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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 18: Non-Diatonic Blues Progression

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 57 **

Hi there, guys and welcome back to my column for this issue. I wanted to give you guys a break from some of the trickier stuff that we’ve been looking at recently and show you something that is really easy to apply but sounds great straight away. Have you ever noticed that players like Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Matt Scofield and Oz Noy seem to play over seemingly complex chord progressions but get away with playing simple minor pentatonic phrases over the top whilst sounding incredibly hip and interesting at the same time? Bands like Steely Dan often employ very complex sounding chord progressions and then construct melodies and solos using nothing more than the 5-notes of the minor pentatonic scale.

Today, I want to give you just such a chord progression, that you can employ in any key and use in a blues or pretty much anywhere you want to add interest in your writing. This progression contains three ‘non-diatonic’ chords, meaning that they aren’t from the key that we’ll be starting out in – in other words, they contain notes outside of the key that our song is in. Under normal circumstances this would mean that we would need to play a different scale over these chords in order to sound ‘inside’ over them, or at least solo/write a melody using their chord tones as a guide.

Switching scales mid solo like this is very tricky for most players, especially if they are used to playing by ear or just using the minor pentatonic scale as their primary source of notes. The good news is that the progression we’ll be looking at today allows you to use a single scale over all of the chords, even though they don’t come from the same key. This allows you to concentrate on phrasing and other musical elements, rather than playing a constant game of keeping up with the chords! The even better news is that the single scale we’ll be playing is the minor pentatonic scale and this chord progression makes this scale sound incredibly hip, as if you are playing far more complex material than you actually are – a nice trick that is very evident in the playing of the aforementioned guitarists.

The progression in question is essentially built with the blues in mind, being that the I chord in our key is going to be a dominant 7th chord. We’ll be in the key of C, so our I chord is C7, C9 or C13. Over this chord most people will default to the C minor pentatonic for a typically bluesy sound. The other three chords will be built from the b7, b6 and 4th degrees of the key giving us Bb7, Ab7 and F7. The key of C doesn’t actually contain any of these chords but in a blues in C we would always use the F7. All of these chords are non-diatonic to the key of C but the Cm Pentatonic sounds fantastic over all of them.

You can use 9 or 13 chord voicings for all or any of these chords to add more colour to the progression and the chords can be arranged in any order you like, but you should usually start on the C7 to define the key centre of C – it’s not essential though.

Check out the included tablature for the chord voicings and watch the video to hear me playing all of the chords and soloing over them using the Cm Pentatonic scale exclusively. It’s so cool to hear how different your usual licks sound over these non-diatonic chords and even better to play over a cool progression without worrying about specifically following each chord.

I hope you enjoy this selection of chords and can find some uses for it – if you want to see this idea expanded further check out the tune Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Charles Mingus. Jeff Beck did a classic version of this amazing tune and it is chock full of weird chords that will sound fantastic with a minor pentatonic based solo over the top! Of course, for those adventurous enough you could try soloing over this progression (and GBPPH) using a different scale for every chord, but we’ll save that for another time!

Good luck and see you all in the next issue,


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