The diminished 7th chord is one of those chords that seems to give many of us fits when improvising. One of the problems is that the diminished chord is built symmetrically. This can lead to a very mechanical, pattern-oriented line that is more of a lick than a melodic phrase.
One way I find to be an effective approach in improvising or writing over a diminished 7th chord is to think of its' extensions. I've been writing about extensions over the other 7th chord types, which you can view here.
But the diminished 7th chord is a little different from the other types because of the symmetrical build. So, for this chord, I like to think of the 9th, 11th, b13th, and the natural 7th as an extension. You wouldn't normally include the natural 7th as an extension, but for a diminished 7th chord, it functions like one to my ear.
In the excerpt below, I've written out four different examples of how to build the extensions into a diminished 7th chord. The trick is to use a dominant 7th arpeggio a half-step below the root of the diminished 7th chord you're playing.
For an Adim7 chord, the first line below shows the combination of an Adim7 arpeggio with an Ab7 arpeggio. The result puts emphasis on the natural 7th (G#/Ab) of the Adim7 chord. Lines two, three, and four then follow the same logic; the Adim7 chord is now shown from the inversions. As you'll see after working through what's below, you get four different dominant 7th chords from which to choose notes. Each of the dominant 7th chords (Ab7, B7, D7, and F7) are also built a minor 3rd apart, like the diminished 7th chord.
As each dominant 7th arpeggio is applied, another extension of the chord is emphasized. You can see in the diagram which extension is being featured with the corresponding number above the second part of the arpeggio.
As with pretty much everything I write about here, give yourself some time to let your ears wrap around these different sounds. The idea is to have these different options as a melodic choice when you play or write.
If you have other ideas about this concept, let me know about it! Share your ideas below!
In the last issue of Guitar Notes, I walked you through a way of using triads to build an arpeggio that uses all the extensions of the chord. Specifically, it was on an FMaj7 chord.
This time, we will look at the Extended Arpeggio idea from another angle: the combination of three different triads.
In the example below, I've given you four of the five types of seventh chords to use with the Extended Arpeggio idea. The four given chord types, Major 7th, Minor 7th, Dominant 7th, and Half-diminished 7th are built with three different triads. (The fifth chord type, Diminished 7th, is not included here because when stacked tertially (in thirds) it inverts itself with the same notes throughout. There are other ways to tackle the Diminished 7th chord, which I will cover another time.)
You'll notice that the arpeggios themselves are stacked tertially. In breaking the combination of notes down to triads, an interesting pattern emerges. The arpeggio ascends through the chord tones (1, 3, 5, 7) and extensions (9, 11 or #11, 13). At the same time, you can see that the triads descend down the the particular scale you're playing; i.e. F down to E down to D etc.
So, what to make of all of this? Well, first off it gives a big picture of sound that fits over each chord type using all of the extensions. Secondly, there is a smaller picture of sound that you get from seeing/hearing the three different triads combining to make one sound. You can use these smaller parts (the differing triads) to play over a specific chord type to accentuate a particular color of sound. For instance, if I play only the Emin triad over the FMaj7 chord, it really brings out the colorful notes of the chord.
One last idea you can use with this combination of triads is that each triad is the basis for a pentatonic scale used over that chord. So, you could play an Eb Major triad over an F7 chord and really bring out the sustained 4th sound. Incidentally, if you're wondering how to play a diminished pentatonic scale, try this: 1, b3, 4, b5, b7. In the Fmin7 chord above, you find a D diminished triad. The pentatonic scale for that would then be the notes D, F, G, Ab, C.
Take some time and experiment with each different sound.
If you have other ideas about this concept, let me know about it! Share your ideas below!
This tip deals with expanding your usage of colors through combinations of triads. I've taken an FMaj7 chord below and broken it into seven different triads. Each of those triads is built upon a chord tone of the FMaj7, including the extensions of the 9th, #11th, and 13th.
Any one of these triads sounds great over an FMaj7 chord. One exercise I like to do is to isolate one of these triads over the FMaj7 chord and explore the sound-colors it produces. That way I get my ear used to hearing each color so I can get it into my improvisations faster. Combinations of triads also work well. For example, the FMaj and GMaj triads really bring the Lydian sound out of the FMaj7 chord.
The next step in this color exploration project is to stack the triads as a continuous arpeggio. What you see below here is an FMaj7 stacked with all of the extensions. Just continue up the arpeggio in 3rds (major and minor) until you've played through them all.
I've written these stacked 3rds arpeggios on each scale degree. Please note that because I'm using the #11 (B-natural) in this key, I'm super-imposing the key of C for my FMaj7 sound.
There are some really great angles on harmony in studying this FMaj7 chord in this way. The idea is to open your ears to new harmonic pathways around the instrument (bearing in mind that the instrument is not only your physical instrument, but your mental one as well!).
Can you think of any other applications for these stacked harmonies? Share your ideas below!
by Scott Hesse
One of the things my students most often ask is how to use different substituted sounds over various chords. In particular, they ask how to make the Major 7th chord more interesting. For all of the other 7th chords, it's not too difficult to find extended, altered, and subbed harmonies that make them sound more interesting. Why should it be different for the Major 7th?
The answer is, it really isn't that difficult.
Apart from the 9th, #11th, and 13th extensions (which I love), I find a lot of material from the Harmonic Minor scale. More specifically, from the 6th mode of the scale which is also known as the Lydian #2 scale.
Below, I've written the Lydian #2 scale in two octaves. The fingering is a suggested one that works well for the way I play. If it works for you, great. If not, there are other fingerings you can explore.
Here, I've broken the chord tones (1, 3, 5, and 7) apart from the scale and added tertial harmony so you can get a bigger harmonic picture of this superimposed sound. What it boils down to is that the G#, or #2 of the scale, becomes an integral melodic choice. At first, this might seem like an odd choice for a subbed harmony on a Major 7th chord. After all, you have the #2 pitted against the Major 3rd of the chord. But you can learn to use this to great effect.
In this last part, I've taken each of the above harmonies and broken them down as arpeggios. All of these different chords you see (the A-(Maj7), CMaj7#5, and E7) work very well over the FMaj7 chord. The arpeggiated line below just outlines these different sounds so you can get your ear used to this sonority.
Learning how to expand your harmonic/melodic choices starts with first getting these different choices in your ear. Like the title of my upcoming workshop says, "You'll play it when you hear it."
If you have any questions about harmonies, improvisation, or anything else music-related, feel free to comment below-- or bring them to the workshop!
by Scott Hesse
Often times simplicity is best in music, as in life. So I thought for this week's tip, I'd go back to something fairly simple...then expand it. After all, I do like some complexity mixed in too!
This exercise is designed to help make your playing more colorful by utilizing the extensions of a chord (9, 11, and 13). In doing so, you will hear immediate results as you add this on top of what you already know how to play.
What you see below, in Example #1, are seven different groups of notes that can be played over an F7 chord. They are arranged in four-note cells and ascend diatonically. The cells themselves are also put together positionally on the guitar. For example, Group 1 starts in first position and includes four notes you can play from the mixolydian scale on the B and high-E strings. The rest of the groups follow the same basic intervallic pattern as they ascend by position and through the scale.
Each group is played only on the B and E-strings. When you play all the groups in succession, the result is a colorful and modern way to approach this particular chord.
Remember, too, that these notes that work over an F7 chord will also work well over Am7(b5), Cm7, and EbMaj7(#11).
So, the main idea is to stay simple here. Use only the top two strings of the guitar. I find that these little cells are great to use as foundation melodies when improvising. As you progress up the neck, each cell includes at least one extended chord tone. You have the choice to use the entire exercise as a larger melodic sequence by moving from position to position, or you can isolate one or two of the cells. It's up to you to use as much or as little of the cells as you like.
by Scott Hesse
The process of training your ear for harmony is ongoing. Sometimes in order to hear more, you have to practice an idea from every angle.
That's the idea with the progression below. It's based on a minor 2nd chord cycle, but a little different than the one we looked at before. This time the cycle doesn't include the V-I relationship and just ascends chromatically. The twist in how this is accomplished, however, is the voice leading.
The chord voicings actually start very high on the fretboard and descend in range. At the same time, the key centers actually ascend chromatically. This gives a bit of implied counter point to the progression.
Moving the harmonies in this fashion can be difficult because they seem to progress against your ear's expectation. That's a good reason to practice this: it will train you to hear differently, or in a more expanded way.
When you improvise or compose, your ability to hear from any direction allows you to be freer with your expression. The exercise above is just one of many ways to break down this or any other chord progression. Experiment as much as possible and find ways that catch your ear. Remember, any of these chord cycles can be used as substitutes for other standard changes.
If you have questions or comments, please post below.
by Scott Hesse
The last few Guitar Notes have dealt with the subject of chord cycles. This study of cycles has always fascinated me because there are so many different ways harmonically to get from one point to another.
The crux of most music is made by a tonic chord moving to its tension chord (usually a dominant chord), and back again. Even when harmony is static, oftentimes the melodic portion of music will imply the same I-V-I relationship within the line. With melody in mind, I've used another chord cycle below to show how I might approach this tension/resolution (V-I) idea linearly.
The Minor 3rd Chord Cycle is one of my favorites because of its beautiful and unexpected harmonic twists and turns. In practicing this progression, I would first repeat just the chords over and over. Try to place them in as many positions on the guitar as possible. Finding the chords all over the neck gives me different positions where I know I can find all the chord tones. It expands my reach both visually and aurally.
The melodic line is fairly simple. I didn't really deviate from the actual harmonies much more than adding a little chromaticism here and there. You can also see that I keep the majority of the line on the D and G strings. The positional moves on the fret board go with how the chords are moving. It's all about the connection between melody and harmony.
Another way to use this progression both melodically and harmonically is to substitute, or superimpose, this progression over another. For instance, if you were playing on a more standard chord progression like |Cmaj7 | A7 | Dm7 | G7 |, the Minor 3rd cycle works. Use the progression above in place of the standard harmonies. This superimposition of harmonies is done frequently by improvisers. It's a good way to get this tension/resolution into your playing in an organized way.
Experiment with this idea as much as possible. It will open your playing in many ways while allowing you to evolve your harmonic/melodic approach.
Feel free to post any questions or comments below.
by Scott Hesse
This is the second installment in a series of tips on Chord Cycles. The first one dealt with a melodic voice-led approach to the harmonies. This time, I want to take a bit of a different approach.
First of all, I'm using a Major 2nd Chord Cycle below. What that means is that the tonic keys (the Major 7th chords in this case) are all separated by the interval of a Major 2nd. I connect each tonic key center by preceding it with a dominant chord. To color the dominant chords up a bit, I use the extension of a ninth.
Also, note that the way I put the exercise together is very uniform. The arpeggio pattern is the same through every key center and ends when you return to the CMaj7 again. More uniformity exists in the fingering pattern as well. A look at the tablature notation reveals the same finger pattern throughout.
The Major 2nd Chord Cycle:
Again the idea behind this exercise is to train yourself to hear different possibilities for harmonic cadence. You also need to be able to sight the various chord tones on the neck in different ways. This particular cycle (when broken in to segments) happens in lots of tunes as a I-vi (VI)-ii (or II) progression.
Even though I have this exercise set up as I do, there are many, many ways to take this apart and reconfigure with different sequences. I really don't mean for this to be about technique, but more about sound exploration. Use your ears to suggest other ways of hearing this chord cycle. A great way to start yourself toward that end is to write a piece of music based on the chord cycle. It could be the whole cycle, or just pieces of it.
As always, take your time to find your own way through it.
By Scott Hesse
If you want to learn to improvise better in any style, you must understand how harmonies move. Over the course of the next two or three tips, I'm going to cover several different chord cycles. The aim is to help you internalize certain root movements in order to get more inside a given harmonic sequence. Once you're comfortable with certain tendencies of root movement, you can be free to reinvent the harmonies in different ways while improvising.
The basic chord movement for almost any song is I-V-I. It is tension and resolution in its simplest form. What I've done in the example below is taken a series of 'I' chords that move to 'V' chords of the next key. The resolution chords ('I' chords) move up in minor second intervals and are preceded by their 'V' chord. This chord cycle is therefore known as the minor 2nd chord cycle.
Seeing the root movement is important, but hearing the relationship is even more so. In order to really hear through the chord changes, I've written a particular harmonic/melodic pattern to use over the root movements. The pattern is the same throughout the key changes but modulates as the key centers move.
I put the pattern on the top two strings, but this could be done on the G/B string set or the D/G string set as well. Be aware that if you start the pattern on the D/G string set that you may run out of room on your fretboard to complete the exercise.
The Minor 2nd Chord Cycle:
Once you get the basic harmonic/melodic pattern down, you might want to attempt the chord changes in a variety of places throughout the fret board. You can also use the chord progression itself as a template for playing the particular arpeggios. See if you can find this chord cycle in any tunes you're listening to now, or might know from the past.
Next time, we'll look at the Major 2nd chord cycle.
By Scott Hesse
Ok, for this last installment on intervallic picking exercises, we're going to really get in to it. The other three tips dealt with the exercise in its base form which is great as it is. Now I want to add even more application to this exercise.
What I've written below is, sequentially, the intervallic picking exercise. Remember that I'm using three consecutive notes of the same interval. So you have three (ascending and descending) m2s in a row followed by three M2s followed by three m3s and so on. This next evolution adds another layer of notes to the existing pattern.
In the first measure where you see m2s, I've taken the original three ascending minor m2nd intervals (C, C#, and D) and used them as starting points for a particular pattern. In this case, I use the interval of an ascending m2nd. I assign each of my original starting notes an ascending m2nd to come up with the new pattern you see in the first measure.
Each of the ever-expanding interval choices is treated the same way resulting in one big pattern.
This pattern can be broken into much smaller pieces for further study. I highly recommend it, as a matter of fact. Make sure to keep in mind that each one of these pattern-sets can be fit over a certain harmony.
For example, if I isolate the m6 set I get this note sequence: C, C#, Ab, A, E, F. As it is sequentially, it would sound great over a C13(b9), and FMaj7(#5), Dmin(Maj7), DbMaj7(#5), AMaj7(#5), Bm9(b5), etc. You can also tell this set is the inversion of the M3rd set. It's just a different way to approach it with bigger leaps. If you want to get those kinds of interval sounds in to your playing, you have to work on them. You have to hear them.
Use this exercise to train yourself to hear what you want to hear.