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Minor II-V-I solo options nerdy question

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by BassBot, Jun 1, 2007.

  1. BassBot


    Oct 31, 2006
    San Francisco
    Let's say you are playing over a minor II-V-I progression (i.e. II = minor 7 (b5); V = 7alt; I = minor 7 or min-maj 7).

    If you use the 6th mode (Locrian 2) of the melodic minor scale over the II chord, do you use only the ascending version and not the descending melodic minor scale (i.e. the natural minor scale)?

    For example, let's say you are playing II-V-I in B minor. The II chord would be a C#-7(b5). You could use a Locrian over this chord (i.e. seventh mode of the D major scale) and you could use the Locrian 2 (i.e. 6th mode of the E melodic minor scale).

    Played ascending, the Locrian 2 contains C#, D#, E, F#, G, A, B, which are also the notes in the E melodic minor scale. Since there are no "avoid" notes in the melodic minor scale, you could theoreticlly just play the E melodic minor scale over the II chord. However, the descending version of this scale is the E natural minor scale, which does not contain C#, the root note in the original II chord (i.e. C#-7(b5)). If you played a C# natural minor as the descending scale, you would be omitting the b5, which is one of the main defining charactistics of the II chord in a minor II-V-I.

    So, back to my nerdy question: Do you just use the ascending version of the Locrian 2 over the II chord of a minor II-V-I?
  2. A minor II-V-I progression is just a sequence of sounds. Play other sounds against it that you feel sound good or interesting.
    All you can really do, if you want to make music, is learn to hear more combinations of sounds as options.
    Hearing a chord, identifying it, then reaching into a mental catalog of scales and chords does not have much to do with music, jazz or improvisation.
  3. mesmithnm

    mesmithnm Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2005
    Layton, UT
    Why not just base your note choices over the harmonic minor? That's where the minor II-V comes from. In B minor, that's B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A# - B. So, you get the II chord, C#-7b5 (C# - E - G - B), the V altered (F# - A# - C# - E - G (the b9) ), and then the I-Maj7. If you're trying to stretch out and find new things to play over a minor II-V, then the modal thing could be interesting, but many of the minor II-V changes seem to fly by (in a single bar of 4, for example) and getting the b6 and #7 of the harmonic minor in there is the quickest way to make it sound like a minor II-V. So, I never think modally when I hear a minor II-V - I'm always hearing the passing modulation that it typically implies.
  4. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Columnist — BassMagazine.com, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    Right - you would only use the ascending melodic-minor scale in both directions - ascending and descending. In your case, over the C#min7b5, you use an E melodic minor, both ascending and descending. That would be called the C# locrian 2 scale, like you wrote. Then over the V chord, the F#7alt, you would use the G melodic minor scale, both ascending and descending. That would be the F# diminished whole-tone scale (also called the altered scale).

    You hip thing about using the parallel melodic-minor scales (C#min7b5 = E melodic minor, F#7alt = G melodic minor), is that you can play a nice melody (a pattern) based on the first melodic minor scale (E mel minor) and then move it up an minor-third interval to the next melodic minor scale (G minor). It can give nice a continuity to your solo line on the minor ii - V.

  5. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
  6. Audiophage


    Jan 9, 2005
    But it's got plenty to do with practicing.
  7. Or at least studying. I am not at all against having that or any other musical information.
    However, I actually think my quote above is one of the main reasons musicians pursued improvised music/free jazz in the 1950s and 60s - to get away from a cataloged response in improvisation.
    Often I will have a student solo against the changes to a tune BEFORE learning it.
    I think a better idea is to find out what various scale options SOUND like against this or any other progression, if you hear a context for that sound, play it.
    Still, "running scales" usually sounds like "running scales".

    It is also best to understand the harmonic tension and release, and what you want to do with that.
    For bass lines it can be different, I often feel like a bass players relation to the composer is like the engineer to the architect - we have to make it stand up, so an intellectual approach can serve that role better than a solo role.
  8. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Columnist — BassMagazine.com, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    This IS the Jazz Theory Forum, and BassBot originally posted the "nerdy" theoretical question: "Do you just use the ascending version of the Locrian 2 over the II chord of a minor II-V-I?"

    So, Bot wants to know whether to use the melodic minor scale (both ascending and descending) on the Locrian 2 scale (the 6th mode of the ascending melodic minor scale) on the half-diminished chord in a minor ii-V. The answer to his/her question is: "yes."

    If this were the "Artistic Expression Forum," then the answer might be: don't worry about it, don't even think about it—just play what you feel.

    In a minor ii-V7 progression, I personally like the sound of the natural 9 on the min7b5 chord, moving down a half-step to the b13 of the dominant chord, then resolving down a half-step to the ninth of the minor I chord. I just play that sound—that voice leading—naturally, because I like it and I hear it. But I went through a lot of experimentation to learn it — even to realize that I like that sound, and that I was hearing that sound on records that I liked.

    That is, of course, just one way to think about—to theoretically justify—playing on a minor ii-V-I.

    The ultimate thing that we all want to get to, as Damon points out, is what Charlie Parker said: (paraphrase) "First you learn all the chords and scales, then you just forget all that stuff and just play."

    By the way, great music on your myspace site Damon . . .


  9. Despite my my own music and my previous comments (and possibly my Bay Area location), I am totally into being grounded in theory and practice.
    I like what you say above: "I like the sound of...", I guess that is my point, rather rushing to gig or session armed with the knowledge that this or that scale works according to someone else's research.
    Learn what various things sound like, then that sound might occur to you in the moment.
    In terms of playing tunes keeping the form and knowing the changes seem to be the only absoloutes, there are any number of explored and unexplored approaches to it once you get those two things down.
    Thanks for listening to my music.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Great discussion. I'll chip in my .02c in and hopefully not ruin it. :bag:

    I think that both "sides" of this coin have something useful to offer, and that both need to be explored to arrive at any informed personal conclusion. Having said that:

    1) Learning chord/scale relationships: In my experience, going through this whole process is an important stepping stone to any aspiring improvising musician. The danger involved is that it can become a sort of "paint by numbers" game in which the ear gets left out in favor of "accepted wisdom" if the student is not careful. On the positive side, it can be a great learning tool if the student uses it as a sort of color palette to experiment with when trying to learn new sounds and program them into the inner ear.

    By way of example, I was told for years that "situation X is always a good time to substitute the Dom7#4 sound". Not wanting to seem uninformed or (god forbid) "unhip", I plugged that sucker in for years whenever situation X showed up in a tune, and it always sounded like ****. Later, when transcribing a Kenny Barron solo, I heard this amazing resolution sound over and over, and analyzed it to find out what it was. Sure enough, it was my old friend, "x7#4". All of a sudden, I "got" that sound, and was able to use it in my own playing in a way that sounded organic rather that superimposed.

    2) Playing whatever sounds good: this is what we all eventually want to be doing (I think?), but it requires a lot of hard work to get there in a meaningful way. I personally love to improvise over tunes I'm trying to learn without looking at the changes first; this lets me know where the comfort/discomfort zones are. If I'm in a comfort zone harmonically and I have plenty of ideas to use and the facility to pull them off, then great. If I'm in a discomfort zone harmonically (even relatively speaking), then I'll want to pull back and figure out how to turn it into a comfort zone. This is where analysis and shedding chord scales (I prefer to think of them as temporary tonalities, but that's another rant) can help.

    With the technology available today, it's pretty easy to construct short excerpts of a playalong-type nature to those passages in a harmonic progression which promote Johnson stompage; shedding over these passages can help them seem more familiar and make them more accessible to the ear until they can be inserted back into the comfort zones to make a more seamless harmonic approach.

    I personally hate any sound that sounds "inserted' (diminished licks are my biggest pet peeve, but there are many such sounds) either in my own playing or in the playing of others. It's like watching a movie with clumsy editing between scenes...when you are aware of the edit to the point where it disrupts the flow of the story, the damage is already done. I would call step 1) a necessary precursor to step 2), and add that step 1) will always remain a useful tool for improving or expanding on step 2). We all have a left brain and a right brain; the trick is to figure out when to use each one where it can most naturally be of use.
  11. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Columnist — BassMagazine.com, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    Sure thing -- when I listen to your music, I believe that you are really "hearing" what you are playing. That is the ultimate goal—to transmit a feeling from player to listener.

    There are a lot of ways to think of a minor ii-V-I. Music theory is just a way to codify some of the common practices:

    1) Use the harmonic minor scale of the I minor chord to cover all three chords...like mesmithnm wrote.
    2) Use the locrian scale on the min7b5, then the dim whole-tone scale on the V7 chord.
    3) Use the locrian 2 scale on the min7b5, then the dim whole-tone scale on the V7 chord. This seems to be what BassBot is exploring at the moment.
    4) Use the half-step/whole-step diminished scale from the V chord over both the min7b5 and the V7 chords.
    5) Forget all that and just play your bass ;)

    You should practice how you would like to sound on the gig—in the practice room. But you shouldn't necessarily go to the gig trying to repeat what you have practiced—you'll get all messed up.

    I love the Bay Area . . . :)
  12. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Columnist — BassMagazine.com, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    Hey Chris!

    I think your Kenny Barron example is appropriate. It's easy to know how and what to do from a book (or an online forum, or a teacher), but you don't really own a sound until you have internalized it. What a bass player needs to do to internalize a sound varies greatly from player to player.

    I have a nerdy side, so I tend to come at things full-nerd—and then figure out how to make music with whatever it is that I am theoretically learning. On the other side, I've played countless gigs—like you, and Damon, and many others here—where I just jump in and play with no life jacket. In those wonderful musical moments, I don't worry about whether it's a locrian or a locrian 2 scale.

    Looking forward to Louisville :)
  13. BtW, John I love your book "Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist".
    I got it about 10 years ago and it helped a lot.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Me too! Arco fencing is definitely out (because I'm hopelessly overmatched), but how about a few rounds of thumb position wrestling? :hyper:
  15. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    My issue is with thinking of a 1:1 chord/scale correspondence. While BassBot brings up one of the possibilities there are MANY others. I like Chris' 'paint by number' analogy.

    My mind used to race with theory as I was improvising. I feel like forgetting all of it is a very long and hard process. Maybe a necessary one, maybe made harder by drilling students on the "right" scales to play over chords. As an educator I have been thinking alot about how to teach improv but keeping the emphasis off of the 1:1 thing. My current theory revolves around understanding how a particular chord relates to the melody and the harmonic movement of the tune. I see that as the other pitfall to the 1:1 thing. You are no longer playing Softly As In A Morning Sunrise or Nature Boy or whatever. You are just playing a sequence of chords and scales.
  16. BassBot


    Oct 31, 2006
    San Francisco
    Wow, considering I expected no one to respond to my nerdy question, this is great.

    What everyone says makes alot of sense. I totally agree that it's best to learn the theory and then forget it when you are playing a tune. Go with what you hear in your head.

    However, that being said, I always find music theory and jazz theory interesting in its own right. And the theory does develop from the common practices of the genre's trailblazers. Why do certain scales sound exotic over this chord and not that chord? How do scales evolve and become part of the popular music lexicon? Etc.

    Using my example from the root post, from what most of you say, it seems like a fairly common practice in a II-V-I in B minor to hear the Locrian 2 (i.e. E minor melodic scale) over the II chord. And, that means alot of bassists are playing the ascending E minor melodic scale starting on C# AND the descending E natural minor scale.

    It's interesting to think how it became common practice (at least to teach in schools) that you use the E descending natural minor and not the C# descending natural minor. Look at the notes:

    E natural minor = E F# G A B C D
    C# natural minor = C# D# E F# G# A B
    C# Locrian 2 = C# D# E F# G A B

    On the surface, it appears that the C# natural minor would sound more "natural," because it contains the root of the chord and really only 1 alteration (G -> G#, of course this is an important alteration because G is one of the II chord's defining notes). Yet, when you sit down at a piano, voice the chord and see how different scales sound over it, the E natural minor sounds "better." Naturally this also leads one (albeit one with a physics background) to ask how this ascending/descending scale difference became common enough to become theory.

    Yes, all of this is probably extremely pedantic and annoying, but when you start hearing instructors say to play X on Y, you can't help but ask why and why does that sound good?
  17. TomSauter


    Dec 22, 2004
    Kennesaw, GA
    Another good thing to do is to just play a II-V-I in the relative major. Say you were in D minor and had Emin7b5-A7-Dmin. Emin7b5 is the same as Gmin7. If you treat the A7 as diminished then it's the same as C7b9, and Dmin and Fmaj are the same of course. A lot of times you can play the exact same lick for a II-V-I in F major as you can for a II-V-I in D minor, or you may want to change a note or two. It's always good to be able to use the same information in a bunch of different ways.
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