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.