There's a lot of musical gold inside the scales.
• Develop a deeper improvisational vocabulary.
• Combine pentatonic scales to create new colors.• Understand the beauty of diatonic harmony.
Improvising over one chord for long stretches of time can be a musician's best friend or worst nightmare. With no harmonic variation, we are left to generate interest through our lines, phrasing, and creativity. When I started learning to improvise, a minor 7 chord and a Dorian mode were the only sounds that I wanted to hear at the time. I found it tremendously helpful to have the harmony stay in one spot while I mined for new ideas to play. Playing over a static chord was crucial in developing my sense of time and phrasing.
The following is the first improvisational device I ever came across. I want to say I got it from a Frank Gambale book. The idea is that there are three minor pentatonic scales "hiding" in any given major scale. If we're in the key of C (C–D–E–F–G–A–B) we can pluck out the D, E, and A minor pentatonic scales. If we frame them over a Dm7 chord, they give us different five-note combinations of the D Dorian mode. In short, we are building minor pentatonic scales off the 2, 3, and 6 of the C major scale.
Viewing this through the lens of D minor (a sibling of C major and the tonal center for this lesson), D minor pentatonic gives us the 1–b3–4–5–b7, E minor pentatonic gives us 2–4–5–6–1, and A minor pentatonic gives us 5–b7–1–2–4. This means you can use your favorite pentatonic licks in three different locations and there are three different sounds we can tap into from the same structure.
If you smashed all of them together, you would get the D Dorian scale (D–E–F–G–A–B–C) with notes in common between the D, E, and A minor pentatonic scales. Ex. 1 uses all three scales, so you can hear the different colors each one creates over the chord.
Ex. 2 is how I improvise with them, usually weaving in and out using different positional shapes.
The next idea is one I stole from a guitarist who often came into a music store I worked at. On the surface, it's very easy: Just take two triads (in our example it will be Dm and C) and ping-pong between them. The D minor triad (D–F–A) gives us 1–b3–5, which is very much rooted in the chord, and the C major triad (C–E–G) gives us the b7–9–4, which is much floatier. Also, if you smash these two triads together, you get 1–2–b3–4–5–b7, which is a minor pentatonic scale with an added 2 (or 9). Eric Johnson uses this sound all the time. Ex. 3 is the lick I stole years ago.
Ex. 4 is how I would improvise with this concept. Many different fingerings work with these, so experiment until you find a layout that's comfortable for your own playing.
If two triads work, why not seven? This next approach will take all the triads in the key of C (C–Dm–Em–F–G–Am–Bdim) and use them over a Dm7 chord (Ex. 5). Each triad highlights different three-note combinations from the Dorian scale, and all of them sound different. Triads are clear structures that sound strong to our ears, and they can generate nice linear interest when played over one chord. Once again, all of this is 100% inside the scale. Ex. 5 is how each triad sounds over the track, and Ex. 6 is my attempt to improvise with them.
If we could find all these possibilities with triads, it's logical to make the structure a little bigger and take a similar approach with 7 chords, or in this case, arpeggios. Naturally, all the diatonic chords will work, but I'll limit this next idea to just Dm7, Fmaj7, Am7, and Cmaj7. I love this approach because as you move further away from the Dm7 shape, each new structure takes out a chord tone and replaces it with an extension. I notice that I usually come up with different lines when I'm thinking about different chord shapes, and this approach is a decent way to facilitate that. Ex. 7 is a good way to get these under your fingers. Just ascend one shape, shift into the next shape on the highest string, then descend and shift to the next on the lowest string.
Ex. 8 is my improvisation using all four shapes and sounds, but I lean pretty heavily on the Am7.
This last concept has kept me busy on the fretboard for the last five years or so. Check it out: You can take any idea that works over Dm7 and move the other diatonic chords. The result is six variations of your original lick. In Ex. 9 I play a line that is 4–1–b3–5 over Dm7 and then walk it through the other chords in the key. These notes are still in the key of C, but it sounds drastically different from playing a scale.
In Ex. 10, I try to think about the shapes from the previous example, but I break up the note order in a random but fun way. The ending line is random but felt good, so I left it in.
While all these concepts have been presented over a minor chord, you can just as easily apply them to any chord quality, and they work just as well in harmonic or melodic minor. Rewarding sounds are available right inside the harmony, and I am still discovering new ideas through these concepts after many years.
Though the above ideas won't necessarily be appropriate for every style or situation, they will work in quite a few. Developing any approach to the point that it becomes a natural extension of your playing takes considerable work and patience, so just enjoy the process, experiment, and let your ear guide you to the sounds you like. Even over just one chord, there is always something new to find.
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Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.