#1
Hi,

I am looking for some advice regarding strategies and exercises for playing over chord changes.

To give an understanding of my skill and knowledge level: I know the major, minor and pentatonic scales front to back and can play them as excercises up to around 120bpm 16th notes, I understand enough theory to construct 7th, 9th, 11th 13th chords etc, I understand the theory of the modes, I know how to harmonise a scale and the chords that go along, e.g I, ii, iii, IV etc, I can play all guitar parts from a few songs from memory (Nightrain, The Four Horsemen, Little Wing, Sultans Of Swing etc), but I desperately want to improve my melodic soloing improvisation.

I understand about hitting the chord tones, I understand that I it is acceptable play the key pentatonic\blues scale over all chords in the progression as long as I pick out chord tones, I also understand that I can mix it up by playing the scale that fits the chord. etc, I have created my own excercises where I play only sinlge notes through the chord changes, e.g. just the 5th of each chord on the first play through, then just the 7th etc, I have also been playing arpeggios for each chord. But what I am after are some in-depth strategies, drills and exercises to help me improve in hitting chord tones and help to move my playing to the next level.

Thanks

Lee
Last edited by lmorse at Dec 12, 2016,
#2
lmorse Search "Tim Pierce playing over chord changes" on YouTube, he's the master at this
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#3
Guitar137335

Hi, thanks for the reply, I totally agree with you and I actually do follow Tim Pierce. I adore his style of melodic soloing, that is exactly the type of thing I am aiming for (I also think Brian May is a master at this), however I have not seen him offer any drills\excercises.
#4
If you want to play over chord changes, you gotta ditch the scales and start working with arpeggios. Scales are relevant as a higher order, derived concept, but not as something you'd apply directly to chord changes. Many jazz lines are scalar, but retain chord tone accenture and appropriate harmonic extensions. A neat little trick is that these scales you learn from a chord/scale approach are really just arpeggios, spelled out of order. That's how you end up with weird ass altered dominant scales - it's really just the full extended arpeggio put in stepwise order instead of in thirds.

The exercises you have are good, and I'd continue with those. Add to them time with actual improvisation where you can put some of this into practice. There are thousands of YouTube backing tracks for jazz standards, some even with the chords scrolling across or the same song at 3 different tempos.

You should also start transcribing. A lot of the stuff that has "the jazz sound" is based on stuff a bit more complex than triad arpeggios and it's pretty unlikely you'll be able to make sense of it on a casual listen. Just about anything after Louis Armstrong is going to use all manner of chord extensions in a highly melodic fashion, sometimes implying chord changes that aren't even there. You might play something that spells an A7 arpeggio, but it's like an F in the bass. Your brain might wrap around an Fmaj9#5 pretty quickly, but chances are your fingers will need the "shortcut" of that basic A7 or C#dim arpeggio.

Remember that the goal isn't just to play between the lines, so to speak, it's to actually get from one harmonic place to the other. Tonal conformity just the first step.
#5
cdgraves

Thank you for the thought you have put in here.

You say to ditch the scales and work on arpeggios - I would have thought that the arpeggio notes would be the skeleton of the melodic lines and the other notes from the appropriate (or inappropriate) scale would be the spice you can add on top (what a fantastic mixed metaphor!!!!), so the scales are still an important part of the procedure? BTW I have been using 1,3 5, 7 as the notes for the arpeggios, and as the chords change I have been looking for the appropriate arpeggio without moving position - I have enjoyed working out the arpeggios in the one position for myself, rather than just looking them up from a book. Maybe rather than completely dropping scales you are suggesting shifting the emphasis away from practicing scales and for the time being paying more attention to the arpeggio work?

I have been thinking to myself that I probably should look at transcription.
#6
I was all ready to ask "how good are your ears" before I saw the last sentence! Your original was heavy on technique and the physical aspects of playing but you barely seemed to touch on the aural side of things which would suggest that's the area you need to improve on.
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#7
start learning melodic solos by ear : "brother's in arms " would be an easy one- it's slow and obvious. Lenny would be good as well. You're improvisation is only as good as you're ability to transcribe- so focus a lot of time on that. Improvising is basically the real- time transcription of the ideas in your head.
#9
Quote by lmorse
cdgraves

Maybe rather than completely dropping scales you are suggesting shifting the emphasis away from practicing scales and for the time being paying more attention to the arpeggio work?


Yes. Scales are still a necessary skill, but they are not the fundamental concept when it comes to looking at melodies based on harmonic movement. In this setting, scales are a derived concept that you can arrive at by analyzing the harmony. In jazz there are a lot of "scales" that derive from chords, and are much easier to understand as arpeggios with alterations than as scales per se. For example, if you have a G chord and the melodic line Ab Bb B C# D# E F G, it looks lot like Ab melodic minor... but what the hell sense does that make? That analysis doesn't yield much useful information beyond a chord/scale correlation. But if you analyze for chord tones, you get a pretty clear G7 altered, and you can clearly see how each chord tone has a non-chord counterpart that acts to give it some melodic interest.

That example is pretty straightforward, but you're going to run into things that are downright nonsense unless you have an instinct for locating the arpeggio within a scalar melodic line. I had to transcribe some Wes Montgomery the last two weeks, and there were several places where Wes's melodies implied ii-Vs that were not actually being played by the bassist. What looked on paper like a bizarre move to B major over a Bb7 chord was actually an implied C#m-F#7 that resolved to F7.

Beyond the conceptual stuff, there is also a ton of music where it's just good to have the arpeggios under your fingers and in your ears. My transcription this week is a player with a completely different style from Wes, and this guy plays straight arpeggios without much chromatic alteration to give it a scalar appearance.

Overall the point is to come full circle: once you get a grasp on arpeggios and understand how chord tones are used and altered, you start to see them resembling the scales you're already familiar with.
#10
cdgraves
OK, that makes some sense - i feel like you are saying that scales are a rigid and simplistic way of playing over chords, they offer little flexibility and opportunity for creative expression, and some of the more sophisticated players use notes that don't fit within the expected vocabulary that scales and scale harmonization dictate? Once I start exploring arpeggios and harmonies that go with he chord changes I will get a deeper insight?

Thank you.
Last edited by lmorse at Dec 17, 2016,
#11
In general it feels like most people are supporting the idea that transcription is one of the most useful tool to me at the moment, along with arpeggios?

What percentage of a weeks practice do people tend to devote to transcription? I try to practice guitar every day, I get grumpy if I practice less than an hour and a half a day. At weekends I can usually fit in around 3 hours practice a day. I'd be happy if i could do 4-5 hours everyday, unfortunately work gets in the way of life !
Last edited by lmorse at Dec 17, 2016,
#12
Transcription is the most effective way to learn any style. It's slow and difficult, but that's why it's effective. I do about half an hour a day of transcription, but that's mostly because I take lessons with transcription assignments. Unless you're trying to play at a professional level, you'd probably do fine to do some transcription a few days a week and learn other stuff from written sources for expediency. Spend time playing what you actually enjoy, most of all.

Quote by lmorse
cdgraves
OK, that makes some sense - i feel like you are saying that scales are a rigid and simplistic way of playing over chords, they offer little flexibility and opportunity for creative expression, and some of the more sophisticated players use notes that don't fit within the expected vocabulary that scales and scale harmonization dictate? Once I start exploring arpeggios and harmonies that go with he chord changes I will get a deeper insight?

Thank you.


In a way, yes. It's not that scales in themselves are limiting - the scale is just a concept like any other - but that scalar analysis obscures the harmonic movement that drives melodicism in jazz and it's derivative musics.

Most people studying theory conceptualize music as a series of static harmonies. You have the I the IV the V, and they're just different places in the key that you can go to almost arbitrarily (this is kind of how a lot of modern music is written, too). But when you dig into theory a bit further, even in classical music, you find that composers were intensely concerned with how harmony moves from one place to another. The same is true in jazz. The harmony is stated for itself only briefly, and then the melody begins preparing for the next harmony.

The fundamental harmonic unit is the ii-V, meaning that when you create melodies the priority is not in expressing the harmony itself, but in leading to the next harmony. A huge amount of jazz is basically a long series of ii-Vs that wind their way though different harmonic areas and then finally come back to the I, but only for one or two bars.

The shortfall of the scale is that it resolves to its own root. This is the concept of modal harmony/melody that so many guitarists get trapped in. You can't use melody to express harmonic motion if you are stuck with a concept that does not accommodate motion. You can't get from ii to V by expressing only ii. This is why it's so much more informative to work with harmonic concepts, because harmony always has a resolution tendency.

Bear in mind that I'm talking mostly about concepts and how you think of melody, not really about specific note choices. Scales are still relevant as an analytical tool in jazz, but they are not productive as a proscriptive "rule".

Continue to practice scales as a matter of fretboard fluency and technique, but do understand that playing ii-Vs involves quite a bit more than running Dm and then G mixolydian and then C major, etc.
Last edited by cdgraves at Dec 17, 2016,
#13
Something I'd suggest is taking time to be able to consciously target a strong or weak beat. E.g. In 4/4, the 1 and the 3 are strong (1 the strongest), and 2 and 4 are weak. If you split a 1/4 note into 1/8 notes. the first of these is the stronger. If you split it into 1/16ths, those 4 1/16ths have the same mix of strenghts as above (1,3 are strong ...).

If you place a chord tone on a strong beat, it will stand out more. Ditto if it lasts longer, or it's the highest or lowest pitch in a group.

Conversely, place a non-chord tone, or even chromatic, and that will stand out instead. So, if you want to kill the audience, then play a b9 against the root of a major chord, on the 1st beat of the bar, and hold it.

If you get this, then you can make simple drills (very musical). E.g play a short chord progression, one chord for a couple of bars, use 1/4 notes, and consciosuly choose say the third , fifth and seventh of that chord as a landing note on a strong beat. Play some connecting note on the weak beat, and then the next chord tone (third, firfth or seventh).

For example, against C, try G f E f | G a B f E - - (I've shown chord tones in capitals)

or, more edgy ...

G f E f# | G ab a bb B- - (ab is A flat, bb is B flat)

In other words, you can what you like around the chord tones ... but some will jar a lot more, especially if jump (3 or more semitones) from a chromatic tone to a chord tone.

Try spacing the chord tones out further, see what happens (above was every 2nd 1/4 note. Try every third 1/4 note ... it will sound and feel very different)

Phrasing is a huge part of how good or bad playing melodically can sound.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Dec 18, 2016,
#14
Quote by jerrykramskoy
consciously target a strong or weak beat


This is a cool idea, thank you
#15
Seconding the strong/weak beat thing. Rhythm is a huge part of the jazz sound (any sound really), and it takes some adjustment to sound natural if you aren't used to starting and ending melodies on the 8th beats.