modal workshop

Alex Machacek shows you voicings to expand your chord vocabulary.

I’d like to introduce you to a very useful way to expand your chord vocabulary. The voicings we are about to explore work really well for comping and also for harmonizing melodies in a bunch of different musical contexts. All of the following examples are in E Dorian, so you can use the low open-E string as a drone. It is very helpful to be able to hear how each of these chords fit harmonically within a key. But before we get into the chords, let’s take a look at the E Dorian scale. I tend to think of this scale in one of three ways:
• As a D major scale starting on the second degree (E).
• Following the formula for a Dorian scale based off of E major (1–2–b3–4–5–6–b7).
• Simply by the names of the notes: E–F#–G–A–B–C#–D.

Personally, I tend to gravitate toward the scale-degree formula. It simply makes it easier to translate anything you work on into all 12 keys. We are going to think of an intervallic structure as a combination of intervals within a given scale. This structure can then be sequenced through the entire scale, which will result in seven different voicings. Sound complicated? Let’s break it down:

In Fig. 1, you see the notes of an E Dorian scale on the 1st string. Once you have learned these E Dorian notes on the 1st string, take a few minutes and find the same notes on the other five strings.

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