Dip a toe in the jazz-blues pool with these simple chord subs.

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Unlock the secrets of implying altered sounds over dominant 7th chords using the Super Locrian scale.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview:
• Develop soloing strategies for V-I cadences.
• Learn about chord extensions and alterations.
• Understand how to incorporate the Super Locrian scale.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

This month you’re really going to reap the rewards of any time you put into my last lesson on dominant 7 arpeggios shapes and the CAGED system, as we’re going to move on to altered sounds and the V-I resolution.

There was a little confusion last month from some readers who (rightly so) pointed out that the chord progression we looked at wasn’t ever going to come up in the blues. It’s really important to understand that while the progression will probably never come up in full, picking any two measures of the progression gives you a V-I movement which is the absolute pivotal harmonic movement in all Western music (it crops up twice in a 12-bar basic blues and as many as 12 times in a bebop-influenced blues). If we were to take four consecutive chords you’d have the B section of "I’ve Got Rhythm" or any "rhythm changes" tune (sometimes referred to as the bebop bridge).

In the most basic form, 99 percent of all music boils down to tension and resolution. As a real simple example of this, if you play the chords C–F–Dm–G–Am you’ll find that the music doesn’t sound finished, you’re waiting for it to continue. That’s because I’ve ended it with an interrupted cadence, the V-VIm movement which could be likened to a comma in language. If I told you to repeat the progression but instead end on a C (C–F–Dm–G–C) suddenly the song feels complete because we’ve gone from the V chord (G, built from the 5th degree of the C major scale) to the I chord. This is known as a perfect cadence and is the strongest form of resolution in music. Even just the root movement of the V to the I carries enough weight that it remains strong through hundreds of years of culture.

When we pad out the harmony to 7th chords, in the key of C we would have Cmaj7–Dm7–Em7–Fmaj7–G7–Am7–Bm7b5. These chords obviously sound a little more complex than the previous triad harmony, but the rules established are still present. Cmaj7, Fmaj7, Dm7, G7, and Am7 still sound unfinished, and ending on the Cmaj7 gives us a sense of completion. What we have now is a dominant 7 chord, which naturally occurs on the 5th degree of the scale. This chord contains some real tension that wants to be resolved—even though we may not hear it that way, after listening to blues-influenced music for a century. Specifically there’s a diminished fifth interval between the 3 and b7 of the chord. When the major 3 raises a half-step and the lowered 7th drops a half-step, the chord resolves perfectly to the tonic C major chord.

The way we can take this concept a little “beyond” is to say to ourselves, "Okay, G7 to C sounds good because of tension and resolution, so what happens if I add even more tension to the equation?” The result is the altered chord.

At this stage, we’re not going to worry about correct extensions on secondary dominants, were just going to add a tension for effect. The four alterations at our disposal are the b5, #5, b9, and #9, and if we add any of them to our dominant 7 chord we’re going to create some real color. There really is a world of difference between Em7–A7–Dmaj7 and Em7–A7#5–Dmaj7. Give it a try!

So how do we use this altered sound in a blues context? Right now you may be thinking, “Levi, when I play blues, I don’t ever play a 7#5 chord.” The answer is simple: When moving from one chord to another, if it’s a dominant 7 moving up a 4th (or down a 5th), we can alter that chord—or pretend it’s altered. A great example of this in a blues would be measure four moving to measure five. In the key of A, we’d normally have four measures of A7 before moving to the IV chord (D7) in measure five. If we play the chord as A7 for three measures, but then alter it in the fourth measure to prepare for the resolution to D7, we’ll have a slightly more jazz-influenced blues.

Now that’s a lot of theory and we’re running out of space, so lets move on to how this can help us solo with a little more sophistication. The reference track at this point is always Robben Ford’s “Help The Poor.” It’s a flawless example of this concept in action because this minor blues in D features an A7#5 (give it a listen, it’s hard to miss) and during Robben’s two-chorus solo, he first chooses to ignore the chord, but on the repeat he opts to outline it with a fantastic altered lick that still grabs me every time I hear it (2:54).

If we include the four alterations when playing a dominant 7 chord, we’d get: root–b9–#9–3–b5–#5–b7. Or (in A) A–Bb–C–C#–Eb–F–G which actually contains all of the notes of a Bb melodic minor scale. So if you want to cheat, we have a few options:

  • Learn the A altered (also known as the Super Locrian) scale (recommended).
  • Play a melodic minor scale a half-step higher than the root of our chord.
  • Play the Lydian dominant scale based on the b5 of the chord.
  • Play a dominant 7 arpeggio a b5 higher than the root, which gives you a 7b5b9 sound.

Now to capitalize on the skills we covered last month [“12 Keys, 5 Shapes, and the Blues”], I’m going to give you five licks, one starting in each position of the CAGED system. Each one will resolve to the closest chord shape for the IV chord. If you missed last month’s lesson, you’re really going to want to put some time into that because what you’ll find is that when you learn to resolve smoothly, you can actually play any old nonsense on this tension and resolution idea. It doesn’t work the other way round though—the best altered lick in the world is a waste of notes if you don’t properly resolve the tension when the chord changes.

Fig. 1 starts in the first position of the CAGED system over A7 and combines the Mixolydian (A–B–C#–D–E–F#–G) and blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G) before playing an A Super Locrian (A–Bb–C–C#–Eb–F–G) lick resolving to a D7 sound.

Fig. 2 begins with an A minor pentatonic (A–C–D–E–G) sound over the A7 chord before resolving to a D7 sound, via a sneaky little Super Locrian run.

We take advantage of the B.B King “blues box” in Fig. 3. It fits very nicely in the third CAGED position. We’re creating a motif using the root and 6, and then bending to the 3 before playing a nice country-flavored lick (yes, that’s one we’ve played in a previous lesson) and then finally moving into an arpeggio idea outlining an Eb7. Remember that playing a dominant 7 arpeggio from the b5 will give us an A7b5b9 sound. This phrase resolves to the first position of CAGED which is probably the reason I like third position so much—the resolution is very easy to visualize and make musical statements with.

Beginning in the fourth position of CAGED, we blend major and minor sounds in Fig. 4. We then use a Super Locrian idea that’s focused around an augmented triad (Db–F–A) that’s found in the Super Locrian scale.

Our last lick (Fig. 5) is a bluesy bop number starting in the fifth position of CAGED with a simple scalar idea resolving to the a D7 arpeggio.

Finally, check out the backing track in Fig. 6. It covers the first four measures of a blues in A and will give you plenty of room to explore all the sounds we discussed in this lesson.

Obviously I’ve only glanced over Super Locrian fingerings because the goals right now are to drill down into the sound, understand the purpose of the Super Locrian scale, and harness it to the chord changes we learned last month. When I catch up with you next time, I’ll show you all the fingerings for the Super Locrian scale, some tricks to get it in your playing, and some great exercises you can use to practice it. See you then!

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Learn the ins and outs, ups and downs of sweep picking with this lesson by uber-shredder Nita Strauss.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the basics behind sweep picking.
• Combine sweep picking and tapping to create blistering licks.
• Learn how to play through minor and major arpeggios at warp speed.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

So I’m guilty of one of the main sins of guitar playing. You know which one I mean. A lot of us do it. You spend all this time at home on a metronome working out these tricky licks and then you get on stage and you want to show them off—to everyone. Loudly. All the time. Tapping slides or pinch harmonics in between phrases of verses (cue dirty look from singer), unbelievably loud lead channel with ridiculous delay (dirty look from FOH), syncopated string-skipping nonsense (unison dirty looks from rhythm section), playing between songs when the singer is plugging the band’s website, etc, etc. I’ve lost count of how many times the other guitarist of the Iron Maidens has looked at me and said sternly: “Nita, Dave Murray does not do any dive bombs!” We do it because it makes us happy! And we feel like it’s appropriate—as in, all the time.

All of that goes to say this: Drop Dead Shred is going to be a column by one of us, for us. Guitarists who aren’t into this may not like it, but for the rest of you, I’m going to share some of my favorite fun techniques to integrate into your playing and spice things up a bit. It’ll be up to you to use your powers wisely and not get kicked out of bands for overplaying. What I plan to do in each installment is to show you a bit of the journey I went on technique-wise to get to the final version. Obviously everyone learns things in a different sequence and because I’m entirely self-taught, I’m in no way saying this is the only right way. This is what I did that worked for me. We’ll be starting with the basic version and working up to what I do now.

When I was a very early/intermediate-level guitarist—meaning just barely starting to hate life—I was not the most well-rounded player out there. I hated alternate picking, so I would sweep and tap and dive bomb my way through everything. In this first installment, we’re going to take a look at some basic ways to develop your sweep technique following the same path that I did, and in the next part we’ll start to integrate it with other licks. Sweep picking is actually an early jazz technique (the more you know) and now it’s grown to be an absolute essential in any proficient guitarist’s shred vocabulary.

Let’s talk for a minute about the metronome—every guitarist’s best friend and worst nightmare. After particularly brutal practice days or long sessions, I literally hear the click in my ear when I lay my head down as if it’s coming from inside the pillow! It’s important all the time, but in my mind it’s absolutely essential when it comes to speed-training sweeps. I’ll typically start the metronome at an almost unbearably slow speed, and set a goal of how many times I have to play it perfectly in a row. Once I’ve played it 10 times in a row perfectly—no cheating—I’ll move the metronome up, usually in increments of five bpm.

Just about all of my early solos had this three-string sweep (Fig. 1) in them, generally repeated more than once. If you’re new to sweep picking, this is a great place to start. Make sure each note is cleanly articulated, especially the pull-off at the top, which is often glossed over in the hurry to finish the shape. You’ll have heard a lot of people saying, “Just let the pick fall down the strings,” or “Just let your fingers roll.” While that’s true in a sense, it is absolutely crucial that you isolate the motions of the left and right hand and move deliberately.

Once you’ve tortured yourself with that one enough, you can move on to Fig. 2 and use more strings in your sweeps. One thing I like to do as an exercise is play a five-string sweep using the same notes, but in different positions. This helps your muscle memory adapt to not just repeating the same old pattern every time you want to achieve a certain sound.

This brings us to a lick from the solo in my band Consume the Fire’s song “There is Only Today” in Fig. 3. But here’s the twist—I’m going to show you how I do it live, not how I do it on the record. If I go to a show and see a guitarist doing their solos absolutely note-for-note like the album, I’ll be impressed. If I see them throw in some cool off-the-cuff tricks, I’ll be absolutely blown away! So I always try to incorporate some fun stuff like this in my live shows.

The beginning of this lick is a standard ascending Dm sweep with a tap, but instead of tapping on the 22nd fret for the octave on the high D, I move up the Dorian scale before ending with a C on the 20th fret. After using pull-offs to descend back down to F at the 13th fret, I move to the 2nd string with a tap on G at the 20th fret. I again use pull-offs to move down to C at the 13th fret. From there I move down a whole-step to an ascending C major sweep and do the same kind of technique.

Feel free to experiment with different phrasings of this. I’ve had grand success with doing the tapping and hammer-on/pull-off bit chromatically too. Get these down and in the next installment we’re going to talk about some more exotic sweep phrasings and more about how to integrate them naturally with other techniques.

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