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Thread: I can jam and play along only single notes how do I jam or improvise chords

  1. #1
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    Question I can jam and play along only single notes how do I jam or improvise chords

    I can jam and play along only single notes how do I jam or improvise chords

    I'm an intermediate musician I've been teaching myself for 13 years

    I know intervals chords inversions scales modes keys etc

    I know how to construct all the chords invert them omit notes

    It just seems when I play along to songs on guitar I can only jam or improvise single notes

    I learned a lot about ear training too so I am also intermediate in relative and perfect pitch

    I really feel like I could move up to advanced if I could just be able to jam play along and improvise chords


  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    I notice you play bass. In jamming a bass line you rely upon the Root and 5 note of the chord, in jamming a chord progression you can rely upon the root chord and the five chord of the key. In rhythm guitar as in bass guitar the rhythm (beat) is important the actual chord or note sounded is secondary, i.e. in both cases you can get by with a root-five groove. Read on.....

    Playing chords - lets look at what the rhythm guitar guys do. They first learn their 7 major triads, 7 minor triads and the 7 dominant seven chord. Then after getting those 21 chord shapes into muscle memory they start play rhythm guitar to some fake chord sheet music. Find some fake chord sheet music on you style of music and learn; 1) how to play from fake chord and then 2) what are the basic progressions used in your style of music. In my ole time Country everything is major chord so that narrows the progression down to the I, IV and V chord. Country and Gospel are normally three chord songs so again that narrows it down to the I-IV-V chords. In jamming I go with I-IV-V until proven wrong.

    Now we could get into how chords move to each other and why a sub-dominant chord wants to move to a dominant chord and things like that, but, to jamm a chord progression that is not really necessary. Most songwriters seem to have several chord progression that they like to use in their songs - so that one fact will make it easy for us in our jamming. For example:

    Country will use one of the following progression most of the time.
    the ole standby I-IV-V-I, or...
    I-V-I-IV-V-I, or I-IV-I-V-I, or perhaps...
    I-vi-ii-V-I.

    OK just in case:
    Chord number...... I....ii....iii..IV..V...vi....vii
    Key of C chords = C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim
    Each of those have a V-I cadence - so the song is called out to be in the key of C. That tells us that the C chord and the G chord are going to be used in the progression ---- guaranteed! The IV or F chord is another good candidate. Anything else could be in this progression as all chords in a key will sound good with each other, but, if you assume the I, IV and V are going to be used you are in good company. My point - the songwriter has figured all this out for you, grab some fake chord sheet music and study what chords are being used and how they move to each other - in the style you enjoy playing.

    If the rhythm guitar guy called the song you can also assume that he knows the chord progression that will be used in the song. While jamming look at his fretting hand and change chords when he does.

    If you get lost in the jamm revert to a I-V-I vamp till you find your place. In a long set, over an hour, I've been know to ride a V chord and just play rhythm and take a quick break. It need not be rocket science.

    It's not like playing single note melody where one wrong note stands out. As all chords in a key are going to sound good with each other, so you sound one that is not being played by the other guys, you will probably be the only one that hears that.

    If the key is major the three major chords are going to be predominant in the progression.
    If the key is minor the three minor chords are going to be predominant in the progression.
    The other four chords are for color and or flavor. Worry with the predominate chords, the flavor and color chords will come with practice.

    www.musictheory.net -- lessons -- common chord progressions will go into detail on what chords like to move to what other chords. If you let them move where they like to good things happen.

    Jamming with Blues play-a-longs is good practice, because the blues progression is predictable and once your ear gets used to hearing the chord changes you are ready for more sophisticated stuff. http://www.freejamtracks.com/
    Good luck.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 11-23-2012 at 07:26 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User urucoug's Avatar
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    Something that has been helpful to me is finding artists online who I'd like to be able to imitate. For a long time, I wanted to sound 'better', but didn't know where I wanted to go. I think this was largely because I'd like certain groups, but I didn't have a band. One-person imitations of the sounds of a group only go so far (me strumming the chords of U2's 'Beautiful Day' doesn't sound nearly as good as U2 playing 'Beautiful Day').

    I've overcome this in 2 ways--I play more with other musicians, and I found solo artists that I like. It's very hard to gain capability without a clear vision. Finding those artists has helped my abilities immensely.

  4. #4
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Harmonic Improvisation? I'm not saying there's no such thing, but the term sounds odd. I think you may be asking about re-harmonization! (My favorite topic! )

    there are many techniques used, but one used most often and that is Functional Harmony. How does the chord I'm on work and work within the chords surrounding it? Well, I wouldn't really call FH a "technique" as that just tell you the logic about how chords work; it's much more a concept, but there are techniques when trying to enrich the sounds of them.

    Color Tones (Extensions/Alterations)
    Inversions (6, 6/4; 7, 6/5, 4/3, 2)
    Playing the chords certain ways (Block Style, Broken/Arpeggios, Close/Open, etc.)

    Prolongation: Making a bigger string progression as to get more harmonic, but also melodic movement due to voice-leading. Of course, how much movement you want depends on you and how much is needed.

    Some of these techniques can be combined to really enrich a re-harmonized tune.

    Also, try to put chord tones under the melody, but also realize that not every note doesn't have to move. (Again, voice-leading). It'll be much clearer seeing these things demonstrated on a piano (and I also realize how difficult the translation can be).

    Nothing wrong with vamping if you're stuck, but vamping is also the easy way out (at least that's how it can be viewed sometimes). If playing a modal piece where there's nothing, but two chords or the majority of the tune is two chords, then by all means and two-chord songs do exist (especially ones that are Ionian and Aeolian based - aka Key based)

    Uru is correct in my opinion. Jam sessions really help as you're in a situation where the application can happen. However, I somewhat disagree with the "self-taught not working too well." Self-teaching works wonders for composers or if one is looking to get into composing or arranging. However, you still need that applicable situation to see where you stand.

  5. #5
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    Talking

    Thanks Malcolm, uru, and color!

    You're posts really helped.

    I think I am on my way.

    Here's what I figured out and am practicing.

    I know how to visualize scales when I play along, so now I am visualizing the major triads and their inversions all over the fretboard.

    The exercise I am using to practice is taking the major triad pattern and its two inversions and playing one of each starting on either end of the fretboard low e or higher e and playing the pattern from end to end each inversion or root triad by strumming or arpeggiating across

    This is helping me to visualize the major triad in any inversion or the root pattern anywhere on the fretboard

    Now I need to memorize the patterns and be able to visualize them as easily as I do the major scale

    When I do I will be able to combine scales and major triads in any inversion, so I can alter the major triads to whatever I'm jamming along to anywhere on the fretboard so like if it sounds minor just alter the third interval etc

    Now I will be able to jam chords just like I do with single notes

    So now I can easily find chords to utilize when i jam as well as utilize intervals instead of mostly jamming scales

    This is a really big step for me I feel like I am entering the beginning stages of advanced playing now


    Thanks guys!!

    And please any more help would be great expanding on my post in context to the whole thread.

    Thanks again.

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by extra_solar View Post
    It just seems when I play along to songs on guitar I can only jam or improvise single notes
    That's normal. It's what even the most advanced jazz musicians (mostly) do.

    IOW, when "playing along to songs" (rather than just jamming from scratch), you have a given chord progression.
    The simple strategy is to play notes in those chords (the arpeggios) using other diatonic notes (notes from the other chords) as passing notes.
    An intermediate strategy is to add chromatics to that pitch collection, so that you actually have all 12 possible pitches in play at any time - but you are still tied to the given chords as your foundation.
    Ie, there are 3 levels:

    1. chord arpeggios (most consonant)
    2. diatonic passing notes (from scale of key, or suitable chord-scale)
    3. chromatic notes, ie all remaining notes (most dissonant)

    While the diatonic strategy can work fine, it can also sound bland. Adding the chromatics adds a bluesy/jazzy "edge".

    Basic chromatic technique is to only play one chromatic at a time and always resolve by half-step to chord tone or consonant extension. Eg, when you play a D# over a C major chord, you'd follow it pretty quickly with E (3rd) or D (9th).
    Advanced chromatics is what's traditionally called "outside" playing, and involves whole phrases of chromatics, such as an arpeggio a half-step away from the current chord. It takes confidence and experience to make this work. Generally one should always resolve back to the chord before it changes. (Otherwise those "wrong notes" will just sound - er - wrong .)

    But as I say, that's still all based on accepting the chords of the song as a fixed starting place: improvising on given material in conventional jazz manner.

    It's not limited to single-note playing, btw. That's jazz tradition because jazz soloing is based on what horns can do - and they can't play chords! So jazz guitarists (beginning with Charlie Christian at least) followed that example, playing horn-like single note lines.
    The other issue is that jazz improvisation is/was always about melody, about emulating the human voice to some extent. A singer can't sing chords any more than a horn can play them .
    But if you listen to Django Reinhardt (before CC) you'll often hear him inserting partial chords into his solos, or at least improvising rhythmic kicks behind Grappelly.

    The guitarists that did improvise much with chords generally worked alone, or maybe with just bass and drums. They would still have been mostly playing the given chords (in various inversions or extensions) - not making them up -
    but would have been free to insert substitutes if the mood took them.


    If you're still dissatisfied with all those possibilities (and jazz musicians can play for years before they get to that point - remember the notes you choose are just a tiny part of what improvisation is about), then - as Color of Music says - the next step is reharmonisation: taking the melody and stripping out the old chords, to see what others might fit.
    It's a complex craft because not only do the new chords need to harmonise the melody of the song, but they need to work functionally in a similar way to the originals; ie they don't need to have the same functions as the original chords, but they still need to make a logical sounding sequence.
    So it requires a thorough knowledge of chord function (diatonic and chromatic).
    Reharmonisations are often worked out beforehand (esp in a band, where it helps if all the musicians know what chords are coming), but advanced players can improvise them (and advanced soloists or compers will be able to follow them).

    The essential point is (apologies if this is not what you mean ) that you can't improvise different chords than those in any backing you are playing over. (I mean, you can, obviously - it will just sound wrong!)
    Last edited by JonR; 12-08-2012 at 06:40 PM.

  7. #7
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    Ok. So it's a year later and I am revisiting my post here. I now understand what I was wondering a year ago.


    I have been teaching myself music theory relying mostly on the internet instructional books CDs and videos and every so often actual guitar lessons.

    I think what I was trying to figure out was the logical chord progressions that occur in scales. Meaning a scale of chords based upon the tonic chord and tonic scale.

    I was talking about improvising chords meaning having a scale of chords to improvise with from scratch. So to establish a harmonious chord scale and being able to improvise a harmonious scale with a harmonious scale of chords.

    An example would be a C Major Scale: C D E F G A B C and a Scale of Chords with a C Major Tonic Chord: CMaj Dmin Emin FMaj GMaj Amin Bdim CMaj or I ii iii IV V vi dim I

    I'm beginning to realize then that there are Major chord scales and Minor chord scales and really the minor chord scale is a mode chord scale of the major chord scale. Meaning that if you invert the major chord scale you get the mode chord scales.

    But there are different types of major scales and different types of minor scales such as melodic or harmonic. Additionally there are chord scales with more than seven tones and less than seven tones such as a Pentatonic chord scale.

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by extra_solar View Post
    I think what I was trying to figure out was the logical chord progressions that occur in scales. Meaning a scale of chords based upon the tonic chord and tonic scale.

    I was talking about improvising chords meaning having a scale of chords to improvise with from scratch. So to establish a harmonious chord scale and being able to improvise a harmonious scale with a harmonious scale of chords.
    Right. I call that composition, not improvisation. Of course, composing begins from improvising, and normally you'd begin with a melodic phrase, a scale, or a set of chords that sound like they go together. The most common reason chords sound good together is that they are all harmonised from the same scale.
    Eg, you might find (just by trial and error) that G, C, D and Em all sound good together. The reason is they are all harmonised from the G major scale, but you don't need to know that.
    I mean, it helps if you do, because you can then work out what other chords belong in that family (Am, Bm, F#dim or D7).
    But if you follow that rule too strictly, you end up with bland progressions. That's because chords from outside the key can also sound good. You won't discover those if you think they're not going to fit.
    Quote Originally Posted by extra_solar View Post
    An example would be a C Major Scale: C D E F G A B C and a Scale of Chords with a C Major Tonic Chord: CMaj Dmin Emin FMaj GMaj Amin Bdim CMaj or I ii iii IV V vi dim I

    I'm beginning to realize then that there are Major chord scales and Minor chord scales and really the minor chord scale is a mode chord scale of the major chord scale. Meaning that if you invert the major chord scale you get the mode chord scales.
    Right.
    Quote Originally Posted by extra_solar View Post
    But there are different types of major scales and different types of minor scales such as melodic or harmonic.
    There's only one type of major scale. (Excluding mixolydian and lydian modes for the moment, and the very rare "harmonic major" scale.)
    The other minor scales are best seen as alterations to natural minor. You can harmonise sets of chords from them, but the only ones commonly used are the V and vii from harmonic minor, and maybe the tonic from melodic minor.
    That means - in key of A minor - E (or E7, or E7b9) and G#dim7 (from A harmonic minor), and Am(maj7) (or Am6 or Amadd9) from A melodic minor.
    Other chords in minor keys are taken (usually) from the natural minor scale.

    In jazz, modes of melodic minor are often seen as sources of chords, but that's coincidence. Eg, a couple of common jazz chord types are lydian dominant (7#11, 9#11, 13#11), and altered dominant (7#5#9, 7b5b9, etc) - and the scales that fit both happen to match modes of melodic minor. It's a useful coincidence, that's all.
    Eg. if you harmonise the A melodic minor scale, the IV degree gives you D7#11, and the vii degree (with a bit of enharmonic respelling) gives you G#7alt. But neither chord would be used in the key of A minor. D7#11 is used to resolve to C#m, Dbmaj, or Emaj. G#7alt is used to resolve to C#m or Db.
    Quote Originally Posted by extra_solar View Post
    Additionally there are chord scales with more than seven tones and less than seven tones such as a Pentatonic chord scale.
    Yes, you can harmonise chords from the diminished (8-note) and wholetone (6-note) scales, but it's a little meaningless from a pentatonic scale.
    In fact, from any of those scales, you get chords types resembling those from other scales (eg dim7 chords and altered dominants from the dim scale, and sus chords from the pentatonic).
    The exception is 9#5 and 9b5 chords, which can only come from the wholetone scale. (And 13b9, which only comes from diminished.)

    IOW, what you're dealing with here is raw material for composition. And that's fine! It's not what's generally understood by "improvisation".
    If you understand the concept of chords deriving from scales, then - yes - you can jam (improvise from scratch) using chords that work together. And sticking with chords harmonised from the major scale (or any of its modes) will teach your ear a lot about traditional key and mode sounds - very important. You won't get many (indeed any!) original sounds that way, but you will get a lot of traditional, familiar and attractive sounds.
    When it comes to chords from harmonic minor, melodic minor, or diminished or wholetone scales, it's best (to begin with) to regard them as altered variants of the chords you know from major and (natural) minor scales. That's normally how they are used.
    Eg, an E7 chord is used in the A minor key to resolve to Am - because it sounds stronger than using Em or Em7. The concept of "harmonic minor" (as a scale in its own right) is unnecessary; all that matters is introducing that G# note to lead up to A.
    Same applies to using G#dim7 - nothing to do with diminished scales, at least in terms of chord function. It's just a good way to resolve to Am; better than G7, just raise the root to get the leading tone, G#.

    IOW, there's a lot of important stuff to understand about how chords work in sequence - in "functional progressions" - before thinking about chord-scales. You can be a great composer or improviser and understand nothing about chord-scales; you just need to have played a lot of existing music, and have a reasonably good ear. That experience will tell you (almost) all you need to know about how chords go together, and how melodies work.

    The rest is about using your ear (with existing sequences or your own experimental ones) and checking how each note in a chord moves to the nearest note in the next chord. This is known as "voice-leading", and is the real secret to all chord progressions. If your voice-leading works - sounds good - then you can pretty much disregard all the other "rules" about chord-scales or progressions. (Because those rules all derive from good-sounding voice-leading moves in the first place.) It means that you can often introduce some weird transitional chords, to smooth the move between a couple of "normal" chords - you don't need any theory to explain it, you only need to be sure it sounds good (listening to every note in all the chords).

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