McCoy Tyner & Maj7 Triad Pairs [Ask Jordan: Episode 1]

Jun 07, 2020


Ask Jordan: Episode 1

Today's episode is based on three questions from Daniel.

(1) How do you use triad pairs?

(2) How do you apply triads over altered dominants?

(3) And how do you sound outside when improvising with triads?


(1) How do you use triad pairs?

There are plenty of traditional generic ways of using triad pairs which involve arpeggiating through one triad, then arpeggiating through the next, and then moving back and forth for a while. This is a fun technique that will get you outside of sounding like you're running scales. If you can't do this yet, you should try it. It's a good way to break things down.

However in the Melodic Triads approach, there's one additional thing happening. Melodic Triads is all about learning to control tension and resolution within our lines. So when we apply triad pairs in our approach, one triad is going to be a stable, resolution triad (our melodic triad) while the other will be a tension triad. The tension triad's entire purpose in life is to create turmoil which will want to resolve back to the resolution triad. We don't HAVE TO resolve it... but it's a good habit to start with to help train our ear and learn to control sound. 

If we look at a generic major 7 chord through the lens of Melodic Triads - let's say EMaj7 for our example - our triad pair will be G# minor and A major. G# minor is our melodic triad and will give us stability, and A major will give us tension and drama that helps provide the feeling of a forward momentum... like the bad guy in a movie. 

Once we have our triad pair picked out that best accentuates the chord we want to imply (which melodic triads provides for us perfectly every time), and once we understand which of these triads provides tension and which resolution, then we can begin employing different techniques and variations to create a musical effect. 

As I show in the video, one of my favorite techniques, and the one that I find the easiest, is to pick one note and hold it constant while the other notes move. Here is a good way to visualize what this effect offers us.

Notice that the low E note is ringing out the whole time. If there's a bass player in the group, you might not need to play that note. If there's not, it can help define the chord by offering us the root note in the bass. Up on the top, we see that D# note static. It's a pedal tone that doesn't move while the middle two voices move up from G# and B to A and C#. Not only does this lead to some really interesting and unexpected chord voicings using only the shape of simple triads, but it also breaks apart the incessant parallel movement trap that we so easily fall into when running through scales or triads pairs where all of the voices move up or down together. This parallel movement is fine, but as soon as we halt it and create contrary motion (where voice movement in opposite directions) or oblique motion (where some voices move while others don't... as shown here) it creates a very 3-dimensional quality to the music. It makes it feel as though the voices aren't simply one big chord voicing, but instead are individual voices the move in their own ways and have a life separate from the other voices. By holding that D# note and moving the lower two voice-dyads through multiple inversions of our triad pair - as shown in the video and the free PDF download for this post - we can create a ton of interesting movement. And once we're good enough at this idea, we can also then add movement into that top voice to create a separate melody line that is harmonized by our triad pairs.

McCoy Tyner uses this exact same static note technique during his solo on the John Coltrane Quartet's recording of My Favorite Things. You can hear this section of his solo in the video above, and you can see the voicings written out in standard notation and tab in the free PDF. It is such a beautiful effect and really creates a wonderful landscape at the start of his solo that he's able to expand upon once he gets going.


(2) How do you apply triads over altered dominants?

One of my favorite ways to accomplish this using melodic triads is to superimpose a major triad built on the b6th of a dominant 7 chord. So to stick with the E root note we've been discussing, for an E7 chord, the b6 of E is C... so I would think about a C major triad. By adding notes from the E7 chord underneath the C major triad we can create a melodic triad chord voicing... almost imitating a piano player who has two hands. The left hand playing the notes from a basic E7 chord while the right hand plays a C major triad. We can also use the C major triad as our starting point for improvisation. By adding the 3rd and b7th of E7 to a C major triad we get a pentatonic scale that's perfect for defining the sound of this chord.

- D - EG - Ab

Notice the C major triad notes are in bold. Those notes will be the most stable notes in this scale, so we want to know where they are, learn to see them on the fretboard, learn to hear them against the sound of E7, and learn to use them as our stable notes within our phrasing and the D and Ab as our melodic tension notes.



(3) How do you sound outside when improvising with triads?

Like many questions about music, there is no single answer. The best and most truthful answer I can offer here is to TRULY learn how to play IN in a controlled and intentional manner. But I know that usually doesn't appease those looking for a way to get out. 

So here's a quick way to get chaotic.

We know that E7 is the dominant that wants to resolve to A minor. That means that E7 creates tension against the resolved sound of an A minor chord. If we know that, then we know that superimposing the sound of E7 over an A minor chord will yield a tense sound. This type of tension is a great starting point for a few reasons...

  • It demystifies the concept of playing out. There's nothing magical or complicated at work. We know E7 is tense and wants to move to A minor. So if we play E7 while the band is playing A minor, we know that we will find something tense, yet related to, the sound the band is making.
  • It doesn't require us to learn anything knew to get started. If you can play the sound of an E7, you can do this.
  • It does not require us to resolve every line back into the stable chord we're playing over, but it opens the door for that to be possible, easy, and effective. If you know how to outline an E7 chord moving to an A minor, than you can play any lines you want that outline the E7, or you can play any lines that outline the E7 and it's resulting resolution back into A minor. 

A really fun way to do this is to learn the E7#9#5 pentatonic scale I showed you above and go into more detail in the video and the free PDF, and place that sound over an Amin6 vamp. If you can do that, try it in another key. If you can do that, try it in all of your keys. If you can hear it and anticipate what those notes will sound like, and if you can see it in any key all around your fretboard, than you can apply it over changes. 

Look at a tune like Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise. The entire A section (which is 75% of that tune) is essentially just Cmin. It moves us around a little bit with the DØ7 and the G7b9, but that's just a iiØ7 V7b9 that tosses us around inside the key of Cmin to create a little harmonic movement and excitement. You could outline all of those chords, or you could think of that entire A section as C minor and play some bluesy C minor lines. 


You could look at it as all in C minor, think about the dominant 7 that wants to resolve to Cmin6 (G7) and figure out what the altered dominant pentatonic scale would be for a G7#9#5. And instead you could just jump head first into the deep end of insanity lines by exploring what that scale would sound like over a bunch of C minor iiØ7 V7b9 i's. 

Just don't forget to breathe and to keep a close eye out for that bridge!!! You do NOT want to get lost in the 'out' dimensions and forget to hit the bridge with the rest of the band! Until you have control over these ideas, proceed with caution. Remember that 'playing out' does not automatically make you sound hip. Keep your ears open and try to use 'playing out' as an effect, another layer to your sound. It's powerful. But you have to respect it.

That's why I say the best way to learn to play out is to TRULY learn how to play IN in a controlled and intentional manner.

But of course... sometimes you just gotta cut loose and have a little fun, right?!

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Happy Practicing!



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