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Thread: Avoid notes???

  1. #1
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    Unhappy Avoid notes???

    Anyways, I've heard a lot about the concept of "avoid notes." How do you know which ones not to play? I mean, I know chromatics should be used very little.

    Does the chord define them?


    If so, please give examples.

  2. #2
    Registered User Joe Pass Jr's Avatar
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    I never liked the term ' avoid note ' even though it does have some relevance. The phrase is basically reffering to notes that dont harmonise quite so well against a certain chord. For example the 4th/11th degree of a major scale over a Major chord wont sound very good if you just strike it and ring out.

    These notes are better played on weak beats, which in my opinion are actually the strong beats but thats another story.

    If you count your bar out like this.
    1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a

    your 1 2 3 4 are the 'strong' beats. 1 and 3 being generally considered the 'strongest' of the 4. the 'e' and the '&' are your weaker beats.. ' off ' or 'down ' beats.

    So the 'avoid' notes are basically the ones you dont want to hear played on strong beats. Your chord tones.. Gmajor for example. G B D F# are the most logical choices for the strong beats and between these beats you can throw in any 'avoid' or chromatic tones as you see fit.

    Im a fan of dissonance though so I dont allways pay attention to this rule.

    I wont give specific examples because this is a subjective topic (what sounds good to me might not sound good to you). Experiment with playing scales or musical lines over a chord with chord tones on the strong beats. Then play it again with some non chord tones on the strong beats. You will see how this 'rule' came about.
    Its not the techniques you use, but the music you make.

  3. #3
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    So wait, only the fourth degree sounds "bad"?

    What about the major 7th?

  4. #4
    Registered User Joe Pass Jr's Avatar
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    This is why I almost didn't post in this thread.

    The 4th degree of a major scale is commonly considered an avoid note because it doesn't harmonize well. That isn't true if you use it wisely though, such as my suggestions of playing it on off beats.

    The major 7th , 7th degree of the scale should sound just fine. I mean, if its a rock tune or pop music it might not sound as good as other notes, it all depends. My suggestion is to ignore terms such as 'avoid note' and just play the music. When it sounds bad, look at what you were playing and make up your own mind which notes sound good in certain situations and which ones sound bad.
    Its not the techniques you use, but the music you make.

  5. #5
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wintermute
    Anyways, I've heard a lot about the concept of "avoid notes." How do you know which ones not to play? I mean, I know chromatics should be used very little.

    Does the chord define them?
    Yes. And they're not necessarily chromatics.

    Eg, as Joe says, the P4 on a major chord is perhaps the best known one.
    This is especially the case on maj7 chords.
    If you hold an F note over a C chord, or worse, a Cmaj7, it makes an awkward interval with the E below - and with the B in a Cmaj7:

    -1--------- F = 4th/11th = ouch!
    -0--------- B = maj7
    -0--------- G = 5
    -2--------- E =3
    -3--------- C = root
    -----------

    The interval with E is a minor 9th (just isolate the 4th and 1st strings in that chord to really hear this nasty interval).
    The interval with B is a tritone (diminished 5th). Nothing wrong with a tritone - except that this B-F tritone belongs to a G7 chord, which is the functional opposite of Cmaj7. IOW, you have a harmonically confusing chord.

    As Joe also says, none of this means you can't play an F at all over a C chord! You just have to be careful how you use it.

    P4s occur on I and V chords in major keys. They're worst on the I, because that's a maj7.
    The V chord is a dom7, where you only have the clash with the chord's 3rd. But it's quite common to play V7 chords as V7sus4s - which include the P4, but leave out the 3rd. So that's fine.
    You might also add a sus4 to a plan triad on I or V. That's also fine - in fact it's extremely common in rock to add 4ths (at least as occasional decoration) to major chords, with the implication that 4th replaces the 3rd - and it might have been a power chord anyway, with no 3rd.

    On the IV chord, the diatonic 4th/11th is augmented. Eg, on an F chord in key of C, the 4th is B natural, a half-step higher than a perfect 4th. This sounds fine. (At least, jazz convention says it sounds fine - even though a #4 makes a tritone with the root... go figure...)

    Try this chord (Cmaj7#11) and see what you think:

    -2--------- F# = #4th/#11th = cool!
    -0--------- B = maj7
    -0--------- G = 5
    -2--------- E =3
    -3--------- C = root
    -----------

    Or this one (Cmaj9#11), which is smoother:

    -2--------- F# = #4th/#11th
    -3--------- D = 9th
    -4--------- G = maj7
    -2--------- E =3
    -3--------- C = root
    -----------

    The strange thing is that many jazz players will use this chord as a tonic in the key of C. F# is chromatic, but for pianists or guitarists who want a big extended maj7-type chord, they're going to prefer a raised 11th to the diatonic P11. The chord quality takes precedence over the key scale, IOW.
    We can say that lydian mode, therefore (1-2-3-#4-5-6-7) has no avoid notes.

    The question of avoid notes seems to be behind jazz players' choices of (on the face of it) bizarre scales, often modes of melodic minor.
    (I say "seems", because I don't know if jazz musicians themselves actually talk or think in this way. But they play as if this is the case.)

    Eg, in a minor key, the usual V7 chord has 2 avoid notes (in the scale you might expect to play). Take E7 in key of A minor. The A minor scale with a G# (to fit the chord) means A harmonic minor, right? Or maybe melodic minor? But both A and C (from A harmonic or melodic minor) are avoid notes, because they are a half-step above chord tones.
    Jazz players get round this in a couple of ways:
    (1) The altered scale involves raising the 4th (taking care of the G#-A clash) and leaving out the 5th altogether (taking care of the B-C clash). However, this scale includes a b9, which oddly in this case these dudes don't seem to mind. "E altered" = E-F-G-G#-A#-C-D-E. (That's right, it includes A#, even tho we're in the key of A minor.)
    (2) The 8-note half-whole diminished scale also raises the 4th, but leaves the 5th present and raises the 6th instead. Again it includes both a b9 and #9:
    "E HW dim" = E-F-G-G#-A#-B-C#-D-E. (Yep, now we have a C#, in the key of A minor... )

    The advantage of these scales is (a) ANY note can be held against the chord - or used as a chord extension - without sounding nasty; and (b) they provide lots of juicy chromatics for neat half-step resolution on to chord tones (on to a following Am chord).


    Another common avoid note is the b6 on an aeolian minor chord. Eg, an F note on an Am chord. Again, the rule seems to be "avoid notes a half-step above chord tones".
    But, as we've seen above, this rule doesn't hold good for all chord types. Why would a b9 sound OK on an altered dom7, while a b6 or b13 sounds wrong on a min7? (Don't expect logic in music theory, least of all in jazz theory... )
    But the Aeolian b6 is a reason jazz players will go for dorian mode on a min7 - if its function is in doubt. Dorian is the only other major scale mode with no avoid notes. (In fact, in jazz, min7 chords are almost always either ii chords in major keys or iv chords in minor keys - both of which mean dorian mode in any case.)

    Remember these "rules" are only based on what conventional jazz players (at least in be-bop and after) seem to be choosing to do. Theorists only try and make sense out of (formulating rules for) what they hear those guys doing. You don't have to do the same - unless you want to conscientiously play in that genre, and do it correctly.
    There are players (at least in contemporary jazz) who can break all the "avoid note" rules and still sound cool. They do need clever strategies to do it, but the point is the rules can be broken.
    Just think of the "avoid note" concept as a guideline to achieve "nice" (or "authentic jazz") sounds - especially in chord voicings. In solos, things are more up for grabs. ANY note can be used (our of the full 12) if you use it right...

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wintermute
    So wait, only the fourth degree sounds "bad"?

    What about the major 7th?
    The major 7th is what jazz players call a "sweet note". It's extremely common and popular. In fact, a maj7 is the standard chord type for I and IV chords in major keys. To most ears, it has a mellow, wistful sound suitable for ballads.

    The maj7 interval with the root alone is rather dissonant, true. But in full chord voicings that note makes smoother intervals with other chord tones, which counteracts the rather awkward interval with the root.

    Compare the following:

    ---
    -0-
    ---
    ---
    -3-
    ---

    = C-B major 7th interval, a bit too spicy perhaps?

    ---
    -0-
    -0-
    -2-
    -3-
    ---

    Full C maj7 chord, much more mellow! (Thanks presumably to the E-B perfect 5th and the G-B major 3rd, both highly consonant intervals.)

    EDIT: sorry, I'm assuming you're a guitarist. Profound apologies if you're not...

  7. #7
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    A lot of it is just context, for example an F over a C Major7 chord sounds great if:

    1) The F is suspended (held over) from the previous chord, and it resolves down to the 3rd (E).

    2) You have already established C Major and reach the F through a descending scale pattern, using it as a passing note.

    3) The chord has no 3rd.

    etc..

    But generally you want to avoid notes that are a 1/2 step from chord tones UNLESS you are using it to resolve to a chord tone. A couple of tones will sound "bad" regardless and those are the minor 3rd (Eb) and minor 7th (Bb) over a CMajor7 chord. Unless the harmony follows the change with you, or again if they are properly approached and resolved.

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jessmanca
    A lot of it is just context, for example an F over a C Major7 chord sounds great if:

    1) The F is suspended (held over) from the previous chord, and it resolves down to the 3rd (E).

    2) You have already established C Major and reach the F through a descending scale pattern, using it as a passing note.

    3) The chord has no 3rd.
    Exactly. F is not an "avoid note" in any of these situations. (Although I dont think it would sound good in a Cmaj7 with no 3rd: C-G-B-F? = G7/C? A dissonant suspension, maybe... I think I've seen something similar in Bach...or have I??)
    The concept allows for limited usages like the above. We don't avoid it altogether - we just need to be careful how and when it's used.
    IOW, the term "avoid note" is misleading... ... but it's become part of jazz currency.
    Quote Originally Posted by jessmanca
    But generally you want to avoid notes that are a 1/2 step from chord tones UNLESS you are using it to resolve to a chord tone. A couple of tones will sound "bad" regardless and those are the minor 3rd (Eb) and minor 7th (Bb) over a CMajor7 chord. Unless the harmony follows the change with you, or again if they are properly approached and resolved.
    True.
    Except a maj7 is 1/2 step below the root. And a 9th is a 1/2 step below the 3rd of a minor chord. They sound fine, even if voiced right beside one another, unresolved. (Jazz pianists do it all the time.)
    As you say, there's always exceptions!

    EDIT: check out this site...
    http://forums.allaboutjazz.com/forumdisplay.php?f=34
    - and do a search for "avoid notes". Some highly instructive stuff on general (modern) jazz attitudes to the concept. Ed Byrne in particular is highly recommended.
    Last edited by JonR; 10-01-2007 at 07:31 AM.

  9. #9
    Bedroom metalurgist LaughingSkull's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    But the Aeolian b6 is a reason jazz players will go for dorian mode on a min7 - if its function is in doubt. Dorian is the only other major scale mode with no avoid notes. (In fact, in jazz, min7 chords are almost always either ii chords in major keys or iv chords in minor keys - both of which mean dorian mode in any case.)
    So what will jazz player typically use for a III chord? plain minor? m11 (without b9)? susb9 chord?

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaughingSkull
    So what will jazz player typically use for a III chord? plain minor? m11 (without b9)? susb9 chord?
    In jazz, iii chords are mostly used as subs for the tonic.
    Eg, Em7 might be used in place of Cmaj7 (in C). As such, F would be an avoid note on both chords.
    I don't know offhand of any jazz tune where a minor iii chord is used any other way (or can't be interpreted as a sub for I), tho I guess they must exist.

    Susb9s are phrygian modal chords; I've not seem them used in major keys.
    Notice that a b9 is not an avoid note in that case. This is probably because in modal music a b9 doesn't have the functional meaning it has (or needs to have) in key-based music. It's just an entertaining dissonance.
    Last edited by JonR; 10-01-2007 at 10:53 AM.

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