Getting into some more advanced sounds, we looked at playing the Altered scale over V chords last month.
A quick recap – the V chord in a C Minor Blues (Figure A) would be G7 (G-B-D-F). A lot of players would just play C Minor Pentatonic (C-Eb-F-G-Bb) over the whole progression. This is a very common sound that we all know and have heard a million times. It works and can sound great. The issue with this however, is a couple of the notes from C Min Pentatonic might not be a good fit over G7. And probably more to the point – many players just noodling away on C Min Pent might not be aware of the chords underneath/not be aware some of the notes don’t technically fit/be oblivious to the sound they’re producing playing over these chords.
C-Eb-F-G-Bb (C Min Pent)
G-B-D-F (G7 chord)
Compare the notes above….anything that sticks out? Bb and B potentially clash as a starting point. Yes, it’s all taste but what might sound better to your ear as the B natural over the G7 chord. As mentioned last issue G Altered has both Bb and B natural and when used in conjunction they can create a cool sound such as the one shown in Figure B. This lick could be used over a G7 chord (the last bar of a C Minor blues resolving from G7 back to Cm for example).
Figure C uses E Altered and plays both chord tones and altered notes (b9/b5/#5) to add tension. This example sounds a little more ‘out’ and has a jazz fusion flavour to it. Try adding some distortion and playing over a straight funk groove. Think Weather Report, Frank Gambale, Chick Corea, Tribal Tech, Oz Noy, Mike Stern…
One of the keys with making the Altered scale sound hip is resolving the line/lick, and doing it at an appropriate spot. You can prolong the tension and really push the listener’s ear (and perhaps the rest of your band who might react accordingly and continue to push the harmony too). But it’s always a nice feeling to then resolve the tension. This is what the masters seem to balance beautifully with sounds like the Altered scale. And of course, this can work in all styles/tempos/feels/genres. Country and western swing players are great at playing Altered sounds – especially some of the lightning fast chicken picking virtuosos. Let’s have one more look at the Altered scale next issue and load up with some longer licks that work over a range of chords (not just the Dominant 7 V chord).