Category Archives: music

Day Four – Obstalden

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The view across the Walensee.

      It can be hard to stay on the ball with these posts. We played our fourth show in Obstalden near the home of Paul Rostetter. We basically had to drive halfway up an alp to get there. Winding two lane roads all the way.
      Musically there have been some good developments. We played Drifter’s Son last night, which was not on the set list originally. We are also playing Broken Heart Tattoo and The Last Goodbye, the very first Kevin Meisel tune I learned. Emma has recorded some of the songs so hopefully at some point there will be YouTube evidence.
    The view from Obstalden is amazing, of course. The weather has been mild. No rain or snow. Tomorrow is a busy day. We have a radio interview and we need to do laundry. Laundry = critical.
Sound check at Hotel Sternen, Obstalden.

Sound check at Hotel Sternen, Obstalden.

Day One – Laupen

Day one of the this tour has come to a close. I am sitting at Hotel Baeren in Laupen. This is a great little place where we always stay when we play at Die Tonne. I’m enjoying a glass of GlenDronach single malt scotch with Keith. Today was very long. We rented the van in Zurich…

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arrived at Brambus Records HQ in Muhlehorn by 9:00 AM…

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enjoyed some coffee and loaded up more gear with Paul Rostetter, label founder, president, and sole employee…

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and then drove out to Laupen where Keith met a cat.

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Although he is quite allergic he will still play with them as though they are his best friends in the world. I should mention that Keith is also blogging this tour at keithmeisel.com.

I had not realized how energetic our sets were. There are a few mellower numbers but we really packed some rockers into our show. The venue was about 3/4 full and we played well. There are a few kinks to work out. I was exhausted (we all were) but as soon as we started I woke up. I love the feeling of playing good songs for an appreciative crowd. Keith, Kevin and Rob are excellent musicians and very fun to play with. Our hosts Anita, Meret, and Yvonne were very helpful and kind, and we sold nine CDs which is good for a small venue. We’re close to Bern tonight but tomorrow we head east to Sennwald for a house concert at the home of Beth Wimmer, an American expat who has been here for years.

I really need sleep.

Switzerland 2014 – Packed!

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I’ve just finished packing for the upcoming two-week tour of Switzerland. It’s 2 AM. Keith will be here at 6:30 to drive me to Kevin’s house. We’ll meet Rob at the airport at 8:00 and take off at 10:10. We have a long layover in Toronto – I am not sure why I set up the flight that way but it is definitely my fault – and from there we fly into Zurich. I’ve managed to get a telecaster, a lap steel, the netbook that I will be using to write the rest of these posts, plus all of my clothing into the gig bag. The black bag holds my Vox Tonelab LE, which replaces an amplifier – it is basically a digital amp modeller/effects unit. Way easier for overseas touring than my usual tube amp. The road case holds all the cables and tools and miscellaneous stuff I might need. All in all I think I packed pretty small.

This tour is fifteen dates, starting in the town of Laupen – near Bern – at a little place called Die Tonne. We have played there on three other occasions and so it will be a nice way to start the tour. Christian von Erlach is our contact and he always makes sure we are well taken care of.

I’ll try to make this tour blog as interesting as possible and I will also try to update daily, though I may miss a few. Here is our complete tour schedule. You know, in case you happen to be in any of these towns in the next few weeks,,,

Samstag, 1. Nov. 2014      CH-LAUPEN, Die Tonne

Sonntag, 2. Nov. 2014      CH-Beth Wimmer‘s House-Concert

Montag, 3. Nov.  2014      CH-WINTERTHUR, Esse-Bar

Dienstag, 4. Nov. 2014     CH-OBSTALDEN, Sternen

Mittwoch, 5. Nov. 2014    CH-CHUR, Werkstatt

Donnerstag, 6. Nov. 2014 CH-REGENSDORF, s’Gwölb

Freitag, 7. Nov. 2014                CH-FEUERTHALEN, Dolder2

Samstag, 8. Nov.2014       D-01979 LAUCHHAMMER, Real Music Club

Sonntag, 9. Nov. 2014      D-Kötz, CWF

Montag, 10. Nov.2014      CH-THUN, Sekundarschule

Dienstag, 11. Nov. 2014   A-FUGEN-BINDERHOLZ

Mittwoch, 12. Nov. 2014  A-SCHARNITZ, Alte Mühle

Donnerstag, 13. Nov. 2014 A-INNSBRUCK, Bogentheater

Freitag, 14. Nov. 2014      CH-STAEFA, Rössli

Samstag, 15. Nov. 2014    CH-FLAWIL, Kulturpunkt FlawilDSC_1532 copy

Charlie Parker on Guitar!

Charlie Parker on Guitar

 

I thought it might be fun to share this Charlie Parker solo from the song Tiny’s Tempo by Tiny Grimes. This is a great blues tune from 1944. I’ve put in some fingerings that I think make it easier to get some of Bird’s phrasing right. I’ve also written it in the correct octave for guitarists to read.

The ascending triplet Gmin7 (really a Bb6) arpeggio that starts off the solo is followed by a descending scale passage. Note that he is hitting chord tones on the beats with passing tones on the off beats. This is how you want to be using your scales when improvising most of the time. Bird hits the 5th of the chord on beat 2, the 3rd on beat three, the root on beat four, and nails the 3rd of the IV chord on beat one of measure 2. The first two measures of this solo make a great lick to learn in all keys.

Measures 3 and 4 are an excellent example of chromaticism with the whole tone scale. Think of the chord as Bb9(#5). The line starts on the 9th and drops chromatically so that on each downbeat a consonant note is played – 9th, root, 7th, and 6th. The 6th does not fit into the whole tone scale. When I first looked at this line I was confused by the F# just left hanging unresolved at the end of the measure. Then I noted that the G is the only note on a strong beat that is not part of the whole tone scale. The F# along with the D and Bb in the next measure form a D augmented triad. I think that Bird’s drop down a sixth (something he does quite often) on the “and” of 3 in measure 3 flipped the chromatic line out of sync for a beat. I guess I’m claiming that the G is an accented passing tone while the F# is the chord tone. The whole tone line continues into measure 4 until the F# which is both the last note of the whole tone scale and a half step approach to the Gmin7 (Bb6) arpeggio on beat 4, echoing the starting lick an octave down.

I love the way Parker leaves notes hanging and then resolves them later. You can find so many great guide tone lines in his playing. That F# from the end of measure 3? He picks up the F (now the 9th of the IV chord) at the beginning of measure 5, brings it down to the E (b9) at the end of the measure, down to Eb in measure 6, and then resolves it nicely with a D in measure 7, back at the I chord. Measures 5 and 6 also just sound nice and bluesy.

In measure 8 we see the same lick as the opening statement but at a different pitch level, and starting on a different beat. The ascending Dmin7 arpeggio implies a BbMaj9 chord. The descending scale that follows uses a chromatic note so that Bird can land on the b7 of the ii chord in measure 9. Again, note the chord tones on the strong beats. Also note the drop of a 6th in beat 3. Did I mention he does that often? At the end of measure 9 is a Gmin arpeggio. Over Cmin7 that gives us the 5th, b7th, and 9th. This concept of playing arpeggios off of notes other than the root to get more interesting extensions is an important one, and the more you transcribe the more you will see it.

Measure 10 is pretty straightforward looking, though I have replaced Bird’s flurry of notes on beat two with a triplet because I think it mays better on the guitar and still gets the gist of what is happening. Beats one and two of this measure are repeated note for note in measures 22 and 34. In fact, the last four measures of all three choruses are basically the same. Measures 10 and 34 are exactly the same. Measures 21 and 33 are exactly the same and only differ from measure 9 in that there is no turn on beat one of that measure. Charlie Parker is inventive, but no one is endlessly inventive, and the repetition draws everything together nicely as well.

I’m not going to dissect every measure of the next two choruses, but I will point out the things I find particularly compelling. Contrast the third and fourth measures of the second chorus (mm. 15 and 16). Note how measure 15 is completely diatonic (even using a Major 7th) while measure 16 has a b13 and both flat and sharp 9. The tension in measure 16 leads nicely to the IV chord in measure 17. The chromatic enclosure at the end of measure 16 is particularly common in bebop.

Measures 20 and 32 are both interesting in that they use passing arpeggios. Descending Dmin7-Dbmin7 arpeggios lead nicely to the Cmin7 chord in measures 21 and 33. What a great way to play four “wrong” notes in a row! This idea works just like chromatic passing tones but it takes up more time and builds more tension.

I would also note the chromaticism of measure 26, the descending scale (interrupted by another drop of a 6th) with a chromatic passing tone of measure 27, and the general fact that chord tones are played on strong beats.

The melodic elements of this solo are scales, arpeggios, and chromaticism. The harmonic elements are the same because Parker’s use of extensions and altered notes affects the harmony. The rhythmic elements are not something I have gone into here, but it is worth noting that he starts and ends his phrases in a variety of places within the measure. There are repeated patterns such as the triplet ascending arpeggios. And of course, as usual in jazz, the primary rhythmic unit is the 8th note.

Overall it’s a great introduction to bebop improvising over a familiar set of changes. It sounds killer and it lays well on the guitar. I learned a lot from looking it over and that’s the point of transcribing. You get to see how concepts are applied.

Finally, I would note that it is not likely that you will be able to use scales and chromatic lines to such good effect if you don’t know where your basic chord tones are. That’s why practicing arpeggios is so important. You don’t just land on chord tones accidentally. You need to know they are there and how they sound. Charlie Parker knew his instrument, and he knew where his chord tones were, and he knew those things because he practiced. So stop reading and go practice!

Dominant 7 Arpeggios

Arpeggios are hard. Most people don’t enjoy learning them, but they are critical if you want to understand how to improvise over chord changes. It’s important to be able to find chord tones on the guitar and arpeggios are the best way to do that. Dominant 7 arpeggios are a good place to start because secondary dominants are so common. If you know your C scale and the E7, A7, and D7 arpeggios you can easily play over All of Me, for example. Take a look at these fingerings for dominant 7 arpeggios. If you have already learned these major scale fingerings, you will notice that the arpeggios come out of the scales, based off of the 5th. A great way to learn these fingerings is to play a C scale and then play the G7 arpeggio that is found within the scale. Just leave out the C, E, and A notes. Once you are fluent with dominant 7 arpeggios in all keys you can start learning some other arpeggios such as Maj7, min7, min7(b5) and dim7.

I am using arpeggios in my playing all the time, even when I am not playing them straight up or down. When I am playing chromatically, I like to start and end my lines on chord tones. The arpeggios that I have practiced form an underlying structure over which I build my linear ideas. This is true for all styles of music, not just jazz. There is a difference between choosing a scale that sounds good with a certain set of chords and choosing notes to target at particular structural points in a chord progression. Finding those chord tones can actually free you from the confines of a particular scale.

Good luck practicing your arpeggios, and have fun figuring out how to apply them creatively!

All of Me – Scale Choices for Improvising – With Digressions!

A fellow guitar teacher asked me how to improvise over the changes for All of Me. The tune is usually done in C but it is also commonly played in G. Rather than answer him immediately I wrote the following analysis. Well, I’m not sure if it is an analysis, or just a rambling look into my own mind, but whatever. You might just find it useful. I am not delving into strange scale choices, or discussing phrasing. I’m just throwing out the basics here. Thanks to Travis Preston for transposing this entire analysis to C from the original G.

mm 1-2 – C6

The first two bars are a C6 chord. That’s I in the key of C, so your typical scale of choice is C. Or C pentatonic, or C major blues, whatever.

mm 3-4 – E7

This is a chord type known as a secondary dominant. That’s any chord that is V of something other than the tonic. In this case it is V/vi or “five of six”. There are a few ways to generate the most expected scale to use over this chord. If we take a C scale and only change the note we need to accommodate E7, we get C, D, E, F, G#, A, B , which happens to be an A harmonic minor scale. Alternatively, if we say “E7 is V in the key of A minor (not A major, because A is a minor chord in the key of C), and when faced with a V in a minor key the most expected scale is the harmonic minor,” then we get the same answer. Also, it’s nice to know how to play a straight up E7 arpeggio. AND, it’s nice to know what extensions are generated by using A harmonic minor on an E7. E G# B D F (A) C spells E7(b9,b13). The A is the 11, and is an avoid note, or a passing tone, but not part of the chord.

mm 5-6 – A7

We would expect V/vi to actually go to the vi chord. In this case, it sort of does. The vi chord (Amin7) has been replaced by yet another secondary dominant – V/ii or A7. That’s what secondary dominants do; they often stack up on each other in a series known as “backcycling”. If we take C and only change the note we need to accommodate A7, we get C# D E F G A B, which turns out to be D melodic minor. Not surprising as A is V in the key of D minor. Melodic minor is a scale that gives us the V chord without that funny augmented second between the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale that we get with harmonic minor. On the other hand, if we use the second method mentioned above – “A7 is V in the key of D minor (not D major, because D is a minor chord in the key of C), and when faced with a V in a minor key the most expected scale is the harmonic minor,” then we get a different answer. So we have a choice between D harmonic minor or D melodic minor. Again, it’s useful to know the extensions generated by each scale. A C# E G B (D) F is A9(b13) whereas A C# E G Bb (D) F is A7(b9,b13). There’s a pretty obvious b9 in the melody on beat 3 of measure 6, so I’d definitely use a b9 when playing chords over the melody. Harmonic minor is probably the most expected choice here, but there’s never just one choice in music, as far as I can tell.

mm 7-8 – Dmin7

Our series of secondary dominants has arrived at the ii chord. We’re in the key of C and this is the ii chord in C, so C is the scale we should use. Extensions generated? D F A C E G B spells Dmin13, but we are NOT playing with modal or static harmony, we are playing with funcional harmony. Nailing that 13 is not doing the tune any favors. This is a ii chord in C, not a i chord in D minor. Hitting that B will just make it sound like you think you’re on a V chord, which you are not. Feeling bluesy? A little D minor blues scale might sound hip here.

mm 9-10 – E7

V/vi. You know what to do!

mm 11-12 – Amin7

Our V/vi resolved to the vi chord. Again, we’re in C and we have a chord that is diatonic to C, so we should be using C. A C E G B D (F) spells Amin11. The F is not part of the harmony. Again you could use minor blues if you want. You could try to use A dorian here but I don’t think it’s all that spectacular. By the way, did you notice how the melody in mm 7-8 and mm 11-12 went from the 4 down to the minor 3? That’s not just something you’ll see on this tune. Look at ii and vi chords in any number of jazz tunes and you will see that it is an extremely common melodic device. This stuff is as formulaic as anything else that humans do.

mm 13-14 – D7

Another secondary dominant. This one is V/V. Again, if we just accommodate the chord to the C scale, we get C D E F# G A B, which turns out to be a G major scale. That makes sense, because D is V in the key of G, and G is a major triad in the key of C. Since we’re not in G, we should probably call this scale D mixolydian. Looking at the arpeggio, we have D F# A C E (G) B, or D9(13) the 11 is not part of the harmony. It clashes with the 3rd. Another way to deal with this chord is to add the #11. D F# A C E G# B is D13(#11). Putting that arpeggio into scale form, we get D E F# G# A B C – a D Major scale with a sharp 4 and a flat 7. This scale is known as Lydian-Dominant, and also happens to be the fourth mode of melodic minor (in this case A melodic minor). So, D mixolydian (D major with a b7, and the 5th mode of G), or D Lydian-Dominant (D major with a #4 and b7, and the 4th mode of A melodic minor) are both typical for this part of the tune. D major blues would work as well.

mm 15-16 – Amin7-D7 Dmin7-G7

A secondary dominant usually goes to the chord that it “points” to, or to another secondary dominant with the same root. In this tune, V/vi went to V/ii, which went to ii. Later, V/vi went to vi. That’s because chords functioning as dominants want to resolve to their respective tonics. That process is called “tonicization”. We tonicize the vi with a V/vi, and so on. So it seems strange at first that the D7 in mm 13-14 does not move directly to G7, but instead changes to Dmin7, and then goes to G7. What’s happening here is that in jazz, a V chord (D7) can often be replaced with a ii-V (Amin7-D7). So, imagine this as two bars of V that have been replaced with a ii-V. Incidentally, it’s much more common for a V/V to resolve to a ii-V than it is for secondary dominants in other positions. That is to say, the chord progression seen in mm 13-16 is extremely common in jazz standards. In any event, we have a ii-V in the key of C here, so a C major scale is where it’s at, so to speak.

mm 17-24 – See mm 1-8

mm 25-26 – F6-Fm6

Here is a classic chord change in jazz and pop that illustrates the concept of borrowed chords really well. We have a IV-iv, or “four to minor four” progression. The iv chord is borrowed from C minor. Yeah, we can do that. Thank you very much, giants of western classical music. We’re still using the key of C for the F6 chord, which means we are implying Fmaj13(#11) – F A C E G B D. Since the Fmin6 comes from C minor we can use a C minor scale. Looking at the arpeggio, we would have F Ab C Eb G B D, or Fmin13. This is a great place to use that 13, by the way, unlike the ii chord earlier. We can also just change the notes we need to, staying as close to C as possible. C D E F G Ab Bb would be the scale. We had to flat the A to accommodate the chord, and we had to flat the B because B natural would sound like a flat five. Minor chords pretty much universally accommodate perfect fourths but shun augmented fourths. That scale is F harmonic minor, and I much prefer it to C minor when dealing with borrowed iv chords. Looking at the arpeggio we have F Ab C E G B D, or Fmin13(Maj7)! AWESOME!!

There is a variation on this change that is just as common, and that is to use a bVII chord (Bb7 in this case), or to use both chords (Fmin7-Bb7) as a sort of ii-V in the key of the bIII. All the same scales mentioned above will accommodate both changes. Actually, the F harmonic minor does not fit the Fmin7 perfectly as you’ll need a Eb for that change, but I don’t usually worry about that very much.

Finally, it is important to note that borrowed iv and bVII7 chords function as V chords. This means that they go to I or to a chord that functions in place of I, such as iii, or to another chord that delays resolution such as IV. The progressions that I consider all roughly the same that are encompassed here are as follows. Pick one from each column…

IV            V          I

ii             iv         iii

               bVII7

               iv bVII7

And then in rock there is the ever popluar I – bVII – IV – I. Can’t Explain is a good example.

Getting back to “All of Me”, you could replace the iv chord in mm 26 with a V chord and the melody would work just fine.

mm 27-28 – CMaj7 – Emin7 – A7

This is pretty straightforward. Measure 27 is a I-iii (not very common) and you can use C Major here. Measure 28 is V/ii and you can treat it like the other A7 chords in the tune.

mm 29-32 – Dmin7 G7 CMaj7

The tune wraps up, like most standards, with a ii-V-I. Resolution in measure 31 is typical of a 32 bar tune. Obviously the key of C is the most expected sound here. Again, knowing arpeggios is always helpful. It should be noted that the progressions in this tune are pretty typical of jazz tunes. It’s less common for chords to be static for two bars as they are in this piece, but the actual progressions are very straightforward. Every chord is either a diatonic seventh chord, a secondary dominant, or a borrowed chord. We generally take one of two approaches to these chords – Either stay as close to the key as possible, only altering scale tones that need to be altered to accommodate the non-diatonic chords, or use an appropriate scale for the chord based on its actual function. Either way we get roughly the same outcome. Of course, there are less common scales that could be employed at various points in this tune – fully altered, half-whole diminished, and whole tone scales come to mind.

Memorization versus Comprehension – Spell those Chords!

Part of my teaching philosophy has always been that it’s more important to understand broad concepts about music than it is to memorize lots of little facts and details. Lately, however, I am starting to realize that one of the reasons I can organize seemingly disparate ideas into unified musical concepts is because I have a lot of little facts and details memorized. I used to walk to school reciting my scales and chord tones in time to my walking pace, and I may have underestimated how much that mental repetition, without my instrument, helped me. So, I want to present a simple way to memorize your Major Triads.

Normally I would expect my students to learn their major scales, know how they sound and how to spell them all through the cycle of fourths, understand that Major Triads are built from the first, third and fifth degrees of the scale, know what Major Triads sound like and so on and so forth. I still want my students to do all of that but for now we are going to bypass those concepts and learn some chord spelling!

Triads are built by stacking thirds, so the first thing you need to do is to be able to say your musical alphabet by skipping letters – ABCDEFG becomes A C E G B D F. It helps to say this, out loud, over and over again until it is memorized. Then you should say it backwards. A lot. Music goes up AND down!

Now that you know your musical alphabet by thirds we will learn the first three chords – G,C, and F Major have no sharps or flats so they are easy to memorize. G is spelled G,B,D, C is spelled C,E,G, and F is spelled F,A,C. It’s that simple. Knowing how to spell these chords does not mean you know what they sound like, how to play them, or how they work together. It doesn’t make you a better musician or a smarter person. It’s just one of the many, many things you need to know to be a competent musician.

Moving on, there are three Major Triads with one sharp, and they ALL have the sharp on the third degree. E is spelled E,G#,B. A is spelled A,C#,E. D is spelled D,F#,A. Why? We are not talking about that today!

Finally there is B. It has two sharps and is spelled B,D#,F#.

Memorize these Major Triads. Seriously. Be able to spell them instantly from memory. Here is a handy chart in fifths:

F  A  C

C  E  G

G  B  D

D  F# A

A  C# E

E  G# B

B D# F#

If you can spell all of your Major Triads with natural roots you can spell all of your Major Triads with flat or sharp roots too. For example, since, D is spelled D,F#,A, Db is spelled Db,F,Ab. Also you can learn your minor Triads by flatting the thirds of your Major Triads. A is A,C#,E, so Amin is A,C,E.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have musical knowledge at your fingertips. This stuff just has to be second nature. So spend some quality time inside your head, spelling your triads!

Do you really know your major scales?

I mean, can you play your major scales in all keys all across the fretboard? If not, you might consider checking out these fingerings. And, you might also consider coming to my class on the 17th of August at 2:00. I will be teaching the major scale fingerings and showing students how to change keys without having to jump all over the fretboard as well as how to play all over the fretboard in any key.

Major scales are the building blocks for most of your other scales, chords, modes, and arpeggios. Knowing them in all keys as well as knowing how to spell them and how they are built is just critical.

If you are interested in this class please contact me for details. Otherwise, get practicing! Those major scales are important and they don’t learn themselves!

Chords – Know Your Basics

I have noticed that a number of my students have learned their basic open chords, but have then moved on to play lots of songs with power chords or seventh chords and have forgotten them. I’ll probably do a number of posts on basics because, obviously, everything flows from your basic scales, chords and arpeggios. So, here is a sheet with the nine basic chords.

A few notes:

Start with Emin. It’s the easiest If you are not sure how to read a chord diagram, go here.

After Emin, try E, then Amin. D, A, and C are relatively easy. G should be learned with the fingering that I have put on the diagram. I know that some people teach it without the pinky, but it’s easier in the long run to learn it with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers because you can get to this fingering more quickly from C, D, F, and Emin, all of which are chords that commonly hang out with G. Dmin is not so tough. F can be a bit tricky so don’t feel bad if it kicks your butt. In fact, get used to it. Guitar kicks your butt every single day.

You need to know these basic chords no matter what you want to play. Who is your favorite guitar player? I guarantee you that person knows how to play a simple G chord.

Also, it’s really good to know how to spell these chords. Major triads have a root, a third, and a fifth (examples – C is spelled C E G and A is spelled A C# E). Minor triads have a root, a flat third, and a fifth (examples – Amin is spelled A C E and Emin is spelled E G B). Memorize these nine chords and you will be on your way to understanding the other chords you’ll be encountering later.