In this blog I'm going to lay out an overarching/holistic approach to putting the puzzle that is music together! Excelling at music requires you to synthesize all of the composite aspects of playing together to create your unique self on your instrument. I'll lay out and briefly describe what I consider are the 12 most salient areas of musicality. In the broadest sense, music consists of 4 main parts: rhythm, harmony, melody and tone/timbre. This blog will go much deeper in exploring those fundamentals...
1. Ear training: absolutely essential for musicians - the better your ear, the easier it will be to figure out songs, solos etc. and compose your own music. Suggestion: sing the notes you're playing in real time, this will help a lot, will get you synced with your instrument and is fun!
2. Rhythm: the best players also have the best rhythm, whether it's in their background chording, soloing or melodies. Rhythm is so important that I think it's fair to say that without it, there is no music! Suggestion: play with metronome/drum beats often.
3. Endurance: an often overlooked aspect of playing an instrument, that is, until you get in a band and realize you can't come close to keeping up! Suggestion: play along with songs/jam tracks for the ENTIRE duration of the piece! (this is also a great warm-up exercise)
4. Strength: closely associated with endurance in that, as one goes up the other, to varying degrees, the other rides it's coat-tails. Suggestion: on guitar, play lots of barre chords and on bass, play chords.
5. Pure Improvisation: by this, I mean soloing over a progression that has no pre-planning whatsoever. You put on a jam track/etc. and just play. Like a great conversationalist, who knows that they call speak in an interesting and meaningful way in any situation, great soloists get to that point by studying their craft in myriad ways. Suggestion: Put a jam track on and solo over the entire form in a static position then on the next round through the progression move up to the next position and repeat...
6. Compose solos: This is something almost all of the greats often do, whether it's Brian May, David Gilmour or Alex Lifeson. When you compose a solo, you work on it piece by piece, editing, changing and rearranging as you go. This will help your pure improvisation too! Suggestion: try and add many different techniques while composing solos and also try and get creative with the rhythm.
7. Copy solos: Learning solos "note for note" is very good ear training and will also give you an indirect route into crucial music theory as used by the greats! Additionally, it's extremely fun when you can really lock-in and play along with a solo in perfect unison. Suggestion: start with simpler solos and really try and recreate all the nuances.
8. Copy guitar/bass parts: many musicians focus on learning the chord structures and solos of songs while ignoring the interior parts of the songs. This is also great ear training and can be very difficult because it's harder to hear the interior parts and they're often buried in the mix. Suggestion: work on learning parts that you really love!
9. Compose guitar/bass parts: doing this will help your overall musicality. Coming up with additional parts that both compliment and enhance the song is really an art form! Suggestion: with your looper pedal or recording equipment/software, whatever you record, always lay down at least one additional part and eventually, you'll get good at it and everybody wins!
10. Music theory: This area is so vast, you could spend the rest of your life analyzing it! However, realistically speaking, the beauty of music theory is that every time you learn some new aspect of it, you can immediately incorporate it into your playing. Then, when you've used it enough, it will become a part of your "musical personality". Suggestion: when you pick up a new piece of music theory, try and use it over and over again in things you already play. For example, if you learn about chord substitutions, try adding a new section to a progression you typically play but that uses the new substitution idea in it.
11. Hand synchronization: getting your right and left hands operating in perfect unison is essential and challenging. Anything you play can move you in the right direction here provided it's played slowly and deliberately (and preferably, using a metronome/drum beat) Suggestion: work on playing scales, arpeggios and exercises using string skipping, it's extremely effective, fun and sounds amazing!
12. Right and left hand techniques: Like music theory, this area is so vast, it's inexhaustible! If variety is the "spice of life", the musical equivalent is technique. Generally, the best, most innovative and interesting players use many different techniques in their playing. Suggestion: particularly when soloing/composing solos, remind yourself to try and incorporate at least one more technique than you would typically use.
I got my looper pedal a few years ago and I can say with no reservations that it is one of the best tools there is for improving your playing!
I'm going to explain 3 fundamental applications for the looper pedal...
The first application is going to be playing a static chord into your looper then playing different scales/arpeggios over it. This is great ear training and really fun. It can be pretty challenging to get what I call a static, perpetual loop recorded. If it's done well, this will result in a measure or two repeating seamlessly ad infinitum. To achieve this, count 2 or 3 measures in time to firmly establish your tempo before activating your looper pedal. You have to be super precise to get this just right and there will almost certainly be a learning curve. Once you're reasonably good at this, I suggest recording an A5 chord consisting of the 5th string open, 4th string 2nd fret, 3rd string 2nd fret, second string 5th fret and first string 5th fret. Next as that A5 chord is endlessly looping, I'm going to have you play several scales/modes and arpeggios over it. Here they are, play all of them rooted on the A on the 6th string fret 5: A ionian, A dorian, A phrygian, A lydian, A mixolydian, A aeolian, A locrain, A major blues, A minor blues, A major 7 arpeggio, A minor 7 arpeggio and A7 arpeggio.
Record a static A7 chord onto looper and play A major and minor blues scales over it and the following arpeggios: A7, A9, A11, A13 and Am7. Also play the dorian, mixolydian and diminished scales.
Record a static A chord and play the follow over it: A major, lydian, mixolydian and major blues scales and Amaj7 and A7 arpeggios.
Second, you can record what I call a “back to back chord progression”. This is when you play a chord progression that repeats as soon as it ends. A couple of favorites of mine to do with students are: 12 bar blues and some common 4 chord progressions. (for example: I – iii – IV – V or I – vi – ii – V) You can experiment with playing different scales and arpeggios over the progression. Also, take the same approach and apply it to a 12 bar blues.
Finally, you can use the looper pedal to become more proficient at another instrument. For example, if you're primarily a guitarist, add a bass track to all of your loops to get more practice at playing and thinking like a bass player and do the reverse if you're mainly a bassist.
One bonus piece of advice: when recording on your looper, don't use a metronome/drum beat/click track. You can use your time with the looper to also work on your ability to maintain a steady tempo which is actually much harder than most people realize and vitally important!
.This blog is going to have information that you can immediately use to plug in and play progressions using harmonic minor (and mixing it with natural minor)...
First off, here are the 4-part harmony versions of the harmonic minor chords:
i = minor/maj7 ii = half dim 7 III = maj7#5 iv = min7 V = 7th VI = maj7 and VII = dim7
These chords in A harmonic minor are: Am/maj7 – Bm7flat5 – Cmaj7#5 – Dm7 – E7 – Fmaj7 – G#dim7
Next, I'll show you 4 common and interesting harmonic minor chord progressions then one progressions that mixes between harmonic and natural minor:
Am7 – G#dim 7 – E7/G# - Am – F#7 – Bm – F – G7 - E7
In a previous blog I explained Minor Keys, this will be an addendum to that content...
We'll begin by comparing the two scales that the chords of minor (natural minor) and harmonic minor are predicated on: The only difference between the two scales is that the harmonic minor has a natural 7th whereas the natural minor (minor) has a flat 7th. In the Key of Am, the minor scale is all natural notes (A – G) and in the harmonic minor scale, all notes are natural except for the 7th degree which, in this case would be a G# note.
(A harmonic minor scale = A – B – C – D – E – F – G#)
Here are the 7 chords built from the harmonic minor scale in the key of Am:
Even though the only difference between the scales of A minor and A harmonic minor is the G# note in the later, there are three differences in the chords generated by the harmonic minor as compared to the minor. In harmonic minor, you get two diminished chords and one augmented and in diatonic minor keys you get one diminished chord and no augmented chords. Also in harmonic minor, the V chord is major instead of minor which is a stronger cadence back to the tonic.
Best of all, you can mix and match between the chords of minor and harmonic minor, which gives infinitely more options for interesting progressions.
In the next blog I'll give examples of chord progressions using harmonic minor and ones that mix and match with both harmonic and natural minor. And finally I'll also show how to augment your songwriting options with a few tricks using chord borrowing and substitutions.
This is a very simple, yet effective trick you can use to great effect, particularly while playing over blues changes. ( I – IV – V ) And yes, it's exactly what it sounds like – taking the 6 notes of the minor blues scale ( 1 - flat3 – 4 – flat5 – 5 – flat 7 ) and then adding the natural 3.
This creates an interesting, smooth, blurring effect over dominant chords because it highlights the major/minor juxtaposition that's one of the hallmarks of the blues. You should learn how to add the 3rd in multiple octaves to all 5 positions of the minor blues scale. Beginning with minor blues box 1, if, for example, you're in the key of A, you play the minor blues scale at fret 5. You'll add the 4th fret of the A string ( C# ) and then in the next octave add the C# on the G string at fret 6 and it's a simple as that.
You can follow the I, IV and V chords with this scale as they go past and it works great over all three chords. You'll be amazed at how much the addition of one little note can enhance your playing!
To familiarize your ear with the sound, I suggest you lay down a 12 bar I – IV – V blues on your looper pedal or play over a jam track in either G or A and first play the minor blues scale with the major 3rd rooted on the 6th string and follow the chords as the progress. Then once you're good at that, move the IV and V chord related scales up to the 5th string to consolidate the parameters of your scales.
Finally a really cool thing you can do in several keys, especially G, A, C, D and E, is to augment this idea of playing minor blues scales with added 3rds with open strings. For example, if you're in the key of A, when you're on the I chord ( A7 ), all of the open strings work well as toggle notes. ( E is the 5th, A is the root, D is the 4th, G is the flat7th, B is the 9th ) Then on the IV chord ( D7 ) you have: E is the 9th, A is the 5th, D is the root, G is the 4th, B is the 6th and finally for the V chord ( E7 ) E is the root, A is the 4th, D is the flat7th, G is the minor 3rd and B is the 5th.
It's well worth the time and effort to embrace this approach and add a new dimension to your blues improvisation!