The wonderful thing about a website like Ultimate-Guitar.com is that the exchange of musical ideas is almost instantaneous worldwide. Some ideas may have more merit than others. But in any community there will always be individuals that feel that their ideas, opinions, likes, and dislikes are infallible. Its called snobbery and it exists in the music world too.
What is sad is that music is a creative endeavor. Creativity involves an evaluation of how things are done and doing it just a little bit differently. This exploration process can be fraught with hundreds of failures before you finally get things the way you want them. Think back over the last fifty years of music history and some of the changes that took place.
When the Beatles broke conventional rules regarding chord progressions and lyrics, that was creativity and we still hear those influences today. When Jimi Hendrix ignored the rulebook regarding equipment and used a wah-wah, octavia, and/or fuzz face that was creativity and most guitarist use some type at least one of these effect to this day. When Eddie Van Halen took cheap guitar parts and with a chisel carved out his brown sound, popularized tapping, and whammy bar stunts with a locking tremelo, that was creativity and we still have frankenstrats to this day. When Kurt Cobain took cheap guitar equipment, ignored conventional wisdom regarding looking like a rock star, lightning fast guitar solos, and songs about sex, drugs and rock and roll, that was creative and completely changed the music scene.
But when you start to get creative someone is bound to tell you how you are doing it all wrong. They will tell you that you can't sound heavy on an acoustic guitar. Travis Meeks from Days of the New obviously didn't get that memo. They will tell you that you have to have a bass player in order to have a rock band. Jack White from the White Stripes must have missed that memo. They will tell you that you have to sign with a big record company to have any sort of career. Someone needs to let Ian MacKaye of Fugazi know that he hasn't had a musical career for the last twenty years.
The examples are endless but what I am getting at here is that you often have to throw out convention to arrive at something unconventional. In my last article I talked about the Circle of Fifths and showed you an unconventional way to memorize it by utilizing your fretboard. In this article I'm going to show you some improvisational tools that I developed from being able to visualize the Circle of Fifths on the guitar.
Conventional patterns are the bane of originality. One way to get out of patterns is to start thinking about the music you are playing over and the notes you are going to add to it. If I asked you to write a solo over a I IV V pattern in C you might roll your eyes and whip out C major scale or an A minor pentatonic and start putting together some licks while cursing my lack of originality. By the time you are finished it might even sound good. But would it sound good and original?
I am using the I IV V pattern in C as an example because A.) Of how common it is B.) To simplify this lesson, and C) To force you to be creative with a very unoriginal chord progression. If we look at this progression we see that the chords C, F, and G are used. If I just play around on the C major scale (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C) I might play a few licks that sound like keepers. But if I listen to the chords I'll notice that the notes that sound really melodic are a part of the underlying chord. For example, C sounds really good over the C chord because it is the root of that chord (C-E-G). It also sounds good over F because it is the fifth of that chord (F-A-C). But when G is played (G-B-D), C creates a little tension and our ears want to be released from that tension. We call that resolving in music. The C resolves if the next chord is C or F.
This can be desirable depending on what you are trying to say. For instance, you can create a little tension by playing C over the G chord and holding it until the progression resolves to F or C. This is a really great effect because it's like grabbing the listener's ear and forcing them to listen to you until you release them by resolving.
Knowing this we can start to expand our vocabulary of notes that we can grab. For instance, when I go to F maybe I can grab a Bb. Bb isn't even in the C major scale but it is in the F major scale (you know this because of the Circle of Fifths). By doing this I am flavoring the F chord with its parent scale. Over the G maybe I can grab the F#. The thing that is a little different is to listen to the underlying music and see if you can grab some extra notes that are outside of the typical scale.
I love to do this in the middle of solos. Just when the listener starts to get bored with something that sounds clich, hit them with these ear-bending notes. It is like taking the listener a little off the beaten path melodically and showing them something a little different and then bringing them back.
Personally I like to resolve to the fifth of the next chord. To my ear it sounds more in the pocket. So if I am playing over F, I might emphasize Bb. If the next chord is C, I usually resolve to G as opposed to C. The going from Bb to G just sounds better to my ears. But don't let me be the one to stop you from finding other notes to resolve to. Also, don't limit this to I IV V progressions. Try this out over other progressions too.
Someone is bound to post a comment about this article and say, "You are just playing such and such a mode or such and such a scale." In one sense that is true but this article is more about listening the to chords and notes. By playing this way you will start listening to chords and how notes sound over them and less about patterns and scales. Because it is different you will be accused of all kinds of things like not being a musician. To the musical snobs way of thinking if it wasn't their idea or you aren't doing things the conventional way or the easier way than their infallible opinion is you are a moron. They said the same thing about the Beatles, Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and Kurt Cobain. You're in good company.