Hello my good friends, I'm back with another article for you after a long break from instructional material. This time we're going to be looking at something I spent some time working on with my good friend Martin Miller - this one's for you mate, and to many more years of your shared wisdom.
In this instalment of Bop 'n' Roll we're going to look a little deeper into one of bebop's defining characteristics then talk about how we can apply it to your own playing. This will work in rock, pop, fusion and blues, so dont just think these articles are restricting you to jazz.
It's important to understand that bop didn't come along and invent new progressions, in fact bop was born out of the youth of the day wanting to do their own thing and leave out all the old cats. One of the most important progressions in bebop is the changes on Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm". Players like Parker spent hours practising soloing over these changes and experimenting with all manner of chord substitutions and additions to the standard tune of the day. They ended up writing a whole host of "new tunes" that were actually just new melodies over those same old chords - it gave them a vehicle to apply all of their woodsheding tune after tune.
It's important to remember that we still haven't reached modal jazz yet, so these players are definitely thinking more in terms of chord to arpeggio relationship instead of relying on scales for their lines. Charlie Parker never really explained his improvisation technique in any detail, but he did talk about how in a moment of inspiration he realized that he could create refreshing sounds by playing off the upper extensions (9th 11th and 13th) of chords.
we're certainly not able to go into a great degree of detail here, but hopefully you are aware of the defining sound created when playing chord V followed by chord I (in C that's G7 to Cmaj) This is the most important chord movement in western music. I like to reference the Leonard Cohen (or Jeff Buckley) song "Hallelujah" here "I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord [...] it goes like this, the 4th the 5th, the minor fall and the major lift". In short, the dominant 7th chord contains a b5 interval (3rd to b7th) which creates tension when resolved to the I chord the minor (7) falls (to the 3rd of chord I) and the major (3) lifts (to the root of chord I). Tension and resolution.
Bop players took this to it's extreme by adding some SERIOUS tensions to that V chord to make that resolution to chord I even sweeter. It's not uncommon to alter the 5th (b5th, #5th) add an altered 9th (b9th, #9th) add a #11 or even a b13. Now crazy chord symbols like Bb7#5#9 should make a little more sense. You should even be able to decipher a Bb7b5b9#9b13 - though don't expect to be able to play it on guitar! Alterations on a V chord are often left to the player's taste, so sometimes you'll just see Bb7alt.
We're going to kick our improvising off by taking a look at the half whole diminished scale. This is a synthetic scale consisting of semitone, tone, semitone, tone etc.
In Bb that would be - Bb Cb C# D E F G Ab Bb, giving us an interval structure of R,b2,#2,3,#4,5,6,b7,R.
As indicated, This scale fits neatly over a Bb13b9
This scale has been written in "position 1" (fitting over our chord derived from the E shape) but the scale shape can be shifted up 3 frets to form an identical scale - this should be looked into, remembering that when you do so you should be able to see it in relation to a new Bb7 chord.
We're going to start by applying this scale to the blues in Bb. If we play a blues in Bb we move to the 4 chord (Eb7) in bar 5. We're going to use the Bb diminished scale in bar 4 to to create a V7 - I7 in Eb (Bb13b9 - Eb7). This is a common device used in the playing of guys like Robben Ford. It's a nice way to sound a little bit jazz when playing over a blues and is the perfect introduction to playing over changes,
Here the lick is up to speed, I just carried on playing and there's another cool diminished idea as the audio fades out
Here's a full speed backing for you try that on
Now for the lick slow, your goal is to really be comfortable playing these ideas starting anywhere. As I mentioned previously, this scale repeats every three frets, so you could play it higher or lower. My diminished run starts on beat 2 of bar 2, on the 13th. I could also start this lick on the Root, the #9 or the b5.
Lastly we have a slow backing for you to try this with
As always, you should use this as a springboard for your own experimentation. There are plenty of great books on the subject, my personal recommendation being Don Mock's excellent effort Symmetrical Scales Revealed.
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And keep your eyes open for a full instructional soon.