Chops: Intermediate Theory: Intermediate Lesson Overview: • Learn the principles of quartal harmony. • Play three- and four-note quartal voicings. • Construct quartal harmony based on the Dorian mode.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn the principles of quartal harmony.
• Play three- and four-note quartal voicings.
• Construct quartal harmony based on the Dorian mode.

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

When we start to think of how chords are constructed, we usually think in terms of triads and 7th chords, which are based on thirds. This is called tertian harmony, or harmony based on thirds. In this lesson we will be looking at the semi-ambiguous world of quartal harmony, which consists of chords derived from fourth intervals.

Quartal harmony is a style associated with piano players such as Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. The theory behind it is simple: Instead of building harmony by stacking major or minor thirds, we use fourths. For example, in the key of C, we could use C–F–Bb–Eb for a Dorian sound based out of a Bb major scale. You can then move up each scale degree of C Dorian constructing each voicing in fourths. Sounds easy right? Well, it is and I have done the work for you over a major and minor blues progression. Before we get to that, why would you want to do this?

The answer to me is simple: It’s yet another way to be improvisational with your harmonic vocabulary. These voicings are what you might call “open” sounding, meaning they don’t clearly say minor, major, or dominant. They also sit nicely on top of major, minor, and dominant chords. I also think of them as more melodic harmony. You’re less likely to play one voicing in one place for any length of time—you’ll feel the urge to move quartal voicings around.

In Fig. 1, you can see the basic quartal harmony voicings in the key of G Dorian—which we will use later over the Im chord in a G blues. You’ll notice these voicings are on strings 4–1. Try to visualize the G Dorian scale (G–A–Bb–C–D–E–F) going up the 4th string. In the first voicing, we have G–C–F–Bb, all perfect fourth intervals, but not all fourths are perfect. In the third voicing we have a Bb–E, which is an augmented fourth. For you theory hounds out there, you will remember that an augmented fourth is another name for a diminished fifth, or tritone. In the fourth voicing of the example this happens between the 2nd and 1st strings (giving us Bb and E, respectively), and again in the last voicing between the 3rd and 2nd strings (again yielding Bb and E).

We apply the same idea to C Dorian (C–D–Eb–F–G–A–Bb) in Fig. 2. These voicings will be used over the Cm7 or IVm chord in a G minor blues progression. Because of the layout of this key on the guitar, I’ve opted to keep the fingerings below the 12th fret. These I think are the most practical in the context we’re using them. Finally, we transpose these quartal shapes to D Dorian (D–E–F–G–A–B–C) in Fig. 3, which will be the V chord. Again, I have kept the voicings below the 12th fret.

We finally get to some music in Fig. 4. Here I have outlined a G minor blues progression and used the various Dorian voicings from the previous three examples to harmonize each chord. Remember, there is no right answer here, I am just giving you one example of how these can be used.

Now that the minor shapes and sounds are out of the way, we can see how to use quartal voicings over a major-sounding blues progression. The theory doesn’t really change and we have already done a lot of the prep work. Just need to keep going. In a G blues progression, the I chord will be G7—the V in the key of C. If we start on the second degree of the key of C, which is D, we have a D Dorian scale. Still with me? Good. Remember all the diatonic modes in a key use the same notes, it just matters where you start and what notes you emphasize.

In the following examples, we will keep the voicings to three notes and only on the 4–3–2 string set. In this set of voicings, the lowest note of each chord functions as the root. We could keep going but I have chosen to keep them in this range to show the difference in sound. In this key, our tritone happens between F and B, which you can see in the fourth and seventh voicings of Fig. 5.

For the IV chord (C7), we take this entire concept and transpose it up a fourth. Since C7 is the V chord in the key of F, we move to the second degree (G) in the key of F and base our Dorian shapes from there (Fig. 6). Again, I have started these with the root of the C7 chord in the bass.

Like before, we move everything up a whole-step for our voicings over the V chord (D7) in Fig. 7.

This might be confusing to a lot of you right now, but you should know that you don’t have to understand the theory completely to start using these voicings. Use them first and then as you understand the theory better, try developing your own set of voicings to explore. Now, we take the previous three examples and use them over a blues progression in Fig. 8.

These voicings are a very cool way to improvise harmonically around a general key center. As musicians, we always want to be adding to a musical vocabulary to keep things interesting for both the listener and ourselves, and this technique does just that. The most popular use of this is in the tune “So What” from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue recording. Check it out.

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Explore Ford-style chord voicings and turnarounds.

Chops: Beginner
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Explore the nuances of Robben Ford’s style.
• Create rootless voicings inspired by T-Bone Walker and Freddie King.
• Combine blues and pentatonic scales over standard turnarounds.

Click here to download a printable PDF and mp3s of this lesson's notation.

Robben Ford is one of the most sophisticated blues guitarists around—we briefly touched on his style in the first part of this lesson. In this installment, I’m going to focus on his use of jazz-inspired chord voicings and take a look at how he handles a few turnarounds.

We are going to take a step pass the triad-based approach we covered in the last lesson by looking at the voicings Ford borrows from jazz pianists. He likes to keep the notes from moving too far when shifting from chord to chord, only changing notes when it’s absolutely necessary. This is a very musical way of approaching harmony.

In Fig. 1, we can see how Ford would play over a funky blues in the key of D with some added tensions. We begin with the basic target tones (3 and 7) of each chord and then add a note on top. In blues music, we almost always focus on dominant chords. The 3 and b7 of a dominant chord create an interval called a tritone, which is the quintessential sound of the blues.

We start with a D7#9 chord as the I chord. The lower two notes form our tritone, and then we add an F (or E#) on the 2nd string for the #9. Now the trick here is to understand that the tritone is this little sonic nugget that moves around in a very subtle way. For the IV chord, G13, we simply move the entire shape down one fret. How easy is that? Now, instead of a #9 on top we have a natural 13.


While we are on the topic of rootless chords, let’s take a look at a simple blues in A in Fig. 2. In this example, we are playing an A9 chord with the 3 (C#) in the bass. Many players such as T-Bone Walker and Freddie King used this type of voicing in order to make the chords move smoothly from one change to another. Again, we cut out the root, but over the IV chord (D9) we add it back in and keep the E on the 2nd string as a common tone. Keeping this E common through all three voicings gives the chords a connectedness that is pleasing to the listener.



We stay on the inner four strings, but move up a bit for Fig. 3. Here, we will use a new dominant 13 voicing with the b7 (G) in the bass and the root (A) in the highest voice on the 2nd string. The IV chord shape is the same voicing we used on our A9 chord in Fig. 2. In measure nine, we use one of Robben’s favorite voicings for a dominant 11 chord. Many chords can be analyzed in different ways and this is no exception. Even though you don’t have the 3 in the chord, another name for this chord could be either E9sus or D/E if you like to think in slash chords. These dominant 11 chords are a little spacey for most blues players, but not Ford—he uses them quite a bit.



Turnarounds are a key part of any blues guitarist’s style and Ford keeps things somewhat simple in Fig. 4. It isn’t as fancy or complex as his diminished licks, but it does the job. We start on the V chord (A7) in the key of D with a triplet-based arpeggio that leads smoothly into the IV chord, or G7. I played this at a slow tempo but to really get the effect that attracted me to this one in the first place, I suggest you work it up to as fast a tempo as you can manage while keeping a good feel and solid time.



Fig. 5 sticks with the simple approach as well. We are still in the same key and we are starting on the V chord. The phrase starts off in the fifth position by playing notes straight out of the A7 arpeggio with an added C natural used as a passing tone. Make sure to milk the bend in the second measure as much as possible before hitting the D at the 15th fret. We then move to the D minor pentatonic (D–F–G–A–C) before resolving to the root at the 12th fret.



It’s been a lot of fun dissecting the playing of one of my favorite blues players. I hope you’ve enjoyed my example of what sticks out to me about Robben Ford’s playing, and I also hope you’ll be able to add these concepts to your trick bag and bring ’em to the next jam.

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Take a look at a few key elements of Robben Ford''s technique in our latest Deep Blues lesson.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Understand how to use diatonic major triads over dominant chords.
• Create tension by using diminished scales.
• Learn how Robben Ford keeps his comping simple, but effective.

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

Robben Ford is one of the most sophisticated blues guitarists around. From his start with blues great Charlie Musselwhite to pop icons Joni Mitchell and George Harrison—and even a short stint with jazz legend Miles Davis—Ford is an in-demand guitarist for his amazing touch and soulful sound. I’m going to break down a few key elements of his playing for you. In this installment I’m going to focus on two of those elements—his use of triads to enhance his comping and his use of the diminished scale to transition from the I chord to the IV chord and from the V chord back to the I chord.

One thing that sticks out to me when I hear Ford’s playing is the way he comps the chords in a blues. There are only three chords in a 12-bar blues, but the way Ford plays, you’d think there were 12 or more. One harmonic tool Ford uses almost all the time is major triads. For example, let’s say we are playing over an A7 chord (which is the V chord in the key of D). In the key of D, you have major triads on the I, IV, and V chords, which are all fair game in your comping. Basically these triads will be added to the A7 chord voicings he already uses.

First let’s take a look at Fig. 1 which shows these three triads all the way up the neck. For now, I’m going to stick with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings. The lower strings will be too muddy of a sound and the 1st string is too pronounced and should only be used to accent certain beats.

Now let’s take those triads and create a blues rhythm part in Fig. 2. This is a cool rhythmic phrase over an A7. We are starting with an A major triad in the 9th position and just moving through the other diatonic major triads (G and D) before landing with a partial A7 chord in the 5th position.

A lot of times you just need the b7th and the 3rd of the dominant chord, but in this case I also included the 5th. These four chords are just repeated in this same order four times. It’s a two-measure phrase, so you would only repeat it twice in a 12-bar blues. I just played it a few times so you could get the feel. Notice I’m not using all the triads from Fig. 1—only three of them. There is no right answer for how many to use, other then how it sounds.

Now let’s do the same kind of idea with a different set of triads. This time we will leave out the A7 voicing and end on an A triad. This is another characteristic move of Ford’s, since he is heavily influenced by R&B music, which uses a lot of triads.

In Fig. 3, we’ll start in the same area where the previous example left off with a basic A major triad in the 5th position. We then move down in the same pattern, using both a G and D major triad, before landing on a 2nd position A major chord. As sophisticated as Robben Ford’s playing can be, he doesn’t consider any chord “too basic.” All chords are in play as far as he is concerned.

Now we’ll move to how Ford uses the diminished scale to transition from the I chord to the IV. In Fig. 4, he uses what I refer to as a G half-whole diminished scale (G–Ab–Bb–B–C#–D–E–F). We will be using this to go from a G7 chord to a C7 chord in a G blues. I am sure you noticed that I didn’t start the scale fingering on a G, but rather an F note. I’ve heard Robben speak about using this scale and he thinks of it as an F whole-half diminished scale built from the b7th of the I chord (G7). Since this scale is symmetrical, you can think of it either way and the notes still function in the same manner. This means you get the b5, #5, and the #9—it’s the ultimate “tension and release” scale.

Also, since it is a symmetrical scale, you can shift everything up and down the neck in minor thirds (three frets) and the notes will be the same. Why move it? Because you might need it to be in a different position to accommodate your scale or chord fingerings. In Fig. 5, you can see this scale used in context.

In our last figure of this installment (Fig. 6), we will transition from the V chord to the I chord in the key of D. I’m using a half-whole diminished scale, but this time I’m using one that lies right over the A7 voicing at the 5th fret. This gives us all the alterations of the A7 chord—the b5 (Eb), the #5(F), the b9 (Bb), and the #9(C). This scale can sound very mechanical, but Ford has this ability to make it sound so bluesy. Take your time with this one—there are a lot of notes and it goes by fast.

In the next installment, I’ll continue to break apart both Robben Ford’s comping and his incredibly bluesy phrasing for you into small digestible licks and phrases you’ll instantly be able to apply to your playing. Until then I hope you enjoy these rhythmic phrases and transition licks. Add them to you trick bag and bring ’em to your next jam.

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Some techniques that are characteristic of the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King.

Chops: Advanced Beginner
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the basics of Freddie King’s rhythm and lead style.
• Use hybrid picking to play an open-string boogie pattern.
• Target notes of the minor pentatonic scale when soloing over one chord.

Click here to download the sound clips and notation from this lesson.

This month we’re going to take a look at some techniques that are characteristic of the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King. Freddie is one of my all-time favorite guitarists. He was an essential part of my musical development, and I feel you need to spend some time emulating Freddie King if you really want to be an electric blues player. Freddie was the youngest of the three Kings, and he was strongly influenced by both Albert and B.B. However, there was a sense of youthfulness about him. Freddie, like both Albert and B.B., had a way of really getting his money’s worth out of the minor pentatonic scale, but I feel Freddie was a bit more vocal and melodic. In the spirit of Freddie, let’s do some playing.

Fig. 1 is a cool boogie-style rhythm part that is right from Freddie’s bag. He commonly used a thumbpick and a fingerpick on his index finger. Here, I’m using just a regular pick with alternate (down, up, down, up) picking. This is in the style of a song called “Boogie Funk” or “Boogie Man”—the song is essentially the same, but I’ve found it under these two different titles. When you listen closely, you’ll hear that Freddie is also palm muting, and I think that helps with the articulation of this figure.

Fig. 2 is a slight variation on the previous pattern. This has a double-stop that’s just on beat 1. I’m taking the 5 (B) and the b7 (D) and sliding in from a half-step below, and then back to the alternating E octaves.

As shown in Fig. 3, Freddie can get funky when the tune calls for it. He didn’t play a lot of rhythm guitar, but rather these little chord stabs. Another thing I’ve noticed is because he lays out when he sings, he almost never plays the V chord or the IV chord in the fifth measure. He let’s the band take care of it. In measure 6, he hits this cool IV chord lick that’s just the top three notes of the F9 chord. You can also think of it as a Cm triad in second inversion (Eb–G–C). The phrase is repeated in the 10th measure.

We really focus on phrasing in Fig. 4. I played this idea over a D9 chord by using a D minor pentatonic scale (D–F–G–A–C) and targeted only three notes, D, F, and G. We combine those notes with some bends and vibrato to create a phrase very much like how Freddie would start out almost all his solos. I recommend to all my students to take an idea or phrase like this and play it over a 12-bar blues several times for several choruses. This is what will teach good phrasing. I would also recommend singing along with the phrasing to help develop new ideas that will have similarities to our original phrase. This is what builds great blues solos.

I hope you enjoy these Freddie King licks. I hope you find ways to add these new techniques to your playing. Most of all, I hope you take time to listen to some Freddie King and that it inspires you like it always inspires me.

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