Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mixolydian vs. Lydian Dominant

Q: I have to play a solo over a C9 vamp, and I realize I have several scale choices. let me see if my theory is correct here: The mixolydian scale is totally diatonic, but the #4 in the lydian dominant scale works because the ear also accepts the blues scale (b5), right? So in a way, the lydian dominant works like a pivot between inside (diatonic mixolydian) and out (blues with b3 as well), which also lets the Dorian work sparingly too. Does that sound about right? (or am I trying to get into heaven here?)

You pretty much have it but not completely: Some people would argue that lydian dominant is actually more inside than mixolydian because the natural 4th in mixolydian would technically clash with the major 3rd in the C9 chord. There is some truth in this I think. Technically lydian dominant has no "avoid note" so to speak, the #4 being far enough away from the 3rd in the chord. Some players would tell you, me too for that matter, that mixolydian is better used for a 7sus4 chord. It is all a matter of taste I suppose. C Dorian would only work over a C9 chord because it sort of looks like a combination of the C major pentatonic and C minor pentatonic scale. But it leaves out the most important note, the major 3rd. And it seems clumsy (too big) for blues. So I think that a C dorian scale over a C dominant chord isn't really a great choice.
Also, I wouldn't put the cart before the horse, meaning that I wouldn't think that (as you said) a scale is diatonic to a chord, it is really the other way around: chords are diatonic to scales. So C9 is diatonic to both C mixolydian and C lydian dominant. But you are right to think that we like the sound of the b5 because it reminds us of the blues scale (again, a matter of opinion).

Besides the major and minor pentatonic scales, mixolydian and lydian dominant, you can also create some tension by using the half/whole diminished scale.

I've posted on dorian over a blues before. Here>> Other links:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Whole Tone Scale

Q: What can you tell me about the whole tone scale? I didn't find anything on your site regarding it.

A: The whole tone scale is used in very specific situations, so I didn't mention it too much in the lessons on chrisjuergensen.com. But it is a valuable scale to know and has one very interesting application that took me about 20 years to figure out. First of all, it is a 6-note scale which is unusual in itself. It is a symmetrical scale, meaning it is based on a set of specific intervals that repeat. The half/whole diminished scale (an 8-note scale) is also a symmetrical scale based on a repeating half-step, whole-step pattern. The whole tone scale is a pattern of all whole steps. So for C: C-D-E-F#-G#-A#. If you harmonize it, you will get a C7#5 or C7b5 chord. When you add in the 9th (D, in this case) something strange happens, you get a C9 chord with a b5 or #5. How strange is that? I've actually run it to one or the other on a few charts but it is rare and sounds somewhat strange. You have to be weary of using the scale because a lot of guys will add in an altered 9th on a 7#5 chord, thinking altered rather than whole tone. I like to use it on chords that are specifically #5, like in "Stella by Starlight" when that G7#5 chord pops up. It is a real abstract sound, I've heard it described as Bambi disintegrating. I suppose the fact that all the intervals being the same distance apart give the scale a sort of nebulous vibe. You hear it sometimes in movies or TV when somebody goes into a dream or fantasy scene. Anyways, that's how I hear it.

I actually use it more in another application than the standard, over the 7#5 chord.
I like to use it a half step down on a minor chord. You have to be daring and have good improv sense to make this work because it is outside. It is a good way to play outside on minor chords and works well if you sandwich it between two inside minor scales, like dorian. It can be justified as well. Here is a B whole tone scale: B-Db-Eb-F-G-A, now let's look at the intervals comparing it to C minor: B is the major 7th (like melodic minor), Db is the b9th (as in phrygian), Eb is the minor 3rd (like all minor modes), F is the 11th (like all of the minor modes), G is the 5th (like all the minor modes except locrian) and A is the 6th (like dorian). No root!

This was a good subject so I put together a whole lesson on the subject: The Whole Tone Scale

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cissy Strut

Q: I had a quick go of "Cissy Strut" last night. I'm trying to figure out the progression. If you look at it in Eb you get a vi-ii-V which seems on the money. I've tried some improvising and C blues or minor pentatonic fits, as does C Dorian and C natural minor. However, I was trying to figure if you can analyze the sequence from C harmonic minor perspective, since the tonal is so clearly a centerCm key (the Eb relative major is only implied, right?) But that gives a i-VII-IV which seems screwy... any ideas?

A: I wouldn't think too much about this one. I mean if God came out of the heavens and said; "Chris Juergensen, entering heaven will depend on how you analyze 'Cissy Strut,' the famous New Orleans funk hit covered by many musicians, what are the three chords in relation to each other?" I would say; "Thanks for this chance to get into heaven God, here is my answer: The C chord is a 'I' chord, the Bb chord is a 'bVII' borrowed from C minor, and finally the F chord is a 'IV' chord." And he would most likely let me into heaven despite all the rotten things I have done to various women over the years. But if he was anything like me, and this is very unlikely, he would say; "You are thinking too much about it, just play a blues have a good time."

Thinking minor is not such a good idea with this tune. It is only minor the same way a Blues is minor, meaning the minor pentatonic scale will work, but the chord is really a C7 chord.

Strut if a fun song to play if you are adventurous, It is basically a A-A-B-B form with both the As and the Bs in C. Scofield changes the B section to the key of Ab I think. When I have my students play it in their ensemble class, I make every guitarist change the B section to something different. It makes the song fun but also makes the solo a bit more challenging.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Playing Over "Impressions"

Q: I´m playing the song IMPRESSIONS in D-7, but when I play F melodic minor it sounds good, tell me why?

Good question. I'll take you through my thinking process rather than just give you my answer: Let's see, F melodic minor: F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-E, now let's look at the scale from D, as that is the chord you are playing it over: D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb-C. That gives us a 1-2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7. Ah, this is the locrian #2 mode from melodic minor. This is a very common scale for a min7b5 chord, much better than the locrian scale or harmonic minor that a lot of guys might use. Although, not the most common choice, it is one choice for a min7 vamp like Impressions. Other choices: D dorian, A, D and E minor pentatonic, D melodic minor and if you are really daring, Ab melodic minor. Check out this
scale/arpeggio guide and try some different things. This is a lesson dealing with locrian #2.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Modes and Chords

Is there a simple way to remember the which major scale equals what mode and the chords they work over?

A: I wish there was a quick method but I'm not sure there is one. You just have to remember the rules, which are:

Dorian = major scale down a 2nd. (Ex: C dorian = Bb major)
Phrygian = major scale down a 3rd. (Ex: C Phrygian = Ab major)
Lydian = major scale up a 5th. (Ex: C lydian = G major)
Mixolydian = major scale up a 4th. (Ex: C mixolydian = F major)
Aolian = major scale up a minor 3rd. (Ex: C aolian = Eb major)
Locrian = major scale up a minor 2nd. (Ex: C locrian = Db major)

The chart above might help put things in perspective.