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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 4 - Part 1: Moving Key Centres

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 34 **

Hello guitar people. This lesson I want to touch on the possibility that your guitar improvisation may not always fall over your favourite key, and then stay there. Sometimes we have to move through key centres when soloing, which may even involve a dreaded sharp or flat key. Obviously for many out there this subject is already conquered, but I would wager that a good percentage of you reading this may struggle with the idea that you might have to change things up and down to an appropriate scale or key whilst in mid guitar solo.

Why not check whether my four chord vamp poses you any problems, before watching the full tutorial, and see what you might do to approach playing over it? The chords are Gm11 / Bbmaj7 / Db6 with an Eb in the bass / Ab. Try recording those chords at a slow groove (maybe quickly just throw them into your smart phone if you have one), and then get your bearings over what scale shapes you can use, what fits and how you can make it sound good. Imagine it's a recording session and you are being paid to put down a nice solo. If you can't, then you know you have work to do, especially if you want a career as a player.

I have been in this situation many times, and sometimes it harder than others. Our little vamp today would be classed as basic and easy, so if you are struggling with this sequence, then try to digest my pointers as we go, because I have summarised a lot of information here to cram it in to the 20-25 minute tutorial. Anything you don't follow that I talk about or do, then do investigate with books or the Internet, or simply ask a more knowledgeable player than yourself. As long as you end up at some point being able to handle our four chords.

There are quite a few ways to approach this. They all are as challenging as each other, so in no particular order, I have isolated three ways you can 'see' where your musical information can come from.

Approach 1 would be chord fragments and inversions. Being able to instantly see three or four inversions of the chord you are playing over is invaluable. Add to that the little diad and triad chords that belong within the key centre and you have a lot of cool information to work on. Thoroughly investigate the CAGED system, which is now a well established short cut to opening up the neck, chord wise. I wish the CAGED system had been taught when I was a kid, it would have saved a lot of headaches caused by working out inversions and voicings by ear alone, and saved me so much musical frustration!

Approach 2 is the one that I feel confident most of you will get a grasp of the quickest because it is Pentatonic based, and we all love a Pentatonic. Simply play a Pentatonic that corresponds to each chord. So you want any Gminor Pentatonic shape for the 1st chord. Any Bb major pentatonic for the 2nd chord, which is handy because Gm and Bb have the same notes, so essentially they are the same shapes, except you have to phrase those shapes to tell the listener it's Gm or Bb major. Always know where your root notes are and you'll be fine. Chord 3 is a Db major Pentatonic and chord 4 is a Ab major pentatonic. Choose one area on the fret board and try to switch the shapes as the chord passes by. I think in my demo I went through the shapes up around the 12 fret. Do this in all areas of the neck, and then you will be able to see the scales as a whole, and hopefully improvise moving freely all over.

Approach 3 is three note per string major/minor scale and knowing why they work and where they sit in a harmonised key centre. For instance, Gm11 and Bbmajor7 are brother and sister because they are the relative major and minor to each other. When you harmonise diatonically with chords from Bbmajor, Gminor will be your 6th chord. Being able to diatonically (meaning belonging to the key centre) harmonise chords is essential for getting to grips with your modes. So the first two chords either belong to Gm as a key centre or Bb major as a key centre - depends how you are more comfortable seeing it. The same notes constitute a G natural minor scale (Aeolian) or a Bb major scale (Ionian). Basically I see that as one scale highlighting either a G minor sound or the Bb major sound. It's the same thinking for the Db6 over Eb to the Ab major chords. Db is the 4th chord belonging to Ab major, so you could think the Ab major scale for both, or if you want to a more technical way of seeing it, you could think Lydian moving to Ionian. For my small brain, the simplest way is the best way!

I tend to find teaching and talking about this side of things can be a little 'soulless', and I like to try and keep my Pro Concepts contribution to GI fun and light. Unfortunately, In order to reach the fun and light stage, sometimes we have to look at some more theory based stuff, because if you are serious about being a versatile pro, then there is no avoiding the work you have to put in, in the many areas I have covered already (has it really been 2 years!!!) (Longer - Ed). Hopefully you will get something from this and normal service will be resumed next issue.


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