• Create compelling voicings to
use over a blues progression.
• Learn to interject IIm–V7
chords to create movement
• Develop a richer chord
Over the last 100 years, the musical
form that is the blues has helped to
shape the direction of popular music. That
simple—and I use the term loosely—little
structure has been the roadmap for many
a big hit. What’s amazing about this form
is how versatile and elastic it can be in the
hands of a master. While the typical rock
and blues 12-bar form sticks pretty closely to
the standard changes, we’re going to explore
how this structure can be manipulated and
embellished to create some very interesting
sounds. As with cooking, you have to be
careful about adding the spice. Know your
audience and don’t ever add too much. In
this lesson, we’re going to get pretty intense
with the changes and voicings. Use them as
you see fit and be adventurous with them in
your playing, but never ever overuse them.
Don’t be “too hip for the room,” as they say.
The first rule that we should be aware
of is that the dominant 7th chord can be
the most colorful chord in a progression.
It can be embellished and altered to create
all kinds of beautiful (and harsh) sounds.
Basically, you can turn a 7th chord into any
chord with a higher number. This means
that 9th, 11th, and 13th chords and their
alterations (usually #5 and ♭5 and #9 and ♭9)
can be substituted.
First, let’s color the standard progression
by adding some embellishments as in Fig.
1. For these examples, we’re in the key of A.
This means that the I chord is A7, our IV is
D7, and our V is E7. As I mentioned, any
7th chord can be embellished, and right
off the bat we use an A13 voicing for the
I chord. In the second measure, we use a
D9 chord as the IV and move this shape up
two frets for the E9 chord in measure 10.
Then, to get a little more motion,
we’ll insert some IIm–V7 progressions in
areas where we want to really emphasize
the chord change. For example, we move
towards D9 in the fifth measure by using
a IIm–V7 move in the key of D (Em9–
A13) in the fourth measure. This same
motion happens again—although in a
different key—in measures 9 and 10, and
also measure 12.
In the sixth measure, you’ll notice a
chord—F#7—that seemingly comes out
of nowhere. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. This
chord is a VI7 in the key of A. If you look
ahead, we are moving to a Bm7 chord in
the ninth measure. We can set that up with
a V7 chord in the key of B. That is where
the F#7 comes in. It not only relates to
the key we are in, but also gives us some
nice tension before we head into the home
stretch. We’re not going to get too out of
control, but this will create a slightly more
sophisticated sound with some motion.
Just for fun, let’s use this same progression,
but change the voicings slightly. In
Fig. 2, I move the notes on the 6th string
up to the 1st string. It’s a cool and easy
trick. You’ll notice you keep the same chord
names, but the voicings won’t be as clumsy.
The next step is to create even more
motion by adding alterations to some of
the chords. There are an infinite number
of ways to do this, so I’m simply going to
provide an example in Fig. 3—along with
some simple rhythms—that you can work
your way through. Notice that there are several
voicings that don’t have a root note. On
the guitar it’s essential to know where the
root note is in relationship to the voicing,
but not essential to play it. Knowing where
the root is allows you to move the voicing
around the neck pretty easily. Take these
examples and liberate yourself not only from
the roots, but also from boring voicings!
a former senior editor and
guitar clinician for Mel Bay Publications, is
known for his fluid jazz improvisation and
instructional chops. He teaches full-time at
Utah State University and is an Artist-in-Residence at the Jacobs School of Music in
Bloomington, Indiana, the Atlanta Institute
of Music, and the Broadway Music School.
To learn more about his CDs and DVD, and
see his current workshop and performance
schedule, visit coreychristiansen.com