The ability to find new applications for old material is one of the greatest musical endeavors you can undertake. I had a teacher tell me one time that I already knew all the jazz vocabulary I ever needed, but I hadn’t learned how to get the most mileage out of it. In our talk today, I want to show you a “trick” you can use to harmonize the altered scale. Part of the material we will be using has already been presented in an earlier post: Soloing with Block Chords: Part 2 (Unaltered Dominant).
As jazz guitarists, we have to learn to leverage the instruments inherent advantages. For example, the guitar is extremely visual. We can see chord shapes and scale forms in our head. Learn to take advantage of this. Be sure to have a connection with your inner voice, but also visualize the fingering and shapes. Today we will take something familiar, dominant 7 chord inversions, and find a new application for it.
Creating Altered voicings with Dominant 7 chord inversions
I am going to do my best to not to make this sound like a math lecture so I will jump directly to the punch line. If you build a dominant 7 chord (R,3,5,b7) on both the ♭5 and the #5 of the dominant chord that is written, you will be using only notes from the altered scale.
Altered Scale in C: C D♭ E♭ F♭ G♭ A♭ B♭ C
G♭7: G♭, B♭, D♭, F♭(E)
A♭7: A♭, C, E♭, G♭
Have a look at the example above. The Dominant 7 chord built on the G♭ (♭5) gives us the tensions: ♭5, ♭7, ♭9, 3. The Dominant 7 chord built on the A♭ (#5) gives us the tensions: #5, R, #9, ♭5. The ♭5 is found in both dominant chords. So with these 2 chords we have the entire altered scale harmonized using a familiar dominant 7 chord and its inversions.
The Raw Material
Taking it one step further
Before we get into some example licks and lines you can use, I want to dig a bit deeper into this topic. Now that we know that a pure dominant 7 chord will work off the b5 and #5, what else can we squeeze out of this? Here are a few ideas:
- Over C7alt the G♭ Triad and the A♭ triad
- Over C7alt the G♭(add9) and A♭(add9)
- G♭(add9) and A♭(add9) can be also thought of (or renamed) as B♭-7#5 and C-7#5
- Over C7alt the G♭9 and A♭9
- G♭9(no root) and A♭9(no root) can also be thought of as E69 and G♭69
- Lots more, so do some exploring!
Musical examples and licks
And now for some music
Practicing should be about turning the raw material into music and NOT getting good at playing the raw material. Here is a short movie clip of me practicing these licks and adding variations. Connect new ideas with stuff you already have under control.
- Use a metronome or backing track.
- Practice getting into and out of the lick
- Practice in all keys
- Sing what you play and play what you sing.
- (Back to the visualization idea) These ideas can be used for single line improvisation. If it helps you can think of the chord form as a map of notes to play. Single-line and chords aren’t mutually exclusive! The source material is the same.