Tag Archives: Minor scale

Out of Stitt’s Brain

I’ve recently completed this transcription of Sonny Stitt’s solo on “Out of Nowhere” from his Last Sessions LP. It’s one of the many tunes that I should have known years ago but only recently learned. I transcribed Sonny’s interpretation of the melody as well as his two chorus improvisation. The fingering should allow you to get close to the original phrasing, which is why, for example, in measure 53 there is a sudden jump up from position II to XII.
Rather than analyze the entire solo, here are some highlights that I found particularly interesting. There is a lot to learn from transcribing a solo, from phrasing to feel to interpretation and scale choice.

MM.24- This lick is difficult on guitar but it sounds great and the sudden drop of a fifth is very cool. Also, after this point Stitt begins to mix up the octaves that he uses to play the melody, jumping up and then back down and using melodic fills to move around. Overall his statement of the melody is loose and peppered with short licks in between the important melodic passages. While the original melody covers a ninth, from D below the staff to E an octave up, Sonny’s version covers an octave plus a sixth, from D below middle C up to the B above middle C.
MM.36- The break is what made me want to transcribe this solo. It’s such a great use of the minor pentatonic where many other players would tend to use some sort of D7 lick. The repetition of the Bb contrasts with the B on beat one of the form, when Stitt outlines the G triad from the third up.
MM.40- It’s clear from looking at the lines in measures 40-41, 56-57, 72-73, and 88-89 that Stitt is thinking of the ii-V in Ab as a Bbmin7 chord. He never really outlines the Eb7, completely avoiding the third (G, the tonic of the overall key) in every case. Also, the way that he transitions back to the tonic key with double chromatic enclosures in measures 41, 57, and 89 is ingenious. In all cases he uses two notes that are diatonic to the Ab scale to enclose a chord tone from G. What a great way to employ chromaticism diatonically!
MM42- I always learn something new when I transcribe. I never would have thought to treat the G chord in measure 5 of the first eight as a G7, especially considering the F# in the melody, but that’s exactly what Stitt does and it sounds great.
MM.50- Thanks to my student Ben Collins for showing me that you can slow a Youtube video down to half speed! He also helped to transcribe this lick when my ear was failing me. Mastering the double time licks in this solo is not easy. You will need to pay close attention to your right hand technique and decide for yourself where you want to slur. I like to slur as little as possible to maintain clarity. Note that the lick in measure 52 starts out the same as the one in measure 50 except it is down a half step, missing the first note, and is not in double time. I put the octave slide here in measure 53 to reflect the way that Sonny does it on the tenor.

MM.66- Although the changes here are iii – biii dim – ii – V, which is a very common chord progression in standard tunes, Sonny outlines a iii – bIII – ii – bII and quotes a bit of the Charlie Parker tune “Ornithology”. Both sets of changes get you back to the tonic efffectively.

MM.70- Guitarists know that playing the same note on two different strings yields a different tone. Saxophonists also have alternate fingerings for certain notes and Stitt bounces back and forth between two different B notes here. If you refuse to use open strings then catch this on the G and D strings.
MM92- This is another difficult lick. I found that in order to smoothly execute the sixteenth note Bmin arpeggios I had to play them all as an upstroke sweep. You might try down-up-up-up, but that didn’t work for me.

MM100- For some reason I didn’t learn how to effectively wrap up a solo until way after college. I guess it was when I started recording and realized that all of my solos just stopped without any resolution. Sonny Stitt uses a nice major pentatonic (mostly) lick to close out two choruses of great improvising.

When learning this solo, remember that you are copying someone else’s phrasing and feel. Work on playing along with the recording. If you just try to learn the licks off the page without listening to the record, you are completely missing the point. Good luck, have fun, and when you’re done, find another solo to transcribe on your own! It’s enjoyable and educational!

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Pentatonic Soup

Many years ago I made a diagram of parallel Major and minor pentatonic scales for a student who was working on improvising on an A blues. It’s worth looking over because there are many times when switching from Major to minor pentatonic is useful, such as on blues tunes or over funky or soulful I-IV chord progressions. I often use minor blues or pentatonic ideas on turnarounds in Major keys.

Major vs minor pentatonic – A

Read left to right to see the two fingerings for Maj and min that are overlapping with each other. The two scales only have two notes out of five in common.

Read top to bottom on one column to learn all of the fingerings for Maj or min pentatonic. Note that the fingerings are the same but the pitches are different relative to the tonic.

Pentatonic scales are extremely useful and can be applied in some very creative ways, but the first thing to know about them is that the Major pentatonic is 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 while the minor is 1, b3, 4, 5, b7. So in C that would be C D E G A and C Eb F G Bb respectively. The scales can also be thought of as being relative instead of parallel. F Ab Bb C Eb spells F minor pentatonic while Ab Bb C Eb F spells Ab Major.

A simple way to look at the pentatonic scales is that the Major pentatonic works well with Major chords because it contains a major triad (1 3 5) plus two notes that are not very dissonant to the triad (2 and 6). It is basically a Major 6/9 arpeggio and sounds good with Maj7, 6, or Dom7 chords. A great deal of country, bluegrass, rock, folk, and swing melodic material can be traced back to Maj pentatonic. Add some chromatics and you can sound really hip! The minor pentatonic works well over minor chords because it contains a min7 chord (1 b3 5 b7) plus the 4th. It’s also commonly used over major blues progressions in electric blues and rock. It’s safe to say that the minor pentatonic scale is the basic scale for rock improvisation, though it is worth noting that virtually every great rock soloist has a musical vocabulary that is greater than just the minor pentatonic. Even Stevie!

A more sophisticated way of looking at pentatonics is to view them as a pitch set and think about what chords they could potentially be used with, and what extension and chord tones they imply as a result.

Examples over a C root

D E F# A B                  2 3 #4 6 7         Maj7 with a 9 and b5/#11     CMaj9(#11), Cmaj9(b5)

G A B D E                   5 6 7 2 3             Maj9 with a 6                            CMaj9(13)

C D E G A                  1 2 3 5 6             Maj triad with 6 and 9                C9, CMaj9, C6/9

F G A C D                  4 5 6 1 2             Sus4 with a 6 and 9                   Cmin6/9, Cmin(Maj9), Cmin13, Csus4

Bb C D F G                b7 1 2 4 5           7sus4 with a 9                           Cmin9, C9sus4

Eb F G Bb C              b3 4 5 b7 1         min7 with a 4                            Cmin7(11)

Gb Ab Bb Db Eb       b5 b6 b7 b2 b3   altered 9ths and 5ths, b7          C7alt, C7(#/b9 #/b5)

D pentatonic implies C Lydian.

G pentatonic implies C Major.

C pentatonic is typical for chords based on a C triad

D min (F) pentatonic over a Cmin chord implies C dorian.

G min (Bb) pentatonic is a great way to get a Cmin9 sound.

C min (Eb) is typical for chords based on a Cmin triad.

Gb pentatonic contains all the notes of C altered except the 1 and 3. And it’s a lot easier to play!

My response to people who tell me that they are tired of pentatonics is usually to say, “You have not looked at them closely enough.” It’s amazing how new uses for old shapes will pop up again and again.

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

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.