• Understand how the b7-3 resolution works over a blues progression.
• Create lines that outline the harmony.
• Develop a better harmonic pocket.
Looking for clarity? Serenity now, I say. Once you’ve become proficient with the pentatonic scales and major scale modes, it’s easier to move up and down the neck, but still not play anything meaningful. Wandering around in the proverbial Mixolydian forest doesn’t make for a cool solo. Remember that a scale is just a group of notes that you can choose from. You don’t have to play all of them. You do, on the other hand, have to play the notes that are in the chord to achieve harmonic clarity. Putting chord tones on the strong beats of the measure (beats 1 and 3) will also create a harmonic pocket and your solo will reflect the changes, with or without a band.
In this lesson I’ll outline and demonstrate how to target specific chord tones using the b7-3 resolution. In Ex. 1 you can see how this will work over the V7-I7 chords in the key of A. Check out how the D (b7 of E7) moves down a half-step to C# (3 of A7). We want to emphasize this movement by developing lines that follow that natural resolution. This holds true for any V7-I7 progression in any key.
This type of resolution also works in other harmonic situations. Remember that the root movement of V7-I7 is going down by the interval of a fifth (or up a fourth), so this concept will work with other chord changes that follow that same root movement.
Let’s stick with the key of A for Ex. 2. Here we have a IIm7-V7 progression where the b7 of Bm7 (A) moves to the 3 of E7 (G#).
Ex. 3 demonstrates the I7-IV7 progression with G, the b7 of A7, moving down to F#, the 3 of D7.
I combined all these concepts and fleshed out the gory details in Ex. 4, which is a basic I7-VI7-IIm7-V7 turnaround that you would find in a typical jazz-blues progression. Even though the b7-b3 resolution of F#7-Bm7 (E to D) is a whole-step apart, it’s very effective in outlining the sound of the chord changes and opens the door for chromatic passing tones.
The resolutions pick up speed in the next measure with Bm7-E7, and then we zip back to the top with A7. Faster harmonic movement is more challenging, but using 7s and 3s nearly builds your entire line. Simply add a couple of eighth-notes between the chord tones and you’ve got it.
The next step is to create lines where the last eighth-note of one measure is the 7, which then immediately resolves to the 3 on the downbeat of the next measure. Ex. 5 shows how you can do this with a scale or mode. In the first two measures we’re using E Mixolydian (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D) and in the final measure we move to A Mixolydian (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G) to keep that half-step between the 7 and 3.
Arpeggios can be used as raw material as well. In Ex. 6 we have an E7 arpeggio in the first measure, Bm7 in the second, and an A7 arpeggio in the last measure. These examples are a good place to start, but should be tampered with. Always keep the 7 on the last eighth-note and the 3 on the following downbeat, but change the other notes. Reorganize the arpeggios, experiment with other scale tones, use chromatics, or add notes to the beginning of the original idea. Take the time to write out some of your own ideas. A lot can be accomplished with some staff paper, a pencil, and a cup of coffee.
Ex. 7 shows a few ways to jumble up the notes. You can move the 7, but the 3 should always happen on the downbeat.
After you have some lines you like or want to try out, road test them with a backing track. If you have a looper, try this: Loop a 12-bar blues using full chords, then play your lines over the top. Next, loop just the root of each chord and play the same lines. See if you can hear the chord changes without the chords helping you. This is how you will develop your harmonic pocket. Your ear will tell you what sounds right, so keep tweaking your phrases until you get the results you want. Ex. 8. is a three-chord blues in A that mixes more traditional pentatonic lines with 7-3 resolutions at the end of measures one, four, and 12.
Ex. 9 is a jazz-blues with a turnaround like the one we played before, but this time the resolutions are all over the place. Once you get the passage under your fingers, record yourself playing it with just a click and learn to hear the chords as they move by. This is a great way to expand your soloing vocabulary, rhythmic timing, and harmonic pocket. Adding these lines to traditional, pentatonic blues playing will get you out of the wilderness and into the realm of the modern blues masters.