1753 Chord Melody: back to basics

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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!

 

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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!