In its most basic form, a minor blues can
sound quite vanilla. In this lesson, we’re
going to look at several simple techniques
you can use to create more tension and
interest in your comping. Let’s dig in with a
basic progression shown in Fig. 1. This is in
the key of G minor and uses a I–IV–I–V–I
pattern. We will go over four different techniques
to beef up this progression and turn
it into something more original.
The first option is adding embellishments
to each chord. In previous lessons
we have talked about adding 7ths, 9ths,
11ths, and 13ths to each chord, as well
as altering the 5th and 9th on dominant
chords. If you need a refresher, check out
“Liberating Blues Changes” in the January
2012 issue of PG.
I won’t get into it here, but understand
that you can embellish all the chords in a
blues. This also allows us to choose from an
arsenal of voicings that will take our playing
and sound to the next level. A quick-anddirty
way to implement this right away
is to add the 7th to each chord, therefore
turning a Gm into a Gm7 and a Cm into a
Cm7. Easy, right?
The next technique we will discuss is
called backcycling. This concept could
merit several articles on its own, but at the
moment we don’t have the space for an indepth
study of the theory. Here is a quick
overview: Any chord can be preceded by
its dominant chord or the corresponding
IIm-V7 chord. For example, in the key of C
we can put either a G7 (the dominant) or a
Dm7-G7 (the IIm–V7) in front of the C.
These chords can also be called secondary
dominants. If you have an Am7 or an
Am7#5, you can change either one to an
A7 to create a stronger V–I motion. If you
have a vamp in G minor you can put some
form of D7 before any Gm chord to create
some interesting harmonic motion. These
techniques can be used to create both
interesting comping and great arrangements.
Fig. 2 shows a blues progression
with some backcycling ideas and a few
pretty simple embellishments.
Another option is to use a tritone substitution
in place of the secondary dominant.
A tritone is an interval of an augmented
fourth or a diminished fifth. To quickly
find the tritone sub for a chord, simply
build a dominant chord with the root a tritone
away. For D7, the sub would be A%7.
In Fig. 3 I have simply used the previous
example and used tritone substitutions for
each dominant chord. Notice my tritone
subs are also embellished. I’ve also added
a simple “Charleston” rhythm to get away
from the four-to-the-bar feel.
The final option is to increase the dissonance
and voice-leading between chords
by adding even more embellishments and
alterations, and using different voicings.
In Fig. 4, we can use chords that contain
9ths, 11ths, 13ths and any alterations of
the 5th and 9th. I’ve also added some more
interactive rhythms to this example.
At this point, you can hopefully see that
you can backcycle as much as you want—as
long as it sounds good. It definitely helps to
write several of these types of progressions
out by hand. This process will help you
visualize and understand these techniques,
and after a while you should be able to do
more of this on the fly. Spontaneous embellishment
and reharmonization is the mark
of a deep musician.
Corey Christiansen, 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,
. Photo by Jimmy Katz