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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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February 17, 2011 | 3-note Chord Dominants; Part 1 (Inversions)

So you're jamming along, playing your 193rd chorus of "Sweet Georgia Brown," and struggling to make your comping sound interesting, but four chronic measures of the same D7, D7, D7, D7, etc. is starting to get to you. What can you do to make this interesting not only for your audience, but yourself?

Easy answer: Inversions.

We brought up 3-note chords last week, and mentioned their incredible transposabilty on a fifths tuned instrument. Let's apply this in the context of moving the same chord up the fretboard, and take one of the two most common chords, the Dominant 7 (V7), and show you some tricks. In institutional Music Theory studies, you learn that the way you label inversion of a chord is based on the bass note. This may be esoteric information right now, as a mandolinist, you're not thinking the bass note in an ensemble because it's highly likely someone lower is covering that, but for today's purposes, we'll mention the labels of Root, 1st Inversion, 2nd Inversion, and 3rd Inversion, if nothing else than to give some distinction later. The main thing for you now is to learn four different ways to play an A7 chord on the mandolin fretboard. Get comfortable with them. Learn them until you forget them. Move from one to the next, and if you have a song with four measures of A7, at very minimum, pick a pair and move back and forth from one to the next.

A7root.jpg A71st.jpg A72nd.jpg A73rd.jpg

Notice the freshness you can inject into your comping by varying the inversions. You're still communicating the same harmonic language, but you're expressing a different viewpoint. It's like walking around a statue in an art gallery--it's the same statue, but each angle is a different perspective. Three dimensional views give a more robust aesthetic experience, and the same can be said for the exchange of chord inversions.

Now, we are going to take this same approach with a D7 chord. These are all different inversions, and for you theory buffs, the name is based on the bass (lowest sounding) note of the chord. Root in the bottom, 1st Inversion (3rd in the bass), 2nd Inversion (5th in the bass), and 3rd Inversion (7th in the bass).

D72nd.jpg D73rd.jpg D7root.jpg D71st.jpg

We're going to take this concept farther in this series of 3-note dominant chords. For now, get used to these as written. For extra credit, go ahead and try these patterns in other keys. Next week will look at how you can do the Circle of Fifths with these as the basis, and get you into a less static way to play the bridge from "I Got Rhythm," and other "Circle of Fifths" tunes.

While you're practicing the above chords, trying pairing an A7 with a D7 by playing the A7 chord, and the D7 from the row directly below. Observe how little you have to move the fingers--one or two of them. Classic economy of motion, and better yet, incredibly good voice leading.

We'll have some more fun with these!

Fretboard Geometry
Circle of Fifths Examples
Functional thinking...
Secondary Dominants
What you can do with a V7 chord: Declaring Dominants

Posted by Ted at February 17, 2011 11:44 AM

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