View Full Version : I can't go "out" when improvising

05-09-2005, 08:11 AM
When I say "out", I mean notes or lines that aren't consonant with the harmony. "Out" is different from, wrong or unintended notes. My idea of an "outside" line is a controlled melody snippet which I hear in my head, and then play - like any other line, except that it is less consonant with the chords.

Whenever I play with my band, I almost exclusively play "inside" notes, i.e. notes that fit the chord. This is a fine and dandy, and I manage to make some fine melodies.(well in my opinion anyway :P) I acknowledge that you need to be good on the "inside" to be good on the "outside" - or?

However, sometimes when we are jamming, I want to play something outside, a little walk on the wild side or something like that. I just can't do it. I guess I'm too focused on making my notes fit. I think I just need to let go.

I'm going to try going "out" at practice tonight though.

I guess the problem is also that I don't hear outside melodies in my head. Can this only be solved with listening, grabbing melodies and transcribing - slowly recognizing outside sounds I like and incorporate them into my vocabulary?

Anyone else got this "problem" at some point or another? Any other thoughts or suggestions for me to try out tonight?

05-09-2005, 08:35 AM
I can't go "out" when I'm improvising because my guitar lead isn't long enough... :D

Sorry, just kidding. I can't help you with this much, but what about even chromatic pasing notes ? Surely you can put a few of those in and work towards being more "out" as you go along. How about playing something you know in freetime and every time the melody has a tone or minor 3rd step forcing in all the chromatic steps inbetween. (you might start to sound like Vernon Reid though if your not careful :D)

But really you need help from the more knowledgable folks...

05-09-2005, 08:47 AM
Everyone has this problem throughout their development. But think of it this way: when you first started to learn music I bet you couldn't even tell if the note you played was the root or not...well now that you want to go 'outside' I'm sure your pretty comfortable with picking the root out, yes? That's progress isn't it? Ok, not what you're looking for, but what I'm getting at is that you probably never sat down with a backing track and listened to the root over and over again...so, just because recognizing the bare basics ended up coming to you pretty naturally it doesn't mean that anything is going to be any different.

Of course there are ways to speed up this process. Sit down with a backing track and hang out in a C whole tone scale for half an hour...amoung other things. One useful trick I found was when learning a song I would put the first chord into band in a box and hit play for 10 chorus's and just work every possibility for that chord for 10 minutes or so...then I'd move on to the next chord and by the time you've finished the song your ears are thoroughly spent.

Another one I use quite often is I will pick a random song and map out the scales I will use to improvise before I start, saying something to myself along the lines of: for every minor chord I'm going to use phrygian, for every Major chord I'm going to use Lydian, for every m7b5 chord I'm going to use locrian natural 2 and for every dominant chord I'm going to use lydian dominant...all of these regardless of what the chord is functioning as. Of course this breaks every chord scale rule, but it forces you to deal with certain notes and resolutions instead of trying to put 'altered' notes into your playing when your comfortable with what you already have. Which is THE big obstacle to overcome...the difference between putting altered notes in when your comfortable with what your playing and when they just start to naturally come out in your playing.

Oh and singing is great too...find some melody that hits a #9 over a dominant chord on a strong beat and sing that every day I am a firm believer that if you can't sing it you don't properly know it...because take the guitar away and all your left with is your voice and whatever is in your head.

Some suggestions off the top of my head...'what is this thing called love' ends on a #5 over the dominant to the root of the I chord. 'Summertime' ends on a b9 over a IVm chord descending to the root on the I chord.

But at the end of the day just give it the necessary time like everything else...with a healthy dose of trying to force yourself to deal with the notes every now and then.

05-09-2005, 09:17 AM
One thing to keep in mind is that outside melodies come from chords just like inside melodies, only with outside stuff it's a different progression than the band is playing. A very simple example would be superimposing different turnarounds.
Lets say the band is playing C-A7-Dm7-G7. Another progression with the same function is
If you play a melody based on the chord tones of the 2nd progression over the backing of the first progression it will sound outside because the notes won't fit exactly, but because the direction/function of the chords is the same it will sound logical (given that you play a strong melodic line, really sticking to chord tones helps a lot).

Or another trick (borrowed from Wes): On a II-V like Dm7-Gm7 play in double time Ebm7-Ab7-Dm7-G7. The first two chords will sound out, but because they are repeated in key the 2nd time it will sound okay.

05-09-2005, 03:35 PM
all the "out" notes and theory won't help at all if they aren't applied in time and rhythm. IMO, playing out is 95% about rhythm, hitting those out notes in the hidden measures of the beat. I've heard jazz guys who sound awful trying to play outside but could explain everything they attempted.

Yes, and stop thinking notes for a second and try just not thinking. Just play what you hear in your head trying to use your strength of will alone to make it be... my out notes come from hitting wrong notes that fit for some reason, and I go with it, or from a phrase that isn't out but sounds out. Of course organized "outside" playing is around, just not for me (yet). Ever try "rhythmic outside", just phrasing your stuff in odd ways? Or try using large intervals, a lot of John Scofield's stuff sounds very outside, but he's not playing outside, he's using big intervals. But maybe you may have your own way.

05-09-2005, 04:45 PM
Here's some links with some very good ideas on how to apporach outside, atonal, and dodecaphonic playing.

Quadratonal Arpeggios (http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3849&highlight=quadratonal+arpeggios)
Dodecaphonics/Serialism/Atonality (http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6281&highlight=Pentadecaphonic)

I think Quadritonal Arpeggios I believe are a more easier way to play outside. Tone-rows, and dodecaphonics tend to be a little more challenging especially when trying to find a decent tone row out of millions of combinations. They're best used for adding tension to a certain lick/passage etc etc. A very good explanation is one the second page by VidKid (it's the very last post on the second page), from there it gets more interesting.

The Dodecaphonic thread originally starts off as a pentadecaphonic scale thread but quickly goes to serialism and many concepts associated with it. I have a certain idea as far as the 12-matrix goes that allows for some very odd progressions and sounds. It can get VERY wierd sounding. Keep in mind though, that if your prime row is chromatically increasing or decreasing your other rows are going to look very similar and it won't offer a large amount of variation.
Here's a pic of what I'm talking about.

05-09-2005, 04:50 PM
There are generally two ways to play outside: sequences and superimposition.

For sequences, just play a short lick and then transpose it and play it again. Minor thirds, half steps, major thirds, and major seconds are all good ones. Generally these sequences work best if you play it first inside, then outside, and then repeat it again at a level that is inside.

Superimposition is a fun one to try. My favorite is to backcycle through the cycle of fifths on top of the existing progression. Here's an example of doing that over the first eight bars of rhythm changes in Bb:

| Bbmaj7 G7 | Cm7 F7 | Bbmaj7 G7 | Cm7 F7 || Bb7 |
| F#7    B7 | E7  A7 | D7     G7 | C7  F7 || Bb7 |

It starts really out, and moves more inside as it progresses. This works really well because of the internal logic of the progression, any odd note choices tend to make sense to the ear. Here's another example of that on a blues in F:

| F7     | Bb7   | F7    | F7    || Bb7 |
| F#7 B7 | E7 A7 | D7 G7 | C7 F7 || Bb7 |

You can also try this with Coltrane changes over normal changes. Check out the Miles Davis tune "Tune Up" and then Coltrane's version called "Countdown." The first 12 bars are just ii V I's, but Coltrane subbed in his cycle over it in a very effective way. You can take that same method he used and apply it to any long ii V I you see in other tunes.

05-09-2005, 05:10 PM
Lot's of great techniques mentioned for generating 'outside' sounds...
One of the easiest ones and often very effective is 'side-slipping', or simply playing a short phrase 'inside' and then repeating the same thing 1/2 step above or below. It's just what the doctor ordered for us guitarists, as all we have to do is move our hand position up or down a 1/2 step and it's done.

I used to resist 'side-stepping' because I thought it was 'too easy' and sort of...cheating. Well, it's a great thing to have in your arsenal because:

1) You 'set-up' your listener with a short idea.

2) You hit them a second later with some tension, but you're continuing an idea that they already heard and accepted, so it doesn't sound weird.

As was stated earlier, timing and note placement is everything, and that goes for whether you're playing inside or outside.

Also very important - consider the genre of music you're playing. Say you're soloing on a one chord vamp, over a G7, an outtro solo spot in a chugging, country tune. Playing chromatic passing tones that connects chord tones, maybe a little pentatonic blues stuff but pretty much inside stuff especially on the strong beats is going to be the ticket here. If you start adding lots of altered tensions, especially on strong beats, it's not going to work for the music.

Los Boleros
05-09-2005, 06:09 PM
Wow, your are right SR, alot of great replies here. I want to add this:

Playing outside stuff requires training the ear to those sounds. Sometimes you may try some outside stuff that someone suggests, but your ear will reject it at first. After a couple of listens, you begin to like it!:D

Try this as an experiment:

Strum an Am chord and with your voice, sing out the fifth note, "E".
Now Strum the same chord but Drop that E to and EB.
Now Try it again but Start by singing the E but then raising it to F#. These two notes can come from the Adim7 arpegio.
Now the next time you hear an Am Chord, try using the Adim scale or A Dorian Scale and try to resolve on any of the Adim7 Chord tones. "A,C,Eb,F#"

The b5 sound take alittle getting used to but when you begin to hear it, you will be encouraged to use it more ofter. Same with the 6 over a minor chord only this one is easier to get used to.

05-09-2005, 07:27 PM
I'm probably a little slow, and didn't understnad some of the postings in this thread. So I searched a little on outside playing, and came up with something from rec.music-makers.guitar.jazz FAQ, Maybe it's helpfull for others as well.

Quoted from rec.music-makers.guitar.jazz FAQ:
To get an idea of some standard techniques that you can use, there are number of books that address this topic: Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory Book", David Liebman's "A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody" and David Baker's "Advanced Improvisation" (this latter book has been expanded and broken up into a number of volumes).

As an overview, there seems to be two main approaches to playing "out". The first is to find a note set or scale that is relatively unrelated to the underlying harmony. The second approach is to follow a musical idea where it leads, without trying to fit it to the underlying harmony. One extremely important point that should be stated at the outset: whatever approach you take, you should not only practice sounding "out", but also the transition to coming back "in". Without this essential ingredient, your hip substitution may simply sound wrong. The listener may hear your "out" playing as you losing your place and then jumping back in when you've have regained the form. The whole point to "out" playing is that you want to create some tension that is then resolved and it is important that the resolution part not be overlooked.

The first method noted above is a bit simpler, but requires some theory knowledge or at least a collection of tricks. The key is to find something that sounds good, but is unexpected in that situation. Here are a few ideas that have been suggested:

- Sideslipping: This involves playing up a halfstep from your current scale. This can mean that you start a phrase in C, for example, continue it in Db, and end it back in C. Or you can play a phrase in C, play it again in Db, and then play it again in C (assuming you have time!). Since the basic idea is that of tension and release, you could play Out - In - Out (which is the example above), Out - In - Out - In, or Out - In - Out (though this is a bit harder to pull off).

- Superimposition of one harmony over another: For example, one could outline an E7 (or E7b9) chord when the tune's harmony is Am. This is an application of the fact that you can treat any chord as the I (or i) chord and superimpose it's V chord. Another possibility is a Db7 chord over C (which would be the tritone sub for the V of C, a G7). (The Db7 could also be viewed almost as a side slip as well.)

- Playing ahead of the changes: This is a rather mild form of playing out, but it gives a nice tension/release feel. For example, if the changes are | Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 |, start outlining the G7 during the Dm7. The ear will hear the tension during the Dm7 and will recognize the "in-ness" when the G7 comes along. This became common practice in the bop era.

The second method was outlined here by Marc Sabatella. It involves "play(ing) a melody without regard to the changes". In other words, usually one conforms the melody one hears to the underlying changes. In this method, the melody is played irrespective of the changes. The key point here is that the melody or pattern must be sufficiently strong that the listener can follow the logic of what is being played.

Here is a quote from Marc that summarizes up his take on playing "out": "This to me is what playing "out" is about: playing lines that make sense *regardless* of the changes, not trying to find lines that are outside the particular changes at hand."

"It's like, if someone gave you a coloring book with a picture of a horse and you wanted to draw outside the lines, you could add a fifth leg or make the torso jagged, or something like that. That would be like trying to find a particular scale to get you outside the lines. On the other hand, you could ignore the lines completely and draw a butterfly. This is what I am suggesting."

One simple suggestion for seeing how the logic of the line can make what you are playing seem "out", but ok. Solo over blues changes and over the last 2 bars play a descending chromatic line that resolves to whatever you were using for the rest of the F blues. This will sound good not because what you are doing had anything to do with the turnaround changes, but because the line was strong and logical.

05-09-2005, 07:41 PM
Try this little trick I learned...Have a friend play an Fmaj7#11 chord and then play the E minor pentatonic scale over it, then have him play an E major or minor chord after that while continuing with the E minor pentatonic scale...

05-10-2005, 03:13 AM
I'd suggest getting the video "Melodic Control" by Marty Friedman, great ideas there on how to approach 'outside' playing.

05-10-2005, 02:15 PM
All tones except the chord tones are 'out tones'. Some more and some less 'pleasant' for the ear. Some more and some less 'tense'. But they all have a sound that can be used - in the 'right' context.

Los Boleros
05-10-2005, 02:20 PM
All tones except the chord tones are 'out tones'. Some more and some less 'pleasant' for the ear. Some more and some less 'tense'. But they all have a sound that can be used - in the 'right' context.I have found one tone that has no place in music, IMHO. that would be the major third over a minor chord. All other eleven tones are game.

05-10-2005, 05:09 PM
Los Boleros wrote:

I have found one tone that has no place in music, IMHO. that would be the major third over a minor chord. All other eleven tones are game.

As long as you don't hang on it too long, it can be used to good effect. But you usually hear it happening in pretty 'out there' jazz, bordering on the atonal. Allan Holdsworth does it a lot, Michael Brecker, and Joe Zawinul also come to mind.

05-10-2005, 07:19 PM
I have found one tone that has no place in music, IMHO. that would be the major third over a minor chord. All other eleven tones are game.

I have to say the Major 7th over a dominant chord has always been the weirdest sounding one for me.

Los Boleros
05-10-2005, 10:51 PM
I have to say the Major 7th over a dominant chord has always been the weirdest sounding one for me.It's all in how you phrase it. I use it all the time.

Los Boleros
05-11-2005, 01:22 AM
I have to say the Major 7th over a dominant chord has always been the weirdest sounding one for me.Here's a crude example of me doing just that. Forgive the Sloppiness.:D

05-11-2005, 10:05 AM
I don't know if anyone has mentioned any of this yet so I'll leave my tidbits. One of my Favorite outside ideas is to play melodic minor where I'd normally play dorian, all you're doing is swapping the minor 7th interval for a major 7th one. I don't know if anyone has suggested Scott Henderson either he's awesome at playing outside. He has two videos out that you can probably get for like $30 he shares lots of really cool ideas on both of those vids.

05-11-2005, 11:08 AM
Playing a major 7th on a minor chord is not really outside playing to my ears because the basics of the chord are still the same, it's more of a difference in color. It is a very nice sound though, I often use it this way: Let's say the chord is Cm, play a G triad over it, it gives you the 5, major 7 and 9, plus those 3 notes sound very coherent because they're a triad.
Another outside trick is using pentatonics that don't fit the key, like triads there's a lot of logic in that combination of notes so it can sound strong even when not fitting in the harmony. Over a Cm chord try changing between C minor pentatonic and Eb minor pentatonic, it's a trick I use often.

05-11-2005, 11:38 AM
I have found one tone that has no place in music, IMHO. that would be the major third over a minor chord. All other eleven tones are game.

"dorian bebop" makes use of the major third over a minor chord,
but is interpreted as a chromatic passingtone.
anyways, I like the sound.

05-11-2005, 11:43 AM
btw. @los boleros:

using the maj7th over a dom7 follows the same concept as using the maj3rd in dorian context.

Los Boleros
05-11-2005, 01:27 PM
"dorian bebop" makes use of the major third over a minor chord,
but is interpreted as a chromatic passingtone.
anyways, I like the sound.Isn't the Dorian bebop:


Also too, In the example that I recorded, I am putting alot of emphasis on the Maj 7. Not just casually passing it by but letting that note ring out.

05-11-2005, 01:51 PM
All in all, it just requires lots of practice. I started playing 'outside' pretty early in life, as whenever I picked up the guitar, my parents would often say, "Could you please do that outside?"



05-11-2005, 05:32 PM
Isn't the Dorian bebop:



dorian bebop: 1,2,b3,3,4,5,6,b7

bebop dominant: 1,2,3,4,5,6,b7,7

bebop major: 1,2,3,4,5,b6,6,7

bebop melodic minor: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,6,7

05-11-2005, 10:53 PM
Thanks for all the great replies :)

I feel like every thread I start creates great replies!

Well anyway, the thread has gone astray long enough, so unless anyone has anything to add I'll wrap it up.

Writing and starting this thread made me aware of the fact that I can't go out, even if I want to during improvisation. This is the first step.
I've started being more conscious about this when practicing improvisation as well. I try out going in out, and all the methods described.

Excuse me while I go practice, practice and practice. :)

Los Boleros
05-11-2005, 11:24 PM

dorian bebop: 1,2,b3,3,4,5,6,b7

That looks like something to use over a major or dominant chord. You use this over a minor chord? I would love to hear a sample.

I am sitting here with my guitar trying to make this happen and can't for the life of me make it sound right.

I can see using this scale perhaps in a minor key using the 3 as a leading tone into the iv chord but not over the i chord. In the case of using it as a leading tone into the iv chord however, it would not be considered the third of that chord, it would be the major seventh. Is this what you mean? the third of the scale?

05-12-2005, 06:05 AM
The major 3rd here is a chromatic passing note.

If you start on any chord tone and play through the scale in straight eighth notes then the 3rd will always fall on an "off" beat.So if you play it over a Dm7 and start on say the b3rd then the 3rd will be on the "and" and the 4th will be on beat two,etc.

But of course you could use it however you wanted over a dominant chord as well.

Los Boleros
05-12-2005, 02:37 PM
Like I said, I can't seem to make it sound right. It seems like a total avoid note, even as a passing tone. Can someone out there record a sample of a nice phrase using a major third passing tone over a minor chord?

05-12-2005, 09:42 PM
See this page for some info and an example.


^See examples 5 and 6 near the bottom of the page

05-13-2005, 05:49 AM
On this page of Tal Farlow licks is a ii7 - V7 - I where over the Dm7, he plays a Gb (F#), a major 3rd interval. It's definitely a passing tone in this context.


Los Boleros
05-13-2005, 02:24 PM
On this page of Tal Farlow licks is a ii7 - V7 - I where over the Dm7, he plays a Gb (F#), a major 3rd interval. It's definitely a passing tone in this context.

http://www.jazzguitar.be/tal_farlow_licks.htmlThank you for that Russ.

05-14-2005, 07:15 PM
Wow... Tal Farlow, played professionally after one year!!! any recordings of him about that time? I'll go check out some of his stuff right now.

Los Boleros
05-14-2005, 09:23 PM
On this page of Tal Farlow licks is a ii7 - V7 - I where over the Dm7, he plays a Gb (F#), a major 3rd interval. It's definitely a passing tone in this context.


So in this example,
the major third is passed over the ii chord of a ii-V-I.
This is classic. Its the blue note. Didn't think of it in that context.
Seems to me it would works just the same in the iv chord of a iv-VI-i.

05-15-2005, 05:59 AM
so unless anyone has anything to add I'll wrap it up.

LOL, good try Factor..looks like it had some way to run yet!