Understanding Improv Over Chords
I hope this one doesn't fall under the "closed due to not understanding modes" condition listed in the sticky.
So I've been trying to dig deep into music theory in order to be able to effectively inprov, an area that's always been a great struggle for me. In particular over a chord progression, and beyond that to be able to include chords along with scales (another battle in itself I assume).
One thing I'm not quite wrapping my head around. I'm going to use C major for the following example hoping for simplicity.
Lets suppose we're on the C major (I) chord, and I'm (trying) to work something in C major. The next chord is F (IV). Now to my understanding the root note becomes F and the C major scale becomes a Lydian mode. There are 2 points here I'm having trouble grasping.
1. With each chord change, is you're improvisation supposed to hit the root note of the new chord to emphasize the change in scale? Every chord change, or occasionally or does it not matter?
2. Does a change of mode always occur with the chord change or for example could the scale in this case become F major (remaining Ionian) and the scale "shape" on the fretboard change accordingly. Or would that not be a proper thing to do?
If you're going from I-IV in C major, is there any logical reason why it would become Lydian? C-F is one of the most tonally C major moves you could make.
Its just the understanding I came to after reading this article
yea, you're going the wrong way
I see, well then I guess I'm totally lost. :shrug:
Is there any sonic reason you're trying to do this or did you just read that this is the way to improvise?
Basically I have very little direction in the way of improvising, or the know how as to if I'm even attempting it correctly. I was hoping to learn more than just playing what "sounds right" in regards to what chords are playing... if that makes sense.
Forget everything you thought you knew about modes.
Stop reading anything that mentions modes.
Forget that modes are a thing.
Start studying diatonic harmony and functional harmony. These will be much more informative and less misleading.
If you are in C major and you come across an F major chord, this doesn't change anything. You're still in C major and you should still play in C major. F lydian doesn't even exist in the key of C major.
In response to your question about hitting the root note of a chord, it's totally unnecessary. You can choose to hit the root note or not. It all depends on the sound you want. You could hold out a Gb over an F major chord if that's the sound you want.
The ONLY way (in my opinion) to learn how to improvise is to study melody. This can mean transcribing guitar solos, but I think you would benefit a lot more from transcribing vocal melodies and structured instrumental melodies.
F Lydian contains all the notes of C Ionian (Major), with a different tonic. Just because the chord changes doesnt mean the overall tonic did.
When playing over chords, look for key changes, not chord changes. Chord changes will tell you what your target notes are over that chord, while the key will tell you all the diatonic possibilities.
You do have to learn what sounds right. However, 90% (made up statistic, but I'm sure it's at least that) of the notes that occur in the melody on the chord change are chord tones.
You could just follow the root and hit the root of the chord on each change. But that is only one of three possible chord tones when your progression is using triads. When you are using seventh chords it is one of four possible chord tones.
You should practice targeting the chord tones.
To begin with make yourself (or get) a simple backing track in 4-4 time that uses simple triads. Something like I vi IV V will do.
Then listen and practice playing a chord tone on each of the chord changes using whole notes.
Then practice leading into the change by preceding that chord tone with a couple of notes from the scale. You should generally try to approach the chord tone using a stepwise motion. You can of course use big jumps but they should be used sparingly.
Then precede that first lead in note with another. This could be stepwise in the same direction or it could be a change of direction.
If you know you are chaning to a C chord you know that C major is C E G. You might target the E note on the chord change. You might decide to approach this chord tone from above - from an F. So you would have F - E. Then if you precede this stepwise from the same direction you might precede the F with a G so your run would be G F E. (hitting E at the same time the C chord arrives).
If you change direction you might precede the F with a D the D goes up to F then down to E. D F E.
Practice doing this for a few minutes and then add a couple notes afterward. Try to keep the first note after the chord tone heading in the same direction. So if you approached the E note from F you might follow it with D.
When you have practiced that for a little while try creating little licks and runs that lead into the chord change and continue after the chord change.
Another exercise is to try to play all quarter notes (or all eight notes) of an unbroken line targeting chord tones on the changes (and if you want on strong beats 1, 3 as well). Keep the line stepwise. Try to keep your direction changes to 1 or 2 per bar. You can play the same note twice if you want but keep the notes even and always hit a chord tone on each change. If you miss one just keep going. The point is to learn to see the chord coming know where youre chord tones are and planning ahead on how to get there.
Practice regularly and really listen to the way each chord tone sounds over the chord. To make it more interesting you should try to make some of your ideas connect up into longer runs.
when you have the chord tones down then you start looking at the other four notes from the scale and try throwing one of them in every now and then before resolving to a chord tone. Learn how they sound. Then try the remaining 5 non diatonic notes everyonce in a while to learn how they sound.
The idea is that eventually you will know what chord is coming up, you will know the notes of that chord and where they are on your fretboard, you will know how each of them sound against the upcoming chord, you will know how to get to the chord tone of your choice in the most efficient and tasteful manner, you will also know the other note choices available to you. This requires not just practicing these things but also LISTENING, as well as knowing chord construction, knowing your fretboard and where to find the notes you need, and knowing the sound of those notes. You can do all of this study together at the same time. You should always listen but you should also do some dedicated ear training.
To become great at improvising you should become great at planning. the idea being that eventually you become so good at planning you will be able to play it as you plan it.
Another good improvisation excercise is to take a simple melody and develop it. Nursery rhyme melodies are great. Anything simple and easy. Play the shit out of that melody over and over and over and over again. Learn to play it in every way across the fretboard you can find. On the low notes on the high notes and in every position you can find.
Then start developing the melody. Play with the rhythm of the melody add notes add runs and trills, try breaking the melody up into fragments played in a high register while interspersing them with a counter melody in a lower register. All the while keeping the essence of the melody there. Go through as many simple melodies as you can and do this. You should always be able to hear the core of the melody when you do this.
There are also melodic tricks that are good to know when improvising.
Repeating the same melodic idea but changing the ending can create interst but keep a cohesive musical idea that can be easily followed by the listener.
Repeated phrases can be played across a bunch of chord changes. This is done by every great guitar player and you will have heard it a million times. Three notes(sometimes more sometimes less) repeated over and over and over. Great for building suspense but can be overdone. Jimmy Page does it near the end of the Stairway to Heaven solo.
Sequences are the same kind of thing but you repeat the same melodic phrase at a higher (or lower) pitch. (Look it up on wikipedia to see different types of sequences that you could try)
Scale runs are also handy for improvisation. They can be straight up and down the scale or you might repeat notes and back track a little hear and there but continue heading down the same general direction to a specific note. kind of like this:
(of course scale runs could prove a challenge to do quickly and on the fly if you have never practiced playing scales)
You should try to target chord tones as much as possible and combine that philosophy with some of the other strategies mentioned.
Spend some time planning out ideas painstakingly at first with a pencil and paper if necessary then practice playing slowly and work and rework those ideas. This helps you learn to plan and figure out what works; consciously think about your chords and note choice; and visualize what is happening (melodic countour). Eventually the time it takes you to plan gets smaller and smaller.
But don't just spend time practicing and planning. Try to spend time just improvising as well at full speed with no pre planning at all. Just work on feeling your way through what is going on. You can use as many of the tools you have practiced and learned as possible - that's why you practice them. But spend some time just absorbed in what is happening in the music and trying to add something to it naturally.
And spend as much time on your ear training. The stronger your ear the better you will hear what is happening and what you are playing and how it fits together.
Anyway this is a long rambling post and I hope that it helps you somewhat. I'm sure there are plenty of guys here that can give you their advice on how to improve your improvisation skills including tips and tricks on what to focus on (not just what not to focus on i.e. "modes").
Thank you. Now this is more useful advice. What I am lacking is a map to get where I'm going. Hopefully this kind of advice provides some piece to that.
I think maybe I didn't get the point across right that I wanted to learn also why something sounds right and not just that it does sound right... if that is any clearer. :haha:
The answer is "it depends." A good player is almost certainly aware of his chord tones, but he's not necessarily a slave to them.
Ultimately, this comes down to experience. If you're in the key of C, a lick focused on an C note will sound different over a C major chord than it does over an F major chord. Different good? Different bad? Impossible to say. Different. The only question is how you want to USE those different sounds.
You are making a choice either way. You are choosing to play the chord tones, or you are choosing not to play the chord tones. But for this to work well you need to intuitively understand where you chord tones are.
You don't need to change scale shapes - but the key here is to understand that you need to stop thinking about scale shapes. A scale shape is not a collection of interchangeable safe notes - it is a collection of notes that have their own individual relationship to the tonic note and the chord being played.
Think for a moment about what's really happening between the C, F and G major scales (we'll just use those ones, since those are you 1-4-5 chords in the key of C).
F major is the same as C major, except all your Bs are flat. Bb is the minor 7th to C - a relationship that is very common. So you can use that Bb in C major if you like. Using it doesn't mean that you're suddenly in F, and it doesn't neccesitate a new scale shape. You should KNOW what your 7th is, and you should know how to flatten it, without needing to think in terms of another scale pattern.
G major is the same as C major, except the Fs are sharp. Well F# is a tritone away from C, and while it's certainly not as common a sound as a b7, it's certainly not uncommon. You can incorporate a #4 pretty easily, and, again, you should know where your 4ths are so you aren't thinking about changing scale shapes.
So all this talk about changing to F major or changing to G major - in each case it's just changing one note, and it's a note you're free to change ANYWAY.
I pulled a few bars from a couple of solos so you can see some ideas...
The first four bars from Slash's solo in the Guns N Roses version of Knocking on Heaven's Door.
I've highlighted the chord changes and notes that are hit.
(Note: In this transcription the bends are notated as the starting pitch and the arrow with "full" means you bend it up a full tone. The target tone itself is not notated.
Here is a breakdown of the chords, the notes he hits on each chord change, the relationship to the root of the chord and the relationship to the tonal centre (key).
As you look and listen you will notice that Slash does not always hit the chord tone on the change. Often he anticipates the change by bringing the chord tone in early. Oddly enough this is called an anticipation.
You will also notice that he often holds the chord tones before playing through them (if he plays through them at all). This really emphasizes the chord tones and the overall structure those important tones create. It is from this "melodic skeleton" that he hangs his individual melodic phrases to create a cohesive solo that feels like it is going somewhere. Please do not ignore the leaps that he uses in that melodic frame that help to add tension. What at first appears to be a downward run 6 5 4 3 2 1 is cleverly disguised (but still present).
I was going to post David Gilmore's solo from Pink Floyd's Mother as well but I have run out of time.
The main focus so far has been on chord tones on chord changes. And it is logical that your melodic improvisation will stick mostly to chord tones - but not always. Have a look at some solos you like (start with songs that use basic triads first). And try doing what I have done above.
When you do come across a tone that is NOT a chord tone that occurs on the chord change have a look and see if you can figure out why a non chord tone was used.
Start by looking at the next note to to see if the non chord tone is resolved, (if it is it will be followed by a chord tone). If so listen carefully to the way in which this sounds.
Another reason is that there might be a repeated melodic idea over a different harmony.
Or the "melodic skeleton" that is being followed required a note that was not in the harmony at that specific time. When I eventually post the Hey Joe solo you will see that in the first three bars there are five chords. C G D A E
Over the C he plays and E and over the G he plays a B. All well and good - both chord tones, in fact both thirds against the root of the chord they are sounding against. But over the D he plays and E and over the A he plays a B. These are both a major second above the root of the chord. When you look you see that he has simply repeated the original lick over the new chords (and added a little at the end).
The melody note he plays when the E chord arrives is an E. But it is an octave below the previous E notes. And so if we look at the melodic skeleton that this creates in relation to the tonic we have 8 5 8 5 1 (E B E B E) These are very strong notes in the key of E. The relationship these notes created against the chordsbeing played is 3 3 2 2 1. It's all rather clever really and it happens in the first three bars.
Of course it was all very intuitive for Hendrix. This was not his throught process though. But he did understand the idea of a melodic skeleton I'm paraphrasing here but he once said that you have to be able to hear the notes between the notes. I wish I could find this quote again but it shows an awareness that there are differnet layers to what is happening in the music. Too many musicians try to think in terms of the just one layer. Some think it's all about the "inbetween notes" and so lose sight of how that melodic framework provides a structure within which those other ideas work.
It is not all about chord changes. You need to get to know which notes are your stronger notes and which notes are weaker. Look for chord tones in these other beats and subdivisions as well.
The focus however is always about melody. If all you think about are chord tones you might end up just playing arpeggios over everything and trying to break them up with scale runs. Use your chord tones they are what will make your melody fit with the harmony. But you have to think in terms of melody. In terms of lines that move across the page.
I really have to go I think I'm losing complete focus on what I'm trying to say here. Look at and analyse songs you like. Learn them LISTEN to them (and I mean really listen not just for enjoyment but a focused listening for the purpose of learning).
Hopefully I'll get a chance to come back soon and have a look at a couple other solos. I really want to pick apart that Pink Floyd Mother song.
Peace out -- :peace:
C-F is also a V-I in the key of F. In this case it would be appropriate to play in F lydian over this chord change.
:lurk: for a while before i wreck this shit.
He said the context was C major.
I was just talking about C-F. No Bb there. You could easily play in F lydian over the F chord and have it sound nice, even if the context was c major.
Why do you think of music theory as a competition? we're all just trying to become better players here. If I'm misunderstanding something, please correct me but you're being pretty disrespectful.
Whoops, I mixed up my chords.
there is no competition here - you don't even seem to grasp the concept of a key. if you did, you wouldn't have suggested anything about F lydian.
frankly, i'm sick of people coming in perpetuating misinformation. despite the immense number of discussions that occur in this forum, people happily ignore them and conveniently find a new thread in which to raise incorrect points that have been dealt with on a near-daily basis for the past few years.
you want to talk about disrespectful? i come around diligently to help people understand music theory, and you've been around here longer than i have, so unless this is your first time in the MT forum, you've no doubt seen me around. this means, in essence, that you have ignored everything i have ever said. and that's pretty bad, considering i've been saying the same goddamn things to people in your shoes time and time again.
you want to be corrected? learn about keys. if you want me to teach you, i suggest you look up some of my posts. there are probably about 50 or so on MT at this moment, and i'm not about to make it 51.
you don't want to be corrected? that's fine, i'm not going to force you to learn music theory.
but you'd better be damn sure that i'll counter you when what you have to offer is objectively incorrect advice.
1) learn chords
2) learn pent scale
3) buy looper
4) play chords on looper
5) play pent scales over chords
6) realize some notes sound better than others
7) read everything 20tigers to understand why
Thats been my building block and 4 years into it my playing is getting better and better all the time. This is purely the way my brain breaks things down and puts them together but I view the fretboard as chords and pent scales. All the modes, major scales, bla bla bla... all that can be taken from knowing what key your in.
C major... so first you know your basic chords:
Comfortable with that?
Did you know if you combine the D,E and A minor pent scales are the same notes as the C major scale?
Thats my starting point for music theory. Seems to help me put the fretboard together.
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