Investigate the 16-measure form found in "The Chicken" and learn to successfully navigate through the changes.
• 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.
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.
Levi Clay is a London-based guitar player, teacher, and transcriber. His unique approach to learning keeps him in constant demand from students the world over, and his expertise as a transcriber has introduced his work to a whole new audience. For more information, check out leviclay.com.
Develop a deeper understanding of basic triads, learn about inversions and voice-leading, and create more interesting rhythm parts in this month''s Fretboard Workshop.
• Gain a better understanding of the fretboard through the use of triads.
• Learn about chord inversions and voice-leading.
• Create more interesting rhythm parts using higher-voiced triads.
There are three reasons why “high” triads are awesome. First, they can really complement another guitar player’s rhythm work—especially when both guitarists are playing at the same time. Second, arpeggiating these babies can add some nice melodies to your solos. Third, using them forces you to know the notes on the higher frets of the higher strings. Woo-hoo!
High triads contain only three notes: the root, 3, and 5. In open-string chord voicings (you know, those ringing “folk” grips), we sometimes double or even triple these notes. For example, an open E chord contains three E notes (the root), two B notes (the 5), and one G# (the 3). However, in a triad there’s only one of each chord tone. In this lesson, we will be playing these three notes on consecutive “high” or treble strings (strings 1–3), and we’ll target the higher frets (above the 5th fret anyway).
Do you know what note is on the 9th fret of the 2nd string? If you had to think about it for more than two seconds, this lesson will come in handy. I find that many students know the notes on the low 6th and 5th strings only, since they often play barre chords where the root is on either string. When I ask them to play different voicings of a chord, where the root is on the 3rd or 2nd string, they panic and occasionally start crying. Just kidding! But let’s just say they’re not thrilled about it. There is definitely a problem among guitarists with knowing notes across the entire fretboard. I say we start learning ’em. So, in this lesson, we’ll learn how to play three major triad fingerings and use them to memorize notes on the upper frets of the top three strings.
For root position (where the root is the lowest note in the chord), the root will be on the 3rd string, the 3 on the 2nd string, and the 5 on the 1st string—as you can see in Fig. 1. Remember, for now we are focused on learning the shape of the chord and the order of the notes. Once you have that down we can slide it up and down the neck to play any chord we want.
In Fig. 2, you can see a shape for a first-inversion chord. This means that the 3 of the chord is the lowest note. This fingering is probably familiar if you play barre chords. It represents the upper half of a major barre chord, based off the 6th string.
Onward to the second inversion in Fig. 3. Now, the 5 is the lowest note, the root is on the 2nd string, and the 3 is in the melody (which means it’s on the highest string). This fingering is the familiar D chord shape. As a matter of fact, when you play a D chord, the 3rd fret of the 2nd string is where you will find the chord’s root.
Now that we know all three fingerings, we can start getting familiar with using them around the neck. Let’s create an invisible box on the fretboard that stretches five frets. We’ll start with frets 5–9. This means we must play all triads between the 5th and 9th frets. So rather than move one chord shape up and down the neck for each chord change, we’ll have to use all three shapes in one confined area of the neck. If you’ve never done this before, it can be tricky at first. Try not to get frustrated initially—you will feel pretty badass when you have this down.
In these first three exercises, we will isolate each fingering one at a time. First, let’s work on the root-position chords within our invisible box. As you can see in Fig. 4, there are only three different chords we can play in this fret span: D, Eb (or D#), and E.
Set your metronome at 80 bpm and play the random mix of chords in Fig. 5. For now, each chord is given a whole-note value because this gives you time to think about where you’ll be moving next. When playing this exercise, try to think about the root of each chord and its location on the 3rd string. If you use the root as a visual target, you will begin to memorize the notes on the 3rd string.
Now let’s skip past the 1st inversion and try 2nd-inversion fingerings. I prefer to do the 2nd inversion next because as we are visualizing roots, it seems more natural to advance them to the next string. Check out the chords between frets 5–9 in Fig. 6 and then try Fig. 7. Remember to think about the root notes on the 2nd string while playing through the changes.
Finally, here are the 1st-inversion chords in Fig. 8. The root is located on the 1st string, which is a lot easier to visualize if you’re already familiar with the notes on the 6th string or low E. Also, I added the C# (Db), which steps out of our five-fret span, but was the only chord missing from the chromatic 12.
Once you have played through the chords, try out Fig. 9 at a reasonably slow tempo.
Now for the final exam on this area of the neck. You will have to use all three fingerings to play within our span. Fig. 10 begins with whole-notes, so you have some time to think. We move to half-notes in Fig. 11 and by Fig. 12, you’ll have no time to think. Good luck!
So, how’d we do? Hopefully you are feeling more confident about using triads because you know where they are. Remember, you can apply these same chord shapes anywhere on the neck. Once you have worked through the examples in this lesson, move on to another region and start the process over again. Stay tuned for more to come on this topic. We’ve only scratched the surface.
Alex Nolan is a NYC-based guitarist, songwriter, and instructor who specializes in rock, R&B, country, and Brazilian jazz. Having served on the faculty of the National Guitar Workshop and holding a degree from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, Nolan has performed as a lead guitarist with various artists including Jill Sobule, Joan As Policewoman, Toshi Reagon, Marcus Hummon, Katie Armiger, Sophia Ramos, and Amanda Ruzza. For more information, please visit alexnolan.com.
Uncover the secrets behind Django''s style by learning about three- and four-note voicings, blazing arpeggios, and some cool diminished-sounding tricks.
• Understand the basic elements of Django Reinhardt’s style.
• Develop three- and four-note chord voicings based in the Gypsy style.
• Create arpeggio-filled lines using triads and diminished shapes.
In this lesson we’ll look at the elements that make up an exciting style of jazz known as Gypsy jazz. Inspired by the fiery improvisations of American jazz masters like Louis Armstrong, Gypsy jazz was, however, not developed in the United States. Gypsy jazz came from Paris in the form of a string band founded by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli, called Le Quintette du Hot Club de France, which set the precedent for the Gypsy-jazz ensemble and instrumentation. In the original quintet, Django and Stéphane were supported by two rhythm guitars and upright bass. To this day, one can find “Hot Club”-style groups with similar configurations flourishing throughout the world.
As a guitarist, it is important to know about Django Reinhardt, as his contribution was profound and his influence far-reaching. Chances are, many of the guitarists you’d call a guitar hero—no matter their style—would count Django’s playing as influential. Born in Liberchies, Belgium, on January 23, 1910 to a family of Manouche Gypsies, he was given the Romany name Django, which means “I awake.” Django started playing the violin, followed by the banjo-guitar, which he excelled at, and at a very young age Django was a working musician in the dancehalls of Paris.
In 1928 Django’s bright playing career was nearly ended. After returning home from an evening gig, the caravan he called home was set ablaze by a candle that ignited celluloid flowers made by Django’s wife, Bella. Both survived the blaze but Django was badly injured. He suffered extensive damage to his left hand thereby greatly diminishing his ability to use his ring finger and pinky. During a long recovery period Django was able to relearn the instrument using his fretting-hand thumb and first two fingers.
Check out this videoto see Django in action (Django’s entrance is at approximately 2:28). It’s amazing to see how he was able to travel the fretboard in such a fluid manner, despite the limitations due to his injury. You can also see how he used the injured fingers to play certain chord shapes. At first listen, this music seems daunting—especially given the virtuosity of the masters. But hopefully you’ll be equipped to begin your journey into the land of Gypsy jazz with this primer. So, let’s get started!
To capture the sound of Gypsy jazz, a focus on the rhythm guitar is a must. For now, we’ll bid open-string chord voicings adieu and focus exclusively on fretted chord grips. This is important because you must be able to control the ringing of the strings. Let’s start with an A chord (using the barred E shape) and play quarter-notes (Fig. 1).
While strumming these quarter-notes, don’t let the chord ring from one beat to the next. To achieve this, release the pressure of your fretting fingers between each strum. This creates a little separation between beats. It’s the same technique swing guitarists use when playing four-to-the-bar style comping, à la Freddie Green.
We’ll tweak things a bit with Fig. 2. On beats 1 and 3, focus on picking only the bottom few strings, and on beats 2 and 4, strum all the notes of the chord. Because the typical Hot Club group lacks drums, the rhythm guitar sonically fills this role. By playing beats 2 and 4 with more snap of the wrist from your picking hand, you can achieve a snare drum-like sound that will help things groove. Also note a common alternate fingering for the A chord.
While barre chords are used in Gypsy-style comping, three-note voicings are also common and are relatively easy to play. Fig. 3 shows a three-note voicing that’s finger-friendly and has multiple uses.
When playing this chord, be sure not to play the 1st, 2nd, and 5th strings. You can use your 2nd finger to block the 5th string, which allows you to strum through the shape. This chord has multiple functions, depending on which note you determine to be the root. Two common chord functions of this shape are the minor 6 chord and a rootless dominant 7. The classic tune “Minor Swing” can be played with only four chords, and you can play three of those four chords using the voicing from Fig. 3. You can see, in Fig. 4, that Am6, Dm6, and E7 are all played using the same chord shape. The empty circle in the E7 indicates the root—don’t play this note. It's there for you to visualize the location of the root, allowing you to create other dominant 7 chords by moving the shape up or down the neck.
With the addition of another dominant 7 chord shape in Fig. 5, we’re now ready to play the chord progression to “Minor Swing.”
Before we dig into the progression, check out the following YouTube clip. This video features Django and Stéphane with the original quintet playing “Minor Swing.” Pay special attention to the groove that is created by the rhythm guitars.
Now it’s your turn. Try playing the progression in Fig. 6 with the three-note voicings.
We can fill out the previous voicings by adding a note on the 2nd string to each chord shape, as illustrated in Fig. 7. In doing so, we add the 5 to the minor 6 chord and the 9 to the dominant 7 voicing. The shape we’re using to play Bb7 has the 5 added to it, as well. Try playing the progression in Fig. 6 with these expanded voicings.
Django also recorded American jazz standards. Here are a few voicings we’ll need to play some of these standards. Let’s start with a minor 7 voicing that flows nicely into the rootless dominant 9 we’ve just learned. In Fig. 8, the chords Gm7 and C9 create a common progression found in jazz standards called the IIm-V progression.
Next, we’ll add the tonic (or I chord), which in this case is an F major chord, to this progression to create a IIm-V-I progression. We could use a barred F chord, but we can spice it up a bit by adding the 6 to the triad to create an F6 chord. The 6 is a common tone added to the triad, not only for comping but also for solo lines. (We’ll explore the latter a bit later.) In Fig. 9, you can see a few useful major 6 voicings.
Apply these chords to the A section of “Honeysuckle Rose,” as shown in Fig. 10. Use the first voicing in Fig. 9 to play the F6 in this example.
Take Your Pick
Let’s shift our focus to lead playing. Before we dig into some of Django’s lines, let’s talk picks. In this style of playing, thicker picks are preferred over thin ones. Check out pick maker Michel Wegen’s Gypsyjazzpick, which is 3.5 mm thick, and his massive 5 mm Fatone pick. Experiment with various pick materials and thicknesses to find the tone you’re looking for with a comfortable feel. Your pick grip should not be tight. An excessive grip only adds tension to your playing—it’s fatiguing and slows you down.
If you are used to strict alternate picking, you’ll find Gypsy-style picking to be a bit different. Without going into great detail here, follow the general rule of playing a downstroke at each string change and you’ll be off to a good start. For more information on Gypsy jazz picking, check out Michael Horowitz’s book Gypsy Picking, which is available at DjangoBooks.com. At this site you’ll find other resources that may be helpful.
Next, it’s on to lead playing. We’ll start with an overview of common elements and devices employed by Django in his line construction, and then look at a handful of his lines that incorporate these elements and devices.
The first device used to create lines is the arpeggio. Arpeggios play a big part in Django’s line construction. Not always using the extended arpeggios one might expect when dealing with jazz, Django created wonderfully exciting and colorful lines using the triad as the core building block. If you take time to listen and transcribe the melody to “Minor Swing,” you’ll find it is composed of arpeggiated minor and major triads.
Another device used in line creation is the chromatic approach. By approaching chord tones by either a half-step above or below (and in some cases, both) you can add color to your lines without having to learn exotic scales. When it’s time to expand the harmony beyond the triad, a common added tone is the 6. This happens over both major and minor chords. Incorporating major and minor 6 arpeggio practice into your workout routine is time well spent.
Django wove the elements and devices mentioned above (plus many others) into beautifully crafted statements. I’ve chosen a few licks to help illustrate this. You’ll find the bulk of the analysis is placed directly into the music notation. Given the seamless way Django combined these elements and devices, it seems like a clearer way to highlight them.
The first lick, Fig. 11, is a great example of chromatic approaches. The harmony he’s soloing over is a C7, and he approaches the root and the 5 from both above and below. You can hear this in the following YouTube clip of him playing “Honeysuckle Rose” at approximately 0:58 into the song.
The next two licks can be heard on Django’s recording of “Honeysuckle Rose” with the original quintet. In the following video, Fig. 12 is at approximately 0:51 and Fig. 13 is at 1:10.
Fig. 12 is over the A section of “Honeysuckle Rose.” Interesting rhythmic variety occurs in the first five measures of this line, and is created by starting a similarly crafted phrase on different beats of the measure. The first phrase starts on beat 3, the second on beat 2, and the third on the “and” of 2.
The diminished 7 arpeggio is used frequently, typically being played over a dominant 7 chord to create a dominant 7b9 sound. For example, over an F7 chord play an Adim7 arpeggio. The combination of the two sounds results in an F7b9.
Fig. 13 is at the start of the bridge. Check out how the Adim7 arpeggio (over the F7) resolves to the 6 (or 13) of the Bb6 chord. Super cool!
All right, we’ll wrap this section up with a few licks played over the Gershwin standard “Lady Be Good.” These licks can be heard on the following video clip at approximately 0:57 and 2:06.
Django’s playing impacted generations of players (jazzers and non-jazzers alike), and his legacy lives on with “Hot Clubs” found throughout the world, as well as festivals—some bearing his name—devoted to this style. For more in-depth information on Django and Gypsy jazz, check out Michael Dregni’s books (Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend and Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz).
My hope is that this lesson will help tune your ears to some of the nuance in the rhythm guitar, as well as some of the colors present in Django’s lines, and inspire you to dig further into this beautiful and exciting style.
Mike Cramer is an award-winning performer and educator. A stylistically versatile multi-instrumentalist, Cramer has shared the stage with or opened for B.B. King, Tommy Castro, Chris Duarte, Gordon Goodwin, John Hartford, and Steve Kaufman. Cramer co-founded All 12 Notes, LLC where he has a private lesson studio, teaching guitar, mandolin, and electric bass. His most recent CD release, Open Spaces, is a collection of original and traditional acoustic pieces. For more information, visit all12notes.com.