A Quiet Roar

Here is a song I wrote in order to create a playing opportunity for myself and some of my musician friends. Staying in shape while gigs, rehearsals and most playing is on hold is important. It’s important both in terms of the physical aspect of staying in shape on your instrument and also keeping the creative side of music making alive.

So what’s the plan? Call, email and text some friends and enlist them to take part in a musical project. I’ll write the tune, arrange it for the instruments we have and then start the recording process.

I have the players, (flute, flugelhorn, trombone, bass and drums along with me playing 2 guitar parts). I’ve got a nice little Bossa ready to go. Next we need the arrangement. Time to grab my guitar, open up Sibelius and start writing. For this tune I decided that I would make myself the feature taking the solo and sharing the head with the flute, flugelhorn and trombone.

For this arrangement I’ll need an intro, to map out who plays which parts of the melody and when, where to harmonize, some backgrounds and an ending. Sound like a good plan for this instrumentation.

Arrangement done so it’s time to lay down some tracks. First I save the Sibelius file as a MIDI file so I can create a starting point for my guitar tracks. With MIDI files in Logic Pro I can record a rhythm guitar track on nylon string and play the melody on electric. I also added an electric bass part to help the drummer with his part.

So this basic version with guitars, bass and a few MIDI horn parts goes off to the drummer. Within a day or two he sends me drum tracks and percussion tracks along with videos. Next I mix another version with all the drum parts and send it off to the horn players. Soon enough I have all their parts and videos and then do a quick mix of all of that, remove my bass part and send that off to the bass player. Bass playing sends me his part and video so now I have everything.

With all the parts done, I can now do a better mix and also redo my guitar part and solo. Next I mix everything and finally bring all the videos and the final mix from Logic Pro into Final Cut Pro. I’m no video editing wizard so a simple video highlighting everyone here and there will suffice as the music is the main ingredient.

Here is the final product!

A Quiet Roar

And here is the guitar part to give you an idea of the tune.

A Quiet Roar, Guitar Part

For now I’m planning to keep active musically by writing, arranging, recording and posting more videos of my music. I hope this will give you a better idea of the process involved in collaborating and creating music with others while being unable to meet in person. I hope everyone is finding creative ways to keep active musically. Keep playing your jazz guitar and moving forward musically. Nothing can stop us!

Modal Soloing


A favourite type of tune I like to solo over is something that has chords lasting for 2 or 4 measures and chord changes which are far removed from II – V – I type progressions.

The tune we are going to be looking at has everything I like in a Modal tune.

In this post, we will be looking at a song from my book, “Jazz Reading Elements.” Full recording with solo below.

This particular piece is very interesting because all the chords use the Mixolydian mode. As you probably noticed, we have many different types of chords. When we think of Mixolydian, we think dominant 7th chords. We have an E7sus4 which looks like a dominant chord but all the others don’t.

The chords in this tune are in fact different ways of expressing the Mixolydian mode. Notice I didn’t say Dominant? Dominant chords have a tritone. None of the chords here have a tritone in them. This is in fact a really good thing in a Modal tune because dominant chords and their tritone want you to resolve them to some other chord whether it be the I chord or something else.

In Modal jazz, we want to use chords for their colours and not necessarily to resolve to other chords. The Mixolydian mode is a colour and there are many way to express this particular colour. I’ve used many slash chords in this song. Each chord is an expression of the many possible ways in which we can create sounds, colours and voicing which give us the Mixolydian mode. Let’s look at a few.

G/A is an A Mixolydian chord. All of the notes of this chord are contained in the A Mixolydian. It’s a G triad with an A in the bass. The notes are G, B, D and A bass. If we look at the A Mixolydian mode below we see that all of these notes are present in our mode.

A Mixolydian Mode

The Bbmaj7/C chord is a C Mixolydian mode. All the notes of the Bbmaj7 chord and the C bass note are contained within the C Mixolydian mode.

In each of the chords in this song, we can find the Mixolydian mode simply by looking at the bass note in each of the slash chords. It is important to note that this is not a general rule for slash chords. There are many types of slash chords which exist that represent many different types of sounds for each of the modes. This includes modes from all of the primary scales: major scale, melodic minor scale and harmonic minor scale. I’ve used only slash chords which produce Mixolydian sounding chords.

As we already mentioned E7sus4 is an E mixolydian chord. The sus4 removes the tritone by replacing the 3rd with the 4th. Again this takes away the feeling that we have to resolve the dominant chord. In this way, we hear more of the mode and less of the feeling that it needs to be resolved to another chord.

All chords in the bridge section of the song are Mixolydian chords. The root note of the mode is the bass note.

The Solo below uses only notes from the Mixolydian mode except for one note in bar 8. (not counting the pickup notes) There is a chromatic passing tone (Ab). Other than that one note, all note are from their respective modes.

Within each mode there are in fact 7 triads. We can form triads from each of the mode’s notes. We can spell chords in thirds from each note in the mode. They are in fact the same triads found in their parent scale but just in a different order.

I use many of these triads in this solo. As you listen, you will no doubt hear them.

Play though the solo and try to visualize the Mixolydian modes for each chord. Try to see and hear how the modes sound and try to appreciate the colour of the mode and how it sounds when you shift from one Mixolydian to the next.

Below are 2 tracks, one with the guitar playing both the solo and the melody and a second track with no guitar. There are 2 bars of click to count you in.

Full track with guitar melody and solo.
Backing track, no guitar.

A special thanks to Stéphane Jose for his wonderful drum and percussion tracks.

Stéphane Jose is a French jazz drummer and percussionist. He has been living in Montreal since the 90s where he graduated from the McGill University Jazz Program. He is a jazzman at heart but he is also open to other styles such as funk or Latin music, in small groups or in big bands. https://music.stephanejose.com

Quarantine Time Creativity

175 body

This is without a doubt, a terrible time in history for the well being of all around the world. Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll with a staggering number of lives lost and terrible suffering by so many. It is also proving to be a time of extreme hardship for millions with many losing their jobs, salary and livelihood.

For the many musicians and artists around the world, physical distancing has put a sudden stop to any kind of performing or live shows. Artists and performers from young new talent to the most popular and famous have been unable to share their gifts in the usual way. Somehow despite all of this, there seems to be so music music happening just the same. On Facebook and Youtube you can see and hear all kinds of artists who somehow manage to reach out to audiences with performances pieced together using every kind of technology and music gear along with sheer perseverance.

I have been so moved by artists like Chick Corea and his creativity workshops presented from his home straight to YouTube. Wow, what an incredible gift to all those learning to play jazz. So many famous and talented musicians are sharing their gifts with the world despite these challenging times.

Artists are a resilient and tenacious lot. They are above average at weathering storms and enduring hardship. Isolating oneself from society is something we do on a regular basis as well. We are good at locking ourselves away and practicing our craft alone for hours and hours on end. We are perhaps a little more equipped at isolation than others.

I think this is a good time for all of us to try and be creative and share our gifts with the world. Whether by yourself or collaborating with friends or musical colleagues, grab your iPhone, tablet, favourite DAW or whatever is available to you big or small and make some great music. Record audio or a video of you performing some great jazz guitar and share it with anyone and everyone who will listen. Music heals and inspires. It’s something we can all contribute right now.

Recently by brother, also a guitarist, reached out to me to collaborate on one of his compositions. He had an idea to record and video one of his tunes and maybe find a few other musical friends to help out. He did most of the hard work organizing everything and editing the video. I helped out with the mix. We played some music, shared it with the world and hopefully made a few people a little happier as well.

Now I’ll share it with you. BTW, that’s me playing the 7 string classical guitar and my brother Ron playing electric. We are joined by two very talented Montreal musicians: Dave Watts on bass and Stephane Jose on drums.


Another project I’ve been involved with is the Blue Mondays Jazz Orchestra. We are a Montreal based Big Band with a vocalist. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have recorded 4 videos which you can find on YouTube. It was an opportunity to keep the music and the band going.

I’ve played on all of them and mixed all but the first. It’s been an interesting experience to piece together a big band chart with 16 members recording on their own in isolation. The end result is pretty amazing considering many used iPhones and tablets and did so in much less than perfect recording environments. (living rooms, basements…) Have a listen to “The Look of Love.”

Blue Mondays Jazz Orchestra – The Look of Love

I will once again encourage you to keep at the music and stay positive. We will get through this. Make some music and share it with the world. If you help to raise the spirits of even one person during this pandemic, then it’s worth it.

Kumoi (Minor Pentatonic)

Pentatonic scales are a great tool for adding just the right notes to a chord. They are somewhere between being a scale and an arpeggio. Used in interesting ways, pentatonic scales can be the perfect choice to give you all the right colour notes for that perfect sound.

As you probably already know, a pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes from any given scale. Most improvisers know the major pentatonic as being notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the major scale. Many of you already use this scale over a I major chord and just as often over a VI minor type chord. Sounds great but very inside and mostly uninteresting as far as giving your solos any kind of colour.

A more interesting use of a major pentatonic scale would be to do something like play a D major pentatonic over a Cmaj7(#11) chord. The notes you will end up with are the 9th, 3rd, #11, 6th and major 7th. That’s more like it! We have some beautiful colour notes which sound rich and spicy!

Of course there are many more examples of how to use a pentatonic scale over different kinds of chords to add great sounding colour tones to your solos. For now I’ll let you search around the web on your own for some of these other wonderful ways to use pentatonic scales.

There is another much overlooked pentatonic scale which has a rich beautiful sound. This scale is mostly referred to as the “Kumoi” scale. I like to call it the minor pentatonic but the problem is that many musicians will often play a major pentatonic scale starting on the 6th degree and call that a minor pentatonic. This is not the Kumoi scale.

The Kumoi scale follows the same rule as the major pentatonic scale except you will not use the major scale. For Kumoi, we need the melodic minor scale. Using the melodic minor scale, take the same notes, 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Although in the case of the melodic minor scale, the 3rd will be a minor 3rd. All other notes will be the same. So then the easy way to think of Kumoi is to see it as a major pentatonic scale with a flatted 3rd.

Lets look at both the major scale and its pentatonic as well as the melodic minor scale and its pentatonic the Kumoi scale.

C Major Scale

If we take extract notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 we end up with a major pentatonic.

C Pentatonic Scale

Now let’s look at the Melodic Minor Scale.

C Melodic Minor Scale

Now let’s do the same thing and extract 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Keep in mind that our 3rd in now a flatted 3rd.


At this point it’s a good idea to try playing the Kumoi Scale in different positions on the guitar. Try to get a feel for fingerings and listen to hear what Kumoi sounds like.

Next we need to look at some of the places you can use the Kumoi scale. The most obvious place to look is the melodic minor scale and the chords generated by the melodic minor scale. Cm6 is the most obvious of chords where Kumoi can be used. It’s going to give you scale tones 1 (root), 2 (9th), b3 (minor 3rd), 5 (5th) and 6 (major 6th). Let’s have a listen.

In this example, the Kumoi scale is used over the Cm6 chord in a minor II – V – I progression.

Kumoi over Cm6

In this next example we have a C Kumoi scale being used over the F9 chord. F dominant is the IV chord of the C melodic minor scale.

Kumoi over F9

In this next example we will use the Kumoi scale in a modal context. Here we will use a C Kumoi scale over an Ebmaj7(#11) chord. Ebmaj7(#11) is the bIII chord of the C melodic minor scale. The Kumoi scale will give us the following notes as they relate to the Ebmaj7(#11) chord. Notes are as follows: 1 (root), 3 (3rd), #4 (#11), 6 (13) and 7 (major 7th). Nice, we are getting the important chord tones and 2 very nice colour tones; the #11 and the 13th.

For the Cmaj7(#11) we have the exact same scale only we use A Kumoi.

Kumoi over Ebmaj7(#11) and Cmaj7(#11)

These three example are only a small portion of the many possible ways to use Kumoi. There are of course many more creative and inspiring ways to use this scale. A good place to find more uses for this pentatonic scale would be to explore some of the other chords generated by the melodic minor scale.

Happy practicing and stay tuned for more free jazz guitar lessons!

Boost Pedal for Jazz?

So, why would I want to use a Boost Pedal between my guitar and my amp? First off, I have a nice guitar I’m super happy with and I’ve used this same guitar for gigging, teaching and recording most of my career. It’s an old 68 Gibson. I’ve always found that although I like the sound, the output has always been low and a little thin.

The other thing is that like many jazz guitarists, I like to use a small amp. I especially like all the small tube amps with EL84 tubes. This of course is my own personal taste. Even though, for a long time I opted for a nice loud, lightweight “Acoustic Image.” It wasn’t my ultimate jazz guitar sound but volume was never an issue and it sounded pretty good.

Currently, I’m back to using a small tube amp and love the sound. It’s great for recording but a little shy for volume on some gigs and when I have my regular Monday night rehearsals with the big band, I’m really pushing it.

I was curious about the pickups in my guitar and if their were any known issues with some of the older Gibson Pickups. Like most Gibson owners, we hope we have the most famous of pickups, the PAF’s. Those things are worth a fortune so we all hope we have a pair just for the sake of bragging rights if nothing else. A quick search on Google and a visit to a Gibson forum, Wikipedia, and a few other sites I soon discovered I have T-Tops. I also discovered that Gibsons from 68 with T-Tops can have low output and a thin sound.

Gibson T-Top

Why do they sound this way? From what others have suggested, the pickups are just old and lose their magnetic charge. Apparently you can have a guitar tech take apart your pickups and re-magnetize them or you can replace the magnets with fully charged magnets of your choice. I don’t really think I want to do that. If they end up sounding vastly different, I’ll be a very unhappy jazzer.

So back to the pedal. I had tried something years ago that was a little homemade pedal with in/out jacks and a single knob. It was described as giving you more volume but it wasn’t like a distortion pedal. I remember that it really made my guitar speak and it also gave a nice little boost in volume.

Well here I am again in that same place; love my tone but It’s not loud enough. Do I buy a bigger, louder, heavier amp? I remembered that pedal I had tried and started doing some research. Low and behold there are dozens of companies making Boost Pedals. There are all kinds of prices, brands, features and so on.

Nice glowing tubes!

One thing I will add is that when I plug in my Fender Strat with Lace pickups, I have tons more volume than I get from my Gibson. Interesting! So I’m thinking the Boost Pedal should give me a little more oomph going into the amp. At this point I’m sold. Time to spend a few bucks and order one of these little boxes.

I went on Amazon and found a Donner “Boost Killer.” No, not the best name for a “Boost” pedal, I know. The name kind of suggests it’s going to take something away. Why would anyone want to kill their boost? It wasn’t the cheapest and certainly not the most expensive. It seemed to get very good reviews and was described as being a steal for the price. Perfect!

Donner Boost Killer

It’s very small (good thing) but along with it’s small footprint is the obvious problem: no room inside for a battery. Be forewarned, you will also need a 9V power supply which you will also have to carry around.

So how does it sound? So far I’m pleased. I’m getting a hotter signal into the amp with no added distortion at all. This pedal will distort though so play around with the volume and gain controls until you find something you like. Is my amp way louder now? No, of course not. I do have a little more volume for sure and the fact that there is a hotter signal going into the amp has added a little more tone and sparkle to my sound.

So there you have it. I’ve joined the guitar pedal craze! I’m a jazz guitarist and I own a guitar pedal!

Lydian b7 Mode

Photo by: Thomas Kelley

The “Lydian b7” scale is the 4th mode of the Melodic Minor Scale. Its name aptly describes what it is and what it sounds like. The Lydian Mode is of course the 4th mode of the Major Scale whereas the Lydian b7 Scale is the 4th mode of the Melodic Minor Scale. As you know, the Major Scale and the Melodic Minor Scale differ by one note. Lydian and Lydian b7 also differ by one note. In this case, the Lydian b7 Mode will have a flatted 7th (min7) and the Lydian Mode will have a major seventh (maj7).

The Lydian Mode will be used over a Maj7 type chords whereas the Lydian b7 Mode will be used over Dom7 type chords. When we think “Lydian” we thing of #11 and this is true in the case of both modes. The Lydian Mode suggest Ma7(#11) whereas the Lydian b7 Mode suggest Dom7(#11).

If you are already comfortable with the Lydian Mode, visualizing the Lydian b7 Mode as a Lydian Mode with flatted 7th is a good approach.

Here is the “C” Lydian b7 Mode.

The C Lydian b7 Mode is the 4th Mode of the G Melodic Minor Scale. G Melodic Minor is its parent scale. As we can see from the example below, they share the exact same notes.

There are numerous possibilities as to where this mode can be used. We will look at some of the most common places the Lydian b7 Mode can be applied. Our first example is for a IV Dominant chord. This is a very common chord found in many standards and jazz originals including: “If You Could See Me Now” and “The Days of Wine and Roses.”

Ex. 1 Imaj7 – IV7 – Imaj7

In the example below, we have a Bb Major Scale for our I chord, an Eb Lydian b7 Mode for the IV Dominant chord and then back to Bb Major Scale. The Eb Lydian b7 Mode is the 4th Mode of the Bb Melodic Minor Scale. The C# note in the 4th bar is a chromatic passing tone and not part of either mode.

Audio Ex. 1

Another common place to use the Lydian b7 Mode is over a bVII Dominant chord. (bVII7)

Ex. 2 Imaj7 – bVII7 – Imaj7

In the example below we have Bb Major Scale for our I chord, an Ab Lydian b7 Mode for our Ab7 chord and we resolve back to our I chord using Bb Major Scale once again. The Ab Lydian b7 Mode is the 4th mode of the Eb Melodic Minor Scale.

Audio Ex. 2

Ex. 3 Imaj7 – II7 – II – V – I

Another nice place to use the Lydian b7 Mode is on a II Dominant chord. (II7) In the example below, we have G Major Scale for the I chord, an A Lydian b7 Mode for the II Dominant chord and then Dorian, Mixolydian (part of the 10 note scale) and Major Scale for the final II – V – I progression. The A Lydian b7 Mode is the 4th mode of the E Melodic Minor Scale.

Audio Ex. 3

Microphones to Record a Jazz Guitar Amp

Apart from all the time we spend practicing and doing gigs, it’s becoming more and more common for us as jazz guitarists to be able to record ourselves. Today, more than ever, musicians from all musical styles own and use a certain amount of home recording gear. It has become an essential part of our careers for us to be able to do everything from making our own demos, composing and recording music as well as providing guitar tracks for a project that we can upload to another artist or producer who lives halfway around the world.

So much gear, so much to know and so many opinions about what is best. In this post, I’d like to look at some of the different microphone choices to record a jazz guitar amplifier. What are some of the better microphones we can use to capture a good representation of what a straight up, clean jazz guitar should sound like?

One of the things you will encounter in your quest to find which microphone to buy is that the majority of the reviews and recommendations come from musicians and recording engineers who work predominantly in the pop and rock genres. All those great microphone reviews are focussed on capturing a guitar player shredding through a Marshall stack. Although some of what they find may be true and will still translate to the kinds of sounds we play, for the most part, there is much more for us to know.

Ok, so recording jazz guitar, what do we need to know? Let’s start with microphone types. There are 3 types of microphones you can use to record jazz guitar: Dynamic, Condenser and Ribbon. If you want to know more about each type, click here. All are great microphones that can be placed in front of your guitar amp. Which is best? Which type should you buy? The good news, all 3 types of microphones can produce great results. In the end, it all comes down to your own tastes, goals and what you are willing to spend.


We’ll listen to 2 dynamic microphones: Shure SM57 and Beyerdynamic M201 N (C). Dynamic microphones are generally on the less expensive side. Dynamic microphones will most often have a narrower frequency response and don’t require phantom power. Now it’s important to note that a narrower frequency response is not necessarily a bad thing. What that means is it’s not going to pick up the really low or the really high frequencies. We don’t really want the boomy low notes or the super high overtones anyway. So, in essence, dynamic mics are sort of providing a nice EQ for us. Dynamics will help take out some of the stuff we don’t really want anyway.


For condensers, we’ll listen to a Shure Beta 181 with supercardiod capsule and a Neumann TLM 102. Condenser microphones have a much wider frequency response, usually from 20-20,000 Hz and do require phantom power. Although most audio interfaces today do provide phantom power, there are still some that don’t so it’s always good to check. Condenser microphones are much more acurate and will pick up much more detail, both in a good way and in a bad way. This of course means that if you are in a noisy environment, the microphone will capture all of that noise as well. Any amp hum, ringing tubes, finger noise, street noise, all of this will be more evident when using a condenser mic. At the same time, more of the colour, nuance and the dynamics will also come through giving you a much richer sound.


Ribbon mics are a favorite for guitar players. I would describe them as being both accurate and flattering. The sound of a ribbon microphone is probably somewhere between that of a dynamic and a condenser. They seem to capture a lot of detail but always in a good way. Ribbon microphones do not require phantom power and in fact phantom power can severely damage a ribbon microphone. Ribbon microphones also need to be matched with a very good preamp that can provide 70 db or more of good, clean gain. If you are planning on using a ribbon microphone with a soundcard which does not have enough gain, there are solutions like the “Cloudlifter” or “Fethead” which offer an additional 20 db or so of ultra clean gain. The Ribbon microphone we will listen to is the AEA R84. It is a beautiful modern day recreation of (or perhaps a microphone inspired by) the vintage RCA 77. The AEA R84 is an expensive microphone but there are many excellent low cost Ribbons for as low as $99 which provide amazing results on guitar amps. (Apex, Cascade Microphones, MXL…..)

Recording Chain

Here’s the what and how used for all of the recorded examples. Microphones, placed around an inch and a half from the speaker grill, went through a BAE 1073MP preamp into a Universal Audio Apollo Quad into Pro Tools 2018. For the AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone, I used a Grace Design M101 preamp. The Grace has a Ribbon mode which works very well with the R84 and provides very clean, high gain levels.

I played my 1968 Gibson ES-175 using the neck pickup through a Traynor YCV20 with JJ tubes and a 12″ bass speaker. Why a bass speaker? I’ve always preferred the sound of my guitar through a bass amp. Using a bass speaker helps to cut a lot of the unwanted highs you get from most amps. At this point, I like tube amps. I keep going from jazz amp (Polytone) to tube amp, (Mesa Boogie) back to jazz amp, (Acoustic Image) and now once again a tube amp. (Traynor) It’s funny because I’m sure the listener never actually notices the difference anyway. In the end, we sound like we sound.

Below are the recorded examples for each microphone. Since some of the microphones have higher signals than others, I’ve matched volumes to help make comparisons easier. Also, there are 2 examples for each microphone: one with just guitar and one with piano bass and drums. In most cases the sound of the guitar alone doesn’t tell us enough. How it’s going to sound in the context of an entire mix is much more important.

Tape emulation, parallel compression and reverb have been added to all examples with piano, bass and drums. The solo guitar examples have no processing. No EQ has been added to any of the examples.

Shure SM57

Shure SM57 Solo Guitar

Shure SM57 Guitar with Trio

Beyerdynamic M201 N (C)

Beyerdynamic M201 Solo Guitar

Beyerdynamic M201 Guitar with Trio

Shure Beta 181 (Supercardiod Capsule)

Shure Beta 181 (Supercardiod Capsule) Solo Guitar

Shure Beta 181 (Supercardiod Capsule) Guitar with Trio

Neumann TLM 102

Neumann TLM 102 Solo Guitar

Neumann TLM 102 Guitar with Trio


AEA R84 Solo Guitar

AEA R84 Guitar with Trio

Final Thoughts

Which sounds best? To me, they all sound like they get the job done very well. To be fair, these are all microphones I like to use on guitar amps and especially when recording jazz guitar. They do all sound a little different, and bring out different aspects of the amp sound. My intentions are not to say one is better than the other or give you a list of “the best” microphones to record jazz guitar. It’s more of a chance to have one more listen from a clean jazz guitar perspective.

This comparison has actually been pretty revealing to me. Hearing all these microphones side by side has made me reconsider some of my own choices.

It’s also important to note that I did play the example 5 times in a row. Because I wanted to place the microphone in the exact same spot each time I could really only use one microphone at a time. I know some people like to record the guitar once direct and then do the re-amp thing. I don’t have confidence in that approach. So even though I tried to play exactly the same each time, I’m sure I was influenced slightly by the sound of each microphone and may have reacted to each to a certain degree.

As always, I hope my Blog Posts are helpful and that this one in particular in some small way will help you to find the right microphone that works for your own style of playing and sound.

Links (Related Articles)

Recording and Mixing Jazz Guitar (jazzguitarlessons.net)


Beginner Guitar HQ (Best Stage Microphones)


10 Note Scale

I know what you’re thinking; what’s wrong with the old 7 note scales? Actually the 10 note scale is a variation of the 7th scale, which yes, has 8 notes. As you’ll remember from my post on the 7th scale, the 7th scale is a mixolydian mode with added notes. The extra note we added was the major 7th between the root and the flatted 7th degree. This gave us a series of chromatic notes from the root to the 6th degree.

For this next variation of the 7th scale, we will be starting our scale from the 3rd and we will descend to the root and all the way down until the next root. Along the way, there will be many chromatic notes. We will be adding chromatic notes between the 3rd and 2nd degrees; between the 2nd degree and the root and between the root and the flatted 7th degree.  Here are the notes of the scale over a G7 chord.

10 Note Scale

Yes there are 13 notes in the example above but there are in fact 10 different notes. I choose to continue the scale all the way to the root both because this is a “G” scale and because it’s also common to play play the scale in this way.

Let’s look at and listen to some examples of this scale in use. First let’s hear how it sounds over a G7 chord.

Now let’s use it in a II – V7 – I progression.

In the example above, notice how the 10 note scale starts in the second half of the Dm7 chord.

Here’s another example over a II – V7 – I progression.

In this example, the 10 note scale again starts over the Dm7 chord but only in the last beat. The scale now resolves to the B note (7th degree) of the Cmaj7 chord. Nice!

The following solo is based on the changes to “All The Things You Are.” I have used the 10 note scale as much as possible. Please keep in mind that I probably wouldn’t play this scale as much as I have here. It’s mostly to illustrate how to use the scale and how it can sound in your solos.

As always, feel free to use as much as you like in your own solos.

“All The 10 Notes You Are”

Improvising with Triads (Arpeggios)

When we think about improvising in jazz we most often think about more notes, bigger arpeggios and more complicated scales as the road to playing more intricate and exciting solos. It’s true that 9ths, 13ths and all manner of complicated extensions do add beautiful colours to our solos. In this post, I’d like to point you to an easier route to achieve this goal. We will explore how simple 3 note triads can be used to create beautiful lush textures in our improvised solos.

So how does this work? Let’s start with some simple examples. First off, we will examine a couple of 4 note 7th chords and look at them in a different way. What if we visualize them as slash chords. What is a Cmaj7 chord? Cmaj7 has 4 notes; root, major 3rd, 5th and major 7th. Some will also say that a Cmaj7 is a C major triad with a major 7th. All true.

What if we look at Cmaj7 the other way. What if we say that a Cmaj7 chord is an Em triad with a C in the bass?

We can do the same for a Dm7 chord.

Visualizing our chords in this way gives us a new tool to improvise with. Instead of thinking of a Dm7 arpeggio or a D Dorian mode, we can think of playing a simple F triad over a Dm7 chord. This is perfect as we avoid playing the root. The bass player has the root covered so that leaves us to everything else.

Next let’s look at some 9th chords. What if we take the top 3 notes of a 9th chord and see what kind of triads we end up with. Let’s look at Dm9.

If we use an Am triad to improvise over a Dm9 chord, the triad will give us the 5th, 7th and 9th of the Dm9 chord.

For the Dm7 chord, I’ve used only an Am triad.

Now we will go one step further. Lets look at G7(sus4). In this chord we have  the root, 4th, 5th, flatted 7th and 9th. I’m actually using a G9(sus4). Remember that we are using the 4th to replace the 3rd and not adding the 11th on top with the 3rd still present. We will however visualize our chord as having an 11 (no 3rd) for the purpose of creating our triad. In other words, we will use the 7th, 9th and 11th. We end up with an F major triad.

A nice way to incorporate the F triad into a nice improvised line is to combine it with a G triad. In the example below I am using F and G triads to create a line.

Bars 1 and 2 are G triad to F triad, 2 beats each while bars 3 and 4 do the opposite: G triad for 2 beats followed by F triad for 2 beats.

The same 2 triads also work very well over an F Lydian mode. Our chord is Fmaj7(#11).

Triads often make up the upper extensions of more complax chords as in the example below.

If we take the 3rd, b9 and the 13th, respell enharmonically the Ab as a G# we end up with an E triad. In the example below, I’ve used an E triad over the G7 chord.

Here we have only looked at a few possible ideas for improvising with Triads. There are many other possible triads to explore. Your next step would be to look at the chords to one of the songs you are working on and experiment with some of the possible triads contained within the chords. Look especially at chords with lots of extensions and try to see what kinds of Triads each contains.

As always, have fun and be creative with your practice!

Autumn Thieves (Stealing from the melody)

In the words of the great Igor Stravinsky: “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.” As I’m sure you don’t want to be a “lesser artist” but a great artist, we’re going to learn how to steal. What are we stealing?

When it’s your turn to improvise you need a place to start. If you are going to take your solo right after the sax player, you want to take the last idea she or he played and work that into your solo. If you are the first soloist, you’ll be playing right after the head so you want to take your cue from the melody. We are stealing musical ideas, licks, melody, rhythms or whatever we can from whomever is playing before us or even from the melody. It’s always nice when one solo blends into the next and the spirit of one solo is passed on to the next solo.

In this post, we are going to look at how we can use elements of the melody to craft a solo. We will be looking at “Autumn Leaves” as this is a very well known tune. It also has many strong melodic motives which can easily be worked into new ideas. So the idea is to take one of the motivic ideas from the melody and use it as a starting point for your solo.

If you plan on taking more than one chorus of solo, you need to have a plan as to how you will begin your solo, what you will play in the middle and how you will conclude. It’s not the best idea to just play 3 choruses of Bebop lines. You want to have some variety, a sense that you are on a journey and a feeling that your solo is part of the overall structure of the piece. I’ve always felt that you should not just be soloing but rather playing a specific piece of music. Apart from having different chord progressions, what make one tune different from another. Whatever standard you are playing, use ideas from the melody in your solo. Play that piece.

Here is the beginning of the melody to Autumn Leaves.

And since I play jazz I would probably play the melody more like this.

Here is what I played to start my solo. Can you hear how I’ve referenced the melody?

For the entire chorus of the solo, I’ve tried to develop the “borrowed” musical idea. Sometimes it is more obvious than others. This is good. I like to start with something familiar and see where it takes me. Just like in composition, the goal is to use melodic techniques such as the sequence and melodic inversion to name a few, to develop your improvisational ideas.

The solo below would be played as the first chorus of the first soloist. In other words, we are coming out of the head (melody) and so the solo will build on what we hear last and go from there. For a second chorus of solo, I would probably start to play more lines or perhaps play something more rhythmic. Either way, after a chorus of building on ideas from the melody, I think it is time to change direction.

Have a listen to the track below and as always, feel free to use (steal!) what you like.

  • Dave Watts: bass
  • Claude Lavergne: drums
  • Michael Berard: guitar, piano