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Improvising with Exotic Scales - Part 3


Hello once again, I am finally writing the final article in my improvisation series. For those of you who were wondering where I was, I was looking for work, found it, so I have time to write once again.

If you have been following my articles on exotic scales and been following the pieces of advice thoroughly, you've probably found out that there are plenty of possibilities when using exotic or, more properly, synthetic scales. You were also probably wondering when I was going stop giving you little pieces of advice and start giving you some "real world" examples, well, how about now?

Hopefully this last sequel to my previous series will give you a much clearer idea of how to work with those scales you should have come up with while working on the previous articles.

Ok, let's get started.

Motives and such things explained:

In my previous article I mentioned motives and how to work limiting your options to a certain number of notes which would lead to more creative rhythmic ideas (what's the point of ALWAYS playing sixteenth note triplets up and down a scale?), now let me show you an example of this.

We are going to take a pretty standard "exotic" progression (which by the way can work with plenty of synthetic scales) using E (E G# B) and FMaj7#11 (F A C E B), if you put those chords together, the resulting tones are, in order: E F G# A B C; so you have a 1 b2 3 4 5 and 6, if you haven't realized it already we're "harmonizing backwards" in other words we got the scale out of the chords, now you could make a Phrygian Dominant out of this scale (E F G# A B C D) or a Gypsy scale (E F G# A B C D#).

I'd even raise the 6th while working on E (as long as you make sure you lower it again when you get to F) and end up with (E F G# A B C# D)…. If we put all of this together we have a lot of choices and I still haven't mentioned pentatonic or any of the many other options you may think are appropriate, so how do we narrow it down?

Well, let's first decide which scale we are going to use… how about a 1 b2 M3 #4 5 M6 M7 when ascending and do m6 m7 when descending? So translating that to E we would have: E F G# A# B C# D# (a Lydian b2) when ascending and then E F G# A# B C D (the "enigmatic" scale with a natural 5) when descending, let's see how that works:

Midi file -- Powertab file

Notice that even when playing the scale straight up and down, you need to be make sure that the notes do somehow work with the chord progression. I cannot stress this enough: USE YOUR EARS.

"Now that we have a scale, how do we use it?" you may ask. Well, we build little motives that allow us to explore the flavor of the chosen scale; for "motivic improvisation" the best choice melodic lines are those which include very few notes, 2 - 5 and for this exercise we will use a fixed rhythm as well.

Later, as you become more comfortable with this practice method, you can start varying the rhythm in any way you like but always confining yourself to the limits of your chosen motive. Remember, the less options you have, the more creative you have to be to keep it interesting.

Here's an example of a motive you could use:

Midi file -- Powertab file

The easiest variation to this little theme would be to "move it a tone up" (diatonic transposition), meaning to start the motive on a different scale degree but keeping the relationship between its tones, here's an example:

Midi file -- Powertab file

Granted, this wasn't a musical revelation of incredible proportions but you can clearly see (or hear) how some of the examples work against the same 2 chords we've been using. When you play this as a sequence you get something like this:

Midi file -- Powertab file

It's kind of nice how the sequence seems to flirt with the harmony, going in and out of the chords… as long as you don't overdo it, it can add interest to a solo. And if it is too much tension for you, oh well, change it a little to suit your style/preferences.

With this I'm sure you can get started with your own motives, pick one starting on the root of your "one" (I) chord (or whatever chord your progression starts with) and then move that around.

If you use this approach, I'd recommend limiting your progressions to 2 chords (you'll be amazed how much you can accomplish with two chord progressions), that way you can concentrate on how those notes sound against the given chords.

Now let's say you have a fixed given progression with 3 + chords on it (you bought one of those play along rhythm tracks, or you want to use a song or whatever), but you still want to jam to it and get the same benefits of the 'less is more" kind of approach; well, let me tell you, you still can.

So how do you do it? Well we'll work with chord tones, we'll pick roots and we'll work with roots (wait don't kill me yet, let me tell you how this works) you'll play the root of the chord against each one of your chord changes; and here's the catch, you'll play a root in a different place on the fretboard (any octave) do it every 4 beats at first, then every 2 beats, then every beat and then do straight 8th notes and of course once those get easy, swing them (play them in shuffle rhythm <a triplet with the first 2 notes tied>).

Once that gets easy add the 3rd of the chord then the 5th then the 7th (by then you'll know most; if not all; the "in" notes on the song you're working on) and then just play through the whole scale freely.

I personally find that to be an excellent way to get the sound of the scale down 'cause you're killing two birds with one stone; you're getting to know your scale outside the box, and you're finding out how each one of the notes work with the chords in your progression.

It takes some discipline to get down to working with one or two notes at first but, if you take the time to do it, every time you add a note it'll feel fresh and new, like you had never played before and you'll learn to appreciate the tonal variety that a single scale offers. Believe me, you can't get that by just thinking of scales as patterns and playing them all over the neck.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Midi file -- Powertab file

So here you have two inverse approaches to use scales (not only exotic and synthetic ones) in improvisation. I hope this will give you a better idea of how to apply the concepts presented in previous articles.

Rhythm is the key!!! >>