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Minor 9 Vamps
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from Frank Vignola’s Vamps, Jams and Improv
This month, we’ll discuss minor 9 chords (as well as several inversions) and chord clusters (three note chords based on the upper part of the scale). These techniques are a great way to support the soloist’s ideas by staying out of the way of the particular tonal center the soloist may choose. As you work with these chords and inversions, you’ll want to spend a lot of time on playing everything cleanly and crisply.
So let’s add some rhythm to a basic Em7 vamp. We’ll assume it’s a nice contemporary style vamp – the drums are really cooking and you’re hearing Em9s. So let’s introduce that chord into the mix – we’ll play an Em9 on the downbeats. Again, you really want to make sure the notes are clean. Experiment with inversions of the minor 9 as you play to introduce some variety; another stylish minor 9 resides high up on the fingerboard, at the eighth fret. If we add some basic rhythms – essentially falling in line with what the bass is doing – you’ll have a nice foundation, both tonally and rhythmically, for the soloist to work over.
An effective technique to add more variety here is to just to raise the chord up one fret, half a step, and then move back down. This simple technique adds a little tension before releasing.
Inversions & Rhythm
In case you were curious, the notes for the Em9 chord – you can reference your notation for this – are E, G, B, D and F#, with F# being the 9. You can play these vamps in a more laidback fashion, or approach it from a faster rhythmic standpoint, with your right hand always going, playing sixteenth notes. A good exercise is to just keep your hand going with the chord, starting slow, bringing the tempo down, then back up and back down. It’s reminiscent of a drum roll, when they start with single strokes and get the tempo up to an insane rate before bringing it back down – it’s all about control and is a great study. You can also experiment with your left hand on when to release the strings while playing the sixteenth notes in order to give it some rhythm.
After you’ve mastered the rhythmic aspect, you can explore some chord clusters with the 9 in it. Keeping the minor 9 in mind – the F# -- you’ll want to use little chord clusters rather than big full chords, which can sometimes lock the soloist in. You can reference your notation for these inversions. Including the minor second within the chord, and taking out the bottom notes to leave room for the bass player – who will most likely be playing an E – allows for nice chord clusters that the soloist can play off of. Learn your chord inversions up and down the neck, and you’ll be in a good position to spice up any static jazz vamps you encounter.
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