Continuing his efforts to make you look differently at scales Shaun Baxter shows how playing every other note can lead to ear-catching results.
In this current series, we’re looking at ways of using various intervals to create a variety of medium-paced ideas to expand your Mixolydian vocabulary. Last issue we looked at the smallest intervals (minor and major 2nds) so today we take the next logical step by looking at major and minor 3rds.
Intervals are a great way of developing approaches that have distinct flavours. Each interval-type has its own innate character, and this is something that we can use to our advantage in order to control the musical
complexion of what we do when improvising.
Compared to other intervals, 3rds (like their inversion, 6ths) sound soft, sweet, melodic and form the basis of Western harmony (tertiary harmony). Technically speaking, 3rds come in two types: minor 3rd = three semitones (one-and-a-half tones), and major 3rd = four semitones (two tones).
Within the modes of the Major scale, a 3rd describes the distance between two notes separated by only one other scale note. For example, if you look at Diagram 1, A Mixolydian (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G) is presented in a circle . If you jump over every other note (A-C#, B-D, C#-E etc) you’ll see how each note is either three semitones (minor 3rd) or four semitones (major 3rd) apart. You can move either clockwise or anticlockwise. For example, if you start at C#, you can either jump forward two scale notes to E (minor 3rd), or back two scale notes to A (major 3rd).
So, to play 3rds within the scale, you simply play every other note. You can play one 3rd from a given note (A-C#), two 3rds (A-C#-E), three (A-C#-E-G) or more.
Diagram 2 shows what harmonic entities are created by playing consecutive 3rds in A Mixolydian. Having said that, applying 3rd intervals when improvising needn’t be that complicated: it really is just a case of playing every other note within the scale.
In terms of experimentation, triads and arpeggios can be played: descending, ascending, alternating between descending and ascending or alternating between ascending and descending. Use your creativity!
Furthermore, you can work your way forwards or backwards through this list of available triads or arpeggios. For example, you could play descending triads down through the scale (C#dim-Bm-A etc) or up through the scale (C#dim-D-Em etc). You should also practise shifting ideas up and down the length of the neck (lateral motion), as well as
staying in the same area (vertical motion).
During this series, the object is to build up a variety of interval-based approaches over the same dominant backing track using A Mixolydian in conjunction with the A Minor Blues scale (and why the examples have been written out in the key of A rather than D).
BA C# D E F# G A Mixolydian – b7 123456
CA D Eb E G
A Minor Blues – b3 b5 b7 1 4 5
All of the 3rds that have been highlighted in each of this lesson’s demo examples, are all taken from A Mixolydian, and each of these sections is flanked by A Minor Blues-orientated ideas. Note that, although various 3rds might also be played within surrounding Minor Blues-based ideas, we are going to ignore them, as they are purely incidental, and not part of the main concept in each line.
Regarding this month’s backing track, most drummers would write out the drum part in 6/8; however, for ease of reading on guitar, I have stuck to 4/4, viewing the bass drum pattern as quarter-note triplets. If your rhythm reading isn’t great, don’t worry about it: just read the tab and use your ears.
Finally, once you have absorbed these concepts, you should also aim to apply the same principles to the other scales that you know in order to develop useful repertoire that you can draw upon when improvising. For example, you can also produce A Dorian equivalents for each of the GT examples ideas (or your own) simply by replacing any C# notes with C notes. Good luck!
in the major-scale modes a 3rd describes the distance between two notes separated by one other scale note