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Lesson Series

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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 7: Non-Diatonic Tricks Part 1

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 32 **

Hey guys and welcome back to my guitar lesson for issue 32 of the magazine. For this lesson we’re going to be taking a break from our time feel studies to look at a particular harmonic technique that I learned many years ago, before I could properly approach playing over chord changes. I’d discovered that there were a lot of contemporary Pop and Jazz tunes that had non-diatonic chords in them that were causing me problems when trying to improvise a coherent guitar solo. I would get to these non-diatonic chords (chords that don’t originate from the home key) and really struggle to play over them successfully with my limited knowledge. When I asked my teacher about this I was told that I just needed to learn the fretboard better and this advice is very true, but when you listen to the guitar solos from your heroes you’ll find that they take an alternative approach some of the time that yields great results.

Typically, the non-diatonic chords in a progression, where we’re not changing key all the time, come from a stock repertoire of clichés that have built up over many years of song writing. For example, change the IV chord in a major key from major to minor and you’ll hear a specific effect that will be very familiar to you. There are many progressions like this that are used for specific effects and include non-diatonic chords, but this can make the progression significantly harder to play over for many guitar players. Well, I’m going to introduce a little trick that you can try out that will work a large percentage of the time with great results.

When you have a chord progression that is in a particular key and there are just a few erroneous chords that seem to be outside of that key, a great little tool to solo over those chords is to utilise the minor pentatonic scale built from the root note of the key that you’re in. For example, if you are in the key of C major and you see a Bb7 chord, it’s obvious that this chord is not in the key of C, since there is no Bb note in that key. However, try to solo over it using the Cm pentatonic scale and check out the results - it sounds awesome! For now don’t worry about why this works - just listen and trust me that it does. Now, bear in mind that this won’t work over every chord progression and if the tune is changing key a lot, as in many Jazz standards, this method is no good and you simply must learn to outline the changes correctly. But, if there are just a few non-diatonic chords this system will work a great deal of the time.

For my examples on the video I use two progressions in the key of D major. The first utilises all diatonic chords except for a C9 chord in the final bar. You’ll see it written out in the accompanying tablature for this lesson. Over this C9 chord I play Dm Pentatonic whilst using the standard Bm or D major pentatonic scales over the rest of the progression. For the second example I utilise two non-diatonic chords, Bb major and C major and again play over both of these using my Dm pentatonic scale. Both of these chord progressions should sound familiar to you as they are very much a cliché in songwriting terms.

Try this for yourself on some other chord progressions you may come across with some non-diatonic chords in them. It is surprisingly successful a great many times and sounds superb when you pull it off correctly. The only other thing to watch out for is that you manage to resolve back to the home key or scale after when returning to diatonic chords.

Good luck with this - it’s a great tool that I employ regularly in my playing for a particular effect or sound and is something you will still use even if you have mastered changes playing and is really good for getting a ‘Woo!’ from your audience!

Until next time - Cheers! Tom

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