View Full Version : Embellishing minor progressions

07-02-2003, 10:08 PM
Hi there everybody!

Centuries since I last appeared at forums with any musical initiative. Welcome myself back :)

Recently I've come across the thread at IBreatheMusic where someone wished there was more attention paid to acoustic guitar playing. Actually I guess that whatever we've been discussing at the forums applies pretty much to any kind of guitar though there might exist some peculiarities which one has to consider to get more out of his instrument. Now... let's talk a bit about comping (maybe singing along with it) on the rythm guitar. I'm going to keep in mind I've got my acoustic on my knee and I'm trying to obtain the richest and broadest possible sound because you might be lacking power without amplification, distortion etc. but still need to stay expressive.
What I'd like to talk about is how to make your comping interesting whatever simple melody you have to support. A lot of words have been said on jazzy major progressions. There are zillions of known ways in major to embellish, alter, substitute every single sound and chord to come up with something new and unique. But given the fact that most of the pop rock songs are composed in minor we mostly have to deal with those stupid Am based 3 or 4 chord progressions and gotta make our way out of this reality. OK, things are not this bad - just trying to tell you what I'm driving at. So, imagine the situation when our comping sounds plain to us and even our rythmic skills can't compensate for the lack of arrangement diversity. Let's try to discuss how to give the primitive minor progression a fresh touch.
What do we usually expect from the song that is written in minor? Let's call it "sadness" to generalize the whole range of feelings associated with the minor quality of sound just to keep it simple. When we need to garantee a strong minor shade in our music we stereotypically tend to use minor chords hoping they will bring the desired "sadness". But often we get the opposite effect. Say we need to play Dm or Dm7 continiously with the following bass movement:

Dm7/F -> Dm7/A -> Dm7/C

What we get instead is rather F6 -> F6/A -> F6/C with the apparent major flavour.
So there must be some tool to underline that "sadness". I'm sure there are many ways to do so. I'd like to share with you a known method of embellishing minor chord vamps (mainly tonic and subdominant) I use rather often. Not much revolution there indeed but why not recall good old tool you can use a lot without sounding boring? Here we go.

Chromatic movement of middle voice and bass will do the thing!

See the attached image and try to play it to feel what I'm talking about. The chromatism supported by stepwise diatonic movement is the very thing we can rely upon. The idea is that the minor 3rd interval (m3) is already an alteration of the major 3rd (M3) cos the sound naturally contains M3 overtone among the most audible ones. Thus we manage to obtain a desired feeling of sad unrest to any minor chord which otherwise sounds pretty boring if played for ages without changes. Embellishing minor chord vamps in this way would be closer to what you're aiming at. This method can be applied in many other ways I guess...
I have a couple more thought on this and going to post the stuff on power chords which will be more acoustic-specific as I promised at the beginning of this thread. That willl be just great if you join me and post your ideas on the topic. I hope you'll find it interesting.

Ultra mega best regards,

07-02-2003, 10:12 PM
Plus ptb...

07-03-2003, 07:36 AM
On acoustic guitar this method can be more effectively shown using Em vamp. 3 lower open pedal strings outline descending chromatic bass movement well and the whole progression is played extremely easily but along with it sounds much better than a straight Em all the way.

In these examples the progression remains the same - we don't even need to reharmonize it, though reharmonization is also worth mentioning in this thread...

07-03-2003, 07:37 AM
ptb to the above example...

07-03-2003, 10:56 AM
Let's make it even more acoustic-sounding and interesting with the help of yet another open chords. As you can see it's a rather powerful tool. This is an improvised comping over "Besame Mucho" theme. The song line goes all E over the 1 and a half bars there so the bass never gets clashed with melody:

07-03-2003, 10:57 AM
Besame Mucho comping ptb...