CHRO­MATIC IM­PRO­VI­SA­TION

Spice up your lead!

Guitar Techniques - - TALK BACK -

John Wheatcroft shows how you can use ‘out­side’ notes to add ex­tra depth, colour and char­ac­ter to your gui­tar so­los.

The word chro­maTic orig­i­nates from the Greek word khrõ­matikos, a deriva­tion of khrõma mean­ing colour. in west­ern mu­si­cal cul­ture, the chro­matic scale is the se­ries of 12 pitches, each a semi­tone apart that en­com­passes all mu­si­cal ‘colours’ and as far as gui­tar is con­cerned, this is a struc­ture that uses each and ev­ery avail­able fret lo­ca­tion with no omis­sions.

The chro­matic scale can be used as a struc­ture in its own right, such as in the atonal se­rial com­po­si­tions of arnold Schoen­berg, or the free im­pro­vi­sa­tions of derek Bai­ley and John Zorn, and it’s im­pos­si­ble to think about the chro­matic scale with­out men­tion­ing Niko­lai rim­skyKor­sakov’s Flight of The Bum­ble­bee. how­ever, for most mu­si­cal ap­pli­ca­tions its ben­e­fi­cial to use the scale se­lec­tively, adding chro­matic dec­o­ra­tion and em­bel­lish­ments to other scales we know, lit­er­ally fill­ing the gaps of our con­ven­tional scalar, modal, Pen­ta­tonic or arpeg­gio based struc­tures to give us greater op­tions and a wider pal­ette of melodic ‘colours’ when com­pos­ing or im­pro­vis­ing melodies, riffs and so­los across all mu­si­cal styles rang­ing from folk to be­bop, coun­try to metal and more be­sides.

The pur­pose of our les­son to­day is to look at 10 dis­tinct ap­proaches we can use to add ‘chro­mati­cism’ to your play­ing style. For the sake of clar­ity i’ve pre­sented all the ex­am­ples in the key of c ma­jor, along with a se­lec­tion of this key’s as­so­ci­ated modes, such as d do­rian, G mixoly­dian and a ae­o­lian. This way, it is im­me­di­ately clear in the mu­sic as to which notes are de­rived from the di­a­tonic tonal­ity (all the nat­u­ral notes) and which are chro­matic vis­i­tors (the sharps or flats). I’ve gone for a mod­er­ately over­driven tone through­out, so this al­ludes to a mod­ern blues and fu­sion stylis­tic vibe, although th­ese ideas can work equally well with a com­pletely clean jazz tone, a twangy coun­try snap or a heav­ily sat­u­rated metal dis­tor­tion. it’s re­ally up to you which way you go.

as is cus­tom­ary with th­ese lessons, we fin­ish with a short co­he­sive study around a heav­ily chro­mat­i­cally em­bel­lished clas­sic rock vibe 12-bar blues, with both riff and solo sec­tions and more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to gui­tar play­ers you might have heard of with names such as clap­ton, hen­drix and Beck.

as usual, th­ese ex­am­ples are lit­er­ally the tip of the ice­berg, so you should see each as just one prac­ti­cal il­lus­tra­tion of a big­ger con­cept at work. To get the most from this les­son i’d sug­gest you ded­i­cate one prac­tice ses­sion on each of the 10 ideas in­de­pen­dently and see what ideas you can come up with, both com­posed and im­pro­vised.

while it’s fair to say that all play­ers have their favourite ideas that they like to fall back on - their ‘licks’ if you pre­fer - the bet­ter im­pro­vis­ers deal pre­dom­i­nantly in con­cepts, trav­el­ling light to any per­for­mance sit­u­a­tion safe in the knowl­edge that they’ll be able to cre­ate some­thing ap­pro­pri­ate on the spot, free from the shack­les of hav­ing to mem­o­rise a whole gig’s worth of ma­te­rial be­fore­hand with all the pres­sure and stress that this car­ries with it. chro­mat­ics can be used as a con­cept in their own right - derek Bai­ley et al - or em­ployed to em­bel­lish what you al­ready do. i hope you en­joy the jour­ney!

Any­body that stud­ies im­pro­vis­ing long enough will even­tu­ally get to the point where they can find a way to get all 12 notes avail­able all the time. Pat Metheny

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