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Lesson Series

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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 6: Enhancing the Major II-V-I Progression

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 28 **

Hi guys and welcome again to my fusion guitar lesson column for this issue of Guitar Interactive Magazine. In my last guitar lesson we dealt with some pretty complex ideas to enhance or modernise the standard jazz minor II-V-I chord progression. In this guitar tutorial we’ll be dealing with the major II-V-I and utilising some tricks or tools to make this most important and vanilla of guitar chord progressions more modern and exciting. At no point will we be dealing with ideas related to playing guitar solos over these ideas so don’t worry if some of the theory goes over your head a little bit. If you’re not a theory kind of guy feel free to use these ideas as shapes and sounds only and don’t worry too much about why they work at this stage. For the theory guys - dive in! As usual, all of these chord progressions are written out for you in standard tuning in the included TAB download.

The first idea we’ll be using is a device I use all the time over the tune ‘Giant Steps’ when it is played as a ballad. This idea utilises a simple inversion technique to alter the bass movement of the progression and give us a more modern sounding, almost Pop like result. We start with a simple II chord, in the case of the video lesson, Gm7. This could be Gm9, Gm11 or Gm13 of course, anything from the Dorian scale. Next we’ll use a C9sus4 chord for the V chord - this gives us a more modern sound where the 3rd has been replaced with the 4th. The next idea is to play an inversion of the C7 chord with the b7th in the bass. This can be achieved by playing a C triad on the D,G and B strings with the b7 on the low E creating a nice smooth bass motion from the C to the Bb. To keep the rhythmic flow correct both the C9sus4 and C/Bb chords will last for two beats. For our I chord we will again be using an inversion where the 3rd of the chord is in the bass, giving us F/A. The voicing I use in the video contains the 9th also, giving us a more pretty sound that suits the Pop context of this progression. The really nice element of this idea is the descending bass line, moving from C to Bb to A, resulting in a much smoother bass line than a traditional II-V-I.

Our second idea has a number of variations based around using an altered dominant as our V chord. There is a neat little trick that soloists use to play over an altered dominant, using a minor pentatonic a minor 3rd or 3 frets higher than the root note of the chord to outline all the cool altered notes from the scale. If we’re in the key of C this time then our II chord is Dm7 and the V chord would be G7alt or altered. If we go a minor 3rd above the root note, G, we get a Bbm Pentatonic scale. The Bbm pentatonic contains the notes Bb, Db, Eb, F and Ab which spell out a Bbm11 chord when stacked up. This means that we can replace our G7alt chord with a Bbm11 chord giving us the progression Dm11 (II chord), Bbm11 (V Chord substitute) and Cmaj7 (I chord). This is a very cool and modern sound that works very well to ‘modernise’ our II-V-I progressions. There are some variations of this too. We can switch the Cmaj7 chord for its relative minor - Am7 or Am11 giving us the progression Dm11 - Bbm11 - Am11. We can also switch out the Cmaj7 for a Bm11 giving us Dm11 - Bbm11 - Bm11. This comes from another soloing concept where the I chord is thought of as a Lydian Chord (Cmaj7#11) and we use the minor pentatonic scale a semitone below the root (Bm pentatonic) to solo over it. This gives us the characteristic #11 interval over the chord and can be applied to the progression too. Finally we can substitute Dm11 for our Am11 giving us the progression Am11 - Bbm11 - Bm11.

Our final idea is based around pedal tones and relies on using the V chord root note as a constant bass note for each of our chords. This can be simple or more complex depending upon the desired level of tension but the most simple example would be to simply play each of the existing chords with a G bass note as follows - Dm7/G - G13 - Cmaj7/G. You’ll find this simple version in the video and TAB. For a more modern sound we can utilise some tension on the V chord by using a C# or Db major triad on the D,G and B strings. This gives us the b9, b5 and b7 intervals against the G root note, making an altered dominant sound. You can experiment with all sorts of cool sounds using this technique where the V chord bass note is used as a low pedal tone.

So there you have it for this issue - there is a lot to take in here and I recommend you watch the video a few times and digest each of these new sounds slowly with the accompanying TAB. You need to employ some of these ideas carefully in your compositions - they are not really suitable for jam sessions and the like as they change the way the soloist must play, but they make great compositional devices that can really add some cool new sounds to your tunes.

As ever, good luck and I’ll see you all next time!

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