Beyond E Major (Part 3)
more jazz techniques
The allure of the octave, the power of the right hand and the mystery of the diminished chord. Billy Jenkins continues his series on jazz guitar made sensible.
Having outlined three basic chord shapes from which to work, the serious student of strum should, by now, have mastered the blues pattern in last month's article.
If you're comfortable with your execution of the chords prescribed, you should be able to recognise each tonic note and be able to instantly locate an F, B, C9 etc whenever needed. Using these as your home base, I want to look at 'target practice.'
It is important and only right that you know every single note available to you on the fretboard. Now is the time to run a finger up the neck calling out the name of each note as you go. To the uninitiated, the A string reads: A (open), A sharp or B flat (1st fret), B (2nd), C (3rd), C sharp or D flat (4th), D (5th), D sharp or E flat (6th), E (7th), F (8th), F sharp or G flat (9th), G (10th), G sharp or A flat (11th) A at the octave (12th) and so on.
It would help to draw your own neck with every name written in, using a different colour for each of the seven notes (ABCDEFG) so you can easily see where matching tones can be located.
This is a useful timbre variation, immortalised by Wes Montgomery who used no plectrum but could play incredibly fast right hand patterns using just his thumb. There are various ways of playing them of which the two simplest are:
(a) On the bottom strings (and by bottom I mean pitch). Place your first finger on the sixth string on say A and then place either your 3rd or 4th finger on the A two strings across (D string and two frets up). The two notes should sound the same, albeit an octave apart.
(b) On the middle two strings. Place your first finger on, say, the G of the D string (5th fret) and then place your 3rd or 4th finger two strings across (B string) but this time three frets up. This is to compensate for the semi-tone lower tuning of the B string as opposed to the 2½ tone spread of the other strings.
The use of the 3rd or 4th finger is a personal choice. To avoid playing the inbetween string when you bring your plectrum hand down, dampen it with the first finger on your left hand.
Now you're ready to start your target practice.
Strike a chord from which you can recognise the tonic e.g. an E shape barre with the tonic indicated by the first finger, Then, using the two methods just described, seek and locate (or perhaps seek and destroy) EVERY octave permutation. Mix in some right hand rhythm (mostly downstrokes) to create an exciting high and low jumping pattern. Before long you will be able to jump the correct distance without fluffing.
As you become more confident, start to add extra notes by either academically playing the fifth note of the scale enroute to a higher position, or by beating out a simple melody such as the riff from 'Pictures of Matchstick Men' by Status Quo entirely in octaves.
I like to think of the tonic and dominant (5th) notes as your 'safety' tones – notes that you can quickly return to should you become unstuck or lose your bearings. Knowledge of a safe haven is always a good thing, although perhaps in jazz, accidents are more exciting than prevention.
I recommend you listen to the style of Wes Montgomery either on 'The Incredible Jazz Guitar of...' (Riverside 12-320), or 'So Do It' (Riverside 2360 003), or many other Montgomery albums but be careful – many of his later recordings had him fronting an MOR orchestra, safe as houses and bland as a Barratt Box.
When looking for interesting chord inversions it is not just the left hand that matters. I've already mentioned using just the middle four strings for C7 type chords, but it is also useful to use two or three strings which requires careful application of plectrum or fingers.
The basic D7 chord for instance, when played in the first position, makes use of the open D. If, however, you move it up two frets (one whole tone), to make E7, the open fourth string will not be necessary.
With your three fingers in this 'vee' shape, you can now play any 7th on the top three strings and like most other shapes it sounds better when slid into position from a semi-tone or the fret down.
Hold this position on the guitar in, say, an E7. To locate it simply play an ordinary D (first finger on the 2nd fret, third string; second finger 2nd fret, first string; third finger 3rd fret, second string). The tonic is indicated by the third finger. Then switch to a D7 (first finger 1st fret, second string; second finger 2nd fret, third string; third finger 2nd fret, first string), and shift the shape up two frets. Strike the top three strings as you move from D7, to D sharp 7, to E7.
Now you discard your plectrum so that you can play the bottom E with your right hand thumb and the top three strings with the first three right hand fingers then move the 7th shape up and down the length of the fretboard.
A seesaw rhythm between the thumb and fingers, jabbing away rather like a pianist's right hand, should be the thing to work on.
From this shape two variations spring to mind. Firstly an 11th chord which is sounded by placing the fourth finger of your left hand in front of the third on the top string.
Try this simple exercise.
Alternating between an 11th and a 7th, simply play E11, E7, E11, E7, striking the bottom E string at the same time with your right hand thumb, then shift back two frets and play D11, D7, D11, D7, using the open D string as a base. Use this simple pattern to strengthen right hand dexterity. Even if you've always used a plectrum and consider finger picking for folk artistes only, you will need to improve your right hand speed in order to cope with the complexities of fast, rhythmic phrases.
The second variation is the diminished chord.
To diminish a note means to lower it by a semi-tone. When you augment a note you raise it by a semi-tone.
As a foretaste of detailed examination of the diminshed chord and its uses in a future article, you can play and hear a diminished chord by taking your first finger while in the D7 shape, and pressing it across the top four strings on the first fret. This shape takes its name from the tonic played by the second finger on the third string, so in this instance the chord is A dim, A°, or A Diminished. Fingering is: first finger flat across the 1st fret of the top four strings; second finger 2nd fret, third string; third finger 2nd fret, first string. (E flat, A, C, F sharp.)
Inversions of A dim can also be played simply be shifting the shape up and down the fretboard. When the second finger falls on the C at the fifth fret, the E flat at the eighth fret or the F sharp at the 11th fret, it will still be A dim but the E flat. A, C and F sharp notes will be in a different order across the top four strings.
Practice this A Dim run jumping up three frets at a time, once again using your right hand thumb to underpin the open A (5th) string. Just to be really thorough, try plucking the top four strings with all four fingers of the right hand.
Feature by Billy Jenkins
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