#1
Alright you know the drill, let's do the legal stuff real quick:

Disclaimer:

-I make no claims about the right way to play guitar.

-Respect everyone in the thread, ignore negative behavior, no infighting allowed.

-This thread assumes you have a good grasp on key centers, analysis, some CST, and the ability to play a major or minor pentatonic scale/triad arpeggio in every key.


Let's Hit It!

Welcome back everyone! In this installment of JTJ we are going dive right into improvising by talking about something you guys have all been doing for years without realizing: Harmonically General Improv. Getting this technique down is the first step, a foundation to building more complex lines later. So let's dive right in.

What is Harmonically General Improv?

As a musician, when it comes time for you to improvise over chord changes, you have two large scale options. You can play:

1. Harmonically Specific: "Making the changes," outlining the various chords as they go by in your lines. When the band stops, you can still hear a chord progression in your solo!

2. Harmonically General: Skating over the chords, outlining the key centers instead of the changes. If you play rock, you've been doing this for YEARS.

So Why The Lesson Then?

Well, because there is more to life than playing that generic pentatonic triplet thing we all love!

I'm going to show you the basic theory behind this stuff and talk applications. If you are a rock/metal guy, listen up, because this will jack up your playing a few levels.

The Triad

A triad is the root of tonal music. Harmonic progressions and chord sequences move within and around a key center, creating stable and unstable tones, eventually returning (or sometimes not) to the root.

Because of this, we can actually generalize an entire progression into its key center in the form of a 135 major or minor triad.

Check this progression out: (Key:Bb Major)

Bb - Bb7 - Eb - Ebm7 - Dm7 - Db7 - Cm7 - F7

That looks pretty complex right? Nope. All those chords are a functioning progression pointing to Bb major. As such, we can successfully improvise over the entire progression using only the pitches of the triad: Bb D F.

The triad is so powerful it actually overrides any "vertical relationships" you might see. Things that may normally look "off," like a Bb over an F7, or a D over an Ebm7, will not sound incorrect because you are overriding the progression and reducing all that harmonic movement to a single Bb major chord.

In this way, you can play over any insane tonal progression by finding the key center, and using the major or minor triad. A minor key would require a minor triad and vice versa.

Jet, That's Only 3 Notes! Boring!

Well hold on, let's kick it up a notch. What if I told you that we could add two more notes. Lets pretend we have a progression in C major: Here's the triad.

C E G. Now let's add two more stable tones: a diatonic upper neighbor tone to the root and 5th:

C D E G A. I bet that looks familiar: a Pentatonic Scale!

Now as we all know, thanks to the blues, a minor pentatonic scale will work in a major key as well. The reverse is slightly less true. (Patience, I'll get there )

So what does this mean: It means that over any chord progression in a key, you can reduce all harmonic movement to one chord and improv over it with the corresponding Major or Minor Pentatonic Scale. If you play rock, you've been doing this forever, and sadly most rock guitarists stop here. Are you ready to take it to the next level? Me too.

The Next Level

Let's go back to our major triad for our invisible insane C major progression:

C E G

We can embellish each note with a diatonic upper neighbor tone:

C (D) E (F) G (A)

We can also add chromatic lower tones:

C (D)(D#) E (F)(F#) G A (B)

So now each note of the triad is encircled like so:

(B) C (D)

(D#) E (F)

(F#) G (A)

The pitches in parentheses embellish each triadic pitch. What's important to remember is that this is NOT random chromaticism or atonality. Every pitch in parentheses has a direction; they want to move to either the 1, 3, or 5 of a triad.

The formula is diatonic from above, chromatic from below So a minor triad would look like this:

(B) C (D)

(D) Eb (F)

(F#) G (Ab)

As usual, we need harmonic minor for this.

Okay, So Nine Notes. Where Are The Other Three?

We can use them too, here's why. Here are the three notes we haven't talked about. Scale degrees in parentheses.

C#/Db (b2) : Either a leading tone up to D (2) or chromatic upper neighbor down to C (1)

G#/Ab (b6) : Either a leading tone up to A (6), or chromatic upper neighbor down to G (5)

In a minor key, the b6 is a diatonic tone, and the natural 6 replaces this, with similar function.

Bb/A# (b7) : Either a double chromatic approach to C (1), as in (Bb, B, C) or a chromatic upper neighbor down to A (6).

NOTE: Notice how the extra chromatic notes want to move to other stable neighbor tones, scale degrees 2 and 6. There are no chromatic notes that want to go to the F (4), or another chromatic tone. They only want to move through more instability on their way to a stable pitch. This is important.

BOOM. You now have all 12 pitches, a chromatic scale.

As Usual, Too Much Info. How Do I Use This?

Here's a step by step guide:

1. Identify the key you are currently in.

2. Play the corresponding triad/pentatonic scale.

3. Work in functional chromatic notes by embellishing the pitches with chromatic and diatonic approaches.

4. Become instantly more sophisticated than 90% of non jazz guitarists.


What I like to do is isolate each triad pitch with its embellishments and make little 3 note 4 note cells and pick through them before moving to a new triad pitch. Doing this allows you to come up with some insane bluegrass/country style licks.

By doing this, we are adding functional chromaticism to our lines while reducing the harmonic movement of a passage to one chord. A good solo will combine this with harmonically specific material, the topic of the next thread.

As always, let's have a discussion, don't let me just talk at you. Try this stuff out, put on your favorite tonal music and practice adding chromatics to your lines. We all already know our pentatonic rock licks really well, lets add the other 7 notes to the group!

This is, for the most part, a D Major (sometimes minor) pentatonic scale with chromatic embellishments. There are a few moments where Morse hits specific chord tones and the ends of or within a phrase, but like I said, good solos are both. Starts at 1:05

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VohubM8Hls4

AND IF YOU WANT JAZZ:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrnihGqumE

Be prepared though, the playing on this is terrifying. Check out all the triad embellishments in the first sax solo. Sonny Rollins spends a good amount of bars reducing a lightning fast rhythm changes A section to a giant Bb chord.

The equally frightening Stitt and Dizzy solos are more specific with the harmony, but not necessarily "better."

For more examples of this generalization technique, listen to a good jazz blues, or any rock/metal guitarist, it's all we do.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Oct 10, 2014,
#2
Obligatory Q&A double post. It was again, tough to generalize the whole concept, and I didn't wanna post licks as much as give you the tools to create your own, so let's have a good talk!
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#3
Dixie Dregs, Stitt, Gillespie and Rollins. New Best thread.

What I've done for chromaticism personally is to write out the major scale descending and ascending in eighth notes as d,d,c,d- d,c,d,c-d,c,d,d and d,d,d,c. (d for diatonic and c for chromatic) I've done that with triplets as well. D,d,c and d,c,d. Then I try to use them, with mixed success execution-wise.
#4
Yeah, I like to go through it a little more specifically, doing the permutations for each triadic pitch.

Like So: (C Major)

C = C B D C, C D B C, B C D C, D C B C

Then you do the same thing off the 3rd and 5th

So for each pitch, you have 4 4-note cells:

1. Note, Lower, Upper, Note

2. Note, Upper, Lower, Note

3. Lower, Note, Upper, Note

4. Upper, Note, Lower, Note
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Oct 10, 2014,
#6
Yeah the interesting part is trying to NOT think of it as a major scale.

Instead, when generalizing the harmony, you can be thinking triad/pentatonic scale +embellishments.

That frees up the chromatics (especially scale degree 4) somewhat. You don't have to immediately resolve everything, you can set up a chromatic tone and resolve it a few notes later, your ears pick all that up.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#7
Yeah. I try to think about what chord tones I'm trying to emphasize with the embelishments.

Speaking of delayed resolution, I like playing this lick from 4. F C# D D#, E C

Or conecting I and ii arps (or bits of them) with a chromatic note at the end

C E C C#, D F D D#, E ect.

C D E C#, D E F D#, E

C E G Gb, F D A Ab, G

Lots O fun.
#8
Great thread
Small suggestion: one way to familiarize yourself with the extra notes is to take it one step at the time. For example for a ii-V-I in C, the key center is C so I would think of the notes of the key center: C D E F G A B. Alterations work well on V7s
On G7, start experimenting with the b9 (Ab outside note). Let the Ab note ring on G7 and see where it wants to go. Usually the b9 works well in conjunction with the #9.
Each time you see a ii-V7-I, try to play the b9 and #9 and to resolve the tensions. Do that next with only b5, #5. Get familiarized with the sound of those alterations one step at the time
Last edited by SuperKid at Oct 10, 2014,
#10
Super Kid, that is a great strategy and it works well.

However the "issue" (not really an issue) is that what you are doing there is playing to the chord changes, bringing out specific tones for each chord.

Our goal here is not to play through the chord changes (yet), but to reduce an entire progression to a major or minor triad, and embellish that.

But I can't blame you for jumping the gun, you've got this stuff down
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#12
Another great post. Well done.

Just want to check something with you. The word "key" gets used with two different meanings. One (the one I'm used to), indicates the tonal centre and the scale type (e.g key of D Dorian). The other just indicates the tonal centre (key of D).

So, with your example

Check this progression out: (Key:Bb Major)

Bb - Bb7 - Eb - Ebm7 - Dm7 - Db7 - Cm7 - F7


I'd see that as being in a tonality of Bb (everything is setting up that Bb chord) but not in key of Bb Major (given all the non-diatonic chords to Bb major, fleeting ii-Vs (or subs)).

Just interested in what definition of "key" you use?

But yes, the advice is great.
#13
Jerry,

The key of Bb is a totally acceptable answer too. I just felt like being more specific and also stating whether or not we were in major or minor.

I say Bb Major because the progression revolves around a major triad in Bb.

Although there are many non-diatonic chords, the harmony is still functionally pushing and pulling around a major triad in a traditional major/minor scale system. No modes to be found there. That progression just has some functional chromaticism.

However, for the sake of clarity, if we had something modal, such as a Mixolydian melody in Bb,

I would say that we are in "Bb Mixolydian".

If I just use the root name, like "we are in G," the implication is usually that it is G major (Ionian).

Minor keys and modal melodies I tend to specify.

Let me know if that makes any kind of sense, I'm still in the early morning haze.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Oct 11, 2014,
#14
Hey Jet, thanks again for another great lesson. I've actually been abusing this idea for quite a while but now my understanding of it has been solidified which is always great. For the record, I thought that was the right size for a lesson. The first one was a bit much at the time but this hits the goldilocks zone for me.
#15
Yeah, the first one was massive, I just wanted to go all out and get everyone on the same page so we could continue.

The only other one that will probably be that large will be later, when I (attempt) to end the mode war, at least as far as popular music goes.

And yes, it's a great idea to use/abuse, because it allows you to "override" a complex chord sequence and replace it with one chord, while actually ADDING interest to your lines. Win-win.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#16
Jet, I really enjoy your lesson and love the concept. Thanks for this helpful lesson.
Also I made an odd discovery (somewhat related) that shouldn't work but does. You see the Raga Ahira Lalita (C C# E F F# A A# C) has an interesting sound to it but is best harmonized/represented by a simple C Minor (C D# G) chord/triad. It will sound consonant despite 2 (D# and G) of the 3 notes not even being in that scale. Why do you think that is.
"I don't know what you're trying to suggest. There's no shame in taking what you need to hold your position!"

Super Buu (DBZ) on assimilation (it could also apply to blues guitar and guitar soloing in general).
#17
Ronald,

I don't hear that as a minor triad at all, haha. I hear that scale as providing more of a Lydian Dominant type sound. Check it:

C (Db) E (F) F# (A) Bb C

You get 1 3 #4 and b7! The Db, F, and A are all chromatic neighbor tones to chord tones. Try it over a C7(#11) chord and see what I mean.

The issue with all those other "world music" scales is that they lose some of their effect when playing over traditional Western chord structures.

As such, we can derive all of those exotic scale sonorities from one of our 7 scale systems used in Western Music (chromatic doesn't count )

It's easier and to think of all those ragas and eastern scales as derivations off of another system when playing Western music.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Oct 11, 2014,
#18
Hi Jet.

You could just as validly interpret this as something revolving around Bb major triad in Bb Mixolydian. To me, using Bb major or Bb mixolydian sounds fine. Hence my comment about tonality. That's what's so great about this stuff ... the ambiguity that can be introduced.

BTW: I really enjoyed those two examples from youtube. I haven't listened to Stitt or Rollins for quite some while. As for Dixie Dregs, not usually my taste, but the playing on this track was excellent.
#20
Yeah Jerry, what Duane said.

I don't see it as ambiguous at all, the progression is functional in Bb major, and therefore it isn't modal.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#21
I was curious if you don't hear a C Minor with C Ahira Lalita, then what chord/triad do you see working/representing/harmonizing with it? I'm very curious and thank you again for such a useful lesson.
"I don't know what you're trying to suggest. There's no shame in taking what you need to hold your position!"

Super Buu (DBZ) on assimilation (it could also apply to blues guitar and guitar soloing in general).
#22
Ronald, check my earlier post.

I hear C7(#11).
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#23
Great stuff Jet, and very thorough. One point that I think you might want to break down, in case it was a point that some might lose, is the discussion of How and why a statement and example you gave IS the case.

This:

Check this progression out: (Key:Bb Major)

Bb - Bb7 - Eb - Ebm7 - Dm7 - Db7 - Cm7 - F7

That looks pretty complex right? Nope. All those chords are a functioning progression pointing to Bb major. As such, we can successfully improvise over the entire progression using only the pitches of the triad: Bb D F.

Maybe outline for some of our users how the apparently "complex" is a functioning progression in Bb. Because, I can see where some may not have made that leap and followed how/why it is in Bb.

Best,

Sean
#24
Duane, Jet ...

I suspect we're agreeing, but maybe learned differently? But I could well be wrong in terminology here, and happy to be corrected.

To me, the use of the word "key" means both a tonal centre and a scale choice (from my jazz background).

For sure, the progression is pushing towards the chord of Bb maj, but since there are some chords there that are not diatonic to the scale of Bb major, I'd thus not say this was in the key of Bb major. I would say it centred on the Bb tonality. I'd also say that Bb maj or mixolydian could be used over this.

For sure, the Dm7 and F7 backup the key of Bb major.

cheers, Jerry
#25
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Duane, Jet ...

I suspect we're agreeing, but maybe learned differently? But I could well be wrong in terminology here, and happy to be corrected.

To me, the use of the word "key" means both a tonal centre and a scale choice (from my jazz background).

For sure, the progression is pushing towards the chord of Bb maj, but since there are some chords there that are not diatonic to the scale of Bb major, I'd thus not say this was in the key of Bb major. I would say it centred on the Bb tonality. I'd also say that Bb maj or mixolydian could be used over this.

For sure, the Dm7 and F7 backup the key of Bb major.

cheers, Jerry


I always understood that both things could be meant. Like, a chord progression that "wanders" a lot you just say Bb. But a chord progression that is like a standard blues, or something, you want to mention if its major or minor
#26
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Duane, Jet ...

I suspect we're agreeing, but maybe learned differently? But I could well be wrong in terminology here, and happy to be corrected.

To me, the use of the word "key" means both a tonal centre and a scale choice (from my jazz background).

For sure, the progression is pushing towards the chord of Bb maj, but since there are some chords there that are not diatonic to the scale of Bb major, I'd thus not say this was in the key of Bb major. I would say it centred on the Bb tonality. I'd also say that Bb maj or mixolydian could be used over this.

For sure, the Dm7 and F7 backup the key of Bb major.

cheers, Jerry


In Jazz it gets a little complex. I might see that the chords change key 3 times in the verse (Satin Doll for example with all the ii V I's), but someone else may see it as to how it resolves.

Nothing is absolute, even leaving Jazz, but in general in the scope of most discussions, here, we look at "Key" not as scale at all, but as the framework and resolution of chords. The scale becomes a personal matter and preference, once the "tonal" center is established. If the song end's comfortably, what it ends on, in general is seen as the key.

There are lots of famous examples and exceptions where that very criteria is up for discussion and debate, but this is the general meaning. It helps to have a grasp, but not a dogma, on this.

Best,

Sean
#27
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Duane, Jet ...

I suspect we're agreeing, but maybe learned differently? But I could well be wrong in terminology here, and happy to be corrected.

To me, the use of the word "key" means both a tonal centre and a scale choice (from my jazz background).

For sure, the progression is pushing towards the chord of Bb maj, but since there are some chords there that are not diatonic to the scale of Bb major, I'd thus not say this was in the key of Bb major. I would say it centred on the Bb tonality. I'd also say that Bb maj or mixolydian could be used over this.

For sure, the Dm7 and F7 backup the key of Bb major.

cheers, Jerry

The scale you can use over a chord progression doesn't really determine the key. What determines the key is your tonic chord. If it resolves to Bb, it is in the key of Bb. If the tonic chord is a major chord, it's in the key of Bb major and if it's a minor chord, it is in the key of Bb minor, pretty much regardless of the other notes you use. Key and scale are different things. For example minor pentatonic scale can work over a song that is in a major key (for example listen to some AC/DC).

Many songs use borrowed chords which may make some other scales work over the progression better than the key scale. But it doesn't change the key of the song.

For example if you have a chord progression like I-bIII-IV-I, straight major scale will not work really well over the progression. But it doesn't mean it is not in a major key. It is just using a borrowed chord (bIII).
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Oct 13, 2014,
#28
What Maggara Marine said.

Non-diatonic chords don't have anything to do with Key analysis. It's all about resolution and tonic pitches.

Behold the analysis, as per Sean's request.

Bb - Bb7 - Eb - Ebm7 - Dm7 - Db7 - Cm7 - F7

I - V7/IV - IV - IVm7 - Dm7 (see below) - Sub V7/II - IIm7 -V7

The Dm7 is a substitute for I, but is also the II of a II-V pointing to C:

Dm7- Db7 = II - V

The V of the aforementioned II-V, G7, has been replaced with its tritone sub, Db7.

Although that II-V is pointing to C minor we aren't using Dm7b5 because III is often a substitute for I, and using a regular minor chord in a minor-key II-V is a very common sight, especially when we are creating a chain of II-V s. We actually have two in a row!

Dm7 Db7 = II - (Sub)V in C minor

Cm7 F7 = II - V in Bb major

The reverse is also true, you could have this:

Dm7b5 - G7b9 - C major

Dm7 - G7 - Cm

It is important to note that even though we are flirting with Eb major and C minor tonalities in that progression, everything points to Bb. Non-diatonic chords or otherwise, we are still (long term) in a single key.

Like Sean said, there is an important distinction between local (short term, II-Vs) key changes and the long term key of the piece, especially in Jazz, where we flirt around with different "keys" from moment to moment.

But it would definitely be erroneous to say that is a Mixolyidan or modal progression, despite the fact you can use a Mixolydian scale in spots. That's just an improvisational palette choice more than anything else.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Oct 13, 2014,
#29
Quote by Jet Penguin
there is an important distinction between local (short term, II-Vs) key changes and the long term key of the piece, especially in Jazz, where we flirt around with different "keys" from moment to moment.

i.e. the difference between tonicization and modulation.
Si
#30
Yeah, sometimes I forget to use the terminology like the elitist loser that I am
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp