Tag Archives: music theory lessons

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.



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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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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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.


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:


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:


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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Music Theory – The 3 things you want to Know

A thing that is never mentioned when it comes to Music Theory is that there is a basic knowledge you want to obtain and then the rest gets easier. There are things that you need to know and work on that will make the rest very simple when combining Music Theory, Jazz Guitar and Practice.

In this video I am going to talk about three things you can learn or train for your music theory that will help you build a foundation to have an easier time understanding chord progressions, extensions and voice-leading. I am also going to relate this to what you need if you are improvising over chords, since that is what I am using the theory for.

Instead of looking at voice-leading upper-structure triad pairs in Utopian b7 minor then you can easily build the basic knowledge to make all the other stuff easy to understand.

Table of Contents

0:05 Intro

0:45 #1 – Learn Your Scales

1:09 Why we use scales in improvisation

2:11 Learning the Scales – What to learn

2:58 How To Practice

3:31 #2 – Diatonic Chords and Harmony

4:04 Building Chords in a Major Scale

4:52 Diatonic chords makes it easier to Learn Songs

5:33 What You Want to Learn

6:10 Practice Tips

6:22 How To Play Changes (in 30 seconds)

7:10 #3 Relating Notes To The Root

7:42 Adding Extensions to an Ebmaj7

8:36 Why You Want to know the Extensions in the Scale

9:06 Extensions for another Chord – How it Sounds

9:56 Putting the 3 Things together in one overview

10:30 Like the Video? Check out my Patreon Page

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Favourite Chord in the key of C Major?

A chord that isn’t in the key isn’t always a modulation. There are many chords that you will come across in songs that music theory does not describe as a modulation.

In this video I talk a bit about some of those progressions of chords. Show an example of something that is a modulation and a few progressions that are not modulations but still contain chords that are not found in the scale.

The way I view music theory is that it is a description of the music that I play that helps me understand and hear what is going on. In most genres of music you will find a lot of chords that are maybe not diatonic to the scale but are still in the key. Examples of this are found as secondary dominants, modal interchange or borrowed chords from the parallel key.

Content of the video

0:00 Intro and a bit of heated discussion

1:09 Diatonic Chords

1:37 Modulation or not?

2:00 Progressions with non diatonic chord in the key

2:39 A progression that modulates

3:26 What can you come across? Secondary dominants

4:06 Modal Interchange/Borrowing from minor

4:25 Overview of the 21 chords in C minor.

4:55 Song examples with borrowed chords

5:25 My favorite chord and a little solo with it!

5:55 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!

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