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Thread: Musical key question

  1. #1
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    Musical key question

    Hi Folks,
    I hope you can help. I've been playing chords along to Bad Company's 'Can't get enough' song and it's going ok. However, I've noticed my guitar playing appears to avoid the solos in songs and figured I'd take a look at the solo in this song. My music theory is pretty light, so I jotted down the chords in the song and went to http://www.all-guitar-chords.com which listed a bunch of scales that could be used with these chords - none of which sounded that good to me!
    Anyways, I figured, it starts with a c chord, so it's in the key of C which I looked up the fingering for on the above site and to be fair when I played along it sounded ok - sometimes! Some notes were ok, others were real bad.
    Next I thought maybe I should try a c pentatonic minor before putting my guitar on the fire. However, when I did this, it actually sounded quite good.
    So the questions are -
    1. When I look at the tab for this song (http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/b/ba...enough_tab.htm) it shows the solo using e, d and c as the 1st 5 or 6 notes - why does it show this if the pentatonic that I was playing sound better than the c major?
    2. When I use the chords to scale tool on http://www.all-guitar-chords.com and use C, F and Bb it doesn't show the Cm pentatonic scale?
    3. How is it that when I use http://www.all-guitar-chords.com and use the scale to chords tool, it shows me c, f and Bb?

    Just a bit confused on the theory side and answers to these q's would help greatly.

    Apologies in advance for the lenghtly email!

    Cheers!

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    Having played it again tonight Cm pentatonic sounds bad as well!

    F major sounds ok though.

    Bit confused a you can tell.

    Any help appreciated.

    Cheers again

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dude View Post
    ........So the questions are -
    1. When I look at the tab for this song (http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/b/ba...enough_tab.htm) it shows the solo using e, d and c as the 1st 5 or 6 notes - why does it show this if the pentatonic that I was playing sound better than the c major?
    2. When I use the chords to scale tool on http://www.all-guitar-chords.com and use C, F and Bb it doesn't show the Cm pentatonic scale?
    3. How is it that when I use http://www.all-guitar-chords.com and use the scale to chords tool, it shows me c, f and Bb?

    Just a bit confused on the theory side and answers to these q's would help greatly.
    Your questions encompasses a bunch of stuff. Not sure I can give you an answer you will understand, but, here goes.

    1. The melody using E, D and C and why that instead of your the C minor pentatonic which you think sounds better than the C major scale.. OK. E D C as three starting notes of the melody. Those three notes have started hundreds of songs, Mary Had A Little Lamb, and Dixie come to mind right off the top of my head. A full 7 note scale played in scale order is not going to sound like a tune, it's going to sound like a scale exercise. The five note pentatonic scale will sound better because you are not running 7 notes in scale order. Minor pentatonic is the 1. b3, 4, 5 and b7 notes of the scale - the scale order is broken up. It just sounds more melodic - fact of life.

    Little melody theory may help. Your melody notes should contain some of the chords notes. If your melody line and chord line share some like notes they harmonize - sound good - I bet the first chord in the song is a C chord as the C chord is made of the C-E-G notes. Does not surprise me that the melody choose to use the E and C chord tones of the C chord and threw in a D passing note. That is done all the time. OK on to number 2.....

    2. I could not get those sites to function as you describe so I'll try and answer 2 and 3 together. I pulled up some tab on that song and it does use the C, F and Bb as chords. Those are major key chords that may be why the software is not telling you to use the minor pentatonic scale. You can, but the software probably was written to point you to major scales over major chords and minor scales over minor chords. Other than that I have no idea why that software did what it did.

    Now here is what you could do.
    1. Forget about generic scales for your melody. Play the tune.
    2. If you want to improvise the tune with scales try C Major pentatonic over the C Chord, F Major pentatonic over the F chord and B minor pentatonic over the Bb chord. See if that works for you.

    I know you will have questions - ask them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Your questions encompasses a bunch of stuff. Not sure I can give you an answer you will understand, but, here goes.

    1. The melody using E, D and C and why that instead of your the C minor pentatonic which you think sounds better than the C major scale.. OK. E D C as three starting notes of the melody. Those three notes have started hundreds of songs, Mary Had A Little Lamb, and Dixie come to mind right off the top of my head. A full 7 note scale played in scale order is not going to sound like a tune, it's going to sound like a scale exercise. The five note pentatonic scale will sound better because you are not running 7 notes in scale order. Minor pentatonic is the 1. b3, 4, 5 and b7 notes of the scale - the scale order is broken up. It just sounds more melodic - fact of life.

    Little melody theory may help. Your melody notes should contain some of the chords notes. If your melody line and chord line share some like notes they harmonize - sound good - I bet the first chord in the song is a C chord as the C chord is made of the C-E-G notes. Does not surprise me that the melody choose to use the E and C chord tones of the C chord and threw in a D passing note. That is done all the time. OK on to number 2.....

    2. I could not get those sites to function as you describe so I'll try and answer 2 and 3 together. I pulled up some tab on that song and it does use the C, F and Bb as chords. Those are major key chords that may be why the software is not telling you to use the minor pentatonic scale. You can, but the software probably was written to point you to major scales over major chords and minor scales over minor chords. Other than that I have no idea why that software did what it did.

    Now here is what you could do.
    1. Forget about generic scales for your melody. Play the tune.
    2. If you want to improvise the tune with scales try C Major pentatonic over the C Chord, F Major pentatonic over the F chord and B minor pentatonic over the Bb chord. See if that works for you.

    I know you will have questions - ask them.
    Wow - thanks for your detailed response.
    1.
    OK, I get the point about the pentatonic having only the 5 notes so will sound less like a scale. I never thought about it like that but what you've said makes sense.
    And yes, you are right, the 1st chord is a c chord

    2.
    I may have omitted the exact page from my 1st post (sorry). http://www.all-guitar-chords.com/scales-to-chords.php. Maybe this is where I'm going wrong, you see you select Cm pentatonic on this page and then hit 'get' it shows you the chords that you can use over this scale (at least thats my interpretation of it). This shows the chords C, D#, F, G and A#. My understanding was that since the song uses these chords then you should be able to play this scale over these chords and it should sound ok (like I said earlier though, it sounds awful!).

    Hang on a sec though, I've looked again and it doesnt contain all the notes in all of these chords; F=CFA, C=CGE, Bb=BbFD. Further research has shown that F major has all these notes though, so shouldn't I be able to play notes from F major over all these chords and it will sound ok?

    I think I'll have difficulty in changing between C major pentatonic, FMaj pentatonic and B minor pentatonic to be honest!

    Once again, thanks for you help.

  5. #5
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Changing from C major pentatonic to F major pentatonic and then to B minor pentatonic - piece of cake if you use the box pattern. Have you been introduced to the box pattern? http://www.cyberfret.com/scales/basic/print.html Red dot is the root note. The numbers are the fingers you use to fret the strings, i.e. 1 = index, 2 = middle, 3 = ring and 4 = little finger. The pattern takes place over four frets and you have four fingers. Kinda speeds things up if you use the correct fingers. Notice there is another red dot on the 4th string. That box gives you two octaves of each scale. Now you can use two octaves if you have time (room in the song) and if you do not then just use one octave of the pattern. Using the major pentatonic scale pattern - place the red dot on the 6th string 8th fret and two octaves of the C major pentatonic scale notes await you. When the song moves to the F chord move your box pattern to the 6th string 1st fret (or 13th fret may fit, sound better) and the F major pentatonic notes await you. Now that Bb chord. It should be the Bm7b5 chord (not the Bb chord) the song writer chose to use Bb instead of Bm7b5 for obvious reasons .... so just between us girls grab the minor pentatonic box and place it at the 6th string 7th fret. See if that flows.

    Now take a couple of weeks and get those box patterns into muscle memory, i.e. be able to do all of them in your sleep. So you will be able to change with the chord changes and not drop the beat.

    Have fun.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-08-2010 at 10:03 PM.

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    Thanks Malcom, that makes sense and is clear. A bit more practice required I guess!

  7. #7
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    You asked; "Hang on a sec though, I've looked again and it doesnt contain all the notes in all of these chords; F=CFA, C=CGE, Bb=BbFD. Further research has shown that F major has all these notes though, so shouldn't I be able to play notes from F major over all these chords and it will sound ok?"
    Lets see. F major scale is; F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E ... OK hang on..... Lets stack the notes of the scale in 3rds, or skip a note and get the chords for the key of F. If the chords and the melody share like notes we harmonize and sound good..... lets see..... you are catching on I'm going to take you a little deep hang on.

    Stacking every other note of the scale gets us the chords for that scale.
    F chord has the, F, A, C, E notes and that is 1-3-5-7 intervals or Fmaj7 chord. A 3 and a 7 make a maj7
    G chord has the G, Bb,D, F notes and that is 1-b3-5-b7 intervals or Gm7 chord. A b3 and a b7 make a m7
    A chord has the A, C, E, G notes and that is 1-b3-5-b7 intervals or Am7 chord
    Bb chord has....Bb,D, F, A notes and that is 1-3-5-7 intervals or Bbmaj7 chord
    C chord has......C, E, G, Bb notes and that is 1-3-5-b7 intervals or C7 chord. A 3 and a b7 make a dominant 7 chord.
    D chord has......D, F, A, C notes and that is 1-b3-5-b7 intervals or Dm7 chord
    E chord has......E, G, Bb, D notes and that is 1-b3-b5-b7 intervals or Dm7b5 chord. A b3, b5 and b7 make a diminished m7b5 chord that names the 1/2 diminished chord - a bb7 would signify a full diminished chord. Notice that key has three major chords (the I IV & V), three minor chords ( the ii iii & vi) and one diminished chord (the viidim). That's something else that is good to know.

    As the chords for the key of F are made from the notes of the F major scale -- yep the F major scale is going to work over - harmonize over - sound good over - all those chords. The F major pentatonic will also work this same way. Lets look at how the pentatonic can be a really good friend.

    If we play the F major pentatonic F, G, A, C, D over the Fmaj7 chord we get three like notes (3 chord tones) and two safe passing notes. Remember if we get like notes we harmonize i.e. sound good. Let's assume we have a Fmaj7 chord and we want to write a melodic phrase to be played over that chord what could we do?

    If we play the Bd major pentatonic Bd, C, D, F, G over the Bdmaj7 chord we get three like notes (3 chord tones) and two safe passing notes.

    If we play the C major pentatonic C, D, E, G, A over the C7 chord we get three like notes (3 chord tones) and two safe passing notes.

    If we play the G minor pentatonic G, Bb, C, D, F over the Gm7 chord we get four like notes and one safe passing notes. Take the other minor chords and see how they come out.

    Love pentatonic scales......... Chew on stacking the scale notes to come up with the chords for any scale. That's a neat trick to have in your gig bag.

    Have fun.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-09-2010 at 02:41 AM.

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    With the main chords being C Bb C F the tonal centre is more like C Mixolydian, which, if you're going for a one-size-fits-all kinda scale, should do it.

    C Mixolydian: C D E F G A Bb C

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by dude View Post
    Having played it again tonight Cm pentatonic sounds bad as well!

    F major sounds ok though.

    Bit confused a you can tell.

    Any help appreciated.

    Cheers again
    Main lesson (so far) from this experience: don't trust crude chord-scale theory! (Esp not chord-scale tools... Sometimes they are useful, but not often enough to be reliable, and not nearly as reliable as understanding the very simple principles it's all based on.)

    Chord-scales were a way of analysing solos after the event: looking at notes used, and then identifying a scale which contained those notes. Sounds reasonable. But (as you've found) it often doesn't work when applying it in reverse.
    That's because the original assumption is flawed: soloists don't always think in scales when soloing. Sometimes - in fact probably more often - they think in chord tones. A scale is - in a sense - an accidental byproduct of what they might happen to play.

    Here's a simple example. Say you have a chord sequence C-F-G-C. Altogether the chord tones (C-E-G, F-A-C, G-B-D) spell out the C major scale. So a soloist may use those notes. But if you apply that idea alone "C major scale will fit" - it may sound crap. That's because the scale played at random, or with no regard to the chords, will often throw up bad notes. A good soloist works off the chord tones, with other scale notes in passing.

    IOW, the scale is only half the story, at best. When it comes to rock and blues, other considerations come into play.
    Blues convention dictates you use a minor pent scale over a major chord progression: so the novice blues-rock guitarist will look at a C-F-G-C sequence and think "C minor pent". It doesn't matter that some of the notes don't "fit" any of the chords: ir produces a familiar sound that we like.
    Another blues convention states that we should bend some of the notes: this can help to dispose of the notes that don't fit - eg if we bend the b3 of the pent (Eb) up to match the E of the C chord - but mainly it's just another characteristic sound that we like (the bent notes don't have to match chord tones exactly).

    Malcolm and This End Up haev both pinpointed the basic failsafe strategy: take the notes in the chords, and use those. It could hardly be simpler.
    This End Up identifies the scale as "C mixolydian" (correct), which is same notes as F major - which you have discovered sounds good. (So your ear is working fine!)
    Why call it C mixolydian instead of F major? Because C is the keynote, the tonal centre. (IOW, identifying the set of notes as "F major" may be misleading because it suggests F is the keynote, which is isn't. You'll be using the right notes, but with the wrong viewpoint. It's really "C major with b7" - aka C mixolydian.)

    But in fact, there is no need to identify or name the scale at all. The notes in the chords (C-E-G, Bb-D-F, F-A-C) are all you need. Why does it matter what they might be called as a group? (Your ear will tell you which the keynote is.)
    And if you know a few different shapes for each of those chords, you don't even need to know the note names: you just solo off the patterns formed by the chord shapes. Begin with a note in the current chord, use notes from the other chords in passing, and when you end your phrase use a note in the chord at that moment. The longer a chord lasts, the more you can roam around the chord tones.
    It's possible to play a perfectly musical solo this way with no understanding whatsoever of the concepts of scale, key or chord or note names. You just need the shapes - and an average ear.

    Even if you have learned an enormous body of chord-scale theory, improvisation comes down to this simple rule in the end: what you play will inevitably relate to the chords, in some way. So you may as well start that way.
    You can play "inside" (using only chord tones and other notes from the key), or you can add some jazzy/bluesy "outside" stuff (chromatic notes, half-step runs, etc). Even with the latter - and all kinds of fancy jazz scales - the chord tones still rule.

    You can learn a lot from transcribing actual solos - every improviser must do this sooner or later, and some do it all the time. But when you do, don't try to identify scales. Just look at how the notes relate to the chord of the moment - and perhaps to chords either side. Pay special attention to solo phrases that stand out, and try to work out why they do: chord tone relationship plays a part, but so does rhythm and melodic shape. The more you get into the latter, the more the whole chord-scale nonsense will recede into irrelevance.
    Last edited by JonR; 12-09-2010 at 10:00 AM.

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    I was recommended this site by a friend of mine a 3-4 years ago and what annoys me is why I didn't come here earlier.
    You all have provided such detailed replies and responses - it really is fantastic.

    I have noticed that if I play the F major scale it sounds generally ok, but in the times when it has seemed a little off, I'm now thinking that this is because I've hit a note outside the content of the notes within the chord I'm playing over. EG maybe I've hit on the 'A' over the Bb chord? Have I understood that right?

    I was going to follow up with the question why is it C Mixolydian and not F major? I understand it is determined by the tonal centre as you put it. This is a new concept for me, but I think one of the reasons I initially plumped for playing C (Major or pentatonic) over the chord progression was that if I played a C chord in the same rythm as the song, it kind of sounded ok. When I did the same with F major - it sounded pretty dull/dead. Maybe this is how the tonal centre is acquired? Is seems like this is the 'clincher' in determining the scale to play from.
    In spite of this, what I have gained from this is that the 'clincher' is to play the same notes that are contained within the chord and to do this I need to learn those box positions for the chords in the song. I'll also need to listen out for the chord changes and move to the 'right box' accordingly.

    I won't have much time to do this tonight, but I'll definitely do it oer the next couple of days. I'll post back my results!

    Once again, all of your help is much appreciated as I've been banging along to songs playing chords from ultimate-guitar etc and it sounds ok, but I always get to the solo part and I wonder why is it like this and how do I know if this is right? Hopefully I'm now taking steps to answering that question.

  11. #11
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dude View Post
    I was recommended this site by a friend of mine a 3-4 years ago and what annoys me is why I didn't come here earlier.
    You all have provided such detailed replies and responses - it really is fantastic.

    I have noticed that if I play the F major scale it sounds generally ok, but in the times when it has seemed a little off, I'm now thinking that this is because I've hit a note outside the content of the notes within the chord I'm playing over. EG maybe I've hit on the 'A' over the Bb chord? Have I understood that right?
    Essentially, yes.
    Not all notes outside the chord will sound bad. Each has its own special character, but generally you only need to think about that in jazz.
    Eg, the A note against the Bb chord will make a "Bbmaj7" sound. This is a very "sweet" sound, good for ballads or quieter songs - but maybe not appropriate for heavy rock!
    The answer is to experiment, if you can, over single chord vamps. Try every note of the scale (even notes outside the scale) and check how each one sounds against the chord. Some will fit perfectly (root-3rd-5th), some will definitely sound painfully wrong, but others might be "hmm..." - they have a sound which could work in some situations, but not in others.
    Quote Originally Posted by dude View Post
    I was going to follow up with the question why is it C Mixolydian and not F major? I understand it is determined by the tonal centre as you put it. This is a new concept for me, but I think one of the reasons I initially plumped for playing C (Major or pentatonic) over the chord progression was that if I played a C chord in the same rythm as the song, it kind of sounded ok. When I did the same with F major - it sounded pretty dull/dead. Maybe this is how the tonal centre is acquired? Is seems like this is the 'clincher' in determining the scale to play from.
    The key is the first thing to understand in music. Not necessarily as an abstract concept, but as something you can hear, whether you know it or not.
    The keynote or key chord is the "gravitational centre" of the sound. It's the chord it will all "fall back" into when the song ends. Usually in rock the song will start on the key chord, but it will more likely end on it (unless there is a fade out, which is not a great guide).
    It will probably also be the most commonly occurring chord in the song, although again that's not always a failsafe guide.
    But above all it's the sound: the key is what "sounds like home".
    Quote Originally Posted by dude View Post
    In spite of this, what I have gained from this is that the 'clincher' is to play the same notes that are contained within the chord and to do this I need to learn those box positions for the chords in the song. I'll also need to listen out for the chord changes and move to the 'right box' accordingly.
    Yes - but look for chord shapes in the same region of the neck. Try not to jump up and down the neck just to move from chord to chord.

    Eg, for the chords C-Bb-F-C, you can use these shapes:

    -0-----1-----1----0-
    -1-----3-----1----1-
    -0-----3-----2----0-
    -2-----3-----3----2-
    -3-----1-----3----3-
    -------------------

    Or these:

    -8-----6-----5----8-
    -5-----6-----6----5-
    -5-----7-----5----5-
    -5-----8-----7----5-
    -7-----8-----8----7-
    -8-----6----(8)---8

    Or these:

    -8-----10----8----8-
    -8-----11----10---8-
    -9-----10----10---9-
    -10----8-----10---10
    -10----8-----8----10
    -8----(10----8----8

    - and there are shapes in one or two other positions too.

    If you work like this, you can immediately see where the notes in the other chords are, relative to the one you're on. (You don't have to be able to play all those shapes in full, eg as strumming chords - just picture where the notes are.)

    Naturally you can align these shapes with patterns for the relevant scale in the same position - but why bother? Even with a scale pattern you need to picture the chords within it.

    You can also move between single-note soloing and double stops on the shapes (2 or 3 strings together) - a common and useful source of variety in soloing.
    Last edited by JonR; 12-09-2010 at 11:24 AM.

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    In addition to Jon's rather more in-depth replies to my own (), something that can be a cool exercise to develop your chord-lead relationships in a more interesting way is to take the chords, extend them, and then play those extended arpeggios over the first basic chords. This song is probably not a great one to start with; basic rock ballads are best.

    So, say you have something that goes A5, C5, G5. The first easy step is to work out what those fifth chords are implying in the context of the song. The full, non-extended, chords would be Am, C major, G major. Extending them by adding the 7ths and you'd have Am7, Cmaj7, G7, which would probably sound like crap if played over a rhythm comprised of fifth chords.

    So, we keep going and extend the chords in ways that make them sound appropriate. You might do something like this:

    |----3----x----5----
    |----1----5----5----
    |----1----4----4----
    |----x----5----3----
    |----0----4----x----
    |----x----x----3----

    Hopefully someone will correct me if I mangle the chord names here. (I'm just returning to music after a long absence. I used to teach, but that was years ago). Anyways, I would call those chords Ammaj9, Cmaj7b9 (inverted), G13. Probably all terribly wrong, but that's not the point. The point is that now you have a set of arpeggios you can use over the original fifth chords that should mostly fit, especially when used sparingly and in addition to, say, the Am pentatonic scale.

    The next cool thing to do is to create passing chords and throw those in the mix, then work out their arpeggios and add them in, too.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by This End Up View Post
    In addition to Jon's rather more in-depth replies to my own (), something that can be a cool exercise to develop your chord-lead relationships in a more interesting way is to take the chords, extend them, and then play those extended arpeggios over the first basic chords. This song is probably not a great one to start with; basic rock ballads are best.

    So, say you have something that goes A5, C5, G5. The first easy step is to work out what those fifth chords are implying in the context of the song. The full, non-extended, chords would be Am, C major, G major. Extending them by adding the 7ths and you'd have Am7, Cmaj7, G7, which would probably sound like crap if played over a rhythm comprised of fifth chords.

    So, we keep going and extend the chords in ways that make them sound appropriate. You might do something like this:

    |----3----x----5----
    |----1----5----5----
    |----1----4----4----
    |----x----5----3----
    |----0----4----x----
    |----x----x----3----

    Hopefully someone will correct me if I mangle the chord names here. (I'm just returning to music after a long absence. I used to teach, but that was years ago). Anyways, I would call those chords Ammaj9, Cmaj7b9 (inverted), G13.
    OK, here are your corrections...

    If you're sure about the first chord, I don't know what I'd name that. It has A G and G# together. (When a chord has two versions of the same note, it becomes impossible to name according to conventional jargon. I guess you could call the G an Fx (double sharp) and call it Am(maj7)#6 (augmented 6th!).)

    The 2nd chord is C#m7b5 (or an inverted Em6, or rootless A9).

    3rd chord is - yes! - G13.

    Am(maj9) would be:

    -0-
    -0-
    -5-
    -6-
    -0-
    ---

    Cmaj7b9 (if you really want such a bizarre chord) would be this:

    -3-
    -2-
    -4-
    -2-
    -3-
    ---

    - sounds OK in part, but that low C really fights the higher C#.

    Quote Originally Posted by This End Up View Post
    Probably all terribly wrong, but that's not the point. The point is that now you have a set of arpeggios you can use over the original fifth chords that should mostly fit, especially when used sparingly and in addition to, say, the Am pentatonic scale.
    Well, I'd say that's debatable.
    The G13 will work OK (probably), but not the first two (IMO). Parts of them would. But the first one is more like an Abmaj7 (disregarding the A bass), which is almost as outside as you can get over an A5 chord (although the C and G are in A minor pent of course).
    And the C# in the 2nd one is also the most outside note you can choose over a C5 chord. However this is like a rootless A9, so it might be usable as a replacement for (extension of) the A5.
    Quote Originally Posted by This End Up View Post
    The next cool thing to do is to create passing chords and throw those in the mix, then work out their arpeggios and add them in, too.
    Well, your above chords might work as passing chords in themselves
    Last edited by JonR; 12-09-2010 at 05:43 PM.

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