Question and Obsession: What’s Your Favorite Chord Progression as of Late?
Fretless guitar virtuoso Gabriel Marin of instrumental rock trio Consider the Source joins editors and reader Dan Lynch to talk about them changes.
A: Lately, I find myself writing melodies over the 1–b3–b7–B6 [Editor’ Note: Am7-Cmaj7-G7-Fmaj7] progression in a minor mode with all diatonic seventh chords. The voice leading within the chords is super smooth and I can write melodies of a few different moods over the same chords.
Current obsession: In the last few years, I’ve been really into Muğam, the classical music from Azerbaijan. It has so much fire and life in it, and is a very improvisational genre. There are elements of Persian and Turkish music in it, both of which I have played for a long time, but the Azeris certainly give it their own original flavor. The music is very passionate sounding, and the ornamentation and microtones are really exciting to me. It’s been really fun translating that music to fretless guitar.
Jason Shadrick Associate Editor
A: I didn’t really get harmony until I studied it deeply in college. One of my favorite progressions born out of that season was 1–b7–b6–5, which is a great way to practice descending dominant arpeggios, blues scales, and was copped by Setzer for “Stray Cat Strut.”
Stray Cats in their strutting era.
Photo by Masao Nakagami
Current obsession: I’m working on an unannounced project that is really reinforcing my appreciation for being an eternal student. Seeing guitarists at the height of their success get real joy out of learning something new is just as inspiring as hearing a ripping solo.
Ted Drozdowski Editorial Director
Photo by Johnny Hubbard
A: I’m obsessed with D–G–F–D/G–Bb–D/Bb–A–D. I stumbled across it a few years ago when I was writing a song about the ghosts I live with—metaphorically—and it fit the haunting, haunted mood and my moderate-tempo fingerpicking. It comes from my fascination for Pink Floyd. Now, I’ve used variations for rockers and other tunes, to the extent where I need to roadblock it.
Current obsession: Gigs! I’m currently embroiled in a major creative project that’s diverting my attention from booking and playing gigs, which is disappointing because I’m longing for the musical and mental health benefits I get from performing.
Dan Lynch Reader of the Month
A: I enjoy moving chords around in diatonic thirds, and using a passing chord to get there. Thirds can be pretty boring if you go straight there, so using a passing chord creates interest. For example: Cmaj7–B7–Em7–Dm7–Galt–Cmaj7–Cmaj7–E7–Am7–Fmaj7–Fm7–Cmaj7.
Current obsession: I have always found enjoyment not just in the playing of instruments but also in building and modifying them as well. Recently I have gotten into building my own pedals. It’s just another part of the hobby/obsession, where I can relax and do something with my hands.
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Brave New World
On their new album, In Between Thoughts… A New World, the acoustic duo goes half-electric, plumbs programmed beats, adds slide guitar, and explores nondualism—following a creative path that opened due to the Covid shutdown.
Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuosi Rodrigo y Gabriela started recording what would become their latest album, In Between Thoughts… A New World, in February 2021. At the time, crafting a new album wasn’t the catalyst for making new music. They really just wanted to write, jam, and record without an agenda while locked down during the pandemic.
“It was just something to kill time,” admits Gabriela Quintero, one half of the Mexican guitar duo. “Just to be in the moment and not to think too much about it, even though here in Zihuatanejo it was more like the tropical version of the apocalypse [laughs].”
The other half of the duo, Rodrigo Sánchez, concurs that the pandemic presented a unique set of circumstances that allowed them to be creative without the added pressure of making a record, going on tour, or meeting a deadline. “Musically speaking, it was a very unusual process for us,” he says. “We weren’t really thinking about recording a new Rod and Gab record, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was a really detailed process we never had done before, because we never had this amount of time to record an album.”
Rodrigo y Gabriela - True Nature (Official Audio)"True Nature" is off Rodrigo y Gabriela's first album in 4 years. The album 'In Between Thoughts...A New World’ is available now on limited edition vinyl, CD...
Guided by spiritual practices like Buddhism and nondualism, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s presence-of-mind approach to the guitar has led them on a fantastic, fulfilling journey from their humble heavy metal beginnings in Mexico City, to busking on the streets of Ireland, to performing in front of tens of thousands of people on the world’s biggest stages, opening for Muse and others.
Formed in 1998 out of the ashes of their heavy metal band, Tierra Ácida, Rodrigo y Gabriela left their hometown of Mexico City to pursue their musical ambitions in Dublin, Ireland, where they first began busking with their acoustic guitars on tourist-heavy Grafton Street, mixing elements of flamenco, rock, and heavy metal. In 2002, they released re-Foc, showcasing their virtuosity on guitar and their unique fusion of musical styles—even incorporating elements of the Irish folk music they had immersed themselves in while living abroad. In 2006, the duo released Rodrigo y Gabriela, a mix of original compositions and covers of classic songs by early influences Led Zeppelin and Metallica. The album was a commercial success, reaching the top of the Irish album charts and earning them a nomination for the Mercury Prize, awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. In 2008, they released 11:11, which featured 11 original compositions—each dedicated to a different musician who had influenced their music. In January 2020, Mettavolution, their fifth album, won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the Grammy Awards, cementing Rodrigo y Gabriela’s status as one of the most innovative and exciting guitar duos in the world.
“Gab has seven piezos inside her guitar, and everything is very tight. And I have five piezos.”—Rodrigo Sánchez
Gabriela Quintero’s Gear
Lead guitar provides the flash, but Gabriela Quintero’s right hand is what keeps the party jumping, with a driving, uncommon approach drawn more from traditional Irish music than flamenco.
Photo by Jim Bennett
- Yamaha NCX5 Signature Model
- Boss FV-500L Volume Pedal
- Boss OC-3 Super Octave
- Boss TU-3S Chromatic Tuner
- Dunlop Cry Baby Standard Wah
- Dunlop DVP4 Volume (X) Mini Pedal
- Lehle P-Split III Box
- D’Addario Pro-Arté EJ45 Normal Tension
Self-produced by Rodrigo y Gabriela at their studio in the resort city of Ixtapa, Mexico, In Between Thoughts… A New World reasserts their seemingly innate ability for cultivating a musical repertoire that captures the zeitgeist. And while it may have begun without intention, that doesn’t mean In Between Thoughts lacks direction. Like its predecessors, there’s a familiar and explosive display of virtuosic guitar craft, including all of the hallmarks one would expect from Rodrigo y Gabriela. The powerful, percussive playing of Quintero and the deft melodicism of Sánchez remain the duo’s calling cards. But new, unexpected sonic elements abound as well, including the reverb-drenched slide guitar on “Egoland,” the energetic percussion on “Descending to Nowhere,” the kinetic electronic beats on “The Ride of the Mind,” the passionately chanted vocals of “Broken Rage,” and the dreamy mystique of the robotic vocal effects embedded within “Finding Myself Leads Me to You.”
In fall 2020, while recovering from Covid, Sánchez stumbled upon an online video on nondualism—the notion that there is a “single, infinite, and indivisible reality, whose nature is pure consciousness, from which all objects and selves derive their apparently independent existence,” as defined by author/teacher Rupert Spira. “Advaita Vedanta, or nonduality, is often called the direct path—accepting what is,” explains Sánchez. “We’re not saying that everything in this structure of the body/mind we live in is right. It is just what is, and we cannot really argue with that.”
“The beauty about music is that it’s always expanding.”—Gabriela Quintero
During the early stages of the pandemic, Rodrigo y Gabriela did what many other artists did: They turned to social media, posting short anecdotal performances from their studio. But when they finally got bored of that, they started to write music based on the concept of nondualism without really thinking it would become their new album. “It was just a project,” emphasizes Sánchez. “We were just here in the studio doing things that we would never dofor Rod and Gab. I started to work with electronics, I left my acoustic guitar [at home] and just took my electric guitars [into the studio]. We started writing the music at the same time as we were writing a story based on this philosophy that we were so much attracted to. If we had known that it was going to become the Rod and Gab album, we probably would’ve limited ourselves in terms of not using electronics, or not using too much electric guitar. But we didn’t really think that way. That’s how the album came about.”
Their new album began as a pandemic songwriting and recording project, and took shape almost by accident as they accumulated tracks and tunes.
As for Quintero, she took a slightly more pragmatic approach to the endeavor, particularly regarding nondualism. “I think me and Rod, we share a lot of things that we like, and we feel attracted to, but we process differently,” she explains. “That’s where the nondualism becomes dual [laughs]. I discovered these teachings through a book called The Power of Now [byEckhart Tolle]. To me, that book was incredibly insightful and practical, and such a ‘no rules’ type of thing. I tried to meditate but there was too much discipline with some of the spiritual teachings. I remember when Rod was into Buddhism, and he was meditating a lot of hours a day and learning some mantras that were very strict. And for me, it was too much of a discipline. When I discovered The Power of Now, it was like, ‘Oh great, you don’t have to basically do anything [laughs].’ And then, when the pandemic came in and Rod discovered these videos about nondualism, the way he presented them to me sounded super confusing and too much like nihilism. So, we were constantly having friendly debates here in the studio. And I was going, ‘This is too crazy.’ It felt to me that it was denying this existence. But then we discovered these are the same teachings as The Power of Now, but in different words, in a different way. Then we stopped the debates.”
Quintero, very late into their writing and recording process, asked Sánchez if they were, in fact, writing their next record. “And then she asked, ‘When are we going to record it?’” says Sánchez. “We’d been recording [what we were writing] from day one with quality, and so I went back to the studio that afternoon and I checked all the recordings and all the levels, and we had produced the album already. We had the record.”
“We love flamenco. My best friend in that scene, Vicente Amigo, is one of the best. But no, we never play flamenco.”—Rodrigo Sánchez
As for how they record, Sánchez says it happens all sorts of ways—sometimes tracking together, sometimes individually. Sánchez says the acoustic guitars get picked up by German-made Schoeps MK 4 mics, recommended to him by his close friend, Spanish guitar maestro Vicente Amigo. They also adopted some of what he calls his “old-school metal techniques” for recording. “Knowing that we were going to have orchestra and electronics and all that, I used room mics for Gabs—and instead of just copying her track, I have her record two guitars exactly the same,” he explains, noting he did not use the copy/paste shortcut many musicians use nowadays. “She would do one guitar rhythm and then she would double that to make it sound bigger. Overdubbing the same rhythms and the same parts actually give her much more presence on top of the electronics. And she’s so good at it.”
Due in large part to Quintero’s right-hand technique, which Sánchez recorded so well on In Between Thoughts, “heavy metal flamenco” is a label often applied to the duo. “Ah, the ‘F’ word,” laughs Sánchez. “We love flamenco. My best friend in that scene, Vicente Amigo, is one of the best. But no, we never play flamenco. I understand some people are confused because of Gab’s rasgueado[gesture to invoke her right-hand technique], but actually she’s not doing the flamenco technique at all. She learned most of these techniques from an Irish bodhrán player, Robbie Harris.”
Rodrigo Sánchez’s Gear
Rodrigo Sánchez wears his musical roots on his chest,
in a t-shirt proclaiming his fan status for the Bay Area metal band Testament.
Photo by Dan Locke/Frank White Photo Agency
- Yamaha NTX5 Signature Model
- Fender Jaguar
- Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL+
- Marshall JCM900 4100 Hi Gain Dual Reverb
- Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
- Boss FV-500L Volume Pedal
- Boss OC-3 Super Octave
- Ibanez WH10 V3 Wah Pedal
- Lehle P-Split III DI Box
- MXR M133 Micro Amp
- MXR M234 Analog Chorus
- One Control Minimal Series AB Box
- TC Electronic Ditto X2 Looper
- Truetone 1 Spot Pro CS7 Power Supply
- TWA WR-03 Wah Rocker
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario EXL115 (.011–.049
- D’Addario Pro-Arté EJ46 Hard Tension
- Jim Dunlop Jazz III Black Stiffo
The bodhrán is a frame drum used in traditional Irish music that Quintero learned about when they moved to Ireland. “At the time, I was trying to imagine how flamenco players played their rhythms,” she explains. “I couldn’t figure it out, because back then there was not YouTube—there was nothing. Nowadays, you can go and say, ‘How to play rasgueado flamenco, how to play rhumba,’ and you’ll find something, but not back then. And I always got it wrong. And then I discovered the bodhrán.”
In the old days, the bodhrán was played with hands, not with a stick, as is often seen presently, and she says the Irish kept telling her she actually exhibited the movements of a bodhrán player, but on guitar. “They encouraged me to do certain rhythms. So, just watching them, it was easy to emulate a lot of the movements—it just came organically. The beauty about music is that it’s always expanding.”
“If I came back to a solo bit or something, there was not that beat—people were not jumping anymore, and it was like, ‘Ah, we’re losing the audience,’ so I tried to become more the drummer of the band.”—Gabriela Quintero
After weaning his guitar craft on West Coast thrash metal bands Testament, Megadeth, and Slayer, and New Yorkers Anthrax, Sánchez’s nylon-string style was originally grounded in a lot of the palm-muting he carried over from that style of electric playing. “First of all, I had to translate my palm muting [from electric to nylon string],” he explains. “Then, I used a little bit more of Al Di Meola’s technique, but he was playing steel-strings, right? So, I was like, ‘Okay, how can I translate this into nylon?’ And then I started to listen to Strunz & Farah, and they are incredible. I listened to the way they played, especially Jorge Strunz, who is so clean and so fast. And I started to learn some of his licks here and there, so I was in that zone already.”
They want a whole lotta folk! Rodrigo y Gabriela get down on the Newport Folk Festival’s Harbor Stage in 2014.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
It’s worth noting that the nylon-string guitars Rodrigo y Gabriela play live are the result of years of practical research and application in collaboration with Yamaha and are not models or designs your average nylon-string player would use, nor are they commercially available. “It’s not like any nylon-string guitar can just go and play in the middle of a festival of 40,000 people,” explains Sánchez. Originally, they were using guitars made by Irish luthier Frank Tate, which they still use at home and in the studio. But the guitars they now use live were specially designed over a 14-year period by Yamaha’s Japan-based Custom Shop for arena-concert environments. “These guitars have a very special system for us to sound the way they sound live,” he says. “Gab has seven piezos inside her guitar, and everything is very tight. And I have five piezos, which is really important for those kinds of shows.”
Within the duo, both players are very melodic and very rhythmical, but Quintero did gravitate to doing more of the beats, simply out of necessity, once they started playing bigger shows. “At the beginning when we used to play together, we swapped all the time—solos, arpeggios, and all of this,” she explains. “Eventually, when we started playing rock festivals, because I was the one who played the chords and the beat, if I came back to a solo bit or something, there was not that beat—people were not jumping anymore, and it was like, ‘Ah, we’re losing the audience,’ so I tried to become more the drummer of the band.”
Jumping from a metal band in Mexico City to an acoustic guitar duo busking the streets of Ireland seems quite serendipitous and grounded in the kind of ideology they eventually discovered via nondualism. Circling back to Quintero’s The Power of Now-influenced, pragmatic approach, she jokes that the decision was really quite simple. “Eventually, we were so internationally non-famous and miserable, we decided we’re going to quit the band,” she chuckles. “But we’re not going to quit music. We wanted to travel the world. So, our new goal was to travel and play guitar.”
While this live performance doesn’t capture the duo’s current blend of acoustic and electric sounds, it does afford a close-up look at their playing technique. In particular, check out Gabriela’s right-hand approach, which is based on the traditional Irish instrument called the bodhrán.
Guitarists can learn a lot by dissecting the art of articulation of the horn-playing masters.
• Develop a more fluid jazz time-feel by using hammer-ons and pull-offs.
• Create elegant jazz lead lines.
• Understand how to navigate bebop harmonic passages.
Few figures in jazz history loom as large as Charlie Parker. His pioneering work in the 1940s remains a cornerstone of modern small-ensemble jazz and his playing still sounds fresh today. Parker’s legendary practice regimen combined with his brilliant artistic vision yielded a uniquely personal and virtuosic style. It’s a high bar, but let’s learn some Parker-style jazz language and see how well his style adapts to the fretboard.
We can experience some Charlie Parker greatness by checking out these clips.
Charlie Parker - Now's The Time
Where else to start but the blues? This is Parker’s classic blues tune “Now’s the Time,” which has become essential material for any budding jazzer. His economy of melody has become so codified that the intro to his solo has become a cliché on its own.
There are very few things as exciting as hearing an absolute master tear through a “rhythm changes” tune. Here we have “Anthropology,” which is a medium-up bebop standard. Just listen to how Parker weaves through the cycle of dominant chords on the bridge.
Charlie Parker - All the things you are
Naturally, Parker was also a master of interpreting classic jazz standards. Rhythmically, the melody to “All the Things You Are” is rather vanilla. Check out how Parker embellishes the melody without losing the through line.
Since Charlie Parker began with the blues let’s start there. There’s a certain irony that bebop guitar players aren’t the bendiest bunch—we often favor slides over bends—but Charlie Parker would frequently bend notes. By changing his embouchure, Parker was able to imbue deep blue inflections in his lines. Ex. 1 is a Bb blues lick that has a few Db to D bends. Unlike typical guitar-based blues playing, these bent notes tend to come from very close to the target note—in other words, you can start with a tiny bit of a pre-bend. Parker would use licks like this in conventional 12-bar settings, but he would also use them in rhythm changes or even standards.
The lick in Ex. 2 is really bluesy and demonstrates a more down-home, Kansas City style. A reverence for blues roots is often present in Parker’s bebop style, especially in his moderate tempo blues tunes. As before, be careful not to overdo the bends—start with a tiny prebend so that you’re close to the goal note. If you’re playing a jazz box with some thick strings, sliding instead of bending is effective as well.
Slurs are integral to creating a convincing Charlie Parker style, on any instrument. We might not be able to capture all of his details (saxophone vs. guitar), but it’s crucial to make the effort. Listen to his original records to notice how he uses legato techniques. This is especially important if you’re playing his compositions in your repertoire—and aren’t we all? It can take some time, but careful study of the music will help you mark up your transcriptions and lead sheets. There is a tendency to slur notes in pairs. Typically, the upbeat is connected to the subsequent downbeat, but Parker isn’t as committed to this approach as later players, such as John Coltrane.
Ex. 3 is a quick little lick over Gm7 where I keep almost entirely within the G Dorian (G–A–Bb–C–D–E–F) scale. Keep an eye on the reverse sweep at the end of the second measure and maintain that rhythmic pulse going through the legato bit at the end.
Here’s a typical bebop lick over a IIm7–V7–I in G major (Ex. 4) that incorporates slides and hammer-ons to match Parker’s articulations. We also get to learn some bebop melodic devices here, such as the chromatic embellishment around the note D in the second measure. It’s crucial to get a working knowledge of these non-harmonic tones to establish a convincing bebop vocabulary. Merely applying a chord/scale approach doesn’t cut it here. Follow the notated fingering, as it’s designed to enable a phrasing that matches Parker’s. It might be challenging at first, but the musicality wins out in the end.
Here’s another IIm7–V7–I in G, similar to the previous line, musically speaking, but fingered in a different way (Ex. 5). The third measure has a bebop rhythmic cliché: an otherwise all-eighth-note line but with a triplet on beat two. This rhythm is super common in Parker’s improvisations and in his original tunes. Invariably, slurs and economy picking are employed to make these triplets work well on guitar. If you are a staunch alternate picker, licks with fingerings like this one will give you a more horn-like sound.
How about something fast and flashy? Ex. 6 works over Gm7 or C7. Parker played versions of this figure often, so it’s clearly something that he practiced a lot and loved to use as double-time virtuosic line. I should mention, it’s never the same in Parker’s hands. He’ll apply little variations and tweaks, which you can hear as he as he plays this in variety of songs from blues to standards. I’ve incorporated a sweep and single-string legato playing to make it work on guitar.
Parker’s blues playing was deep and varied. He was equally comfortable on simpler versions of the 12-bar form as well as a variety of more sophisticated versions that he developed as a bebop innovator. (Compare the chord changes on his compositions such as “Now’s the Time” or “Cool Blues” to tunes such as “Au Privave” or “Blues for Alice.”) Ex. 7 shows how even if the rhythm section is playing a basic blues with four measures of the I chord (or a “quick IV” variant) he could play a line that was more harmonically adventurous.
In this case, we hear a melodic idea that implies its own substitute chord changes: a back-cycling idea that would lead to the IV chord in bar 5 (not shown). It’s as if the changes are C7 | Bm7b5 E7 | Am7 D7 | Gm7 C7 rather than four measures of C7.
The line in Ex. 8 is the final phrase of a C blues (measures 9–12 of the form), in which we hear the typical IIm7-V7 idea followed by a I–VI–II–V turnaround. This is a classic phrasing that highlights upbeat notes, which are picked, sliding into the downbeat notes. There’s a two-fold benefit: easier picking and matching Parker’s phrasing. The turnaround uses chromatically descending arpeggios. Notice the use of an Ebm7 arpeggio on the A7 chord. We can hear this as a loose interpretation of a tritone sub or merely an easy way to get some dissonant upper extension to the chord (including the b5, 13, and b9). The Dm7 gets a purely diatonic treatment while the G7 chord gets a true tritone substitution via the Db arpeggio.
Ex. 9 works over the beginning of rhythm changes. (“Rhythm Changes” is the name given to any of numerous songs that use the fundamental chord changes from George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” Parker and the beboppers wrote dozens of new melodies and embellished chord changes.) Again, fingerings are not going to seem so intuitive, but the musical expression is worth the effort. This example begins with a diatonic approach in the first measure, but gets more chromatic in the next with the C# over the F7 chord and the smooth chromatic passing tone (Gb) at the end of the measure. There’s a typical descending line in measure 3. You can think of it as implying G7b9 (it does) or as a movement down the C harmonic minor scale.
Here’s a really long line (Ex. 10) that’s played over the bridge section of rhythm changes. The progression is a sequential cycle of dominant chords. Each chord is the V of the subsequent chord (D7 is V of G, G7 is V of C, and so on.) The D7 idea is mostly diatonic, but there is a b9 in the triplet figure. The G7 also begins diatonically but has a stylistic b9 #9 b9 figure (bar 4) and some chromatic passing tones. This hints at some of the knowledge required for convincing bebop playing: Basic chords and arpeggios must be mastered in order to apply chromaticism and non-harmonic tones.
The C7 section is interesting because of the note B. This note isn’t a typical choice by beginning players over a C7 chord, but Parker would use it often, but quite judiciously—either as a neighbor tone to the tonic (measure 5) or as a passing tone (bar 6). The use in measure 6 is particularly important. Music theorists after Parker would describe this as the “bebop dominant scale,” which is a form of the Mixolydian mode. In the key of C, instead of the usual seven notes, a B natural is added. This B natural is played as a passing tone on an upbeat so that the tonic (C) and b7 (Bb) can appear as downbeat notes, exactly as done here.
While Parker’s vocabulary doesn’t lay as easily on the fretboard as a Led Zep riff or a Clapton solo, it does offer a glimpse into the mind of a harmonic master. Parker could logically dissect jazz harmony and improvise some of the most engaging and beautiful melodies every created. Even if jazz isn’t your bag, learning a few of these licks will undoubtedly open your eyes, ears, and fingers.