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When I learned the modes I never thought they were different scales. We’re always learning things in position but I do things that are a lot more horizontal than vertical. To me it’s just more lyrical and vocal sounding. What it did for me was show me the possibilities. I could be playing “Cry for You,” which is just in D minor but I relate it to F major.
This is how I apply a modal approach to this chord progression. It’s just diatonic triads—D minor, C major, Bb major, A minor, G minor, F major, E dim, D minor—just triads right down from the D minor or F major scale.
Paul Gilbert maps out wicked arepeggio shapes on the whiteboard.
Give a jazz player an E7#9#5 chord and the first thing he’ll probably do is whip out the Super Locrian scale. Paul Gilbert’s got a more direct way to navigate this scary-sounding chord. “I’ve heard that term Super Locrian, but to me it’s just the notes of this chord [plays E7#5#9],” says Gilbert. “A big breakthrough for me mentally was realizing that I don’t have to play every note in a scale. If I leave some out and pick my favorites, it aims the sound much more harmonically accurate. Whereas if I play every note in the scale you can have the right notes but you’re not having as much harmonic intention.”
Perhaps the most common guitar voicing of the E7#9#5 chord is played as the Jimi Hendrix chord with an added note on the 1st string. From bottom to top the notes are E–G#–D–G–C.
Gilbert takes the notes of the voicing and arranges them in alphabetical order, configuring the notes in a finger-friendly pattern. “Instead of being spread out in a chord voicing, here they’re stacked up consecutively,” says Gilbert. “That’s me dipping my toes into the pool of jazz. This is really an interesting way of forming scales and arpeggios.”
A recent lightbulb moment also paved the way for more of Gilbert’s thrilling sonic shapes. “My wife has been practicing jazz piano at home and she was just playing the chords very methodically to learn them,” says Gilbert. “I noticed that she wasn’t playing the roots in the upper voicings. That helped to develop my ears.”
Over A7, rather than just reaching for a predictable A7 arpeggio, Gilbert suggests trying a shape that leaves out the root but adds the 9th (B) and the #4th (D#), in addition to the 3rd (C#), 5th (E), and b7th (G).