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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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March 23, 2006 | Not to Wear

What Not to Wear

There's a terrific show on television's TLC called "What Not to Wear." It's quite humorous, the premise being some unsuspecting fashion-impaired soul is set-up by a spouse or room mate for a chance at several thousand dollars of new clothes. The down side? Public and global humiliation as fashion experts Tracy London and Clinton Kelly sarcastically annihilate the victim's closetful of fashion faux paux and put them through a very brutal denuding process of style course correction, completely eviscerating their personal wardrobe.

It's remarkably good entertainment at the subject's expense. Not that we are into humiliating you, but one similar way to approach improvisational fodder is to look at chord structure and eliminate what's NOT appropriate, just as much as what does work. Let's look at the opening 16 measures of "Sweet Georgia Brown" in the key of F.

D7 / G7 / C7 / F

The very first chord uses D, F#, A, C and in the key of F, you definitely want to avoid the F natural! This would be the dreaded plaid clashing with stripes equivalent. The C natural is fine, but go out of your way to avoid the F natural. The G7 chord is G, B, D, F, and so F natural is fine, but you want to avoid the Bb in the original key, and if anything, emphasize the change to B natural. The C7 has us back into the original Dominant 7th so you aren't in danger of violating any chord fashion sensibilities here.

Now the good news, like the great Jethro Burns says, "any note you play is either right or only one fret away from the right one." In the above example, if you accidentally hit an F natural on the D7 chord, you could still use it as a "blue note" and slide it up to the F#. As long as you handle it this way (and your ear may very well tell you to), it won't sound like a mistake.

This is another way of looking at chord progressions. See what changes from chord to chord and isolate notes that are no longer appropriate. Emphasize the great structural "diversity" from chord to chord in your melodic improvisation, and you'll convince your listener you really know what you're doing!

Posted by Ted at March 23, 2006 7:10 AM

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