Hwlp a brother out with understanding lead playing...

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by 6ringing, Jan 25, 2008.


  1. 6ringing

    6ringing Member

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    Hey all,
    I'm versed in playing lead in blues I, IV, V context where you can just use one scale (pentatonic) the whole time, but I'm trying to broaden my horizons, and I'm not sure how!

    So my question is, for music like jazz, country or bluegrass (where the the good old pentatonic don't cut it) what the freak do you do? Change scales for each chord? I've heard reference to jazz players playing one scale for the chords are in one "key center" and then changing scales for the next "key center"...
    Is this how it's done? So when you play something other than blues, is your brain constantly working getting ready to shift to the next scale?

    So I started learning my major scales (and modes) but have no idea how to apply this now.

    How does this all work? What's the over-all philosophy for playing music other than the pentatonic blues??

    THANK YOU for all helpful responses!
     
  2. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    There's a lot of ways to answer this. One thing that really helps is to be able to tell which chords are in the same key. In the key of C, the I, IV, and V chords are C, F, G. This key also contains the chords Dm, Em, Am, Bmin7b5. Once you understand why this is true, you'll be able to see when a progression is staying in one key and when it is modulating. This will give you a lot of info about what notes to play.

    To understand what chords are in a key, you must learn to harmonize the major scale. Do a websearch on this term and study up. It will get you started. It will also prompt a lot of other questions.

    Welcome to the journey.
     
  3. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Member

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    Basically you're playing over chords- and highlighting the notes in the chords as they change is called "playing the changes".

    So the first step is to know the notes in the chords- you'll want to be able to spell the notes in major, minor and dominant 7th chords to start. For instance, you should know that a major chord is spelled 1 3 5 (that's the intervals), and a C major chord is then the notes C E G. You should also be able to play these notes on the neck in several different positions.

    After you get a handle on that you need to learn the basic relationships of how chords work. As Will said, starting with a harmonized major scale can be a good start. When you do this you'll start to see how some chords naturally flow into one another, and what notes you need to accentuate in your lead lines.

    Next, if you're a jazzer, you'll want to start extending these chords (9ths, #11th, 13ths), and then start to work with chords from a harmonized altered scale (7b9, 7#11, 7#5#11, etc).

    Now keep in mind, this is all the basic theory. If you read a lot of books or search on the internet you'll see a lot of, "play this scale over this chord", but that's really not the way it shoud work, IMO. I know you said you play a scale when you play the blues, but do you really? I mean, you try and play licks and ideas, not scales, rigth? My point is the goal is to play ideas and they should come from your vocabulary, not you sense of theory. But sometimes it takes learning some theory to be able to get to the ideas.



    If I were you, I wouldn't work on styles or tunes, I'd try and apply this stuff to the blues. Whle you can get away with a single scale over an entire 12 bar blues, it's not playing the changes. Don't you ever hear other notes in your head or on records that aren't contained in that scale, especially over the IV and V chords?

    A blues is made up of dominant 7th chords. Here's a basic blues in A-

    A7 | D7 | A7 | A7

    D7 | D7 | A7 | A7

    E7 | D7 | A7 | E7

    Here's the notes in an A7 chord:

    A C# E G

    And here's the notes in an A blues scale:

    A C D D# E G

    First thing to notice is- the chord has a C#, but the scale a C natural. The C# is the major 3rd, and C natural the minor 3rd, so essentialy you're treating the A7 of a blues as a minor chord. If you want to "play the changes" you should be playing a major 3rd there. Here's the notes in an A mixolydan scale:

    A B C# D E F# G

    That's the scale an A7 chord is built from. Here's a pattern on the neck for this scale:

    1)5
    2)5-7-8
    3)4-6-7
    4)4-5-7
    5)4-5-7
    6)5-7

    Do you see how that fits the note of this chord?

    1)5
    2)5
    3)6
    4)5
    5)7
    6)5

    All of the notes of this chord are in that scale (not so with the blues scale). Try this scale a bit- sounds different doesn't it? A little happier sounding? Anyway, just because that's the scale doesn't mean you need to play it that way. What I mean is, if you listen to the great old blue players often they'll stay in that basic blues box but still manage to make the changes. What they'd do is bend the notes to fit- for instance they'd bend the b3rd of that A blues scale up a bit to fit an A7 chord. And then over D7 they'd play that note without a bend, as that's what fits the chord (D7 is spelled D F# A C- notice the C natural).

    So that's how you'd begin to play the changes over a blues. Try these mixolydian scales over each chord A mixo over A7, D mixo over D7, and E mixo over E7), and learn to blend them with the blues scales.
     
  4. 6ringing

    6ringing Member

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    Ooooh kay. I'm beginning to see. Thank you guys for your info.

    I have a degree in music so I understand the theory, but I just don't know how to apply it to playing. So I understand harmonizing the scale.

    The thing about learning scales is it tends to sound like scales when I play! But I know I have to learn them to extend my vocabulary. Making it sound musical is the artistic part I guess.

    So let me see if I have this straight so far:
    Other than changing scales on each chord (which I think usually sounds a little odd to my ear) I should look for these diatonic stretches and use one scale to fit that (with a few possible bends/slight modifications to fit as needed) and then switch to another scale when the music hits a different diatonic stretch...? Do I have this right?
     
  5. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    What has been posted is very good stuff but possibly a bit advanced for the OP?

    To get some results real quick, you should learn both the major & minor pentatonic scales. I gather you know the minor already. To get the major, play the same scale down 3 frets from the tonic.

    In others words, if you're in E, play the minor pentatonic form in C#. This is called the relative minor. E major and C# minor contain the same notes.

    The country music guys as well as the Allman bros use the major pentatonic and the hexatonic scale all the time.

    Now mix the scales up. For example play in E minor over the I V and then go to E major over the V chord.

    Also learn and incorporate some major and minor arpeggios. One, two and three octaves up and down.

    That should get you some new ideas very quickly.

    If you already know this stuff, pardon my assumptions.
     
  6. 6ringing

    6ringing Member

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    Hi, thanks, I do appreciate any and all input. This is exactly the kind of stuff I've been doing for years. It does sound great! But I'm ready to expand from there.
     
  7. The Captain

    The Captain Supporting Member

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    This is pretty much the norm. One way out of this trap is to learn etudes rather than linear scales.
    Petrucci demonstrates this approach very nicely in Rock Discipline.
    And you asking these questions with a Music Degree behind you makes me feel way better about not having one. A different curriculum obviously.:dude
     
  8. gennation

    gennation Member

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    If you are picking up on that Mixolydian idea you should definitely check out my Advanced Pentatonics Tutorial: http://lessons.mikedodge.com

    It's NOT basic blues stuff. It'll show you how to take two basic scales you already know, super-impose them on top of each other and end up with one scale that completely the Min Pent, Major Pent, Blues, Mixolydian, Dorian, Dominant Lydian, etc...scales all into ONE SCALE.

    I'll show you how it's used in rock, blues, country, jazz, fusion, and other styles. It will pretty much take everything people have explained here and show it to you in a complete, organized lesson.

    There are over 50 examples with audio, tab, explanation, diagrams, etc...

    and of course, it's ALL free. Enjoy...

    MAKE SURE YOU READ THE INTRODUCTION. It's going to explain your situation and how you can understand this info to last you a lifetime.
     
  9. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    If you already know your theory then you can understand, analytically, which scales go which chords.

    My advice, then, is to focus on "chord tone soloing". I've found that music sounds more sophisticated when the player is tracking along with the chords changes by actually playing the chord tones.

    Now, simply running arpeggios up and down is just as boring as running scales up and down (sounds much better, though). But the general mindset of this approach lends itself to the stuff that makes playing sound interesting: chord tone targetting, chromaticism, chord tone substitutions, "forward motion" (describe in other threads), etc.

    Here's an exercise: Get a hold of a jam track and create some arpeggio etudes. I find it educationl to mae up an etude that tays in one position. Then learn the exact same etude in other position and string-sets.

    I made the shift from a scale orientaion to a chord-tone orientation a only few years back. It was a significant advancement in my playing. I wish I would have done it earlier.

    Others might disagree, but I suggest you explore this approach to soloing. It gives your playing body.
     
  10. 6ringing

    6ringing Member

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    Woohoo. Thanks guys. I think all this great advice should get me headed in the right direction. I really appreciate it. :BEER
     
  11. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Member

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    Really your ideas should be coming from figuring out licks of your favortie players, figuring out song melodies on your instrument, that sort of thing. When you do this you learn little devices that you can then use to build other lines. And when doing this, understanding theory can help you organize these ideas, and also how you "see" them on the fretboard. I advocate a focus on the chord tones rather than scales, as the scale is too much information- usually a good line will focus on the notes in the chord. Plus it makes more sense to me to focus that way when looking at the fretboard. But as Will said, running arpeggios can be as boring as running scales (although more musical)- you have to keep in mind that theory is not there to tell you what to play, only to help organize your ideas. Your ideas need to come from somewhere else.


    I'm not sure- there's a lot of ways to approach it. One guy could say he does what you just said, another that he only looks at the chord tones, and another says he changes scales for every chord, and they might all end up playing the same exact thing.

    What it sounds like you're getting at in that post is guitar stuff rather than music stuff. What I mean is I think it's good to keep theory and fretboard patterns separate- don't rely on one to understand the other. So on a blues you could say I use this basic pattern for everything but alter it for each chord, or you could say I change my fingerings for each chord, or anything in between, and still end up playing the same notes. In the long run, you should be able to do both.

    I can tell you my approach- I look at everything in terms of numbers/intervals. I know the name of the root (let's say A), but beyond that I don't pay attention to the names of the rest of the notes in the chord, just the numbers. So from the root I know how to play the 3rd, 5th, 7th, b5th, 9th, etc. From there I can use any pattern, any postition. It's also much easier to see the differences between the chords if you only look at the chord tones than the scales.
     
  12. TommyStrat

    TommyStrat Member

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    Since you are pretty new to this, expand your blues playing the next step and learn 2-5 turns and then 1 6 2 5 turns. Buy one of those teac practice loopers and find some T- bone walker and other BB stuff that is just a bit above you and learn their leads. Learn them one lick at a time and learn how those notes relate to the chords. Also sing leads in your head starting with two notes and three note phrases and find them and then find where they are in the scale and how they relate to chords. All these guys have given you some real good stuff. Congrats on wanting to get better. I look forward to your first CD.
     
  13. TommyStrat

    TommyStrat Member

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    Great stuff brother. People like you evolve music. Keep the stoke.

     
  14. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    K - sorry, hopefully my post will help others who may not be as advanced.

    I don't have much more to add to what the others guys have already posted. Very cool stuff.

    Basically the next step is to add the next two notes to your pentatonic scales (ie modes) and learn to apply the varieties of minor scales, diminished and whole tones. Also chord substitutions and inversions. Your world will open up.

    Go crazy when you hit the V chord!

    Have fun.
     
  15. 6ringing

    6ringing Member

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    Thanks again for all the input! It's surprising how fast your guitar-playing world can open up. I used to get so stuck in ruts with the pentatonic...now it sems like I could rock around for the next ten years with just the major scales. Once you go the major go down 3 frets and you got the minor too. Whoa. Just that's enough to keep me busy a looong time.

    A sincere thank you to all you guys.
    Matt
     
  16. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Right!
    I'd echo what rockinrob said about learning melodies - and double it! The way to stop your solos sounding like scales is: don't play scales - play tunes.
    To understand what a "tune" is - what melodic (ie "interesting") soloing consists of - you need to learn as many melodies as you can. At the very least, for any song you want to improvise on, you should be able to play the vocal tune first, preferably by heart.
    You don't HAVE to do this. But if you don't, your solo will probably sound like any other solo on any other song that's in the same key or uses the same chords.
    The melody gives you a starting point. You can take phrases from it and adapt them, twist them around. You don't need to come up with stuff from scratch!

    Melodies in general will teach you about all the following:
    1. Phrasing - how to group notes into coherent bunches;
    2. Space - how to leave gaps, as if breathing, or punctuating lines of lyrics;
    3. Range - not using too many notes, or going too high or low;
    4. Note duration - varying your note lengths; not playing all those strings of 8th notes! If you find a good note - hold it, repeat it. How will you know the good notes if you just run up and down a scale?;
    5. Chord tones/extensions. How a melody sits with the chords, how certain notes against the chord have different characters or emotional effects.
    6. The effect of melodic intervals - how does it feel to jump up a major 6th, or octave? how does melodic shape work? (the series of up-down intervals);
    7. Simplicity and repetition. This relates to #3: don't use too many notes, and don't be afraid of repeating something. If it's good, it's worth it. If it's not good, then repeating it often makes it good! (Tho only experienced players can get out of those "bad-note" situations easily - a bit like a comedian or magician who can improvise a gag when something goes wrong, turn a mistake into a triumph. You need your wits about you, and real confidence in the material.)

    More or less. The skill is in identifying those "diatonic stretches" - how far they extend, and how relevant they are. (Is that really a new key, or a temporary chromaticism?)
    I would always come back to the melody here. What does the melody do? Does it noticeably change key? How and when? How does it use chromatic notes? How do the chords support it?
    Of course, chords provide multiple material and inspiration for the soloist - but the melodic line is the main thing, the first thing, the thing that links the chords all together. The other chord tones are secondary lines.

    The real problem with getting deep into scales is not seeing the wood (the song) for the trees (the chords). Take a step back. Simplify. Less is more.
    (Listen to Miles Davis, or B B King, for masters of economy in soloing.) Always ask yourself: do I really need to play these notes? Maybe just one will do? Try to avoid playing any note that's just a filler, that doesn't have a good reason to be there. Cut out the flab.
    This is really tough, and it isn't a strategy you always need to (or should) follow. Even Miles would play a lot of notes fast sometimes. But the more you restrain your material, limit your choice of notes, the more you find yourself thinking musically, about which notes to choose, and listening to the sound of each one.
    It's like going on a starvation diet - you learn to really appreciate food, and maybe realise it tastes better if you eat less or eat more slowly... ;)
     
  17. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    Great post, JonR. Thanks for the contribution!
     

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