PITCH PERFECTION PT. 4
This issue we will continue to break down the musical concept of pitch. Pitch refers to how high or low a sound is relative to another sound. Pitch can also refer to a succession of single notes called melody, or notes played at the same time in the form of a chord – known as harmony. Crucial to both melody and harmony, is tonality.
Tonality refers to the scale system on which a piece of music is based and the interaction between the melody and harmony. When a composer uses a tonality as a starting point for a composition, they usually have a mood or idea they want to express that is unique to that tonality. It may be a happy piece of music, so the major scale would be an obvious choice. It may be a sad piece of music, so a good starting point might be a minor scale. Some tonalities are unique to particular genres of music. Last issue we looked at the tonality of 12 bar blues, and this issue we will explore some more soloing possibilities over a 12 bar blues.
One approach that will add some colour to your improvisations is to use Dorian mode over a 12 bar blues in place of the minor pentatonic or blues scales. If we are playing a 12 bar blues in the key of A major then we could use the A minor pentatonic or A blues scale to create a blues tonality. The mode of A Dorian (A,B,C,D, E, F#, G) features the same notes as the A minor pentatonic (A,C,D, E, G) but with two more notes. The two extra notes of B and F# fit nicely into the key of A major (A,B, C#, D, E,F# ,G#). Dorian mode is a great way to add some colour without the need to change from the ‘one scale over the entire progression’ soloing approach. Start by playing through the ascending pattern as a scale, then use the notes to improvise your own phrases. Try and keep your phrase lengths to two bars in length and employ the call and response technique from last issue.
A different approach to soloing over a 12 bar blues is to treat each chord as its own entity. This approach is known as ‘playing over the changes’ and is more of a jazz approach to soloing. When combined with the minor pentatonic, blues scale or Dorian mode approach, you have a lot more to draw upon when it comes time to improvise. An easy way to start playing over each chord individually is to combine a dominant 7th arpeggio shape with the minor pentatonic in a call and response approach, or combine both approaches in each two bar phrase. Again, start by playing through the arpeggios as they are written, then improvise your own phrases. Try to combine both the arpeggio notes and the minor pentatonic but keep it simple – sometimes less is more.
We can take the dominant 7th arpeggio approach one step further by playing the Mixolydian mode over each chord change. Mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of the major scale and the mode that fits over a dominant 7th chord. As all three chords in a 12 bar blues are dominant 7th chords we can use Mixolydian over each chord change. For example the blues in A major uses the chords A7, D7 and E7. A Mixolydian mode contains A,B, C#, D,E, F#, G, while D Mixolydian is D,E, F#, G, A, B,C and E Mixolydian contains the notes E, F#, G#, A,B, C# ,D. Common to all three modes are the notes A,B,D,E and F#. When we change from A7 to D7, try resolving the C# to C, when we change from A7 to E7, try bending G to a G#.