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Investigate the 16-measure form found in "The Chicken" and learn to successfully navigate through the changes.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn to develop soloing strategies over nontraditional blues forms.
• Understand how to combine different melodic approaches.
• Create improvised solos that combine arpeggios, scales, and chord fragments.

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

This series of columns was always conceived as a conduit for techniques and concepts that let you push past the old 12-bar form you’ve heard at oh-so-many jam nights in bars and clubs.

For the last few lessons we’ve looked at note choice and how we can use music theory to expand our practice methodology. We’ve covered scales, arpeggios, and phrasing to take your playing beyond the blues you may know and love. This month we’re going to take it easy and let you use what you’ve already learned while working on another key concept for jamming musicians.

So far in this column we’ve focused on the dominant 7 chord and various ways to outline it, so now I’m going to introduce you to an easy chord progression that you’ll be able to work up pretty quickly with some other musicians.

Originally composed by saxophonist Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, “The Chicken” would go on to be a funky fusion standard often played by the late, great Jaco Pastorius. There are endless renditions of this fantastic tune to check out, including the classic version recorded by Jaco on The Birthday Concert, along with various YouTube versions from the likes of John Scofield and Mike Stern. It’s also a favorite of Guthrie Govan’s fusion group, The Fellowship, which I’ve seen played a lot, and there’s a cracking version recorded by the criminally unknown Shaun Baxter called “Chicken Soup,” which can be heard on his seminal album, Jazz Metal.

We’re not going to learn the melody here, but instead follow the jazz practice of borrowing a chord progression and using it as the basis for a new tune. A piece that incorporates a new melody over an old chord progression is known as a “contrafact” (check out a list of contrafacts here). Now, let’s take a look at the chord chart in Fig. 1 and then we’ll break it down into manageable chunks.

Hopefully as the tune starts out, you’ll feel like you’re in familiar territory. The first six measures are identical to a standard blues, as we’re playing the I chord for four measures (Bb7) and moving to the IV chord in measures 5 and 6 (Eb9). This means you can treat this section like any other blues, and everything we’ve covered so far will work great here¬. Arpeggios, minor pentatonic scales, Mixolydian mode, and using the Super Locrian scale to resolve to the IV chord—these all have a place.

In measure 7, we take a turn beyond blues and move down a half-step to D9 instead of back to the I chord. Then we jump down a fifth to G7 and up a fourth to C9. There’s no need to panic though, as that’s just a simple cycle we looked at in a previous lesson [12 keys, 5 Shapes and the Blues]. In measure 12 we have a break where normally the band plays a descending unison melody, but in our example we’ll just play a blues fill. We end the form by moving back to Bb7 for four measures. I know that’s a lot to take in, so before you move on, just take a minute to play through these chords.

Now let’s look at how we can tackle that melodically. If you take a look at the first solo (Fig. 2), I’ve written something very simple that focuses on the minor pentatonic scale.

The first four measures contain nothing but simple minor pentatonic and blues scale phrasing which sounds great on a track like this. Sometimes it’s important to remember that even with everything we learn, the best thing can often be to just play the minor pentatonic scale with a good blues feel.

Over the Eb7, D7, and G7 chords, we’re just playing notes taken from the arpeggios. If you’ve spent time working on the arpeggio shapes we’ve covered before, this shouldn’t cause any real concern, but if you’re not yet comfortable, go back and check out the previously mentioned lesson.

The C7 chord sits with us for quite a while, so I’ve decided to treat it like a new key center and use the minor pentatonic scale (C-Eb–F–G–Bb) to give us a bluesy feel. Take note of just how much space I’ve left—something like this is great for the first chorus of a solo. I’ve ended the solo with a short chordal idea that outlines the Bb7 chord.

Although the idea behind this column is to expand your jam repertoire, I know lots of you are going to want to work on something challenging, so here’s another solo (Fig. 2) with some more demanding licks to learn.

This solo is a little more complicated, but still nothing you won’t be able to get down with a little bit of practice.

Measure 1 starts with an idea based on shape three that fits in the major pentatonic scale, though it’s very similar to a lot of the vocabulary we’ve looked at in this position. The second measure changes things up with a switch to the blues scale for a darker sound.

I bring in a new influence in measures 3 and 4, proving that going beyond blues doesn’t mean you need to be a jazz player, as this idea is clearly inspired by a Brent Mason country lick. The first half of the lick fits nicely around the Bb7 arpeggio you know and love, while the second part shifts up the neck to a Bb triad pattern that moves down to Ab and then resolves back to Bb.

For the Eb7 chord, we start with a cool little motif that gives us time to prepare for the second bar of Eb, which uses a string of 16th-notes and chromaticism before landing on the 5 (A) of D7. Over D7, we repeat the same motif used on Eb before moving to a very Clapton-like minor to major pentatonic phrase.

To contrast with the first solo, for the C7 chord I’ve decided to stick a little closer to the 7th tonality (rather than forcing the minor pentatonic), so notice how the phrase begins with a bend up to the b7 and then moves down to the 3. This idea is then developed in the tenth measure, where I add some chromatic passing tones before restating the original C7 idea, only this time we end on the bluesy b3.

I’ve ended with the same phrase from the first solo to illustrate how you can stitch these ideas together to spontaneously create new and exciting solos.

It’s worth mentioning that this is by no means a complete guide to soloing over this tune and there are numerous other ideas you can explore if you want to get real beyond. Try playing some Lydian dominant over the Eb7 and a bit of Mixolydian b6 over the D7 chord and see what you think of that. Just remember, this is still blues-based music, so don’t underestimate the power of a good blues lick.

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Dig into some of the soloing and comping techniques used by jazz master Jim Hall.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to build solo lines based on chord tones.
• Understand various comping techniques used to play jazz standards.
• Develop lines that employ string skipping and “pivot” notes.

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

From his beginnings in 1955 with the Chico Hamilton Quartet to his work with his own groups in the present day, NEA Jazz Master Jim Hall has a style that’s equal parts introspective, whimsical, and virtuosic in a minimalist way. With simple techniques that you can experiment with, Hall has created a sophisticated sound and style that is easily recognized within a few notes. And at 82 years old, Hall is still touring, recording, and evolving as a musician and improviser.

Fig. 1 is a melody inspired by Hall’s work on Sonny Rollins’ groundbreaking album, The Bridge. Recorded in 1962 and with guitar as the solo chordal instrument on the record, Hall is both accompanist and countermelody to Rollins’ tenor saxophone. This example uses the chords from the first eight measures of “Without a Song.”

When it comes to comping, the same rules apply. Fig. 2 uses the same chord progression from the previous example and demonstrates one way that Hall might approach it, by using chord tones—most notably the 3s and 7s—as a springboard.

Over the years Hall has collaborated with many musicians in a duo setting, such as pianist Bill Evans and bassist Ron Carter. In the two-guitar category, Hall has recorded with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. And in a fun, White-Stripes-meets-jazz-greats kind of way, he has a duo album with drummer Joey Baron. Fig. 3 incorporates the open string voicings that Hall favors when he is focusing on a more rhythmic, strumming approach. Keep the volume as low as possible on this one, to get more of a “woody” sound, like the one Hall creates with his hollowbody custom Sadowsky guitar. (Even if you don’t have a hollowbody guitar, it will work.)

Fig. 4 highlights the concept of soloing on non-adjacent strings. It’s a surefire way to spruce up your technique, and Hall uses it tastefully in almost every solo he takes. He’ll also use one note as a pivot tone or springboard to play through the changes. This uses the chords from the first four measures of “My Funny Valentine.”

Speaking of pivot notes, Hall also likes to create chord melodies within his solos, no matter what the instrumentation of the ensemble. Sometimes he’ll choose a note and harmonize it within the context of a tune. Fig. 5 is an example of something he might play over the harmony to “All the Things You Are.”

The techniques used in the examples above are simple and should be transposed into all keys. In doing so, not only will you develop a solid knowledge of the fretboard in general, but you’ll also have more creative avenues through which to improvise. Pick one technique at a time and play it over a jazz standard—or even just a 12-bar blues to start. Work on it slowly and before you know it, you’ll have these sounds under your fingers and in your ears.

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Singer/songwriter Keaton Simons shows you five easy ways to breathe new life into your chord progressions.

Chops: Beginner
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Create more interesting chord progressions.
• Learn how to use extensions.
• Add more interest to chords through the use of inversions and substitutions.

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

As a songwriter, I like to start simple and build from there. Some of my favorite songs to play (including many of my own) only have a few chords. These techniques will help to make things more compelling without over-complicating the basic framework of the piece. Having said that, it’s fine to geek out and compose music that isn’t simple! There is plenty of room for simple, complex, and everything in between. I’m always looking for ways to keep it interesting and increase my options while enriching my harmonic landscape.

Let’s take a simple and common set of chord changes like the VIm–IV–I–V progression. In the key of G major those basic chords are E minor, C, G, and D. These are the same chord changes (in a different key) that I use in my song “Beautiful Pain,” as you can see in Fig. 1. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but let’s look at five different ways to make them more interesting.

1. Extensions<
When you see a chord like E7#11b13, do your eyes cross? Have no fear, it’s really not as complicated as it looks (or sounds). First, you have the root—in this case, E—and then you have the quality (major, minor, dominant, etc.). So far, so good. Now is where most people get lost. The numbers after the quality (#11, b13) indicate the extensions and alterations. These are non-diatonic notes that can add color, depth, and sophistication to a chord. They also open up more opportunities for voice-leading and finding common tones between chords. For example, if we take the vanilla C chord shown in Fig. 1 and add a D, we now have a Cadd9 chord. Simple, right?

Now, let’s look at the first chord in the progression, a basic Em shape. Let’s start by changing the first chord from Em to Em7 (E–G–B–D). Now, the 7 isn’t normally considered an extension, but it does create a common tone (D) between the first two chords. Because both the G and D major chords also contain the common tone, it can smooth out the transition between chord changes while creating layers of harmony (Fig. 2).

If you want to get even more colorful you can do something like Fig. 3. For example, by making the Em7 into an Em9 (E–G–F#–B), the C into a Cadd9#11 (C–E–G–D–F#), the G into a Gmaj7 (G–B–D–F#), and the D into a Dadd9 (D–F#–A–E)–you can really take it out there.

2. Suspensions
You can suspend the tonality of a chord by replacing the 3 with either the 2 or 4. This creates a gentle, almost ethereal dissonance that can really bring some flavor to your changes. For example, by making the D into a Dsus4 (D–G–A), you now have a common tone—G (Fig. 4). This is another subtle way to enhance your changes. Although similar to the effect of a chord extension, I think you’ll find that the differences make understanding both approaches more than worthwhile.

3. Inversions
By rearranging the order of notes, you can bring out different sides (I think of them as personalities) of a chord. When you have a song that consists of the same three or four chords over and over again, you’ll want to keep it interesting, and this is a great way to do it. Let’s make the D chord into a first-inversion shape (otherwise known as a D/F# or D with an F# in the bass). In this context, you can really alter the personality of that chord and therefore the entire set of changes (Fig. 5). This is an idea I really think about when composing my own songs.

4. Voicings
There are several different places on the neck where you can “voice” the same chord. The transformation in this case is almost mystical because you are playing roughly the same notes, but when it’s in a different position on the neck they can sound quite different. For example, by playing Em9 with the root on the 7th fret of the 5th string, you can increase the cool factor while breaking yourself out of the open position box (Fig. 6).

5. Substitutions
You can also substitute a chord for another chord that shares one or more common tones. Check this out: Try substituting an Am7 (A–C–E–G) for the C chord. You can really create a departure from the repetitive (Fig. 7). As you can see, both chords contain the notes C, E, and G. I use this technique more when I’m composing because the change is more pronounced.

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