Michael Berard was a part-time music professor for over 25 years at Concordia University in Montreal Canada. There he taught jazz guitar, jazz arranging, jazz composition as well as other jazz related courses. He has worked over the years as a jazz musician playing jazz clubs, concerts and studio sessions. Michael has played on numerous recordings including 3 of his own: "It's Autumn," "Little Voices" and "Good News."
Michael is also the author of "Jazz Guitar Elements," a comprehensive jazz guitar method and "Jazz Reading Elements," a new jazz sight reading book geared towards jazz guitarists.
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.
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.
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.
If we take extract notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 we end up with a major pentatonic.
Now let’s look at the 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…..)
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 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
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)
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.
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!
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.
Improvising over songs that have a lot of chord progressions in minor is always so much fun. The thing I like most about playing tunes with a lot of progressions in minor is that you get to play harmonic and melodic minor scales. Both scales are very colourful. Minor is never dark. Minor is full of the some of the most beautiful musical possibilities available.
In this post, I’d like to look at the “Harmonic Minor” scale. There are a couple of ways one might visualize this scale.
We can visualize the scale as being a natural minor scale with a raised 7th degree.
Another way to visualize harmonic minor is to compare it to the major scale. I like to compare every scale and mode to the major scale. We all know the major scale well so comparing the notes of any mode or scale to the major scale will usually give us a pretty good idea what’s going on. The harmonic minor scale is then a major scale with a flatted 3rd and 6th.
A great standard with lots of minor progressions is “Alone Together.” In this post, I have included a solo over the chord changes to Alone Together and so to make our examples relevant, we will look at harmonic minor scales in D as the song is in D minor.
D Harmonic Minor Scale
Obviously it is possible to play the D harmonic minor scale over a Dm chord but that is not the most interesting and colourful way to use the scale. D harmonic minor is most often played over the IIm7(b5) – V7(b9) chords or the “minor two-five.”
Let’s look at D harmonic minor from E to E. If we look at the R, 3rd, 5th and 7th of the scale, and compare these notes to the chord tones of the IIm7(b5) chord, we see we have all the notes we need.
Now let’s spell our D harmonic minor scale from A to A for the V7 chord. I’ve used “alt” for a very specific reason. We’ll see why in a minute. First, look at the R, 3rd, 5th and 7th of the scale to make sure we have all the notes we need to spell our A7 chord. We have A, C# E and G notes so we are good.
At the beginning of the post I mentioned that harmonic minor was a colourful scale. If we look at the passing tones between our chord tones we see some very interesting notes. We have a b9, sus4 and a b13. The reason one would notate a 7th chord with the “alt” extension is to give the player the flexibility to chose the extensions she or he wants to play in their chord voicings. You can play a simple A7(b9) or an A7(b13) or some combination of b9 and sus4 or any other combination of the 3 possible extensions.
In terms of soloing, harmonic minor is going to allow you to play all of those beautiful passing tones over the dominant chords.
As always, (and this is quickly becoming my way of demonstrating the sound of whatever is being discussed) I’ve included a written solo over the chords to “Alone Together.” I’ve used harmonic minor as often as possible over IIm7(b5) and V7.
Listen to the recording, check out the lines I’ve played and feel free to use as much of it as you like in your own solos.
Seventh scales (7th Scales) are basically descending mixolydian modes with added notes. The most common way of playing a 7th scales is to add the major 7th between the root and the flatted 7th scale degrees.
Adding this one notes gives you an 8 note scale which is important because it allows you, in this case, to start and end on the same note. This of course assumes you are playing 8th notes in a Bebop style.
As an example, let’s say we are playing a “C” 7th scale over a C7 chord and we are resolving to Fmaj7. If we are playing 8th notes and starting on the first beat of the bar we will end on the same note we start on. We start on a “C” note which means we will also end on a “C.” This is important because it allows us to end on the 5th of the Fmaj7 chord.
Now of course this is not all there is to 7th scales. It is possible to start on any note of the scale. Depending on which note we start on, chromatic notes are added in a way which ensures you will resolve nicely to your next chord. I will not go into every example in this post but will stick to just 2 examples for now. The first will be as described above and the second is as follows: Starting on the 3rd of the chord we will add chromatic notes between the 3rd and 2nd degrees, between the 2nd degree and the root of the chord and between the root of the chord and the flatted 7th degree. More information is also available in my book “Jazz Guitar Elements.”
A “C” 7th Scale (C Mixolydian with added note) is played over a C7 chord.
Next, let’s look at how we can use 7th scales over Half-Diminished chords. The first thing you should do is look at my post on “Chord Substitution.” In this post, we saw how a G9 chord with no root is the same as a Bm7(b5). If these 2 chords are in fact the same, then it stands to reason we can play a “G” 7th scale over a Bm7(b5) chord.
Here is an example of a “G” 7th scale used over a Bm7(b5) chord in a II – V – I chord progression in A minor.
Next let’s look at a standard. Below is a solo on the chord changes to “Stella By Starlight.” I’ve used 7th scales over some of the Dom7 and m7(b5) chords. At times I’ve used the entire scale and sometimes just fragments of the scale. (As in the first couple of notes only) Take a look and listen at how I’ve used 7th scales on both chord types. (Audio track is at the bottom of the post)