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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."

« Tetrachordal Approach to Major Scale Modes | Main | Good Vibrations »

July 10, 2008 | More on Tetrachords

Last week, we had the good fortune of passing along an invaluable session on the concept of 4-note patterns, or "Tetrachords," from Mark Wilson. If you haven't seen it, by all means take the time to get caught up now!

Read: A Tetrachord Approach

We'd also to pass on a beneficial audio lesson to accompany this: Mark does a great job of walking you through the concept aurally in this audio bit:

Listen: Tetrachord Approach MP3

Notice the strategy uses the 1st FFcP in a masterful way to get you fearlessly up the fretboard. Indeed, you could go the next step and apply the other finger FFcP (start on 2, 3, & 4) for an exponentially deeper dimension of fretboard familiarity. There is another consideration here, the mental benefits of chopping up an 8-note pattern (scale, mode) into 4-notes. Instead of thinking scale degrees, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, the brain can handle 1, 2, 3, 4 and in a separate sweep, 5, 6, 7, 8.

It's like memorizing the number " 57,008,267." Repeat that back, maybe you'd go "fifty-seven million, eight thousand, two hundred sixty-seven." Or maybe your brain can fire back " five seven zero zero eight two six seven." That’s a lot of numbers to keep straight.

A better way is in sequence nuggets:

5700 (mental space) 8267

Fifty-seven hundred, eight-thousand two-hundred sixty-seven. You probably have memorized you US social security number this way, three digits, two digits, four digits, and not as a 9 digit number.

Tetrachords give us these digestible bite-size 4-note quantities. Beginning improvisers using scales or modes will like inject the scale stepwise all at a time, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, without a lot of contrary motion. That's not terribly musical. If you break it down into 4-notes, you can begin to vary the motion:
1, 2, 3, 4 (mental space) 8, 7, 6, 5
1, 3, 2, 4
(mental space) 5, 7, 6, 8
1, 4, 3, 2
(mental space) 5, 8, 7, 6
1, 2, 4, 3
(mental space) 5, 6, 8, 7

This is a far more musical approach. Your listeners will here the harmonic implications of the scales, and not just a bunch of scales. Notice we use this in our approach to learning the Altered Scale in our Bebop Mandology lesson.

Extra Credit: play through as many scales and modes as you know, but rather than
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,
1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 7, 6, 5.

We also like to inject a handy chart Mark submitted to help bring these modes home. Just so you don't say, "It's all Greek to me," here's some help:


Major (1)


Mixolydian (5)

Dorian (2)


Aeolian (6)

Phrygian (3)


Locrian (7)

Lydian (4)


Lydian (4)

Posted by Ted at July 10, 2008 12:08 PM

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