Tag: scales

Chromatic Twang

chromatic twang

I find myself adding “outside” notes to spice up typical progressions or chords I encounter all the time. Just like a chef, you need to know when to use this technique, as too much spice isn’t always nice. I’m not trying to take you on a jazz odyssey or have you overthink your lines. We will simply use the entire musical alphabet to help us get from point A to point B in a different way.

I like to call these style of licks “ear twisters.” When you add a few more colors to a predictable country line it can take your playing to new and interesting places. Remember, taste is important in choosing how far you “go out” since you don’t want to lose sight of your musicality. We are basically using all the options on the table to create tension that will inevitably lead to resolution. The licks I’ve chosen are for static major, minor, and dominant 7 chords. These are designed to be a small part of a big picture, and any note is ok to use as long as we use it wisely. I’ll show you some ways to start thinking along these lines.

Ex. 1 demonstrates the possibilities within the C chromatic scale. I play the root note followed by the next tone in the chromatic scale. That way you can hear the interval. Intervals can be described as the difference between any two notes. The larger the difference in pitch, the greater the interval. There are a variety of ways to think about intervals, but typically they are referred to as being either major, minor, perfect, octave, or tritone. While this is relatively simple to play, it may be the most important example to not only understand, but master. Both the intervals and the sound they make played together (or consecutively) to me connotates a color or emotion.

Major = happy. Minor = sad. Tritone = tension. Octave and perfect = pure.

Next, I dive into a descending line over C with some chromaticism (Ex. 2). Keep in mind we aren’t necessarily using scales as a reference, we are using notes in relation to the chord itself. Everything has a relation to the chord. Reference Ex. 1 if you don’t know the names of the intervals that you may find interesting or just awkward. Your ear may need to take a while to get used to some intervals but in the grand scheme of chromaticism, any note is available.

Here’s an ascending chromatic line over D (Ex. 3). Ending this lick, we do a country bend, so make sure to bend down with the index finger on the 7th fret. You can phrase it like the recording and slow the final bend to add dramatic flair.

Ex. 4 has a definite Tele-twang feel with double-stops in the front of the lick and plenty of hammer-ons and pull-offs at the end. It works great over an A chord and I might use it over a train beat feel. Try to use it next time you’re jamming to “Working Man Blues” by Merle Haggard, or Vince Gill’s “Liza Jane.”

Liza Jane – Vince Gill (w/ The Players)

Chromaticism works just as nicely over minor chords, too. Ex. 5 is a bluesy line with chromatic notes functioning as small connecting points. The leading tone, A#, gives it an exotic sound before resolving nicely on a B minor triad.

Open-string country licks are some of my favorites. In Ex. 6, I especially like the “clash” of the open 2nd string followed by the C (minor second interval) and open E with D# (also a minor second interval). The key here to let each note ring out as long as possible.

In Ex. 7 we move to the G7 chord. You are going to find yourself using double-stops into a bend then incorporating open-strings to work your way down the neck for this twang banger.

The final example (Ex. 8) is the most complex. The half-step theme works nicely over an E or E7 chord. The back half of this lick incorporates a Bb major triad (Bb–D–F) into a bend, then resolves on B and D. The ending of the lick implies a dominant 7 chord and I use my middle finger for the bend on the 3rd string.

That’s a lot to take in without a massive amount of theory. If you feel lost but want to understand intervals better and, more specifically, what you liked about the chromatic notes then I would recommend a bit of deeper analysis. Print out the licks and write the interval underneath the fretted notes to gain a better understanding on what was used to make the chromatic connecting points. It’s an excellent way of finding out the “formula” to what you may like. You’ll notice most of these licks use chord tones, notes from a major or minor scale, or intervals that create tension. Chromatic connecting notes all have a relevancy to the chord and can be used anywhere and in any style with the right amount of knowledge.

Open-String Madness!

open string madness

Most guitarists learn the basic scales, patterns, and lines up and down the neck when starting to visualize the fretboard. Working open strings into the mix made my head spin and forced me think of note selection differently. It taught me how to manipulate lines that I’d played for years and breathed new life into those lines simply by adding one key element.

I’m not talking about playing in open position, but rather substituting and adding the flavor of open notes whenever possible into your lines. It creates extra tension and a cascading legato feel that’s so important to my style that I can’t play without it. It has become a pillar of my country guitar technique.

All you need to do is listen to the way Chet Atkins approaches this technique in his music like the ending to his version of “Blue Angel” (or better yet “Cascade”). Once I heard this technique, I had to understand it better. Other artists that come to mind that regularly use open-string licks are Danny Gatton, Merle Travis, Redd Volkaert, Jimmy Olander, and many others.

CHET ATKINS – Cascade 1977

Careless Love I Jimmy Olander

In this lesson I’ll get you going with some simple, and not so simple, ways to incorporate this technique and get you playing over major, minor, and dominant 7 chords. These are the three most common chords you’ll see in country and pop music so hopefully they’ll have an instant payoff. When I first started working on this it was painstakingly slow. So be patient, buckle up, and let’s dive in.

In Ex. 1 is a reimagined G major scale (G–A–B–C–D–E–F#). The intervals between the fretted and open notes will determine how much tension there is in your line. Minor and major seconds will typically have heavy tension, which is fine. Remember, tension is great in music and eventually wants to be resolved. You can use the pick for every note or use hybrid picking. Experiment and find what works for you. Using a pick will give more attack to the note but using the flesh or fingernail will give you more warmth and might be slightly easier at faster tempos.

Let the open notes and fretted notes “bleed” into one another as much as possible. This is how you get the cascading legato effect. Listen closely to the audio examples to match to phrasing and length of each note. Hold onto each note as long as possible to let the notes ring into each other.

Ex. 1

We reimagine a descending line for a D major scale (D–E–F#–G–A–B–C#) in Ex. 2. The larger the string skip, the more that interval creates contrast. Notice you are literally playing a descending scale with displaced intervals and substituting open strings whenever possible. This lick ends with some chords voiced with open strings as well.

Ex. 2

In Ex. 3 we move to the key of E major, which is great for open strings since you have two open-string root notes. This is a descending line that hits all the notes of the E major scale (E–F#–G#–A–B–C#–D#). You will need some good independence on your pinky finger to hold down certain notes but with practice, that should come. It’s all part of the technique.

Ex. 3

I like using open string licks for dominant 7 chords and Ex. 4 works great over an A7. We’ve moved from playing up and down the scale to working with chord tones and blue notes like the b5 found on the 4th fret of the 2nd string. The first three groupings are all triplets which works great on adjacent strings. I resolved this lick sliding up into nicely outlining the A7 ending in an open string. Use your ring finger to bend the note on the 3rd string and slide up with your index for maximum left-hand efficiency.

Ex. 4

In this bluesy lick over an Am chord (Ex. 5), you work your way down the neck all the while incorporating open strings. Use your pinky on the 10th fret of the 4th string and to end the lick on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. A quick and effective lick for playing over a minor tonality.

Ex. 5

Ex. 6 is a tricky lick over an F#m7 chord with some slides. Your index finger will slide first, then the ring finger on the left hand. It’s important to use those fingerings as they set up the ascending part of this lick. String skipping towards the back end of the lick is vital to really outline the open 1st and 2nd strings. Let all the open strings ring as long as you can without it sounding sloppy. Listen closely to the audio example for this one.

Ex. 6

I like this ascending lick (Ex. 7) over a G7 chord. Note that you’re playing only on the top four strings for this lick starting with two quick arpeggiated lines connected with some open strings. The back half of this lick is one of my favorite ways to do quick runs using open strings.

Ex. 7

You can also incorporate a chromatic approach to your lines while using open strings. In Ex. 8, which is over an E chord, I sneak in a few passing tones to add extra tension and create some ear-twisting fun.

Ex. 8

That’s but a brief snapshot of some ways to add open strings to create cool cascading musical lines. It can be a bit tricky to initially wrap your head around thinking this way, but once you do, the sky is the limit. I like incorporating open string licks for texture and then start to intertwine them with other techniques like double-stops, pedal bends, and chord voicings. Until next time, take care!!

Get In Shape: A Guide to Breaking Out of Scales

get in shape a guide to breaking out of scales

Shapes can be unique and interesting, but the most common one that we run into as guitar players is that of a plateau. While growth and learning are exponential in the early days of discovering guitar, the true struggle for most players seems to be when they reach the middle to upper intermediate phase. Certain habits, muscle memory, go-to licks, and even practice routines
become second nature. This is what I refer to as “the big rut.” Every player has been at this point, where they’ve been spinning their wheels in the same tracks for so long that now they are simply stuck. Nowhere to go and nowhere to grow, seemingly. This is also the point where guitarists tend to start rapidly accumulating gear in hopes that something new will spark inspiration. (Not that you or I would ever do such a thing, right?)

Maybe a change in approach is just the thing that can break not only the rut, but other creative lulls in our collective journey to improve and feel more connected with six strings and 20-something frets. I’ve found that switching my focus from that of note choice and scales to simple shapes and patterns can unlock my playing when I feel stuck and uninspired. Not only do these licks help you change your visualization of the fretboard, they work fantastically as outside-sounding tension builders.

While I would use the rut buster in Ex. 1 in the key of A, I’m hardly worried about the note selection. The focus is that I’m taking an ascending three-note pattern beginning on the 6th string and simply moving it across the fretboard until I land on a resolution point–in this case on the 1st string. This lick doesn’t require a ton of dexterity. The first finger frets the lowest of the three-note shape, the second finger frets the middle note, and the third finger frets the top note of the shape. With this shape having a one-fret stagger between each note, it’s easy to quickly get comfortable with the rolling motion of the lick.

Ex. 1

Ex. 2 is the exact mirror image of Ex. 1, and we’re still in the key of A. Rather than starting on the 6th string and working our way to the 1st with ascending notes, we work backwards. Still, the shape is a three-note stagger. Again, we work one grouping of strings at a time until we hit a resolution point on the root.

Ex. 2

In Ex. 3 we’re using a different three-note staggered shape. This time there is a two-fret span between the notes staggered across three strings with exception of the last grouping, which moves the first note to the 8th fret to accommodate the third between the G and B strings. The fingering is led by the fourth finger with the second finger fretting the second note and the first finger fretting the third note of each grouping.

For simplicity, we’re still in the key of A. I’ve included a pickup note so you can get a feel for how this pattern lays in relation to its root.

Ex. 3

If we take Ex. 3 and put it in reverse, we switch to having the first finger lead the descending grouping starting from the first string. Ex. 4 shows again how we changed what is now the first grouping to accommodate for the guitar not being tuned in fourths.

Ex. 4

To tie it all together in Ex. 5, we combine part of an A minor pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G) with the lick from Ex. 4 to create a fun sounding fusion lick. The whole idea is to show how you can use one of these rut busters to create something unexpected and likely outside of your typical bag of tricks.

Ex. 5

Using shapes and patterns to break out of playing ruts has been a tried-and-true method for me, and I’m sure it can work wonders for you as well. Every single one of these licks and ideas works in any key and location on the fretboard, so they can be extremely useful even in a mid-solo scenario when you want to add some outside flavor and tingle some ears. Be warned, however, not to let your rut busters become your next plateau–experiment with different groupings, shapes, and rhythms to fire up your creativity and bust out of that rut!

Rethinking the Blues Scale

rethinking the blues scale

Last updated on May 21, 2022

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for blues music, but the blues scale can yield beguiling musical results that bear little resemblance to the traditional blues—particularly if one looks at (and listens to) the scale from a different point of view.

Chord Creation

The idea of harmonization is relatively simple. It means is to play two or more notes together at the same time. Technically speaking, two notes performed at the same time create a dyad, not a chord. It takes three or more notes performed simultaneously to create a chord, although the one exception, the two-note so-called “power chord” in Ex. 1, skews this theory a bit.

So, which two or more notes should you harmonize? Any you want! But, if you desire continuity in your compositions and playing, it’s a good idea to harmonize notes from a specific scale.

Most musicians usually start with the major scale, stacking every other note of the scale on top of each other until a triad is created (Ex. 2).

From there you can start adding, or replacing notes, to create variations from these basic triads, as seen in Ex. 3.

I must point out that you can also arpeggiate these chords, playing the notes one at a time (Ex. 4). Since we are emphasizing harmony in this lesson, it helps to let them ring out.

That’s the most common way to create chords, but in this lesson we’re looking for something unusual. So rather than being so formulaic, let’s proceed with the basic idea that playing two or more notes at the same time will work as long as they all come from the blues scale.

The blues scale is just the minor pentatonic scale with one additional note, which gets labeled #4 or a b5 depending on context. Ex. 5 shows the most common “box” pattern for the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G). After getting a hold of this scale, I recommend working on it in the key of E and D since many of the notes can be played with open strings.

There are two considerable disparities when it comes to generating chords from the blues scale as compared to the major scale. First, the blues scale only has six notes and second, the intervals between the notes in each scale are significantly different.

This means that the blues scale creates radical changes in chord construction and nomenclature, the theory of which is far beyond the scope of this lesson. For instance, Ex. 6 is a selection of relatively common chords you can generate from the A blues scale. Later on, we will get into more exotic harmonies.

For now, all you really need to understand about the theory is that, the chords, and the melodies I’ve composed to fit them, all come from harmonizing notes from the A blues scale.

When Theory, Intuition, and Creativity Meet

Once the concept of harmonization is understood, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The following examples are just a few of the endless ideas you could generate. I have designed my examples to imitate the styles of well-known composers and guitarists and broken them down into how they are fingered on the fretboard.

Ex. 7 is a particularly fun place to start as this arpeggio is just the A blues scale, but the notes are displaced into different octaves to create chords.

For Ex. 8 I’ve rearranged the notes ever so slightly to create a slightly more uniform, pseudo-Slayer progression and melody.

Ex. 8

The bent note at the beginning of Ex. 9 immediately made me think of Jimmy Page, so for guitar two, I mimicked Robert Plant’s chromatic vocal melody on “Misty Mountain Hop” to create this Led Zeppelin-inspired etude. Note that the first chord is labeled A5(#11) because it contains the D# almost an octave and half higher than the root, making it a #11 in relationship to the A.

Ex. 9

Ex. 10 was a happy accident I discovered while playing around with this lesson’s concept. It’s unashamedly Nine Inch Nails meets Andy Summers. The second chord in the progression is a little tricky to label, so I went with D5(b9) as it contains Eb an octave and one half-step away from the root, making it the b9.

Ex. 10

Ex. 11 demonstrates the power of playing unexpected, three-note chords over a static bassline, very similar to funk/fusion keyboard players in the 1970s (think Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea). To provide continuity, I’ve actually harmonized the blues scale using the same method discussed in Ex. 2. The chord labels I’ve chosen are derived from a combination of the chords and the bass line, though you’ll see there are really only two chords: Cm and Asus4, played with different voicings. And take my word for it, the fact that this progression contains both Cm and Am chords is highly unusual and worth more investigation.

Ex. 11

Ex. 12 Is a pseudo-power chord riff a la Fugazi or other bands found in the post-punk/emo genres. I’ve started here with a variation of the A5(#11) chord. Perhaps this is the defining chord of the harmonized blues scale? The rest of the progression seems to alternate between variations of Am and G, but notice that the bass is playing different notes over the chords, providing harmonic variation. Also pay attention that B and C sections are slightly different.

Ex. 12

Comprehend and Create!

I hope by now you’ve realized that the key to exploiting the harmonized blues scale is to include the #4/b5 in all your progressions. This is the vital element that distinguishes the blues scale from so many others. Make your own progressions, melodies, and songs based on what we’ve started here. You are only limited by your imagination.

Can You Play Charlie Parker Licks on Guitar?

Few figures in jazz history loom as large as Charlie Parker. His pioneering work in the 1940s remains a cornerstone of modern small-ensemble jazz and his playing still sounds fresh today. Parker’s legendary practice regimen combined with his brilliant artistic vision yielded a uniquely personal and virtuosic style. It’s a high bar, but let’s learn some Parker-style jazz language and see how well his style adapts to the fretboard.

We can experience some Charlie Parker greatness by checking out these clips.

Charlie Parker – Now’s The Time

Where else to start but the blues? This is Parker’s classic blues tune “Now’s the Time,” which has become essential material for any budding jazzer. His economy of melody has become so codified that the intro to his solo has become a cliché on its own.


There are very few things as exciting as hearing an absolute master tear through a “rhythm changes” tune. Here we have “Anthropology,” which is a medium-up bebop standard. Just listen to how Parker weaves through the cycle of dominant chords on the bridge.

Charlie Parker – All the things you are

Naturally, Parker was also a master of interpreting classic jazz standards. Rhythmically, the melody to “All the Things You Are” is rather vanilla. Check out how Parker embellishes the melody without losing the through line.

Since Charlie Parker began with the blues let’s start there. There’s a certain irony that bebop guitar players aren’t the bendiest bunch—we often favor slides over bends—but Charlie Parker would frequently bend notes. By changing his embouchure, Parker was able to imbue deep blue inflections in his lines. Ex. 1 is a Bb blues lick that has a few Db to D bends. Unlike typical guitar-based blues playing, these bent notes tend to come from very close to the target note—in other words, you can start with a tiny bit of a pre-bend. Parker would use licks like this in conventional 12-bar settings, but he would also use them in rhythm changes or even standards.

Ex. 1

The lick in Ex. 2 is really bluesy and demonstrates a more down-home, Kansas City style. A reverence for blues roots is often present in Parker’s bebop style, especially in his moderate tempo blues tunes. As before, be careful not to overdo the bends—start with a tiny prebend so that you’re close to the goal note. If you’re playing a jazz box with some thick strings, sliding instead of bending is effective as well.

Ex. 2

Slurs are integral to creating a convincing Charlie Parker style, on any instrument. We might not be able to capture all of his details (saxophone vs. guitar), but it’s crucial to make the effort. Listen to his original records to notice how he uses legato techniques. This is especially important if you’re playing his compositions in your repertoire—and aren’t we all? It can take some time, but careful study of the music will help you mark up your transcriptions and lead sheets. There is a tendency to slur notes in pairs. Typically, the upbeat is connected to the subsequent downbeat, but Parker isn’t as committed to this approach as later players, such as John Coltrane.

Ex. 3 is a quick little lick over Gm7 where I keep almost entirely within the G Dorian (G–A–Bb–C–D–E–F) scale. Keep an eye on the reverse sweep at the end of the second measure and maintain that rhythmic pulse going through the legato bit at the end.

Ex. 3

Here’s a typical bebop lick over a IIm7–V7–I in G major (Ex. 4) that incorporates slides and hammer-ons to match Parker’s articulations. We also get to learn some bebop melodic devices here, such as the chromatic embellishment around the note D in the second measure. It’s crucial to get a working knowledge of these non-harmonic tones to establish a convincing bebop vocabulary. Merely applying a chord/scale approach doesn’t cut it here. Follow the notated fingering, as it’s designed to enable a phrasing that matches Parker’s. It might be challenging at first, but the musicality wins out in the end.

Ex. 4

Here’s another IIm7–V7–I in G, similar to the previous line, musically speaking, but fingered in a different way (Ex. 5). The third measure has a bebop rhythmic cliché: an otherwise all-eighth-note line but with a triplet on beat two. This rhythm is super common in Parker’s improvisations and in his original tunes. Invariably, slurs and economy picking are employed to make these triplets work well on guitar. If you are a staunch alternate picker, licks with fingerings like this one will give you a more horn-like sound.

Ex. 5

How about something fast and flashy? Ex. 6 works over Gm7 or C7. Parker played versions of this figure often, so it’s clearly something that he practiced a lot and loved to use as double-time virtuosic line. I should mention, it’s never the same in Parker’s hands. He’ll apply little variations and tweaks, which you can hear as he as he plays this in variety of songs from blues to standards. I’ve incorporated a sweep and single-string legato playing to make it work on guitar.

Ex. 6

Parker’s blues playing was deep and varied. He was equally comfortable on simpler versions of the 12-bar form as well as a variety of more sophisticated versions that he developed as a bebop innovator. (Compare the chord changes on his compositions such as “Now’s the Time” or “Cool Blues” to tunes such as “Au Privave” or “Blues for Alice.”) Ex. 7 shows how even if the rhythm section is playing a basic blues with four measures of the I chord (or a “quick IV” variant) he could play a line that was more harmonically adventurous.

In this case, we hear a melodic idea that implies its own substitute chord changes: a back-cycling idea that would lead to the IV chord in bar 5 (not shown). It’s as if the changes are C7 | Bm7b5 E7 | Am7 D7 | Gm7 C7 rather than four measures of C7.

Ex. 7

The line in Ex. 8 is the final phrase of a C blues (measures 9–12 of the form), in which we hear the typical IIm7-V7 idea followed by a I–VI–II–V turnaround. This is a classic phrasing that highlights upbeat notes, which are picked, sliding into the downbeat notes. There’s a two-fold benefit: easier picking and matching Parker’s phrasing. The turnaround uses chromatically descending arpeggios. Notice the use of an Ebm7 arpeggio on the A7 chord. We can hear this as a loose interpretation of a tritone sub or merely an easy way to get some dissonant upper extension to the chord (including the b5, 13, and b9). The Dm7 gets a purely diatonic treatment while the G7 chord gets a true tritone substitution via the Db arpeggio.

Ex. 8

Ex. 9 works over the beginning of rhythm changes. (“Rhythm Changes” is the name given to any of numerous songs that use the fundamental chord changes from George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” Parker and the beboppers wrote dozens of new melodies and embellished chord changes.) Again, fingerings are not going to seem so intuitive, but the musical expression is worth the effort. This example begins with a diatonic approach in the first measure, but gets more chromatic in the next with the C# over the F7 chord and the smooth chromatic passing tone (Gb) at the end of the measure. There’s a typical descending line in measure 3. You can think of it as implying G7b9 (it does) or as a movement down the C harmonic minor scale.

Ex. 9

Here’s a really long line (Ex. 10) that’s played over the bridge section of rhythm changes. The progression is a sequential cycle of dominant chords. Each chord is the V of the subsequent chord (D7 is V of G, G7 is V of C, and so on.) The D7 idea is mostly diatonic, but there is a b9 in the triplet figure. The G7 also begins diatonically but has a stylistic b9 #9 b9 figure (bar 4) and some chromatic passing tones. This hints at some of the knowledge required for convincing bebop playing: Basic chords and arpeggios must be mastered in order to apply chromaticism and non-harmonic tones.

Ex. 10

The C7 section is interesting because of the note B. This note isn’t a typical choice by beginning players over a C7 chord, but Parker would use it often, but quite judiciously—either as a neighbor tone to the tonic (measure 5) or as a passing tone (bar 6). The use in measure 6 is particularly important. Music theorists after Parker would describe this as the “bebop dominant scale,” which is a form of the Mixolydian mode. In the key of C, instead of the usual seven notes, a B natural is added. This B natural is played as a passing tone on an upbeat so that the tonic (C) and b7 (Bb) can appear as downbeat notes, exactly as done here.

While Parker’s vocabulary doesn’t lay as easily on the fretboard as a Led Zep riff or a Clapton solo, it does offer a glimpse into the mind of a harmonic master. Parker could logically dissect jazz harmony and improvise some of the most engaging and beautiful melodies every created. Even if jazz isn’t your bag, learning a few of these licks will undoubtedly open your eyes, ears, and fingers.