In this issue Shaun Baxter looks at a musical interval that many are tempted to overlook as the basis for soloing inspiration.
Shaun Baxter continues his series with a lesson on using 7th intervals in Mixolydian mode.
Compared to other interval-types, it is relatively rare to see 7ths used as the basis for musical ideas; however, as the fundamental nature of this column is to explore every dark musical recess in order to yield new ideas, I’ve decided to include them here.
Within the modes of the Major scale, each 7th interval will be one of two types: • Minor 7th = 10 semitones
• Major 7th = 11 semitones
To illustrate this, have a look at diagram 1, which represents the notes of D Major (and any of its modes, like A Mixolydian). If you start from any note, and then move in any direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise) to another note that’s six notes away (in other words, with another five scale notes in between), the distance is usually either a major 7th or a minor 7th.
The main reason for their rarity, when compared with other intervals, is that 7ths (like 2nds) can sound somewhat clashing and dissonant. In fact, 7ths are inversions of seconds. For example, if we were to look at the interval (gap or distance) between G and F#: if you go up from G to F#, you get a major 7th; if you go down from G to F#, you get a minor 2nd.
If you hold down an F# note and a G note on adjacent strings and play them as a double-stop, they sound quite jarring and dissonant (a useful effect to have in the musical locker), whereas, if you do the same thing when the same two notes are a major 7th apart, the effect is similar, but nothing like as pungent.
Incidentally, the inversion of a minor 7th interval (a distance of 10 semitones) is a major 2nd (two semitones), as can be observed when one travels up from A to G (minor 7th interval) or down from A to G (major 2nd interval).
Although this recent series has focused mainly on the use of various intervals, we have also been using those concepts to develop mediumpaced lines. Many rock players overlook the mid-paced middle ground that helps to provide balance when improvising; this is due largely to the natural inclination to want to be able to shred (very fast playing) or to access all the ear-catching Steve-Vai-like noises that can be extracted from the electric guitar (therefore lending interest and excitement to slow notes). Generally, medium-paced ideas will be ‘duple’ (multiples of two, such as two, four, eight etc) or ‘triple’ (multiples of three, such as three, six etc) in nature. When soloing over a particular accompaniment (backing track etc), it’s important to assess whether a duple or triple denomination is appropriate for your medium-paced ideas. This depends on both the tempo and feel, but you are usually looking at pitching your approach somewhere on the rhythmic ladder represented in Diagram 2 (note how it alternates between duple and triple time as you scroll, up or down through the various gear ratios).
Generally, for ease of thought, it’s a good idea to keep your repertoire divided into duple and triple ideas. Remember, from Diagram 2, you can always double up each idea (for example, any eighth-note idea can be played twice as fast to create a 16th-note pattern and, similarly, any eighth-note triplet idea can be played twice as fast to create a 16th-note triplet one).
This month, because of the ‘shuffley’nature of the backing track, most of the examples are based upon either quarter-note or eighth-note triplets; however, you should also experiment with ways in which these examples can be adapted to fit, say, a funk track that requires mainly eighth or 16th notes (in other words, groups of four, or duple, instead of three, triple).
When doing this though, it’s worth bearing in mind that, in the same way that it is
if you start from any note then move in any direction to another note five scale tones away, it’s usually a minor or major 7th
possible to use only two notes to create a three-note motif by using the following: • ‘low-low-high’;
• or ‘high-low-high’
Four-note motifs can be created from:
• a single 7th (two notes);
• ‘stacked’ 7ths (two or four notes);
• or two isolated 7ths (four notes). Furthermore, it’s also worth remembering that it is possible to play a motif of any size to either a duple or triple count (for example, a five-note motif to an eighth-note triplet rhythm), although the results may end up being rhythmically displaced if repeated.
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 (which is why the musical examples have been written out in the key of A rather than D).
A B C# D E F# G A Mixolydian – b7 12 3456
A Minor Blues – A C D EG b3 b5 b7
1 4 5
All the 7ths that have been highlighted in each of this lesson’s examples, are taken from A Mixolydian, and each of these sections is flanked by A Minor Blues-orientated ideas. Although various 7th intervals might also be played within surrounding Minor Bluesbased ideas, we are going to ignore them, as they are purely incidental, and not part of the main concept highlighted in each line.
Regarding this month’s backing track, most drummers would write it out in 6/8; however, for ease of reading on guitar, I have stuck to 4/4, viewing the bass drum pattern as a quarter-note triplet rhythm. If your rhythm reading isn’t great; don’t worry about it: just read the tab and use your ears to guide you.
Finally, once you have absorbed the various concepts studied here, 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 example ideas (or your own) simply by replacing any C# notes with C notes, since Dorian mode can be viewed as a minor version of Mixolydian. Have fun!
John Scofield: some of his fusion ideas are 7th based