A few examples of my teaching approach
I do not use pre-fabricated tables and collections of scales, chords, licks and so on. Since I want the students to explore different musical ideas and techniques in her or his own way, every student will learn along a personal and unique path, and being the scholar, I interact with every student’s playing and thinking in similarly unique ways. Each student will bring a recording and some notes from every lesson, but these will be personalised and tailored to each student’s needs and interest. I am afraid that pre-fabricated teaching materials often may make teaching repetitive and non-personal – teachers saying the same things over and over again.
However, just to give an example, I have put down a few suggestions I might make regarding triads superimposed over different bass notes, stacks of 4ths, and some viewpoints on the use of a single pentatonic scale. Note that the following topics are not only examples of something that I discuss with my guitar-students at LTU. In my lectures and masterclasses at other universities, and for all kind of instrumentalists etc, I´ve been addressing (among other things) on these subjects:
The Major triad
The Major triad is certainly one of the most basic things in Western chord theory. It is also one of the first things that we learn when we study music theory in general, and it follows most musicians throughout their lives.
I would like to discuss some possible use of it, as well as the fact that such a simple thing as a major triad may actually be used as an important tool in advanced harmony and chordal structures.
In this text, I have chosen to use only one of the 12 major triads in western music: the C-major triad.
Remember that guitar players have a tendency to see chords as fixed ”grips” and for some reason we love to play the root in every chord. We also do have a tendency to play the chord root as a bass note. Try avoiding those things when doing this exercise.
One of the ideas of superimposing a triad over a (bass) note is that the player can develop her or his harmonic sense, as well as the voice leading, and of course also develop one’s theoretical skills. Now, we should consider that many times when we play music, we play together with bass players as well as with other chord instruments, so if we focus on using our ears together with our skills, we can make really interesting things together with the other players. The idea of this exercise is not specifically to replace “traditional” chords, but to find companions as well as enhancements for them.
One very important aspect of using triads is that they can be arpeggiated and used for creating melodies.
In the same way that we create interesting sounds by superimposing triads over bass notes (or over other chords) when we play these as chords, we can use superimposed triads when we play the melodies and/or melodic structures. When using the triads for creating melodic lines instead of chords, make sure that you can play an arpeggio in each inversion (beginning with the root, beginning with the third, beginning with the fifth etc.)
While working with this assignment, use the triads in different inversions both as chords and melodic structures based on the same concept, and compare them with your traditional ways of playing the chords (or why not superimpose these new sounds over traditional chords), and see what you come up with.
I´m sure you will find something useful!
As we know, a C major triad is of course used in a C major chord as well as in an Am7 chord, but in this example, we will examine some further possible use of this triad.
Since the triad contains three notes (C, E, G) that will leave us nine other notes to combine it with.
These notes are:
Db, D, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, A, Bb and B.
We will now combine these with the C-major triad and see what we get:
Let´s begin with the A note:
1: C major triad combined with an A makes an Am7 chord. That´s no news for the most of us, but play the triad in different voicings over the A note, and you will notice how different it will sound. Don´t forget that the combination of these four notes of course can be viewed as a “C6” chord as well.
2: C major triad combined with Bb naturally makes a C7, but the chord could also be regarded as a Bb6/9#4 with no 3rd.
That´s interesting. How might that chord be used?
Well, we could use it as a substitute for a Bbmaj7 (especially when we are in the key of F), but since the chord has no 7th from the viewpoint of Bb, we could also use it as a substitute for Bb7, or more adequate, Bb7#11. The C-major triad can therefore be used in both (Bb major and Bb7) contexts.
3: C major triad combined with a B makes of course a Cmaj7, but this chord could also be viewed or described as a Bsus#5b9. The b9 gives us a hint that it might be used as a dominant chord. Let´s try a II-V-I progression in the key of E minor, (F#m7b5- B7- Em7) and use the C-major triad over the B7.
Does it sound harsh? Try another inversion of the triad! Also try to dissolve the C-major triad into an adjacent G-major triad (i.e. each chord tone travelling the “shortest way” to the next chord) when you land on the Em7 chord. This makes a rather smooth sound, which could be a nice contrast to the harshness the C-major triad over the B gives us.
4: C major triad combined with a Db creates a rather dissonant sound. But we can actually use this combination as an important part of an Eb13b9. An example of this is when we play an II V I progression in the key of Ab. The chords then would be: Bbm7- Eb7- Abmaj7.
As we know, a Bbm7 chord is a Db major triad combined with a Bb. Now, we get a chromatic movement of two major triads if we use the C major triad over the Eb (Eb7), and then land on the Abmaj7. (If we take a look at the Abmaj7, we will notice that the chord can be regarded as a C minor triad combined with an Ab major triad. Interesting! But wait! We will analyse minor triads another time.
5: C major triad combined with an Eb makes a even more dissonant sound than with the Db, but still; the C-major triad over the Eb could be very useful in a II-V-I progression in the key of Ab. The reason that the C-major sounds even harsher than in the previous example is the absence of the Db (the 7th of the Eb7 chord). But still, the C-major triad over a Eb remains very useful. Do not forget to try different inversions on the triad to see which one of these you find most suitable for the different voicings of the surrounding chords!
6: C major triad combined with a D makes a C ”lydian” chord. But it can also be interpreted as a D11 (no 5th). That is a dominant chord, don´t you agree? One interesting and funny aspect of this is that in the key of G, the
subdominant is C, and all of a sudden, we can use the subdominant as a dominant, since the D is the dominant of G.
It is a small world after all, don´t you think?
7: C-major triad combined with an F creates an Fmaj9 without third.
Since the third is omitted, there is no major or minor third in the chord, so the C-major triad is useful in both spheres! The F combined with a C major triad is a lovely substitution for a Fmaj7 as well as for a F–maj7!
Don´t forget to try the C major triad on ”top” in addition to traditional F–maj7. The sound is quite refreshing!
8: C major triad combined with the note Gb makes again a comparatively harsh-sounding and bold chord. Once again, the voice leading of the triad is important when finding a good use for it. But let´s see, from the viewpoint of Gb it contains a b9, a b5 (or a #4) and a b7. That indicates that it could be used as a dominant 7 chord.
Therefore, we can definitely find use for the C-major triad as an integral part (substitute for Gb7) in let´s say a II –V-I progression in either Cb major or Cb minor.
9: C major triad combined with an Ab note makes an Abmaj7#5. A very nice thing to try (among others) with a Ab maj7#5 is to have it precede an Abmaj7.
Try it (again) in an II-V-I progression in the key of Ab. By the way, as I mentioned in an earlier example, the Abmaj can be regarded as a C minor triad combined with an Ab, but more of that another time!
(Consider that what we just did with a major triad may very well be transformed and used for other triads as well)!
These would be: Minor, Major#5, and Minor b5. Do you see?
We have a vast of possibilities and tons of work ahead of us, but do not let that disturb or turn you of too much. It is a fantastic world opening up!
Stacks of 4ths
I do use the same system using 4 note groups of 4ths. It´s a fantastic way of sharpening a musicians way of abstract/innovative thinking, and a very useful method of creating non-conventional chords/sounds.
In the following examples I will use a 4note group of perfect 4ths limited by the use of only natural notes stacked upon another natural note.
Please note that it is VERY IMPORTANT that the following examples is to be viewed as “scratching on the surface” of the vast possibilities this system gives us.
In this example I deliberately skip the stacked 4ths that include the tritone interval that could be looked at as a sharpened 4. The reason for that is to make this example a little bit shorter.
So, if we limit ourselves to the material of C D E F G A B, and the rule is to use only four note groups of stacked perfect 4ths, the result will be:
D G C F
E A D G
A D G C
B E A D
In the following example I will merely use one of these groups, but of course the following system could be applied to all of the above stacks.
In the example I will use the one starting on the note “E”:
1: E A D G over a C gives us C6add9. The sound of that that chord could very well be used in a situation where the chord “C” or “C major” is required. We can also use it as a complement to a C7 in some situations.
2: E A D G over a D. This example does not really give us “anything new”, hence the D note is already included in the group of 4ths, and it gives us a Dsus4add 2. However, this chord could very well be used as a substitute for D-7 or D-11among others.
3: E A D G over E gives us E-11. (This example does not really give us anything new either, since the E note is already included in the group of 4ths). We can (besides using it as E-11) apply this as E- or E-7, or even as a E dominant chord at certain points!
4: E A D G over F becomes a Fmaj9 (no 3).
Since it contains no 3, it can also be used in situations where a F- major 7 is the required chord! Naturally we can use it as a F major or a F major 7chord as well.
5: E A D G over G gives us a G6 add9 (no3). Again, the G is already in the stack of fourths, just like in example 2 and 3, but this should not stop us from using it in this context. Observe that since it is a “no 3” chord, we can take advantage of this and use it both as a “major G” chord/sound as well as a “minor G” chord/sound.
6: E A D G over A is per definition a A7sus 4. But that means we could use it as a part or as a substitute for A11 or Am11. Naturally, in some situations we can use it as a A dominant chord too.
7: E A D G over B is a bit tricky to define. Since this combination results in a chord containing a G major triad, it´s easy to only use it/ see it as a G6 add9, but it really can be used for example as a substitute/embellishment of a Bmb5. Try it!
Now, consider that this stack of perfect fourths (just like the earlier mentioned triads) can be inverted i.e. E A D G becomes D G A E, becomes A E G D, becomes G D E A. And observe tha
Please explore this carefully, and you will see how long just these four notes can take you in your quest for expanding your chord vocabulary.
It will take you even further if you stack them on top of the 5 notes (C# D# F# G# A#) that I deliberately left out in the example.
You see? It gives you years of challenging and hopefully exciting work here!
In this example I will only use the A minor pentatonic scale.
An A minor pentatonic scale consists of the notes A C D E G.
These notes of course are parts of the C major scale. This ought to mean that the five notes could be used for creating melodies to the seven chords that make up the key of C major, right? In theory, this is “true”.
Try it! As you know, the chords are:
Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, Bm7b5.
What do you think? Does the A minor pentatonic sound “good” over all these seven chords? Is there any chord that makes the A minor pentatonic scale sound “bad”?
If you like: try ordering the chords (from consonant to dissonant).
Anyway, in the key of C we have seven chords that theoretically would correspond well with the A minor pentatonic scale.
Furthermore, the A minor pentatonic scale is part of the F major scale. The chords in this key are Fmaj7, Gm7, Am7, Bbmaj7, C7, Dm7, Em7b5.
So, the A minor pentatonic ought to fit these chords, right?
Now repeat what you already tried with the chords of C major.
Try it, listen, and if you like, order the chords from consonant to dissonant.
Do you like the sound of A minor pentatonic over all these chords?
Yes? No? Try to analyze what you like and remember this!
The key of C major gave us seven different chords.
As the key of F major also has seven different chords, you might easily think that we now have 14 chords (7+7= 14) where we can use the A minor pentatonic, but actually, it’s not that many.
Well, but at least, so far, we have 11 different chords for which we can use the A minor pentatonic!
The A minor pentatonic can also be found in the key of G major.
The chords in G major are:
Gmaj7, Am7, Bm7, Cmaj7, D7, Em7, F#m7b5.
Theoretically speaking, our A minor pentatonic ought to fit all the chords in this key, too, but how does this work out?
Try using the A minor pentatonic over these chords.
Probably, you will hear a slightly “chafing” sound for instance at the first chord in the series, Gmaj7. This is due to a dissonance between the C note in the A minor pentatonic scale and the F# note in the Gmaj7 chord, and the fact that the A minor pentatonic doesn’t have the note B (the major third in Gmaj7)
Personally, I think that the scale sounds horribly bad in this case, but as we’ve said, all notions of music are subjective, and also, in ”correct ” context, the A minor pentatonic won’t feel especially strained over for example a G chord (or possibly Gmaj7).
For instance, if you play the chords Am, G, F, you’ll hardly raise your eyebrows at the A minor pentatonic being played over the “G”.
What felt “strained” now suddenly feels quite natural …
So, let’s see: We had 11 chords for the A minor pentatonic when we combined the chords from the key of C major with the chords from F major. How many chords will we get if we add the seven chords from the key of G major?
18 chords? No … Some chords are common for the keys this time, too.
The common chords are: Am7 (common for BOTH C and F major), Cmaj7 (common for C major), and Em7 (common for C major).
But if we combine these three keys, we have 15 chords for the A minor pentatonic.
The 15 chords that the A minor pentatonic theoretically fits, so far, are the following:
Cmaj7, C7, Dm7, D7, Em7, Em7b5, Fmaj7, F#m7b5, Gm7, G7, Gmaj7
(The combination A minor pentatonic and Gmaj7 chord actually sounds appalling, but remember that in the right context, it’s quite useful. See for instance what I wrote earlier on that subject.),
Am7, Bbmaj7, Bm7b5, Bm7.
A fun and challenging project: Write a tune consisting of a melody (or a riff) from the A minor pentatonic, and harmonize this with all 15 chords!
Furthermore, you might add so-called “tritone substitutes” for the dominant 7 chords, which gives us more possibilities (three or six more chords), which on their own sound absolutely terrible under an A minor pentatonic, but in the right context are quite fantastic!
It´s a labour of love that we are talking about here, and do not rush when working your way through this.
Work hard and concentrated, but have a lot of fun on the way. And remember: the goal is to make music, not only formulas! Use your ears too!