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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.