The cool thing about focusing on the fundamentals of music is that, when done correctly, with the right mindset, and with the correct concepts for application... you can start making legitimate, authentic, spontaneous music quickly. You can improvise lyrical melodies and comp interesting harmonic stories through jazz standards.
The REALLY cool thing about focusing on the fundamentals is that once you understand what they are, how to control them, and how to make beautiful music with them... then you have a lifetime of exploring more advanced application ideas without ever needing to leave them behind. They're the building blocks of music like DNA is the building block of life. Once you understand how just a few proteins can be arranged in a way to create people, trees, ants, and hamburgers, you could theoretically invent the most advanced complex life forms without ever using anything other than those same proteins... because we're all made of the same stuff.
Music is the same way. On Friday's, during our Advanced Melodic Triads Concepts lessons, we explore some of the ways that we can arrange the fundamentals of triads and shell voicings into rich, complex, advanced, deep sounding music. The types of sounds that nobody would ever guess were derived from triads and shell voicings... but they are.
Usually when the topic of advanced jazz harmony, chords, and comping comes up it immediately sparks conversations about altered extensions, chord tones in the upper structure of a harmony, chord substitutions, chord scales, mode mixture, varying applications of melodic minor and harmonic minor, and all kinds of joint breaking, carpal tunnel inducing chord voicings requiring the most insane hand positions and fret stretches you can imagine.
But not today, my friends… not today.
Today I want to talk about how we can use the fundamentals to create more advanced jazz harmony. Specifically, triads. Yes that’s right. Basic, elementary, 1-3-5, triads. The thing that most eight year old piano students can probably already play through all of their inversions. But I assure you, once we apply our secret technique to these triads and get them on the fretboard, moving through chord progressions and applied to jazz standards, nobody will notice they’re just triads. It will sound like some of the most advanced harmonic playing you’ve ever produced.
You might be asking yourself right now, “How can I access advanced jazz harmony for comping, chord melody, and piano-less trio playing using triads and without worrying about upper extensions or modern drop voicings?”
It all comes down to this… individual and inner voice movement.
If you listen to great post-bop piano players, like Bill Evans, or even some of the masters of jazz guitar, we aren’t necessarily going to hear hip sounding block chord after hip sounding block chord. There IS a time and a place for a big, tricky, finger-twisting, statuesque voicing that we put out there and then let go of to move on to the next voicing. But when we listen to great masters of harmony, there is movement. Not simply from one chord to another, but even INSIDE of a single chord. I call this effect, “liquid harmony.”
There are many techniques that we, as guitar players, can take advantage of to create liquid harmony. We’re not going to discuss every way possible today. Just one. A very simple one that takes advantage of basic triad shapes. But while it’s a simple concept, it will likely take you some practice to get used to. It’s worth it. The benefits of this technique are too many to list, but there are three big ones I want to point out before you give this a shot.
So let’s jump in and discuss this triad-based liquid harmony technique and how you can get it on the fretboard and into your playing.
First let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding our chord progression. We’re looking at the A section from the jazz standard, Softly As In a Morning Sunrise. Basically, it’s a ii V7 i in C minor repeating over and over.
Now, we need to figure out what triads to use. Earlier I said we don’t need to worry about upper extensions. We actually CAN use upper structure triads with this technique to achieve and even more unexpected and advanced sound to our harmony, but it’s not necessary. So we’re going to focus on using root structure triads, or triads built on the root note of the chord we’re playing over.
For the C minor chord, we will use a C minor triad.
For the G7 chord, we will use a G major triad - because dominant 7 chords are simply major triads with an added b7.
For Dmin7b5 (or half diminished 7) we ARE going to use an upper structure triad, but it’s a simple one. We’re going to use the minor triad built a minor 3rd above the root - F minor. If we use a root structure triad we’re going to be playing with a D diminished triad. Most guitar players know that half diminished and fully diminished arpeggios, but rarely do we shed our diminished triads. So I think it’s easier to pull this off with a simple minor triad built on the 3rd of the chord.
Our CHORD progression is
||: Cmin6 -> Dmin7b5 -> G7b9 :||
Our TRIAD progression is
||: C minor -> F minor -> G major :||
Once we know this, the first step to pulling off the liquid harmony technique is to practice voice leading these triads in different inversions. Depending on your level of comfort with voice leading, you may need to spend some time here, as this is foundational to pulling off liquid harmony in a musical and organic way. You should be able to sit for several minutes and voice lead your way all around the fretboard without constantly needing to stop and think about where you are, where the next closest triad inversion is, what chord you’re playing, what fingers to use, etc. There shouldn’t be any big jumps when moving from one chord to another. These jumps between chords will come across like a hiccup between words when speaking. They interrupt the flow and detract from the overall idea of natural movement within music. Being able to voice lead between triads needs to be boring and obvious for you. If it’s not already, spend some real practice time on developing this skill. Not only will it pay off for our technique, but it’s also a great way to develop a stronger founding for improvising single note lines through changes. Remember to go slow, take your time, and create limitations and restrictions for yourself if you’re still developing this skill. You can’t learn the entire fretboard in one week. Maybe only let yourself explore one string set, like the top three strings. Or stick inside of a position, like the 5th through the 9th fret. Create areas, neighborhoods, and rules for yourself to limit where you can practice. This will help you focus your energy on smaller goals which will get you mastering areas more quickly, and over time these areas will add up to give you freedom across the entire range of the guitar. If you need help with this, click here to check out my blog post on Pat Metheny’s advice for learning jazz guitar or reach out and talk with me about what’s holding you back and how I can help.
The next step, and this is where things start to get interesting, is to add a melodic tension note to the triad. Think of it like a triad + 1. Because triads are such an organized, ‘in’ sound to the ear, this additional note is going to create some drama, some emotion, some craving to resolve back into the triad. In other words… tension -> resolution… MOVEMENT. This is the secret sauce that’s going to hide the simple and almost boring nature of the basic triads and make them sound like something very advanced is happening even when we’re only using simple, root structure triads.
For now, I’m going to recommend you get started by using these triad + 1 formulas:
C minor + tension 2
[ C - Eb - G - - (D) ]
F minor + tension 2
[ F - Ab - C - - (G) ]
G major + tension b2
[ G - B - D - - (Ab) ]
To turn these into moving chord voicings, replace the root note of each triad with its respective tension note. For example, choose an inversion of a C minor triad you want to use (C - Eb - G). Find the root note (C) and move it up two frets to the D note, this would be tension 2. Play this NON triad sound in place of a pure C minor triad (D - Eb - G). While the Eb and G notes continue to ring out, resolve the tension 2, D, note back down to the C root note. You should hear oblique motion… or movement where some things are staying the same while something else is moving. This is triad-based liquid harmony. You’re letting the listener get all of the basic info they need to recognize the sound of a C minor chord (1 - b3 - 5) with no 6, b7, or natural 7, but you’ve now added into this sound individual voice movement - creating the tiniest fragment of a melodic idea.
Now go through and repeat this same process for the F minor triad + tension 2 and the G major triad + tension b2 that voice lead in and around that original C minor triad, and you have effectively just created a three-part, contrapuntal idea through a ii V7 i in C minor. Repeat this four times moving through a variety of inversions, and you’ve just created liquid harmony over an entire A section of the tune Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise.
Check out the standard notation and guitar tab of the version I wrote out to help you start moving around the fretboard more freely. As you get the hand of this technique, you can start throwing it in between simple, single-note improvisational ideas for solo and trio guitar playing to accompany yourself. Or try commingling this with some basic shell voicings or a few drop chord shapes to create a more 3-dimensional and exciting approaching to comping for other soloists. Just be careful not to go TOO overboard when comping for a soloist. We are creating a lot of movement with this technique. It has the potential to fill up too much space and get in the way of the soloist, and you might end up pissing some people off. So keep your ears open to what the music is sounding like and stay focused on the soloist - depending on how advanced of a player they are they may want you to lay down something more solid to support them and make sure they don’t get lost in the form… or they may love the conversational interplay you can create by adding small bits of melodic movements inside your harmony during the breaks in their phrases.
Keep those ears and those hearts open. And as always…
What do Maj7 chords, triad pairs, liquid harmony, inner voice movement, and the jazz standard Misty all have in common? They’re all combined together into today’s lesson on harmony, comping, chord melody, and solo guitar work.
All week (lessons 46-50) we’ve been focusing on the Maj7 and how to get the most out of it melodically and harmonically. Today we’re digging a little deeper.
First things first, we need to know what the triad pair for Maj7 is. In melodic triads we would notate this triad pair as (t3) / T4. In other words, the melodic or STABLE triad is the minor triad built on the 3rd of the harmony, and the tension triad we can use to create drama and movement is the major triad built on the 4th of the harmony. You can learn more about thinking this type of way and how it applies to a variety of advanced jazz harmonies in the courses and resources available in our online study group.
So if we’re thinking about EbMaj7, the first chord in Misty, t3 would be the minor triad built on the 3rd of EbMaj7… G minor. So our stable, melodic triad is G minor. The tension triad is T4, which would be the major triad built on the 4 of EbMaj7… Ab major. Play around comping or arpeggiating G minor and Ab major over an EbMaj7, or even simply Eb, loop. This gives us six of our seven diatonic notes and SHOULD be enough information for your ear to notice that the G minor is more resolved an ‘in’ than the Ab, which should feel quite unstable like it wants to move. Listen to the first part of McCoy Tyner’s piano solo on My Favorite Things to hear this exact sound being used over an EMaj7. He vampes on G# minor and A major while playing very simple melodic ideas above it.
The next step is to create some inner voice movement using a liquid harmony technique. We’re going to use the quadratonic concept from our melodic triads approach to accomplish this. Instead of thinking of the Ab major triad is ONLY a triad, we’re going to think of it as a triad + tension 6. The tension 6 will be an F note, since F is the 6th above Ab. So every time you play the Ab triad, no matter what inversion, you will substitute the F note (tension 6) in place of the Eb note (5th of the triad) and then resolve it down a whole step back into the Ab major triad. This will create movement within a single voice of the triad which will then crave its full resolution back into the G minor triad. If you can get this sound and these shapes into your ear and onto the fretboard then when you’re playing over an EbMaj7 chord, you will no longer be stuck sitting on an individual voicing, jumping randomly through a variety of inversions for no real reason, or superimposing an entire chord scale taking you away from that sound. Now you will have the ability to create harmonic and melodic movement dancing your notes in and out of tension and resolution while always implying the sound of EbMaj7.
If we follow the form of Misty we can do this over the EbMaj7, then hit the ii V7 into the AbMaj7 chord where we can use the same structures and ideas… focusing on a C minor triad (stable, melodic triad) and a Db major triad (tension triad) + tension 6. This will open up a world of harmonic options for you to take advantage of for this tune whether you’re playing solo guitar chord melody, comping, or playing in a piano-less trio where you want to create more harmonic interest during your solo.
Give this a shot. The notated example will help, so check it out. If you can make it work in these two keys and can make it through Misty, try applying it to any other tune where there are Maj7 chords.
Hit me up if you need help with it.
Have fun… and happy practicing!
Liquid harmony is the name I use for any harmonic concept or technique that allows me to play chords where at least one note is liquid, or moving. Rather than playing a block chord where all of the individual voices are static, then jumping to another block chord where all of the individual voices are static, etc… liquid harmony allows us the ability to play a chord made of multiple notes where some of the notes ring out while one (or more) of the notes moves to another pitch.
This produces a great effect. It gives an almost pianistic quality to the chords where it sounds like a lot is happening even when there’s not that much going on. Check out our blog post on liquid harmony to read more about this idea.
In today’s lesson we’re exploring this technique using basic major and minor triads superimposed over a iii-7 - biiiº7 - ii-7 - V7b9 progression in the key of Ab. Being able to transpose this progression through all of your keys, you’ll find these changes in plenty of jazz standards - All the Things You Are, Someday My Prince Will Come, rhythm changes, etc.
Download the PDF below to see the example from the video written in tab and standard notation. Over the C-7 we’re playing just a basic 1-b3-b7 shell voicing. We could “liquify” this chord, but I thought we’d start simple. Over the Bº7 chord we’re focusing on a G major triad with a tension b7. By subbing the tension b7, F, in place of the D note, we’re now playing G-B-F and it should sound like a G7 shell voicing. Except while we hold out the G and B notes, the F note will move down to D, create melodic tension and resolution and individual voice movement. This “G7 chord” is theoretically happening over a Bº7 chord.
After the Bº7 we voice lead down to Bb-7. Here we’re using a Bb minor triad with a tension 2. So our G triad voice leads to Bb minor where the root note (Bb) is elevated up a whole step to the tension 2 (C), which moments later resolves back into the Bb minor triad. Then the process voice leads to Eb7 and continues using an Eb major triad with a tension b2 to imply Eb7b9.
Check out the notated version in the PDF. Explore trying this same “chord” progression using different inversions of these triads. Then try transposing these ideas into other keys. Finally, try applying this to some standards. It’s great for solo guitar and chord melody, and if you’re careful and don’t over do it, it can be a great trick for spicing up your comping. Just make sure you don’t step on your soloists toes.
Have fun with this one. It’s a really cool technique for creating pianistic harmony once you get the hang of it!
We jazz guitar education we generally teach, think about, practice, and use scales as shapes on our fretboard with more attention spent on seeing the geometric design and developing the muscle memory to fly through those positions more so than we do developing our ear to hear what’s happening inside the scale, recognize the stable notes within it, train our ears to appreciate the emotion of the melodic tension notes, and train our mind to focus on learning to create phrases by dancing between the tension notes and the resolution notes.
In the melodic triads approach, we attempt to balance the scales more towards the ear and phrases.
In today’s lesson we are discussing how we can take a basic major triad and turn it into a pentatonic scale that implies the sound of melodic minor. And cooler then that, we are using an upper structure triad which allows us to destabilize certain chord tones and turn them into melodic tension notes that will crave resolving towards more colorful “upper extension” notes.
Our starting point is an F major triad. We are going to add the tension b6 (The Batman Note), Db, and the tension 2, G. The Db will crave resolving back into the F major triad by resolving down a half step to the C note, the 5th of the triad. The G note will want to resolve up to the A or down to the F, the 3rd and root of the F major triad. These five notes give us a pentatonic scale. But it’s not simply a five note position to learn. It’s a five note structure with three stable notes and two tension notes that each offer a very specific emotional quality and desire for movement. Together, they help imply the 5th mode of Bb melodic minor.
Download a copy of today’s PDF below to see this notated out as a scale chart. The black dots will show you where the F major triad notes are while the notes with the white circle will show you where the tension b6 and 2 are.
If we use this to improvise over a BbminMaj7 chord, we are now improvising within the upper structure of this chord. The F major triad notes are the most melodically stable. The F note will feel like the melodic root note. A and C, the major 7 and the 9, will also behave as stable resolution notes. The tension b6 is a Db note. As a chord tone this is the 3rd. It SHOULD be one of the strongest, most stable, and most important go-to notes to rely on for arpeggio and chord tones style playing. But in this situation it’s actually going to feel unstable and crave a resolution down to the 9, the C note that’s part of the F major triad.
Tension 2 is the G note, the 13, and this will want to resolve up to the major 7 or down to the 5th… as these two chord tones are in the F major triad. Give it a shot and see if you can get your ear to hear this. If you’re not sure whether or not you do, try throwing the Bb note into the mix - the chord’s root note. It SHOULD sound like the 4th degree of a major scale, wanting to pull down to the 3rd (the A note). Despite being the harmonic root note, your hear should hear this as the 4th degree against the F major triad if you’re got your ears wrapped around this sound.
Give it a shot and let me know if you’re able to hear it.
I’m a harmony nerd. No way around it. And while I am absolutely obsessed with playing the guitar, the majority of my favorite harmony masters are piano players. Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk, Aaron Parks, Bud Powell… I mean the list just goes on and on.
One of my favorite things to do on the guitar (and a big part of where the melodic triads approach concepts come from that I teach here and in our online study group) is to attempt to find creative ways of imitating piano ideas and approaches on our fretboard. And so much of that comes down to the differences in the physicality of each instrument - primarily that piano players get to use two separate hands and can therefore visualize, think about, and use two simple ingredients at the same time… while we’re stuck with one fretboard, one hand, and only a few fingers… leaving us trying desperately to catch up.
This realization of “the two hands” of my “imaginary piano player” was a huge lightbulb moment for me. Even though I’m a terrible piano player, learning to organize complex sounds on the keyboard using my two hands, with one simple structure like a shell voicing in my left hand and a different simple structure like a triad in my right, set off a cascade of ideas I hadn’t come across anyone else talking about in jazz guitar lessons or music schools.
There are so many ways this idea of “the two hands” can be applied onto the fretboard. In today’s lesson I’m exploring one of them.
When I started writing for a nine-piece mini orchestra for my album This City, I used this “two hand” thing a ton. It was great to get away from composing and arranging only with the fretboard in my mind, and instead to think about sound, range, and function. Like having a harmonic structure in the “left hand” of the sound with the melodic structure in the “right hand” of the sound. Or one of my favorite new textures to play with was to compose a bass-melody and have the left hand of the piano player double the bass player to help bring it out in the music so it didn’t get lost in the background. You may have noticed many of your favorite piano players playing bass melody figures in their left hand while playing chords or melodic ideas in their right hand. Same concept. Makes perfect sense when you have two hands. A little more challenging to pull off on the fretboard.
That’s where this technique comes from. Outline the lower, harmonic structure of a chord… then top it off with a nice cluster voicing on top. Usually I like to use an upper structure triad to create the cluster voicings, but I decided to keep things simple in this lesson. G7#11 bass figure (R-#11-b7-R) with a series of inversions derived from (G)/#4… a G major triad + tension #4.
Give it a shot. There are seven different inversions notated on the PDF. Try each one individually. See if you can nail it. Then try moving it around through the circle of 5ths, or resolving it to a more stable tonic chord, or applying it to a standard. Or try playing through the entire seven measure PDF like a series of inversions with a bass melody interrupting between each of them.
Have fun… And happy practicing!
Warning. Do not read this post yet if you have not watched the first few minutes of the lesson already. Stop now. Seriously. What I am about to explain in words will make precisely zero sense to the mind of an educated musician in linguistic or logical terms if you haven’t already experienced the sound I’m attempting to show you. So stop reading right now and watch, at least, the first few minutes of the video.
Did you do that already? Great.
The polytonal sound we’re exploring today is the AbMaj7#11#9 chord. We’re creating this by superimposing a G major triad over an AbMaj7 chord. A good way to think about and understand this relationship is that the G major triad is the melodic structure. It will control how melody is interpreted in this tonal context. The AbMaj7 is the harmonic structure. The G major triad is made of G, B, and D. In relation to AbMaj7 this gives us the chord tones of the 7, the #9, and the #11. However when used properly, these will act as our melodic stable notes.
Try adding a C note against this G major triad. This gives us our G major + tension 4 quadratonic. The C note, being the 4th against the major triad, will crave resolution back into the triad. Like a sus4 wanting to resolve back to major. The C will want to pull down to the B note… the 3rd of G major. This is perfectly obvious and natural without the AbMaj7 chord ringing out underneath this melodic structure. Nobody would argue with the theory.
But put it in the harmonic context of AbMaj7 and suddenly we have C resolving down to B, which is the major 3rd resolving down to the #9. And that just shouldn’t happen inside of a Maj7 chord. If you watch the video, you’ll also notice that when I play the Ab note, it also sounds melodically unstable. It’s not functioning as the melodic root note, but actually feels like a tension b2, our dracula note, and wants to resolve back down to G again. Very bizarre melodic behavior.
Hopefully you can see why I didn’t want you to read this post or see my fretboard at the beginning of the video until you experienced these sounds with your ear first, untainted by the logical and intellectual part of your mind that knows the theory and would see this explanation as a nonsensical theory argument to debate over. Once you HEAR and EXPERIENCE these sounds in the ear, they’re basically undeniable. Then we can discuss the theory of what’s at work, then we can learn to get it into our fingers, and then we can start applying it to standards.
If you need a little help, grab the PDF. It will show you the basic G major + tension 4 quadratonic shapes you can use over the AbMaj7. If you want to go really deep, check out our Melodic Triads Study Group. Inside you will find our Tonality Vault. This is a resource that delves deep into a bunch of different polytonal situations. There are dozens of hours of video, hundreds of pages of PDF study guides, theory, and examples showing application to standards. For each “tonality” we explore simple melodic ideas, complex melodic ideas, 5-6 note “fully extended” voicings, 2, 3, and 4 note voicings, arpeggios, triad pairs, the melodic triads bebop scale, quadratonic pairs, liquid harmony, and more. The Maj7#11#9 is one of the tonalities we dig in deep together inside. Click the link below to learn more about our study group and come hang with us online.
Wrapping up our week of exploring the major triad + tension b2, we’re leaving the comfort of our own harmonic solar system to boldly go where no man has gone before (thanks for the reference, Garry).
In today’s lesson we are following up on the ii V I biiiº progression we have been working on the last couple of days in lesson 23 and 24. However here we are applying our advanced melodic triads concept of the three-note quadratonic voicing. This is our version of the drop 2 chord, but instead of dropping the 2nd highest pitch down an octave, we simply get rid of it. By taking that pitch out we are left with a three note voicing. By doing this in every inversion, we end up with a series of three-note voicings where each voicing is missing a different note, so our ear is constantly being surprised by pitches disappearing, pitches appearing, and varying intervallic relationships.
Because we already explored using the major triad + tension b2 for each of the four chords of the ii V I biiiº progression, we know that we can use this one chord to create harmony over this entire progression by shifting it to different triads and voice leading through the inversions.
Remember we’re using E major + F for the D-7 chord, G major + Ab for the G7 chord, B major + C for the CMaj7 chord, and D major + Eb for the Ebº7. Here’s an example of how this might sound which I played around 24:55 minutes into the video.
Now 99.999% of you reading this and watching this video aren’t going to be able to do much with this example beyond memorizing it and stealing it as is for your own playing. And that’s fine. You’re welcome to do that. But I would encourage you to really break down what’s happening, reverse engineer it, and focus on mastering the fundamentals that I’m employing here so that you can see the DNA of what’s happening and learn to control it.
Master your basic triad shapes. Master voice leading them. Master inserting the tension b2. Get your ear used to the sound of it. If you need help with that, go back to lesson 22 where we discussed The Dracula Note and focused on ear training. Work on improvising with these shapes over this progression like we did in lesson 23 to get used to the melodic progression. The stronger your foundation is, the more “weight” we can put on top of it. It’s like walking around NYC and seeing all of the incredible skyscrapers and buildings. They’re so massive it’s hard to comprehend. Yet what you don’t realize is the absurd strength of the foundation they each sit on top of. I love walking by the construction sites when they’re starting new buildings. You get to watch them dig these massive holes. They’re so big it’s hard to comprehend. Once the whole is big enough, they pour enormous amounts of concrete and reinforce it with tons of steel and structure materials. They spend so much time and energy on this hole. And THEN they put the steel frame of the building up. And then everything else is attached. By the time it’s done, you’ll never see the whole or the foundation again. It’s hidden forever. But it’s there.
If you just like these sounds and want to steal them, by all means, they’re yours. But I’d encourage you to dig your own hole. Even if you’re not interested in building the tallest skyscraper in the world, the sturdier your foundation is, the stronger your playing will sound. Always. How much you want to focus your time there is entirely a personal choice. I’m here to help if you need… be it with these free lesson, in our melodic triads study group, or in a private, one-on-one setting. I’ve gone ahead and written out a PDF with the three basic positions of the three note quadratonic voicing inversions for the G major triad + tension b2 for you. Grab a copy and play around with it. See if you can memorize them… then maybe try moving it through some different keys. Then try using these shapes over some different chords. Start with the ii V I… then add the biiiº. See what you find.
And as always… happy practicing!
If you know your jazz theory, you already know that when playing over a ii V I, we can use the tritone of the V7 chord and play a ii bII7 I progression instead. What we’re looking at today is a melodic triads approach to creating some unexpected dyad voicings. We will be able to put these dyads over the root note of the chord, giving us the ability to turn these into three note voicings. But they will start as dyads - two note voicings.
Here’s the game. Once we have our quadratonic (triad + tension note), we will group these four notes together into pairs of two, jumping every other note. For example if our quadratonic is C major + tension 2, we have C - E - G - D. By skipping over every other note we could group this together into two different dyad combinations… C/G and E/D.
To avoid getting too deep into theory explanations, let’s just jump into the application of this idea to creating interesting harmony through a ii V I in G major. For the A-7 chord we will use the C triad + tension 2, for the D7 chord we are going to think about the tritone sub. So instead of D7 we are using Ab7. And we will treat this as a lydian dominant type of vibe, so we will use the Bb major triad + tension 2. In other words, when the A-7 chord descends down a half step to Ab7, the quadratonic descends a whole step. Then we resolve to GMaj.
Here are a few examples of how this might look in application, voice leading the dyads through each other while putting the A - Ab - G root notes in the bass voice.
Hopefully these don’t sound AT ALL like you’re “just playing triads.”
To me this is one of the beautiful things about the melodic triads approach. It can get us started playing really wonderful, lyrical sound melodies very quickly using the fundamentals. But then because triads are so simple and so malleable we can adjust them and alter them to create all kinds of modern, unexpected, advanced sounds.
We could use the (C)/2 and the (Bb)/2 quadratonics to improvise single note melodies over the ii and bII7 chords in this example as well. But once we spend a little bit of time shedding these positions as dyads, we can immediately create this unique approach to creating harmony that implies chord progressions without filling up too much space or being too obvious.
Check out the PDF to see the entire position of these dyads written out for A-7 and Ab7. It can be helpful to see the whole position and practice playing up and back through it like it were a scale. But don’t spend TOO MUCH time doing that. To keep things sounding musical we really want to focus on just one or two dyad inversions for a chord and then voice leading to the next chord. This way it never sounds mechanical like a computer. But the PDF with the positions is there to help you get started… Give it a shot.
Triad pairs is a great topic. It’s often a go-to idea offered when musicians are trying to break out of their usual scale patterns. They give a cool angular vibe and offer a very distinctive quality to the sound of our lines. This is great for sounding like we’re not running scales, but it’s also kind of a big downside as they all sound the same. Regardless of who’s using them and what chords they’re playing over, triad pairs always come across in the same way.
I love the idea of triad pairs, but I’ve always wanted to come up with more creative ways to employ them. Ways that mask the obvious sound of them and let me do something more unique and unexpected. The technique of the triad pair explosion is one of my favorites.
Here’s how it works. Instead of playing three note triad voicings, and instead of playing single note triad arpeggios we’re going to play dyads - two note voicings. Every dyad will contain one note from each of the two triads we’re working on, so the ear will never actually hear or experience anything even resembling a triadic sound.
We start the dyad as close together as we can… with the smallest interval. From there, the lower voice descends and the upper voice ascends. This creates contrary motion, allowing the ear to hear two very distinct lines moving away from each other. Together these lines imply the same harmonic idea that the triad pair would, because we’re moving through the triads as we play every other notes.
For the example in the video, I’m using an A and Eb triad pair over a C7 chord… a classic dominant-diminished option related to the diminished scale.
Notice the bottom voice starts on a C# note (the 3rd of the A major triad) and then descends down… hitting notes from Eb and A respectively on every other note. The top voice starts on Eb (the root of the Eb major triad) and then as it ascends it moves back and forth between notes from the A and Eb major triads. Can you see it?
If you’re brand new to triads, melodic triads, or seeing superimposed, polytonal triads over a chord (like seeing A and Eb over a C7 shell voicing) I would recommend you start off by just practicing playing the C7 shell voicing and then different inversions of this triad pair all around it in that position of the fretboard. This will help you find your triad shapes. This is a challenging technique, so you may need to simplify things and come back to your basics for a while… something I recommend to most everyone in general.
But assuming you’re comfortable with that and can play the basic technique notated above, now we also have the option to add in some chromaticism to connect some of these triad notes. If it didn’t sound like triad pairs before, now it REALLY won’t sound like triad pairs. Between the contrapuntal movement of the voices moving away from each other, and now the addition of the oblique movement created by having the chromatic passing notes being applied to each voice at different times, this is going to create an almost baroque style counterpoint quality to the sound.
If you can play it, I strongly recommend running this pattern through the circle of 5ths to get used to it in all 12 keys. This will help you get it into your fingers so you can pull it off in a real world, musical situation.
Enjoy! And try not too get too frustrated with it…
It’s Friday again, and that means another mind-bending, finger twisting ‘Advanced Melodic Triads Concepts’ lesson. One of the things I love the most about The Melodic Triad Approach - something that I intentionally set out to develop within this approach when I was creating it to relearn to play again after my medical issues caused me to forget - is that it forces us to really master the most basic, elementary building blocks of music. Namely, triads. Not just to spend a couple of days in theory class to memorize them enough to spell them out and regurgitate on our final. Not just to read the concept from a book and understanding them intellectually. But to get them into our mind, our ears, our eyes, our fingers, our heard, and most importantly… OUR ACTUAL PLAYING.
I refer to this as the low hanging fruit. We should always aim to go for the easy win. To work on the concepts that are the quickest and easiest to master and yield the greatest return for just making beautiful, human, authentic music.
Now once this part of the process is complete, we have an incredibly strong foundation we’ve built for ourselves that can support the weight of all kinds of experimentation, creativity, and advanced thinking. Especially in The Melodic Triads Approach, because no matter how advanced our ideas get, we’re still just looking at the shape of our triads. Today’s lesson is the perfect example.
We’re going to create a chord scale that implies the sound of EMaj7#11. This is not simply running the seven diatonic chords of E lydian. That doesn’t necessarily imply the sound of EMaj7#11. That implies the sound of lydian. The majority of those other chords don’t really convey the harmony we’re seeking to express. Rather than running all around inside of a key signature, we’re going to take more of a Barry Harris type approach to the chord scale. Meaning we want an ‘in’ chord and a ‘tension’ chord. Then we’re going to move through the inversions of these to create tension resolution that dances around within the harmony of the EMaj7#11, always implying it, while also getting the sound of a chord scale moving up and down the fretboard.
Rather than using Barry’s system, we’re going to stick with melodic triads. Our starting point is a triad pair. For EMaj7#11 the triad pair is G# minor (the ‘in’ triad) and A#º (the ‘tension’ triad). But we’re going to take this one step farther. We’re going to turn this triad pair into a quadratonic pair. A quadratoni is when we add an additional note to a triad, a tension note. It’s purpose in life is to create instability and tension which resolves us back into the triad, offering our phrases and chords tension and resolution, drama, interest, and movement.
Check this out.
This is a G# minor triad with tension 2. The 2 is in relationship to the G# minor triad. So it’s a G# minor triad with an A# note. Every time I play an inversion of G# minor, I bump the G# root note up to the tension 2, and then I resolve it back down. This creates an effect I call ‘Liquid Harmony’. This is when we play a chord voicing, but part of it contains some kind of melodic movement. Like the A# moving down to G#. By putting this quadratonic over the low E note we’re create a complete EMaj7#11 sound. We have the root in the bass, then the G# minor triad gives us the 3rd, 5th, and 7th, and then the tension 2 gives us the #11 which is resolving back down to the 3rd.
Once this makes sense, we can apply this same concept to our ‘tension’ triad. We will add a tension b6 to the A#º triad. This is going to look like an F# triad with a b7 added now.
If we move up and down the fretboard switching between an inversion of the first quadratonic and the ‘tension’ quadratonic, we get this.
Sounds hip right? So this is a chord scale, but it’s NOT relying on simply playing all seven diatonic chords of the E lydian mode. Instead it’s built around the idea of implying the specific sound of EMaj7#11 with a dance between a sensation of ‘in’ and ‘tension’. But even the tension sound contains the root and #11 of the chord. So whether we’re playing in or tension, we never fully leave the harmony we’re creating. On top of this, even within each “chord voicing” we’re using the quadratonic to create the effect of liquid harmony, so that there is always something moving and capturing our attention.
Such a fun sound to play with. Download the PDF to see the notation for how this “chord scale” looks on each individual string set. This is a good way to start getting used to this challenging technique. Yes, it “just triads”… but it’s an advanced application of triads that will be frustrating to pull of if you haven’t truly mastered your fundamentals yet. That’s what The Melodic Triads Approach and our courses and study group are all about. Master the fundamentals, learn to use them to quickly break away from scales and arpeggios and start playing legit, authoritative music that’s uniquely your own… and then start applying more out-of-the-box ideas USING the fundamentals to create the illusion of advanced, complex music. When in reality, we’re still just looking at the shape of triads on the fretboard.
Give this one a try for sure! But be patient and make sure you’re able to see the basic triad shapes first. Hit me up if you need help, or join our study group to get access to all of our courses and monthly open office hours so I can help keep you progressing and moving forward.
In the melodic triads approach, our starting point is not scales, arpeggios, or riffs. It’s just a basic triad. Not even the seven diatonic triads of a key. Just one, basic triad. Nothing fancy. This is like a seed. It’s looks like nothing special, but if we plant it in the ground, give it water, sunlight, and protection, with a little patience it will sprout into a baby tree and this will then grow into a massive, immovable, tree - rooted securely into the earth, with fruit to nourish us, shade to keep us cool, lumber to build our home, and branches to swing from. Pun intended.
Once we get these shapes into our fingers, ears, and eyes we can do all kinds of wonderful things with a basic triad.
In today’s lesson we’re going to look at how we can create hip, modern, post-bop, pianistic voicings for a Maj7#11 or lydian sound. Specifically we’re going to use the G# minor triad to create these voicings for EMaj7#11, but these ideas can be moved to any key once we can hear the sounds, understand the theory, and see the shapes.
The first step is in understand what we, in the melodic triads approach, would call the primary tension note… or the primary quadratonic. That is to say, the most important triad with the most important tension note added to it for any given harmony. In this case, the most important triad, or the melodic triad, is G# minor for an EMaj7 chord. And tension 2, or the A# note, is the most important tension note. This A# gives us the chord tone of the #11 for the EMaj7 chord, but will behave like the 2nd degree of a G# minor scale… with a desire to move up to the 3rd of the triad (B), or to resolve completely by descending down to the root of the triad (G#).
This is a great way to learn to start improvising spontaneous phrases and melody that will not sound like scales or arpeggio running, but instead will convey and imply the sound of EMaj7#11 while remaining completely lyrical and musical.
We can use this in a variety of ways to create really beautiful voicings. The technique I’m discussing in today’s lesson is OUR version of a drop 2 voicing. With a regular drop 2 voicing we take the 2nd to the top note and we lower it an octave. In our version, we’re just going to remove that note altogether. In doing this, we ensure that every inversion of our chord contains a slightly different set of pitches and intervals… creating a very unexpected quality to the voicings as we move through all of them.
Once this theory and the difference between the traditional drop 2 and OUR version makes sense, download the PDF and give these voicings a shot along with me. I wrote them out as an EMaj7#11 so that you could keep your low 6th string ringing out the entire time to hear how these would sound if you were using them in a group setting with a bass player. None of these voicings contain the E note… they’re all rootless. So hearing them in the context of the chord is helpful in the beginning. As you get more comfortable with the sound you can start practicing them without the low 6E string. Then you can begin moving them into different keys. You can always add the root note of whatever Maj7#11 chord you’re using these for underneath any of these inversions to fill them out to a four-note voicing. That’s a worthwhile thing to practice as well. But take this in baby steps. Try them in E first with the low root note. Then you can experiment with different uses and try and get them into your comping and chord melody vocabulary in different keys and over different tunes.
Our Standard Membership level is run using an email list. You don't need to purchase anything or create a login account or password. You simply sign up for our Melodic Triad Study Group Standard Membership email list below, and you're part of the community!
I will send you links every month to watch our free monthly study videos, links to join our free live open office hours session each month so you can ask me questions and get help with anything that's confusing you, the 50% discount code for our course The Overview - 5 Steps To Melodic Improvisation (which is optional and you can skip it and jump directly into our free monthly materials if you want), and other occasional specials, discounts, and related materials.
Signup below to get started...
PS - Double and triple check your email. One typo, and you won't receive any emails from me.