In this month’s column we’ll take a look at target tones. These are the notes you’ll cadence your phrases on. Players that are new to soloing, regardless of the style, have a tendency to play more notes than needed. I believe this is due to the fact that new players often don’t know the notes they are playing, or how they relate to the chords they’re playing over. In this column I’ll share with you a cool strategy I use over a 12-bar blues to land on the coolest notes of each chord.
The blues progression is based on three dominant seventh chords: I, IV, and V. For these examples, we’ll work in the key of A. The I chord is an A7, the IV chord is D7, and the V chord is E7. The most important notes in a seventh chord are the thirds and the sevenths. With just these two notes, you can determine the quality and sound of any chord. The minor seventh against the major third gives these chords its dominant sound. I’ve heard people describe major chords as happy, and minor chords as sad. If this is true, then dominant chords are a party. They are a major-sounding chord with a bit of tension on the top.
InFigure 1I want you just to hear how these tones sound against the chord. We’ll start with the I chord. The third is C# and the flat seventh is G. You’ll hear the chord first, then I’ll play both the third and seventh. Listen carefully to how they sound against the chord.
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As you listen to these two notes together you will hear a ton of tension. This tension is known as a tritone and is the most intensive interval we have in music. Tension is a great tool in music, especially in blues, which is all about tension and release.
These notes couldn’t be any easier to find. The flat seventh is already in our A minor pentatonic scale, and the major third is just a half step up from our minor third in the pentatonic scale. In Figure 1, I’m playing C# on the 6th fret of the 3rd string, and the G on the 5th fret of the 6th string.
If we look at the octaves of these notes, shown inFigure 2, they almost make a diagonal line running through our first position A minor pentatonic scale.Download Example Audio...
This diagonal line of thirds (C#) and flat sevenths (G) is only good over the I chord. I know what you’re thinking: How do I find the thirds and sevenths of the IV and V chords? Well, believe it or not, it’s very easy. The flat seventh of the I chord is G, and the third of the IV chord D7 is F#. G and F# are only a half step apart, or just one fret. The third of A7 is C#. The flat seventh of the IV chord is C. Again, only a half step apart. So this means that our diagonal line moves down a half step for the IV chord. This also means that what was the third of the I chord (C#) becomes the flat seventh for the IV chord (C). This is a lot of information to think about, but it’s good to know. Check outFigure 3to see how each note moves when you move from the I chord to the IV chord.Download Example Audio...
When you move from the I to the V chord you move up a half step. The flat seventh of the I chord is G and the third of the V chord is G#. The C# is the third of A7, and the D is the flat seventh of E7. This means that for the movement from the I chord to the V chord we move our diagonal line up one fret from where we started. InFigure 4you can see how the target tones change from the I chord to the V chord.Download Example Audio...
InFigure 5let’s look at how we can practice this concept so that we can use it to tighten up our solos. The way I developed this technique was to take one lick and play it over the three different chords, changing only the last note, or the target note. Over the I chord I target the C# and then move it down a half step to C when the IV chord comes around. When I move back to the I chord, I return to the C#. For the E7, I move it up a half step to D, or the seventh of the chord.Download Example Audio...
Figure 6starts off on the flat seventh of the I chord (G). When the IV chord is played, we slide the G down one fret a half step to F#, which is the third of the IV chord. Over the V chord, we slide up one fret to the third (D#) of the V chord (E7).Download Example Audio...
InFigure 7, I worked off of the third (C#) of the I chord again. I moved it down a half step for the IV chord to C natural. Then, for the V chord, I moved the C# up a half step to D the flat seventh of the V chord.Download Example Audio...
Try creating a few of your own. Just keep moving up and down that diagonal line, string by string. Try using the licks you already play and adapt them so they land on either the third or flat seventh of the I chord.
In next month’s column I’ll show you how to use these same notes to comp in the style of piano and horn players. Take your time with these licks and it will train your ears to hear these cadence points. In return, you’ll gain the confidence you need to have strong phrases that have great resting points.
‘Til next time, enjoy and have fun.
Thanks for reading.
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