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Tonal changes? easy rule?

dankajdankaj Bergen, NorwayNew
edited February 2008 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 9
Hello, this might be a result of laziness and\or stupidity, but i have never had the patience to get into the theory. Still, i am very able to play solos over certain songs, using my own shape-based pattern. But i come up short when there is a tonal change in a song, especially when there are short intervals of tonal change. Some songs i can figure it out. Like on blue bossa; i found out the soloing pattern in my terminology is first in the key of F an then two steps down to the key of D. I don't know if this makes sense, when you know you're scales and theory its probably a different terminology. But My question is this: Is there any kind of rule or simple trick to figuring out how to solo over tonal changes? Preferably without having to get into theory too much? I'm having a hard time figuring out how to solo over the tonal changes in "star eyes". Anyone play it?


  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    That's a tough one. There isn't really a short answer to your question.
    To really cover the aspect of shifting tonal centers, you really to learn some basic theory, [which isn't the answer that you were looking for]. Playing an interesting solo over a standard like "Star Eyes"
    is going to be too involved to cover in here. If you'd like you can email me thru my band's website I'll try to help you as much as I can.
    Anyhow, here's a quick overview;
    1) Soloists in Gypsy Jazz and most styles of jazz approach solos by playing in the key and also by outlining the chord, [also called change running, using chord shapes, etc.] As you probably know, Gypsy Jazz involves playing on the chord shapes, and also playing in and out of the chord shapes by using upper and lower neighbor tones. This is well covered in Stephane Wremble's book "Getting into Gypsy Jazz."
    2) the songs used for improvisation in jazz involve shifting tonal centers as opposed to pop songs or to playing on a 12 bar blues,
    [of course]. I'm hoping that you know the function of V7 chords, [I realize that you may not.] [Note to Michael, we need an emoticon for "fingers crossed,"]
    In "Star Eyes" in the published key of "Eb"
    has tonal centers of Eb, Db, F, Ab, Gb. That's a lot of keys[!]
    We should really look at the form of the song. Why? Because you really need to understand and know the form to play meaningful solos, because
    the song is more than just a series of chords. Maybe it would be a good idea to learn the melody. As far as the form;
    The "A" section is 16 bars
    "B" section is 8
    "C" section is 12 bars
    Here's a question to you. Is there anything unusual about the form, and if so, what would that be? As you ponder that, you might also want to think about the points in the melody that are points of rest or resolutions,
    and points that are more active, that lead to resolutions, or cadences.
    If all of that sounds like gobbledygook to you then you should really
    get some theory instruction as I said before.
    Here's something that you can try;
    Find the points in the harmony that involve a V7 - I, even if it is a ii-V-I
    Use the scale of the "I" chord for the ii-V, but play it starting on the 5th degree of the scale of the Tonic, [hold the gin please].
    [Theory nerds call this the mixolydian mode :twisted: ]
    For example, in bar 4 the chords are ebmi7-Ab7, 2 beats each,
    then Dbma7 in bar 5 for 4 beats. Work out the mixolydian scale/mode
    starting on Ab. This scale will work over ebmi7 and ab7. You can work out some licks of your own targeting that 2 bar bit whenever in happens in the song. That would be a good place to start. If all of this boring stuff hasn't put you to sleep, and hasn't put you off of learning some theory basics, then I suggest that you pick up a great book called "The Jazz Piano Book,"
    by Mark Levine, published by Sher music. If you don't read music at all, I recommend that you tackle that issue first. Most of us weren't born with the great ear and creativity of a Wes Montgomery, [I can see by your post that you weren't either :wink: ]
    Anyway, this reminded me of someone trying to teach someone how to
    swim in deep water via an email I hope that it helps you. My apologies to you all for the long-winded post.
  • dankajdankaj Bergen, NorwayNew
    Posts: 9
    thanks a lot for the reply:) i must admit i don't know what a V7 chord is, i don't really think about anything but shapes, patterns and sound when i play.(yes, sort of like a less gifted version of Wes Montgomery) But nevertheless i actually started to figure out how to solo over star eyes, and all the tings you are,maybe the hints of theory in youre explanation just scared me into trying harder?;) i just started something i didn't really try before, namely to sing the tone and just try to make up a line of notes that fit, i guess you would call it a scale, and then i start seeing where the patterns change during the song. I also plagiarized Rene' Thoma's brilliant solo in "star eyes" on Chet bakers Italian sessions, which also helped a great deal.This is a revolution for me, as i have for a long time accepted the fact that i can only play in one tonal mood, kind of stupid i see now, took 2 days of just trying a little harder:) maybe ill become a moderately gifted Wes after some time? :D
  • well, I am a "hack" and so dont take my advice literally... i dont play professionally but I might understand where you are coming from...

    personally I will take a song like Dark Eyes and I wont literally follow the chord changes unless the song is slow enough for me to follow them. At faster tempos I will just think of Dark eyes as changing from Dm to Gm (the fifth of Dm and so with tension) and then back to Dm. With Swing Gitane I think of it as Gm to Ab (or Fm or D7(the tritone) for tension) and then back to Gm ( a similar thing in China Boy)... etc.. (I am generalizing here)

    In the case of an easier song like Minor Swing I might literally follow every chord change.

    With lots of practice on a particular tune I learn to listen for the tonal changes and where there is a ii-V-I I will basically play over the I and use ideas that I know works for that.

    Over something like the B part of Fiso Place , which goes G7-C7-F7-Bb7-Eb7-Ab7-G7, I will break it into 2's and therefore think of it as G7 tension to C, F7 tension to Bb, Eb7 tension to Ab, G7 tension back to Am....

    my thinking sorta works... but you should learn from someone who knows better... im just posting to give you an idea maybe because I am not afraid to... (maybe i should be?) lol
  • V-dubV-dub San Francisco, CA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 281
    I love how when someone asks for non-theory advice, every replies with theory advice.

    I'm not a theory guy either, so here's what I do:

    1. Find a few recordings of the song in question
    2. Transcribe some phrases over your trouble spots
    3. Keep doing this until you hear the changes everywhere and how ideas work over it

    Studying at the chords and trying to derive phrases from scratch using theory alone is harder when you don't think that way, in my humble opinion.
  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    I did qualify my advice. BTW, there's no reason in the world not to learn very basic theory, like V -1. There are many many great books that will take you thru the info so that really anybody can understand it.
    It's probably laziness to not make the effort to get a very basic understanding of the salient points. Hey just think of a 12 bar blues and the way it sounds when you get to the dominant chord in the progression, the tension resolution effect. In the long run it will make you a better player, and will probably enhance your appreciation and understanding
    of music in general.
  • Posts: 597
    dankaj wrote:
    Is there any kind of rule or simple trick to figuring out how to solo over tonal changes?

    One simple trick is to learn other tunes with the same or similar set of changes.

    For example, I Got Rhythm and The Flintstones ... both are based on the Rhythm Changes and both have melodies that sound great over those changes. Next, you could learn the melody to Charlie Christian's Seven Come Eleven or Duke Ellington's Cottontail or ... there's a really long list of tunes that use those changes.

    By learning a few different heads to those changes, you'll learn some pretty cool ways of navigating those changes. You can then mix and match, or just quote the melodies from your research for the hipsters in the crowd.

    By the way, the technical word for new melodies over old chords is "contrafact." Since improvisation could be considered the art of instaneously creating new melodies, improvisers are contrafacting all the time!

    (Don't know if "contrafacting" is actually a word, but hey!)
  • dankajdankaj Bergen, NorwayNew
    Posts: 9
    well now after playing a lot of jazz standards with lots of tonal changes im a intermediate tonalchanger now. I play cherokee, star eyes, airegin, just friends, well you neednt, pent up house, you name it, TONAL CHANGES with a capital T:) And i didnt have to learn ANY theory, even though i wish i had the patience. I hear some say its something anyone can learn and it probably is but im just totally ADD when it comes to that stuff.. here is my pattern, my only "theory", just wondering if it makes sense to anyone.

    h.gif 5.4K
  • JackJack western Massachusetts✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,911
    It looks like you figured out the modes of the major scale-your example is the G major scale played in all its positions...

  • WowBobWowWowBobWow Another Time & SpaceNew
    Posts: 221
    In regards to tonal changes a major simple rule is to play what you hear.

    If you aren't going to be big on theory that's fine, but try whistling or humming over those changes of a tune and see where your ears take you and let that melody get translated into the fretboard.

    Before I learned basic theory I used to just take the same tune and solo over it for 30 to 6o minutes, with a piece of paper with a guitar fretboard grid nearby. I would pencil in parts onto the paper of the fretboard grid where things sounds "good" to me and left out notes that just always sounded "bad." After a while I would see a pattern of what worked for me within that tune. Then I would use that grid over & over until I memorized the patterns on the guitar fretboard and it became useful when playing other tunes in any key.

    Some things just always work because they are imbedded within our ears through nursery rhymes, folk music, commercial jingles, and so you most likely can find what note you want over any place eventuall.

    A good saftey net: Virtually all forms of world music (from pop to jazz) use the pentatonic scale : for example, G major pentatonic is G A B D E, which you can use over a tune like Djangology. and when the B part happens, the part that goes to Ab (a tonal change), you would shift that pattern up a half step to play Ab Bb C Eb F, and then when the next tonal shift occurs to the A chord tonal change, just move that pattern up again to A B C# D F#.

    If theory headaches occur just take a break. If you do a bit a day and it'll eventually all start to make sense. I think taking the time to learn basic theory is not a bad thing and it will pay off in the long run.

    All great jazz players and musicians have a fundamental knowledge of what they are doing, and just because they can't read or write music doesn't mean they don't know music theory or musical concepts that they are using to express their creativity. Even just by using your ear you are still using theory you've derived from trial and error and in knowing what sounds good to you.
  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    I probably already said this, but here goes;

    Target the dominant chords in the song. the V7 chords often, [not always], set up the tonal shift.
    Quick example; in Swing 42 the shift to the key of E maj,
    is preceded by a B7 chord, and the return to the original key of
    C is preceded by a G7. [This is for the one or two folks here that don't already know this ]!
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