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post #1 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 12:40 AM Thread Starter
 
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Improvisation

I made a stream of consciousness-ish post on another forum regarding some of my thoughts about improvisation in general, and improvisation over pitch axis progressions in particular, and I thought I'd post it here in case anybody finds it interesting or helpful.

Quote:
I've been playing around with Band-In-A-Box for a few hours today, working on improvising over chord/key changes, and I'm going to share a few vague and random thoughts I had with everyone. Most of these points don't really go anywhere, they're just really general impressions that came to me. Some of you might be able to expand on these or turn them into something useful.
My thought fragments...

1) I was toying with pitch axis progressions, and I began to experiment with different modulations, trying to familiarize myself with which modes complement each other and which sound harsh and unnatural beside each other. Needless to say, it's a matter of intervals. The harshest change by far comes from altering the third, as it changes the entire tonality of the piece. Don't emphasize that third. The change seems to flow better if you refrain from making that third the focus of the melody line. I actually found myself avoid it during the period immediately before and after the chord change, only introducing it once the backing chord had "familiarized me" to the new tonality.

The most pleasing changes, to me, involve the fourth and seventh scale degrees. I actually found that, even without changing the backing chord, I could alter those notes at my leisure in the melody without it sounding unnatural at all. Over a Cmaj chord for instance, I could easily use a 4 and #4 in the melody, even right next to each other, without any apparent dissonance. This isn't entirely true over a maj7 chord, since the 4 is then an avoid note, but even then, the use of both wasn't at all displeasing. I was essentially playing chromatic lines that sounded completely natural in the context of the song.

Experiment with this.

2) Also relating to pitch axis, I constantly found myself trying to create subtleties within the progression that let the melody line flow naturally. Most people are familiar with pitch axis as Satriani applies it in songs like Not of this Earth, which has him quickly modulating between lydian, aeolian, and mixolydian. He's essentially creating rapid and dramatic changes in the overall tonality with an almost chromatic and disorienting effect. It's a very interesting effect, if that's what you're going for, but I also find pitch axis useful for gradual changes in overall mood. One progression that I spend some time improvising over consisted of...

Cmaj7b5 - C6 - C7sus - Cm7 - Cm - Csusb9 - C7 - Cm7b5

My thought process over this progression was basically as follows...

Cmajb5: Lydian mode. Technically, this isn't proper, but the #4 is enharmonic with the b5, making lydian entirely usable.

C6: Would generally call for a switch to the ionian mode, but I found the #4 of the lydian entirely usable here. Eventually, I found I could easily use both without sounding "out". The fact that the switch from Cmaj7b5 to C6 did not specify a new fourth created an ambiguity that let me break free from the diatonic scale, and into "chromatic country"

C7sus: We have now specified a natural fourth, as well as a b7, so the mixolydian mode in the logical choice. The change from a 7 to a b7 is slightly unexpected, but by no means jarring. You can safely emphasize this change without fear of sounding "out". I actually repeatedly found myself leading into the chord change with a chromatic line (octave --> 7 --> (chord change) --> b7) without any negative effect.

Cm7: As far as the chord change goes, it's not entirely unpleasant, but the switch to the dorian mode was just jarring. The flatting of the third here sounds off. There's really no way that I could find to gently modulate between parallel diatonic major and minor scales (but what about non-diatonic scales? More on that later) My suggestion? As I mentioned earlier, avoid emphasizing the flatting of the third in the melody line. Let the chord change establish the new mood before using the new third while soloing. Ideally, avoid the third completely until the switch to...

Cm: There are actually a number of options here, but I chose aeolian because it flows more smoothly into the next chord change (you're only flatting the 2nd). The flatting of the sixth is surprisingly dramatic here, but not necessarily unwelcome (I hate the sound of a natural sixth paired with a flat third). The sixth doesn't really "work" as a chromatic note, but a b2 works surprisingly well. By this point, the flat third felt comfortable, so I resumed using it in the melody line.

Csusb9: A flat 9 can only mean one thing (Ok...several things, but I'm using phrygian). The second sounds damn good here, and the change from aeolian isn't as apparent as you'd think. Don't think that the chordal ambiguity will let you toy with the third for a phrygian dominant effect, it just sounds off.

C7: You have a huge number of options here (mixolydian, altered, lydian dominant, pentatonic etc), but I kept right on with phrygian, for two reasons. One, it provided the smoothest transition to the next chord, and two, it was suggested to me that the b3 of the phrygian mode would act as a #2 over a dominant chord, giving an altered sound. Loving the altered scale as I do, I gave it a try, and lo' and behold, the phrygian mode works very well here. Similar in sound to locrian, without the dissonance. Don't think this is restricted to jazz, either. This sound is very pleasing to the ear; it's not even necessarily "dark".

Cm7b5: Obviously, locrian. The b5 isn't as jarring as it looks, but overuse of the b2 in the melody seemed to make the progression want to resolve to the relative major (more on this in a second). If the b5 doesn't appeal to you, you can safely avoid it in the melody and let the backing chord do the "locrianizing" for you. An interesting thing I discovered about locrians tendency to resolve upwards to the second degree is that it sounds entirely natural in the context of the progression. It would be very easy to eliminate C as the tonal center here and resolve up to C#. You could then repeat the progression in C, starting from C#6, and keep moving up the fretboard chromatically. An interesting idea for a song (or a series of songs, each in a different key).

The progression then repeats itself, from Cm7b5 back to Cmaj7b5. Contrary to what I said earlier, the shifting of the third here does not sound off. In fact, the switch from locrian to lydian seemed completely natural, probably because the focus of both modes is, enharmonically, the same note, making the change in the third seem almost secondary. Actually, resting on the #4/b5 during the chord change results in a very interesting effect, almost like "coming out from a tunnel"

Essentially, instead of rapidly shifting moods, I slowly altered the generally feel of the song by changing single intervals at a time, allowing the piece to float naturally into a dramatically different atmosphere. The point is to stop fixating on scales in a traditional sense, and instead use the structure of the progression to your advantage, allowing you to pick individual notes based on the effect you want to get across, and the effects that those notes give when paired with the chords.

Experiment with this.

I'll post more nonsensical nonsense when it comes to me.
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post #2 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 01:12 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

"Pitch axis" seems like a very robotic way of creating chord changes, try and do some more analyisis and focus on harmony rather than just 'what notes sound good over which chords', that's obviously a part of it but you can't just disregard harmony altogether or all your improv will be an endless series of vamps with nothing (or something entirely arbitrary) tieing them together.

I also notice that 4 and #4 are completely interchangable over a maj7 but I tend to accent a nat 4 and only use the #4 as a passing tone (I'm not much of a shredder anymore obviously :P), 9ths are my favorite resolve tone, they resovle most of the tension but not all like the root does.
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post #3 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 01:20 AM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Originally Posted by crevis View Post
"Pitch axis" seems like a very robotic way of creating chord changes, try and do some more analyisis and focus on harmony rather than just 'what notes sound good over which chords', that's obviously a part of it but you can't just disregard harmony altogether or all your improv will be an endless series of vamps with nothing (or something entirely arbitrary) tieing them together.
I'm not disregarding harmony, I'm focusing on a changing harmony over a static root, as a way to subtly alter the overall atmosphere of the song. I don't actually recall demanding other to use the technique exclusively. Your statement is like telling someone "Don't worry about the major scale...focus on other scales". Why? What if I like the sound of the major scale? Pitch axis is just one way of creating a progression, and it certainly doesn't sound robotic.

Quote:
I also notice that 4 and #4 are completely interchangable over a maj7 but I tend to accent a nat 4 and only use the #4 as a passing tone (I'm not much of a shredder anymore obviously :P), 9ths are my favorite resolve tone, they resovle most of the tension but not all like the root does.
The #4 is a better choice over a maj7 chord, as the natural is an avoid tone. If that's the effect you're going for, so be it, just be aware of the dissonance.
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post #4 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 02:16 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

I was talking about 4 over a maj7, not maj7#4.

To each his own, I just prefer changes that have been written around a harmony rather than an arbitrary assortment of chords.
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post #5 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 02:29 AM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Originally Posted by crevis View Post
I was talking about 4 over a maj7, not maj7#4.
So was I. The natural 4 is an avoid note over a maj7 chord.

Quote:
I just prefer changes that have been written around a harmony rather than an arbitrary assortment of chords.
I prefer whatever will give me the sound I'm looking for in a particular song. Harmony refers to notes sounded simultaneously. Pitch axis is just one approach to harmony that has a specific sound that you can't get with a diatonic chord progression, which is why it's moronic to completely disregard it. My chord choice is hardly arbitrary, it actually follows a very predictable and purposeful pattern.
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post #6 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 04:36 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

I don't know but at a certain point I just gave up on music theory. I studied it for years, and at this point, I like to experiment with my ears. If it sounds good then it sounds good.
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post #7 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 05:14 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Originally Posted by Martyr Machine View Post
So was I. The natural 4 is an avoid note over a maj7 chord.



I prefer whatever will give me the sound I'm looking for in a particular song. Harmony refers to notes sounded simultaneously. Pitch axis is just one approach to harmony that has a specific sound that you can't get with a diatonic chord progression, which is why it's moronic to completely disregard it. My chord choice is hardly arbitrary, it actually follows a very predictable and purposeful pattern.
If there's one thing in musical theory you should disregard, it's the concept of 'avoid notes', after all the nat 7 is technically an 'avoid' note as well .

A harmony is a series of cadences that run through a progression and ties the chords together, these are usually chromatic half steps. eg. II - V - I

the b7th of the II chord goes down a half step to become the 3 of the V chord, then the b7 of the V chord goes down a half step to become the 3 of the I chord.

I think a knowledge of harmony is the most impotant thing in being a good improviser or composer, without it all you improv and compositions are a series of unrelated vamps.

Last edited by crevis; 01-05-2008 at 12:20 PM.
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post #8 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 07:15 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation


I smell a fight brewing. .....again over music theory.

How about this. Music theory encompasses alot of things and alot of different ways of doing things. When applied by musicians you will undoubtly get certain aspects of music theory most of the time where the other aspects may not ever get used. That's style.

Your style, Crevis, seems to be different than MMs. So be it. The argument your setting up here is based on your opinion because of a style that you have. It doesn't make what MM is saying wrong or right. Just leave it be and let the guy post. He's the only recent poster to try and educate our forum members to alittle theory.

Why don't you start your own thread and teach us all about "style" while using music theory. I guess while you're doing that you can post your tune up that you said you'd do several months ago with a little music theory break down on it.

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post #9 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 07:49 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

How about I just confine my theory talk to the All About Jazz forums, people generally know what they're talking about over there.

*and I'm not insinuating MM did anything wrong by starting this thread - because I know would have said something to that effect.
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post #10 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-05-2008, 02:53 PM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Your style, Crevis, seems to be different than MMs. So be it.
That's not even it. Pitch axis is just one of countless approaches to harmony, and it just happened to be the one I was experimenting with when I wrote this. Apparently, just because I don't completely disregard it, I'm ignoring every other approach. It's like criticizing Satriani for overusing the mixolydian mode because he uses it in one ****ing song. What's next? You should never ever learn sweep picking because alternate picking is more orthodox? That's basically what he's saying.

What if I like the specific sound that a pitch axis progression gives me? What if it's exactly what I'm looking for in a particular section of a song? Apparently, this is irrelevant and I should avoid an entire theoretical concept completely just because he doesn't like the sound of it.

Last edited by Martyr Machine; 01-05-2008 at 03:00 PM.
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post #11 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-06-2008, 06:35 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

very good analysis mm and an interesting chord progression as well. you hit the nail on the head about pitch axis theory; the 3rd is definitely going to be problematic if you plan on switching between major based modes (ionian, mixolydian, lydian, etc.) and minor based modes (aeolian, dorian, phrygian, etc.). the 3rd is the 2nd most important note in any scale, as it defines (most of the time) maj/min affiliation. as a matter of opinion, i do agree with crevis that an entire song based on pitch axis would be the musical equivalent of a dog chasing it's tail as the constant pedal tone (in this case, C) doesn't allow the harmony to truly develop in a traditional sense, but it doesn't seem as though this was your intention in the first place. i interpreted this as more of a 'case study' in pitch axis, or a practice progression to test out what works and what doesn't.

that being said, it's always going to sound somewhat dissonant when you change from a chord with a maj 3rd to a chord with a min 3rd when the chords have the same root. of course it has been done in mainstream music (pop, jazz), but usually you see it when chords have a tone that has chromatic movement (i.e. Cmaj - Csus4 - Cmaj#11).

the other thing to keep in mind is that we all don't have the same tolerance for dissonance, and what may not sound that out to you or me may sound horrible to someone else and what you may not think sounds right may sound completely acceptable (and may actually be what is called for theoretically). take for example your dilemma with the C7sus4. since this chord doesn't have a clear modality, you could technically get away with dorian or even phrygian (basically anything with a b7). but it sounded off to you because you had just got done playing major based modes in the previous chords. the key here is what notes you currently play are going to affect what 'works' in the next chord in the progression. being raised with western harmony all around us, we want to hear resolutions based on the major scale and its modes (the 2-5-1 crevis mentioned). if the chord progression does not support traditional harmony, it will be difficult to create melodies/solos that sound melodic in the traditional sense. there are ways around it of course. avoiding the 3rd is one (the option you chose), but honestly, if the third is in the harmony it's still going to stick out when you consider its juxtaposition with the other chords. another idea that jazzers do is chromatic voice leading in their melodies to get them from point a to point b.

anyway, good stuff, keep it coming
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post #12 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-06-2008, 07:28 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Originally Posted by Martyr Machine View Post
That's not even it. Pitch axis is just one of countless approaches to harmony, and it just happened to be the one I was experimenting with when I wrote this. Apparently, just because I don't completely disregard it, I'm ignoring every other approach. It's like criticizing Satriani for overusing the mixolydian mode because he uses it in one ****ing song.

Exactly! It seems like every time someone has something useful to say about music theory he chimes in and it eventually turns into a fight. I don't get why he does it. That was the whole purpose of the "Me Writing A Song" thread. He got into with someone on here talking about music theory and Jemmer gave him a challenge. It was basically a put up or shut up challenge, which he has yet to "put up".

Crevis started the thread and several of us, myself included, put up a song and analyzed it using theory. I thought it would be a great place for others to see how our songs are made up and what theory techniques we used to do it. Since he started the thread he has never posted up a song. He took a very long hiatus from here too for whatever reason. Now he's back and seems like the first thing he does is start critcizing how someone teaches alittle music theory.

Anyways, I'm glad you've decided to post about theory. Alot of people on here, I'm sure, have found it useful. And hey, if you get a chance, why don't you post a song on that thread and analyze it? I'm sure alot of people would find that useful.

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post #13 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-06-2008, 07:33 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Originally Posted by rastachild View Post
...doesn't allow the harmony to truly develop in a traditional sense, but it doesn't seem as though this was your intention in the first place. i interpreted this as more of a 'case study' in pitch axis, or a practice progression to test out what works and what doesn't.

That's exactly what it is. It's nothing more than what you might would find in a guitar magazine article teaching the method of pitch axis. It's not going to encompass the entire encyclopedia of music theory....just one small section of it.

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post #14 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-06-2008, 08:07 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

"Pitch axis is robotic and void of any harmony" = MY OPINION!!!

Do what ever the hell YOU like to do, I offered MY OPINION. Do you go on a public forum and expect everyone to think the exact same thing?

Quote:
That's not even it. Pitch axis is just one of countless approaches to harmony
What I'm saying is that pitch axis does not use any harmonic principles, you can't grasp what I'm telling you because you don't know enough about harmony.
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post #15 of 26 (permalink) Old 01-06-2008, 08:11 AM
 
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Re: Improvisation

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Originally Posted by courtney2018 View Post

Exactly! It seems like every time someone has something useful to say about music theory he chimes in and it eventually turns into a fight. I don't get why he does it. That was the whole purpose of the "Me Writing A Song" thread. He got into with someone on here talking about music theory and Jemmer gave him a challenge. It was basically a put up or shut up challenge, which he has yet to "put up".

Crevis started the thread and several of us, myself included, put up a song and analyzed it using theory. I thought it would be a great place for others to see how our songs are made up and what theory techniques we used to do it. Since he started the thread he has never posted up a song. He took a very long hiatus from here too for whatever reason. Now he's back and seems like the first thing he does is start critcizing how someone teaches alittle music theory.

Anyways, I'm glad you've decided to post about theory. Alot of people on here, I'm sure, have found it useful. And hey, if you get a chance, why don't you post a song on that thread and analyze it? I'm sure alot of people would find that useful.

How did I turn it into a fight? Like I said, I offered an opinion and MM didn't like it .

I have lost all interest in composition atm, I will glady analyze someone else's song.
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