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.