** As featured in issue 49 **
In the previous lesson we looked at how to approach playing over a fast Major II V I progression using a modal approach, i.e. finding the key centre of the progression and basing your solo on that, rather than just using arpeggios. In this lesson we are going to look at doing the same thing but over a minor II V I, and this throws up a slight twist in the theory. As always be sure to check out the video to hear the examples played that are on the accompanying TAB, and a more in depth description of how to play them.
Our minor progression in this lesson is as follows |Bm7b5 / E7 / |Am7 / / /| As the I chord is Am we can assume that the progression is in this key, so let’s look at the construction of A Aeolian (Natural Minor).
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
A B C D E F G
min7 min7b5 Maj7 min7 min7 Maj7 Dom7
The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that the 5th degree in A minor is a min7 chord, but our progression uses an E7 chord, so what's going on? If we constructed a II V I progression from the above we would get: |Bm7b5 / Em7 / |Am7 / / /| Play it and see what you think. It sounds fine but you may notice that the pull from the V chord to the I chord doesn’t sound very strong. Therefore, back in the day, Jazz musicians changed the chord from min7 to Dom 7 to give a stronger resolution. Try playing the progression again but use the E7 chord this time, and you should find that it resolves better.
That's all good, but this now causes an issue for the soloist as the new V chord contains a note that doesn’t fit with our current model approach. E7 = E, G#, B, D, the rub being the G# note which isn’t in our scale. Now, as we have seen in the past we could tackle this issue by using the relevant arpeggio and there are many different options over a V chord, all of which we will look at in the future, but for the moment we want a modal approach. Let’s change the construction of our scale to suit this new V chord.
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
A B C D E F G#
Now, I haven’t just gone and made a new scale up, this is the Harmonic Minor scale, which as you can see is exactly the same as Natural minor but with a Major 7th Interval. All this now takes care of our E7 chord that contains a G# note and will work over the entire progression. Those that know their chord construction may be screaming “But the Am7 has a G note in it!” It does indeed, however, playing a G# over this is considered a “hip” choice and both Harmonic and Melodic minor are often used over static minor chords as it creates a slightly outside and darker mood. All the licks and lines that I have written over this progression use A Harmonic minor, so you can see and hear how this mode works over a minor II V I.
However, there is a warning attached to this. Harmonic minor has a very specific sound courtesy of the minor 3rd leap from the b6 – 7 degree, it’s often described as Egyptian sounding. This sound is instantly recognisable and so in order to not sound predictable, you should try to find different intervallic leaps to make it sound less obvious. An old teacher of mine sums it up perfectly; “Harmonic minor works over this progression, but I'm pretty sure I've never heard Miles use it...”
As always, understand the theory behind it and look at it as another approach that you can consider and experiment with. Learn the lines I have written, but more importantly try your own ideas and see if this sound works for you.