1753 Chord Melody: back to basics

cropped-381371_10150523076849636_654179635_8637290_578928314_n-1.jpg

Students regularly ask me about my approach to solo jazz guitar and especially the improvisational part to it. Do I learn licks, special chord runs, is the improvisation actually more like an arranged variation of the piece, can you still play single line and the list goes on. In this post I will have a look at one of the approaches I may take playing a piece and creating room for added lines. I will refer to it as the 17 53 approach.

 

17 53

While accompanying someone or when you are playing and improvising as a solo guitarist, it is good to remember that a lot of guitar playing in those situations is more about implying than actual playing. Chord melody does not mean that every note needs to be played using a chord. One thing that has helped me through is the so called 17 53 approach. I look at the chords of a piece and rather than playing all these fancy chords I stick with the basic seventh chords. These chords always consist of 4 tones: root, 3rd, 5th, 7th. One way of implying harmony and movement is by using the combination root (1) seventh (7) and fifth (5) and third (3) as combination double stops to imply the full chord. the great thing about playing just two notes is that you’ll free up at least two fingers to add in some melodic lines. Besides that the third and seventh of the chords are perfect guide tones for any melodic improvisation that keeps outlining the underlying harmony. You can do this fingerstyle as well as with a pick.

Below I worked out this combination for a Fmaj7, F7, Fm7, Fm7b5 and Fdim.

fmaj7 f7

f7

fm7b5
fdim

Application in Bb Blues

If we use this in a Bb blues this could be one of the outcomes:

1753-bb-blues-1

1753-bb-blues-2

1753-bb-blues-3

Now of course you don’t need to keep it rhythmically stale as set out above, remember that it is an illustration of how things could work out on the harmony side. Also remember that this is a great way to add a sense of movement without going overboard on fancy chords. The options only grow when you start adding in chord substitutions and chromatic passing chords. It creates a nice canvas waiting to be painted upon and leaves at least two fingers free to start painting a picture. In a next post we”ll have a look at this conceptual approach and start making real music.

All the chord examples are available as a pdf here >>>

The blues example can be downloaded as a pdf here >>>

Try it out on your favorite jazz standard. Have fun!

 

Get more out of that G-run, yeeh-hah

guitarWith  many of my students I work on improvisation and developing  runs. In this lesson In will use a classic bluegrass run to show how you can get much more out of it in terms of developing solo ideas and phrases.  In this lesson we will use a standard run from the bluegrass genre and see where it might take us when creating our own break over a standard chord progression. 

The run we’ll use is a G major run, essentially a G major blues scale (G major pentatonic plus minor third or so you wish the E blues scale started on the G note). Ultimately we will use the lesson material to play a break over the following common chord progression ( BIG SANDY RIVER).

||: G  |  G  |  D  |  D  |

  |  G  |  G  |  D  |  G  :||

||: G  |  C  |  D   |  G  |

  |  G  |  C  |  D   |  G  :||

The G major blues scale run

Ok,  here  we go.

Ex. 1

ex-1

We could also do this run in a closed  position (no open strings)

Ex.2

ex-2

First of all transpose the run to C and D

ex-3

Play it backwards

Ex 4

ex-4

I’ll leave it up to you to play this in closed position and to transpose it to C and D.

Playing around with these six notes we can come up with alternatives.

Playing  around with the notes

Ex 5  Start at a different place in time

ex-5

Ex 6 Leave out the root

ex-6

Adding notes

Ex 7 Adding the flat 7th

ex-7

Ex 8 Adding the flat 7th

ex-8

While all examples are in G I leave it up to you to transpose.

Application of what was learned: Big Sandy River break/solo

Time to apply what we have been doing so far to a real life situation: a break over the chord structure of Big Sandy River, a bluegrass standard. A melody arrangement of the tune can be found here >>>

bsr-1

bsr-2

bsr-3

bsr-4

bsr-5

bsr-6

bsr-7

bsr-8

Experiment with hammer-on pull-off etc, remember that this is alternate picked (on the beat down, off the beat up) and if you have a question let me know. Below a you tube video of Big Sandy River for some extra inspiration.

All the examples and the break are available as a pdf here >>>

 

Have fun!

Lesson: using the different timbres of the guitar

What many string instruments have in common is that you can play the same note in different places. If you try this out, you’ll find that while playing on paper the same note, they sound a little bit different in the different places.

All tab examples can be played finger-style or with a pick. By clicking on the image it will open in a new tab. All examples are available as a pdf here >>>

Ex. 1

ex-1

When I talk about timbre here I am talking about the tone quality or tone color produced by playing a note or a chord on your guitar. Over time I have found that using the timbre is important for your guitar playing and assists in adding expression to your music.
I suggest you play Ex. 1 with a pick, with your fingers, with your thumb so you may become aware of how much difference this all makes.

When I am to play a melody (a solo) and or an arrangement of a piece, I consider the different options. In this context, I might also look at the question of having notes of a melody ring together, can I use open strings. Choices to make include but are not limited to:

  • key
  • pick or fingers
  • what type of pick
  • closed position playing, open position playing or a mix of both
  • capo to facilitate specific open string positions

Mary did you know?

In example 2 we will look at the opening phrase of Mary did you know and work this out in different places on the neck to compare timbre and tonal quality while also looking at the option of letting certain notes ring together.

Ex. 2

ex-2
Let all notes ring together for as long as you can.
The pos. III type of phrasing already sounds slightly warmer and allows for the option of letting notes ring together most notably the last three notes before striking the chord.

We’re going to move up a little bit more on the neck, and see how that sounds.

ex-2a

 

 

 

Adding in a Capo

In think we have a clear idea of how different fingerings make a difference for how the melody will project. Since there is something really beautiful about open strings, Example 3 makes use of a Capo on the 3rd fret.

Ex.3

ex-3

 

 
ex-3a

 

 

As for me personally, I prefer to play the song as in the last option, which gives the melody a harp like quality especially when we let all notes ring as long as possible.

Here is how Andres Segovia explains it with some more options added in:

 

Enjoy!

 

Simple Chord Substitutions Minor-Major Parallel

You are working on a song and strumming away. Lets say C goes to F goes to A min goes to G. While it all sounds good, at the same time it sounds a bit familiar. It feels like you are playing a thousand other songs, yet you are trying to create something new. How can you shake it up a bit? How can you find that chord progression -and eventually song – that sounds like it is your own? One way forward is to use chord extensions and chord substitutions. Extending a few chords or substituting them for something else may just be your way forward to lift up your chord progression or come up with new melodic ideas. Particularly with so called diatonic extensions or substitutions you can subtly change the mood or sound of those same old chord progressions while leaving in tact the basic movement of the song. In this lesson we’ll try some simple chord extensions and substitutions.

Chord Substitutions: Minor Major Parallel Chords

Sometimes the atmosphere of a piece can be changed dramatically through the use of minor and major parallels. What I mean here is that a major chord could potentially be replaced by its minor parallel (three frets down) and any minor chord by its major parallel (three frets up). Amazing new colors can be made by just this one simple idea.

As an example: here is the first part of the melody of a song called “Ten Penny Bit”.

TPB1

 

 

 

TPB1

 

 

The chords to go with this melody are in its simplest form

||:  Amin  | Emin  | Amin |   D     |  Amin  | Emin | Amin Emin | Emin Amin :||

 

Now we could change this using the minor an major parallel chords for each chord.

  • Amin –> C
  • Emin –> G
  • D –> Bmin

This would leave us with the following chord progression

||:  C  |  G  |  C  |  Bmin |   C   |  G   |  C   G   | G   C  :||

Try it out and you will hear that the melody get a different character.

Now we could combine the two options and you would get something like this:

||:  Amin C | G Emin | Amin  C  | Bmin D  | C  Amin | G Emin | Amin Emin | G  Amin  :||

 

I have found this simple tool very helpful in songwriting and arranging (especially solo acoustic/ electric) so go and have some fun with this.

 

Aggregation of Marginal Gains: 55 Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Playing

I stumbled upon this article by James Clear called This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened. In the article the story of Dave Brailsford is laid out. 

Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as the “1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement….They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.
Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time.
He was wrong. They won it in three years.

DSCF7237

Now those cyclists looked for any and every area that related to their cycling and tried to make improvements in those areas. I started thinking how this would work out when it came to playing guitar and here are some of my ideas in random order.

50 Ways To Improve Your Playing

  1. SHUT UP AND PLAY YOUR GUITAR, instead of continuously looking at new gear. I know many guitar players that get so caught up in all the sound and equipment technicalities that they have little time left to actually play. I firmly believe that no matter how good your equipment, if your hands are not doing the right thing, you will still not sound good. I don’t care if it is dedicated practice or just noodling; the only way you are going to build a relationship with that instrument is if you actually spend time on it.
  2.  PRACTICE MORE REGULARLY. To my students I always advise to practice but truly concentrated. Instead of wandering of during practice, make it your aim to practice completely focused for say 20 minutes a day and after that feel free to do whatever. But make it daily! (More on practice here >>> ). Guitar playing does not come with long bursts of semi-concentrated practice but by being focused on learning that new thing.
  3. USE A METRONOME OR DRUM MACHINE. No matter what beautiful notes you think you are producing, if they are out of time they will be perceived as meaningless. The metronome is also a great way to improve accuracy and right hand – left hand coordination.
  4. UNPLUG YOUR GUITAR. I realize this is not meant for the acoustic guitar player but for the electric player, just take it out of the amp and pedal rack and make it sound as good as you can, and after that; improve your dry presence. Once you plug in again you will be amazed. The other way around for those involved in heavier music, half of the battle is won if we could just hear the notes you are playing or wanting to play. Try keeping the rest as silent as you can.
  5. USE A CLEAN SOUND. With all the effects around nowadays it is very easy to forget what your actual clean sound was like. Try plugging in to the clean channel of your guitar or take all effects and overdrive off and remember how your actually guitar sounded again. See how clear your fast runs really are if there is no overdrive to cover any weaknesses.
  6. LEARN A NEW SONG EVERY WEEK. Building a repertoire is important if you aim to be a working musician. But besides that there is almost always something to be learned if you sit down to learn a new song, be it song writing ideas, melodic ideas, new riffs or licks, new techniques. Initially focus on melody and harmony (chords and melody) before you delve into riffs and licks. E.g. get to know the song before anything.
  7. SING WHAT YOU PLAY. You’ll be amazed how it will affect your guitar playing.
  8. SING WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO PLAY. The next step forward is that you let your imagination lead your fingers as opposed to the other way around. It is the only way you will ever sound like you and you will find that your imagination is usually well ahead of your technical capabilities. Which brings us to the next point:
  9. MAKE AN EXERCISE OUT OF IT. If your head and ear are ahead of your technique: turn your ideas into exercises. A great way of learning how to do this is to play the melody of existing pop songs, worship songs, hymns, or film melodies or well known melodies from other instruments.
  10. PLAY A PHRASE IN AS MANY DIFFERENT WAYS AS YOU CAN COME UP WITH. You could make slight rhythmic variations, play the same phrase in a different place on the neck, use different techniques such as hammer on and pull off, slides, volume swells, your whammy. You will be amazed how much you can do with just one little phrase.
  11. START A LICK BOOK AND INCORPORATE IT IN YOUR PRACTICE ROUTINE. Licks of your own and others are a great way to improve your technique and to extend your musical vocabulary.
  12. LEARN TO PLAY AND USE CHORD INVERSIONS. The are a great way to open up your sound and when you are a solo accompanist or guitar player, it is a great way to open up songs.
  13. IMPROVE YOUR LEFT AND RIGHT HAND TECHNIQUE. Yes, exercises, etudes can be a drag but they are a sure way of progressing, maybe lick collections are more of your thing.
  14. LEARN A NEW (EXOTIC) SCALE such as the Chromatic Scale, the Whole Tone Scale, the Neapolitan Scale, the Bebob Scales or the Byzantine Scale.
  15. LEARN TO PLAY YOUR SCALES IN ALL POSITIONS. We all know that blues scale starting with the root under your first finger on the low E string. How about you try and learn all the other fingerings. Or do this for the major scale (and this for its modes as well). Here’s a link to get you going >>>>
  16. DEVELOP YOUR OWN SCALE PATTERNS VERTICALLY AND HORIZONTALLY. While you are at that, make conscious choices in terms techniques used such as alternate picking, legato, right and left hand tapping.
  17. IMPROVE YOUR ARPEGGIO PLAYING, both for the purpose of rhythm guitar and lead guitar.
  18. LEAN ABOUT CHORD SUBSTITUTIONS. It is a great way to open up and re-harmonize existing songs, make you a better accompanist and in your lead playing it opens you up to more creative use of your arpeggios.
  19. PLAY A SONG YOU KNOW BUT USE DIFFERENT CHORD SHAPES. Try the same song using bar chords, small shapes on the top three strings, power chords, drop 2 / 3 chords insist on a drone. Some of my most joyful chord discoveries were when I forced myself to play all chords of a certain song with an open G and e string, it is a great way of discovering new possibilities.
  20. PLAY OR REARRANGE A SONG IN A DIFFERENT STYLE. With some of my students we have done this with the worship song How Great is Our God, ranging from traditional pop-rock to R&B, to power rock ballad, to latin (bossa nova) to jazz. It is a great way to get really in depth with a song and realize the wide range of possibilities.
  21. PLAY A SONG IN A DIFFERENT KEY OR MAINTAIN THE SAME KEY BUT USE A CAPO. As an example of a different key: the chord progression C, F, Am, G, could be transposed to A, D, F#m, E. If I’d play this chord progression with a Capo on III it would be back to the original key again. I could put the capo on V and in order to play in the original key I would play G, C, Em, D.
  22. IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE AND BREATHING. Straighten that back even if it means that you cannot see what you are doing. Try and breath regularly and when you sing, sing from your gut not from your breast. Practice standing up just like on most of your gigs.
  23. SHORTEN THAT STRAP. It may look cool having your guitar hanging down low, but it is bad for your posture and hand positioning. Try hanging that strap higher up and be in there for the long haul without risking injuries and it is better for articulation.
  24. LEARN TO READ MUSIC NOTATION IN BOTH TREBLE AND BASS CLEF. You immediately open yourself up to a world of great material by doing just that.
  25. IMPROVE YOUR SIGHT READING. Open up a chord sheet, real book, lead sheet, tab and try to play through it as good as you can without stopping for mistakes.
  26. LEARN ABOUT A STYLE YOU ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH. I have had great joy using the Guitar Atlas Series and have really started to enjoy playing and arranging Irish music (fiddle and flute tunes). Another great resource are the PLAY GUITAR NOW instruction videos and books which cover a wide range of styles and there are by now also two ukulele volumes.
  27. EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT PICKS. It is a great way to extend your sound palette without having to buy yet another new stomp box.
  28. LEARN A NEW TECHNIQUE OR IMPROVE EXISTING TECHNIQUES such as hybrid picking, or if you are a pick only player give finger style a go, and the other way around if you are a finger style player only try making things work with a pick, or give right hand tapping and sweep picking a go if you have not already done so. Magazines like GUITAR TECHNIQUES may well be your best friend to get going.
  29. IMPROVE YOUR THEORY AND AURAL SKILLS. It really helps your playing a lot if you understand what you are doing and hearing.
  30. RECORD YOURSELF AND LISTEN CRITICALLY TO FIND AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT.
  31. PLAY A SCALE OR PHRASE ON ONE STRING.
  32. PLAY A SONG BUT AVOID USING ONE PARTICULAR STRING (pretend it is broken or actually take it off).
  33. PLAY IT BACKWARDS. Try playing your scales, licks, phrases, songs backwards.
  34. PRACTICE DYNAMICS when you play scales, riffs, licks, songs, use dynamics (soft to loud and the other way around, dynamic jumps).
  35. SET YOURSELF MEASURABLE GOALS AND TARGETS IN TRYING TO IMPROVE.  In all this: failing to plan how you are going to improve in specific areas is like planning to fail.
  36. LEARN TO PLAY IN DIFFERENT TIME SIGNATURES. If you usually play in 4/4 , 6/8 or 12/8, how about learning to play in uneven time signatures like 3/4, 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8 etc. I remember well back in the Netherlands playing with people from the Middle East doing all these strange time signatures and scales, it really helped me to grow musically.
  37. LEARN TO PLAY IN ALTERNATE TUNING. It is a great way to find new sounds, ways of playing the same old songs, explore new techniques or discover new material. Ty Drop D, DADGAD, ORKNEY (CGCGCD), C tuning (CGCGCE), and others.
  38. SOLO OVER ONE CHORD, and experiment with different scales and modes over the same chord to really hear what the nature of the scale/mode or the sound of the scale/mode is in relation to that chord.
  39.  SET SPECIFIC BOUNDARIES TO THE LENGTH OF YOUR SOLO. It is a great way to learn how to leave a powerful message in a limited amount of time and to avoid senseless noodling. You don’t want to be that guy or girl of whom
  40. BECOME A GREAT RHYTHM GUITAR PLAYER/ACCOMPANIST. Many guitar players end up spending 90% of their time on soloing skills and improvement and 10% on Rhythm Guitar. Now look at your actual situation, it’s exactly the other way around, 90% of the time you play rhythm. Does is not make sense to get better at that? I know for sure that it is the guys and girls that can lock into the groove that will see their telephone ringing for the next gig. And where it comes to soloing:
  41. START FOCUSING ON TELLING A STORY. With my students we practice playing improvisations and (semi-)composed solos and focus on telling a story. A story is in broad terms build like this: introduction – body – closure. Bestselling authors use page turners in the body, events or sub plots that make you want to keep on reading. Try to translate that to your guitar solo. Listen to people like Steve Vai, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Carlos Santana and you will recognize that.
  42. WRITE YOUR OWN SONGS, MELODIES AND HARMONIES. It is a great way to put into creative practice what you are learning.
  43. FINISH THE SONGS YOU STARTED. It is very easy to put ideas aside and have them wait until the next burst of inspiration comes. Don’t do it, finish the song even if it means it is not a great song.
  44. IMPROVE YOUR VIBRATO, BENDS, COMBINATIONS. Your vibrato is key in expressing emotion while playing. Master it! Not just the one trick pony idea of the fast metal type of vibrato but also the slow haunting ones, the wide vibratos (Gary Moore), circular vibratos, and it is the same with bends, practice them with a tuner on the neck and see how accurate you are.
  45. IMPROVE YOUR PRE-BENDS. Learn to be accurate with your pre-bends which is basically learning to recognize the required tension under your fingers. Again do it with a tuner on the neck.
  46. PLAY WITHOUT VIBRATO.  Try playing your stuff and force yourself to do it without vibrato at all. It will help you to become more conscious and deliberate where you do use a vibrato.
  47. LISTEN TO A WIDER VARIETY OF MUSIC. It will definitely help your musical growth
  48. IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS WITH ACTIVE EFFECTS SUCH AS VOLUME PEDAL/KNOBS, WAH PEDAL AND WHAMMY BAR. Listen to Jeff Beck playing Somewhere over the Rainbow.
  49. LEARN TO PLAY WITH A SLIDE OR EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT TYPES OF SLIDES. When used skilfully slides are a great way to add another dimension to your playing. It is good to remember that there are many different types that will all produce a different characters to your sound. I use a brass and a thick glass one.
  50. LEAVE THE GHOST NOTES OUT. Been to those bands or jam sessions where the guitarist plays a funky rhythm but where there is no chord there are all those chucks? It get’s boring doesn’t it? Try playing to funk patterns leaving all the ghost notes out. Make the ghost notes a conscious choice.
  51. LEARN A DIFFERENT INSTRUMENT. I really enjoyed picking up the ukulele. The limitations of the instrument really helped me to expand my use of the guitar on do more with less. Likewise for picking up the bass. But you could also think of a mandolin, a banjo, or a bouzouki even. Piano might be a great new instrument on the side and is helpful to improve theory and aural. Drums or percussion are great to develop rhythmically. 
  52. EXTEND YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE ON MUSIC. Read books on the history of music, biographies of artists, books about specific subjects, magazines that are a bit more in depth such a MOJO, DOWN BEAT. Here in New Zealand you can get the NZ Musician for free in most music stores.  It has good articles and lessons (also read the lessons that are not about your instrument).
  53. GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR GUITAR EFFECTS. Guitar effects are a great way to expand your sound palette and an inevitable part of being a working musician. Get to know your effects and how they affect your sound, how to gear them up, order of effects and experiment what happens if you against the grain.
  54. GO OUT AND PLAY WITH OTHERS. Form a band, go to jam sessions, become a member of your local church’ music team, jam with a friend, jam with more experienced musicians. Music is supposed to be shared and nothing will help you to improve more than playing with others. Listening to what you are doing and how it ties in with the rest of the musicians, experiencing how not playing may be a better idea than playing (space is just as important, locking into the groove with the drummer and bass player, create great harmonic stricture and groove with the keyboard player/pianist it all helps in your growth as a player and it is so enjoyable to learn like this.
  55. FIND A GOOD TEACHER, A MENTOR OR COACH. Despite all the great resources available, nothing beats  one on one time with an experienced teacher, mentor or coach and this applies to all aspects of your playing. He or she can help you with posture, technique, creativity, song writing, and will be able to map out a path towards the goals and targets you have set. He or she may be able to take you along to gigs and jam sessions, may be able to introduce you to other musicians and thus help you to grow faster than you would have on your own.
    If you feel that urge straight away, contact me >>> even when you are far away: skype or google video chat lessons can be arranged as well.

 

Now these are just some off the cuff ideas in random order. Remember that we are aiming for a one percent improvement only. I would really appreciate it if you could add some additional ideas as a comment.

Lesson: Walk that bass (G blues) first chorus

lafe004

This week a chorus of walking bass under a G blues. This is playable with a pick as well as fingerstyle.

The following chord changes are used as the basis:

|| G 7 | C 7| G7 | % | C7 | % | G7 | E7 | Am7 | D7 | G7 E7 | Am7 D7 ||

The chords used here are so called drop two chords, consisting of the third and the seventh of each chord. They represent the complete functionality of the chord: an approach that will be part of another lesson soon.

Here we go
G bLues chorus 1 1-4

In bar one the bass follows the major triad tones and chromatically walks back to land on the C root in the second bar. A chromatic approached is used to walk from the E note (third of C chord) via F and F# back to G. In bar four a chord sequence is applied on the bass notes. G7, Am, Bb dim,  B min. 

G bLues chorus 1 5-8

Bar 5 uses the C 7 drop two chord in position VIII, the bass consists of the chord tones. Bar 6 is a chord sequence C7, Bb6, Am7, G#7. The G#7 or Ab7 is the chromatic option that comes from replacing a  D7 dominant chord resolving to G with its so called tri-tone substitution. In bar the bass line chromatically ascends to E on the last beat. Similarly a chromatic descending last beat note is found in bar 8 which resolves to the Am7

G bLues chorus 1 9-12

In bar 9 the Eb note on beat four descends chromatically to D7, just like in bar 9 the G# (Ab) descends to G. Bar 11 and 12 are a so called turn around. Notice how the tritones are used for chromatic purposes in bar 11 and 12 on the fourth beat.

A pdf file is availble here >>>

Have fun.

Using the Lydian Mode

38954_422793518215_501308215_4610668_3753202_nSometimes we stumble upon the Maj7#11 chord in our musical ventures.

The maj7#11 chord is sometimes referred to as the Lydian chord associated with the fourth step in a harmonized major scale, at which we find the Lydian mode (major scale with raised 4th).

In this lesson we will look at 3 possible approaches, which will also work to color up a normal major triad,  maj7 chords, 6 chords, maj7 9, 6/9 chords or
majo 7/13 chords.

The raised fourth gives the mode an airy sound. Some players that use this as one of their favored scales are: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Scott Henderson and John Scofield and Albert Lee. The scale is commonly applied by many jazz guitar players and modern rockers alike.

Lydian mode

The lydian mode to which the maj7#11 chord refers is the fourth mode of the major scale. So an F maj7#11 is associated with the F Lydian mode which is the C major scale but started on the fourth note. While some people prefer to learn and use the Lydian mode, I teach my students to play the major scales they already know and shift the tonal center/ root to F.

Below is an example of the E lydian mode played in the VI position on the guitar. Effectively however you can translate that back to the B major scale which has the E (lydian mode) on the fourth step. (E.g. B major scale over E).

Lydian 001

Below is a lick using the E Lydian (read B major scale) in the position VI.

Lydian 002

In one of the lessons we discussed the G major scale. In this lesson we found the lick the following G major lick.

Trying shifting this lick up four positions and play it over a E chord.

Pentatonic Scales

Most guitar players start their lead guitar playing and improvisation using the minor pentatonic scale. In this case the pentatonic approach offers some additional options where it comes to playing extended sequences 0r when you enjoy a more layered approach.

First of is the pentatonic scale half a step below the root of the chord. So of we go for E, that would make it the  D# minor pentatonic which has the notes D#, F#, G#, A#, C#. When we set off these notes against an E major chord the pentatonic scale provides us with the maj 7, 9, 3, #11 and 6/13.

Lydian 003

Why I like using pentatonic scales is because they lead easier into motive type of approaches with less of a risk of sounding like you a racing up and down a scale.

While the D# minor pentatonic scale is the preferred one for outlining the Lydian mode, the (E major) or C#minor pentatonic scale allows for outlining the major triad and 6 chord. The B major (or G# minor pentatonic scale) is another way of outlining the chord and is closest related to the underlying B major scale.

Here a D# minor pentatonic lick over E maj7

Lydian 004

Shifting around triads

Sometimes you will find the lydian chord represented as a slash chord.
The E maj7 may sometimes be written down as a F#/E (read F# with an E in the bass or F# over E root).

Similar as to indicated for the use of pentatonic scales, you could move around these two triads as arpeggios and it will create some nice lead lines.

Lydian 005

To add more possibilities you could opt to also include the two minor parallel triads of E and F#, being C#minor and D# minor.

Have fun and try out some of your general major licks as lydian licks by changing the underlying chord. So if you have some licks in C major, try what happens if you play these over an F chord, or some licks in G major over a C chord Likewise, if you have some A natural minor scale licks, play them over F, E natural minor scale licks over C etc.  You’ll be amazed how these same old licks get a new life when applied in a different context.

Have fun.

To Shred Or Not To Shred

Recently I have been following several discussions on what is commonly referred to as shredding, not in the least because one of my good friends called me a shredder even though we were playing jazz. The questions central in several of these discussions was: is shredding a waste of time or not?

Shredding?

It is good to keep in mind that guitar shredding is not understood in the same way by everyone: some associate shredding with simply playing very fast and others reserve the term for fast playing in a metal context.

I will go for the broader term, if only because that covers a broader spectrum and gives this post and others to follow on the subject matter more room to maneuver  in. So for the sake of this post and hopefully subsequent discussion, I will understand shredding as playing fast to extremely fast runs regardless of the style of music. 

I will add the following qualification though and that is that I see shredding as not just playing any fast series of notes but a meaningful series. Some will regard this as playing in key, I will just keep it as a meaningful series of notes. I listen to people like Michael Brecker or David Liebman both amazing saxophone players and they sometimes play outside, for the guitarist one could think of people like Frank Gambale, Mike Stern or Scott Henderson.

In the rock genre people like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert spring to mind, in blues you could think of Stevie Ray Vaughn or Joe Bonamassa, gypsy jazz players like Stochelo Rosenberg for the acoustic guitar or what to think of John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Larry Coryell or in the more traditional styles of jazz guitar, people like George Benson, Joe Pass, Pat Martino.

I think we can conveniently say that whatever style of music, there will be those that express themselves with fast played runs and some that use lesser notes to convey their message, and than there is at all times a category of people that think they can impress and entertain by fast for the sake of fast and use shredding as a means to get recognition. I also guess that that type of recognition swiftly fades: what would you like to hear after a concert? “Wow you are fast and technical” or “wow your music really touched me”. When shredding is done for the sake of fast, it will become boring without a doubt, just as slow for the sake of slow becomes stale at some point as well.

Shredding is a waste of time proponents

I cannot help but feeling that those who think that shredding is a waste of time are those that are not able to when asked for it, and in all fairness some circumstances require a bit more notes than others.

It seems to make no sense to equalize fast playing with soulless and senseless. here’s one such response:

To paraphrase Shakespeare; “It is a sound made by an idiot. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” What about melody, rhythm, sensitivity, feeling and interplay and empathy between musicians? But I know these are boring old fart qualities for all you young whippersnappers. These days it’s all about speed, volume and excess. Can’t use it myself. As Lowell George (but you won’t know who I’m talking about any more than I’ll know who Dimebag Darrell is (I do, but that doesn’t mean to say I advocate it)) said – it’s not what you play, it’s what you leave out.

While there may be some obvious truth in all this, there is also the matter of expression. I compare it to people: speak to a Frenchman or a Spaniard and you’ll notice (despote all these wonderful language lessons) that it is very hard to keep up with the speed. In fact when I returned to the Netherlands for a short intermission, even though Dutch is my first language, I found it hard to keep up as  I am now used to the slightly slower pace of Kiwi English.

I guess so it is to some extent with to shred or not to shred. It is in part a matter of personal taste as to whether or not to use fast playing as part of how you want to express yourself.  I personally do not see anything wrong with playing fast at times and it would be shortsighted to dismiss it all together. Yet most often the people that do just that are those that cannot do it even if they wanted it.

Shredding is not a waste of time

I see myself in this category but with a very distinct but. I separate shredding as part of my practice regimen from how I express myself, as that may differ widely from occasion to occasion.

In my practice regime shredding in all styles of music plays an important part. Not because I see fast as an ultimate goal but because being able to do fast enhances my technique and moreover  have found that practicing shredding has had considerable impact on how I am now able to execute music also on a slower pace. If your technical boundaries are further away it makes it so much easier to execute those other passages with greater confidence and accuracy, being able to make every note you play count.

Using theoretical knowledge I have found that some of the harmonically dull arpeggio studies, scalar runs and pentatonic stuff gets a completely new life when applied in a different less obvious context. It is great if you hear certain faster lines in your head and you are actually able to execute them while improvising, and this applies for my rock playing, my jazz playing and at times even when I am playing in church.

When done with taste there is nothing wrong with playing fast, blisteringly fast even, but it is not the be all and end all. At the same time shredding and the practice thereof has helped me improve overall and if you want to keep growing as a guitar player I would not rule out anything new. I remember well how I could fall back on tapping techniques where I could not keep up otherwise in a gypsy jazz setting, how I found very similar licks in both my gypsy jazz study material and my heavy metal lead guitar materials. It is really amazing to see what happens to blistering fast pentatonic riffs when applied in a jazz context or when you play those longer and shorter arpeggio riffs over a jazz standard or in a modal jazz piece using chord substitution theory. Most off all it has substantially contributed to my accuracy especially in an improvised setting.

Some examples of what I consider tasteful shredding

And ok one more

I am off now got quite some more work to do.

Key of G major workout

The following patterns and licks are aimed at building speed and strengthening the left hand and use groups of notes /motives in the key of G.

Exercise one is a legato way of playing the G major scale using three per string


This is a great way to start building some extra strength in those fingers and you will find it is a great way to build some extra speed as a result of all the legato notes. In the next tab I wrote down the same scale but the beat is now divided in groups of 4 (sixteenth notes), go this a go as well, the rhythm will give things a different feel.

Clever use of the different legato techniques will help you build speed, the following lick is an example of how this could be approached, using motives.

Again also in sixteenth notes

These licks will work of course great over a G chord, but I suggest you try them as well over the minor parallel Emin chord, or over the A minor chord and the C major chord.

For those that have been paying attention: the lick was derived from Steve Vai‘s blazing lick in “I would love to”

Around 2:47 the lick starts in a blazing speed!

Finally for some additional strength building here a final legato lick sliding up the neck.

The lick is hard work on the muscles if not used to it so don’t overdo it.

Also: work out some scalar patterns for yourself and see what you can do with it. And at all times do try to go faster than you can handle. You will find that over time your speed will get higher. One way to do this is by practicing a certain) series of licks and gradually build up the speed to the max, that will be your starting point for the next time and do the same again.

Have fun.

Minor Pentatonics, Autumn Leaves

Recently I have been working with a student on using your pentatonic scales for jazz improvisation purposes. I have found them useful especially because of the notes left out. Just for the record, I do not make a difference between minor and major pentatonics in that as far as I can see it they are the same, be it not that many guitarists started out their lead guitar playing with the minor pentatonic scale and blues scale. So when I speak of using the G#min pentatonic scale over B7 others will speak of the B major pentatonic scale which is the same only it starts on the B (the second not of the G# minor pentatonic scale). I like to keep things simple.

The first  eight bars of Autumn Leaves are:

|| Am7 | D7 | G maj7 | C maj7 |

| Fm7b5 | B7 | Em | Em E7 ||

Below is an example of how you can use the minor pentatonic and blues scale over the chord progression set out previously. Please be aware that this is an example and as far as I am concerned it is one of the many ways in which you can improvise over the song.

Analysis

Now lets see what is happening here:

Bar 1: A min pent (V) goes to B min pentatonic (VII) which creates a nice sound adding the 9 and 13 besides that it moves right into the next bar (D7) in which we will play C min pentatonic

Bar 2: C minor pentatonic (VIII) even though it has the 11 in there, the emphasis is primarily focussed on the b9 and the b13, Mist of all it sets up to chromatically resolve into the B minor pentatonic that can be used over the G maj7 chord

Bar 3: Using the B minor pentatonic this creates a nicely grounded flavor while at the same time adding a 9 and 13 in your lines.

Bar 4: I used a pattern in sixteenth notes in E blues scale (VII) and repeated the pattern in pos II which would make that the B blues scale. The f# creates the airiness associated with the lydian scale. By repeating the same pattern yuou also create that sort of modern sound.

Bar 5: again a repeated pattern using F# blues scale (II) and A blues scale (V) all notes, even though their weird signature (sorry it was my power tab) are all closely related to the chord

Bar 6: Over the B7 I played a G# blues (IV) scale and a F blues scale (I) but avoiding the Bb note although it would work as a chromatic note to b, and thus I slid very nicely back into a Bar 7 -8 E blues scale to play over the E minor (open). The last two notes are the 3 and 7 of an E7.

I also suggest you read this lesson >>> which deals with the same subject in general terms. Or find the chord melody arrangement (beginner level) of the song here >>>