Many students ask me, “What are you thinking about while you are improvising?” I usually respond, in my wry manner, “my bills.” And so it is, after many years of playing, there is little to think about. You close your eyes, hope the band is up to par, the club owner is not a drag, and that it doesn’t rain. Having stated this, I DO understand the question from the student’s level of playing.
If the ear is still not so perfected, there are several harmonic devices at your disposal. Today we will speak about applying enharmonic chord substations to the improvised line. For example, you can look at Cmajor7, voiced in its root position as C, E, G, and B (also) as some kind of A-9, D7sus4, or Fmajor7#11. Try to begin thinking this way in the remaining eleven keys. Know where each interval stands within the enharmonic equivalents. For example, C is the flat third of A, the flat seventh of D and the fifth of F. E is the third of C, and the 7th of F, etc. It will be a good idea to invert C, E, G, and B into three inversions.
For guitar, the “drop 2” voicings work within the comfort zone of guitar fingerings. Try “arpeggiating” these voicings. After acquiring good command in arpeggiating these voicings, experiment in the art of displacing their respective functions. In other words, those same notes, C, E, G, and B will work miracles within different harmonic settings. If Cmajor7 is changed to function as some sort of A-9 chord, allow it to lead into the familiar V7 cadential movement. However, now use the initial C, E, G, and B configuration with the respective inversions in an arpeggiated format. Hence, you teach yourself to think differently and thus gives you something “to think about” while you are improvising. I suggest that, if the arpeggiated configurations become useful against the relative minor, it works best to alter the V7 chord using #9 and/or b9 tensions into the desired I chord quality. Learn to come into “back door ways” also for example use the C, E, G, and B arpeggiations against Fmajor7 (#11/9) after coming out of G-7 to C7, etc.
See you at Lesson 2!!