Modal Soloing

Modal

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

Reading Exercise 28

When it comes to sight reading, it’s important to treat the music you are reading like any other piece of music. In fact, I will also add that it is important to try and read real music and not just from books that are “designed for reading.” “Jazz Reading Elements” is a collection of songs for reading and as you will see in this post, it is also a collection of songs for playing, soloing over and plain old playing jazz.

So when I say read and treat it like any other piece of music, I mean, play the melody with expression, feeling and dynamics, solo over the changes and comp the chords. The best way to do all of this would be to gather a bunch of musician friends together, like in the olden days, and everyone sight reads and solos over the music together.

To give you an idea, I’ve taken one of the reading exercises from my book, “Reading Exercise 28” and put together a recording which illustrates just this. Now unfortunately I didn’t hire all my favorite jazz session players but rather just played everything myself. In todays world this has become an easy enough thing to do. (And I’m a bit of a recording gear nut)

*Update April 28, had the great Dave Watts in the studio today and he added some beautiful double bass. Track has been updated. Thank you Dave!

So here we have the lead sheet for “Reading Exercise 28” from my book “Jazz Reading Elements” along with a transcription of the solo I recorded. The solo is in fact improvised so as with all improvisations, there will be playing that’s behind the beat and 8th notes that seem to have a tempo of their own. The transcription should be seen as a rounding out of all of the imperfections (or musical jewels) and not an exact transcription. To listen to the track, just scroll to the bottom of the page. I’ve also added an 8 bar intro to get you into the piece. Also please note that the classical guitar and piano are not playing the comping rhythm in part 2. Enjoy and feel free to add comments, etc…

 

Melody

 

Continue reading “Reading Exercise 28”

Sight Reading

Sight Reading is probably one of the most important and also most overlooked skills that jazz guitar players need to consider. Think about regular “reading” for a moment and try to imagine the enormous amount of reading we do on a daily basis. We read our emails, Facebook page, Twitter, News Feed and on and on. We read all day!

With all this reading we do on a daily basis, we are taking in vast amounts of information. Reading is like a magic portal to information which stimulates our brains and enhances our lives.

Now try to image if you replaced all of that “regular” reading  with music reading. Imagine instead that you are now reading tunes, solos, licks, chord changes, songs your friends send you, music you need to learn for a gig and even music you are composing and on and on. What might that be like?

Now instead of taking in vast amounts of information on your Facebook friends’ activities or the latest in crazy political happening in the news, you are absorbing music and sounds from a piece of manuscript paper. Just like with text, reading music is like a magic portal into a vast universe of sound and musical adventures.

So what do you do? Just read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Read the Fakebook, read chord changes, solos, exercises, classical music, jazz music, pop music, Big Band music, anything and everything.

Of course there are all sorts of great books which focus on reading. I always liked “Rhythms Complete” by Charles Collins and “Advanced Rhythms” by Joe Allard. These two books are a great place to get a good start on reading jazz. If you search for sight reading books you will find many other great books as well. If you have friends who play music, borrow their books. This is especially a good idea if your friends play violin or flute. Both of those instruments have ranges which extend into the higher registers. Great practice to read all those ledger lines.

As guitar players we need to focus on reading three important types of music. There are three skills or three areas we must look at. The first is just plain old reading of single note music. This would be what a trumpet or sax player reads. (Melodies) The second type of music we need to read is chord changes. We need to be able to read the chord changes in time, know what types of extensions to add and improvise interesting jazz rhythms to these chord changes as well. The third type of reading jazz guitar players need to focus on is reading polyphonic music. (full chords) Think of Joe Pass chord solos, classical guitar music and so on. Piano players learn to read anywhere from two to eight notes at a time using both hands. We need to learn to read more than one note at a time as well.

As I mentioned already, read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Have sheet music around. Place a pile of books on your music stand or on your desk. Make your practice environment a minefield of music books, charts and manuscript paper. Jump in and read, read, read.

What do you think? Share your music reading experiences with us. What are some other great books for learning to sight read?

I am currently working on a Jazz Guitar Sight Reading Book. I’m putting together a collection of around 40 reading exercises. Each piece will focus on a particular reading element. The exercises will progress from easy to more difficult. I feel there are not enough books which reflect some of the more modern sounds in jazz so I’ve made that the focus of my new book. I’m very excited about this new book and hope to have it available soon.

Happy sight reading!