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Master Guitar Class - Part 1

Making sense and practical use of music theory!

The Ionian Scale, Soloing and Chord Substitution

Let's start with the major scale otherwise know as the Ionian mode.

First of all there are 12 notes in all of music called a chromatic scale this allows you to build 12 different majors scales from each note using what's called a step pattern. (See example 1 below)

Every type of scale has its own unique step pattern. Western music, (not country music), is based on a 12-note system, Eastern music uses 24. Which is why to play a sitar for example one must sit on the floor to deal with quarter tone divisions in several octaves (ex: C to C) the 1/2 step frets are actually divided in half.

Musicians also work with what's called the number system. Each letter in the major scale has a numeric value labeled from 1 to 7. The first note in the scale is labeled number 1, second note 2, and third note 3, and so on up to the number 7. A major scale we can say then consists of 7 natural numbers (uneven division of the chromatic scale). Any other scale would either have a flatted number or a raised number in comparison creating different step patterns which in turn effect the tone centers Major, Minor, Dominant and or their colors.

Chords are built from major scales by taking every other note and stacking them in thirds. The next step is to analyze (or measure) the distances between to find out if the chord is major, minor, or dominant, etc., within the key. This is called the Chord Order.

There're two types of chord order voicings, triadic (3 note) and seventh chords (4 note). Seventh chords are the more jazzy of the two and are chords stacked in thirds, four notes deep from each note in the scale.

Triads are in thirds from each note in the scale three deep. So what that all comes out to be, if I do the work for you is what's known as the harmonized scale (see example 2). Use a vocal choir as an example, individuals singing the low, middle and the high parts. It's the same as a chord you're just building what they sing individually all at once.

Lets look at everything in the Key G, it's a good key to work in on the guitar because you can play the entire key without it being interrupted by the neck stopping. Your chord forms and all the scale positions line up neatly in a row up and down horizontally. The key of G contains the letters G, A, B, C, D, E, F# and G again, following Ionian's step pattern. That's why you have separate sharp and flat Ionian keys. The chords for G Ionian are G Major 7th. The second A Minor 7th. The third B Minor 7th. The fourth chord is a C Major 7th. The fifth chord is D7. The sixth chord is an E Minor 7. The seventh chord is an F# half diminished or Minor 7th flat 5, (we use both terms).

We now end up with what appears to be a scale with 7 different chords and this is usually where most schools of thought end in their analyzation.

Everyone usually begins by learning arpeggios that outline each chord. This becomes totally frustrating because everything sounds so contrived. The real deal is that those 7 seven chords, if you take things a step further are divided into two separate groups.

Chords which contain the fourth (Suspended) degree of the scale (The forth degree of the Ionian scale is the key to all of music's tension and release) and those chords that don't or what I call resolved and unresolved. If you can control the movement of that one note alone, you can play effortlessly through changes.

If you were to play G Major scale notes individually over a G Major 7th chord you'd find that, you can't sit on the fourth degree of the scale (the C note) for to long. It has to be resolved either down 1/2 step to the third degree or up one whole step to the fifth degree. Every other note in the scale is a color or chord tone which sound fine over the Gmaj7th chord.

We can now divide the G Ionian scale into two categories: those chords which don't contain the C note in their tone centers (1357) and those chords which do. Chords that don't contain C in their voicing are in the resolved category and those that do have the C either in their root, third, fifth or seventh are in the unresolved category (see example 3). You can condense that thought further by calling the resolved column R and the unresolved column U.

In the resolved column the chords are: I, which is a G Major 7th chord, III, B Minor 7th, then VI E Minor 7th.

In the unresolved column, (those chords which contain the actual C note in them in the key of G) are the II chord, A Minor 7th. (The C is the flatted third of the chord.) The C Major 7th, (C is the root) the IV chord. The V chord is the D7th (C is the flatted seventh.) And the VII chord (C is the flatted 5th). (Roman numerals are commonly used symbols to analyze chords)

The beauty of this separation of columns is the realization of there being only 2 sounds not 7 chords in the key (also know as tension and release, or ying and yang or whatever else you want to call it).

The fact is that all the chords in each individual column, are interchangeable within themselves. They're substitutes for each other resolved with resolved and unresolved with unresolved. So just for the purpose of comping (playing various chords behind something) ideas begin to flourish, not to mention the soloing possibility end of it.

If you saw a progression that said G Major 7th to A Minor 7th, that could be the same as B Minor 7th to A Minor 7th. It could be the same as E Minor 7th to A Minor 7th. It could be the same as B Minor 7th to F# min7b5. It also could be the same as G Major 7th to C Major 7th. They're all the same thing! (see example 3)

Say you were to write a melody for the chord progression / G Major 7th (Resolved/R) / A Minor 7th (Unresolved/U)/, you could "Sub" a different harmony to the same melody by simply substituting U chords and R chords and that's just for chord substitution.

Now let's look at the soloing possibilities as far as arpeggiating. Take the G Major 7th to A Minor 7th again. You could sub an E Minor 7th arpeggio or a B Minor 7th arpeggio or both over the Resolved G Major7th chord and all you'd be doing is adding the new color of a ninth or sixth depending on the arpeggio you played. The rule of thumb would then be never play what's defined to open up the sound! If you see a G Major 7th chord, don't play a predictable G Major 7th arpeggio! When the A Minor 7th chord hits play a C Major 7th and you'll have an A minor 9th.
Ex:1 Key of Gmaj Ionian Scale Step Pattern:

G w A w B 1/2 C w D w E w F# 1/2 G

Ex:2 Harmonized Ionian Scale:



Ex:3 Chord Substitution Chart Ionian Scale:

Resolved (R)

Unresolved (U)

The first thing that players start doing is practicing and solo playing their arpeggios in a row! 1,3,5,7 etc... This is the killer mistake, when you play an arpeggio like this it sounds like your practicing even when your improvising.

Go from at root to a seventh, to a third to a fifth or just play a root and a fifth. DO EVERYTHING TO AVOID PLAYING IN A ROW BOTH UP AND DOWN!

That's all you have to think, and the same holds true with your scale patterns. "I can't get anything out of this scale. Everyone else plays the same thing and I can't figure it out!". It's because your playing it like an exercise.


Good Luck....
Paul Nelson

About the Author
Paul is a top session player and touring artist with numerous international acts. His guitar work has been heard nationally on NBC, WWF, TNN, UPN television and has been featured on countless CDs along side today's top guitarists. Studying under Steve Vai, Steve Khan, and Mike Stern early on he has recently performed as part of the Johnny Winter group as well as writing for and playing on the Rock/Blues Legend's upcoming 2003 Virgin release. His highly acclaimed solo CD entitled "LOOK" has been released worldwide. Visit paulnelsonguitar.com

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