Wednesday, November 24, 2010

half/whole vs. whole/half diminished scales

Q: Hi Chris, Just getting into diminished substitutions. I've been using whole/half diminished scales over the diminished subs for the V chord the ii V7 I7. progression. I've been substituting diminished chords on the b9, 3rd, 5th and b7th of the V, usually using the whole/half diminished scale over these diminished subs for the V chord. My ear (and recorded tracks from Jamie Aebersol) tells me that it works well, but in reading various sites, many suggest a half/whole diminished scale. Is it the same function? Can I substitute the half/whole diminished scale over the same diminished chord subs over the dominant? Which one is better, the half/whole diminished scale or the whole/half diminished scale over these dim7 subs? Clarification would help..Thanks

A: First of all, you have to remember, one dim7 chord is really four. So when you say that you sub a dim7 chord on the 3, 5, b7 and b9 of a functioning dominant chord, you are really doing the same one thing. (If we were to use G7 as our example) every one of the subs, creates a 7b9 chord because all four dim7 chords are built from B, D, F and Ab notes, the 3rd, 5th, b7th and b9th of G. The standard way of thinking is "sub a dim7 on the 3rd of a functioning dominant chord." If you prefer to think "sub a dim7 on the 3rd, 5th, b7th and 9th of a functioning dominant chord," it is OK, although keep in mind, it is all the same thing.

Next point: you are right to think that the whole/half diminished scale can work for all these four subs, but once again, just like the four dim7 chords, being a symmetrical scale, all four scales are the same one scale as well. That's right, a B, D, F and Ab whole/half diminished scale all have the same notes and are technically the same scale, same as the four dim7 chords (augmented triads are also symmetrical chords). The other symmetrical scale is the whole tone scale (all whole steps).

It might seem confusing but these four chords and four scales all really being the same thing means that any one and all of the scales work over any four and all of the chords. For example a B whole/half diminished scale played over a Ddim7 chord is the same as, let's say a F whole/half diminished scale played over a Abdim7 chord. Not to be redundant, but they are all the same and if you notated everything and looked at the notes, you would see that they are.

Half/whole diminished scale - Now this is where you might have gotten confused. The half/whole diminished scale is one of the standard choices for a functioning dominant chord, especially one with a b9. But you play it on the root. So a G half/whole diminished scale on a G7b9 chord. BUT, a G half/whole diminished scale is the same as a B, D, F and Ab whole/half diminished scale. So the final result is that you are doing the same things.

Other than the half/whole diminished scale, the altered sub is also popular. It is called the b5sub and you just sub a dominant chord a tritone away. So a G7 chord gets turned into a Db7 chord, and you play a Db lydian dominant scale (which is the same as a G altered scale from melodic minor).


Monday, August 16, 2010

Some Points on the Mixolydian Mode

Q: Hi Chris, I just checked out your revision of the mixolydian lesson on your site and the new video. I really liked the sounds you get with mixolydian especially in the Blues you played. I just have a few questions.

Q1. Why is it that you can play a G minor pentatonic (or major pentatonic) over the whole 12 bar progression, but have to switch mixolydian modes for each of the three chords?

A: Well, both the minor and major pentatonic scales will (for the most part) work over the whole progression because of their simplicity. I suppose that is why using one or both of them is a popular approach rather than using a separate mixolydian scale over each chord. Even though you can technically use both a minor and major pentatonic scale over a Blues, not all the notes work well over each of the chords. For example, take a look at the G minor pentatonic scale: G-Bb-C-D-F. And remembering that chord tones sound the best over each of the chords you play over, look at the scale compared to each chord in a G Blues:

Here is the G minor pentatonic scale again: G-Bb-C-D-F

G7 (G-B-D-F): The scale has three chord tones, the root (G), 5th (D) and b7th (F). C is sort of lame as it is a 4th and the chord isn't a 7sus4 chord and the Bb needs to be bent up the the major 3rd to sound right against the G7 chord. But overall, your chances of hitting a good note is pretty high.

C7 (C-E-G-Bb): The scale has three chord tones, the root (C), the 5th (G) and the b7th (Bb). Again pretty good hit/miss ratio against the IV chord.

D7 (D-F#-A-C): Two chord tones here. We have the root (D) and b7th (C). So we have to be a little more cautious using the scale over this chord.

But all in all, you have will have pretty good luck using the minor pentatonic scale over the Blues progression. You just need some sense and decent ears.

Now let's take a look at the G major pentatonic scale used over a G Blues progression. Here is the G major pentatonic scale: G-A-B-D-E

G7 (G-B-D-F): Three chord tones available, the root (G), 3rd (B) and 5th (D).

C7 (C-E-G-Bb): The scale has two chord tones, the 5th (G) and the 3rd (E). The biggest problem with this scale over the IV chord is that is has some downright lousy notes. The worst being the B note which is a major 7 to the C7 chord. If you play this note and hold it, you could probably make someone in the audience throw up. If you dare to play it, try bending it up to the root for good results.

D7 (D-F#-A-C): Two chord tones here as well. We get the root (D) and the 5th (A). The remaining three notes in the scale are not chord tones, but they aren't blatantly ugly (like the B note over the C7 chord) either.

Now on to the mixolydian scale. You can get pretty good results from using the G mixolydian scale over the whole thing. I mean, Blues harp players pretty much do exactly that to some extent. For example, a Blues harp player would use a C major harmonica over a G Blues and as you know from the lesson, the C major scale over a G7 chord is the G mixolydian mode.

Let's look at the G mixolydian scale over all three chords. Here is the G mixolydian scale: G-A-B-C-D-E-F.

G7 (G-B-D-F): We get every chord tone!! Bingo! If I have any advice for you here, beware of the 4th. It doesn't sound that hot over a G7 chord unless it is a 7sus4 chord, in that case it would sound pretty good but the 3rd would then have some problems.

C7 (C-E-G-Bb): Three chord tones, the root (C), the 3rd (E) and the 5th (G). Be very careful because once again, there is a B note in the scale which is the major 7th and will gross you out over a C7 chord if you hold it for any length of time.

D7 (D-F#-A-C): Three chord tones here, the root (D), the 5th (A) and the b7th (C). When the G mixolydian scale gets played over this chord, there is a minor 3rd (F) that you might want to bend up to the 3rd of the chord (F#).

All in all, the G mixolydian scale over the entire Blues progression isn't that bad of a choice but it leaves a lot to be desired, simple because of the difficulty in making the changes using it. But remember, using the corresponding mixolydian scale over each chord offers you the opportunity to get all the chord tones on all three dominant chords. 

I personally prefer to use the mixolydian mode over the IV chord, for example, C mixolydian over the C7 chord in a G Blues, while sticking to a combination of the minor and major pentatonic over the I and V chords (although I'm somewhat inclined to use the mixolydian scale over the I chord from time to time). There is a good reason for using mixolydian over the IV chord, you can see that the C mixolydian scale and G minor pentatonic scale are pretty close to the same, or at least we could say that there is a G minor pentatonic scale inside of the C mixolydian scale. See:

G minor pentatonic: G-Bb-C-D-F

C mixolydian: C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb

Therefore playing the G minor pentatonic scale over the G7 chord and simply expanding it to the C mixolydian scale for the C7 chord is a fairly simple thing to do (just add a E and A note). Some players like to play the C mixolydian mode over both the I and IV chords but I don't think that is a great choice (if you want to know why, there is another post here).

Q2: I can follow what you are playing somewhat on the video. But in certain places I'm not quite sure (especially over the C7 chord at around 14 minutes). Can you tell me where you start using the mixolydian scale or if there is something else going on?

A: Sure. I'll take a look and notate the times (keep in mind, when I say G minor pentatonic, I might be playing a major 3rd here and there):

10:48 - 11:10 - G minor pentatonic scale
11:11 - 11:19 - C mixolydian
11:20 - 11:22 - G minor pentatonic
11:23 - 11:28 - G mixolydian
11:29 - 11:46 - G minor pentatonic (with emphasis on an added A note for the D7 chord)
11:47 - 11:50 - G mixolydian
11:51 - 11:55 - C mixolydian
11:56 - 12:03 - G mixolydian
12:04 - 12:11 - C mixolydian
12:12 - 12:37 - G minor pentatonic
12:38 - 12:42 - G mixolydian
12:43 - 12:47 - G minor pentatonic 
12:48 - 12:55 - G mixolydian
12:56 - 13:06 - C mixolydian - 
13:07 - 13:16 - G minor pentatonic
13:17 - 13:21 - C Mixolydian
13:22 - 13:30 - G minor pentatonic
13:31 - 13:35 - G mixolydian
13:36 - 13:38 - C mixoldydian
13:39 - 13:47 - G mixolydian (the arpeggio thing you hear is basically the diatonic arpeggios ascending from Cmaj7 up to Amin7)
13:48 - 13:55 - C mixolydian 
13:56 - 14:05 - G minor pentatonic 
14:06 - 14:09 D mixolydian (something I usually don't do)
14:10 - 14:12 - C lydian dominant (Woops.. sorry, I cheated) 
14:13 - end - G minor pentatonic

Monday, July 26, 2010

Modes of the Major Scale

Q: I read forums all the the time and I'm always confused about modes. I'm not sure anyone can really explain it without confusing me. Can you give me a hint?

A: I'll do my best. Take your time and read through this really slowly. Obviously you want to learn how to use the modes properly but first you need to understand a few different things first. You can't put the cart before the horse regarding the modes. First you will have to have a very good understanding of the major scale and the diatonic system. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you write out all the major scales? If you can, move on to the next question. If you can't, go here >>>
  2. Do you understand intervals? If you do, go to the next question. If you don't, go here >>>
  3. Do you understand the harmonized diatonic system? If you do, go on. If you don't, go (half way down the page) here again >>>
  4. Can you play the major scale and improvise in all keys with little problem? If you can, go on to the rest of this article. If you can't, go here >>>
OK, if you are here, you should be able to: 
  1. Write out your major scales. For example: what are the notes in an E major scale? E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#. What are the notes in a Bb major scale? Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A. etc.
  2. Be able to identify intervals. For example: What is a perfect 5th from A? E. What is a major 7th from Eb? D. etc.
  3. Understand the diatonic system. For example: what is the "V" chord of D major? A or A7. What is the "ii" chord in F major? Gmin or Gmin7. etc.
  4. And be able to play and use the major scale. Although it may not be completely necessary, I would strongly suggest that you know all five (the conventional) patterns of the major scale. You should be able to play over diatonic progressions using the scales.
If you don't understand these things and can't improvise using the major scale, I'm not sure that getting involved with modes will do you a lot of good. So let's assume that you've reached the point where we can move on. If you haven't gotten to that point yet, don't worry, this post will be waiting here for you.

Now, let's try to understand modes theoretically first. You have probably already heard this and it is one reason you are confused, but it is important to get this first Make sure you read to the end of this article or you will stay confused.

What are Modes?

Modes are scales based on different degrees of the major scale (and other scales like the harmonic minor or more commonly the melodic minor scale). There are seven notes in the major scale, so there are seven different modes. The first is easy enough:

The Ionian Mode - The major scale based on the first note. Silly right? Look at these examples:

C Ionian: C-D-E-F-G-A-B
G Ionian: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#
F Ionian: F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E

It is important to understand the notes by what they translate to in intervals:

The C major scale: C-D-E-F-G-A-B. The intervals are: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 (or 1-M2-M3-P4-P5-M6-M7-M7). You have to learn to look at scales this way or it is impossible to understand their uses and how to apply them.

This is easy enough, the Ionian mode is simply the major scale. Next let's move on to the dorian mode. The dorian mode is a scale based on the second degree of the major scale. Now to find the proper major scale or (parent scale) all you need to do is remember a simple formula. The formula for the dorian mode is:

Dorian = Major Scale Down a M2

So let's say you want to write out or play a D dorian mode. Now you promised me that you know your intervals so you should be able to do this right? What is a Major 2nd down from D? The answer is C, so D dorian = C major. See if you can do more of these:

  1. B dorian = ? 
  2. E dorian = ? 
  3. F# dorian = ?
  4. A dorian = ?
  5. C dorian = ?

Answers: A, D, E, G and Bb major. Where you able to do it? Good. Now going back to D dorian as our example, D dorian carries the same key signature as C major right? So write out a D to C scale using the key signature of C and you'll get what you are looking for:

D Dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Let's do some more:
  1. B dorian:B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A (The major scale down a M2 from B is A and the key signature for A is F#,C#, G#)
  2. E dorian:
  3. F# dorian:
  4. A dorian:
  5. C dorian: 
B dorian: B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A
E dorian: E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D 
F# dorian: F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E 
A dorian: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G
C dorian: C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb

What we have done is find the mode using a derivative method. We basically found the dorian mode by finding the parent scale. Now this is fine and dandy for finding the scale quickly but it doesn't show you what it is and how to use it. To do this you absolutely have to understand it from a parallel point of view. We already did this with the major scale (or ionian mode), now let's do it with the dorian mode as well. Using D dorian once again:

D dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Now what does this translate into intervalically?  1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7 (or 1-M2-m3-P4-P5-M6-m7).  

Now you can see what the scale actually is. It looks like a:
  1. natural minor scale with a major 6th (or) 
  2. major scale with a minor 3rd and minor 7th
 if you told the truth and also understand the diatonic system, you know that this scale will harmonize to a min7 chord. The "ii" chord in C major is Dmin or Dmin7 so obviously the dorian scale harmonizes to the same chord:


So What?

You may know this much and might be asking yourself what the big deal is. There is no big deal really. But there are some important points to remember. A lot of aspiring guitarists mistakenly make the assumption that you are playing a different mode over every chord in a diatonic progression. In other words, over a Cmaj7-Amin7-Dmin7-G7 progression you would be playing a C ionian, A aolian, D dorian and G mixolydian mode. This is not really correct and is a waste of brain power. The chord progression revolves around C, the "I" chord and the "I" chord has what I call tonal gravity. You do not hear any of the other three chords as the tonal center so you hear the progression as C major. The trick to modal music is that you have to hear the music's tonal center as the chord that corresponds to the mode in question. The ear decides but personally I find that anytime you get a functioning "V" chord, in other words a "V" chord going to a "I" chord, you lose the sense of anything modal. The less chords the better actually. So you will want to play the D dorian scale over a ii chord vamp (Dmin7), ii-iii (Dmin7-Emin7) or ii-V (Dmin7-G7) progression. You can experiment and see what you think.

More common misconceptions

1. You have to start on the root of the mode. In other words, to play D dorian, you have to start on a D note. This is: 

False. You have to hear the tonal center as D dorian only. Hearing the tonal center is to the largest degree due to the chord vamp or chord progression. A C major scale played over a static Dmin chord (not one in the middle of a diatonic progression) is dorian. It might have have been true back in the ancient modal days when there were no chords that your melody had to start on D for it to be dorian (wouldn't want the king of the ancient kindgom of Doria to chop your head off) but in regards to modern modal music, it certainly doesn't make much difference.

2. You can start on any note you want. A C major scale over a static Dmin7 chord or progression which is perceived as centering on D minor is Dorian. 

Partly true. Just because you are technically playing a mode, it certainly won't sound good if you aren't putting emphasis on one of the notes in Dmin (D-F-A) or Dmin7 (D-F-A-C). This goes for improvisation on any level.

3. You have to play over a one-chord vamp for it to be modal. The chord has to be static.
False. The tonal center of gravity has to be the modal chord but it doesn't have to be static. Granted, static probably works best because there are no gravitational tonal distractions but it doesn't have to be a one-chord vamp. But the more chords you add to the mix, the less you will hear what you are doing as modal. 


The method I first described is the "derivative" approach or point of view. What this means is that we refer everything back to the major scale (the mother scale, so to speak).We used D dorian as our example, and I taught you to think: the dorian mode is the major scale down a major 2. This is handy for coming up with what you need on the spot. If you need to play a D dorian mode, you can simply play the major scale that is down a 2nd (C major in this case). This works for all the modes:
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)

You get a chart and it says by the word "Guitar Solo" Cmaj7. You want C lydian, all you have to do is remember the rule (lydian = major scale up a 5th) and play a G major scale being sure to start on a chord tone (C, E or G) and you'll be playing lydian. Some guys who I call the mode nazis bitch and moan about this method of locating the mode. You get these guys all the time on forums and I wouldn't listen to them. My experience is that these guys generally don't play modal music and take the whole thing too seriously. The proof is in the pudding as I always say and if you like the way I do modal improv, you can take my method as a a fine and dandy way of approaching it. Look here, me playing dorian:

And me playing phrygian:

More Silly Questions I Have Heard on Various Forums

Q: I don’t know what this Juergensen cat is talking about. He says that if you want to play a G mixolydian scale, you should think “up a 4th” I thought the mixolydian mode was the 5th mode. Why does he want to make it so hard?

A: Quit being a complete dingbat and use your head. Using your logic, which is right by the way, G mixolydian is the 5th mode of what scale? C major. OK easy enough. But unfortunately when you get a chart and it is your time to solo, it doesn’t say on the chart next to the word solo “play mixolydian, the 5th mode of C major” it only says G7 and you have to figure out on your own what the hell to play. My logic says: 

G7 = mixolydian, up a 4th from G7 is C, G mixolydian = C major. 

It is the same thing in reverse: the 5th degree of C is G mixolydian and a 4th from G7 is C major. 

You only get the chord, so thinking about what degree of what scale is a big waste of time. It is much faster thinking: major scale up a 4th.  

Parallel is the point to understanding 

Using the derivative method might be easier to locate and play the mode, but to really know what is going on with modes, you absolutely have to see things from a parallel viewpoint as well.

You have to think of the mode as a separate scale all together (which in all reality it is). This point of view would say that the dorian mode is, compared to the parallel major scale, a scale with a fixed set of intervals: 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7. The advantage is simple, it shows you clearly what the scale is, its intervals, its tonality and the harmony born from it. It is clear and direct. The disadvantage is that to play it using this method of classification means that you have to learn a separate scale pattern for every mode. I mean, lets say you are playing a tune and the chart tells you that it is time for you to play a solo and gives you a Cmin7 chord to solo over. You would have to think; "Okay, Cmin7, that means I can use the dorian mode, let me think here, the root is C, a 2nd from that is D, a b3rd from the root is Eb, the 4th is F, the 5th is G, the 6th is A and finally the b7th is Bb." It is a lot of thinking to do if you are not yet familiar with all five of the dorian scale patterns. Using our first method, the derivative approach, you would simply say to yourself in the same situation; "I have to solo over a Cmin7 chord, so I need to play the C dorian mode, let's see, a 2nd down is Bb so if I play a Bb major scale everything will be cool." This approach takes a lot less effort. Regardless it is important to look at the modes from the "parallel" standpoint in order to truly understand the nature of each individual mode. The parallel system works for all the modes:

Dorian = 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7
Phrygian = 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Lydian = 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7
Mixolydian = 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7
Aolian = 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Locrian = 1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7

I personally believe it is important to understand both these methods. I tend to teach beginners using the first method for finding and applying the mode simply because it allows someone with little experience to get immediate results with little effort. The student simply needs to know the major scale. By knowing five patterns of the major scale and a few rules you can play every mode. By using the "parallel" method, to get the same results, the same student wound need to know thirty-five different patterns (five patterns x seven modes). Using the "parallel" method you would think of the dorian scale pattern like this (black notes are the "dorian" root):

Eventually what happens is that both these concepts begin to overlap and you stop thinking about it overly. Especially in regards to modes you play often. For example, in the dorian video above, I'm practically not thinking at all. I have played dorian enough over the last three decades for it to be very natural. But in the second video, I am thinking almost completely using the derivative method. In other words, I am thinking" Ok, I've got to play over this Csus4(b9) chord here, down a major 3rd from C is Ab, so I'll play an Ab major scale making sure to start on some chord tone from the chord (C, F or G). Oh, here comes a Db major chord, let me grab a Db, F or Ab on the first beat." The reason I have to do this for phrygian and not dorian is simply because I don't play phrygian very often, it certainly isn't something I do everyday like I might dorian.

Anyway, if you want to get into this mode by mode. Follow the links:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Whole Diatonic Picture

Q: Somebody was telling me that charts only give the bare minimum regarding chord symbols and you are expected to play something "bigger." How do I know what liberties I can take with certain chords?

A: The trick is to understand the diatonic system with each chord harmonized to its full extent. For example, when we look at the seven harmonized triads from the diatonic system, we notice that there are three major triads, the I, IV and V chords. But when we harmonize to 7th chords the same three chords that were once all the same, we now get two maj7 chords ( I and IV) and one dominant chord (V). The more you harmonize, the more each chord becomes unique until all seven are completely different. 

I first noticed years and years ago after finding 9th chords that while the ii and vi chords sounded nice as min9 chords, the iii chord sounded wrong to me played as such. I didn't know why at the time but after some investigation I figured it out. Using the chart up there, you can see why. It is because while the ii and vi chords harmonize to minor chords with a major 9th interval (in other words, min9 chords), the iii chord has a flat 9th. 

The I and IV chords become different only till we get to the 11th. The IV chord has a #11. Players always ask me; "How did you come up with that chord in that song?" And I always answer that it is simply because I know what the chords could possibly be fully harmonized and take advantage of that information. This means that in any given song, even a simple one, I could take a IV chord for example, and play it as a maj7#11 chord while most other guys would stick to the chart and play a triad or maj7. You have to be careful but you can certainly take liberties. 

Taking a simple song like "Stand by Me," what could you do? The song is basically a I-vi-IV-V progression. You could try taking advantage of the IV chord and adding in a #11. Or maybe make the V chord into a 9sus4 chord. Knowledge is power.

6 chords - The chart up there will give you some insight but there are certain things you should know (the gray boxes). While a dimb6 chord seems weird enough, it sounds pretty good. But the reason is simply because, it looks like a G7/B chord (B-D-F-G). 6 chords look the same as 7th chords in 1st inversion and in that respect are tricky. the vi chord being a minb6 chord spells out the same as a Fmaj7/A chord. 

7 chords - All these are fine and there is nothing to confuse or trip you up here.

9 chords - Gotta watch out for the iii chord, the min7(b9) chord. It isn't a very attractive sounding chord and as I said before, a min9 chord will not work here. Just avoid playing 9th on iii chords and stick to a min7 chord even if you play the other minor chords (ii and vi) as min9 chords. There are however certain things that you pick up with experience. For example, the min7(b9) chord is pretty lame but if you get rid of the minor 3rd and add in the 4th, you get a very nice chord, a 7sus4(b9) chord. You can remove the b7 as well and you get a sus4(b9) chord which is sometimes known as the "phrygian" chord. The viio chord harmonizes to a min7b5(b9) chord... Gross. Again it sounds like a G7 in 1st inversion but this time the C note (b9) sounds like a 4th in the G7 chord which clashes against the B in the chord.

11 chords - beware of major 3rds and natural 4ths in the same chords. That is why the I chord is written as a sus4 chord. With the natural 4th in the chord, you are best to get rid of the 3rd all together (thus making it a sus4 chord rather than a maj11 chord). There are certain voicings that work but be weary. Same with the V chord. You will want to get rid of the 3rd here as well making the chord a 7sus4 or 9sus4 chord. The viio chord sounds ok as a 11th chord. It sounds like a G13 in 1st inversion.

13 chords - similar to 6 chords but with the 7th included.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Playing Over Dominant Chords

Q: Hi Chris! I really dig your lydian dominant video on youtube and want to get that type of sound. I sort of understand how you mix different scales to get that kind of fusion vibe, what choices do you have for a dominant chord?

A: Thanks! Musicians really like soloing over dominant chords simply because you have so many choices. Actually, you can use all 12 notes, even the major 7th if you place it on an up-beat. As far as scales there are a bunch you can use and each has its own mood. Let's say you have to play over a static dominant 7 chord (the bigger the chord, the less choices you have so we'll go with a simple dominant 7 chord). Let's look at our possibilities, from inside to outside (click on the links for more on these scales):

1. Major pentatonic (1-2-3-5-6): this is a really inside sound and popular for all styles of music. 

2. Mixolydian (1-2-3-4-5-6-b7): no bad notes here really, you might want to be a little weary of the 4th as it sort of has issues with the 3rd in the chord (if you were playing over a 7sus4 chord, it would be perfect). 

3. Lydian Dominant (1-2-3-#4-5-6-b7): some people could actually argue that this scale is more inside that even the mixolydian scale. The reason is obviously because the issue regarding the 4th clashing with the 3rd in the chord has been dealt with. Regardless, the melodic minor scale, simply because of its intervalic structure, has a quirky sound, so I'll list it after the mixolydian scale on our list.

4. minor pentatonic or blues scale (1-b3-4-(b5)-5-b7): It might seem strange to put this scale at 4 on our list because out of all the scales, this one is probably the most accepted by our ears for a dominant chord. I think that is simply because we have heard and used it so much. But in all reality, it is a pretty abrasive sound if you think about it. Its got a b3 that you really have to be careful of because of the major 3 in the chord. Experienced players know that this note should be bend up. We still have the 4th to be weary of as well. 

5. H/W diminished (1-b2-#2-3-#4-5-6-b7): Against a 13b9 or 13#9 chord, this wouldn't be such an outside choice but against a plain old dominant chord, it has more tension, simply because of the flat and sharp 9ths (2nds). The scale is symmetrical so it has a very angular sound. You can create dramatic effects with this scale mixed with, let's say, the major and minor pentatonic scales. In a lot of ways, it looks like the blues scale right?

6. Altered (1-b2-#2-3-b5-#5-b7): Again, against an altered dominant chord, this scale is not so outside, but against an unaltered dominant chord, it will really rub. But by strategically placing it between two inside choices, you can create some great tension.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lydian Dominant b6

Q: I was looking through the lessons on your site and have been using them a lot. Your information on the melodic minor modes is great and you really can't find that information anywhere. I was wondering, is there any other scales besides the ones you talk about (major scale and melodic minor modes, half/whole diminished, whole tone and pentatonic scales) that interest you or you find useful? 

A: For the longest time I never imagined that anything but the scales you mentioned above would be of any possible use to me. You can really just about deal with any chord or chord progression using them exclusively. But recently a colleague of mine told me that Ravel (I think that is who he said) used a scale that looked like a melodic minor scale with a flat 2: 1-b2-b3-4-5-6-7. I can't remember anymore what he said it was called but I looked around the internet and and have seen it referred to as the Neopolitan Major scale (he gave me another name and when I see him, I'll ask him and update this post). I'm not sure if that is a completely accurate name for the scale, matter of fact it seems like a dumb name because the scale has a minor third in it so the scale is minor not major. The only reason I can see for it be named "major" is because there is apparently a Neopolitan Minor scale with a minor 6th (1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-7), so I assume the minor is referring to the 6th and not the 3rd. A much better name for the scale would be Melodic Minor b2 scale, or maybe Phrygian Melodic Minor (because of the b2). Anyway, regardless of the confusing name of the scale, it is a good one if you can figure out how to use it (and I did). 

As you probably know, there is a mode for every note in a scale but all modes from the scale are not created equally. Just like the modes of the major scale, dorian and mixolydian are big time winners and locrian sucks. Of all the modes of this so called Neopolitan Major scale, one really stands out, and it would be the 4th one. I use it just like I would the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale, the lydian dominant mode. Since this scale is a melodic minor scale with a b2, the 4th mode of this scale will obviously look like some sort of lydian dominant scale with one alteration. It looks like this: 1-2-3-#4-5-b6-b7. So if I had to name it, I would call it the Juergensen scale (just kidding), the Lydian Dominant b6 scale.

Try playing a B Neopolitan Major scale over a E9 chord. It has a real middle eastern sound because of the three chromatic notes (#4-5-b6). It is also interesting to note that the scale looks like a whole tone scale with one note added between the #4 and #5. I've really learned to enjoy the scale and have welcomed it into my bag of tricks. The pattern is illustrated above for you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Q: First of all I would like to congratulate you on your web site. I am currently practicing Sequences and Intervals which I found very helpful in order to become technically fluent. I was wondering if you can help me to obtain the tabs for the sequences and intervals of the other positions?

One last question if I may, I am becoming quite fluent on the interval patterns, is it good practice that I play them in all directions ex diagonally, vertically, horizontal and on 1 string on the whole fingerboard? The more I practice I find new patterns that sound right.

A: Thanks for your email and I'm glad you are finding the lessons of good use. Unfortunately I don't have any tabs for the other scale patterns. It is too much to assemble all of them. But if I have any advice, my experience tells me that figuring them out and transcribing them yourself will lead to a much better understanding. That is one reason why I only transcribed the one scale pattern (major scale pattern 4) in my book and on the site. I have also found that if the sequence becomes second nature with the one scale pattern, the other scale patterns become pretty natural as well as long as you are familiar with the individual patterns. 

The more ways you do things the better. The ultimate goal is not really to play sequences but to be able to play anything your imagination dictates. Sequences just force you to do things that wouldn't seem natural to you while improvising freely. I would definitely mix the time you practice sequences with time that you spend actually improvising solos. 

Another way you would want to practice the sequences is over a chord progression, making sure to start on a chord tone of each individual chord as they pass by. This will challenge your brain as well as your fingers.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Music Education in the 21st Century

Q: I've been a fan of your book Infinite Guitar since I bought it last year and I am doing some research on the needs of today's budding guitarist. I was wondering if you could tell me what are some of the common questions/problems you get from your students about theory and technique? Have you detected any changes through the years in what aspiring guitarists consider their priorities? I would greatly appreciate hearing what you think and want to thank you again for your brilliant writing and teaching.

A: Wow, what a question. Let me reflect on this for a minute. You have to recall, I teach both in America and Japan and there is a big difference between the two as well. When I started teaching at MI in the late eighties, music was going through what I often call the sports mode, this went for all genres. Everything was super-charged; Yngwie Malmsteen was at his zenith and Paul Gilbert was getting his start. Frank Gambale had just gotten the Chick Corea gig and was sweeping all over the place and you could walk through the school and hear “Giant Steps” being played all over the place even faster than the original and sometimes in odd time signatures. Even Blues was hot and SRV was the focus. So basically, if you wanted to compete, you really had to go to a school and get your chops together. It wasn't really a good time for music because when musicians focus on technique they generally stop focusing on music, so there was a lot of great players playing solos over lame tunes. Japan was still going through its fascination with western music so they were shredding along with the rest of us. I could see the writing on the wall though: I thought to myself that this is going to come to a grinding halt because it just couldn't go any further and everyone was pretty much doing the same thing.

You also have to remember, this was before the internet was around so as I will describe, players were different then than they are now. One reason is because, when I was coming up in the 70s and got into the guitar, we didn't have video games, or the internet, so pretty much it was either sports or music after school. The way I had fun and most other musicians my age, was to put together bands with our classmates and jam out after school everyday. I was easy for us because we mostly jammed the blues. Not because we were crazy about the blues so to speak, but because a lot of the music we were familiar with was based on it back then and it was easy to get a handle on. I mean, if you could play a Blues, you could also play “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin or “Crossroads.” A 12 bar blues could be moved around to different keys and played many different styles. For the most part, my generation of musicians got a lot of ensemble experience under or belts.

So anyways, when I started teaching at MI, even though music was going through this super technical stage, guitarists were good ensemble players, although they couldn't write worth a crap. The ensemble classes were a breeze and the students were good at remembering the assigned songs and could play good solos, had decent time and could communicate musically. And since they had plenty of ensemble experience, they knew how to dial up a guitar amp. If there is anything negative to say about that (the 80s) generation of players, they weren't very good at coming up with parts (and had bad hairdos). The slightly older generation (the 70s generation like me), was much better at coming up with parts simply because the players we listened to like Page and Hendrix were good at parts. The 80s guys focused on technique and sort of snickered at the blues based 70s guys. They preferred to focus on bpm’s which was (and still is) something strange to me.

Now let's compare that generation of musicians to today's. The interent age brought about a whole new way to have fun with the guitar. Basically you could pick up licks and songs on Youtube. Generally speaking, that generation of players had way less experience playing with other musicians than the generation of students before them. And this has really changed the way that we have to design curriculum. As students have such little ensemble experience, I personally have had to rethink the way I design the ensemble classes. Twenty years ago, I could assign the songs, write up the charts, hand out the audio and the students could learn the song and play it in class using good tone and good communication skills with a nice balanced sound (tone and volume). The focus could really be on increasing the student’s repertoire, picking songs you knew would be of good use in the future, while focusing in on their weak points. I would also try to come up with songs that required technical challenges that would force the students to stretch a little further each week. These days, I have had to simplify the music and work on really basic skills like, using an amp, communicating endings and beginnings, switching channels, following form, etc. I actually have eliminated standards to some extent and have been writing simple, short songs in order to allow the students to learn these basic skills. The focus has really been on increasing the amount of time students can play in an ensemble situation. Also considering that blues is non-existent, students are less likely to simply book an ensemble room and jam out. Which brings me to another point: the lack of Blues.