The purpose of our ongoing Triad Mastery Bootcamp series of classes is to help you learn to develop a sturdy foundation which you can use to improvise melodic and advanced harmonic ideas. By mastering the guitar's fretboard with triads and then learning how to manipulate triads to develop elements of jazz vocabulary, it frees us from needing to memorize thousands of riffs, scales, modes, inversions, and patterns... and it let's us learn to SEE the shapes of simple triads everywhere we go, and then dance around with them to spontaneously create harmonic and melodic ideas.
But first, we need to build our foundation with triads. The DNA of music.
Today’s minor ii V i modern jazz riff is a fun one. It’s brought to you by a minor triad, a super hip quadratonic (minor triad + tension 2), and the always-enjoyable leading tones.
Here’s how this goes.
For a minor ii V i in the key of D minor, we’re superimposing the G minor triad over top of the EØ7. G, Bb, and D give us the b3, b5, and b7 of the EØ7 chord. When we add tension 2, that’s an A note… as A is the 2 of G minor. The A, while it will be interpreted by the ear melodically as the 2 of our G minor quadratonic, will be bringing in the 11th of the E chord. So we have some cool chord tones at work here. We can take this one step farther into bebop and modern jazz vocabulary world by inserting chromaticism and leading tones. We’re going to focus on the leading tones first before changing directions and switching to a short chromatic line near the end of the riff.
As we ascend the G minor + tension 2 quadratonic, we’re going to leap from the G note, over the A note, up to Bb. When we descend back to our skipped A note, let’s leap over it to its leading tone, G#, before hitting it. This will give us a cool sounding enclosure with lots of direction changes in our line so far. G up to Bb down to G# up to A. What’s cool about this is that if we play this with 8th note, we’re playing a G# note on beat 2, but if you keep the line moving and flowing up through this G minor triad + tension 2, you won’t even notice that you just played the major 3rd on a strong beat over a half diminished chord. Once we get to the A note, we leap up over Bb to the next triad note… D. This D note now becomes the start point for our next sequence. So from D we skip over a note, we leap back to the skipped note but hit the leading tone first, the resolve the leading tone up to our enclosed target note, then we leap up over another quadrtonic note and the pattern repeats. We will follow this pattern all the way up from the low 3rd fret, 6th string G note up to the 10th fret, 1st string D note.
(G - Bb - G# - A) - (D - A - F# - G) - (Bb - G - C# - D) - (A - D…
At this point we have a problem. If we continue to follow the rules, the next target note that we would enclose we be Bb. And the leading tone that resolves to Bb is A. So if we play this patterns all the way through from the end it would go (A - D - A - Bb). I don’t like that repeating note. You can try it if you want, but it’s kind of a drag on the momentum of this line. We hear all of these cool intervalic leaps, strong triad notes and chord tones, enclosures, and leading tones, and then suddenly… a repeated A note. Feels weak to me.
So I changed up the end of the riff. Since I don’t like the sound of approaching our target note from below with the leading tone, when we get to the high D note, we’ll just turn around and approach the Bb from above with a descending chromatic line. Once we reach the Bb note, we can voice lead that to an type of A7 we want before resolving to the D minor tonic.
Check out the PDF to see this riff written out with standard notation and guitar tab. Give it a shot, and make sure you’re trying it in time and with a play along of some kind to keep your time and form honest. If you can play through it over a basic ii V i, then try applying it to some standards where we see these types of chords… something like Alone Together or Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise.
Today is our Triad Mastery Bootcamp lesson. This week we will be looking at some ideas for using major triads when we add a tension 7. Or what is most commonly referred to as a Maj7 arpeggio. Though, as with all melodic triad lessons, we’ll be breaking down these structure into its basic elements to give us more freedom for use.
Rather than thinking of this is simply a 1-3-5-7 arpeggio, let’s break it down to the major triad (for today’s lesson, G major) plus an addition F# note. It’s not going to matter too much for today’s riff, but the difference is helpful when we start doing our ear training tomorrow and using this structure to improvise melodically vs running up and down through the arpeggio.
For today, we’re going to break the arpeggio apart, insert some unexpected intervallic leaps, insert some chromaticism, and two changes of direction inside a single octave of this ‘arpeggio’. When we reach the next octave, the pattern starts over. However because the pattern is seven 1/8th notes long - one 1/8th note short of a full measure - the phrase is going to get displaced in each measure, making it hard to hear that all we’re doing is repeating the same series of notes.
Download the PDF to see the riff in tab and standard notation and try playing along with me. Take it slow at first. Then see if you can crank up your tempo.
Give it a shot… and happy practicing!
When is a 7 chord arpeggio NOT a 7 chord arpeggio? When it’s not an arpeggio.
There are many reasons I prefer to think, practice, and teach with triads as the foundation as opposed to 7 chord arpeggios. One is that when I look at the melodic ideas in our favorite standards, I usually see more quadratonics (triads plus melodic tension notes) more often than I see 7 chord arpeggios. Don’t get me wrong, the arpeggios are there too. Just not in the abundance one might expect if you learn the standard jazz guitar approach… which puts an enormous amount of time, effort, and priority of shedding every position of every inversion of every type of 7 chord arpeggio. Again, it’s not bad to know these things. But the way we improvise will always be informed by how and what we prioritize when we practice. If we spent the bulk of our time on arpeggios, that’s what our improv is going to feature the most.
Another reason I don’t talk about using the tension b7 all that much within quadratonics is because most of the musicians that can follow what I’m showing - a practical, step-by-step process for getting theory ideas and concepts off the page and internalizing them into our ears and our musical vobcaularies - they likely already know their arpeggios so well conceptually and on the fretboard that it’s almost impossible to disrupt their wiring and get them to slow down so they can really HEAR what is going on with these notes and learn to think more creatively about how to use them to create lines beyond outlining the dominant7 chord and then voice leading to a major or minor tonic chord.
Today’s lesson is a good example of a way we can use a dominant 7 arpeggio to create something a little bit more outside of the box. Rather than ascending or descending the four notes of a G7 chord (G-B-D-F), we are treating them as the four columns holding up a building. Then, almost in Spiderman fashion, we are leaping around and swinging in and out of them.
We start with a leap up from the root to the 5th. Then we descend chromatically to the 3rd. Then we leap from the 3rd up to the b7th and chromatically ascend up to the root. Once we make it to the root, the pattern repeats. Of course, this just creates a multi-octave warmup that you can practice through the circle of 5ths. If you want to use these types of ideas when playing over changes, you would likely only use segments of it… perhaps only one octave of the shape, or even a few beats of it… and then you would resolve it to wherever the tune is taking you.
See if you can spot all of the ingredients one at a time. Start with the triad playing the three octaves in the positions I show in the video. Then add the tension b7. Then add the leaping and the chromaticism. Then try moving it through the circle of 5ths. Use it as a warmup and see how tight you can get it. Try and push yourself with the metronome to get to faster tempos. Make sure you try forcing these lines to come out when you’re playing. Eventually the muscle memory will get planted deeply enough that the ideas will come out naturally.
Tomorrow in lesson #42 we’ll do some ear training to work on HEARING the b7. Then we’ll talk more about application to tunes.
Until then… happy practicing!
If you know me, you know I’m not a huge riff collector or player. I’m not against learning riffs. They can be an extremely useful tool to have in our bag of tricks. But I prefer to focus most of my time on studying and mastering the fundamentals, and then toying with them spontaneously and seeing where they lead. So when I DO learn a riff, either from a bebop head or a transcription or just stumbling across one when playing in the shed… I like to pick it apart. Look for the DNA it’s made out of, analyze it, rip it apart, and put it back together in 5 or 10 or 50 different ways. I’d rather find 50 variations of a single riff then memorize 50 riffs without the ability to adapt them to different situations.
Today’s lesson is sort of a look at that process. Or the reverse engineered version of it. Showing you how we can build a modern jazz riff starting from a basic triad.
Specifically what we’re doing is starting with a G major triad and putting it on the fretboard in 2-string groupings to create geometric symmetry. This way every octave of this riff looks the same, has the same shape, and uses the same fingers in the same order. Root, 3rd, 5th… root, 3rd, 5ths… etc.
Then we can play around. We flipped the order of the 5th and 3rd putting the 5th first, and rather than playing root, 5th, 3rd, we play the root, 5th, then a descending chromatic line through the b5th and 4th, and finally landing on the 3rd. Starting and ending the chromatic line on two triad notes creates a strong sense of stability and tonal logic. So even though we’re hearing non-diatonic notes, they make perfect sense to the ear. Then we add our melodic tension note… tension b6… the Eb. We’re not working on ear training in today’s lesson. We’ll do that tomorrow in lesson #37. Today we are simply focused on muscle memory building, technique, speed, fluidity, and learning this riff.
Take this riff all the way up to the high 1st string Eb note. Then turn around and descend back to the low 6th string G note. Download a copy of the PDF to see this written out in standard notation and tab if you need any help.
Once you can play this, put on the metronome or a drum track and start working on increasing your tempo… just make sure you keep that nice swing groove happening. Or straight 8th if you want to work on your funk or latin feel. You can also take this riff and move it through the circle of 5ths for a really comprehensive warmup.
In the next couple of lessons we’ll be covering learning to HEAR the tension b6 and how we can use this quadratonic to play over jazz changes and tunes. So make sure you check out the next few lessons to get ideas for that. But for now, this is a great riff to know and a fun way to build some new muscle memory and to see how modern jazz vocabulary can be created using triads and very simple ingredients.
Let’s get after it!
While I’m not a technique junkie and don’t focus a ton of my time on speed, it is an important topic to work on. Just keep everything in context. If you want to be a physically impressive guitar player, spend more time on this topic. If you want your music to be more about lyrical melody, spend time there. Pianistic voicings and chord movement? Spend time there.
The human experience can grossly be broken down into heart, mind, and body. Albert Einstein, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Buddha were all equally obsessed with particular parts of their humanness. Had Einstein been as concerned with his physical presence as he was his mental and intellectual pursuits, he could have become a world champion body builder. Had Arnold been as obsessed with human emotion, heart, and wisdom as he was his physicality, he could have been a Buddha-type figure. No right or wrong answers… just personal preference for where we want to focus the majority of our energy. All three elements will always be present in some degree. How we find the balance for ourselves should dictate what we focus on during our practice time.
Today’s lesson is all about speed and agility and developing muscle memory.
First make sure you know your basic major triad position. Then try adding the tension #4. This note can be found one fret, or one half step, below the 5th of the triad. While we’re not playing either the lydian or lydian dominant modes in their entirety, the #4 scale tone is a defining characteristic of both of these modes. So getting to know it and run through a major triad with it included will imply either.
Then we can add some chromaticism to spice it up and make it sound more complex than it really is. The obstacle course we’re playing through here is to connect the 3rd and the #4th chromatically against the grain of the bigger picture movement of the position. So when we’re ascending up the position, we will jump over the 3rd and descend chromatically from the #4th back down to the 3rd before leaping up to the 5th to continue descending. When we’re descending the position we will leap over the #4th to the 3rd, ascending chromatically up to the #4th, then leap down to the root and continue descending.
Watch the video to see what fingers I like to use and then try piecing it together on your fretboard. Find the fingering that feels most natural and suitable for you. Put the metronome on and start practicing it the same way, over and over and over, at a slow tempo. Then build up your speed by cranking the bpm up. See if you can move it through some other keys… ideally cycling through all 12 keys by moving through the circle of 5ths.
Download the PDF to check your work and make sure you did it correctly.
In today’s lesson we’re going to work on technique and muscle memory building. We’re focusing on two different things. The first is obvious and easy to spot, and the second is a little more subtle and bleeding over into tomorrow’s Melodic Ear Training lesson.
The first thing we’re focusing on is simply learning to see the positions of a (G)/4 - the G major triad note + tension 4. Just like if it were a traditional scale or arpeggio, we want to learn to see it and to work at playing it more smoothly, more quickly, and all around the fretboard in all 12 keys.
The second thing we’re working on, which is more subtle, is playing this quadratonic the way THE NOTES want to be played vs how our mind tells us to play it. The mind says that if we’re ASCENDING a position, we should be moving up the entire time. But the tension 4 CRAVES resolving down to the 3rd. It CAN move up to the 5th of the triad. But it’s an addict. It longs to be with the 3rd. So as we ascend through the position, we’re going to ALWAYS play tension 4 BEFORE playing the 3rd, then we’re going to resolve down to the 3rd. Hence why I call this a resolution run warm up.
We’re working on technique, speed, dexterity, precision, muscle memory, and fretboard visualization. But we’re also keeping in mind that practice doesn’t make perfect… it makes permanent. If we want the 4 - 3 resolution to be organic and present in our lines and melodies, the more we practice it in our shed time, the more it will naturally show up in our improvisations and compositions.
So why not start shedding the positions like this… in this more musical way where we’re playing these positions the way the notes want to move, not the way WE want them to move.
Give it a shot, and grab the PDF if you want some help.
In today’s Triad Mastery Bootcamp lesson, we’re focused on developing muscle memory for navigating triads in a more advanced way that will help us increase our speed, dexterity, technique, and the coordination between our left and right hand all while opening up bebop and modern jazz vocabulary ideas for improvisation.
What we want to do is this. Start with a basic G major triad. Add an Ab note to that triad giving us the pitch set G - Ab - B - D. Practice ascending and descending the position using the leapfrog technique where we skip over a note, come back a note, skip over a note, come back a note, etc. And in the final step, we want to insert a chromatic line connecting the 3rd and 5th of the triad anytime we play those two notes consecutively next to each other.
Again, here are the steps with the pitches laid out.
1. Play up and back the basic triad
G - B - D - G - B - D - G… etc
2. Add the Ab note (tension b2)
G - Ab - B - D - G - Ab - B - D - G… etc
3. Play this with the leapfrog technique, skip - back - skip - back
(G - B) - (Ab - D) - (B - G) - (D - Ab) - (G - B)… etc
4. Insert a chromatic line to connect the 3rd and 5th of the triad anytime they get played back to back
(G - B) - (Ab - D) - Db - C - (B - G) - (D - Ab) - (G - B) - (Ab - D) - Db - C - (B - G) - (D - Ab)… etc
Usually when we’re studying quadratonics (triad + tension note), I prefer to focus on ear training, the emotional quality of the tension note, hear how the tension note wants to resolve, and how we can develop melodic phrases using the structure for playing over changes. This pattern CAN definitely be used for playing lines but will obviously give a much more “sequence” and “riff” type of sound versus what we usually discuss for developing melodic phrases. It’s still a great exercise to work on.
If you’re able to get this happening, try moving it through the circle of 5ths. If you’re able to do that, try moving the pattern to other positions around the fretboard. Remember that practice does NOT make perfect… it makes permanent. So start with the metronome really slow and focus on perfection and efficiency of movement. Lock in the correct movement pattern. THEN start to push your tempo faster and faster and see if you can get this swinging at more uptempo settings.
I recommend you try and find this pattern on your own by looking at the fretboard and thinking your way through the construction of this obstacle course. But I have written it out in tab and standard notation. If you need help or just want to doublecheck your work, grab a copy of the PDF to see how I play it. And don’t forget to come back and check out the next couple of daily lessons where we will leave behind the muscle memory stuff and focus on developing our ear to hear this sound more clearly as well as working on developing lines with it for improvising over ii V Is and tunes.
I’m not a big technique junky. And I don’t recommend my students spend a majority of their time working on that element of their playing… at least not in their earlier stages with the melodic triads approach. To me, musicianship, ear development, and learning to control melody and harmony should be the foundation. But of course we need SOME level of technique to pull that off. A day one beginner who has never held a guitar pick before is going to struggle to improvise convincing phrases no matter how well they understand the anatomy of melody or how developed their ear is. Most of my private students, however, are not day one beginners. I generally work with late stage intermediate up to advanced players. So use some self-awareness and discretion with how much time you want to spend on this lesson. If you feel moved to work on your technique and your right hand picking patterns, this is a great lesson to try. Just make sure you’re following some of our melodic ear training and ii V I’s and Tunes lessons to supplement this technique work with improving your ear and your musicianship.
Here’s the idea. We’re taking a G major triad and we’re adding an A note. This gives us our G major + tension 2 quadratonic. Now we’re going to construct this mini scale-like structure on the fretboard so that it always has two notes per string. You can download the PDF to see the exact fingering, notation, and tab if you need help with this.
Once we have the two-notes per string layout of our quadratonics, now we can integrate the right hand picking technique. The idea is to pick the 1st note on each string, and then use some type of left hand, legato technique to create the 2nd note. This could be a hammer-on or a slide if you’re ascending the quadratonic, or it could be a pull-off or slide if you’re descending. Check out the video to see which techniques I use on which string in each of our four positions. But ultimately you should explore and find what’s best for you. Remember that at the slow tempo we want to start at, A LOT of techniques are going to SEEM like they’re comfortable. But our goal is to setup a technique and a form that will allow us to get the tempo up to 200, 250, or even 300 bpm with as little tension as possible.
The reason this technique works so well is that it disperses the work of creating the sounds evenly between the left hand and the right hand. We pick a note, we use a legato technique, we pick a note, we use a legato technique. This allows us to play at any given tempo where our right hand is moving half the speed. So if we’re playing at 200 bpm, our right hand is only going to be moving as through we were playing at 100 bpm. Because every other note is taken care of by the left hand. By using the legato technique to create the 2nd note on each string, we’re also making it significantly easier when we need to switch the pick to the next string. You’ll have twice as much time to get to the string as you would have if you were picking every other note.
The final benefit is that it makes everything symmetrical in the left hand. Every set of two strings will look the exact same as every other set of two strings. This allows our left hand fingers the ability to use the same fingers in the same order over and over… making it easy to learn to fly through these.
If this is a new technique for you, it may take a few minutes to get used to the feel. Especially if you’re new to quadratonics or have been practicing them in vertical positions. You’ll need to build some new visual shapes on the fretboard as playing them with two notes per string takes us our of the vertical position and creates a diagonal line moving across the fretboard. But again, because of the symmetry found in the fretting hand, I think you’ll get this figured out quickly. And then it’s just a game of repetition, patience, and pushing yourself with the metronome to get your speed way faster than you thought was possible.
Just don’t get lost having so much fun playing fast runs that you forget about your ears and your melodic phrasing!
What’s the difference between ascending or descending through a series of notes like C-E-G-A vs playing melodic phrases that use notes like C-E-G-A. Do these two approaches to using this same set of pitches create the same musical effect? Do they require the same skill set or practice routine to develop? Will one make us sound more virtuosic or more of a seasoned musicians?
These are somewhat objective questions, but we rarely think about them or talk about them because the standard jazz guitar pedagogy doesn’t bring up the topic. Rarely are we asked to simply listen to something and make a personal judgment call on it. Instead we’re told to memorize theory (brain ideas), visualize the geometric patterns of it on the fretboard (visual ideas), and shed it until our fingers can run through it quickly without us needing to think (muscle memory idea).
But isn’t music meant to be the art of sound? Or more specifically, the art of expressing the human experience and emotion into sound? So where is the ear in this learning process? Where is the heart? Where is the story telling? Are we just supposed to memorize theory and that’s it?
The standard approach seems to be to tell the student to memorize the theory, visualize the shapes, then to learn tunes and transcribe for many years, and gig for many more until eventually - and hopefully - it all turns into music, as if by magic. This would be like learning a new language by memorizing the words, then reading books and scripts until we become fluent.
Why not also practice taking one word and practice making up different sentences with it. Let’s try the word, “music."
- I like music.
- Do you like music?
- Do you play music?
- I play music.
- Where can we go see music.
- I hate this music.
- I brought my guitar, can I plug into your amp and play music with you all?
This brings us back to the idea of a C6 arpeggio. Is it a good idea to practice ascending and descending it? Absolutely. You should definitely do that. But isn’t there so much more we can say using those four notes? Why not take a few minutes and practice SAYING SOMETHING human and melodic with them?
In this video I show what this might lead to. Give it a listen. Then try it out on your own. Take something like a simple C blues and over the C chord play (C)/6 (C major triad + tension 6… same pitches as a C6 arpeggio, but now the 6th is treated as a tension note that wants to resolve back into the C triad. Then move this melodic structure to the IV chord (F + tension 6) and the V chord (G + tension 6). It never sounds like we’re just “outlining” the chord changes with arpeggios. But it also doesn’t sound like we’re running scales, sequences, or patterns. It just sounds like melodic ideas. Because great melody always has tension notes and resolution notes. They help create emotion and drama and interest. Listen to any great jazz standard and you’ll hear this. Check out the way Charlie Parker uses (F)/6 in his famous blues head, Billie’s Bounce. It’s just an F major triad and a tension 6. Yes, he adds a couple of leading tones and ornamentations, but 90+% of the melody is just F-A-C-D… yet it never sounds like he’s arpeggiating an F6 chord. It just sounds like melody.
So would you rather sit around with your fingers crossed for 20 years hoping this type of melodic phrasing happens on its own? Or would you rather take a few minutes during your practice session to pick one simple, little idea like a major triad with a tension 6, and see what kinds of melodic phrases you can improvise with it?
I know which I’d rather do.
From the melodic triads perspective, every element of jazz is accessible through triads. We can grow them into melodic phrases, arpeggios, scales and modes, pianistic chord voicings, liquid harmony… we can even develop all of these ideas from an upper structure triad to give us those wonderful post-bop and modern jazz sounds many of us chase after. What’s great about the triad’s ability to give us all of these dimensions to our playing is that by mastering this one, simple little topic that seems so easy and elementary in nature, we can drastically improve all elements of our playing. Like planting a single seed, letting it grow into a tree, and knowing that tree will give birth to an entire forest.
This is why coming up with challenges and “obstacle courses” with our basic triads and forcing ourselves to commit to learning new patterns of thinking, constructing, and navigating the fretboard with them is so helpful. It’s essentially what our entire Bootcamp series is built around. Regular, ongoing, ever-evolving challenges and assignments to step up our level of comfort with triads.
In this lesson we take a look at a fun variation of the major triad. The idea is simple. Play through the triad with a leap frog pattern.
Then we’re going to take it one step farther and insert leading tones. We can place our leading tones before any of these notes, but for the sake of formalizing this into a specific pattern to work on, let’s place the leading tone just before the note we’re leapfrogging to.
So instead of starting the phrase with C -> G (skipping over the E note), we will put an F# note in between. This F# is the leading tone to G. It’s a half step below G, and it creates the melodic tension and desire for movement that will bump us up to resolve to G
C -> (F#) -> G
Then we will come back to the E note that we skipped and continue the pattern.
( C -> F# -> G ) ( E -> B -> C ) etc
Playing one full position of this within the C major triad up and back will look like this:
If this is challenging for you, sit with it for a while. See if you can get comfortable. Practice moving this exact same shape up and down the fretboard one fret at a time. This way you’re learning to rely on the same visual shape and finger movements to play in other keys.
When you’re ready, try applying this pattern to the other two triad positions I recommend all of my students work on in their early stages with the melodic triads approach. You can find those position in the PDF download below if you need help.
There are additional positions we can learn, but when we get these three under our fingers we are no long missing any notes. They don’t overlap at all, but they still offer us every pitch on the fretboard. My feeling is, get started with these three, start making music with them, and then we can always go back and fill in the remaining overlapping positions that bridge these three together.
The final step to this triad mastery challenge is to voice lead through the circle of 5ths using all three of these positions. When moving to a new key, IF the two triads share a common tone for their lowest note, we will use common tone voice leading and stay on that same pitch as we switch into the new inversion. If the lowest note is NOT shared between the two, then we need to move. The goal is to move the smallest distance possible, and I recommend for this challenge that you always move UP the fretboard. Try grabbing your guitar and see if you can find your way up the fretboard a full octave through the circle of 5ths, from the 3rd fret C major triad shape up to the 15th fret C major triad shape. Use the notation below to help you get started IF YOU NEED IT. You’ll get so much more value from this exercise by sitting and working this out on the fretboard and in your mind vs reading it off the notation. But I wrote out the first key (C major above) and the second key (F major) in their proper positions. This will help you get moving across the fretboard.
Remember, we’re not practicing music making with this idea yet. This is just fretboard mastery, learning to control leading tones, learning to perfect our triad shapes, and getting some new muscle memory happening.
Once you can do all this you will of course want to work on application to some type of musical situation. There are an enormous number of ways we could do that, but the simplest one would be to just pick a key like C major, put on a loop of a ii V I progression
D-7 -> G7 -> C6
And goof around with playing the C major triad using the leap frog and leading tones game. You can start by playing it as it’s written inside the position to get started, but as quickly as you can, stop it. That’s a warm up. A muscle memory building obstacle course. Making music is about waking up your inner child. Get creative. Think outside the box. Explore. Try things. Be willing to fall on your face a few times. Try changing up the rhythm. Try holding some notes really long and playing others really short. Try playing with a slower or faster melodic tempo. Try not playing all the way up or down the position, but instead think about just connecting a couple of notes within the triad and changing direction to go up and back down.
I always recommend to my students to be like a little kid in the woods who just found a stick. To a grown up, “mature” adult it’s just a stick. But to a kid it’s whatever you want it to be. This game of leap frogging and using leading tones is just a stick. It’s dead. It’s nothing. If all you do is practice it as it is, it won’t do very much for you besides help you visualize the fretboard and build some dexterity. But if you’re willing to use your imagination and be creative with it, it can turn into all kinds of things.
Hence why I always sign off saying… Happy Practicing!
Triads are the strongest, most stable ways to organize sound in western music. They've been used as the steel frame for melody and harmony dating back all the way to Bach, up to Charlie Parker, and into the language of modern jazz guitar players like Kurt Rosenwinkel. They act like anchor points around which we can add any kind of ornamentation we want - diatonic, chromatic, non-sense, it doesn't really matter. When we return into the triad the ear recognizes a sense of strength and stability, allowing us to play with tension and resolution in a clear, precise, and accurate way. No scale noodling.
Chromaticism, on the other hand, offers a non-stop feeling of tension. There is no harmony being conveyed, no function, no resolution, and no diatonic frame of reference with a root note... just pure tension and motion. It's a great scale to work on and be aware of, and it can really help develop a wonderful bebop and modern jazz vocabulary, but it needs a context to sit within. It could be as simple as seeing a strong note to begin the chromatic line from and a resolved target note to land on.
By combining the chromatic scale and the major triad, we are giving ourselves the ability to play all 12 chromatic notes in western music, but we're still able to convey the sound of tonality. We can use this with a root structure triad, like using chromatic passing notes to connect the 1, 3, and 5 of a C major triad over a C6 chord. We can also apply this to an upper structure triad. We know that a C major triad will work beautifully over a Bb7 chord. It creates the sound of a Bb13(#11,9), or what many people will call a Bb7 lydian dominant - a sound built from the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale. I prefer to call this Bb13(#11,9) because once your ear learns to hear the C major triad as the stable, anchor points of a Bb7, you can now improvise phrases that accentuate the 13, the #11, and the 9. This is much deeper than a modal approach. This is tonicizing the upper structure of this advanced jazz harmony in your melodic ideas. So the standard, go-to chord tones for dominant (1-3-5-b7) are now all melodic tension notes, or passing tones to connect the C, E, and G notes.
Can you see it? Look at the red circles. It starts on two C major triad notes - G and E - then it walks down chromatically to the C note and jumps up to G. Beat 1, the & of 1, 3, and the & of 3 are C major triad notes in every measure. And every other note being used is a chromatic passing note. By placing the triad notes on the two strongest beats of the measure, 1 and 3, and then doubling them up, we are able to anchor the chromatic scale deeply inside of the sound of the C major triad. So despite playing all 12 chromatic notes, we have a sense of tonal stability.
Whether you use this as a root structure triad or an upper structure triad, the idea is the same. Insert chromatic passing notes between all of the notes of the basic triad. This masks the simplicity of the triad, gives us access to all 12 pitches in our lines, makes it possible to convey simple and advanced jazz harmony while playing all 12 notes, and gives us a simple enough visual shape on the fretboard that we can start creating spontaneous, improvised bebop and modern jazz vocabulary on the spot.
If you're new to triads and need some additional help you can download the PDF for this lesson which gives you the three positions of the major triad that I recommend all of my students start with. There are other positions, but these three offer all of the triad's notes across the fretboard without any overlap. Over time we can add in the "bridge" positions. But there are no pitches missing using these three shapes, so it's a good starting point. To hang in our daily classes live with us, join the facebook group linked at the top of the page.
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