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Jamming in Key - Soloing over Chords

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by wisconsindead, Jan 20, 2014.

  1. I am trying to get better understanding of what scales to be playing throughout a song. Generally, if a song is a certain key, say D mixolydian, playing those 7 notes will sound fine throughout the song. Over the chords, say D, C and G.

    I have been playing a song which I believe is in E mixolydian (Brown Eyed Women - Grateful Dead). Not positive about this, but it sounds right. During the chorus, which starts out on B and leads into A, I have an issue. If I ascend to the A from the B and play within the E mixolydian, the flat 7th of E sounds wrong (minor 3rd of B). The D# (major 7th or E, major 3rd of B) sounds much better, or "right". This got me curious as to whats going on in the song. Is this music not technically modal because it is leaving the mode? Does a new key arise during the chorus?

    So I wonder, when you are soloing in a song do you usually solo within the scale of the chord at that time or stick with the key of the song and that scale? This is the first time I've ran into this so I am not sure how to approach it.

    As far as I understand the chords which comprise a mode are all made up of the same notes as the mode (im not sure if this is true). So for E mixolydian the notes are...

    E F# G# A B C# D octave.

    The chords "should" be

    E7 F#m7 G#m7(b5) Amaj7 Bm7 C#m7 Dmaj7

    Sorry for it being confusing, there are multiple questions or things that I am confused about with not only the songs but scales, modes etc. Thanks in advance.
  2. edwinhurwitz

    edwinhurwitz Supporting Member

    May 13, 2003
    Boulder, CO
    Endorsing Artist: DR Strings, SMS, D-TAR
    It's music. The rules (aka chord and scale analysis) are applied after the fact. Without getting into it too deeply, the B is functioning as a V chord here and in order to be a well functioning V chord, it should have a tritone in it formed between the 3rd and 7th. Thus, you have a D# to combine with the A to give you that tritone. What should set off alarm bells that you are trying to apply diatonic harmonic principles of continuity between the chords when your I chord isn't a major 7th chord but a dominant chord.

    At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do to make it sound good and that means that the B chord is going to have a major third, rather than a minor 3rd.

    So, what do I do? I use the chord tones to solo and then use the key signature to determine the tensions. After that, if it doesn't sound good, I'll adjust from there.
  3. Thanks edwin.
  4. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Some advice for you, learn to play in key, ignore scales and modes and listen to the melody, then once you have the melody, harmonise it.
    Once you have worked out what options harmonise it, then make a counter melody.

    Now you can analyze what you have used to get there.

    Its 12 notes, the same 12 notes that have been used for centuries, so learn to organise them to make music first......so you can analyze it afterwards to see how you done it.
    Do not, in the beginning, try to organise scales, modes etc to make music, just make music.

    I can say that in over 40 years of playing i have never had anyone tell me a scale or a mode to play in, but i always get a key.:)
  5. pfox14


    Dec 22, 2013
    BTW There's no such key as D mixolydian. Key signatures are only major or minor. Mixolydian is a type of scale. Understanding the chord changes is the key to doing a solo and playing the right notes. Each chord has a set number of notes that will sound good. So, you might have to get a lead sheet (basically the melody and chord changes) for the songs in question and go about learning what notes to play for each chord change.
  6. edwinhurwitz

    edwinhurwitz Supporting Member

    May 13, 2003
    Boulder, CO
    Endorsing Artist: DR Strings, SMS, D-TAR
    This is pretty much true, although I think that thinking of mixolydian as a scale is a distraction. It's one way to think of a chord (given that chords are frozen scales and scales are liquid chords) and thinking of it as a chord (a dominant 7th chord in a major key) gives you not only notes but harmonic context.
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Does Phil Lesh play D or D# in that situation? (or maybe a little bit of both?) What about Jerry when he solos?

    That is the real answer to your question. If you are not listening and jamming along with the Grateful Dead recordings then you are never going to figure out how they did it. People who think Jerry was just noodling around in a single mode underestimate what a deep student of music he was.

    https://archive.org/search.php?query=brown eyed women AND collection:GratefulDead
  8. praisebass


    Aug 20, 2009
    I disagree about no tunes in mixolydian. Many examples here: http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Mixolydian-mode-in-Music. I play a lot of Irish music and music of the British Isles - much of it is modal. Lots of Dorian mode as well. Although, much of this music is not strictly confined to the definition of the classical modes.
  9. edwinhurwitz

    edwinhurwitz Supporting Member

    May 13, 2003
    Boulder, CO
    Endorsing Artist: DR Strings, SMS, D-TAR
    I don't think anyone would dispute what you are saying. However, what people are saying is that to say something is in a mixolydian key is a bit misleading if you are expecting all the other modes to fall into place. Diatonic harmony assumes certain chord functions (i.e., that the V chord will be a dominant chord) and if you are in a "mixolydian key", those functions go out the window. As you point out, it's outside the classical modes. I think the OP was wondering how to deal with that phenomenon.
  10. It sounds like you're visualising the chord change as a strict modulation process, and I think this is why you're running into issues. I've run the progression through my head now, and I believe that the progression begins on E Mixolydian, then moves to A, then moves to B, and you're not sure what the A and B chords/modes are. The problem is that you're thinking of the this as being strictly a modal progression, with E Mixolydian moving to the 4th degree of that mode (which is Ionian, and has a perfect 4th of "D"), and then moving to the 5th degree (which is Dorian, and has "D" as the minor 3rd degree).

    Now, modal progressions are a tricky subject because most music out there isn't strictly modal. Even in classical music, strictly modal progressions aren't that common. It's common for modes to be used incidentally as part of progressions.... for example, a song could start on Gmaj7, then move to Amaj7, then move to Emin7, then finally to D7. Modally that makes no sense, because the A chord should be minor, but there's no reason why you can't do it and it's entirely possible that the progression sounds fine that way.

    In your case, it sounds like you have to move to A Lydian from E Mixolydian so that you can get the D# in there. Then you can modulate from A Lydian to B Mixolydian (as B7 keeps the D# as a major 3rd).... which makes no sense modally because it means that you're playing Mixolydian on both the 1st and 5th degrees of the Mixolydian mode. This is what I was talking about when I said chord transitions can be incidental; people can just put in whatever chord they want, and in the context of improvisation this can happen even more (I understand The Grateful Dead did a lot of improvising).

    I'm basing all this off the fact that you said playing D in the A & B chords "sounds wrong". As other people have said, the sound is the most important thing, and music theory is generally applied a posteriori (or "after the event"). Theory can be used a priori (or "prior to the event"), and obviously is for compositional purposes, but when playing you need to bend the rules of theory to conform with what the situation calls for. In this case, it requires shifting from E Mixolydian to A Lydian.

    By the way, if you're wondering why I picked Lydian for the A chord, it's because you said the D sounds bad. That means the perfect 4th is out.... and only 1 of the 7 modes has a 4th that isn't perfect (Lydian, with the augmented 4th). I guess the subsequent B chord could be something other than Mixolydian, but you couldn't revert to the "correct" mode because that would be Dorian, which has a minor 3rd ("D"). You need something with a major 3rd.... but considering the haphazard nature of mode selection in the song, it could be any of the three major modes.

    Don't be afraid to use modes with incidental intervals in them. I learned the modes of the harmonic minor scale to give me an insight into "weird" modes from a more structured point of view. For example......

    Harmonic Minor = Aolian + major 7th
    Locrian #6 = Locrian + major 6th
    Ionian aug5 = Ionian + augmented 5th (enharmonically a minor 6th)
    Dorian aug4 = Dorian + augmented 4th
    Phrygian Dominant = Phrygian + major 3rd
    Lydian aug2 = Lydian = augmented 2nd (enharmonically a minor 3rd)
    Harmonic Diminished = Mixolydian with EVERY SINGLE scale degree reduced by a semitone.... so min2, min3, dim4, dim5, min6, dim7 (that one's a real brain bender).

    At the end of the day, these are all rules that can easily be broken. No matter how much theory you know, you have to be willing to break the rules if you want to experiment. But you have to know the rules first before you break them.
  11. Thanks all. Good info.

    As far as I can tell no he doesnt play D#. As per my understanding, that would be one of the least likely notes to hit though. Edwin would likely be a better person to answer this. And i wish I knew what jerry did most of the time, i love his runs but theyre too fast for me to dechiper. A good slow phil line... I can usually do that.

    The majority of my bass playing has been spent playing along with dead recordings and its helped a lot certainly. Finally got into a band so thats a whole new experience for me, though I've had a fair amount of jamming with others along the way.

  12. edwinhurwitz

    edwinhurwitz Supporting Member

    May 13, 2003
    Boulder, CO
    Endorsing Artist: DR Strings, SMS, D-TAR
    Respectfully, I might submit that this is over thinking the issue. The issue is that the B chord is major, which needs a D#, but it's in a song where the key signature seems to be the one that includes E mixolydian, which would have D natural. So, the solution is to just adjust the scale to fit the chord. As Blue Whistle says, trying to find one master scale that fits over the whole song is an exercise in futility.

    We see this all the time. For instance, if we're in a minor key with a V I cadence. We want that V chord to have the tritone to give it the dominant sound, so we make what would be a minor 5th chord in a strict diatonic system into a dominant 5th chord. In fact, that's the whole reason that we have a harmonic minor scale in the first place. We didn't need a weird minor scale with a minor third in it, we needed a dominant tonic resolution, so we adjusted the dominant chord to be major instead of minor. After that, we then played that sequence of notes from the tonic to the tonic and that gives us the harmonic minor scale. The very name gives it away, it's a minor scale created for harmonic considerations.
  13. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Lots of good information so far; I'll try to add my take. What you've done here is take the chords that are diatonic to A Major and rearrange them so the V chord is now the I chord and then made the assumption that if the I is now E7, the chords you expect to be used are the other chords you've listed. The problem with this is that if you choose only chords from those you've listed, what you likely end up with is a progression that sounds like it is in A Major (your ear is going to want to hear E7 as a V chord, not as a I chord). What you have with Brown Eyed Women is a progression that has E7 as the I chord (let's say the progression has E Mixolydian character). Thus, as Edwin says, the chord based on B most likely needs to have a Major third. It could either be "B" or, to give it more dominant character, B7. Not that it couldn't be Bmin7 in some situations, but to reinforce E7 being the I, it helps to have the chord based on B be a B7.

    And, as Blue Whistle said, "...modal progressions are a tricky subject because most music out there isn't strictly modal." This is very true. Dark Star is a more simple example in that the I chord is A7 and, for the opening theme at least, it alternates with Emin7. Both of these chords are diatonic to D Major, so this simple example follows your original conception that you posted above. But to think that the opening of Dark Star is V ii of D Major doesn't make sense; it's A Mixolydian(and yet the Dead often get to D Major in Dark Star). But as you get into chord changes that involve more chords, the likelihood of introducing chords that are not diatonic to the Major key from which the Mixolydian is derived greatly increases.

    Reading back over this, I'm not sure I've really helped. ;)

    Edit: I just played some solo lines over the verses and chorus, and a D natural is a clam no matter how you slice it. It needs a D#.
  14. aprod

    aprod Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2008
    You need to study theory. As has been stated there is no key of D mixolydian. The D mixolydian is the scale related to a 7th chord, in this case D7 and is the V chord of G major.
  15. thanks fretless. Are you saying that the D# should likely be my 7th of choice in Brown eyed women, thus the key is not mixolydian or wait I cant say that, um, getting confused lol.

    I am starting to hear that though, most of the times i hit that 7th its a passing note so might be why it i didnt realize.
  16. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    I took a quick listen, and it sounds like E major to me. The D# fits the whole way through, except on the second chord (E7). So the E7 is functioning as a V of IV. So I'd say it's just regular old diatonic harmony.
  17. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Three theory ideas to keep in mind when analyzing any Americana type music:

    1. b7 or "Mixolydian mode" over a major chord does not necessarily imply dominant function. (Example: Blues in the key of C, you can play C7, F7, G7. This does NOT mean we are temporarily in the key of F or Bb; we're in I-IV-V in C the whole time.)

    2. Using b7 or Mixolydian sound over the I chord does not, in and of itself, determine whether the V chord is going to be minor or major quality. (Example: Song is in C and uses lots of Bb on the I chord. That doesn't mean we must use Gmin for the V chord; we can still use G or G7.)

    3. The concept of "secondary dominants" to create harmonic tension and release; i.e. changing chords that would normally be minor quality to major, or major to dominant 7. (Example: Song is in C, we can use D7 instead of Dmin to get to G, or E7 instead of Emin to get to Amin, etc.)

    Jerry Garcia was steeped in folk, bluegrass, jazz, country, blues, gospel, etc. and understood the chord progressions and cadences used in 1,000s of actual songs. Just because a song "has a modal sound" does not mean you only use chords that fit diatonically to the Mixolydian mode built off the IV chord.

    Then there is the concept of soloing where you are trying to bend, stretch, and break all of the rules of the composition, especially in a band like the Dead... tonight Jerry might have an idea that is based off diminished chords, for example.
  18. nsams73


    Nov 12, 2012
    I don't think an E7 chord is played in Brown-Eyed Women. I believe it's just E. It could be argued that the song even changes keys during the first two lines of the bridge, which begins on Bm. That would be the point where a D note would work.
  19. I was actually just thinking this now, after reading a couple of replies. If D isn't fitting when you're working your way up from A and B, there's a decent chance that it just isn't in the root chord anyway. That means that, as smeet said, the key is probably just E major, and so you'd play Lydian on the A and Mixolydian on the B. Simple!

    That said, they might change the chords non-diatonically, and I haven't heard the song myself so I don't know. Try playing it in E major and see how far you get. But the main things to take away from this are:

    1.) Don't think of modes as scales. They're scales playing with different starting points. This is important because there are things such as "metric/rhythmic modulation" as well, which involves starting a phrase on progressively different notes in a bar, or different parts of a note (1 e and a, etc). So the idea of "modes/modulation" doesn't just apply to scales, and that's why you need to understand it as a separate concept.

    2.) You don't have to use modes in a strictly diatonic context. In fact, far from it. There are plenty of songs that use modes as root "scales", and either moves them around or changes to different modes haphazardly. As a composer/song-writer, you can use ANY chord/scales/mode you want in each section, and using odd progressions can yield useful sounds. Also, as previously stated, when you start playing music like blues, the simpler nature of the scales means that you can repeat the same chord more often than usual.

    This is probably a good opportunity to give you an insight into what modes are for, so that you understand what the logic behind them is. It might seem arrogant of me to say that, and I know I already talk too much, but hopefully it can be of some help :)
  20. Modes let you get different sounds, by giving you different intervals relative to the root note that you happen to be starting from. The Lydian mode and Phrygian mode have different sounds...... BUT, here's the kicker: they potentially use exactly the same notes. If you're in C major, and you start from F, hey presto! You're playing a Lydian mode with its own sound. But if you start from E, you're playing Phrygian and it sounds different again.

    This shows you that it isn't notes BY THEMSELVES that imply any character or emotion, but rather the relationships BETWEEN the notes. That's why people say a major 3rd sounds happy, where as a minor 3rd sounds sad. Technically, there are four minor 3rds in the major AND minor scales, and there are three major 3rds, because there are 4 minor modes and 3 major modes in these scales. But because you're accustomed to hearing all notes as being relative to a "root" note, you only identify one "3rd" in each scale/mode.

    So, why bother having modes at all? Why not just have the same 7 different patterns, but call them 7 different "scales"?

    This is where the concept of "modulation" comes in. When you're "modulating", you're only using notes that already exist within whatever framework has been established (i.e. the key). This means that you can jump from the Ionian mode (which is the same as the major scale) to the Lydian mode, then to the Phrygian mode, and back again, and you haven't played ANYTHING that sounds "wrong". This means that you can effectively play a "minor" pattern over a major scale, but because the notes are the same (only reordered), it sounds fine.

    When you're soloing this sort of stuff comes in really handy. It means you can either play different patterns that sound strange against the key/chord you're in, or you can play different patterns that mysteriously sound like they fit perfectly. It gives you a lot more freedom to move around the scale and start in different places, which is a great way to make cool sounds because always being based off the same root note sounds boring after awhile.

    But modes to get used as "scales" a lot, where they're just patterns people use. There's nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with moving to a chord/mode that doesn't fit the usual diatonic pattern (i.e. Ionian (I), Dorian (II), Phrygian (III), Lydian (IV), Mixolydian (V), Aeolian (VI), Locrian (VII)). Once you're in your chord, you can solo over the top of it in any way that works (or doesn't). When you move to another chord, you have to be aware of it anyway in order to solo correctly, so whether or not it matches that pattern I mentioned above doesn't really matter at all.

    There is an exception to this though. When your chord progression is totally diatonic (i.e. it goes through the modes in the "correct order"), it means that you can solo over the chords using your modes, and not have to worry about the chord changes. Remember what I said before, about the notes staying the same when you play through the different modes? Well, if the chord changes to one that fits in with the pattern of modes, that means that the notes in the chords aren't really changing, right?

    However, the chords will pick out different notes from the overall major scale, so they still sound different. For example, in C Major:

    Ionian mode = Cmaj7 = C, E, G, B
    Dorian mode = Dmin7 = D, F, A, E
    Locrian mode = Bmin7(b5) = B, D, F, A

    Again, this means that the notes in each chord ARE different, and might not be in the particular mode you choose to play. HOWEVER, the notes you play that aren't in the chord won't sound wrong, because they don't CLASH. When you play something and it sounds wrong, it's generally because someone else is playing roughly the same note/interval, but it's a bit different. That means that one of you is wrong. But if you play a D when someone is playing a Cmaj7 chord, it doesn't sound wrong because they're not playing anything that "contradicts" what you're playing.

    So, if the chord progression being used was the same as I've written above [Cmaj7 - Dmin7 - Bmin7(b5)], but you soloed using [D Dorian - G Mixolydian - C Ionian], guess what...... IT SOUNDS FINE!!! It'll sound unusual, because you're not emphasising the same root note, but it won't sound "bad" because none of the notes are clashing, and ALL of them come from the same scale!

    Anyway, sorry for rambling on, but it took me awhile to understand this sort of stuff (and I still don't understand every single bit of it), and I just wanted to help. I hope I did! :)

    I apologise in advance to anyone if any of the information I've written is wrong, and I'd gladly stand corrected if so.