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Lonely Blue Angel
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from John Stowell’s Modern Chord Melody
As with many of John’s tunes, this piece starts with a simple melody and some repeated motifs that tie things together compositionally. The opening phrase in 5/4 features notes that are all contained in an E minor scale, giving it a bluesy feel. As a result, he tries to contrast that vibe with a bit of abstraction, mainly through the use of odd meters. The open low E string is used as a pedal; a combination of a pick and your remaining three fingers will allow you to balance the notes of the chords, subtly accentuating the top (melody) note. This right-hand technique will also facilitate the isolation of notes on non-adjacent strings.
This tune began with the idea of taking two basic inversions of a major 7th chord (one of them Lydian) and moving them to different places on the neck, all in relation to an E minor chord. The resulting sounds and colors (Em 6/9, Em 9#5) make for some subtle harmonic moves that sound both unusual and accessible at the same time, due to the simple melody.
In terms of the mixed meters, we’re moving back and forth between 5/4, 4/4, and 6/4 – that kind of movement might normally be extremely difficult to follow, but the rhythmic changes all feel very organic here. This is a case of creating challenges within a song to help develop musical skills. You may not be very fluent with odd meters, but by using them occasionally in your writing, you’ll slowly becoming more comfortable with them. Incorporating difficult techniques into your compositions is a great tactic for forcing yourself to practice and learn a skill.
This melody makes use of relatively simple harmonies, although the progression is a bit unorthodox. The transitions between the melody’s different meters weren’t planned, but happened organically as the tune unfolded. Several pedals are employed at various times during the theme – keep an eye out for the low open E string during the opening phrase and a B natural on the high E string during the last few bars of the tune. Jazz guitarists also often employ pedals when they comp, as it can make transitions between chords smoother.
What you’ll hopefully discover in the opening section of this melody is that a number of different major chords, or a number of different inversions of a major chord, work well over a minor chord. For example, the C major chord is actually functioning as a kind of E minor with a flat 6 in it. We’re adding things like 6s and 9s over the minor chord to move the song along – if you were to just play the melody by itself, you’d realize that it’s simply based on a minor pentatonic, but the added harmonies add a wonderful complexity to the song. Experiment with chord inversions – specifically major inversions over minor chords – to see how they affect your sound.
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