Monday, July 8, 2013

Inspiration - Tenderly by Chet Baker



"Tenderly" by Chet Baker

In my effort to learn to improvise, I've been trying to lift melodic ideas from some of the greats.  One of the songs I've been working to develop is "Summertime".  As I was looking through one of my Aebersold books, I noticed a list of suggested artist recordings of "Summertime".  At the top of the list was Chet Baker.  I have to admit, I was not familiar with Baker at all -- you all will have to remember that the whole genre of jazz is still new to me.  I immediately fell in love with the simplicity of his melodic motives; I fell in love with the passion in each note.  His playing moves me.

Using Motives to Develop Improvisation Skills - Part III

A while back I published Parts I and II of this three part series on Using Motives to Develop Improvisation Skills.

Part I, if you'll recall, focused on taking a simple three note motive and applying it first to a single chord vamp, blowing over the minor chord (Dorian mode), dominant chord, (Mixolydian mode), and the major chord (Ionian mode) -- each in isolation.  Once I got the feel for the application of the motive to each of aforementioned modes, I then created a ii-V-I backing track in the key of C and practiced the motive over these changes.  Finally, I looked for other areas of the neck in which to apply the motive to these changes.

In Part II, I took a look at applying a lick I created (also called a motive) to the changes of Watermelon Man.   The original lick was written to be played in the key of Dm, so I had to transpose it to be played over the dominant chords that shape the changes of Watermelon Man (F7 (Cm7), Bb7 (Fm7), and C7 (Gm7)).  Because the lick spanned two bars, it fit nicely into two bar chunks throughout Watermelon Man (I-I, I-I, IV-IV, I-I, V-IV, V-IV, V-IV, I-I).  In bars 9 - 14, if you'll recall, I had to shorten the lick to accommodate the quicker changes.

So, What's New?
Today's lesson won't look much different than that of Part II.  Instead of playing the lick over the I, IV, V of Watermelon Man, I'll be looking at applying the lick to Satin Doll.  You'll see, among other things, that the lick fits nicely in a variety of two bar chunks throughout the tune.  You'll also see that, similar to Watermelon Man, I had to shorten the lick in places to accommodate the quicker changes.  Finally (and differently than Watermelon Man), you'll see that I wrap up each of the A sections of the tune with a lick played in C Blues.

So, if not much has changed, why spend the time writing a reflection that's similar in nature to the previous reflection?  A couple reasons spawned my desire to write this reflection.  First, practicing the lick through the changes of Satin Doll gives me (us) another context in which to apply the lick.  Second, it teaches me (us) that using songs to practice licks is a great way to 1) learn to apply a lick and 2) practice the lick in a variety of keys in a contextual, versus isolated, manner.

In the past, I'd practice licks in different keys in isolation.  There was no context, simply a metronome.  This got boring really quick.  Moreover, it didn't really force me to analyze licks in a more flexible manner.  While the lick essentially stays the same, practicing it in the context of a song forces me to look at different rhythmic applications of the lick.  This type of practice also gives me a more authentic means in which to get the lick under my fingers and in my ears -- I have to hear changes and apply the lick systematically to those changes as opposed to simply (and robotically) practicing the lick through the circle of fourth

Measures 1 - 4
As you see in the diagram below, measures 1 - 4 of Satin Doll can be broken up nicely into two 2-bar chunks.  The first two bars are a ii-V in the key of C.  The original lick works nicely here as it was written to be played over a Dm7 (ii) - G7 (V).  The next two bars are a ii-V in the key of D.  The original lick works nicely here as it can be played over the ii (Em7) and the V (A7).  To apply the lick in this context, simply move from the fifth fret (D) to the seventh fret (E).

"My First Lick" Played Over the First Four Bars of Satin Doll

Measures 5 - 6
Measures 5 and 6, similarly to measures 1 - 4, employ ii-V progressions.  These ii-V changes, however, happen more quickly (each in the span of 1 bar).  The first ii-V (measure 5), in the key of G, is an Am7 followed after two beats by a D7.  As you see in Diagram 2, we're only playing three of the four beats of the first measure of the lick.

Measure 6 is also a ii-V, this time in the key of Gb.  The Abm7 (ii) and the Db7 (V), like measure 5, happen quickly.  Again, we'll simply play the first three beats of the  original lick here.  An easy shift from the fifth fret (A) to the fourth fret (Ab) will accommodate the necessary position change to play the lick in this context.

"My First Lick" Played Quickly Over the Am7 and Abm7 Changes of Measures 5 and 6

Measures 7 - 8
There are two different endings to the repeated A section of Satin Doll.  Each ending is two measures long and is in the key of C.  I won't go into great depth here other than to say I played a simple little lick over C  blues scale.  The lick is transcribed in the diagram below.

A Two-Bar Lick Played Over the C Blues Scale

Bridge
Measures 9 - 24 comprise the bridge of the tune.  Measures 9 - 16 are the B section of the tune while measures 17 - 24 are identical to the A section of the tune.  With this in mind, I'll only discuss measures 9 - 16.

Measures 9 - 12 are a ii (Gm7) - V (D7) - I (AM7) change.  Over these four measures, I'll play the lick twice, each time over the Gm7 (sixth string, third fret).  Measures 13 and 14 are a ii (Am7) - V (D7) in the key of G.  We've already seen this progression in the song.  In the context of this section, however, we've spread the progression out over two measures, as opposed to one.  With that in mind, we'll want to play the lick in its entirety over these two bars (sixth string, fifth fret).  We complete the B section with measures 15 and 16. These two measures should look familiar as they're identical to measures 1 and 2 of the A section of our tune.  To play the lick over these two measures we're simply going to shift our hand to the fifth string (staying on the fifth fret).

The Bridge, Sections B and A, of Satin Doll
The Whole Tune
Below is a transcription of the final product.  While it's simple, it's really fun to play.  I did apply a process to getting comfortable with the licks over their respective chords (see below).  Once I got comfortable I was able to quickly find the groove and lock in.  What you'll find most rewarding is when you reach the point that you no longer think about what you play, but hear it and feel it.  I think you'll find that it will happen rather quickly.

Satin Doll

The process I used to get to the point that I could play the chorus of Satin Doll many times through was as follows:
  • Played each of my newly transposed licks over vamps of their respective chords 
  • Practiced the motive in isolation over each of the progressions shown above
  • Practiced the motive over multiple progressions in succession (as related to Satin Doll)
  • Played the motive (as diagrammed above) over the backing track (from Jamey Aebersold's Maiden Voyage), getting comfortable with hearing/feeling the changes
There's nothing terribly fancy or profound about the process I implemented to develop the level of competence that allowed me to experience the aforementioned feelings of success in blowing through Satin Doll.  I had really developed the ability to feel good with applying "My First Lick" to various changes by practicing the original Dm7 motive (and it's corresponding G7 and CM7 motives) over the ii-V-I (see above reflection of that process).

I hope you'll find this a much more fun and rewarding way of practicing newly acquired licks in a variety of keys and through a variety of changes as opposed to simply practicing the lick in different keys in isolation of one and other, with no context.

Supporting Files and Resources
To access any of the PDFs, WAV files, or GPX files (I created these motives in Guitar Pro 6) that support the concepts of this post, please click on the following link:  Motives - Part III Supporting Files.  For any of you that use Google Music, Spotify, or MOG music services (I'm only familiar with these), you can find the entirety of the Jamey Aebersold catalog of backing tracks and music on the sites of these services.  You can find the Satin Doll backing track here.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Overcoming Injury...Learning Without Playing

It's been a long time since I've written a blog post.  It's been a long time since I played guitar.  The basis of my posts were to reflect the learning I had done.  Well, I haven't been playing guitar -- thus, I haven't been learning.  Or so I thought...

Tearing My Body Up
I can tell you the exact day it happened -- March 16, 2013.  I had taken my son and a group of his friends out to a small town thirty minutes from my home, here in Olympia.  The purpose of our visit to this small town was to celebrate my son's 14th birthday; celebrate it playing paintball.

On the way out to the paintball field, my son asked me repeatedly, "Dad, do you think you're gonna play?  Do you think you're gonna play?"  My pat answer was, "I don't know.  You know how hard I like to play.  My body doesn't recoup well from the beatings I put on it.  I'll see, however."  When we got to the paintball field, I was pleased to see that there many more people eager to play -- enough for two good-size teams.  This was my out.

I pulled Connor aside and told him that it was better if I erred on the side of not playing.  My rationale is that I wanted my 45-year old body to function the following day.  Noticeably dejected but amenable, Connor acknowledged my decision and went out to play paintball with his friends.  Part way through the first game, the owner of the facility pulled me aside and said, "Hey, I'll tell you what.  I'll gear you up for free so you can go play paintball with your son.  It looked like he was bummed that you weren't playing.  Why don't you go out and play paintball with him."  After a moment's pause, I agreed.

Geared up and ready to go, I headed out to the field to join my son and the others for some paintball.  His team had just won the first game.  He was excited to have me paintball with him.  "We're gonna win every game, dad.  No one can keep up with you.  You're faster than everyone out here," Connor exclaimed.  Motivated by his accolades and ready to have fun with my son, I told him, "Let's have fun."

We played capture the flag.  After thirty seconds of strategizing, we acknowledged to the referee that we were ready to play.

The whistle blew.

I sprinted out to the middle of the field and grabbed the flag.  I was astonished.  No one was shooting at me. Shocked and excited, I began to head toward the other team's side, excited to drop the flag -- excited to claim victory.  People finally clued in to what was going on and began shooting at me -- shooting, but missing widely.  Those paintballs that hit me just bounced off, not exploding on my coveralls.  Not more than a minute into the game, I'm well on my way to sealing the victory.  Then I hit the ground...HARD!

I saw it coming; the patch of mud that sealed my fate.  I didn't try to go around it.  I had successfully run through mud numerous times in my life.  This day, however, would be different.

I hit the mud full-speed.  Two steps into it, I slipped.  I can't imagine it was more than half a second between my realization that I was slipping and me hitting the ground.  It's amazing, however, what races through your mind in such a brief amount of time. Having been a competitive martial artist for many years, my thought, my instinct was to perform a forward shoulder roll, ala parkour.

I prepared myself to roll over my right shoulder. I anticipated a smooth roll.  I anticipated getting to my feet and sprinting to the other team's side, all in one fell swoop. My trajectory, however, was not appropriate for such a maneuver.  Rather than falling at the desired horizontal trajectory, I was rapidly descending in a vertical fashion. Rather than rolling smoothly over my right shoulder, I slammed violently into the ground.

I knew upon impact that I had not only hurt myself, but that I had done some serious damage.  I lay on the ground for some time holding my arm to my side, gathering my senses -- enduring what was the most significant pain I had ever experienced in my life, through gritted teeth.  I feigned a smile to my son and his friends telling them that I'm pretty hurt, but that I'd be okay.

The result?  A third degree separation of my shoulder.  I completely tore the clavicle (collar bone) from the scapula (shoulder blade).  Playing guitar was impossible.  I was not only bummed, I was pretty depressed.

Learning Without Playing
It took me about a week to completely wrap my mind around the concept that I was significantly limited in my capacity to move my arm.  I was trying hard to be a good patient, but I couldn't overcome the fact that my injury was significantly impairing ability to live life.  Moreover, it was impairing my ability to play guitar.

I had tried several times to pick up a guitar and play, but with no ability to endure the pain that I experienced as a result.

My son, Connor, plays bass.  While I've always supported and appreciated my son's bass playing, I began to take a new and different interest in it.  He takes private lessons via Skype (bass guitar) and with the Director of the Tacoma Youth Symphony (double-bass). During his lessons I had always passively observed.  I was always more interested in how he was doing than what he was doing.  Realizing this opened me up, however, to learning in a different way.

Most every person I had learned guitar from had, at some point or another, emphasized the importance of listening.  Listening is hard, however.  Learning to listen takes patience.  Exercising this patience within the context of trying to practice guitar is hard to do.  When you're driven by making gains, it's easier to take shorter paths toward these gains.  While these shorter paths lead to results, I don't believe they lead to the type of mastery I desired.  But being injured and not able to play guitar forced me to exercise this patience.  It forced me to become a different type of learner.

I began listening to my son practice.  Moreover, I began listening to his teachers teach him how to listen.  While I had been taught in a very similar manner to listen (moreover, how to listen), I found it easier to digest these teachings in the context of observer, rather than student. Everything seemed slower to me.  By listening to my son, I was able to anticipate next notes.  By listening to my son, I was able to visualize the patterns on the neck.  I could  see, in my mind's eye, every note being played.

I had never visualized patterns or positions on the fretboard in the context of the sounds I've heard. I strongly suspect that this was the desired end result that instructors aim for when they teach their students to listen, but it was a desired end result that had escaped me.

Now, I don't want to claim to have a new found prodigious capacity for playing everything I hear.  That would be false and misleading.  What I can do, however, is hear better.  What I can do, however, is more quickly find notes on my fretboard, relative to the pitches I'm hearing in my head.  While I still don't have the mechanical wherewithal to play everything I hear or conceive, I now have a better understanding of the relationship between what it is I hear and the terrain of the fretboard.

I did all of this not by playing guitar, but by keenly observing and listening to my son.

I've only recently begun playing guitar, again.  While my shoulder will never heal,  it is now mostly pain free -- allowing me to play the guitar for longer periods of time.  While I'm working to recoup what dexterity I possessed, I'm having fun.  I'm appreciative of the time away and the realization that I really love playing guitar. I'm appreciative of the mindset I now have for learning the instrument.

My growth had been retarded by a focus on how I'm doing.  My mastery of the instrument had been hindered by that mindset. I've learned that my focus should no longer be on how I'm doing, but what I'm doing.  By focusing on what I'm doing first, the how I'm doing will come. As cliche as it sounds, I've learned to enjoy the journey, not the destination.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Discovering Chord-Scale Relationships

When I started playing guitar, I learned two scales: the major (Ionian) scale and the pentatonic scale.  Playing mostly rock and blues at the time, I was told I needed nothing more than these two scale types.  I eventually learned the pentatonic scale in its five positions across the neck and later went on to slowly learn the seven modes of the major scale across the neck.   While I could easily memorize the shapes of the modes and easily see that one mode was somehow physically connected to the modes that immediately preceded and followed it, I had no contextual basis for playing specific scales or modes at any given time during improvisation.  As a result, I found improvisation difficult and frustrating – I relegated myself to playing other people’s solos.

When I started playing jazz guitar, things didn’t get much better.  My guitar instructor at the time taught me the ii (m7), V (7), I (M7) and the minor ii (m7b5), V(Alt. Dom), I (m7, m6, m69, etc).  To further compound matters, he wrote different scales (major, pentatonic, blues, melodic minor, harmonic minor) and/or modes of scales below each of the chords (or groups of chords).  He said, “Play any of these scales (those below the chord designations) over the chords in these progressions when you improvise.”

Wow!  This really confused me.  Instead of learning something simple and building on top of it, I was asked to make decisions about (and apply) things I really had no understanding of to begin with.  Moreover, there was no contextual basis for playing any of the scales I was asked to play over any of the chords in the ii, V, I.  Certainly, over time, I’m going to learn the contextual application of the variety of scale/mode choices that were suggested, but there is (I believe) a much easier way to start.

Discovering Chord-Scale Relationships
I know I referred to two different types of ii, V, I progressions in a preceding paragraph but, for the sake of this post (and keeping it simple), I’m going to stick with the ii (m7), V (7), I (M7) we all know and love.
There are, as many of you know, seven modes of the major scale: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian.  These modes are moveable not only horizontally across the neck, but are also moveable up and down the strings, (from low E to high E).   If you reflect on each of these modes from the perspective of the C major scale, you’ll notice that each the modes contain all seven of the same notes that the C major scale does (C, D, E, F, G, A, B).  While the notes of the various modes within a key do not change, the relationship of the notes (specific to the mode within which they’re contained) changes.   See the diagram below.

Major Scale Modes in Key of C
If we take the first (C), third (E), fifth (G), and seventh (B) notes of the Ionian mode, we have the notes that comprise the CM7 chord – major third, perfect fifth, and seventh.  Because of this relationship, I understand that an option I have for improvisation as I’m blowing over a tune is to play the Ionian scale over a I chord.  Certainly this is an oversimplification, but it is a nice place to start.
C Ionian - CM7 Relationship
For many jazzers, however, this presents a dilemma.  Jazz improvisation tends to be more colorful than the collection of notes presented to us in the diatonic notes of the major scale and its modes.  In other words, jazz improvisation tends to be more chromatic than diatonic in nature.  There are remedies to overcoming our diatonic dilemma, such as the implementation of enclosures as we play over our diatonic scales/modes.  These remedies, however, are a topic for another day.

Applying a similar methodology to our Dorian and Mixolydian modes, pulling out the 1, 3, 5, and 7 notes of these scale modes, we get chord shapes that are derived from these modes
.
If we analyze the D Dorian mode, we see that it contains the notes D, E, F, G, A, B, and C.  There are three things I’d like to point out about this scale mode and its related notes:
  1. The D Dorian mode has the same seven notes as the C Ionian mode
  2. The third note (F) is a flat third (b3) relative to the D note
  3. The seventh note (C) is a flat seventh (b7) relative to the D note
The minor third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh are chord tones of the minor seventh chord (Dm7 – D, F, A, C).

Finally, if we analyze the G Mixolydian mode, we see that it contains the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, and F.  Similarly to the analysis of the Dorian Mode, I’d like to point out three things about this scale mode and its related notes:
  1. The G Mixolydian mode as the same seven notes as the C Ionian mode
  2. The third note (B) is a major third relative to the G note
  3. The seventh note (F) is a flat seventh (b7) compared to the G note
The major third, perfect fifth and minor seventh are chord tones of the dominant seventh chord (G7 – G, B, D, and F).

D Dorian - Dm7 and G Myxolydian - G7 Relationships
The Beauty of It All
The beauty of understanding these relationships is that they’re simple and they create a connection between each scale mode and its derived chord.  Moreover, these chord scale relationships give me (us) options both across the neck and up and down it – this, however, is a topic for another day.

The notion in reflecting on my practice is to help others who might be experiencing the same challenges/frustrations that I experienced.  It’s, selfishly, also a way for me to process my learning in an attempt to better understand what it is I’ve learned.  One of my aims in doing this is to (hopefully) keep things as simple as possible.  While there are systematically better ways of playing one chord shape in relation to another, I want to keep the following practice suggestions simple:
  • Starting with the CM7 chord (sixth string, eighth fret), strum it and listen to the chord tones
  • Slowly play the C Ionian scale (starting on sixth string, eighth fret) until you have the shape under your fingers and the notes in your ears – increase tempo with development of skill
  • Start your scale practice with quarter notes and, as your comfort with the scale improves, play eighth notes up and down the scale (triplets and sixteenth notes are fun, too)
  • Play the CM7 chord again and here its chord tones, again, in relation to the scale notes played
  • Repeat the above four steps for the Dm7 chord (sixth string, tenth fret) and the G7 chord (sixth string, third fret) and their related scale shapes
  • Create or find a CM7 vamp and play the C Ionian scale over it, first in quarter notes then eighth notes (repeat this process for the Dm7 and G7 chords as well, playing their related modes over the tops of the respective vamps)
  • Spend some time figuring out ii – V – I progressions in all twelve keys
  • Practice the above steps over the ii – V – I chords of all keys keys
  • Try looking for ii – V – I relationships in jazz standards that you are playing or are interested in playing
  • Try applying the above steps to the changes of a jazz standard you’re playing or are interested in playing
  • Have fun
Supplemental Materials
I’ve provided PDFs, GPX (Guitar Pro 6) files, and WAV files here for any of you interested in using them to help you out.  Of primary interest to you will probably be the CM7, Dm7, and G7 vamps (both in Guitar Pro 6 and WAV file formats).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Using Motives to Develop Improvisation Skills - Part II

Yesterday, I published a post related to using "bite-size" licks, called motives, to make music.  The concept was taught to me by +Matt Warnock during our Sunday morning lesson.  Below is the motive that I developed and we worked to apply to different contexts (See Using Motives to Develop Improvisation Skills - Part I).

Dm7 Motive

We took the above lick and practiced it in the following manner:
  • Played the motive over a 16-bar Dm7 vamp
  • Played the motive over a ii-V-I (Dm7-G7-CM7) progression
  • Mapped the motive across the neck on the 1, 2, 3, and 4 strings
  • Practice playing the motive across the neck over the ii-V-I progression
  • Transposed the motive to be played over the G7 (G Mixolydian) and CM7 (C Ionian) chords
  • Played through the ii-V-I (Dm7-G7-CM7) applying the motive to the proper scale for the corresponding chord of the progression
While I didn't play the motives perfectly the first time through, I had fun.  Moreover, I felt musical, and was inspired by the notion that I could create other such motives and piece them together to create cool solos.  Later that evening, I practiced the implementation of the motives to each of the above situations.  I played with more confidence, found myself locked in to the rhythms of the various backing tracks I was playing with, and began extending the motives by tweaking them rhythmically.

Playing With Other Motives
So, back to Sunday's lesson with Matt.  After we had worked with (and talked about) the smaller, simpler motive, Matt asked me to try playing the motive I created a couple of weeks ago over a Dm7 vamp.  At first I was puzzled as I had not knowingly created another motive.  

When I asked for clarification, he stated that he wanted me to play the lick that I had published on my blog. I told him that what I created was a lick.  Matt went further to explain to me that any melodic chunk can be called a motive.  Once I was clear on what he was asking, I hunkered down and began applying the motive to a Dm7 vamp.  Below is the motive I played.


Dm7 Lick (AKA - My First Lick)

Similar to the exercises I went through with the motive I created in yesterday's post, I began exploring what this motive would look like across the neck and in the keys of G7 and CM7.  I won't go further into this exploration here as I'd like to focus on how I took the above motive and applied it to Watermelon Man.  I will leave the exploration and further application of the above motive to you.  If you'd like to know how it is I approached the exploration I'm referring to, please see yesterday's post (Using Motives to Develop Improvisation Skills - Part I) for some ideas.

Taking "My First Lick" to Watermelon Man
After having practiced "My First Lick" over a Dm7 vamp, a ii-V-I progression, and the like, Matt asked me to open my notebook to Watermelon Man.  He suggested we take the above motive and apply it to Watermelon Man.  Watermelon Man is what I'd call, "kid friendly."  It's a simple I-IV-V, all dominant chords.

My first question to Matt was, "Do I have to figure out how to make the lick work over a Mixolydian mode relative to each key/dominant chord?"  Matt responded by asking me what each of the chords was in relation to the ii-V-I.  I responded by telling him that each chord represented the V in it's respective progression.  He told me I was right and went further to explain it would make sense to play over each chord's respective Mixolydian mode, but that I had written the lick in a minor key (Dorian mode).

Matt then asked, "Couldn't we just figure out what the ii for the progression relative to each of the dominant chords in the song?"  I said, "sure," and then proceeded to fumble with that task.  After making it harder than it needed to be, Matt stopped me and then showed me a simpler way to do this.  He then went further to say, "Now that we know the ii chord relative to the V in their respective progressions, you can just transpose the minor lick to each of the minor keys."  It made perfect sense and turned out to be fairly easy.  Below is the lick transposed to the keys of Cm7 (for the F7 chord) and Fm7 (for the Bb7 chord).

"My First Lick" transposed to the key of Cm7 for the F7 chord in Watermelon Man

"My First Lick" transposed to the key of Fm7 for the Bb7 chord in Watermelon Man

You'll noticed that each of the two transposed motives above looks similar in nature, with subtle changes made for play-ability and scale shape reasons to the Fm7 motive. Since Watermelon Man's first eight bars are in two chord chunks (F7-F7-F7-F7-Bb7-Bb7-F7-F7), it made utilizing the motive (and transposing it) fairly simple.

Taking "My First Lick" to One Bar Chunks
The next six bars, however, posed a different challenge for me.  Each of the following six bars (measures 9 - 14) were broken into one chord chunks (C7-Bb7-C7-Bb7-C7-Bb7).  Moreover, the last C7-Bb7 change felt like a turnaround back into the F7.

I initially attempted to cram the entire lick into one bar -- didn't work so well.  Matt then suggested I just take a part of the motive and use it in a way that worked within the context of the changes.  This didn't take too long to figure out.  Below is the application of "My First Lick" to the C7-Bb7 changes in measures 9 - 12.

Application of "My First Lick" to the C7-Bb7 changes in measures 9 - 12

As I stated above, the last C7 - Bb7 change (measures 13-14) felt like a turnaround back to the F7 chord.  With that in mind, I played around for a bit to alter my motive to fit the situation.  I'm happy with what I came up with (see figure below) as it didn't feel like I was rushing back into the F7 chord -- it feels like it makes sense.
Application of "My First Lick" to the C7-Bb7 "turnaround" in measures 13 - 14

The Final Product
Below is a transcription of the final product.  While it's simple, it's really fun to play.  I did apply a process to getting comfortable with the licks over their respective chords (see below).  Once I got comfortable I was able to quickly find the groove and lock in.  What was most rewarding and, I have to admit somewhat intoxicating, was when I reached the point (about 3 choruses in) that I was no longer thinking about what I was playing, but feeling it.

As I started to feel it, I serendipitously applied changes to the melodic and rhythmic motifs of "My First Lick" on the fly -- effortlessly.  While I've got a long, long way to go in my development as an improvisationalist, I felt a degree of competence that I had not previously experienced before.  I'm on my way!

Putting the pieces together -- the full sixteen bar application of  "My First Lick" to Watermelon Man

The process I used to get to the point that I could play the chorus of Watermelon Man many times through was as follows:

  • Played each of my newly transposed licks over vamps of their respective chords
  • Played  just the Fm7 motive over the backing track (from Jamey Aebersold's Maiden Voyage), getting comfortable with the hearing/feeling the changes
  • Added the remaining motives to the entirety of the backing track as I worked to play through
There's nothing terribly fancy or profound about the process I implemented to develop the level of competence that allowed me to experience the aforementioned feelings of success in blowing through Watermelon Man.  I had really developed the ability to feel good with applying "My First Lick" to various changes by practicing the original Dm7 motive (and it's corresponding G7 and CM7 motives) over the ii-V-I (see above reflection of that process).  That process was far more in-depth and provided the foundation for me to quickly succeed with Watermelon Man.

Later this week I'm going to tackle a third installment -- the application of "My First Lick" to Satin Doll.  That was a fun one!  In the meantime, check out the supporting files and suggestions for access to backing tracks .

Supporting Files and Resources
To access any of the PDFs, WAV files, or GPX files (I created these motives in Guitar Pro 6) that support the concepts of this post, please click on the following link:  Motives - Part II Supporting Files.  For any of you that use MOG or Spotify music services (I'm only familiar with these), you can find the entirety of the Jamey Aebersold catalog of backing tracks and music on the sites of these services.  You can find the Watermelon Man backing track here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Inspiration - Satin Doll by The Wes Montgomery Trio


"Satin Doll" by The Wes Montgomery Trio

It was suggested that I listen go Wes Montgomery play this song as he takes the same melodic ideas and uses them over and over again in this song, changing them slightly throughout.  It's also another opportunity to listen to Wes Montgomery.

Using Motives to Develop Improvisation Skills - Part I

I had another lesson with +Matt Warnock, yesterday.  Yesterday's lesson, like each before it, was very productive.  Over the last few months we've been working on three songs: Summertime, Watermelon Man, and Satin Doll.  While each of these three songs has presented unique challenges, each has provided me an opportunity to pursue some common themes: changes, melody, form, arpeggios, and more.

A couple weeks ago, Matt asked me what I wanted to do.  I told him that I wanted to become more melodic in my playing.  Essentially, I want to learn to improvise.  We talked about a couple of elements foundational to improvisation: scales, arpeggios, and rhythm.

While I know a variety of scales and modes and am developing a better understanding of arpeggios, I didn't know how to integrate the two to create melodic motives.  We investigated the application of these two elements over the changes of a ii-V-I in C (Dm7-G7-CM7).  I played through the changes slowly and with a modest degree of success.  When asked to apply some rhythms to these arpeggios and scales (as I played through the changes), I began to fumble.

Enter Motives
Of the many things I appreciate about Matt's instruction, I'm most appreciative of Matt's ability to decompose the variety of elements necessary to becoming a successful player, later working with me to recompose these parts to achieve the desired results.  As he noticed my struggle to apply rhythmic ideas to the arpeggios and scales, he offered me the following advice -- take the first three notes of the scale your working on (in this case D Dorian) and apply rhythmic ideas to these three notes as you play over a Dm7 vamp.  He called these small melodic ideas motives.  I must say, I'm now a fan of motives.

Below is an example of a motive I created a couple of weeks ago.

I played this motive over a Dm7 vamp.  I simply played the first three notes (D-E-F) of the D Dorian scale. I didn't try to vary the rhythm of the original motive at all, I simply tried to lock this motive into the rhythm of the vamp.

Matt then suggested I take that motive and recreate it on the first three notes of the G Mixolydian scale (G-A-B) and the C Major (Ionian) scale (C-D-E).  Below is an example of the motive I created, applied also to the keys of G7 and CM7.


I felt pretty good about this.  While the motives are rather simple in nature, I was able to successfull play through the changes after some practice.  I began to fell musical.

I next took the motive above and applied it only to the key of D again, this time around the neck.  Below is an example of what I created:

I played the Dm7 motives over a vamp in Dm7.  I then played the same motive over Dm7-G7-CM7, not changing the key of the motive as the chord changed, just playing in the key of Dm7 around the neck.

That's it.  It seems pretty simple, and it is.   The cool thing, however, is that this was a great way for me (you, too) to develop some simple ideas over a select few notes.  Moreover, it's a great way to begin to feel musical -- to play musically.

Practice Suggestions

  • Develop a simple rhythmic idea (motive) over the first three notes of the scale you're working on (for this example D Dorian)
  • Play the motive over a vamp in the corresponding key (for this example Dm7)
  • Play the motive over a ii-V-I in the corresponding key (for this example Dm7-G7-CM7)
  • Apply the motive to the corresponding notes of the scales appropriate to the other chords in the  progression (for this example G Mixolydian (G7) and C Ionian (CM7))
  • Take the original motive and apply it to other parts of the neck, remaining in the same key
  • Play the motive (Dm7) around the neck over a vamp in the same key (for this example Dm7)
  • Play the motive (Dm7) around the neck over a ii-V-I vamp (for this example Dm7-G7-Cm7)
  • Apply the above concepts to three new notes in each scale (for example 3, 5, and 7 or 2, 4 and 6 -- whatever three you want, just keep them consistent from scale-to-scale) of the progression
  • Apply the above concepts to other keys, other ii-V-I progressions
  • Practice the above concepts at different tempos
  • As you get more comfortable with the motives you've created, begin to vary the rhythm(s)
  • Have fun

Supporting Files
To access any of the PDFs, WAV files, or GPX files (I created these motives in Guitar Pro 6) that support the concepts of this post, please click on the following link: Motives - Part 1 Supporting Files