Thursday, November 24, 2011

Linear Spectrum

Sometimes, you think you've discovered something, only to find that someone else already discovered it WAY before you did. For example, I had a student once who played me a series of inversions of chords. Being fairly self taught as a jazz pianist, I had never thought to approach chords in this way. I started thinking, and then I started writing. I thought,"what if you could take any 5 or 6 note chord and move it in exact inversions, as opposed to thinking scales? You would get some really cool sounds. If you took a chord like this(which is what my student did):
And then moved it typically in the modal diatonic way, you would get this:
 But instead, if you used inversions based on only those 5 notes, you would get a very different sound:

This was a revelation to me. I thought, what if you did could do this with any voicing? You might get this :

And then maybe a thicker voicing, you would get this:
 And then, if you wanted to use a slightly weird voicing, you would get this:
 If you can play through these examples, you'll find some voicings, derived simply from the notes of the initial voicing, that you don't hear as commonly in jazz. So when I started doing this, I thought to myself, "Wow, this could be a whole new thing! Nobody has come up with this! This could be MY concept!"

So I showed my wife Kerry Politzer (then girlfriend; this was back in 2003) my ideas. She declared, "Oh, yeah, my teacher Charlie Banacos gave me a whole bunch of exercises like that about 10 years ago."

OK, so my enthusiasm was dampened a bit, only because I thought that I had "discovered" something.

Wisdom will tell you that there is very little that is new under the sun. Young cats think that playing "modern" is playing free jazz, which is more than 60 years old! Even "fusion" isn't new. Atonality isn't new. Odd Time Signatures: Been There. However, I think we can still search for our own small contribution, whether it is incredibly complex, or whether it is simply an interesting melody.

Recently, I've had dissonance on my mind. Two things occurred; First, I sat in on Darrell Grant's improv class. I was pretty out of it at the time, since my 22 month old son had woken up at 3AM, probably thinking that he's in the ARMY or something. While I was standing near the blackboard, I was asked by Grant to contribute something to the conversation regarding "how to add more dissonance" to your playing. I felt like my explanation fell flat; I talked a little bit about an intervallic approach, and how as long as you can resolve to chord tones, any notes work. I wished I had been more awake so as to make a clearer demonstration.

In the second instance, I had a student who wanted to know how to develop his solo chops on the bass. Since I had been mulling over the whole "dissonance" question for a few days, I gave him possibly a clearer answer. (Also, I was sitting in front of the piano, so I could play some examples.) The idea is still that any note works on any chord, it's a question of resolution. (And let's be clear, most students I've heard DON'T need more dissonance in their playing, they need to SPELL the changes in the more basic ways.)But how can we be MORE comfortable with the wrong notes? By having more understanding and purpose with the placement of each note. If you were to think of consonance and dissonance as a spectrum, then you would not be afraid of certain notes. You could actually do MORE with those dissonant notes, and create more interesting solos. I came up with this:

This is just based on my personal preferences on types of chords. The small numbers on the top of the staff are just scale degrees against the C Major 7 chord. The bottom numbers would indicate the level of dissonance against the chord, 1 being the lowest and 12 being the highest. Now, I'm sure that there are other theories and studies regarding this. But my little chart works for me and I can use this concept in my jazz playing. I don't know, it might work for you as well. Here's what I put for a minor chord:

And here's what I put for a dominant chord:

So, If you were to analyze a typical jazz line using my formula, it might look something like this:

But if you wanted to get a little bit more risky, you might look at something like this:

Again, this is just something I came up with, mostly for ME, and somewhat for my students who are ready to look at stuff like this. I have links to a PDF with the INVERSIONS and the LINEAR SPECTRUM if you want to print it out and take a look. I've seen a few things regarding the spectrum online, but I wanted to do this myself. I may not have discovered anything new, but at least I have something somewhat concrete. And remember, these are just theories, and theories are not music. Sometimes, the theory will help the music. Other times, you play music and ask about the theory later.....


  1. John O'Gallagher has developed a really interesting method of playing 12 tone rows over changes... I think it's coming out as a book with Advance Music soon. It's really interesting, and this sort of reminds me a bit of it. Although this is, of yours, your concept alone.

  2. HA Ha, John is a bad MO FO, I'm sure his concept is much hipper. And Tone Rows in jazz aren't brand new either. Miles Mode, anyone? And their is a tune by Chick Corea called " The Brain" which I believe is based on a tone row. Anyway, I'd be interested to see John's book.

  3. The core of George Russell's Tonal gravity in his LCC book is basically completely built on this idea of a spectrum of dissonance. He organizes the order of the intervals slightly differently but I think the idea is still very relevant. It's also a small part of the reason why he treats the Lydian mode as the best representation of the Maj7th chord since the #4 is more consonant than the actual 4th

    It's interesting because although most people that slog through the LCC just take out a different perspective on the chordscale theory, when you push this "tonal gravity/spectrum" you pretty much land in a spot where you'd be playing an extreme version of the Lester Young horizontal style but with the entire chromatic scale. There are a few articles and interviews in which he claimed Ornette played at this level and that because of that Ornette could never really be an atonal player since he relied on the strength of a tonic.

    It's a very simple way of breaking down a tune and soloing like you mentioned, since you can either deal with the changes individually, or zoom out and just deal with the tensions and tonic resolutions throughout the tune without that chordscale fear of taboo and avoid notes. I'm not really a massive fan nor a master of the LCC itself but this general idea of tonal gravities and spectrum is a really refreshing perspective when things start to clutter.

    Very cool read as usual.

  4. Yes, Like I said, this is nothing new. But I organized it in a way that makes sense to ME. Many students might not be hearing this way, or they might not have "preferences" when it comes to scale degrees. I'd be curious to see if it would help some students to look at these examples.
    I got a lot of inspiration from listening to Gary Thomas. I'm not exactly sure if he thinks along these lines, but he's able to make some odd notes work anywhere. I know that he is totally aware of changes and scales, harmony, etc. But a lot of students want to play "out" without the foundation,'s a very slippery slope.

  5. Charlie Banacos also teaches a method for improvising 12-tone rows called "The 23rd chord". The idea is to keep adding "extensions" above the 13th. By using a set of three four-note chords built upon one another, you can organize tone rows efficiently while improvising.
    For instance, over Cmaj7 you can use the following four note chords: Cmaj7 / Dmaj7 / Fmin7add4 . Notice how the upper chords contain the "out" tones (the first weird note we encounter is C#), with tones becoming more dissonant as we reach the top (F-Ab-Bb-Eb).

    There are sets of these chords for each chord type. For example, over Cmin7 we can use Cmin7/Dmin-maj7/Emaj-add2. You can come up with your own sets and play through them using all the possible inversions, then start adding chromatic connectors (at this point the lines aren't 12-tone anymore, but they are still built around the initial principle of the exercise).

    Vic Juris, whom I got this method from initially, recommended playing the "strange" notes in a higher register than the consonant tones. (starting out lower and more inside the changes, then taking the lines out as you ascend, and back in again as you descend).

  6. I know this is quite not a very original approach, but it is quite simple : you could resume this tension concept by approaching the 7 notes "in" as an heptatonic scale ( or usual chord structure in thirds till 13th) completed by a pentatonic for "tension" .

    Ex: C dorian + E pentatonic
    C lydian + Db pentatonic
    C myxolidian + Db dominant pentatonic

    You are then free to organise your personnal order choice for dissonance inside that somewhat simplier concept.

    My 2 cents.

  7. I always wanted to learn to read notes. However, I am really lame at that. Can anyone teach me some basics for free?

  8. Very nice without a doubt! Appreciate your this specific!


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