do you ever look at a great musician and marvel? Does everything seem to come from some spontaneous well? Perhaps naked genius is at work, or they are possessed of the spirit of Sparky’s Magic Piano? I’ve certainly watched a few players and pondered the same thing.
But you know, while genius certainly does happen in music, the reality is often very different. In most cases a degree of learning has to take place before spontaneity can happen. It’s no different to being taught A minor pentatonic - pretty basic in itself - and then playing a cool blues solo using it. The average listener won’t suspect you have a secret code (that little scale and its five fretboard shapes); they’ll assume music is bursting forth from your very soul. Of course, after a while it sort of does; but initially you’re simply putting knowledge gained into practice.
Okay, that’s licks: how about chords? Imagine beefing up the chords you already know, then being able to intuitively use them - even improvise with them - in real life. Does that seem like a holy grail? Well, if you’ve ever watched masters like Joe Pass, Herb Ellis or Ike Isaacs effortlessly moving through a stream of amazing chords that seemingly flow out of nowhere; that’s not quite how it happens. These guys knew the building blocks to chords, the arithmetic behind progressions; they’d learnt the substitutions they could make and what rules to break in order to sound musically ‘free’. A smattering of innate brilliance, a born ear and a healthy dose of dedication surely helped; but the truth is we can all get closer to that holy grail with good old knowledge and, yes, practice. This month Jacob Quistgaard takes a new look at chords in an effort to start you on your path to this goal. While terms like inversions, extensions and substitutions might sound scary, really they’re not. And once you’ve got the bones of Quist’s ideas into your head, you’ll soon be on the road to polyphonic nirvana. If you get discouraged, just think of that little old minor pentatonic scale and the power it can wield.
Have fun, see you next month!