Theory: Advanced Beginner
• Learn how to use inversions to
create motion in your comping.
• Play Freddie Green-inspired
voicings over a blues
• Create soulful rhythm sounds
using 6th and 9th chords.
Click here to download the audio files from this lesson.
Here are the facts: Most guitarists have
a very limited amount of chordal
material to play when it comes to comping
a blues progression. Once all the power
chords, barre chords, a few strum patterns,
and open chords are used up, most guitarists
are tapped out.
On one hand it’s really a blessing.
Pretty much every guitarist can play some
kind of blues and be somewhat convincing
in a couple of styles. But on the other
hand, it’s a shame that all these cats are
playing the blues with the same ideas and
same sound. Very little changes other than
the lyrics and maybe the tempo. Due to
how the piano is laid out and how it is
taught, it seems that pianists generally
move around and develop harmonic ideas
more easily than the average guitarist.
However, the big-dog guitar players have
a plethora of great ideas to keep this
12-bar form interesting and unique, while
making profound artistic statements. In
this lesson, I’ll provide a few harmonic
“moves” that will help you at your next
jam, gig, or writing session.
Let’s start with Fig. 1, which has a
boogie-woogie feel. In this example, we are
using two voicings, one on strings 6–4–3
and the other on strings 5–3–2. The first
voicing is a traditional “four-to-the-bar”
voicing that a lot of guitarists use when
playing swing music. You might have heard
these called “Freddie Green” voicings, since
he used them constantly when playing in
the Count Basie band. In order to create
some motion we add a few chord inversions.
Don’t be scared by some of the “theory”
talk, an inversion is simply a different
order of a group of chord tones. Easy, right?
In the key of G, the chords we’ll use are
G7, F/A, and G/B. The latter two chords
are called slash chords. In a slash chord, the
left side usually indicates a triad and the
right side tells us what bass note to use.
We then transpose these shapes up to cover
the IV chord (C7) and the V chord (D7).
It’s important to play this with a very hard
swing feel—like a triplet with the first two
notes tied together.
Fig. 2 is another short little move that is
related to the previous style. It works well
when connecting the I chord to the IV chord,
as in measure 1 or measure 5. Check out Fig.
3 to see how this lies on strings 5–3–2.
We use some close-voiced 9th chords
in Fig. 4. Think of this over a straight
eighth-note feel, like you might hear on
some ECM records. In each measure we
go between a rootless 9th chord and suspended
9th chord. Often, I use my thumb
to grab the bass notes.
Things get a little sweeter sounding in
Fig. 5. This slow blues in the key of G
is great for backing up vocalists. We can
think of the partial chords in a few different
ways, but the easiest is to consider
it as a move from a 6th chord to a 9th
chord. The top notes create an interesting
countermelody—contrasting the melody
coming from the soloist or vocalist—and
generate some harmonic motion.
Hopefully these examples will not only
give you some stock “moves” you can use
over a blues, but will also inspire you to
come up with some ideas of your own. A
quick way to know you have these examples
down is to play them in other keys or
grooves—even other time signatures.
There’s really no substitute for being
inspired by the great guitarists who came
before us. Anytime I feel like I’m in a rut,
I turn to recordings by artists I admire and
steal from them. The process of transcription
will give you more ideas, provide a gateway
to originality, and sharpen your ears.
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