Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, James Marshall Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Allan Holdsworth, Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, Eddie Van Halen, Pat Martino, Frank Zappa .... these are names which are mentioned in hushed, revered tones of discussion. These cats have mapped out, transformed, and launched modern improvisational music into the present and future, and beyond. What they thinking when they played? More importantly, what were hearing? Where did those notes come from? Well, that's the point of this group, and what we will attempt to find out.

First off, I know that this is a very deep, controversial and personal subject. When one is improvising, they are in essence, baring their soul. They are communicating in the purest form possible with regards to their talent ... through their instrument of choice. This is a wide open discussion, and I am attempting to glean some ideas from everyone in order to teach everyone at the same time. I don't claim to be a music scholar, but I do know a few things, so please, bear with me on this, and take it as far and as wide as you wish. Thank you for checking it out, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this takes us on our musical journey together!

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The first topic I'd like to address is very simple, yet very complex at the same time ... I supposed most of you would've guessed that. It's note choices. Have you ever been in a group situation, with the basics ... drums, bass, piano ... and playing over a Cmaj7 vamp, and then CLANGED an F, or an F#? First off, did you hear why it did or did not work? Did you see a band member or two wince in pain when you hit that note? Did you really lay into it? Did you try to make up for the "mistake" by glissing into a G or an A? I know I did, and I wanted to find out why those TWO notes sounded so bad. Well, here's the reality ... THEY DON'T! It depends upon the context and what you were trying to say.

Music is a vocabulary, just like any other language. You can't go to Sweden or Japan, and expect to assimilate the culture if you don't know the language, and if you don't have the vocabulary. Even in America or any other primarily English speaking culture, you can't jump in on a conversation about astrophysics if you don't have the vocabulary to properly disseminate quark theorems. So, here is what we're faced with. What is the vocabulary? Why don't these notes work, or why do they work? How can you hit a Bbmaj7 against a Cmaj7 and justify it? How can you make a Dmin7 arpeggio sound good against a Cmaj7 chord? AHA! YOU CAN! Now then, how is that possible? The answer is very simple ... not e choices, and phrasing. How would YOU attack this problem?
Okay, here's how I would attack this problem ... get your notepads out ... I would like to keep this to the tonality of C Major, to avoid any confusion, since all theory can be transposed to different keys ...

Within the C Major Scale, we have these basic foundations ...

C = Tonic
D = Supertonic
E = Median
F = Subdominant
G = Dominant
A = Submedian
B = LeadingTone

If you need any further explanation of this idea, please do your research. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet. Or, you can contact me directly, and I will be happy to offer further explanation of why these tones are what they are. But, it's pretty simple.

Now then, within the C Major Scale, within the tonality of CMaj7, there are certain notes which work, and certain ones which don't. And, lucky you, here it is ... ready? F.

Only one? Yep, that's it. Why? Because that note completely destroys the tonality of CMaj7, that's why. There are certain notes within a chord, which are called, "Distinguishing Notes", from which the chord derives its' tonality. In the case of CMaj7, those notes are E and B, respectively, the 3rd and 7th. Besides the root, which is C, no other note more distinctively denotes CMaj7 besides those two notes. You can even throw away the C! More on that later, when we get to substitutions ....

So, we've learned that E and B are the distinguishing notes of CMaj7. So, why doesn't an F work? Here's why ...

An F is 1/2 step above a characteristic note, in this case, E. It destroys it. Sounds bad. All the way around. Go ahead, and play it. Play a drone CMaj7, and play an F on top of it. Ewwwww. Not good. That, my friends, is called an "Avoid Note". Meaning, avoid it. Don't play it, unless you are going somewhere else. But, since we're staying on CMaj7, then don't play it. That's why it sounds bad. Thankfully, there's only ONE avoid note in the key of C, and that's it! Everything else is fair play, and I'll explain why ... soon, I hope.

Now, play a drone CMaj7 chord, and play any other note within the C Major Scale ... for those who aren't quite up to speed, it's these notes ...

C, D, E, G, A, and B

Ooooh! Colors! Textures? What is that? Don't they all seem to fit? Remember, you're playing a CMaj7 chord! That's:

C, E, G, B

I know, it's confusing, but bear with me ...

Remember, the characteristic notes? E and B? Yeah, as a commercial once said, "This is the company you keep". At least, with chords. The 3rd, and the 7th. No matter what. Okay?

Now, if you keep the 3rd and 7th ... E and B, you can substitute any other note within the scale!

Try D instead of C ... this is called a "9/1 substitution". The D is the 9. Think of it as the 2nd of the scale, transposed up an octave, and you get the 9th. Think "2 plus 7". Simple arithmetic. Now, try the A for the G ... 13 for the 5. The G is 5, and the A is 13, which is 6 plus 7. Get it? This is a "13/5 substitution". If you can get your head around the math, which is always, "plus 7", then you can play ANY note within the C Major scale against a CMaj7 chord! This is where you get those weird, "CMaj713(add9)" chords and whatnot! That's all there is to it. Just don't play an F, unless you're a black belt in improvisation! More on that later ...

So, we've learned that we can play ANY note in a C Major scale over a CMaj7 chord, except for F. But, what about that pesky F# that I was talking about earlier? Well, here's the rub ... the previous notes of substitution ... D, for the root, and A for the 5th ... have now gained a new name ... "TENSIONS!"

Yes, these notes are called Tensions. Guess why? Because they cause tension within the tonality! "But why do they cause tension, Quinton?" Because tension begs resolution, Mighty Grasshopper! 9 to 1, and 13 to 5. Review above if you got lost, but that's it. Now then, to that pesky F# ... this is what we would call a "Flat 5th", or a "Sharp 11th". Within the tonality of CMaj7, the F# is "PROPERLY" called a #11th. Why? Just because dammit! Now, go play it, and hear how it sounds! Ick! Sounds weird? Kinda sounds like a "Dominant" Chord, doesn't it? Well, it should, because it is! F# against C = D7! WTF? Yeah, music is a strange mistress, but she always explains herself sooner or later. And, in this case, she will explain herself LATER! Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear thought on this! Peace and bacon grease!
Hey, I hear you and I took theory, but you know what? I play in all these open tunings on the guitar that don't have any keys or modes or anything its just tonality and pure chromatics. It has all these chordal gapping wide holes in it.
Nothing makes sense to the ear or the mind in terms of traditional Tonal systems related to the tempered scale.
But it sounds good and people like it. I gives the mind a good note bud ear twisting emo-quasi what is this stuff kinda thought then you driff into it.
It has lots of time changes and rhythmic shifs and dynamics and expressiivisms. new word? You really got me going
I'm 99.9% certain that what you're doing can be related to some form of equal tempered tuning theory. It may not be in a major tonality, but could be derived from melodic minor, harmonic minor, symmetric diminished, whole tone, or some combination of any. You might even be using Hungarian minor, or even made up a new scale! The point is, in Western music, most if not all of it can be related back to the major tonality in one way shape or form, which is why the equal tempered tuning method is so universal. If you sit down and work it out, I'll bet you can find some point of reference.
From my experiences as a Guitarist, Classically trained at first very frustrated because the interpretation was denoted on paper. No one seemed to leave me enough room for my own feel with out severe criticism. So I quit. I now play freely with my own intent and what every happens emotionally for those pieces. It is my personal feeling the original composers would not have cared about my rendering the musical soul from my own feel into it. Many times certain songs have been completely brought into magnificence by another artist from their feelings and expression. Good example: Jimi Hendrix version of All Along the Watch Tower. The reason no one performs Jimi Hendrixs' music is because it is always a let down for the artist and the audience; although I play Hendrix for small audience of family and friends. I try to get in to a trance and channel Jimi's spirit to get into the real vibe he had I even play notes that my hands are not even physically capable of reaching but on the recordings its there.
If feel most artists get into a zone. I know I do. Once you are their it is like you are nowhere but the music a place
that is better than any place you've every been.
You are 100%, unequivocally, absitively, posolutely correct! The Masters of Classical and Baroque NEVER performed the same piece the same way twice back in the day! It was all about improvisation! I don't know what it is about these so called "scholars" who insist that each and every note MUST be played exactly the way it is on the page, because the original composers would have laughed in their collective faces! Music is meant to be experienced, not copied. While modern technology allows us to experience a moment in time over and over again, that is not the way music was originally intended to be enjoyed! There is only one little, nit picky thing ... Stevie Ray, Eric Johnson, and Pat Metheney absolutely KILL on Hendrix tunes ... as well as me, if I may be so bold to say. But, I digress ...

If you've ever been blessed enough to witness Maestro Segovia perform, then you have witnessed the beauty and majesty of improvised classical guitar on a scale that mere mortals will never experience again. He was heavenly. Christopher Parkening and Julian Bream carry his torch mightily, but cannot equal him on any level.

Having a classical repertoire is essential for becoming a "complete" guitarist, as any teacher will tell you, but what I'm attempting to dissect is: Why do certain notes work against certain chords, and why do others not? I'm addressing vocabulary, not necessarily style or technique. Those are addressed as one grows as a musician. Just as any great orator holds the audience in the palm of their hands while making a ground breaking speech, a musician does the same when they improvise. This is because both have the right combination of words to say at the right time to make their relative points. You wouldn't hear Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bust out how the Packers are kicking ass in the middle of his "I Have A Dream" speech, as factual as it may be, it's just not relevant to the topic. Likewise, you wouldn't hear Coach Lombardi lay some smack down about the plight of the black man in the locker room at halftime when the team is down by 10 points so they could go out and win. It's all about note choices and why they work, and when. That's where I'm coming from.

Thanks for piping up, and thank you for joining the discussion! I'd love to hear from you again!
I will make this short since I've 2 guitars to set up and string this evening and set intonation.
Actually, when I try really Django, it amazes me how much I enjoy just playing a few notes. I purchase a small frame archtop a month ago with a wooden bridge, it does not have any long vibration so you have to keep the playing up to have some sound. But I can get my pick rightup to the bridge and fastpick the string and slide and do the ever so slight 1/4 bend. I am slow hand now at 56 and don't play as much but when
I am really practicing things swing. He enjoyed as much melody as I do in the same sort of a teasing dissonant sort of way. I enjoy playing Villo Lobos and enjoy listening to Narciso Yepes play Villo Lobos on the 10 string classical guitar that will really kick you up in to new world. I studies master classes with several that I could go and perform the best transcriptions of JSBach Luite Suite were by Jose Tomas' at Compostella in Atlanta Georgia started by Segovia. , he is a good teacher, others I've performed for Manuel Barrieco (on the lexus commercial) few years ago, Bunyan Webb, Alica Artz, Bruno Schmidt at the Guthey Institute Wurtzburg Germany.
However; the most important part of Classical guitar is that if one can not properly use the rest stroke, it is impossible to pull the often 1,2, 3 different intertwining melodies out by emphasizing the notes. I see so many playing notes, but no sense of where the melodies are. I am sagittarian and we like to talk.
Here is an attempt to expound upon what I'd first introduced: the Cmaj7 chord, the corresponding Ionian scale, and avoid notes vs. characteristic notes. What? WTF are "characteristic notes"? Well, quite simply, these are the notes within the scale which give it its' own "tonality". Every scale or mode has its' own characteristic set of notes, which distinguish it from other similar scales or modes.

In the key of C major, the characteristic notes are pretty easy to define ... the major 3rd, and the major 7th, which are E and B, respectively. These notes are distinctly "major" in tonality, and thus, give the C major scale its' own unique sound. Alter these notes in any way, such as lowering (flat) or raising (sharp) by a half step, and then, the scale takes on an entirely new dimension, and is then a different scale.

So, the C major scale is as follows:


E and B are the Characteristic Notes

F is the Avoid Note

That leaves C D G & A as notes which you can more or less do anything that you want with them. Which leads us into the next segment ... tensions and altered tensions! See ya later!
Tensions and Altered Tensions within a Major Tonality

Okay, I'm only gonna say this once, so get out some paper & write it down, save this as a favorite, take a screen shot, do whatever you have to do, but I'm only gonna say it once ... ready?

Tensions can be used in whatever way you see fit, as long as it sounds good and is supported by the harmony.

If any of you in the back of the class were sleeping, here it is again ...

Tensions can be used in whatever way you see fit, as long as it sounds good and is supported by the harmony.

Got it? Now, I'll explain ...

Within the key of C major, there are Characteristic Notes, and Avoid Notes, they are as follows:

Characteristic Notes are E and B, the 3rd and 7th, respectively. (Median and Leading Tone for those of you hoping for a gold star.)

Avoid note is F, the 4th. (Subdominant for the same group of people.)

Now then, there are a couple of notes that you can twist and transmorgriphy at your discretion ...

The root (tonic), which is C

The 2nd (supertonic), which is D

The 5th (dominant), which is G

The 6th (submedian), which is A

Some work with messin with, some don't. Don't worry, I'll tell you which, when, why and how.

Let's start with the root, or tonic, or C:

Surprisingly, this is the LEAST important note of the scale, or of the chord as it was. Usually, the bass or keyboards are covering this note in one way or another. What does this mean? This means that you can do whatever the hell you want with this note, like ... THROW IT AWAY! Forget about playing a "C" in a Cmaj7! Instead, play any one of these ...

Db - flat 9th *
D - natural 9th
D# or Eb - sharp 9th *

Personally, I would opt for the D, the natural 9th, rather than the flat 9th or sharp 9th. Why? Because, remember, it has to be supported by the harmony. If the chord calls for a Cmaj7(#9), then, you know what to do. If it calls for a Cmaj7, then you're more or less stuck, unless you use these altered tensions as a passing tone. If you don't know what a passing tone is, then open another tab in your browser, and do some research.

This means that you then have these tones to work with:


The second least important note within the tonality of C major is the 5th, or G, because of the same reasons ... the keys or the bass is covering this note. So, you can throw that away, too! Replace with these altered tensions:

Gb - flat 5th
Ab - flat 13th
A - 13th

The reason that there's only two, is because there's only two. Period. To say "Bb" would change the tonality to dominant, and we don't want that, at least ... not yet.

So, that gives us these notes to play with ...

Db, D, Eb, Gb, G, Ab, A, & B

That's a lot of notes! And that's just within the C Major Scale!

Riddle me this, Batman ... if the following chords were within a progression, what would you do?

CMaj7, CMaj7(b9), CMaj7(9), CMaj7(#9), CMaj7(b13), CMaj7(13), CMaj7(9/13)?

Hey, has anyone noticed that you could play an A natural minor scale over a CMaj7 chord yet? And cover all of the natural tensions? Or an A Melodic Minor scale and REALLY have all of the bases covered? Anyone? Bueller?


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