Jim Hall, One of the Greatest

I was just telling a friend how one of the most mind-blowing things I ever saw was Jim Hall playing "All the Things You Are" solo with the melody as the bass line and he reharmonized all the chords on top. I only realized what song he was playing about midway through and my head nearly exploded. What a talent. Gone but not forgotten

Jonatha Brooke

Jonatha, yours truly and cellist Rebecca Arons

I just finished five days in the great city of Minneapolis, MN rehearsing and performing with extraordinary artist and musician Jonatha Brooke.

I've been a fan of Jonatha's since I was in college in Boston when I first heard her band The Story back in the early '90s. I've followed her career with The Story and then her solo career since then. I've been envious of some friends who have gotten to work with her over the years. And then one day the call came...

I don't mind sounding like a doe-eyed fan when I say to work with her is an actual dream come true for me.

So here is to dreams coming true.

Summer

Many of you have noticed the lack of posting for a couple months on this site and commented on it. I'm thankful that so many of you visit so frequently.

The thing is, it's Summer.

It's tough during a good week for me to get a post up on this blog as I'm a working musician which means a lot of scrambling, traveling, hustling, practicing and a generally erratic schedule. But now it's summer (admittedly, the tail end) and I've been trying to be a normal person and enjoy this time a year. I hope you are too.

Rest assured, I have a few transcriptions (Joe Zawinul, Adam Rogers), odds and ends of posts (substitutions, inversions) and ideas for video (expanding the blues, Melodic Minor substitutions) ready to go or nearly so. I just won't return to any type of regular posting until late September. But for now and the past couple months, it's been time to take a break and go outside.

Enjoy the rest of this time of year and keep practicing. I'll see you late September.

Transcription/Pentatonic Lesson: "The Song Remains the Same" Guitar Solo

The Guitar Solo That Taught Me How to Play Fast
I think my favorite Led Zeppelin record is Houses of the Holy, and part of the reason is the right-out-of-the-gate attack of track 1, "The Song Remains the Same."

Between Jimmy Page's electric 12-string chords, the thunderous sound of John Bonham's drums, and the incredibly melodic bass playing of John Paul Jones, you knew this was a band at their peak. I was hooked the first time I heard it.

Probably more importantly, as a guitar player, when I heard Page's ripping, 8-bar solo before the vocals even came in I knew I had chosen the right instrument for me.

When I first started playing guitar I didn't have the chops to play this short solo so I would try and fake it, just getting as close to it as I could. I finally just gave up until a few years later when I finally had some technique together.

When I did get it together, I realized how formative this piece of playing was. This is the solo that taught me many things, the first of which was how to play in a fast, loping style using pull-offs and hammer-ons similar in style to Bluegrass playing. 

If you're a guitar player and think of yourself as technically challenged, this solo can help you understand that with minimal effort, you can use techniques you probably already have together to play impressively long, fast lines without having to spend hours getting your right-hand chops together. Not that there's anything wrong with getting your right-hand chops together.

The second, and probably more important thing I learned from this solo was though Jimmy uses what I thought of at the time as the Blues Scale (it wasn't—just a Minor Pentatonic with one case of an added note), the sound had a Major soundD Major to be exact. 

This was a revelation to me. The idea that you could use a scale in more than the way its name implied.


A PDF is available below
To the right is the transcription and TAB for the solo, a PDF is available at the end of this post. Continuing below is an analysis and lesson on the use of the Minor Pentatonic scale and how it's the same thing as the Major Pentatonic scale, and all that implies.

If you just want the tl:dr version of this analysis and lesson, scroll to the bottom of this post. But if you want to learn how and why this all works, read on.

Minor = Major
  "The Song Remains the Same" has solo chord changes that are relatively simple—just a back-and-forth between a D Major and Dsus4 chords with the final 10 bars in basically D Minor.

Any of you with a passing knowledge of Pentatonics and keys can see that in the first 8 bars of the solo, Jimmy is using what you probably think of as a B Minor Pentatonic scale. 

But why is he using B Minor Pentatonic over D Major chords? Because they're the same thing.


Let that sink in a second. B Minor = D Major. If this is new to you, you're probably thinking, "How can that be? Aren't Major sounds and Minor sounds opposites?" Not at all. 

Music Theory Beatdown Ahead
In music theory, the relationship between B Minor and D Major is referred to as Relative Keys. So in this world, B Minor is the Relative Minor of D Major. And likewise, D Major is the Relative Major of B Minor.

With the knowledge that you can transpose keys (change them) and you'll still retain the same relationship between the notes, let's move the above example up a half-step (on the guitar that would be up one fret). 


B Minor up a half-step is C Minor and D Major up a half-step is D# Major/Eb Major (same thing). So, C Minor and Eb Major are Relative Keys—C Minor is the Relative Minor to Eb Major and Eb Major is the Relative Major to C Minor.*


Why The Hell Am I Telling You This? 

Because I'm about to make your improvising life a lot easier.

Now, if you've taken the time to learn the Minor Pentatonic scale, and then taken a little more time to learn the Major Pentaonic scale, you wasted your time because, they're the same thing.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are the notes of B Minor Pentatonic followed by the notes of D Major Pentatonic:

B Minor Pent: B D E F# A
D Major Pent: D E F# A B

See that? D Major Pentatonic has the exact same notes, just starting on a different degree of the scale.     

This not only can shake up your improvising, but if you're a songwriter or an aspiring arranger, your chord choices too.

Bottom Line It For Me
But what does that mean to you right now? If you're one of the multitude of musicians who use the Minor Pentatonic scale over everything, including over Major chords (for instance, applying D Minor Pentatonic over a D Major chord), this fact just doubled the amount of mileage you can get out of the scale you already know.

Here's the simplest way to apply it: over a Major or Dominant 7 chord, improvise using the Minor Pentatonic scale with its root (first note) a Minor 3rd, or 3 half-steps down (on a guitar that's 3 frets down) from the chord you're playing over. 


So for instance, over an A Major chord, play the F# Minor Pentatonic scale. Over a D Major Chord, play the B Minor Pentatonic—which is exactly what Jimmy is doing in "The Song Remains the Same."

Go to your instrument right now and try it. Look at where the note A is on your instrument and just go down 3 half-steps, you'll land on F#. If you can, have an A Major chord ringing and then play the F# Minor Pentatonic scale over it. Go ahead, I want you to hear that. I'll wait.

Hear it? That F# Minor Pentatonic is good for every A Major chord you come across. Likewise, over a C7 chord, play the A Minor Pentatonic scale. Over an Eb Major chord play the C Minor Pentatonic scale, and so on.

What's Going On here?
In music theory world, what you're doing is playing one of the chord scales (F# Minor Pentatonic) for the Relative Minor of its Relative Major (A Major). That's a mouthful, I know. But look, here's why it works:

 That F# Minor Pentatonic scale has 3 out of the 5 notes contained in the chord you're playing over (A Major), and two additional, cool "chord tensions" F# (the 13th) and B (the 9th). (A note that is not contained in the chord you're playing over is referred to in theory as a "tension" because it creates tension in the music and wants to resolve to one of the chord-tones (for a post and video about chord-tone soloing, click here)).

That's why that Minor Pentatonic works so well over the Major chord and this is precisely what Jimmy Page was exploiting in the transcription above.

You Said There Were Implications for Chords Too
That was the potatoes, here comes the gravy—on to the bonus material.

Without getting into chord substitution too deeply, remember when I said B Minor is the same thing as D Major? Well it works with chords too.

Now I know to your ear, you perceive a D Major chord and a B Minor Chord as being vastly different and I would agree with you, but there's something in music called Chord Substitution and there's a worked out system for it. Here's a quick example.

You can, without fear of prosecution from music fans or critics, substitute the Relative Minor chord for its Relative Major chord. For example, say you wrote a chord progression for a verse that goes:

D Major / / / |  G Major / / / | A7 / / / ||

The next time the verse comes around you want something a little different, a change of mood. You can substitute B Minor for that D Major beautifully:

B Minor / / / |  G Major / / / | A7 / / / ||

If this is new to you, try playing it right now.

Will it sound different? Of course it will but it will also work and might be a nice change of pace from your original chord progression.

So remember, the chord substitution concept works exactly the same way as the our scale application.

Wrap It Up
Get this into your playing, now. It's amazing the worlds that will open up for you when you understand this simple concept. Some of you are probably wondering if Jimmy knew about the theory behind what he was doing in his solo.

Who cares? I don't. He applied this principle, conscious or not in his killer solo because it sounded good. You can do the same thing.

Have fun with this. More Pentatonic usage to come.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

TL:DR
If the above was too much for you to read or process and you just want the tl:dr version, here it is:

Over Major chords if you want to sound good, play a Minor Pentatonic scale built on the note a Minor 3rd below the Major chord. For instance, B Minor Pentatonic over D Major chords. Why you ask? Because it sounds nice. Have a good day.


----------------------------------------------------------------------


For a PDF of the above transcribed solo,
CLICK HERE

*Here is a breakdown of every key with its Relative Major and Minor in a chart. Don't be intimidated by the circle graphic at the top right of the page, just look at the table below. It's simple and gives all the information you need.


There's a Reason Why Your Time is Bad: Blame Your Brain

I was listening to the excellent podcast Radio Lab the other day and heard something fascinating.

Karl Von Vierordt
The entire, short podcast was about peoples' perception of time, especially how it relates to Beethoven's 5th Sympohony, you know the one, the one that starts, BUH-BUH-BUH-BUUUUUUUHM...

We apparently have a bias in timing built into our circuits that affects how we perceive time. This is why we need to practice this and don't just have it together immediately.

In my two blog posts (1st one, 2nd one) and videos about playing with a metronome, I spoke in a general way about how important it is to get your time and feel together, but I didn't really question why people have bad time to start with.

Why do some people rush when they play? Why do some people drag?

Well, apparently a smart German physician named Karl von Vierordt figured this out in 1868 and even has a law (Vierordt's Law) named after him explaining the phenomenon.

The short of it is: if a tempo is below about 110bpm, you'll tend to rush and want to push it there. If a tempo is faster than about 110bpm, you'll tend to drag and want to pull it back.

Now you can blame your brain for your lousy time.

Give a listen to the podcast, it's relatively short and if you're a musician or even a fan of music it's a great listen.

100,000+ and Counting

A couple weeks ago I hit more than 100,000 unique page views to this site. Again, this thing has become wildly more popular than I've ever imagined. I really didn't think there were that many people interested in improvisation but I guess I underestimated that drive that so many of us have to create something new.

Thank you everyone for visiting, emailing, commenting, reading and watching.

See you at 200,000.

Improve Your Groove Part 2: 7 Metronome Tricks to Become a Groove Monster


What Time is It? Time for More Exercises
I covered 3 exercises in Part 1 of this two-part article, and now for Part 2 with four more exercises to improve your time-feel and groove.

At the end of this article is a YouTube video where I demonstrate these four techniques so you can see them in action. 

On to the exercises!

4. One, One and Donerating: Difficult
If you want to challenge yourself beyond the 4 On 4 Off exercise from Part 1 of this article, here's a way to expand on it using either an app like Time Guru, a drum machine or a sequencer.

I call this One, One and Done because we're going to set up our pattern so that you only hear beat 1 of bar 1, and beat 1 of bar 2 of a 4 bar phrase. That means you're going to have to keep track of 14 beats of silence yourself. No easy task.

If you're not using the app TimeGuru, skip to the next paragraph.

If you are using TimeGuru, set the app like I have to the right so that you have have four 1s up, the first two highlighted with the rhythmic value of a quarter note.The next two are grayed out and with the rhythmic value of a quarter note rest. Though the rhythmic value is set to quarter notes, you're actually going to count and feel a total of 4 beats per quarter note. Or, to think of it another way, four bars of 4/4 total.  Set the bpm to 28 which would mean the quarter notes you're feeling are at 112bpm (4 x 28 = 112).

If you're using a drum machine or sequencer, the notation looks like the lower line in the music below. The upper line labeled "Felt Subdivision" are the beats that you're feeling internally to keep track of the time.


Start your metronome/drum machine/sequencer and play. Do it over a tune you're learning, a chord and its inversions, the blues, whatever it is you want to work on. The idea, as usual, is to feel all those subdivisions so you feel the time accurately. The metronome is only giving you the downbeat of the first bar and the downbeat of the second bar so you're really going to have to feel the tempo and keep track of those subdivisions.

In the video I do this exercise to the guitar line from James Brown's "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose" from his live record Lover Power Peace. If you don't know this record for the sake of music everywhere, get it. You will not be disappointed. Below is the music for it if you're interested.

I recommend before you attempt this to have a metronome beat out 112bpm for you for at least 30 seconds or so to get the tempo in your head before attempting to play. It will save you the time of feeling around in the dark for the correct tempo.

5. Syncopation Nation Exerciserating: Difficult
This exercise ups the difficulty considerably by testing your ability to feel and play syncopated beats with no help from your metronome. This exercise requires either an app like TimeGuru, a drum machine or a sequencer.

If you're using a drum machine or sequencer, set up the audible clicks like I have notated here:


Unfortunately this exercise is not possible to set up on a normal metronome. Below and to the right I have a screenshot of how I set up TimeGuru. You could practice playing these syncopations yourself but you wouldn't be able to have the metronome click them out for you like I have here.

Syncopation exercise in TimeGuru
 The idea of this exercise is to feel the downbeat of bar 1 as well as the tempo strongly enough so that you can track all the sixteenth notes. You'll then be able to accurately play the fourth 16th note of beat 2 and the "and" or third 16th note of beat 4. The faster the tempo, the harder it gets to distinguish between these two subdivisions.

As you'll see to the right, I've set the tempo to 100bpm which is a comfortable groove, like a laid back funk feel. I've also put 4 quarter notes of silence at the end of the exercise which makes it much more difficult. If this is too much for you at first, either kill those last four beats or have them audible so you can get your bearings.

Like all these exercises, you might want to have a metronome beat out 100 bpm for you so you can feel and internalize the tempo first. Then, starting this exercise, have the downbeat of bar 1 audible so you can orient yourself a bit then move to silencing it.

The real exercise is to only play the syncopated notes. If you're a harmonic player like piano or guitar, play chords on those syncopations and if you're a melody instrument like a horn just play one note on them. This makes the exercise much more difficult as you'll really have to feel the time accurately if you're going to play the syncopations correctly.

And if you really want to up the difficulty, improvise over those last four quarter notes in order to distract yourself a little and make the challenge harder.

6. The Disorienter—rating: Difficult
 This exercise builds on exercise number one which has you playing with the metronome on 2 & 4, but now we're going to up the difficulty and have the metronome click only on 2 with a much faster tempo.

If you can do this exercise well and consistently then I would argue you have very good control over your internal time sense. Why is that? Because having the metronome only clicking on 2 will test your ability to feel 1 strongly. The exercise exploits our tendency to hear a strong sound in time as 1. This phenomenon is referred to by some as a "dominant sound source," and since the metronome is only clicking out one beat for you, it's going to be very tempting to shift your perception from hearing it as beat 2 over to beat 1.

Playing with the dominant sound source idea is something good drummers do all the time. They begin emphasizing beats other than 1, sometimes setting up a fill and hitting a crash cymbal on 4 or 2 and the listener's natural inclination is to hear and feel that cymbal crash as 1. That's why you get lost when listening to Afro-Cuban music—that style manipulates this phenomenon brilliantly.

Only beat 2 is sounding
If you're using a traditional metronome set the tempo to something like 55 bpm. Since we're only hearing 1 beat out of the 4 in a 4/4 measure, the real tempo we'll be playing at is 220 bpm (4 x 55 = 220). This is a pretty bright tempo and depending on your proficiency it may be too fast for you. If you need to, slow the tempo down but that will make the exercise easier. Remember, whatever you set your tempo to on a traditional metronome, multiply that number by 4 and that will give you the real tempo you'll be feeling.

If you're using an app like Tempo, you can set it like a traditional metronome, or set it to the real tempo, in this case 220 bpm and mute beats 1, 3 and 4 like I've done in the picture to the right.

Start the metronome and every time you hear the click, say "two." Now start subdividing the rest of the beats adding in the 1, 3 & 4 where they belong in the measure. Once you're comfortable, start playing.

This one takes some work, at least it did and honestly still does for me. It's very tempting to turn the time around and start hearing the click as the 1 of a new measure and sometimes I'll even shift the 2 over to 4.

You might try practicing scales at first playing 8th notes over this as a way to warm up to this exercise, but even that can be tricky. Really emphasize the 1 when you play this way. You'll probably want to emphasize the 2 but if you do it, more than likely soon you'll turn the beat around.

Work up to practicing fast songs using this exercise as your template and before long you'll be swinging like Tarzan.

7. The Song Form Exerciserating: Very Difficult
I saved the hardest for last—you're welcome.

You can expand on the 4 on 4 Off from Part 1 and the One, One and Done above and practice song forms with a little creativity. For this exercise you'll again use either an app like TimeGuru, a drum machine or a sequencer.

For an introduction to this idea, I'll be using the 12-bar blues form but you could do it with nearly any song form. Just like the One, One and Done  above, you're giving yourself a tempo for reference and then you're responsible for keeping track of a number of silent beats yourself.

If you're using TimeGuru, I'd recommend setting it like I have to the right, though you could make it easier or more difficult with a few tweaks. 

To the right you'll see there are 4 clicks of 16th notes, each of which you'll be feeling as beat 1 of bars 1, 2, 3 and 4 of a 12-bar Blues. To feel the time accurately, you'll subdivide that click into 4 beats which are the 4 quarter notes of each bar.

Next in the image to the right is a 1 followed by another 1. Here's where it gets really difficult to play over. That one quarter note click represents the downbeat of bar 5 and you're responsible for keeping track of the rhythm until the last click which is the downbeat of bar 9 (see image below). So each quarter note click encompasses 4 bars of music. This is why the tempo here is set to 7bpm. Since we're actually feeling each quarter note as 4 bars of 4/4 which is 16 beats, the real felt tempo is 112 (7 x 16 = 112) which is a pretty nice, moderate blues tempo to play on.

If we were to look at it in notation or you were going to program it into a drum machine or sequencer, it would look like this:



Start your exercise and just play a 12-bar blues over this pattern and see if you line up your down beat of bars 1 2 3 4 5 and 9 of the form. Don't be surprised if you fail miserably at first. You wouldn't need to do an exercise like this if you had perfect time already. That's why we're practicing.

At the request of user 13thAMG on YouTube, I have transcribed and tabbed the blues progression I play on the video. It is included below:


This exercise is very, very hard and will take work for you to get right. To increase your accuracy, like the other exercises that require you to keep track of long periods of silent beats, I'd recommend practicing first at the real tempo with the metronome clicking all beats for you in order to internalize it and get it under your fingers. It also couldn't hurt to just sit with this exercise counting out loud or tapping the beats before you even get your instrument in your hands. Adding the element of having to play and improvise over this greatly increases the difficulty of the exercise but also gets to the heart of why you're doing it—to make your time better.

Hope you enjoyed this one, the YouTube video is below and as always comments and questions are welcome.

Enlarge the Circle: How One Thing Leads to Another

A few months back, a drummer friend and I were talking about how it feels like we're constantly hustling. Always on the lookout for the next money gig, it can become easy to get tunnel vision and forget why we started playing music in the first place, before it became a way to make a living.

We decided it was time to stop complaining and get together just to play free. No tunes, no gig, no recording, no plan, just show up and blow. We called up a bass player who was like-minded and scheduled some time.

On our inaugural session, we showed up to the drummer's rehearsal space only to find out that one of the guys he shares it with was using it. While standing in the hallway figuring out what we were going to do, a producer my friend knows who rents space in the same building came through. He very generously offered to let us use his rehearsal room.

"Great!" I thought.

But he also wanted to play us some tracks of a singer he was producing and writing with.

"Not great!" I thought.

The truth is I just wanted to stick to the original plan, to play and then get out of there. The angel on my shoulder though reminded me he was being generous by letting us use his space. What the hell, I decided to humor him for a little and listen to those tracks.

It turned out the singer he was working with sounded fantastic and the songs had real promise. He asked us if we were interested in backing her up for some gigs. We talked it over and thought sure, why not?

Our first rehearsal with her went really well. In addition to the three of us original guys, the producer brought in a keyboard player who is a producer in his own right. A very nice guy and good player who I ended up hitting it off with.

Woody Allen
Three weeks later, the keyboard player/producer called me out of the blue asking if I'd like to do some recording work. Paid recording work.

This reminds me of a saying attributed to Woody Allen: 80% of success is showing up.

What started as a desire to play creatively with no thought of money and no plan ended up only a few weeks later netting me some really great paid recording work.

Talking about it later with my drummer friend, I was saying that all this came about because contrary to my initial impulses which were to just get the hell out of there, I was open to playing with and meeting new people—I jokingly referred to it as "enlarging the circle."

Though this seems like a no-brainer, I realized that like me, many musicians I know tend to stick with the same few people they know and play with, resistant to new situations.

I don't have a tremendous amount of wisdom to drop here other than the obvious. Had we just shown up and played free, that would have been completely satisfying in and of itself. However the fact that we were able to do that and I was able to get some great extra work out of it is a testament to keeping your mind open to new situations and new people.

Enlarge the circle.

The Lady is Right




A reminder to keep your head on straight.

"Don't love yourself in art, love the art within you."
-- Stella Adler