Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Have you heard?

Jazz. You know you want it. I know I want it. How do we get it? The best advice I can give is this: Don't think purely in terms of scales. Scales are good to know, and they're really important, but that's not all there is to playing jazz (or any kind of music!)

Your first port of call should be understanding chord progressions and working your way through changes. If you really understand how to construct chords and how they relate to each other, everything starts to fall into place a lot quicker. If you're not already familiar with your basic 4-note chords, and all the embellishments, now would be the best time to get those basics down.

In terms of scales, if you understand the chords you're playing over you can get more creative. Here are some examples.

Let's say you encounter a CMaj7 chord. What can you play over that, scale wise? Let's look at the notes. C E G B. Root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th. The first and most obvious choice is to play a C Ionian scale over that (C D E F G A B). Depending on the context, you might experiment with a C Lydian (C D E F# G A B). If you lingered on the F#, you'd emphasise the #4 interval, which may or not be interesting and appropriate. You could also approach it think in terms of arpeggios. Again, the most obvious choice would be a CMaj7 arpeggio. But then, if you did an Em7 arpeggio (E G B D), you've got 3 notes of CMaj7 (E G B) but you've also got the D, which is a 9th. You might also try Am7 (A C E G). Again we see 3 notes from CMaj7 (C E G) but you also have the 6th, again, perhaps an interesting sound. At the moment we're sticking to diatonic stuff, a very "inside", comfortable sound. You can do all sorts of stuff and sound "outside" which can be very hip and cool as well, and we haven’t even looked at chromatic/approach tones, and tension and resolution!

The one thing that I find really differentiates jazz from say rock/shred is that you really want a cool motif, or melodic statement. If you play with enough conviction you could even make the whole band sound "wrong" and make yourself sound "right", although that's probably not what you're going for.

I found that the best way to learn jazz is to actually combine the theoretical with the practical. Sure you can have a bunch of scales that you might use, or a bunch of arpeggios, but it's always how it sounds in context that makes it sound good or bad. Take a bunch of jazz standards and play through the changes first, until you're familiar with how it sounds. The try experimenting with it, reharmonizing some chords. You might find some things that aren't just "take this scale and play it here" that you find sound really cool. Also, listen and cop ideas from great players. Pat Martino, for example, has a way of converting everything to minor, and then playing a minor type idea over the changes. Joe Pass likes to look at a chord and figure out what he can do with in the position he plays the chord in. The possibilities are limitless, and you can certainly take these ideas and make them your own and find your own sound.

To answer your question directly though, the Ionion, Dorian, Melodic minor, Mixolydian, Aeolian and harmonic minor are all very common scales you can use. Don't forget that you can substitute dominant chords for almost any chords. If this is a minor chord, typically you add a major third. If this is a major chord, typically you add a minor third. For example, if you were playing a iii chord, say Em7, you could make that E7. That would change from a Phyrigian scale (E F G A B C D) to what is called a Phyrigian major, or a double Phrygian (E F G# A B C D) which is the 5th mode of the harmonic minor.

The applications of these concepts are near limitless. That, I think, is the appeal of jazz. You can make it up as you go along, because there are an infinite number of combinations that you can choose from. There's a lot of theory that can be used to explain how all these concepts work and how to use them. As Victor Wooten would say, music is a language. You learn all the grammar and the rules, but when the time comes to play, you don't think "Subject verb object", you just shut up and play. Some people develop this understanding intuitively, particularly those who started at a very young age. For others, like myself, it's a long uphill battle of learning and analyzing. I must admit though, that's half the fun in itself!

PS: Almost everything I know about Jazz I've learnt, in some way, shape or form, from Rick Smith. He's a fantastic jazz guitarist who plays at Harry's Boat Quay almost every night. If you want to check out some great live jazz, just head down to Harry's and watch the band. You could probably have a few quick words with him inbetween sets if he's got some time, he's approachable and friendly!

1 comment:

Karlie said...

I totally agree with your post (:
thumbs up! haha