Playing the changes in a non-jazz setting

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The biggest thing I've noticed when listening to other players is their ability to "follow the changes" - not even really in a Jazz sense. If a track goes from one key to another it's very easy to follow that with a solo/lead playing, but I've found it super hard to follow chords within a key. For example, going from Am to Em in your typical rock song. To clarify: if I stay in the key of Em when I'm soloing over the Am I'm essentially playing A Dorian, a mode of E Aeolian - so literally nothing is changing. I guess the solution is to play A Aeolian then E Aeolian and just take that major/minor six clash as flavour?
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  • BradBrad Frets: 211
    The biggest thing I've noticed when listening to other players is their ability to "follow the changes" - not even really in a Jazz sense. If a track goes from one key to another it's very easy to follow that with a solo/lead playing, but I've found it super hard to follow chords within a key. For example, going from Am to Em in your typical rock song. To clarify: if I stay in the key of Em when I'm soloing over the Am I'm essentially playing A Dorian, a mode of E Aeolian - so literally nothing is changing. I guess the solution is to play A Aeolian then E Aeolian and just take that major/minor six clash as flavour?
    It's the same approach for playing changes regardless of whether the chord progression is diatonic or not. It's all about chord tones and them being the foundation for which everything else is built. Take your Am to Em for example...

    This isn't a particularly strong harmonic movement in any case, but if you just play the Em scale over these two chords without consideration for the chord tones, you will just happen to play A Dorian by default, it won't really 'sound' like A Dorian if that makes sense? The melodies will sound weak because of it. 

    If we expand this a little and take the chord tones of Am7 - A C E G and Em7 - E G B D. See how they share the notes E and G and the others are a scale step away? Start and end your phrases on these chord tones, trying to connect smoothly from on to the next when the chords change. Then gradually add in more notes from the respective modes one at a time. If you add the 6th over the Am for example, that will really pop out at you because of the way it acts in relation to the chord tones of Am.
    Or take the same approach and use Em Pentatonic and Am Pentatonic and again, add some colour tones here and there.

    Be careful thinking E Aeolian and A Aeolian is the solution, depending on the song your ear may very well reject this approach unless your phrasing is really good. 

    Keep things simple at first because it's not easy but it can be made to work, it just takes a little time and effort smile 

     
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  • Axe_meisterAxe_meister Frets: 2262
    Any tips when moving to a new scale. I often find when moving, if the next chord moves up in frequency only moving up with the scale works. Great if you have fretboard to spare, but if I have run away with myself in Em and am at the dusty end of the fretboard I have no where to go. So with the move to Am I have to move down to a Am type scale and the move sounds forced 
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  • vizviz Frets: 5011
    Any tips when moving to a new scale. I often find when moving, if the next chord moves up in frequency only moving up with the scale works. Great if you have fretboard to spare, but if I have run away with myself in Em and am at the dusty end of the fretboard I have no where to go. So with the move to Am I have to move down to a Am type scale and the move sounds forced 
    You just have to snap into the new chord, yet in the same fretboard and string area that you were already in. Melody does not normally hop about to match the shifting harmonies underneath; many tunes are fluid and lyrical. Check Parisienne Walkways for example; the first bar’s descending scale goes from the scale from E to F, despite chord jumping up from Am to Dm. 

    You just have to sing beautiful melodies in your mind’s ear and learn how to lay them down on the fretboard. Use chromatics to make things even smoother. It’s a journey. I don’t think there are many tips that will help - they’ll all be mechanical systems that don’t actually work as well as your instinct anyway. 
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  • digitalkettledigitalkettle Frets: 288
    You could see the move from Em to Am as moving up a fourth or moving down a fifth...you might be being a bit too literal by thinking that you need to follow the progression linearly.
    What it is, is a new chord which changes the function of the notes that you are playing...that all sounds a bit scary but, as you develop your ear, it becomes more intuitive (don’t want to be doing too much hard thinking when you’re soloing).
    Part of that ear development will bring better phrasing (it’s all about phrasing) which might mean that you don’t drop the money shot too early as you described ;)

    Adding to @Brad ‘s excellent advice above...
    Be aware of the underlying chords...practice playing over chord changes by using chord tones...slow and steady with root, third, and fifth on quarter notes...add the seventh...speed it up...and so on...try and keep it ‘musical’ if you can (I find it hard to be this disciplined).
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  • vizviz Frets: 5011
    edited April 5
  • JalapenoJalapeno Frets: 3408
    viz said:
    Any tips when moving to a new scale. I often find when moving, if the next chord moves up in frequency only moving up with the scale works. Great if you have fretboard to spare, but if I have run away with myself in Em and am at the dusty end of the fretboard I have no where to go. So with the move to Am I have to move down to a Am type scale and the move sounds forced 
    You just have to snap into the new chord, yet in the same fretboard and string area that you were already in. Melody does not normally hop about to match the shifting harmonies underneath; many tunes are fluid and lyrical. Check Parisienne Walkways for example; the first bar’s descending scale goes from the scale from E to F, despite chord jumping up from Am to Dm. 

    You just have to sing beautiful melodies in your mind’s ear and learn how to lay them down on the fretboard. Use chromatics to make things even smoother. It’s a journey. I don’t think there are many tips that will help - they’ll all be mechanical systems that don’t actually work as well as your instinct anyway. 
    WIS'd
    Imagine something sharp and witty here ......

    Feedback
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  • tralfamadantralfamadan Frets: 14
    edited April 19
    viz said:

    You just have to sing beautiful melodies in your mind’s ear and learn how to lay them down on the fretboard. Use chromatics to make things even smoother. It’s a journey. I don’t think there are many tips that will help - they’ll all be mechanical systems that don’t actually work as well as your instinct anyway. 
    Great advice. I've been looking for systems to help me learn to improvise better but the thing that has helped me more than anything is just picking up the guitar and playing along to backing tracks and records; or with other musicians.
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  • Some great stuff here. I feel like I need to do some ear training to pull the chords out of hard rock tracks that I enjoy; they're definitely not as harmonically rich as jazz or pop/etc. so teasing out the 'money' notes which differ isn't as simple. I guess it's down to playing to a backing track which highlights the chord progression and then leaning in on it.
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3028
    when soloing over progressions that don't change key
    try to become aware of the chord shapes of the progression in the general area that you'll be playing the solo..
    this is so that you are aware of the consonant notes for each chord as these are generally [but not absolutely always] the notes you'd look for to land on at the end of a lick, or to hold onto / bend onto for the longer sustained notes..

    if you have plenty of stock licks in your vocabulary, experiment with them..
    modify them so that they land on consonant notes for the chords in the progression
    some will sound great, others not..
    trial and error / cause and effect
    the main thing here is that your experiments have a purpose..
    you're actively looking for something in your licks, and if they don't fit.. bend them around until they do..
    then the question is.. does it still sound cool??
    play every note as if it were your first
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  • BarneyBarney Frets: 353
    I think it a good idea to just work in one area and get good melody maybe just one pentatonic area at first and really hear the notes and sing them so that it becomes simultaneous ...
    I think a lot of times guitarists move to different areas of the neck before they really know one area...eventually you should hear and play the sound in your head by knowing  what each note sounds like ...so much can be just done with 5 notes for example..
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  • Axe_meisterAxe_meister Frets: 2262
    @Clarky When you say don't change key, do you mean stay in the modes of that key.
    Say when playing over a Change from C to Dm, I should change to D phrygian (second mode of C major ?) rather than say jump to D Dorian which is also minor so should work?
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3028
    edited April 23
    @Clarky When you say don't change key, do you mean stay in the modes of that key.
    Say when playing over a Change from C to Dm, I should change to D phrygian (second mode of C major ?) rather than say jump to D Dorian which is also minor so should work?
    ah ok..
    I'm not talking about modes at all..
    just a chord progression in a single key..

    like I, IV, V in C [C, F, G]
    so... just using the notes in the key of C major
    and being mindful of the chords that you're playing over in that key..

    EDIT for clarification
    I draw a clear distinction that many do not when it comes to the use of modes...
    if a progression is in the key of C for example, you are playing a solo in the key of C
    and if the chord of G is sounding, you are not playing G mixolydian
    you are simply playing in the key of C over chord V
    to my mind [and some folks get angsty with me about this] playing modally is something different
    play every note as if it were your first
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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 9134
    @Clarky your last para sounds like me. I usually play in a key, eg in C over the V chord as per your example. I've always been a little confused about how or why playing modally is something different. Please can you explain?
    "Working" software has only unobserved bugs. (Parroty Error: Pieces of Nine! Pieces of Nine!)
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3028
    edited April 25
    @Clarky your last para sounds like me. I usually play in a key, eg in C over the V chord as per your example. I've always been a little confused about how or why playing modally is something different. Please can you explain?
    no prob...
    a few questions may help..

    In the key of C
    - what is chord I? C
    - what is chord IV? F

    In the key of Am
    - what is chord I? Am
    - what is chord IV? Dm

    note that the keys of C and Am contain the same pool of notes..
    but when I play in the key of Am, never at any point do I feel like I'm using the notes from the key of C even though I'm choosing notes from the same note pool..
    this is a difference that I'd hope that we can all feel and understand.
    so.. when chord V is sounding in C, I'm still in the key of C playing but playing over chord V.
    This is not playing with modes, it's just music using the conventional major scale.
    And the same applies to the minor scale too.
    the relationship between key, scale and chord is fixed.

    I think of modes as being more fluid and less 'fixed'
    but I do in a sense consider a mode as being a scale and essentially a sort of key in it's own right
    so just to help me get a point over...
    In the key of D Dorian
    - what is chord I? Dm
    - what is chord IV? A
    just like the key of Am, it shares the same note pool as the key of C
    but.... just like Am, you are never actually playing in C
    you're essentially playing in the key of "Dm with a major 6th"

    so the "less fixed" part about modes is that you can dip in and out of them to introduce new tonal colouration without needing a key change [without modulating].
    In the key of Am
    - what is chord I? Am
    - what is chord IV? Dm
    what if I used A Dorian over the Am... I'm still consonant and diatonic with the chord of Am because A Dorian contains the notes of the chord Am [A, C, E]. It 's the maj6th [F#] that introduces a little extra spice..
    however, when the progression changes to chord IV [Dm] A Dorian no longer works because Dm contains an F, and A Dorian contains an F#. So I'll revert to the key of Am handle the Dm.. and it'll feel like playing in Am over chord IV.

    Alternatively we could treat A Dorian as if it were a key in its own right which means chord IV is now D instead of Dm..
    Which is a cool effect in its own right..

    My take is therefore that the major and minor keys / cales are fixed in how they function.
    Modes provide extra spice adding alternatives that you can drop onto a single chord within a progression and so are a little more flexible..

    my other "rule of thumb" is about how contemporary music works with the maj6th and min7th
    very often [but not always], I'll opt for the maj6th and min7th intervals [where I can get away with it because it just works and sounds really cool..
    playing in:
    a minor key with the maj6th and min7th is Dorian
    a major key with the maj6th and min7th is Mixolydian

    there will be chords though that will force you to switch back to being minor or major [unless there's something else I can get away with that sounds cool to me]..

    so...
    in Am
    chords I, III, V: play in A Dorian
    chords II, IV, VI, VII: play in Am

    the major key is a little different.. some songs will really want to pin you to major tonality..
    others will love it when you get a little 'blue' and start introducing Mixo tonality..

    as always... it's about context
    play every note as if it were your first
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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 9134
    @Clarky Thank you. I have in the past deliberately written tunes in a particular mode, eg E Phrygian, using a chord progression like Em Am F G and melody notes chosen from the E phrygian scale, and as you rightly say it doesn't sound like C major. However I have never tried using A dorian in the key of A minor, even over a chord where notionally it might work. Probably I don't think quick enough, I look at the chord progression, work out which scale I'm going to use and then try really hard not to play any bum notes!
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  • vizviz Frets: 5011
    @Clarky When you say don't change key, do you mean stay in the modes of that key.
    Say when playing over a Change from C to Dm, I should change to D phrygian (second mode of C major ?) rather than say jump to D Dorian which is also minor so should work?
    As Clarky has said, modes really have nothing to do with it; in a diatonic progression in C major you are not suddenly “playing in D Dorian” (it IS Dorian, not Phrygian by the way) when you move to the ii minor chord; you’re still playing in C major. You happen to use the notes that are in D Dorian, but that’s incidental. The primary thing is that you’re still using notes in C major.

    “Playing modally” is quite a different thing; if you were playing a piece in C Dorian for example, like greensleeves, or hooray and up she rises, or whatever, you’d be in C minor but using a raised 6th - A# instead of A. 

    It can be handy to use mode names as a shorthand to describe certain things (like in a blues in A you could think of playing A mixolydian, D mixolydian and E mixolydian, instead of saying ‘play major chords but flatten the 7th of each one’).
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3028
    @Clarky Thank you. I have in the past deliberately written tunes in a particular mode, eg E Phrygian, using a chord progression like Em Am F G and melody notes chosen from the E phrygian scale, and as you rightly say it doesn't sound like C major. However I have never tried using A dorian in the key of A minor, even over a chord where notionally it might work. Probably I don't think quick enough, I look at the chord progression, work out which scale I'm going to use and then try really hard not to play any bum notes!
    this technique is generally referred to as 'melodic substitution'
    if you take it literally, you're substituting the melodic content / melodic characteristics of a mode that is outside of the of the chord progression onto a single chord simply because it fits..

    in Em.. we can play in Em throughout... which is cool, well understood
    then chord VI shows up as a triad... no 7th.. hmmmm.. that means it's just a C triad and not Cmaj7..
    and at that moment.. no one in the rest of the band / ensemble are playing the B [the 7th of chord VI in the key of Em..
    yummy... we can exploit this moment..
    so what if we played C Mixolydian at that moment??

    C Mix contains the C, the E, and the G so it's consonant with the C chord..
    but it contains the Bb... there's the "spice"..

    take it further...
    chords Em to C...
    over Em no one else in the band plays a C.. so we can get all E Dorian
    the C shows up and we're C Mix...
    the chord progression still have the underlying 'vibe' [for want of a better term] of being in the key of Em
    but the solo you just threw down is now super sexy..

    what you are doing is exploiting the notes that are missing from the chords to allow you to introduce this extra 'outside stuff'
    whilst remaining consonant with the sounding chords...

    this is where modes are at their most flexible...

    but as you said... treating a mode as if it were a key in it's own right is also a thing of great beauty..
    now how about blending the 2 ideas...
    a Dorian derived chord progression.. whilst using melodic substitution too..
    you can never have too much spice... lol..
    play every note as if it were your first
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3028

    viz said:
    @Clarky When you say don't change key, do you mean stay in the modes of that key.
    Say when playing over a Change from C to Dm, I should change to D phrygian (second mode of C major ?) rather than say jump to D Dorian which is also minor so should work?
    As Clarky has said, modes really have nothing to do with it; in a diatonic progression in C major you are not suddenly “playing in D Dorian” (it IS Dorian, not Phrygian by the way) when you move to the ii minor chord; you’re still playing in C major. You happen to use the notes that are in D Dorian, but that’s incidental. The primary thing is that you’re still using notes in C major.

    “Playing modally” is quite a different thing; if you were playing a piece in C Dorian for example, like greensleeves, or hooray and up she rises, or whatever, you’d be in C minor but using a raised 6th - A# instead of A. 

    It can be handy to use mode names as a shorthand to describe certain things (like in a blues in A you could think of playing A mixolydian, D mixolydian and E mixolydian, instead of saying ‘play major chords but flatten the 7th of each one’).
    absolutely...
    and just like the difference between keys of Cmaj and Am..
    the difference is.... what is chord I?
    chord I in C is C, chord I in Am is Am
    and likewise.. chord I in D Dorian is Dm..

    so.. when you right out a chord progression, would you ever write I, I, I, I
    by the way that's Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Ionian with the key centre of C
    of course you wouldn't ... lol..
    play every note as if it were your first
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