The most powerful and most used progression in music is dropping a 5th in the root. Anyone has merely to play a Dominant chord of a key followed by the 1st chord or Tonic of that key to understand why the monks of Europe in the Dark Ages named the 5th chord of a key Dominant. It is an inherent rule of music that the Dominant chord leads to the Tonic. Anyone can hear the settling of the tone center when this particular chord change is played.
For this particular example of chord substitution I’m going to use an E7 going to an A7 resolving to a Dmaj7. The A7 chord in this progression is going to be substituted by an Eb7 chord which is the same chord type an augmented 4th away in the root. You can hear in the example that this is a pleasing similar sound. I don’t know why this works but it does. It also happens that the 3rd’s and 7th’s of the A7 and the Eb7 are the same notes reversed in position, making the different chords quite alike. What you can realized out of this harmonic device is a chromatically descending chord progression that is different from the cycle of 5th’s with the same amount of solidity and power. When using this device you must adjust the chords to reflect the notes of the melody that are happening when the chord substitution is being played.
Chemical Reaction, I’m feeling kind of hot
Chemical Reaction, You know I just can’t stop
‘Cuz you’re looking kind of sexy
And whatever comes I will
Chemical Reaction, I just can’t get my fill
When I see you walking down the street
I see you talking to the people that you meet
I want to tell you that I love you
But I can’t get up the nerve
The nerve, the nerve, the nerve
To say it’s so
There is so much to think about when discussing chord progressions it boggles the mind.
A good starting point in understanding chord progressions is the flow inherent in most any musical piece. Fast or slow, happy or sad, poignant or ludicrous, rebellious or patriotic each tune is built around defining the flow of the piece reflected in style, tempo, rhythmic and harmonic structure.
There are two basic overall rhythmic flow types in music: vertical and horizontal. A good example of vertical music would be a John Philips Sousa march where the rhythm is defined by micro stops in time enforced by emphasis. A good example of horizontal music would be a Bill Evans ballad that magically floats thru time and space. Most tunes are somewhere in between.
Musical compositions are based on establishing a tonal center, going away from it, coming back to it. How you do this is dictated by the style of music and the level of the composer/arranger. There are 3 basic types of harmonic chordal progression: diatonic scale motion (Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7,etc.), cycle of fifthing (C7,F7, Bb7, Eb7, etc.) and going from relative major to relative minor (Cmaj7 – Am7). You must remember that these progression types have been noted in a simplified manner. The amount of sophistication, creativity and inventiveness that can be applied is endless. The goal of jazz progressions is to proceed fluidly forward with no effort.
When I was a young person I was always amazed by anyone who could play anything. Since I didn’t know a lot about the technical, theoretical end of music I was easily impressed by anything that sounded good to my untrained ears. I didn’t realize that that was as far as most people took it, they just liked it or they didn’t and that was all there was to it.
I wanted to play and I wanted to be good but I didn’t know how. What happened, because I didn’t understand how or why, is that I placed myself in a position of un-understanding which hindered my musical growth for many years. I hadn’t been shown and I wasn’t a savant. I lacked a good music education and my musical growth suffered until I came in contact with competent teachers who had experience and knowledge.
It took me the longest time to start writing drum parts. How could I do that? I wasn’t a drummer. It wasn’t until I asked Bill Muha, a drummer in one of my bands, for advice and he told me that drumming really clicked for him when he finally got the basic swing beat. In 4/4 time the snare on 1 & 3, the bass drum on 2 & 4 and the ride cymbal on 1, the and of 2 and 4. I went home and wrote that rhythm into my Finale software program and played it back. Lo and behold my understanding clicked. Here was a rhythmic flow defined by a combination of 3 simple parts. Granted this isn’t the end all of drumming but it allowed me to open my mind and place my feet on solid ground to proceed forward. Thanks Bill.
As I lay here softly sleeping lost within a dream
Love is always everything it seems
The moon floating so prettily, it sets my spirit free
When I dream this dream of you and me
Stardust keeps on falling on the two of us entwined
Is this really you or just my mind
Am I merely dreaming or are you dreaming this dream too
Is this shining vision really you
I wake up in the morning wipe the stardust from my eyes
Can you just imagine my surprise
Lying there so lovely is this dream I’ve dreamed come true
When I look across our bed at you
Then I see that smile upon your face
Laughter, tears filled with beaming grace
Suddenly a shooting star appears
I draw you near, so near
Music – the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.
Noise – random or unpleasant sound.
Playing music for the trained musician is manipulating patterns in sound. The patterns manifest themselves in melodies, bass lines, rhythmic figures and harmonic structures. The ways that these components fit together are many and varied. It is interesting to note that the basic rules of music theory aren’t man made ideas, they are the result of people listening to what sound does with itself and were compiled over many years.
There are savant players, but for many of us musical freedom is achieved through an intense study of scales, bass lines, chord changes and rhythms until we start seeing the inherent patterns in music and can start to extrapolate upon them and come up with new ways to play within the system.
We can insert uncommon musical patterns into tunes as long as we do it properly. In general it is done by going out of the norm and coming back in. In most types of music there is a tone center which must be dealt with and genre considerations.
Listen to the blues lick and note the descending whole tone scale fit in where it normally should not be. It fits because it is a pattern within itself and is properly resolved back into the blues structure.
People often wonder where the “Blues” came from and how it came about. Here’s the story that makes the most sense to me. It seems a curious blending of Western and African culture.
In Western music the scales within the octave are divided by whole tones and half tones, in African music the scales are divided by whole tones, half tones and quarter tones. The end result is different levels of tension within the music. The foundation of Western harmony is the major scale. There is a similar scale in African music where the 3rd and 7th tones of the scale are a quarter tone flat. The result is the 3rd and 7th intervals of the scale aren’t major or minor intervals, they are in between. This scale is not playable on a piano or most Western instruments without the “bent” note.
Eventually some person who was brought over to America as a slave found themselves on a piano. They knew the scale they wanted to play but it wasn’t on the instrument. The closest they could come was playing a major chord in the left hand and playing a minor third in the melody with the right. The missing note still was not there, it was implied. This is the essence of the blues sound. The African 7th was implied by playing the 1st chord of the key as a Dominant 7 and not the Major 7th chord of classical harmony. This is also the essence of the blues sound. The musical style would not have occurred without the crossing of the cultures.
The first use of the word blue in describing a feeling in song lyrics happened in England in about 1720. The first time a blues was written down on staff paper happened in New Orleans in about 1910. The person who did the transcription was a Neapolitan who had been in the country about 6 weeks.
Elvis Presley, American Roll & Roll icon, began playing guitar at a young age. It is said that he was taught by Brother Frank Smith, a young black minister at the First Assembly of God Church in Tupelo, though Brother Frank notes that Elvis already had a guitar method book when he first came in contact with him. It is also said that Brother Frank taught Elvis the A,D and E chords which were needed to play “Old Shep”, a tune that a very young Elvis learned and eventually sang at his first public performance, a Mississippi State Fair talent show. Elvis had relatives who played and undoubtedly he was shown things about playing by them.
As a player Elvis was not a guitar player’s player. At least publically he played simple chords and that’s about it. Elvis was a huge influence on the world of guitars by being such a great performer with a guitar in his hands. The popularity of the instrument skyrocketed with his rise to fame.
In 1958 my parents told me that I was going to take music lessons and that I could pick any instrument aside from the drums. I narrowed it down to the trumpet or the guitar and Elvis tipped the scale. It was the case for so many kids of my generation.
In 1993, in Detroit, I got a new student who happened to be an 8 year old black child. His name was Michael Bembury and he turned out to be a guitar prodigy. Michael played his first show after 5 lessons and continued to bring the house down thru my long association with him. At his first lesson I asked him why he wanted to play the guitar and he told me Elvis Presley.
It goes without saying that practice makes perfect. Practice will even improve natural talent and when it is coupled with consistent lessons with a knowledgeable teacher the only limit is the inherent ability of the student.
It is important when learning an instrument and how to play that the student comes in contact with the best teacher available as soon as possible. One should not think that it is a good idea to get comfortable with the instrument and learn a few things on their own and then get an instructor. Unless you are one of those very few people, people who are born with the ability to play as in being a savant, you end up doing more damage to your playing then you realize. First impressions are very strong both physically and mentally, especially in matters of technique. It can take the student six months to correct an incorrect first impression experience on an instrument.
Even savants would benefit from being shown how to properly physically approach an instrument as far as hand and body position. What feels naturally comfortable is not always the best way. In your everyday life you don’t hold your hands and body in a manner conducive for playing. You need to be shown and allow your hands and body to open up to the correct physical positions. Eventually you will adopt your own particular playing style though it is really best to wait until you have mastered the “proper” way to play before you start making personal technique decisions.
The Old Man
I would like to take a minute and remember and tell a story about Detroit jazz guitarist Robert Lowe. If I’m recalling correctly the first time I saw Robert play was at the Pretzel Bowl in Highland Park in the Lyman Woodard band in the early 70’s.
A few years later I went into the Detroit Community Music School to teach and was informed that I had a new student at 2 o’clock that afternoon. You can just imagine my surprise when at 2 o’clock Robert Lowe walked into my lesson room and told me he had come to learn how to read music.
I asked him where he needed to start and he told me at the very beginning, he couldn’t read a single note. So I got him a copy of the Joe Fava Guitar Method Vol.1 and we started on the 1st string with the notes E, F and G, whole notes, half notes and quarter notes. He had always played everything by ear.
Needless to say it became immediately apparent at the beginning of his 2nd lesson that he had spent absolutely no time practicing his reading. I made sure he understood the material and then we jammed for the remainder of the lesson. This pattern continued until his 4th lesson.
He walked into the room with a big black book of hand written charts and told me that the real reason he was in my room was that he had gotten a gig backing up Nancy Wilson and couldn’t read the material. He asked me if I would help him by reading and playing the music which he planned to memorize the sound of as I played it. So that is what we did. I never asked him how the gig went.
I was deeply affected by Robert’s passing and still remember his amazing thumb and ever present smile.
Robert Abate, Ron English, Robert Lowe – Recorded at the Guitar Summit 2004