…built upon the same four notes,
Other notes are bound to follow but not far from those four notes,
Now the new notes are the consequence of the ones we’ve just been through,
And you get more structure in your solo using just those few.
There’s so many people who can play and play and play, and just say nothing,
Or nearly nothing…
Apologies to Jobim (btw did you know he wrote the English lyrics to One-Note Samba but not the Portuguese ones?)
We had the great flautist Gareth Lockrane down to play recently, and I got chatting to one of his students outside over a smoke. The student was telling me about a practice exercise that Gareth teaches, and I reckon it’s a very good one.
I’m not sure exactly how Gareth teaches it, but I imagine it’s something along these lines.
Basically, you take a tune and pick four scale tones from the starting chord. Solo only on those – nothing more. Then as each chord change comes up, make the minimal necessary adjustment to those four notes to fit the new chord. Semitone shifts are best, with maybe the occasional shift of a tone, but no more than that. Oh, and don’t double notes in octaves…
Stay in the same range as your first inversion and aim to get back to where you started. Then try the same thing but starting with a different inversion of your four little notes.
Start by strictly adhering to a set chord chart – it’s not as easy as you may think… Then explore the options available for minimal adjustments when you use different types of dominant chords. Then various upper structures involving 9ths, 11ths and 13ths and substitutions.
It’s a great way to absorb harmony, apply it with precision and understanding, open up the way you think of chords and the linkages between them, allowing you to flow through the changes and – crucially for beginners – to get away from root-note bias.
You can apply similar thinking with complete scales as well, which works particularly well with a certain kind of semi-modal tune that obstinately defies traditional analysis. See Modus Operandi.
Check out Gareth’s big band – it’s a killer…