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Kirk Lorange

The power of chord tones 1

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Click here for Part 2.

Here is a quick demo of the power of knowing the chords to a piece of music ... knowing them inside and out, all over the fretboard... seeing the whole fretboard as 'the chord'. This is the progression I used in one of my fingerstyle lessons, in fact I've used the very same mp3 as a backing track. If you'd like to try this out, you can download the mp3 from that page.

As you probably know by now, when I improvise melody over a piece of music, I don't think scales. I would have very little success creating a solo over anything thinking scales. That's not to say that others can't ... but I wouldn't know where to begin thinking along those lines, especially in a piece like this that introduces a bunch of 'outside chords' into the picture --- chords not in the key of G. Once that happens, you would need to start thinking of different scales and modes for different sections and then somehow merging them into melody. Way too hard for my poor old brain. The fact is though, the chords of the piece have already, by their very nature, selected the strongest melody notes: their tones ... the notes that make them up... Chord Tones.

It doesn't matter how many 'outside' chords come into play if you're tracking the music one chord at a time, and you can see its tones scattered the length of the fretboard instead of boxed in scale patterns. One way or the other, you need to think of something, and since you need to know the chords anyway, why clutter your brain with a whole other set of patterns? Not only that ... if you were to come up with a nice melodic solo thinking scales, you would find if you analyzed the lines that they would in fact be mostly chord tones. Why? Because Melody Loves Chord Tones. That's simply the nature of music, that's how it works. If it's melody you're seeking, look to the chords, not the scales.

This demo is certainly not meant to be an award winning melodic extravaganza! I purposely played only chord tones so you can hear that they work, they're right, they don't clash with anything, they fit ... I did this so you can see that it is possible to, first of all, see them there for each chord, and that once you can see them there, that they can strung into melody that isn't just plucking notes from a chord. In other words, playing just chord tones needn't be boring. Most of the chords used in this have 4 or more chord tones to work with.

I used my index finger to make it a little clearer for you, and also to show that muscle-memorized runs and riffs aren't coming into this. I'm hunting the chord tones down ... seeing them and stringing them together as I go, thinking a little ahead so I know which chord is coming up, hearing the evolving melody in my head, steering it to a pleasant resolve ... listening, steering, listening.

You can take my word for it that all notes played are chord tones ... or you can pick it all apart and see for yourself. If the chord is a plain old major, I use the 1-3-5 of that chord; if it's 7th, the 1-3-5-b7; 9th? 1-3-5-b7-9; minor? 1-b3-5; minor 6? 1-b3-5-6 ... etc. The melodies are simply the result of stringing those chord tones together ... timing, dynamics, taste also come into it, of course, but the choice of notes is dictated by the 'chord of the moment' ... not the 'blues scale'.

Seeing them there is the trick, and I won't tell you how I do that. My book/DVD PlaneTalk explains and demonstrates that trick ... it's very simple, but takes a lot of work putting it into practice. Once you digest it, though, you can see the entire fretboard as a chord, and no chord is trickier than any other .... they're all the same, all friendly, all familiar.

If I were playing a proper solo to this, I wouldn't restrict myself to just chord tones ... you'd hear a few--and I do mean a few--non chord tones in amongst it all, adding detail to the picture. They are a piece of cake to see and use once you can see the chord tones ... they are, of course, other scale notes and chromatic scale notes (thinking 'modes' become redundant ... I'm playing all kinds of modes in this without once thinking about them) ... in other words ALL 12 notes become easy to use once you can see and use the CTs. They can link two CTs together, or add tension if lingered upon, generally embellish and add color to the CT melody that lies at the core of it all.

The progression is:

| G - - - | - - - - |G7 - - - | - - - - | C - - - | - - - - | Cm - - - | Cm6 - - - |
| G - - - | E7 - - - | A7 - - - | D7 - - - | G - - - | Edim - Am7-5 - | G - - - |

I hope this helps you understand the power of knowing your chords! If you know your chords well enough, you know all scales and modes also.

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That was great Kirk. I have my students do things like that all the time. By restricting yourself to only chord tones and only using one finger you can really learn alot. I even sometimes restrict them to to only one or two srings to make it even more challenging. Telling them they can only use the 4th finger really gets you some blank stares.

I hope this helps you understand the power of knowing your chords! If you know your chords well enough, you know all scales and modes also.

I would have to say this is a bit of a stretch however. Not trying to bring up the old debate about which is better, scales or chords. I would like to think we are in agreement about the power of chord tones.:winkthumb:

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Great demo Kirk - and thinking of a chord as spanning the full length of the fretboard is a brilliant concept. It includes EVERY possible shape within that 'super chord'. It makes something which to most people is vague and indefinite, very definite and precise.:claping:

When soloing you add passing notes between those chord tones as decorative 'icing on the cake' - adding colour and flavour.

My question is: How do you decide which passing notes to play. For example, Let's say a G major is being played and you are playing the note G as a melody note. The chord changes to C, and you decide to move to the chord note 'E' - but you want to include a passing note between G and E. which will be either F or F#.

The one that will sound most 'natural' (for want of a better word) will depend on the key. If you're in the key of G, the expected passing note would be F# but if you're in the key of C the expected passing note would be F natural - (unless you want a chromatic flavour and then you'd use the unexpected one). But in either case you would have to know which one will produce which effect.

So, apart from being aware of the chords played at any time, are you also keeping an eye on the key? Or do you feel the passing notes 'by ear' and anticipate whether the best one will be a semitone or whole tone away from the note you're currently playing (or going to)? However you do it, it always sounds natural and inventive.

The only confusing part of the video is that I thought you were a fair dinkum Aussie - but you sure didn't sound like I expected.:confused:

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Hi Fretsource,

I will add my 2 cents here. A passing tone connects 2 notes that are a whole step apart.

What you are asking about is a scale tone choice. This is where a knowledge of keys comes in handy. As you stated, in the key of G the F# would be a better choice. In the key of C the F would be a better choice.

In some music you have only one chord for an extended period of time. This is when a

knowledge of how different notes work to create different flavors come into play. If you have one chord like Ami for instance, do you play F of F#? How about B or Bb?

Ah the joys of studying music. You spend years in the practice room to learn these things but on the bandstand you ultimately just want to trust your ears and hope everthing you have worked on will come out in the wash.

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Hi Bob

Sorry to disagree, but we seem to have a difference of definition regarding passing tones. My definition of a passing tone is a non chord tone situated between two chord tones often separated by a third - much more commonly than just a whole step. And I think that definition also conforms to how Kirk uses the term too.

Anyway, as you said "If you have one chord like Ami for instance, do you play F of F#? How about B or Bb?"

That's what I would like to hear from Kirk - how he decides - or your good self Bob, or anyone else in a position to give a meaningful answer.

As for me, most of my improvising is acoustic fingerstyle so I'm always playing the chords too - and usually I let my ear remind me which key I'm in, rather than being constantly conscious of it, especially if it modulates. But I also keep an eye on any mode that the song might be written in. The A minor example going to F or F# is good. A lot of local folk music that I play here is in the Dorian mode (of A) - so I often have to play F# and G natural, F natural would sound wrong in a lot of those dorian mode melodies, despite it being the more 'natural' choice for songs in the key of A minor

I know this is a different concept from lead soloing with modes within a major or minor key. A lot of the music I play is modal in origin and uses modal chord progressions, such as with dorian mode songs, always playing D major in the key of A minor rather than D minor.

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You guys won't regret it. It's excellent. The DVD's excellent. The forum is awesome.

:winkthumb:

Thanks that is just the feelgood factor I needed after signing my life away and taking the plunge to get a credit card just for this for the first time in my 30 odd years. In fact I am now going to rip it up!!!!!

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I would have to say this is a bit of a stretch however. Not trying to bring up the old debate about which is better, scales or chords. I would like to think we are in agreement about the power of chord tones.:winkthumb:

Not for me, Bob. As I say, once you really really know your chords, you know all 12 notes ... all 12 notes encompass all scales, and classifying them by sorting them into scales becomes redundant. They're all eligible where it comes to making melody ... why omit some of them by forcing others into scales? In my mind, there's a heirarchy of notes at all moments: chord tones are boss notes; the other scale notes are secondary; the remaining few are tertiary. They can all be used ... scales are restricting, I don't want to feel restricted when I'm creating a solo.

So, apart from being aware of the chords played at any time, are you also keeping an eye on the key? Or do you feel the passing notes 'by ear' and anticipate whether the best one will be a semitone or whole tone away from the note you're currently playing (or going to)? However you do it, it always sounds natural and inventive.

Yes, Fretsource, I'm always acutely aware of the key, and the chord within the key I'm playing over. That tells me which passing tones will be appropriate. I've found over the years that if you can 'see' the I-IV-V chords together on the fretboard, they automatically display the underlying scale ... so I'm actually seeing the scale, but via chords, and seeing everything in the context of that moment in the tune. Outside chords are tracked separately, but always with the mother key in mind. These details very quickly sort themselves out once you can really see those chord tones.

Also: I see the seven related chords as 'potential' extended chords ... in other words I see the I chord as a potential maj7; the IV as a potential maj7/#4; the V as a potential dom7th; the three minors as potential min7ths ... So I'm seeing those non-chord-tones as potential chord tones ... if you see what I mean. It sounds much more complicated that it is once you get the full view of the 'super-chord', as you put it so well.

Also: when you're actually improvising lines, if in doubt as to which of the two or three 'in between' notes to use, you can feel them all out by playing a chromatic run and testing the water, so to speak. Chromatic runs are always permissible ... you just need to get the timing right.

Even though I'm an Australian citizen now, I'm Canadian by birth, and I never lost my Canuck accent.

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Sorry to disagree, but we seem to have a difference of definition regarding passing tones. My definition of a passing tone is a non chord tone situated between two chord tones often separated by a third - much more commonly than just a whole step. And I think that definition also conforms to how Kirk uses the term too.

You are right, that would be the classical definition of a passing tone. I prefer to think in terms of passing tones as notes out of the key, hence my definition. It makes it easier for me keep track of things that way.

I use chord tones, scales tones and passing tones as my own personal distinctions.

The A minor example going to F or F# is good. A lot of local folk music that I play here is in the Dorian mode (of A) - so I often have to play F# and G natural, F natural would sound wrong in a lot of those dorian mode melodies, despite it being the more 'natural' choice for songs in the key of A minor

I know this is a different concept from lead soloing with modes within a major or minor key.

I don't know. If I understand you correctly it's exactly the same.

why omit some of them by forcing others into scales?

How does a scale force you to omit notes? You still have access to all 12 notes. Chromatic passages are still available.

They can all be used ... scales are restricting, I don't want to feel restricted when I'm creating a solo.

Scales are just scales. They are not restricting in and of themselves.

Kirk, I don't think that our approach is that different. I think chords first as well. I don't think about modes and scales during a solo. My whole point of view on scales gets down to this.

1. They are great technique builders when practiced in combinations. Not just up and down scales.

2. They help train the ear.

3. They give you a systematic way to explore some of the color tones, especially in a modal context.

4. They contain all of the chords you are talking about. Practicing the harmonized scale is a great to learn chord melody playing and to play lines in harmony and learn the fretboard.

If you were to sit on on one of my lessons you would see heavy emphasis on knowing where the chord tones are located.

At the same time, there are places where a scale is stylistically called for. They don't call it the blues scale for nothing. Some scales are nothing but chord tones. The pentatonic scale is 1 2 3 5 6. A triad plus the 6th and 9th.

How about the altered scale, melodic minor starting on the 7th for altered dominant chords. Consider B7 altered.

B C D Eb F G A B

1 b9 #9 3 b5 #5 b7 1

All the main chord tones plus all the possible alterations. How can having more knowledge and ways of looking at things be restricting?

If I would have heard you play and I didn't know anything about you, PT or any of these discussions I would have thought, what a great player. In fact, I still have that thought. It would never have occurred to me to think, this guys a chord player.

I just listen to guitar players and I like them or I don't for different reasons. If a guy happens to play a one octave scale I don't put him on a box and say, oh the guys a scale player. I love Larry Carlton, he has a strong chord on chord approach to playing but I love Pat Martino as well. He is a very linear player.

I have never argued against your approach, even though you may have taken it that way. I thought this lesson was brilliant. In fact, out of all the lessons you have done, this is my favorite. It was very easy to see exactly what you were doing. The people here are lucky to have your insights and lessons.

I guess I am just trying to say there are many ways to think about things. The options are there for those that want to explore them.

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When you say the chord progression is ... g---|c--- etc (not the real example), does this mean those are the chord notes you are playing? Well what I'm asking is what exactly would that mean when you say the chord progression is as above.

I'm so used to playing whole chord strums, that when I see that I think it means to play those chords as in a 4/4 beat or something. Could you please clear that up for me. Thank you.

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When you say the chord progression is ... g---|c--- etc (not the real example), does this mean those are the chord notes you are playing? Well what I'm asking is what exactly would that mean when you say the chord progression is as above.

I'm so used to playing whole chord strums, that when I see that I think it means to play those chords as in a 4/4 beat or something. Could you please clear that up for me. Thank you.

I think you need to read the lesson again, randomaire, I couldn't explain it any better a second time around. Just stop thinking of chords as things you need to strum, they can be disassembled into single notes. :winkthumb:

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Maybe I'm just confused with the whole 1-3-5 and all that.. ok maybe I need to back up and find out more about the I and II and IV etc.

And I would guess from what was said above that you are just using the notes on the chords in different positions of the fretboard to put together a tune.. I would guess that progression is what you're thinking of when you picked those notes, if not I apologize, I'm just not following to well... I'll have to learn more.

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I've played it a hundred times - still can't reconcile the BT with the chord chart ... got no hope of improvising over it if I can't hear the chord changes etc properly. Hmmm, wonder if I'd be any better at bowls? lol

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I've played it a hundred times - still can't reconcile the BT with the chord chart ... got no hope of improvising over it if I can't hear the chord changes etc properly. Hmmm, wonder if I'd be any better at bowls? lol

Have you looked at the original lesson, Ian? That Cm6 is probably better written as Cm/A ... the A being the 6.

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Thanks for the explanation regarding how you choose passing tones, Kirk. That makes a lot of sense. If you always see the I IV V chord notes, then you are automatically seeing the whole scale anyway, but in a more useful 'order' than simply in order of pitch as is the case with scales, because it also tells you something of their harmonic function.

Also, seeing the chords, not just as they are presented in a song but as potential extensions, gives you access to extra chord notes, all of which will be harmonically sound. I'm glad you liked my term "super chord" - I even impressed myself when I wrote it:smartass: Feel free to use it.

So, I see definite and very significant advantages in your method over the more traditional scale approach. But the voice of reason within me says, there may also be certain advantages in the scale approach to improvising too, and I'll spend the next few days trying to think of some and considering some of the points raised by Bob and others.

I think we all agree that scales have other uses. They have both theoretical and technical value.

In theory: Arranging sets of notes in order of pitch according to a strict pattern of whole/half steps allows for easy comparison between other 'sets' and it makes transposing between keys simple. Referring to the major scale is also the simplest way to build chords.

Technically: Scales provide great practice material for training accurate finger placement and efficient finger movement, within a musical context. i.e., training the fingers to move in ways that will be constantly encountered in real music.

Bob - I'm not quite sure myself what I meant about my using modes differently to how they're used within major and minor keys. It's just that being stuck somewhere around the 17th century, I often hear them being talked about in rock and jazz contexts in a way that I never use them. For example, a song is in the key of C major and the current chord happens to be D minor. I will improvise using (mostly) the C major scale and my ear will guide me to emphasise the notes that work best while the D minor is sounding. Kirk will use the chord tones of D minor with passing notes as required - but there are others who'll talk about using the D dorian mode over the D minor chord. Sure, it will work, as the notes are exactly the same as C major's notes but starting on D. But it's really just the notes of the C major scale with a fancy name. Then they move on to another 'mode' when the chord changes again.

This is very different to a song which is actually written in the dorian mode such as Scarborough Fair. The minor third and raised sixth degree give a distinct flavour throughout the song, recognisable as 'dorian'. I might start a new thread on this subject as I'd like to explore it further.

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Bob - I'm not quite sure myself what I meant about my using modes differently to how they're used within major and minor keys. It's just that being stuck somewhere around the 17th century, I often hear them being talked about in rock and jazz contexts in a way that I never use them. For example, a song is in the key of C major and the current chord happens to be D minor. I will improvise using (mostly) the C major scale and my ear will guide me to emphasise the notes that work best while the D minor is sounding. Kirk will use the chord tones of D minor with passing notes as required - but there are others who'll talk about using the D dorian mode over the D minor chord. Sure, it will work, as the notes are exactly the same as C major's notes but starting on D. But it's really just the notes of the C major scale with a fancy name. Then they move on to another 'mode' when the chord changes again.

Thinking in modes as the chords change is a very clunky and ineffecient way to think about things IMHO. I have never advocated that and never will. Playing chord to chord is by far superior and easier to use. In fact, most of the players I know center around chord tones. Check out any great jazz solo and you will see that this has been going on for a long time.

In fact, check out Bach and other composers and you will see this has been going on for hundreds of years.

There are times however, in which one scale can work over a series of chords and can produce a different set of note choices. Larry Carlton does this a lot with the blues scale.

As far as modal playing goes that is a different topic altogether. You have to find ways to be interesting over one chord. If you check out some of the jazz greats you will find then implying chords where non exist as a way to create harmonic movement and interest. As you said, this is a different topic altogether.

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In fact, check out Bach and other composers and you will see this has been going on for hundreds of years.

Good point, Bob. Bach is probably is probably the ultimate example of the power of chord tones. It also highlights the fact that in classical guitar and other instruments, arpeggios have always been considered as important as scales in the development of technique and musicianship.

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... I see definite and very significant advantages in your method over the more traditional scale approach. But the voice of reason within me says, there may also be certain advantages in the scale approach to improvising too, and I'll spend the next few days trying to think of some and considering some of the points raised by Bob and others.

Whatever way gets you there is the way to go, Fretsource. All I'm doing here is showing how I go about it, and it works a treat for me ... for those who are having trouble with scales, give it a whirl. There is no one way where it comes to making music; the only thing that matters in the end is the music itself: is it nice to listen to? does it do something to you? are you moved when you hear it? do you want to hear it again? The fact is, I am playing scales! I'm just doing it from the chord out. I do wind up using all scale notes, but I'm seeing them differently ... I'm seeing them in the context of each moment. I'm also seeing and using the other notes that aren't in the scale, that are in the 'background' chromatic scale. That's why I find the idea of just scales restricting, especially the pentatonics.

I think we all agree that scales have other uses. They have both theoretical and technical value.

In theory: Arranging sets of notes in order of pitch according to a strict pattern of whole/half steps allows for easy comparison between other 'sets' and it makes transposing between keys simple. Referring to the major scale is also the simplest way to build chords.

Of course. To become proficient, you should know everything about music, and the major scale is the main blueprint. Know it and know it well. It is the master template, the reference for all notes; it is the Mother of all Music.

Technically: Scales provide great practice material for training accurate finger placement and efficient finger movement, within a musical context. i.e., training the fingers to move in ways that will be constantly encountered in real music

I personally have never practiced playing scales ... I've always preferred real music, real melody, real context. The danger, to my mind, in practicing them is that you will begin using them as improvisation, as melody. That's great in certain kinds of music, or if you like the sound of it, but not if it's melody you're seeking. Whenever I do want to play a scale based line in my improv ... I do! It's not as if it's one or the other ... I see ALL scales via chords and either use them or not.

Again though, that's just my opinion. I'm just passing on what works for me. I'm not out to debate anyone on this.

Bob, this thread is all about chord tones. I didn't go to all the trouble of making the movies and writing the explanations to have it all picked apart here. I know you like pentatonics, and that you've written a book about them, and you're free to discuss them and hopefully demonstrate them to prove your points, but start a new thread if you don't mind. :winkthumb:

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Hi Kirk

Great lesson on Chord Tones.

I'm waiting for delivery of PlaneTalk. Also your DVD on slide guitar.

Do you have the tune you where playing in grp tabs or the like?

Thanks for this lesson.

John Hoita

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