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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 17: Utilising Chord Scales

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 53 **

Hi there guys, and welcome back to my column for this issue. For today's lesson, we're going to be checking out a cool chordal technique that aims to free you up from the constraints of the traditional chord grips that we all learn on the fretboard. If you think of any given chord, you can probably associate it with one or more 'grips' or voicings on the fretboard that are your 'go-to' shapes. These are the chords that you have built into your muscle memory so that you can immediately access the sound of a Gm7 or a C7#9 or an Fmaj9 for example. These chord 'grips' are hugely useful in that they allow you to create the harmonic sound of a chord quickly and easily, but they aren't very creative and don't allow a lot of room for improvisation.

Of course, there is nothing to stop you from learning inversions of these chords to expand your vocabulary of available shapes, but I want to show you another method that is a bit more open and especially useful for jazz and fusion styles, thanks to the more open sound that it provides.

The concept we'll be looking at is known as 'Chord Scales' and works on the simple premise that we take a particular set of intervals from a scale and play them as a chord. This can be as arbitrary and improvised as you like - simply pick three intervals that you can make a chordal shape from, and that fit your harmonic area of choice, be it Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian or whatever. Once you have your three intervals mapped as a chord on the fretboard, it is a simple task of moving those intervals up or down diatonically through your scale of choice, creating seven different chord voicings, one for each degree of the scale.

These shapes don't need to be analysed too intensely or named as such against the root note of your scale. They are simply a series of chordal sounds that you can use in a particular harmonic context. For example, in G Dorian I started with the 9th on the A string, b3 on the D string and Root on the G string. I then moved this intervallic set down through the scale diatonically giving me the remaining voicings for G Dorian on this string set with this particular intervallic shape. When playing in a G Dorian context (in other words over a static Gm7 chord or when Gm7 is the II chord in a key) I can use these voicings for a more improvised or melodic approach, rather than the basic Gm7 grips that I have under my fingers.

There are some caveats to this approach that need to be mentioned though. You need to be stylistically aware when using this device - it's not suitable for all genres of music. Some genres and styles within those genres may require just a basic chord grip type in order to be stylistically 'correct.' Fusion and Jazz music is very open to this kind of approach, whereas certain types of pop, rock and country music, for example, may not be. Using your ears as a guide is your best bet. The second thing to be aware of is that certain interval combinations may produce results that you do not find pleasing. This is totally fine, and you should only use the interval combinations and shapes that you find interesting and appropriate for your music. Let your ears be your guide - if it sounds good to you and feels good, then it probably does to other people.

This technique was heavily employed by the late, great Allan Holdsworth so you should probably start there for some incredible examples of chord scales in action. You can practice this technique by harmonising random interval combinations through all seven major scale modes and all seven melodic minor modes for an extra challenge. It's a great way to increase your chord vocabulary and also develop a much better fretboard knowledge and awareness.

I wish you luck with your studies and will see you in the next one!


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