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5 Theory Tricks That Will Save You Years Of Practice

Music Theory can seem very scary for a Jazz beginner, and you will come across people insisting it is bad for your creativity, but in reality, it is a great help when it comes to learning Jazz, and it helps speed up the learning process.

Imagine a guitarist who doesn’t know theory. He’s stuck, and can’t turn the licks he learns into new vocabulary, he doesn’t have a way to learn and organize the notes on the fretboard

and he can’t use the songs he knows to learn more songs easily, Learning Jazz becomes very difficult like that.

So there are a LOT of advantages to learning just a bit of basic theory. Let me show you how much you can unlock with very basic stuff!

Thinking in Keys

You can compare thinking in keys to learning about cars.

If you think of words like Battery, air filter, and wheels, then the word itself is not saying a lot, but if you think of them as parts of a car you have a much better idea about what they are and what they do. Adding context helps you understand!

Looking at a song and thinking in terms of key is the same, it helps you understand what the chords are and how they sound because they are never just a letter with some numbers. Dm7 is one thing in Bb major and something else in C major, and it will sound different,

just like the battery in your car is probably different from your mobile phone’s, the context helps you understand.

The first time you want to learn a song like a Jazz Standard then you probably want to end up sounding like this:

But in reality, you are looking at the lead-sheet and it seems like there are 1000s of incomprehensible chords and the whole thing is impossible to understand.

The most essential part of getting over this is to stop thinking of each chord as an isolated thing, and use that the song is in a key, where you know the diatonic chords in the scale because that is a huge part of knowing the key and also something you can easily practice for both major and minor scales.

If you look at the song knowing what key it is in, you can immediately recognize the chords that are in the key and diatonic to the scale (highlight those chords) which already will help you deal with most of the song.

But you also realize that chord progressions have direction and move to a resolution, and this helps you understand what is going on and makes it easier to solo over the song.

As you get more experienced it will also help you deal with the chords that are in the key and have a function but are not in the scale something that becomes unnecessarily confusing and complicated if you start looking at them as not connected to the key when your ear tells you that they are.

This was understanding a whole song, but the next trick is just as useful and also leads to a very helpful Barry Harris concept.

Chunks of Chords

Imagine that you have to read a page in a book, but instead of reading the words and sentences then you spell each word on the page. I am sure you can imagine how slow that process is, and how it is also getting in the way of understanding what is written on that page. The same is true for chords. You don’t want to get stuck trying to learn songs by memorizing long rows of abstract letters and numbers when it is much faster to read the chord progression as chunks in the same way you read words.

The most basic building blocks you want to start with are the major and minor II V I, and recognizing different types of turnarounds is the next place to go.

You probably want to start by ignoring extensions and just get used to reading chords as the basic type of chord that they are, so G7(9,13) is just G7, Dm7(11) is just a Dm7 and Cmaj7(9) is just Cmaj7.

The extensions are not that important in this case, and you will anyway be interpreting the chord symbols and ignoring them most of the time.

This is about turning the chords from a long row of symbols into a few progressions that

  1. Makes it easier to remember and
  2. Are building blocks you already know the sound of.

Most standards will end up being just 7-8 progressions once you can think like this and also understand the form and how it repeats which is quite different from remembering a row of 30+ chord symbols.

And you can use this to make soloing a lot easier as well, which is also what Barry Harris teaches.

Not Thinking ALL The Chords

Once you start thinking in groups of chords then you can also open up how you improvise over them. Simplifying the chords is a great way to not get overwhelmed and to make it easier to improvise more melodic solos. Later in the video, I’ll talk about simplifying chords in a different but equally powerful way, but let’s start with Barry Harris.

The main way that Barry Harris reduces chord progressions is by taking away the II chord in a II V I.

For a song that means that you would think this which makes it a lot fewer chords and soloing over it will still make sense.

Another very practical way to re-interpret a common chord progression that you will see with Barry Harris is to reduce a turnaround to a I and a V chord. The previous concept explains taking away the II chord and that also makes the dominant in the 2nd half of bar 1 easy to ignore, since it is anyway on a weak part of the bar.

As an example, check out how this gives you a much easier way to approach rhythm changes just using V chords and tonic chords instead of 2 chords per bar you get a much simpler progression that is a lot easier to solo over.

Later in the video, I will show you another way of chunking together chords that is even more powerful and will help you use chords and vocabulary across a lot of chord progressions. It’s a bit like a boosted Barry Harris approach.

The Power of Diatonic 3rds

The most efficient thing you can do is probably to practice something once and then be able to use it in a LOT of places, and diatonic 3rd relationships help you do exactly that! It really is one of the most powerful things to work with both for chords and for soloing!

I am sure you have heard me talk about how chords a constructed by stacking 3rds in a scale, first creating diatonic 3rds, then the triads and finally the diatonic 7th chords.

`

If we start with a C major scale and a Cmaj7 chord then you have these notes:

But for comping, you can also use the chord that is a diatonic 3rd above C: Em7 which essentially gives you a Cmaj7(9)

Another option is the chord that is a diatonic 3rd below: Am7 which gives you a C6,

so if the song says Cmaj7 then you have 3 times as many voicings to choose from.

Check out how it sounds, and a bonus chromatic trick with this II V I in C:

but also like this:

And, the next one goes to the Em7 but then moves voices to transition to the Am7!

This doesn’t work for every chord in every chord progression, but it is well worth exploring, and if you are practicing diatonic arpeggios (which you should be doing, since it is the most important scale exercise in Jazz)

then it is also useful for solos because just like the voicings you have 3 arpeggios you can use over a Cmaj7.

Cmaj7:

Em7:

And Am7:

As you can hear it is incredibly powerful, and it is all over famous Bebop solos from people like Parker, George Benson, and Joe Pass.

You should check out how they work with this if you get the chance.

Functions: Putting Chords On A Shopping List

A lot of these concepts are about how you look at chords and harmony as part of a car, or as words in a text. As you can tell, different ways of thinking makes soloing or comping easier, and this last one is in many ways the most powerful one.

You want to understand and hear chords in categories, similar to how you might order a shopping list. If you go shopping then you make a list with the items you need grouped in categories by what is close to each other, and maybe even the order of where it is in the store: Vegetables, Bread, Dairy, meat etc.

Categorizing chords like this by how they sound and how they behave in the song can be a massive time saver! There is a good chance that you already do this a bit with diminished chords recognizing that in

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 you can also consider that the same chord progression as Cmaj7 A7 Dm7, and therefore you can solo using the same vocabulary.

`

But this goes a lot further and is something you can use to make it easier to solo over and play similar chord progressions. You want to start grouping in functions which is grouping them as chords that sound similar and work in the same way.

Let me show you an example with subdominant and tonic chords:

Here you have Subdominant, Minor subdominant resolving to tonic

And that is also what you have here:

Here Dm7 and Fmaj7 are interchangeable and both work as subdominant,

and even if Bb7 and Dbmaj7 don’t contain exactly the same notes they sound very similar in the context and are both minor subdominant chords. You can even easily create vocabulary that works on both progressions:

To me, the biggest advantage is that the chords sound similar and it helps me hear what is going on and what to play over the progressions, especially going from song to song, and the important part is probably more about how the notes move through the progression, but is is also a very good way to group your vocabulary together because you don’t need very different vocabulary for Dm7 and Fmaj7 in C major and while you may need to adjust what you play over Bb7 and Dbmaj7 a bit then it will be very similar and other options like Bb7, Dø and Fm6 are completely interchangeable and you can use exactly the same lines.

The main categories you want to think of are tonic, subdominant and dominant. And then there are common subcategories like minor subdominants and #IV subdominants.

I am showing this with chords in these groups, but keep in mind that chords have different functions depending on what is happening around them, I’ll show you an example in a bit, so be careful with just thinking from an overview like this.

Functions go a bit further than Barry’s shortcut, and tie into understanding chords in the context they are in. In a II V I like Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 then the II chord often makes sense as a part of the dominant that is resolving to I, but if it is II bVII I, so Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7 then it is a subdominant moving to the tonic using a minor subdominant as a sort of transition. Chords are a part of something they are not just defined by what notes are in there.

So start figuring out when a chord is a subdominant and figure out what minor subdominants are in the key like Abmaj7, Fm6, Bb7 and Dbmaj7 are in C major and also how they sound. You probably also want to explore some #IV subdominant chords, there are a lot of dim chords in there. t is a way to think about the chords that connect a lot better with the music and your ears, it really fits how it sounds a lot better.

How To Level Up Your Comping

Of course when you are working on chords then you also need to be able to get them to sound good when you comp, and there are some great exercises that will help you do that which you can check out in this video so that you can level up your chord playing and comping. Check it out! Learn Jazz Make Music

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

 

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Unlock The Mysterious Sound Of The Minor Subdominant Chords

Let’s talk about what is probably the most beautiful chords in Jazz.

When I was first getting into Jazz, the basic 7th chords sounded amazing, and it was fun to play stuff like:

but then you realize that already with a II V I you can add these beautiful extensions like minor chord with a 9th,

and you can add color to the chords in the progression but you’re still just playing the basic 251

and then you discover that in the songs, there are these other chords other progressions that are even more mysterious and beautiful like this one Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7.

And this group of chords is what I want to talk about in this video. They are often described as “Modal Interchange” or “Borrowed chords” but let me show you why that is maybe not a precise description.

This group of chords is called minor subdominants, and the basic version is the easiest to understand if you start with this cowboy or country progression, imagine that our hero, the cowboy, is at home C Major,

and he has a car that he loves C7,

then he goes for a ride Fmajor,

but the cart breaks down 😣

and his horse comes and rescues him:

You can hear how this progression has a natural flow but you probably also noticed that there are a few chords in there that are not in the C major scale

because that would be these chords:

And some of the most interesting  chords are the chords that are not in the scale, but still in the key, because the key and the scale is not the same thing. The key is a larger and more complicated place than the scale.

The star of the cowboy progression is of course the F minor chord,

which is the surprising but beautiful sound that leads us back to C.

But where does this chord come from?

A Simple Explanation (that almost works)

One way to look at this is that the Fm is a chord borrowed from C minor. When you have a chord progression in C Major, you can also use chords from C minor which is especially useful for the subdominant and for the dominant chords, but later I will show you how this is a simplified explanation and it goes further than this with a lot more interesting chords!

 

For now, it is practical to start with C minor, so to begin with you have the diatonic chords of C minor and together with the diatonic chords of C major then that is a lot of material to work with:

The minor subdominants here are Fm7 Abmaj7 Bb7 and Dø:

And with these, you can do incredible things using the minor subdominant as a way back to I instead of a dominant chord:

or this, where the Bb7 is what is commonly described as the backdoor dominant, something that will come back later:

But there are more options, and some of the most common ones don’t really come from the C minor scale at all.

When Is Something A Minor Subdominant Chord?

A question that I often get when discussing this topic is “when is something a minor subdominant” and that is a little difficult to nail completely.

In tonal harmony then the function of a chord depends on what is happening around it, so you can’t just list some notes and then use that to decide what the function of the chord is. Let me show you an example with Bb7.

You could have a Bb7 that is the backdoor dominant resolving to C major: Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7

but it could also be a secondary dominant reslving to Am or A7:

so you need to look at the key and the progression to decide what Bb7 is in the key of C major, and that is actually true for most chords.

When Is Something A Minor Subdominant

So when is something a minor subdominant: I guess the best definition would be:

It can resolve to a tonic

It contains an Ab

And it is not a dominant chord (which mostly means it does not contain the leading note, B and it will often contain a C)

As you can tell, it is not just a matter of certain notes being in there.

Let’s widen the net a bit and look at what is actually going on before looking at how to use these chords.

It Isn’t Really About Scales

I already hinted at this, the explanation for borrowing chords from the minor scale doesn’t really explain what is going on, and that is because this really comes from voiceleading. Let me show you how that works for the cowboy example.

I will play it in a different position so you can see what happens and how that gives you some much more interesting chords!

The progression starts on C, goes to C7, then moves to F. And here it is:

I want to go back to C, and one way to do that is to first make the A an Ab so that it resolves down to G on the C chord smoothly.

That is how we get Fm that resolves to C. It is about a melodic movement inside the chords,  horizontal not vertical chords which is, I think, also how we actually hear music.

Which is why “modal interchange” or “borrowed from minor” are not great descriptions, they are vertical descriptions of a horizontal thing.

Why Is That Better?

Why is this better? It is better because you can now have other melody notes and more interesting Minor subdominant chords. Let’s first look at variations of chords that I already mentioned and then add a new one as well.

I am talking about C major here, and a common melody note in C major is of course the major 3rd, E. If you want to harmonize that then it doesn’t really make sense to think of a chord from C minor because that scale has an Eb, not an E,

but if you can still use a minor subdominant similar to the previous example if you do this:

And the same will work for Bb7 where E becomes a #11

and this is also how you will often see the chords appear in Jazz standards like this one in There Will Never Be Another You

and It Could Happen To You

So now you have FmMaj7 and Bb7, and Fm6 as well, and the scale that makes the most sense with these would be F melodic minor, again an illustration of how it isn’t really modal interchange or borrowed chords, it is not a vertical thing.

Another Minor Subdominant Sound

Let’s  find one more chord, I am going to show you this one in the “Jazz” way, because the “classical” way is not used so often.

Let’s start with another subdominant chord: Dm7 moving down to Cmaj7.

But it would be nice to have that A – Ab – G in there which gives you: Dm7 Dø Cmaj7

These half-steps moving in the chords are just so nice, let’s add one more!

 

This is the “jazz” version of the Neapolitan subdominant and another great option, the difference is that usually the “classical” version has an F in the bass.

How To Use The Chords

These chords can do A LOT of things! It’s useful to understand what is happening in the harmony in songs like There Will Never Be Another You or It Could Happen To You, but you can also use the minor subdominants for your own songs or for reharmonizing songs.

And you can work on inserting these as a surprising and different sound in place of almost anything. So here are a few examples.

You can use a minor subdominant instead of a “normal” subdominant:

Maybe use a bVImaj7 instead of a IIm7 chord in Tune Up. The original sounds like this:

and then becomes:

And you can use the bVII instead of the V in I Fall In Love To Easily to go from this:

To this:

And even use minor subdominants as beautiful suspensions of the I chord in Days Of Wine And Roses so that this:

Where They Sound The Best!

So you can hear how these sound amazing for making melodies fresh, but that is not going to be useful for you if you don’t know how to harmonize melodies and make your own chord melody arrangements, something that is a part of Jazz Guitar that people like Joe Pass and Barney Kessel have almost made into an entirely new style. If you want to start working on that skill so that you can arrange a song into a complete piece of music then you need to check out this video:

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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5 Jazz Guitar “Rules” That You Should Break (The Pros Do)

Jazz Rules!

Are there rules for Jazz? When you are learning something then it is nice to have simple and clear rules so that you can evaluate and practice towards something that fits the rules. Unfortunately, rules are rarely a good description for learning to play music,  as you will see in this video. There are a lot of very common “rules” that you should be breaking as soon as you can,  they will only waste your practice time and keep you from learning.

Rule #1 – Chromatic Notes

Let’s start with a very practical one, and then move on to some techniques and practice stuff that are bad advice.

A big part of Jazz vocabulary is the sound of chromatic enclosures and passing notes, and this rule is about that:

Chromatic Passing Notes Should Never Be On The Downbeat.

So why is this not a rule? The point of a chromatic leading note is to create tension that then resolves to a chord or scale note, and it does that whether you place it on a downbeat or an upbeat.

 

Placing it on a downbeat will only create more tension, but that is also something that works as a sound, like this:

You want to learn to use that creatively, and it is pretty easy to find examples here’s Charlie Parker’s Billie’s Bounce:

And he also uses it in Moose The Mooche

So you can put leading notes wherever you want, just like Parker. Let’s take another very common misunderstanding with notes, but this time the notes in the scale:

Rule #2 – Avoid Notes

Many questionable choices have been made in the name of “Avoid notes“. I imagine it is mostly just because the name is too short and unclear so it is easy to abuse or get wrong.

An avoid note over a chord is a note that is dissonant, the usual example is the 4th or 11th over a major chord, so an F over a Cmaj7. Listen to how the b9 interval between then E and the F really begs to resolve:

But just because you should not emphasize or sit on a note, that doesn’t mean that you should spend too much time worrying about not hitting it.

In general, it is better to focus on what you want to play, and not what you shouldn’t play, and there is no need to try to choose scales that have no avoid notes or only practice not using them in your lines, they are there to be used in the music, and the music is probably boring without them.

Check out how you can use it in your lines as a tension that resolves. Here I am playing the avoid note on beat 1 of bar 2:

Rule #3 – Bending

Once in a while, you will hear people insisting that certain techniques are not allowed in certain styles of music, so there is no tapping in Blues unless Billy Gibbons does it and there is no bending in Jazz.

But, of course, that is not really true, there is quite a lot of bending in Jazz even if there are also complete albums without any, and many guitarists that never use it.

Often this is connected to Blues phrases like this Barney Kessel example:

but there are also Jazz guitarists who have made it a part of their expressive vocabulary outside of Blues phrasing. My favorite for this is probably Pat Metheny:

I made a longer video on this a few years ago, and to me, it was always a bit surprising that this was such a sensitive topic, it is just a technique after all, and you don’t have to use all techniques all the time, surely there is no outrage that people don’t play sweep arpeggios in Blues. I don’t think I ever thought of this as a rule. You probably won’t find a lot of bends in Bop lines, because the effect of this technique really comes across better with long notes, something that there are not a lot of in Bebop, but it is up to you to figure out how it fits in your playing.

This might offend a few people, but I always imagined that it came from guitarists going to Jam sessions and then playing their blues clichés over jazz pieces without ever really sounding like Jazz, connecting to the song or the groove, but I don’t think I ever saw that at a session.

My personal favorites with this are probably Scofield and Metheny. Let’s go to what is probably the biggest waste of time for beginning Jazz guitarists

Rule #4 – Always Practice Everything In All Keys And All Positions

This rule will help you waste a LOT of time, so feel free to ignore it!

“You Need To Practice Everything In All Keys And All Positions”

There is a good reason for eventually taking some things and working through that in all keys and all positions, but this is probably more a few very fundamental things like the 3 basic scales: major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. Diatonic arpeggios, triads, and that sort of basic foundational vocabulary.

Let me show you how easy it is to overload yourself with work like this very quickly:

This is a great basic line, consisting of an enclosure and an arpeggio

It’s a simple melody so you should check it out for all the diatonic chords in C major, in other positions, in other keys, do all 12, and it probably also works in Harmonic minor:

Or is it maybe more useful to work on using it in your solos?

You can take the lick and then add another ending:

Maybe it is nice with some more chromatic stuff and a leading note on the downbeat:

`

Or you could be leading into it with a Coltrane Pattern;

Of course, you might have time to do both, but do you have time to do both for all variations in all keys, scales, and positions? You need to be realistic with what you get out of it.

Working like this is great for exploring but it should not be the way you always do everything. Ask yourself how common 7th-chord arpeggio inversions are in Bop lines? Are they common enough to spend hours practicing that? Or a similar thing: It’s good to sometimes take a song through all 12 keys, and it can also be fun. But it is not always the way to do, maybe it is better to get really good at it in the key you need to play it in?

Rule #5 – You Need A Foundation in Technique and Theory

A very similar Rule that people think is part of Jazz is that you need to have a foundation in Theory and Technique to play it. That is also not true. You could get started with a lot less, even no theory at all, and just start learning solos by ear and other vocabulary only to learn the theory as you work on the vocabulary.

If you are starting with some not-too-modern bop-inspired stuff then most of that is going to be major scale, a few chromatic notes, and the odd blues phrase here and there. You can get very far with that. Don’t get lost in modes, and different minor scales right away, you can better focus on learning to improvise, getting the right vocabulary, and learning to play songs.

Getting those things down will get you to play music and really, and it is probably also closer to why you are interested in Jazz in the first place. I am sure you did not start playing Jazz just to learn how to play melodic minor.

My Jazz Guitar Roadmap course is built around that as well, a major scale, some arpeggios, a song, and figuring out how to play solos, using rhythm, phrasing, and chromatic stuff to make it sound right. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated!

Check it out here: The Jazz Guitar Roadmap

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Can I Write More Interesting Pop Chord Progressions With Triads?

You can easily make a lot of interesting and surprising, short chord progressions that still have a beautiful natural flow, so I don’t think there is a reason why most pop music is recycling the same chords over and over.

Instead of trying to make pop songs “better” with lots of sus4 and maj7 chords, which rarely works that well anyway then I thought it would be more interesting to see what is possible to do with simple chords like triads because that is actually pretty mind-blowing what you can get away with and it\s a lot of fun

When I started playing guitar then I was always trying to make new music, mainly because I got bored with just practicing my classical guitar homework, so once I learned to play chords I was always messing around with what chords would go together. In the beginning, this was completely random, and most of it sounded horrible, but learning how you have I IV, and V chords in a key, how relative minor fits in and gives you a few more options made it easier to put chords together.  But then I ended up with another problem because the chord progressions all sounded similar and with the random chords I sometimes had some really nice progressions that worked even if I had no clue why.

It is some of those progressions I want to explore in this video, just using basic 3 or 4-chord progressions and just using triads, I’ll explain why along the way.

Let’s start with making a variation on the most cliché pop progression:

The tools you can use here is really just knowing the key a bit better, because there are a ton of options with that and later also adding some inversions.

You probably know the diatonic chords already, so for C major:

I’ll get to why I am using these spread triads later.

One thing you can do is to borrow some chords from C minor, because they often will work as well, so you can pick one of these chords:

 

___in the video here you compare the two scale__

For this first example, you can keep the same chords but just change them a bit like this:

And even just using Gm and Fm then that really changes the sound a lot. The Gm has a sort of Coldplay sound to me, they do that quite a lot:

The way to explore this is probably just to experiment, because you can get chords to work together without thinking about any types of rules.

For example you can do something like this where the first half is in major and then second part is in minor:

Coming from Jazz then what I always liked about exploring these triads progressions is that you can really dig into the basic strong harmony and how you can get to move, and also how moving notes around can create progressions that sound strong, but maybe don’t move like the very common progressions that we already know, so you can find new connections.

One thing that will makes that easier is to use inversions, so you can learn those. For a C major triad you have these inversions:

and for an Am chord you have:

You will see me use different ways of playing them as well, so C can also be C and Am can also be played as Am:

That is really just about what works better moving to the next chord.

The Power Inversions

So now if you have a chord progression like the previous one:

Then you can create a different type of bassline with a few inversions:

Where the step-wise movement is a nice way to connect the chords, you can also make one  that moves up to Eb which is also borrowed from C minor:

So as you can hear there are a lot of stuff to explore and create beautiful progressions with.

Why I use Spread Triads

You probably noticed that I am building all of this around these spread or open-voiced triads which are really just triads where one note is moved an octave.

You can look at this (C spread) and see it as a C root position where the 2nd note is moved up an octave or as a 2nd inversion where the middle note is dropped down an octave (C 2nd inv -> C spread)

For exploring harmony like this then I use them because when you have a 3-note voicing and it is opened up then it is easier to move the voices one at the time, for example if you have

Explainer:

Am then you can move the 2 outer voices down and the middle voice up to get this type of sound Am G#dim Am which is a sort of dominant sound.

Another advantage is that it is often easy to play the chord and add a bit of melody on top or just use the top-notes a s melody notes.

Adding Melody to the chords

Let’s try another one, and in this one I am being even more free with chord choices and just taking a chord that works because it resolves nicely.

Here the D/F# is really just there to resolve to the Ddim chord which resolves really smoothly down to the C chord with E in the bass.

And once you have a progression like this then you can just try to make simple melodies that move on top, mostly just step-wise.

The Power of Extra Dominant Chords

Another way to get some more chords in there is to add dominants to the progression, so if I want to move from C to Am then I can add an E in between because the E is the dominant of the Am, and that actually can give you some really nice sounds if you add inversions into the mix:

And if play it slowly, C E/B you can see how the E stays on top and the rest moves which makes it so much better. Here I am adding the Gm as a sort weird dominant for C, and I really love that sound, I guess there is some folk sound to that? Like a lot of Scandinavian folk music will have melodies that use a minor chord on the V

instead of the more classical-sounding G major:

So as you can tell, then I am not really treating this as rules that you have to follow. I change stuff around all the time and just experiment. The things I have covered until now are about giving you options to explore, and then I am using triads because that makes it easier to experiment when you are creating your own progressions. It is probably more about experimenting and then if it sounds good you can try to figure out what it is.

In general, you need to understand Jazz harmony it will make everything easier when it comes to soloing over chords or making your own progressions. So check out this video on how to understand Jazz chords and also some of the tricks that Pat Martino and Barry Harris use, it will help you get a lot further and open your mind to a lot of new ideas.

 

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3 Music Theory Exercises That Actually Help You Play Better

The worst thing that you can have when it comes to music theory is that you have your music theory knowledge over here and then you have the music that you play over here, and the two are not really connected.

Music theory is there to describe what you hear, and what you play:

It is NOT:

  1. A set of rules for what notes are allowed in your solo
  2. A formula for melodies or chord progressions
  3. Something you think about when you are playing

But as you will see in this video, then it is incredibly powerful to have some very basic theory that you know really well and that fits with the music and the songs that you play. With that approach, then learning music theory is easier and it is much more useful, even though you don’t think about it when you solo.

The Most Important Theory Knowledge

Maybe the biggest question about this is not the knowledge itself, but how you want to think about it or visualize it. You’ll see what I mean along the way.

When you are improvising then you are playing over chords that are in a scale, so you want to have a solid overview of that information and see how the notes of the chord connect with the scale.

For that to be easy, then you want to be used to thinking about scales and diatonic chords knowing what goes where and contains which notes.

As an exercise, It can actually make a lot of sense to also work on this away from the instrument and treat it a bit more as a puzzle, but, of course, you eventually also want to have it down on the instrument if it is going to be useful for you.

It really pays off to just try to go over how to construct chords in a scale and be aware of what types of chords are wherein the scale that you use.

Here I am writing it out as letters, but it works equally well using music notation, which is how I probably learned in theory classes.

While I know how to play these things and how they sound, then I am not sure I really think this on the guitar as tabs or diagrams, but that may be different for you, and I am a bit curious about that so let me know in the comments.

In Music, there are no wrong notes, but some are closer to home than others, and often it is more useful to understand things by knowing how they work in the context.

Pineapple is great, but should it be on a pizza?

For soloing, you can think of it as layers of notes almost like a pyramid:

, and here it also makes sense to see it as highlights on a diagram of the neck:

And working on this is about getting that overview that will open up how you understand things you transcribe or even what you are playing.

Spending time writing out the scale, constructing the chords, and learning the diatonic harmony is very useful. Start with major scales but move on to harmonic and melodic minor as well, since you will need these scales when you are playing Jazz. But if you want to connect more information than just knowing the chords and the scale, let’s take a look at that.

Triads That Go Together And More

When you solo over a chord then you have the arpeggio of the chord and you have the scale that sort of sits around that arpeggio, but there are actually more ways you should be looking at notes that work over the chord and explore other melodies that you can use than just the scale and the arpeggio.

If you start with a very simple observation then you have the four notes of the chord, if we take Cmaj7: C E G B, but you can also view that chord as two triads: C E G and E G B. So for a Cmaj7 chord then the C major triad works and so does the Em triad.

If you take that a bit further then you can look at a Cmaj7(9)

Again this is probably easier to work with writing it out in some form, and you want to keep track of what the notes are against the root of the chord which in the end is actually a description of how it sounds when you use it.

The goal of exploring this is to get used to taking a group of notes and be able to see what they are against a chord, so that you have more options for your solos, and you want to also explore how to use this in solos.

When you improvise and make melodies then you don’t think in single notes, you group them together and hear melodies that are described in different ways, similar to how you hear the theme of “in the mood” as a 1st inversion triad.

So as you develop your vocabulary then you add more options in terms of triads, arpeggios, and other groups of notes that fit over a chord.

And the better you get at this the deeper you can dig into it and add quartal arpeggios and superimposed pentatonics to your lines and get them to work in your solos.

Connect It To The Music

Until now the way that you work on using music theory was based on you practicing exercises like diatonic triads and arpeggios and then figuring out how to use those, but you also want to explore the music you are trying to learn from, both solos and the songs themselves.

Let’s start with the songs:

A simple exercise is to look at what notes are in the melody relative to the chord. This is useful for developing your chord melody skills because it makes it easier to put chords under the melody.

And if you start analyzing Jazz standards you will see that they often have the same notes in the melody over specific chords, for example, #IV diminished chords or reharmonizations of them will have the 7th of the scale in the melody.

As you can see in “I Remember You”, “Someday My Prince Will Come”, “All The Things You Are”. Which also makes it easier to hear and recognize changes by ear.

Solos and Vocabulary

Of course, analyzing solos that you have transcribed is also incredibly useful, that is where you start to take apart vocabulary and improve your own lines. The place where you start to unlock how the melodies work and turn that into a flexible part of your playing.

This is an incredibly powerful tool. Let’s take this simple Pat Martino Lick use that to easily create 3 more licks on other chords.

The Pat Martino line from Lazy bird sounds like this:

Essentially this is a melody using a Cmaj7 arpeggio and a chromatic run.

Now that you know what is being played then you can see that it also fits over a Cmaj7 chord for example the beginning of Yardbird Suite:

But you can go a lot further, because If this works on Cmaj7 and is using a Cmaj7 arpeggio, then you can also try and move the arpeggio up to the 3rd of the chord and use the same construction:

C D E F G A B C D → C D E F G A B C D

You just need to apply a little Barry Harris magic to the chromatic part of the lick, and then you get this:

Another way to get more out of the lick is to move it to another chord. The original is using the arpeggio from the 3rd of Am7, so you can do the same with a G7 where the arpeggio from the 3rd is a Bø and that gives you this:

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Minor Chords – Unlock Some Beautiful Jazz Chords In Your Music

When you play chords or if you are writing songs then you reduce the harmony to chord symbols like Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7. But the great thing about Jazz harmony is that you can make a lot of choices when it comes to how you want to color the chords, and especially with minor chords there are some incredibly beautiful choices that are not getting the attention they deserve, so let’s start easy and then go to the extremes with some minor chord options.

Level 1 – Jimmy Page Got It Right

The basic chord where it all begins is of course just a minor triad:

You have a root, a minor 3rd, and a 5th.

But it is only 3 notes, so you can add combinations of the remaining 9 notes and get a lot of different colors. The first, and most common one is level 2.

But Minor chords can even work as substitutions for altered dominants, which is a great way to make some interesting chord progressions. I’ll show you in a bit.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness. I am going to give this the minor triad a “This is great if you are in Guns And Roses or another stadium rock band”

Level 2 – They Are Everywhere, So What!

The most common extension to add to a minor chord is probably the b7 which makes it a m7 chord:

This is the typical first chord in a II V I

But you actually have m7 chords in 3 places in the major scale, on the II, III and VI:

And two variations of a m7 chord that you can very often throw in there would be chords with the 9th:

or the 11th:

These are all nice, beautiful, calm sounds but also sometimes a little bit boring.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

So this is a clear “You Still Need To Check Some Things Out But Don’t Use The Real Book!” on the Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness.

Let’s take this in a different and more colorful direction!

Level 3 – You Are Missing Out!

This is what I probably consider the most overlooked option.

Instead of adding a b7 you can also add a major 6th to the chord:

A C E G → A C E F#

And the m6 chord is a great sound that works especially well with tonic minor chords for example the Gm6 in Autumn Leaves which is also what is often played as a riff under that chord.

When you are soloing then the m6 chord is usually associated with melodic minor:

A B C D E F# G# A

This sound is often with the next type of minor chord, but a very common variation that you want to know is the m6/9 chord:

You want to explore how to use this chord and test how it sounds in different places, it can be a great sound and also add some much-needed variation to playing m7 chords everywhere.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of harmonic goodness this gets a “Now we are talking!”

Level 4 – So Much More than Pink Panther!

You most likely already know this sound as the ending chord of this:

Or a more recent song like this:

The basic chord type here is a mMaj7 chord,

so that is a minor triad with a maj7 7th

A C E G#

This chord is dissonant and at rest at the same time and is a nice more spicy color you can add to a chord progression:

 

The mMaj7 chords sounds great if you add a 9th to it:

or even a 13th:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of harmonic goodness, this gets a “Rick Beato Approves”

Level 5 – You Are Playing A Wrong Chord!

This chord is almost like a mistake!

Most of the time when you have a m7 chord then it is put to use as a suspension of a dominant chord, so a more independent version of a sus4 chord.

If you listen to a II V I then that is:

and it is really just a bass note away from:

If you look at how this chord works then the point of it is to move one note.

The 7th of the m7 chord down to the 3rd of the dominant. Here that is a G on Am7, down to an F# on D7.

That means that the one note that you don’t want on the m7 chord is probably the 13th because that is the note that you are trying to save for the next chord.

But if you just listen to it m7(13) chord is a great chord to use as a sound in itself, and as Herbie Hancock has demonstrated quite often. Paired with an altered dominant it sounds great in a II V I.

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

Clearly, this should get a “There Are No Wrong Notes” on the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness. But there are even minor chords that are so strange that almost don’t exist.

Level 6 – This Doesn’t Even Exist

If you have watched any mediocre YouTube guitar lesson on improvising then you have probably learned that Lydian is way better than Major. While that is of obviously complete nonsense then that does make you wonder:

“What is a Lydian m7 chord?”

The pragmatic and boring people will tell you that it is Dorian because of the major 6th interval, but the truly visionary out there will tell you about the legend of the m7(#11) chord.

This sound is mostly just a special effect that you can throw in there if you want to change things up on a minor blues or a song with a static minor chord for some time, but you can use it in a cadence:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

On the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness, this is an obvious “Don’t Play The Butter Notes“

Level 7 – That is Not Even A Minor Chord!

With all these options then you can start to use the different minor chords as substitutions for other chords.

A great example of this is to use a mMa7 chord as an altered dominant, here it is EbmMaj7 instead of D7alt:

You can hear Jobim do this in the bridge of his song Dindi, and it is something you can get a lot of beautiful harmony out of.

You can also use a CmMaj7 instead of the D7:

Herbie Hancock Scale Of Harmonic Goodness

These need to be somewhere between “You Are Fired and Don’t Steal My Gig” on the Herbie Hancock scale of Harmonic goodness. Let me know in the comments which one!

Why Your Comping Doesn’t Work

Colorful chords are great and a big part of what is fun to explore about Jazz harmony and playing jazz songs, but if you want to get started playing Jazz then it is as important that you dig into the type of chords that have room for you to add extensions and colors to them. This video will introduce you to shell-voicings and also show you how they are fantastic for a lot of things from walking bass and chords to bossa nova and a great starting place for building some beautiful chords.

5 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That You Want To Know

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The Most Important Music Theory And How It Helps You Play Better

If you know some Simple and Basic Music Theory but you know it well, then you can use that to understand most harmony and find a lot of great sounds for your solos. I think you will be surprised just how far you can go and how much you can do with a few really basic things, but you do need to work on the right things.

What is Music Theory

First I want to look at what Music Theory is and how you can use it, because I think, that is often misunderstood, which makes it more difficult than it has to be, and you might not realize that you already know a lot. Music theory is just like playing music: If you really know the fundamental things, the rest becomes a lot easier.

Remember that you can use the chapters in the video to go back to something or skip ahead if you already know it.

One of the most important things to realize is that you use Music Theory to describe and understand music. It really is about putting describing what you hear. Sometimes people want to make it a set of rules that tell you what you are allowed to play, but that is not really how it works.

Rules might seem useful as a way of learning, but as you will see, being able to describe and understand what is going on is a lot more useful, and in the end, there are no rules anyway.

Let me quickly show you how describing music is incredibly useful an example from a Blues classic.

How Music Theory Is Useful

let’s take this example of an Eric Clapton phrase from the song Hideaway.

Example First Phrase

Level 1 – Clueless

If you don’t know anything about music theory, then he is playing magic notes that sound amazing.

Level 2 – Scale and Chord Progression

If you know a little bit more then you know that the song is a Blues in E, and he is playing the E major pentatonic scale.

Level 3 – Understanding the phrase

if you want to learn to play it then it is useful to realize that he is starting on the 5th and then the next part is him running up the scale ending with bending the 2nd up to the 3rd.

Conclusion

So level by level you go from “Magic notes that sound amazing” to “a scale run with a bend in the pentatonic scale”, and it is obviously easier to learn how to play it if you know that it is this scale with a bend on this note instead of memorizing a lot of magic notes.

And all you do is recognizing and describing what is going on. That is how Music Theory is useful.

#1 The Major Scale and The Notes In It

The first and most basic thing you want to know is something that most of you probably already know. The major scale, how it is constructed, and the notes in it. Really knowing this means that it is a lot easier to figure out most other things you’ll come across so this is incredibly important.

If you construct a major scale then you start with a root note and move up in intervals of whole and half-steps.

The formula is 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2

For a C major scale:

C D E F G A B C

You want to know the notes in there, if you have to use a formula to figure out the notes then you don’t really know this. That is too slow for you to use it when you are playing.

You also want to know this in all keys, especially the ones you play in., in fact, those are the ones you want to start with.

Besides knowing the note names then it is very important that you know the degrees of the scale, you will see why in the next section of the video.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

How Well Do You Need To Know Scales?

Having a solid overview of the scale notes will make it a lot easier to analyze chords or solo phrases which also helps you figure out what is happening in a solo you transcribed and how you can start using the same things in your playing. If you have to calculate what notes are in the scale that quickly becomes almost impossible. If you know them really well then it is like a language you speak. Something you can use and get from information from.

In the long run, you want to know all the scales by heart so that you don’t have to think about what notes are in there, simply because this can be the foundation that you build everything else on, as you will see in the rest of this video.

#2 How To Construct Chords

When you improvise in Jazz then usually you are using chord symbols as a guideline to shape the improvisation. So you need to be able to translate the chord progression to something you can use in a solo, and knowing what notes are in the chords is a really good place to start.

There are two ways you can approach this, you can take a root and then construct the chord from that, just using intervals, but often I find it is better to start immediately by learning the chords you find in a scale since those are the chords you will also come across in chord progressions, and they are connected in a lot of useful ways that you can also use in solos.

From Scale To Harmony

Constructing chords in a scale is pretty simple. A chord is a stack of 3rds and you have two main types of 3rds: major which is 4 half steps (Play) or minor which is 3 half steps(play)

If you construct a triad from C in the C major scale then you start with the scale

the scale: C D E F G A B C

and from C you move up a 3rd to E, and from E up a 3rd to G. – C to E is a major 3rd so it is a major chord. E to G is a minor 3rd. C E G is a C major triad where C is the root, E is the major 3rd and G is the 5th.

If you create a triad from the next note in the scale D then you get D F A which is a minor 3rd followed by a major 3rd from F to A. This is a Dm triad with D F A is root, minor 3rd and 5th.

All the triads are major or minor except the one on the 7th note in the scale, in this case that is B D F, here you have a minor 3rd from B to D and another minor 3rd form D to F. The interval from B to F is called a diminsihed 5th and different from the one from C to G which is called a perfect 5th, and this type of triad is called a diminished triad: Bdim

In this way you can construct the diatonic triads of a major scale:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

Remember that this order of Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor dim, is the same in all major keys,

so if you have Eb major:

Scale: Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb

then the triads will be

Eb Fm Gm Ab Bb Cm Ddim Eb

This is something you want to automatically know that for the keys you play in, if not just all keys, but keep in mind that this is really just a different way of seeing something that you already know because you know the scale.

Triads are a great resource for solos or for comping, so this is more than just theory, a line using Em and G major triads over a Cmaj7 sounds like this:

and later I will show you how to find those triads for a chord, but first, you need some 7th chords which is, sort of, the basic chord type in Jazz.

Diatonic 7th Chords

You already know the triads and all you need to do to get the 7th chords is to add a 7th.

For the major scale you only have two types: maj7 and b7: For C major: C E G, if you add the 7th: C D E F G A B , you get C E G B. The interval from C to B is a maj7th, written as Cmaj7.

Notice that the 7th is just one step down in the scale, a maj7th is a half-step down, and a b7 is a whole step down.

An example of the b7 is found on the next chord, Dm: here you get D F A and add the C to get a Dm7 chord.

The 7th chords in C major will give you:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø

So you get a maj7 on C, a b7 on D, and also on E giving us Em7, on F the 7th is E giving us Fmaj7. The 7th on G7 is an F giving us a major chord with a b7 called a dominant chord. A to G is a b7 giving us an Am7. The B dim also has a b7 from B to A so that is a Bm7(b5) also sometimes referred to as B half-diminished.

Now you have the chords in a scale and you can find them in any key, but again this is stuff you really just want to know. Try practicing the diatonic chords in all keys and also move simple progressions around like a II V I or a I VI II V

When you improvise in Jazz then you usually take the chord and find material that fits on that chord. Let’s look at a great way to find a lot of material in the form of triads and 7th chords for any chord.

#3 Finding More Arpeggios (Crazy simple)

This concept is really simple and is something you can mess around with by just writing out a scale in a different way!

The basic idea is that if you are improvising over a chord then you can use the scale and the arpeggio of the chord, but you need to have more options than just the scale and the arpeggio, and if you check out solos from great Jazz players then you notice them using a lot of other things as well.

These arpeggios and triads they use are not coming out of thin air, it isn’t magic (It is NEVER magic when it comes to note choice), and you can easily use the music theory I covered in this video to find a lot of options.

Let’s first look at the scale in a different way:

Usually, you write the scale out in steps, so C major is C D E F G A B C but now you want to find triads and arpeggios, and they are built in 3rds so it is practical to write the scale as stacked 3rds like this:

C E G B D F A C E G B D

I wrote out a few octaves because that is easier.

Let’s say you have to improvise over a G7. You just need to find triads and chords that have a lot of common notes with G7. Because G7 is what the rest of the band is playing, and if you play those notes that sound good.

So now, instead of G7 and the scale you have

G7,Bø and Em7 + Em, G, Bdim and Dm triads

Each of these arpeggios are triads are really just a very flexible melody that you can work with and you can combine them as well to get an incredible amount of possibilities in your solo.

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Two Intervals For Every Note – Why You Need To Know This

This is a video that discusses how to think about the notes that we play. Why I think in note names as well as intervals and why you need different things to play jazz solos.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:23 Not All Notes Are Created Equal

01:30 The Important Details – Visual & Practical

02:32 Losing The Bigger Picture

04:44 It’s About Two Things

05:07 No Real-time Calculations

05:47 Not Only The Scale

06:57 Communicating With The Rest Of The Band

07:48 Fretboard Knowledge That Makes Sense For The Music

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How To Practice And Use Music Theory in Jazz

Music theory can help you learn faster and have more options. Here’s how you work on making that a part of your practice and playing!

I think Jazz is almost considered music theory turned into music by a lot of people, and mostly by people who don’t actually play Jazz. That’s, of course, not really true but at the same time it is really useful to learn some Music theory if you want to learn Jazz and it can really help you learn a lot faster and get much more out of the things that you practice and transcribe. But it is also important that you go about it in the right way so that it does not become a weird set of rules that stops you from using your ears.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:38 Exercises for time on the bus or on the train or maybe an App?

01:23 Useless Music Theory and Double Diminished #IV chords

02:32 Scales and Diatonic Chords

02:55 Easy in Major?

03:26 Tricky in Harmonic Minor?

04:51 The Other way around: Scales with a D7

06:08 Secondary II V’s for Diatonic Chords

06:32 Basic overview of Major

08:01 Finding them in a Song – “I Should Care”

08:54 Making it Easier to Analyze and hear Progressions

09:32 Transposing Songs

11:30 Connecting Theory to Your Ear

11:53 Transposing The Melody

14:12 Reharmonizing All The Things You Are

15:16 Analyzing solo phrases

 

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Harmonic Minor Is Amazing On These 3 Chords

The Harmonic minor scale is a very distinct sound and it is one of the cornerstones in the songs we play. It is also just a beautiful color that you can add to your solos. In this video, I am going to show you how you can apply the harmonic minor scale to some chords and get some great sounds.

I sometimes see people comment that you don’t need the harmonic minor scale, I think this video will clearly show you why you don’t want to miss it.

I am going to apply it to 3 chords, and to have some chords that you can use we need to just check out the diatonic chords in harmonic minor.

A harmonic minor – What we use it for and why

A harmonic minor is: A B C D E F G# A

The diatonic 7th chords of A harmonic minor would be:

AmMaj7 Bø Cmaj7(#5) Dm7 E7 Fmaj7 G#dim

The 3 chords that I am going to focus on are the 3 last diatonic chords: E7, Fmaj7 and G#dim.

Two are extremely common and in a lot of songs and one is a very specific sound that is a great way to change things up a bit and a good introduction to poly chords.

One way to understand Harmonic minor is to see it as a minor scale that Is changed so that we have a dominant chord.

The A natural minor scale has these diatonic chords:

Am7 Bø Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7

A harmonic minor A B C D E F G# A has these diatonic chords:
AmMaj7 Bø Cmaj7(#5) Dm7 E7 Fmaj7 G#dim

You want to have a dominant chord to really hear that the piece is in A minor. This is the primary function for A harmonic minor

E7 – In Minor and in Major

In this scale we have an E7 with a b9 and a b13:

E G#B D F A C

You get this chord by stacking 3rds in the scale.

This gives us these E7 chords shown below. Of those three the E7(b9,11) is not that nice, but the E7(b9,b13) is a great description of how the dominant sounds.

And some of the arpeggios that work well for this chord would be:

Using E7 from harmonic minor

You can use the E7 in a minor II V I like this:

But it also works great in a major cadence as a surprising sound that quickly resolves back to the tonic:

G#dim – More than just A minor progressions

If you look at the A harmonic minor scale and the key of A minor then the G#dim is a dominant chord that wants to resolve to the tonic

Notice that I don’t use harmonic minor on the tonic chord, I am using melodic minor which is a more common tonic minor sound.

The “difficult” dim chord

But in Jazz we mostly come across subdominant diminished chords, and here the harmonic minor scale is also very useful. Mostly the diminished chord is then written as an Abdim chord like this in F major:

Am7 Abdim Gm7 C7 Fmaj7

The way you arrive at the A harmonic minor scale here is by altering the F major scale:

F major: F G A Bb C D E F

And if you want to fit the dim chord in there then we need an Ab(or G#) and a B:

F G# A B C D E F = A harmonic minor

An example of a line sounds like this:

Fmaj7(#9,#11) – Harmonic Minor Poly Chord

This chord is not very common, in fact I don’t think it is in any Jazz Standards I know. It is however a great different sound that you can use to play something surprising in a solo. Monk used this chord in Round Midnight and Wayne Shorter uses it in Speak No Evil.

This chord is in fact the diatonic chord on F in the scale:

A harmonic minor: A B C D E F G# A

Fmaj7(#9,#11) : F A C E G# B

You could look at this as being an E major triad over an F major triad.

The way you usually play this chord on guitar is like this where you leave out the 5th of the lower triad:

A line using this sound as a substitute for a tonic F major chord:

Melodic Minor – The Other Cornerstone

Harmonic minor is a cornerstone in tonal harmony and is what you want to use for a lot of essential chords in a key. Another very important and also very beautiful minor sound that sounds really great on especially tonic minor chords is melodic minor. If you want to check out this scale and how to use it then this video will really give you something to work with.

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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