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New to theory (but trying!)

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by tacorivers, Mar 1, 2005.

  1. tacorivers

    tacorivers Silver Supporting Member

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    I'm really trying to advance my knowledge of music theory beyond mere book knowledge. I'm a fairly decent guitar/bass player and have some theoretical knowledge. Any critiques of the following would be greatly appreciated.

    To keep this in the practical realm, let's take a 12 bar blues in A. The goal is to solo over the changes.

    Now, when soling over these changes, I tend to think in terms of specific scales and certain harmonic notes. For example, I could play the A min penatonic and stay pretty safe. I could also change things up and play the A major penatonic. To advance the ball a little more, I'm starting to play with the placement of the major and minor scales within the A-D-E progression.

    Now to expand this, I start thinking about the notes in the chords. For example, I'm starting to focus on playing a A penatonic over the A chords, D pent. over the D chords, and E pent. over the E chords. Here, I am focusing on the root of each chord. I could also just play major/minor arpeggios over these changes. Could I also play off of the other notes in each of these chords? For example, C# scale over the A chord.

    Scale wise, I start, like many guitarists, to get a little uncomfortable moving outside the penatonic structure. In the A blues progression above, I know that I could play the A major diatonic scale and perhaps the A minor melodic. Couldn't I also play any of the modes of the A major scale over these changes (say E mixolidian-I think that's right)? Also, couldn't I play different major scales over each chord? Including the modes of these scales.

    I'm assuming that one genrally plays the modes of A in A, rather than say the A mixolydian scale.
     
  2. Mr.Hanky

    Mr.Hanky Supporting Member

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    Can I?
    Can I?
    Can I?

    Forget all that!! You CAN play any scale you want to over it, period. IF IT SOUNDS GOOD IT IS GOOD!!

    Remember, the "theory" is there to explain what you did, not dictate what you can and can not do.


    Anyhow, you are clearly on the right track, using min and maj penta scales, shifting the scales with the chords, arpeggiate each chord, and yes try different modes over each chord.
    Dorian, Mixolydian are good starters.

    There are so many options but sometimes that can be the wrong path to "making music". There is nothing worse then listening to a player that is in his head, thinking too much.

    Here are two extremes...

    SRV, basically made a career out of minor pentatonic. Did one HELL of a job if you ask me, I love SRV.

    Scott Henderson, plays great blues, takes it into the stratosphere and then back again. There is a lot of sh*t going on in his solos.


    Sounds to me like you have plenty going on right now, what is the problem?
     
  3. Tom Gross

    Tom Gross Supporting Member

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    Yeah, you're on the right track.

    I'll throw in three simple things, before someone who really knows what they're talking about gets too carried away.

    1 - You are on the right track, except the Root chord of our favorite song "Blues in A" is usually A7 - a dominant chord. So, all that crap you can think about in the key of D Major works for the A. Same thing for the D7 & E7 chords.

    2 - There's only 12 notes. So against a rhythm track of slow blues, try all twelve, and see how they feel. It only takes like 5 minutes. Try each note over each chord. Some sound great, some sound cool, some sound wierd but interesting, some sound awful. Then they all change when the chord changes. Play with that over the blues. Play the wierdest stuff over the V chord, or just before a chord change.

    3 - Tell the story of the blues:
    - The 1 chord is home. Here's where I'm at. "My baby dun left me".
    - The 4 chord is call & response, and repeating it stronger. "No, I mean my baby left me. I can't take it"
    - The 5 chord is going away, on a trip, get drunk, make a deal with the devil, wake up in jail.
    - Back to the 1 chord, home again. It's the same, but different, because of the journey.
     
  4. tacorivers

    tacorivers Silver Supporting Member

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    Thanks for all of the responses, as this is exactly what I wanted. It really helped to write this stuff out for public consumption, as I'm still trying to think these things out.

    The "can I' comments are right on! However, I do think that theory provides a useful shortcut to what works musically and what may not. Note I said "may not" because we all love music that is "out" or "wrong".

    Tom, that is one of the best explanations that I've heard! It really brings this all together in a very artistic way.
     
  5. Dajbro

    Dajbro Member

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    This is a proverbial can of worms, so I'll start simple. If your goal is to solo over the changes, outlining the chords as they go by, rather than just skating over them with one scale or tonality, you've got to know the chord tones.

    Like Tom said, the chords used in a blues a typically dominant seventh chords so in the key of A you will have A7 (I), D7 (IV), and E7 (V).

    The notes that make up each of these chords are:
    A7 - A C# E G
    D7 - D F# A C
    E7- E G# B D

    The notes that define the tonality of each chord are the 3rd and 7th. These are the notes that make the chord a dominant 7 as opposed to a major 7, minor 7, etc. The root and 5th have no impact on that:
    A7 - C# G
    D7 - F# C
    E7 - G# D

    When the chords change, notice how the 3rd and 7ths change. If the chord change is A7 to D7, the 3rd of A7 (C#) resolves down a half step to the 7th of D7 (C). In addition, the 7th of A7 (G) resolves down a half step to the 3rd of D7 (F#).

    If the chord change is A7 to E7, the 3rd of A7 (C#) resolves up a half step to the 7th of E7 (D) and the 7th of A7 (G) resolves up a half step to the 3rd of E7 (G#).

    Try playing through the progression using only these notes, moving only a half step up or down when the chords change. This will help you hear how the qualities of the chords are changing throughout the progression and will help you outline the changes in your soloing when you add more information; scales, arpeggios, chord subsitutions, licks, etc.

    David
     
  6. sws1

    sws1 Member

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    If the root chord is I7, then how come people generally use the minor pentatonic on the I, then switch to the Major Pentatonic of the IV7 chord when changing?

    Never understood how you get away with a minor 3rd against a major third. And even it that made sense, why violate that rule when switching to the IV.
     
  7. Mr.Hanky

    Mr.Hanky Supporting Member

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    Because it sounds good.

    See my post in bold above. This is blues, let's not get too cerebral please.

    Call it a #9 if that makes you happy.
     
  8. tacorivers

    tacorivers Silver Supporting Member

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    While I agree with Mr. Hanky's comments regarding the blues, my intention was not neccessarily to discuss the "blues." I used a simple 12 bar blues because its an easy structure. You could easily play jazz, country, funk, or really anything over this structure.

    As someone pointed out, this subject can easily spiral out of control into obscurity, so I wanted to keep things simple.
     
  9. Mark C

    Mark C Member

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    Try learning some solos by ear, then analyze them in terms of what note they play against a given chord. Great way to to learn more theory and expand your ear.
     
  10. Mr.Hanky

    Mr.Hanky Supporting Member

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    Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like a schmuck, it is a pet peeve of mine when simple 3 chord blues is over-analyzed. I have been playing it a long time and while it is good to explore various tonal avenues, I still think the best thing to do is forget it and play like you have a pair. Never has there been more proof of this theory than SRV live at El macombo. Pure testosterone (and Bourbon) driven intensity, completely balls out blues.
    I would rather hear that then some overly cerebral putz noodling every single arp and scale he can think of. Guys like that need a severe beating, IMO.

    If you want to get your noodle working, check out what Charlie Parker did with blues, that will make you want to hang it up. Blues for Alice is a prime example, learn the chords/melody and then try and figure out why it all works and HOW THE HELL he came up with that. Scary!
     
  11. tacorivers

    tacorivers Silver Supporting Member

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    I agree completely! Although on record, SRV has made several glaring mistakes that, to me, sound horrible. This is because he is playing a minor penatonic over complex changes. I'm thinking of the last song on In Step.
     
  12. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    That was Riviera Paradise and it was awful. SRV was one of my favorites ever but when he forayed into jazz it was obvious that he had taken the balls-to-the-wall pentatonic stuff to it's limit.

    Larry Carlton is an example of someone applying blues and pentatonic scales to jazz chord changes if that interests you.

    And finally, Mark Levine's jazz theory book is excellent. Remember, one man's cerebral putz noodling every single arp and scale he can think of is another man's genius. Coltrane's studious application of slonimsky's thesaurus mated with the blues being a prime example.
     
  13. Mr.Hanky

    Mr.Hanky Supporting Member

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    Correct you are, which is why I pointed out Parker as an example. I think we all know when someone is trying too hard though, or is thinking rather than playing. That is the point I am making here.

    Ps. I LOVE Coltrane, watched Jazz Casual last night in fact.

    But Coltrane was not without critics either. Some have considered him way too self-indulgent especially later on in his career. Personally I wish I had 1/10th of his vocabulary.
     
  14. tacorivers

    tacorivers Silver Supporting Member

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    That's the one!

    With respect to your reference to Coltrane, a lot of the great jazz musicians had extensive knowledge of classical music and music theory. I can think of one, Eric Dolphy, whose main asperation before his jazz career was to play for the LA philharmonic. As an amatuer historian, I think that the racism in America at that time was responssible for turning many black musicians away from classical music toward jazz.
     
  15. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    And I (as a cerebral putz) wish I had 1/10th of SRV's soul! :D
     
  16. Mark C

    Mark C Member

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    He's one of the few jazz players who can play with a blues player's feel. Not the SRV balls to the wall, more like laid back BB King. There's another new guy out there who mixes a little jazz with blues and plays with SRV type balls at times - Volker Strifler.
     
  17. Mr.Hanky

    Mr.Hanky Supporting Member

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    There are a ton out there, I learned this when I got XM radio.
    Some great some not so great.
    Scott Henderson does a great job IMO.
     
  18. Dajbro

    Dajbro Member

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    Isn't that one of the great things about the blues? What other form can inspire and contain music as wide ranging and varied as Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Ornette Coleman, and on and on......

    Seems to me that tacorivers just wanted to get some ideas on how to play over chord changes, not how to play the blues.

    David
     
  19. tacorivers

    tacorivers Silver Supporting Member

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    Although I didn't specifically want to discuss "the blues", this discussion about theory vs. feel is great! I think that we always need to remember that at the end of the day, we're just trying to make music. And that there's always room for wild, alcohol-fueled mayhem.
     
  20. Dajbro

    Dajbro Member

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    Intelligence, feeling and "alcohol-fuled mayhem" (actually, pick your substance to abuse) are not mutually exclusive. See Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Art Pepper, Kenny Dorham, Jackie McLean, Red Garland, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Ben Webster, etc.

    David
     

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