Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Harmonic Scales - Hearing chord tones

One of the trickiest aspects of improvising is negotiating chord changes. It's fairly straightforward when all the chords belong to the same key. In that instance one single scale will suffice but rarely does a piece of music stay in one key. Even a basic 12 bar blues uses chords belonging to 3 different keys and most jazz standards will migrate through several tonal centers. 
To be truly harmonically aware one must hear all the way up through a chord. 
A 7th chord comprises of a root, 3rd, 5th and a 7th but whether they're played or not the there's also the 9, 11 and 13 in there as well. This requires you to practice modes/scales in a harmonic fashion or what I term Harmonic Scales

Harmonic Scales
This is where you play up through a scale in 3rds - 1,3,5,7,9,11,13 and back to the octave again. As you're playing every other note in the scale this takes two octaves to complete and spells out the innate tonality of a given mode. I've seen these described as"super arpeggios" by Larry Carlton but I dislike the term and thus describe them as Harmonic Scales because they're exactly that: scales played in a harmonic manner, spelling out the tonality. 

  It would be hard to overstate the importance of getting these under the fingers and more importantly into the ears. Everything that follows in this lesson requires familiarity with them. 

Freedom through Discipline 

This exercise is just one of a group of exercises that I collectively refer to as 'The Disciplines'. Over time I will do videos for all them. Read the summary below and then watch the video. Like all of the disciplines it's very simple conceptually but can be practiced at any level of difficulty.

  • Position yourself on the bottom string anywhere on the neck
  • You will have 4 or 5 notes under your fingers 
  • When you hear the random chord play through the harmonic scale that sounds correct starting on one of the notes that are under your fingers.
  •  Play all the way back to the root passing through the 2 octaves. 
  • When the next chord sounds try and find the nearest note to the one you finished on to begin the harmonic scale descending. It may be the same note of course! 
  • I recommend singing the notes as you play them. 
You can either use the mp3's or better still have a friend play you random chords. 
These need to be either Major 7th, Minor 7th or Dominant 7th. 

To increase the difficulty use a metronome and do it in tempo, add altered chords or have someone fire ping pong balls at you whilst you play.