A dorian scale nicely and allows a lot of interplay.

The A dorian mode over the D7 chord is really just a D mixolydian mode, but relating it to the Blues key center of A makes it seem a lot simpler to me. Especially as I am way more familiar with the dorian mode than the mixolydian mode. Matter of fact you can think dorian up a 5th for any dominant chord: A7=E dorian, D7=A dorian and E7=B dorian. It is really a matter of perspective though. I am not really a big fan of using modes too much over blues, it seems to complicate something that was meant to be simple. I do however use the dorian (based on the "I" chord key) over the "IV" chord quite a lot, it creates a few moments of interest and creates a jazzy sound. Now, a jazz blues is a different thing all together, using modes is fine. I would also be using the lydian dominant and altered modes in this situation.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Talent pt. 2

This is more of a continuation of my previous post. It always strikes me as funny how I post or talk about something and within a day or two something related comes up in the classroom or in conversation. Anyway, there was an open house at the college here in Japan and one of the students was a high school junior. After the lesson I asked her if she planned on perusing a career in music. She told me she wanted to, but didn't think she had any talent. She then asked me:

Q: Do you think most people have talent?

A: Yes, I think they do. Of course everybody has different degrees of musical talent, just like everybody has different degrees of the natural ability to, let's say, throw darts or swim the backstroke. Regardless, just about anyone can, at least sort of do both these things and would get better at them with a little practice. Why? Because these skills are part of our genetic makeup, without them, it would have been difficult to survive as a race. We have needed these skills since the dawn of man, throwing things at enemies and perspective food and swimming away from saber tooth tigers. That is why you can teach an infant to swim (like on the Nirvana CD jacket). Even to a one year old, it is somewhat natural. We have been genetically engineered over the millenniums to do these things with some level of proficiency. So what does this have to do with music? I'll get to it, give me a minute.

Think about it (as I had this high school student do), Is there any place in the world that doesn't have some kind of music? Is music not somehow connected with most occasions, in all cultures? It sure is. How long have we been messing around with music? Let's see:

2008 - Music is everywhere.

How about 2000 years ago - Hmm.. Buddhism is getting its start as well as Christianity. It is pretty easy to imagine people making music.
Matter of fact, Sumerian notated music was found dating back to 800 BC.

2000 years earlier than that, 2000 BC - The great Pyramids are standing. Yes, there was music. Archaeologists found stone carvings of a guitar looking instrument. There are signs of tonal music everywhere. Ancient documents show that music was alive and well in Persia and India around this time. There is evidence of harps and flutes dating as far back as 4,000 BC. And there is no doubt, people were beating on drums way before there was any kind of tonal music.

10,000 BC - Agriculture was taking place. Do you think people were making music? Considering they had figured out how to reap and sow crops, it is a good bet that they were making some kind of music. Likely singing and dancing at least to make it rain during droughts.

50,000 BC - Yup, music. How do I know? Because a
Neanderthal flute was found in what is now known as Yugoslavia and it is between 50,000 and 80,000 years old. And get this: it plays (at least a partial) major scale!?! Go figure, Neanderthals, had the same tools and abilities to play Bach or the Beatles.

Homo-Sapians showed up over 300,000 years ago and there are remnants of wooden tools and weapons. How likely do you think that they were also making drums?

Anyway, the point I'm getting at is that humans have always made music. And I bet we were doing it before speaking and definitely doing it long before there was any written languages. And it has been being done all over the globe. Why? Why was it necessary for us to make music?

It is safe to conclude that making music was a skill deemed necessary by evolution. Music was not just a fun thing, it was vital for our survival as a race. If it wasn't an evolutionary requirement, it would have disappeared at one time or another and certainly would not be practiced virtually everywhere around the globe, throughout the millenniums. Thus, the ability is part of our very being, a trait we have passed on to our children. It is in our genes. But why, why would musical ability be such an important trait? There are many different theories (some explained in Daniel Levitin's great book "This is your Brain on Music").

One theory is that men have used musical ability to get a spouse. The way birds sing. Having musical ability would mean that time has been dedicated to musical pursuits. And having this time to spare would also mean that the man displaying these musical skills would also have the financial abilities to not be working all the time thus guaranteeing a safe a prosperous lifestyle for wife and children. Ancient man had been using music to get girls just like I was trying to do when I started guitar lessons at twelve years old.

Being able to dance would prove one agile, thus proving the dancer a good hunter as well. Ancient girls were saying to themselves; "Check out them dance moves, bet he can bring back some meat for dinner!"

Music would prove important to pass on ones peoples history. If you didn't have a written language, you could teach your kids history lessons and folklore in music. Just like my daughter learned the alphabet song.

Music could motivate people to get things done. The whole village out beating drums and chanting before a big hunt or tribal war.

Music could bring one closer to God or the Spirits. Most religions use music this way, from Gospel music to Buddhist rituals. How about the Rain Dance?

The bottom line is that we've been making music for as long as we've been around. Therefore it has been part of our evolution and thus are brains have been designed to be able to do it. We all have the ability to make music. Unfortunately, society has conditioned us to forget these musical skills somewhat. When we sing loud as children in a place deemed inappropriate for such behaviour, or parents and teachers chastise us. When we jump and dance, we are told to calm down. We slowly lose the ability to express ourselves through music and dance. We are all born with perfect pitch, it is a necessary skill to learn language. But we unlearn this skill as well unless we actively participate in music by four.

But the good news is that musical skill is all part of us as human beings. We just need to locate it. It is buried deeper in some of us than others, but it is an ability we all have. How could it not be there, we have been making music as a race for millenniums. So my answer to the question, do all people have talent? Yes, we were designed to make music.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What it Takes

Q: You've been playing a long time and can really play. And you have taught, I don't know how many students. I want my kids to play music because I wasn't able to stick with it (they are eight and ten). What is important to be a good player? Is it all up to talent? How can I teach them guitar so that they will become great players (and how can I get better for that matter)?

A: Man, this is a hard question. Sometimes it is much easier to answer a "what scale over this chord" type question, but I'll give it my best.

Talent - Is it talent? Sometimes that has a lot to do with it, but not always. It seems different things, all combined. Talent is probably part of it. But most people who play have some kind of talent, I think that is what draws us to playing an instrument. I mean, if you think about it, most of us start because we heard someone play and it reached deeper inside us than most other people. Surely that is a sign that we must hav
e some kind of talent. But I have taught some students with more talent than I have and unfortunately a lot of them don't amount to greatness. Talent almost seems like a kind of familiarity with music and the instrument, like they have done it before in a different life or something. It often strikes me as odd why some people can pick up a guitar for the first time and hold it like they have done it a thousand times before. I think my daughter has talent. Look at her photo up there, that's her at one years old and she holds it like a pro (pinky on the fretboard, no thumb stickin' out, nice right hand position, guitar angle, etc.). Now let's say that she has real talent, some sort of inborn insight to the guitar and music, does that mean that she will be a great guitarist or musician? Not at all (although, like you, I hope and pray she becomes a musician like her old man). Why not? Because she might not like it or it may not interest her. If talent is only part of the picture, what is the rest?

Love - I'll say love, but I could just as well say obsession or fascination. You have to love it and spend a lot of time playing. But not just playing, thinking about it. I know that half of what musicians become, is because of the time they spend with the guitar in their hands, in their mind. It is almost the same as r
eally practicing, imagining the guitar in your hands, playing this and that. The older I become, the more I realize it. I have been playing long enough that there is very little difference between practicing and visualizing and I have come to the conclusion, that this time visualizing, is a major part of the equation. That is why love is the key. If you didn't love the guitar, how could you think about it all the time? I think that more than talent, I've always had an infatuation with the guitar, and that has been the key to my creativity, my musicality. I have always had such a love for the instrument, that I play, in my head almost all the time. Even now, I can't get enough of it, when I sit on the airplane, flying over the Pacific, I'm playing the Blues. When I'm driving my car down the 110 freeway, I'm practicing some ii-Vs. When I was a teenager, I would go on a date to the movies with my girlfriend, would hold her hand and imagine myself playing this scale or that chord (don't tell her). This fantasy time is the key. Let's just say that the talent we have, has to be nurtured by love and passion. In the book, "This is your Brain on Music," Daniel J. Levitin comes to the conclusion that to be good it takes about ten-thousand hours on your instrument (that equals about 3 hours a day for 10 years). But I will add that a lot of these hours can and have to be knocked off in your head. I'm not that sure that your brain knows the difference.

Joy - This is why, it is really important to teach your kids to feel joy when it comes to playing music. You can start your kids at three, but if you yell at them to practice, and make them feel it an obligation to do so, it is unlikely that they will learn to be creative, vibrant musicians. The reason is simple, if they don't love it, they will not fantasize about it when they don't have the instrument in their hands, and they certainly will not crave it to be in their hands. It must first be fun. I let my daughter play with the guitar (as opposed to play the guitar), so she will see it as something fun. I play f
or her and I play fun songs that she will enjoy. This way she will see the guitar as something that we can enjoy together. I want her to equate the guitar with good times. I set up all her stuffed animals as an audience and have her play a concert for them. I let her see me play in front of an audience so she can see that people love music, and love me when I play it well.

I play at her pre-school and she sings the loudest. Her friends say I'm cool!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Empowered Musician

Finally published! I've been working on this book for so long that I can't even imagine looking at it again. My first book, THE INFINITE GUITAR was easy compared to this one. Guitar hasn't really changed over the last twenty years but the music business, especially the independent market, is changing everyday. And since that's what this new book THE EMPOWERED MUSICIAN is about, I found myself in constant edit mode. Basically I describe what I have done over my twenty year career as a musician and educator. I also owe thanks to my friends who helped me get it done: Doug Ross, Phil Nobo, Joey Carbone and George Smyth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Altered Dominant Chords

Q: I have been going through your site and it is great. I like all of the information you have provided. One thing that still confuses me is what is an altered chord. I see this some time. G7 alt. What does that mean? How do I know what the extra note(s) that need to be added to make this an altered chord? Is there a way to tell what note(s) need to be added based on the key signature? I am confused.

A: Thanks! Glad you like the site and the lessons. You can find most of what you need in two lessons on my site: The Altered Scale and Dominant Chords but let me give you a simple explanation first:

Alt is an abreviation for altered which is refering to the altered scale (the 7th mode of melodic minor). Always keep in mind, every chord has a scale from which it is built. The G altered scale looks like this: G-Ab-Bb-B-C#-D#-F and the intervals: 1-b9-#9-3-b5-#5-b7 (pay close attention to the 5ths and 9ths).

I imagine that the standard 7 chord eventually gave away to a 7b9 chord which has more tension. It is a pretty safe bet that the 7b9 chord was harmonized from the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale (sometimes refered to as the phrygian dominant scale). Using G (same as C harmonic minor) as an example: G-Ab-B-C-D-Eb-F or 1-b9-3-4-5-b6-b7. See how this scale makes a G7b9 chord?
Eventually musicians looking for even more tension would turn to the altered mode from the melodic minor scale to get some great sounding dominant chords (after all, besides the b9, it also contains a #9, b5 and #5). A G(alt) chord would be any G7 chord with any two (or more) of the altered intervals in it (b5,#5,b9,#9). How do you know which ones to stick on top? You could just pick the ones that you like. For example, I personally like the 7(#5,#9) chord. Sometimes the melody of the song will give you a hint as well. If the melody note in the song is a #9, it would probably be a good idea to play an altered chord with a #9 in it as well.

The altered chord is almost always a "V" chord going to the "I" chord, as in G7(#5,#9) - C maj7. But there are examples where this is not the case.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rehearsing Your Band

Q: I have recently joined a band. The band was mostly formed when I joined and I noticed that their practice schedule is pretty lax compared to what I am used to so I suggested that we start playing every song on our list 4 times in a row, back to back, before we move to the next song, keeping any talking down to a minimum. ie. unless its about the arrangement, play it again and keep playing. This is what we did in the bands that I had when I was in my 20's and we were one of the tightest bands around. My idea was not met with much enthusiasm which I can understand so I want to ask you. Do you think that I am asking to much? Would this be over kill? I am asking you because you are a professional musician. And I want to get a second opinion. Keep in mind that we are all 40 something with jobs and lives and can really only practice once or twice a week. (usually once) What is your opinion on this.

A: Well, its sort of hard to say but let's assume you guys all play well. I would actually suggest that you run through the song once then focus on the problem areas of the song. It would seem more efficient to find the section of the song that is not tight and go over just that section several times. The solo section is pretty typical, if you can't get the solo to work out, maybe you have the band go over that section a few times. Unison parts and endings are all good examples. After doing the song once, working on the not so tight sections, you could run through the song again. It seems like a waste of time running through the whole song if you guys already have most of it down so focus on the train wrecks.

If you guys are going to do shows, you may want to run through the set the way you are going to play it a few times a day or two before you do the show. Including the mc sections so you can time it and see how the songs work one after another (you don't really need to rehearse the mc section but try to imagine the break that might last a minute). The way the keys and tempos change really make a big difference in the way a set sounds. I usually try to avoid keys going down, ie: E going to D going to C, this kind of thing mixed with slowing tempos will put your audience to sleep. I also try to avoid similar styles back to back. You need momentum in the set, divided by a cool-down song like a ballad so you can restart the momentum.

I know this has nothing to do with rehearsing but you need to pay special attention to your MC. If you are playing in bars or clubs you have to get your audience to drink and tip the barmaids and a good rap is important for this. In the end these things is what will make your band popular with the club owner. It also goes without saying that if you guys record yourselves a CD, a good sales pitch is a must.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Using Pentatonic Scales

Q: I've obviously learned all the 5 minor pentatonic boxes over time, and am wondering if im using them in the best way. For example over Cmaj7-Am7-Dm7-G7 I use the A minor pentatonic box shapes. Is this a common thing to do? Sometimes it sounds a bit too 'off the mark' and unfocused dues to playing bluesy licks based in these positions over a major chord progression.Do you use this approach ever? It just seems learning all the 5 blues boxes has got to be more useful than JUST playing over blues don't you agree?

A: Regarding your Cmaj7-Amin7-Dmin7-G7 and pentatonic scale question:

There are many things to consider here. Genre and your level as an improviser. If you are starting out, I think the most important thing is to get you playing, so I might tell you; Yes, use the A minor/C major pentatonic scale over the whole thing. But assuming you have more experience, I would give you slightly different advice.

Anytime you use any given scale oven a progression, the most important notes in the scale are the notes that are also in each of the passing chords and therefore need to be focused on. Looking at the A minor/C major pentatonic scale: C-D-E-G-A.

Now look at the chords:
Cmaj7: C-E-G-B
Amin7: A-C-E-G
Dmin7: D-F-A-C

G7: G-B-D-F
The red notes are common notes with the pentatonic scale and the ratio (chord tones/scale tones):
Cmaj7: C-E-G-B (3/5)
Amin7: A-C-E-G (4/5)
Dmin7: D-F-A-C (3/5)
G7: G-B-D-F (2/5)

You can see that regarding the first two chords, the C major pentatonic scale is dead on. Dmin7 is ok, but take notice, the strongest tone, the 3rd of the chord is not included. The scale is very weak against the G7 chord, only the root and 5th and no 3rd. This is probably why you say that sometimes the scale is "off the mark." There aren't enough common tones for the G7 chord for it to sound on. You could make it work by really aiming for the G and D notes on the V chord, like you would with the blues.

If you wanted to take a pentatonic scale approach, it would seem that it would be better to:

A) Use the C major/A minor pentatonic scale but don't approach it like you are playing in A minor or A blues, rather treat it as the progression it is: An 
Cmaj7-Amin7-Dmin7-G7 progression making an effort to start on a chord tone every time the chord changes. If you think you can play the same licks like you would over an A Blues, it will sound wrong.

B) Use the C major/A minor pantatonic scale over the first three chords, and a G major pentatonic scale over the last.

C) Use the C major/A minor pentatonic scale over the first two chords, a D minor pentatonic scale over the Dmin7 chord and a G major pentatonic scale over the last.

As an example, take a listen to this video of me playing in Tokyo. The song is Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing." I'm mostly playing an E minor pentatonic scale over the whole thing but play a D major pentatonic scale over the final D chord in the progression. The top of the chorus where I do this is at 6:30 and I use the D major pentatonic scale at: 7:00:

You have to take into consideration the extensions on the chords though. For example your ratio will change if you make the chords into min9 or min11 chords. In this case there would be better scale choices.

A Jazz player would be more inclined to take more of a chord tone approach or modal approach.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

minb6 chords?

Q: I'm thinking about 6th chords. I know that a 6th chord, whether it is minor or major (depending on the 3rd of the chord), ALWAYS has a major 6th interval. So, taking the min 6th chord, I can see from what you said in your lessons that it can only replace a ii chord since out of all the minor chords of the scale (ii, iii, vi), only the ii has a major 6th interval.

I also understand this about the ii chord because I understand that the dorian mode is a minor scale with a raised 6th (raising it to a major 6th interval). But what about the iii, and vi? Suppose I wanted to play some kind of 6th chord for each of them where the 6th interval is minor to keep the chords diatonic? So, for lack of better nomenclature, I'd be playing a minor b6 chord. But... there doesn't seem to be any such thing as a minor b6.

Are "minor b6" chords simply not played in favor of some kind of 13th substitution for the iii, vi chords? I guess I came across this confusion because I had attempted to write down and play the C major scale harmonized with each note's appropriate triad and its 6th interval. That would have been C6, Dmin6,..... Emin b6??? (no such thing), F6, etc.... It looks to me that a 6th chord harmonization is kind of out of the question. Is there an actual chord that includes only a minor triad and a minor 6th in western music theory?

A: Great question. Yes, there is a minb6 chord, sometimes it (mistakenly) gets written as a min#5 chord as well. Usually the chord contains a b7 as well, if so, technically we should call it a min7b13 chord. A good example of a tune would be that Steely Dan tune, (I don't remember the name or key of the tune but you'll get the idea:

     C69 - Bmin7b13


This pattern keeps getting moved around. It looks like a IV-iii thing to me.
Also you get it like this: Amin7-Amin7b13-Amin13. Just play your garden variety Amin7 chord on the 5th fret and keep moving the note on the 2nd string up chromatically. You see this in the song "Israel" in the real book.


The chord works fine in a diatonic progression. Here is a nice voicing (also at the top of this page):



Play this shape from the second fret over an open 6 string for an Emin9 to the one on the 7th fret for a Emin7b13 chord. It is a nice sound, you will be playing E aolian here. I use this kind of thing in "Little Wing" for example.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chromatic Tones or Something Else?

Q: It seems that in every book I read, everything comes down to scales. But often in some solos I analyze, I see notes which are not in the key center. For example:

The solo is in the key of A Major (the sheet tells me so as there are three sharps, F#, C# and G#).
But I find many times the notes f natural and G natural in the solo. They are not in the key of A major. It sounds ok but I get very confused. What is going on?

A: To really understand what is going on, more important than the key signature, is the chord in relation to the scale being played. Just because a song is written in the key of A major, doesn't mean it stays there the whole time. In your example of A major, the F and G natural notes can be many things. An A major scale with the G natural is a A mixolydian scale. Is the chord A7 while the G natural shows up? An A major scale with both these notes flatted is a D melodic minor scale. Is the chord a chord that works with this scale, like a C#7, G7 or Bmin7b5 chord? There are many possible explanations. 
If these notes fall between normal scale tones, they very well may be passing tones. Both these notes are common passing tones as they come between two scale tones. The G natural falls right between the 7th and 6th and the F natural, right between the 6th and 5th. Pretty standard fare for Jazz, especially if they are falling on the up beats.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Arpeggios for Blues

Q: In your book, and you've shown me this before, the "Eric Johnson" 1-5-3 interval arpeggios. I've been trying to put all seven of the diatonic arpeggios into use over a 12 bar blues in A. I know that each one of the arpeggios that I play contain the same notes of the minor pentatonic scale, but it still sounds funny. I'm starting on the root (A) then B etc. Should I do minor arpeggios instead? OR do these not work as well over blues stuff, OR am I just not doing it right and shitting my pants for no real reason? -John

A: First off, the pentatonic scale is a partial scale, from the major or minor scale. So you don't harmonize chords or arpeggios from it. So the question is what scale should you be making arpeggios from?

A7 is the "I" chord in an A blues, but if you think about it, it is a dominant chord and dominant chords can't really be "I" chords except in the sense that it is home for a blues, they are "V" chords. Now you tell me; what key is an A7 chord from? It certainly ain't A major so what is it. Think about it before continuing on........

Did you get it? A7 is the "V" chord of D major. So the scale you need to be harmonizing is D major. By the way, what is a D major scale played over a A7 chord? It is the A mixolydian mode right? So you need to be thinking in A mixolydian/D major.

What are the chords in D major from the "V" chord?

A (V)-Bmin (vi)-C#dim (viio)-D (I)-Emin (ii)-F#min (iii)-G (IV)

or A7-Bmin7-C#min7b5-Dmaj7-Emin7-F#min7-Gmaj7 if you prefer to think in 7th chords.

so these are your arpeggios for an A7 chord and all of them can be superimposed over the chord to various degrees of success. Obviously the A triad is fine and the C#dim arpeggio looks like the top half of the dominant chord as it is basically the 3-5-b7 of the chord. The Emin arp is the 5-7-9 of an A9 chord as well. Even an ascending line using all of them diatonically will work fine.

BUT.... You will have to do this with each chord in the Blues progression. The D major key arps will not work over the D7 chord or the E7 chord. You will have to harmonize from G major (D mixolydian) and A major (E mixolydian) for those. Mixing them will be a lot of work but in combination, it could be pretty impressive.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stage Fright

Q: My playing has taken a new turn in that I played my first open mic, playing my own songs about a month ago. It has taken me many years to get up on that stage. The one thing I noticed is how different and difficult it is right now in comparison to playing in my living room. I feel little tight and nervous. I had one song where I muffed up a Basic Bar F chord and C sharp minor Yikes, I have been playing those for years. Any advice?

A: There isn't too much advice to give about stage fright but I'll tell you one thing, it eventually goes away. It is just a matter of experience playing in front of people. Even me, who has been caught on stage yawning in front of several thousand people, used to be so scared to play in front of an audience that my legs would shake on stage. It takes about four of five times and its over. In some ways, when you stop getting stage fright, part of the fun goes away. Its sort of like when you are a teenager and go on your first date and you are all nervous and hating it, but looking back, it was part of the fun. There are a few thing you can do to make sure things go without any train wreck though.

1. Practice standing up. You see the guitar different when you sit down compared to when you stand up. This can lead to mistakes. When you sit down, you may tend to look at the top of the fretboard but when standing you see more of the side of the neck.

2. Even when sitting down, keep a strap on. And when you stand up and play, make sure the strap is adjusted so that the height of the guitar is the same as when you are sitting. I see this with students all the time and it always screws them up. When you sit down the guitar sits on your leg, and that is about the height that you want when you stand up as well. If your strap is long and your guitar is hanging down to your knees like Jimmy Page, you are going to have a hell of a time playing it, especially if you are nervous. If you are concerned about your image, drop it a little at a time to get used to it.

3. As I said, it is a matter of experience, so play in front of your friends and family before you get up on stage.

4. Last on my list. I always have found that anything I can do in my living room is only worth 80 percent on stage. I've managed to get it closer over the years but I know that if I want to play 100 percent on a gig, I need to have it at about 120 percent at home.

Don't worry too much about it. Enjoy the jitters while they last and keep on keepin' on.