Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
Tips & Tricks Mel Bay Mandolin Sessions








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."

« Deconstructing Mandolin Picks | Main | Compose yourself. Antecedent/Consequent thinking »

June 17, 2010 | The Theory of Available Tensions

This week, JazzMando staff writer Craig Schmoller, of Groveland Software weighs in on the "Theory of Available Tensions." Some common sense insight from the author of the highly recommended Mando ModeExplorer and JazzCittern ModeExplorer computer software.

A summary of Chord/Scale Theory reduced to a handful of practical Rules of the Road

We all know how goofy I've been about modes and improvisation: My mantra is "The Scale IS the Chord, and the Chord IS the Scale." That's where, in the final analysis, we look at a 7-note scale as nothing but a big chord, and vice versa. Chords are scales stacked up. We use this knowledge to match scales with chords for improvising. And I'm told that the chord/scale approach was championed by the top geniuses at Berklee. But over the years, the folks at Berklee haven't been content to rest on their laurels!

Enter "The Theory of Available Tensions," a distillation of chord/scale behavior and function down to a simple set of rules - A summary of Chord/Scale Theory reduced to a handful of practical Rules of the Road, designed to help keep you in the right lane when navigating hairpin chord changes and avoid-note potholes.


Basically, I look at The Theory of Available Tensions as Chord/Scale Theory with all the avoid notes replaced. Avoid notes are the "unavailable diatonic tensions," if you will. For example, you can't have an 11 on a major seven chord - You can try, but by current rules of the road, your audience will certainly issue a painful citation as they head for the door. No, you would avoid the collision by raising the 11. That's Lydian mode, and the avoid note is, well, avoided.

So if you see a chord, you play the chord tones, and select from the available tensions, for both solos and comping.

Here are the keys. Take it for a spin.

Maj6 7 9 #11
Maj7 9 #11 13

7 9 11
m(Maj7) 9 11 13
m7 9 11 13
m7b5 9 11 b13

Dom7 b9 9 #9 #11(b5) 13 b13
Dom7(sus4) b9 9 #9 13 b13
Aug7 9 #11

Dim7 chord tone raised a whole step yields available tension

Craig Schmoller
Groveland Software


Top Five 'Hover' Tones
Moving Forward; Melodic Progression
4 and 7. The Committal Notes
Some Minor Issues: 'Gravity' Notes in Minor.
Chord Melody: Scratching the Surface

Posted by Ted at June 17, 2010 7:11 AM

Bookmark and Share

QuickNav:   Home | Book | Webtracks | Tips | Store | Contact
Feeds: Tips & Tricks | What's New
© 2005-2018 All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: In the 'Information Age' of the 21st Century, any fool with a computer, a modem, and an idea can become a self-professed 'expert." This site does not come equipped with 'discernment.'

Site designed and hosted by No Hassle Design, Development, & Hosting

Tips & Tricks - Listen & LearnMel Bay Mandolin Sessions Articles- check it out!