The­ory God­mother

Guitar Techniques - - QA -

Email your play­ing posers and tech­ni­cal teasers to The­ory God­mother at info@david­ - ev­ery wish is your God­mother’s com­mand!

Sig­na­ture Licks? Dear The­ory God­mother

I won­der if you can help clar­ify some­thing for me? There are 12 notes in the chro­matic scale shar­ing a ma­jor and mi­nor key sig­na­ture for each. But some notes have two names: C# and Db, G# and Ab, etc. So does this mean that there are more than 12 key signatures to learn? I’ve searched the net and browsed a few books, but this point seems to be passed over in most cases.

Jeff This does seem to be an anom­aly and loads of mu­sic stu­dents ex­pect to find only 12 key signatures avail­able un­til they do the maths. In fact, there are 15 key signatures recog­nised by the As­so­ci­ated Board of the Royal Schools of Mu­sic and I’ve laid them out be­low. No sharps/flats: C ma­jor/A mi­nor One sharp: G ma­jor/E mi­nor One flat: F ma­jor/D mi­nor Two sharps: D ma­jor/B mi­nor Two flats: Bb ma­jor/G mi­nor Three sharps: A ma­jor/F#mi­nor Three flats: Eb ma­jor/C mi­nor Four sharps: E ma­jor/C#mi­nor Four flats: Ab ma­jor/F mi­nor Five sharps: B ma­jor/G# mi­nor Five flats: Db ma­jor/Bb mi­nor Six sharps: F# ma­jor/D#mi­nor Six flats: Gb ma­jor/Eb mi­nor Seven sharps: C#ma­jor/A# mi­nor Seven flats: Cb ma­jor/Ab mi­nor They are gov­erned prin­ci­pally by the fact that you can only have a max­i­mum seven sharps or flats in any key sig­na­ture: sharps and flats are never mixed to­gether in key signatures and are worked out by adding one flat or sharp at a time un­til the full com­ple­ment is reached. As such we have what are called ‘en­har­monic equiv­a­lents’; ie key signatures that are ef­fec­tively the same­sound­ing scales fly­ing un­der a dif­fer­ent flag, like Db and C# or F# and Gb.

You’ll find that some crop up more than oth­ers on the gui­tar – E, A, D, G, C and so on – and some only oc­cur oc­ca­sion­ally as few com­posers for the in­stru­ment find them­selves drawn to writ­ing in C# ma­jor or the looney Cb!

Hen­drix à la Mode? Dear The­ory God­mother

I am a big fan of Jimi Hen­drix and have fig­ured out that he uses some modal licks. Could you show me some modal scales so I can solo over back­ing tracks?


Ex 1 Mi­nor pen­ta­tonic + 6th mode Hen­drix was pre­dom­i­nantly a Pen­ta­tonic player and not a modal player as we would de­fine it to­day. So you pos­si­bly wouldn’t achieve the ef­fect you’re af­ter by study­ing the modes of the Ma­jor scale in their stan­dard form. But it is pos­si­ble to add modal el­e­ments to Pen­ta­tonic scales and there are plenty of ex­am­ples of this in the play­ing of gui­tarists from that era. Hen­drix’s pri­mary in­flu­ence was the blues and he learned by lis­ten­ing to some of the prin­ci­pal blues­men from the early part of the 20th cen­tury. How­ever, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion was al­ways key and so it’s no sur­prise that the oc­ca­sional foray into modal­ity would be on the cards.

So let’s look at a cou­ple of ex­am­ples of how the Pen­ta­tonic can be em­bel­lished with modal over­tones. The most ob­vi­ous would be what is known as the ‘Mi­nor pen­ta­tonic + 6th’ (Ex 1). Here, the ma­jor 6th has been added to the regular mi­nor pen­ta­tonic, mim­ick­ing the pres­ence of the ma­jor 6th in the Do­rian mode (Ex 2). This is some­thing that oc­curs in the play­ing of BB King and has gone on to in­spire many other play­ers like Robben Ford, too. Used over a mi­nor chord, it adds a sweet edge to a bluesy solo. An­other mode that Hen­drix would def­i­nitely have found his way into is the Mixoly­dian or dom­i­nant 7th scale (Ex 3)

Ex 4 Nat­u­ral mi­nor and if we en­hance the Pen­ta­tonic with it and add a dash of blues we end up with licks like the one in Ex 4.

A fur­ther ex­am­ple would be the Ae­o­lian, a mode favoured by play­ers such as Jimmy Page and Car­los San­tana to spice up a mi­nor blues (Ex 5). If you ex­per­i­ment with th­ese three modal ad­di­tives to Pen­ta­tonic solo­ing you might find your­self stray­ing into the ter­ri­tory you’re af­ter. But it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that no scale by it­self can in­stantly turn you into a solo­ing su­per­star. You need to sup­ple­ment your modal ex­plo­rations by get­ting hold of some tran­scrip­tions of Hen­drix in full flight – or, bet­ter still, tran­scribe some your­self – so that you can ap­pre­ci­ate the con­text into which th­ese ideas were in­tro­duced.

Jazz Scale Knock­out Dear The­ory God­mother

I re­alise that it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to gen­er­alise but if you re­ally had to choose, which scale would you say is the most preva­lent in jazz? It’s been the topic of dis­cus­sion be­tween some friends re­cently and no one can re­ally of­fer a de­fin­i­tive an­swer, but sta­tis­ti­cally there must be one and I’d be in­ter­ested to hear your take on the ques­tion.

Carl When I was get­ting cu­ri­ous about jazz, I went into Ivor Mairant’s mu­sic store in Lon­don look­ing for a book of jazz scales, hop­ing it might pro­vide me with a data­base from which I could ex­plore the genre. It was Ivor him­self who served me, and he gave me some ad­vice that I’ve re­mem­bered ever since. He told me that there was no such thing as a ‘jazz scale’ be­cause ev­ery scale is neu­tral un­til it’s placed in a con­text that de­fines it.

So if you were to take the nat­u­ral Mi­nor or Ae­o­lian mode and em­ploy it in a jazz solo, only then does it be­come ‘jazz’. Of course you wouldn’t play the scale from bot­tom to top and hope it fits; or play it ran­domly in the hope that some­thing might work. But with the skill that only comes from prac­tice you’d quote from it and turn it into some­thing melodic. Even­tu­ally, with more prac­tice, the choice of notes lives out­side the world of school­room recita­tion and be­comes in­spired and prac­ti­cally sub­con­scious.

How­ever, many mu­si­cians opt to use the Jazz Mi­nor scale (R 2 b3 4 5 6 7). It’s the as­cend­ing ver­sion of the melodic mi­nor scale so the name helps dis­tance it­self from that. You can think of it as a ‘jazzy Nat­u­ral Mi­nor’: try play­ing the A Jazz Mi­nor scale (A B C D E F# G#) over the chords Bm7-E7-Am.

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