Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Ascending Jazz Line

How about a chromatic ascending lick to nicely balance off your descending lick?

The line below is in the key of Gb, and works well on a V7 - I change, in this case Ab7 - Gbmaj7. Notice that it ends on a Bb, which is the 3rd of Gb, and the 9th of Ab7.

And, here is the score, with the guitar tab (click to enlarge):

This line also works well on any of the dominant chords of the jazz blues progression, although you may need to modify the last note to fit the next chord.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Descending Jazz Line

Here's a useful lick that you can use over an A dominant chord. It's based on A mixolydian, with some chromatic passing tones.

This line, or variations of it, can be used over jazz-blues progressions.

Click the video below to play.

And, here's the tablature (click to enlarge). If you read it carefully, you'll notice that it's actually one pattern played twice, each in a different octave.

Enjoy! And let me know if you have your own interesting lines you'd like to share.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Diatonic Scale for Guitarists

This is the first theory post on Six String Geek, so it's only apt that we start at the very beginning. What better place is there to start than the diatonic scale?

Also known as the major scale, the diatonic scale is arguably the most important scale for a musician to learn. It serves as the foundation for learning to build and break down musical structures from or into their constituent blocks.

Let's begin with a fun little line. Below is a jazzy line played in the C major (or C diatonic) scale. The transcription to this line is at the end of this article.

What is the diatonic scale?

Here are some simple answers:
  • The white keys on the piano.
  • Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti
  • The major scale.
For the more detailed explanation, , let's first talk about intervals.

What are intervals?

An interval is the distance between two notes. Think about moving around on one string of your guitar. When you move from fret 4 to fret 5, you are moving a "half-step" between the two notes. This interval is sometimes also called a "minor 2nd".

The half-step (or minor 2nd) is the smallest interval. Its distance is 1 fret, e.g, moving from fret 4 to fret 5.

An interval of 2 frets is a whole-step, and is usually called a "major 2nd". So the distance between frets 4 and 6 on a single string on a guitar, is a whole step.

Below is a list of the common interval names, based on their number of half-steps. Also included are a list of common symbols for the interval.

0 - Unison (Technically, this is the smallest interval).
1 - Minor Second (m2, min2), Half-Step
2 - Major Second (2, maj2), Whole-Step
3 - Minor Third (m3, min3)
4 - Major Third (M3, maj3)
5 - Fourth (4)
6 - Diminished (dim, dim5), Flat Fifth (b5)
7 - Perfect Fifth (5)
8 - Augmented, Sharp Fifth, Minor Sixth (m6, min6)
09 - Sixth (6, maj6)
10 - Dominant Seventh (dom7, 7), Flat Seventh (b7)
11 - Major Seventh (maj7, M7)
12 - Octave
13 - Minor Ninth (m9, min9), Flat Ninth (b9)
14 - Ninth (9)
15 - Sharp Ninth (#9)
16 - Flat Eleventh (b11)
17 - Eleventh (11)
18 - Sharp Eleventh (#11)
19 - Flat Thirteenth (b13)
20 - Thirteenth (13)

For the purposes of this article, it is only necessary to know about the minor and major 2nd intervals. The other intervals will be introduced in future articles.

Also, guitarists generally use the half-step / whole-step names when referring to the minor and major 2nd intervals, so to stick to the convention, let's use these names.

So, now that you know what intervals are, we can proceed with learning about the diatonic scale. But wait... there's one more useful melodic structure to learn about before we go on: the chromatic scale.

What is the chromatic scale?

The simple answer: "all the keys on the keyboard".

The less-simple answer: The chromatic scale is composed of notes a half-step away from each other.

So let's say you start at fret 5 on the G-string, which is a C, and move up the fretboard in half-step increments. All the notes that you play till the next C make up the C chromatic scale.

The C chromatic scale consists of the following 12 tones:

C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C

The interval between the first C and the last C is known as an Octave.

Here is what the chromatic scale looks like in tablature.

Okay, now that you know what the chromatic scale is, let's get to the diatonic scale. For real this time.

So... what is the diatonic scale?

The diatonic scale is the set of notes that follow the interval pattern:

W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Above, W stands for whole-step, and H stands for half step. So the scale consists of two whole-steps followed by a half-step, then three whole-steps followed by a half-step.

So, given this formula, what does the C diatonic scale look like?

C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

Here it is notated (click to enlarge):

And here is what it sounds like:

Wait, what? How did WWWHWWH turn into CDEFGABC?

Okay, lets start with the key, which is C. The first interval in the formula is W, for whole-step. Looking at the chromatic scale above, the note which is only whole-step away from C is D. There you have your second note.

The next interval is also a whole-step. The note that is a whole-step away from D is E. Then there's the half step. Notice that there is no note between E and F on the chromatic scale? The F note is a half-step above E. If you look at the keys on the piano, you'll see that there's no black key between E and F.

By now, you should understand the process of constructing the diatonic scale for any given key. Try it yourself. See if you can build the diatoinc scales for all keys. Here are the notes of the D diatonic scale:

D - E - F# - G - A - B - C#

Alternate notation for the diatonic scale.

There's another way to express the formula of the diatonic scale, which is by using the interval names. Here's what it looks like:

Unison - maj2 - maj3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - maj7

If you look at the interval table above, and substitute these interval names with the note names based on the number of half-steps for the interval, you'll get the same result.

For example, the first note in the D diatonic scale is D, which is 0 half-steps away (Unison). The second note is E, derived from maj2 (2 half steps away). The third note is F#, derived from maj3 (4 half-steps). And so on.

Expressing scales in this notation is actually easier to do once you're comfortable with the diatonic scale, because other scales are more commonly expressed in relation to the diatonic scale. For example, the jazz melodic-minor scale is the diatonic scale with a flattened 3rd (min3). This simply means, take the diatonic scale and replace the maj3 with the min3, as so:

Unison - maj2 - min3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - maj7

In the key of C, this would be:

C - D - Eb - F - G - A - B

As another example, the harmonic minor scale has a flattened 3rd and 6th, like so:

Unison - maj2 - min3 - 4 - 5 - min6 - maj7

In the key of A, this would be:

A - B - C - D - E - F - G#

So, in conclusion, in addition it to being a frequently-used scale in classical and modern music, the diatonic scale serves as a reference point to building and naming of intervals, chords, and other scales.

If you have another look at the interval names above, you'll see that the flats, sharps, majors, and minors are all relative to their position on the diatoinc scale.

Enough talk. Let's play. Below is the transcription of the lick played in the beginning of this article. Enjoy.

For more information on the diatonic scale, read the excellent Wikipedia article at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatonic_scale.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Jazz Blues Progression

For the learning jazz guitarist, familiarity with the jazz blues progression is essential. It incorporates a number idiomatic changes that are used in many standard jazz tunes, and is a worthwhile addition to your repertoire.

Let's start with the basic framework of the 12-bar progression:

I7 / IV7 / I7 / I7
IV7 / IV7 / I7 / VI7
iim7 / V7 / I7 - VI7 / iim7 - V7

If you're familiar with the 12-bar blues, you'll notice a few differences. It begins with the VI7 in bar 8 (which is F#7 in the key of A). This is followed by a ii-V-I in the key of A, and a I-VI-ii-V turnaround.

Note: If this notation makes no sense to you stay tuned for my introductory "Music Theory for Jazz" articles. You can start with learning about the the diatonic scale.

Anyhow, before we proceed, let's translate the above progression to a chord-progression in the key of A. I'll add a few chord substitutions to color it up a bit.

A7 / D7 / A7 / Em7 - A7
D7 / D#dim / A7 - Ab7 / G7 - Gb7
Bm7 / E7 / A7 - F#7 / Bm7 - E7#5

There are many ways to improvise over this progression, and perhaps the simplest scale to use is A-mixolydian. Consider this your home scale. You can return to this scale if you're not sure what scale to use, or if you lose your place in the tune.

Over the IV chords (D7), you can use D-mixolydian. In fact, you can use the root-mixolydian over any of the dominant chords in the progression. Here's a chromatic descending jazz line in A-mixolydian that you can play over the progression: Descending Jazz Line.

To make it more interesting, you can use the altered dominant scale over any of the 7th chords. With its flattened and sharpened 5ths and 9ths, there is no scale more hip for the Jazz Blues. Here's what the A altered dominant scale looks like:

The formula for this scale is: 1 b2 #2 3 b5 #5 b7

Other interesting scales to try out are: the wholetone scale, lydian dominant, or half-whole diminished.

Enough talk. Below is a short clip of the jazz blues progression, played in the key of A.

I've transcribed the first part of this tune below, which is basically one full progression. The rest of it is left as an exercise to the reader.

Stick around for my follow up articles on jazz blues progressions, where I'll play and transcribe a few lines that work well with it.

Whetting Your Appetite with Pentatonics

Let's begin Six String Geek with a fun little pentatonic lick.

The interesting thing about this line is the use of a double-string technique to add a funky single-note counterpoint, giving it an upbeat country-blues feel.

Here's how it sounds:


The line is in Am and accents the root (A), which is played on the 5th fret of the high-E string. I'm playing this line using a pick, while using my ring finger to play the counterpoint.

Here's the tab below. Click to view.