10 Things You Gotta Do to Play Like Pat Martino

January 28, 2010

Pat Martino is a true guitar player and he can teach you how to think like one. Encouraged by his father, a professional singer and guitarist who loved taking his son to Philadelphia’s jazz hot spots to hear the likes of Wes Montgomery and Les Paul, Pat Martino (born Pat Azzara in 1944) began playing guitar when he was 12 and left school in the tenth grade to devote himself to music. Also inspired by Johnny Smith, the preteen prodigy raised Les Paul’s eyebrows, dropped out of school at 15 to hit the road with jazz organist Charles Earland, and then followed his 6- string muse to Harlem, where honed his craft as a sideman for tenor sax man Willis Jackson and Hammond B-3 giant Don Patterson, which led to stints with Richard “Groove” Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff. Martino soon signed on with Prestige and recorded El Hombre (1967), his debut as a leader and the first of a string of releases that included Strings! (1967), East! (1968), Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) (1968), and Desperado (1970). With each title more adventurous than the previous one, these recordings pushed the boundaries of post-modern bop and established Martino as a major jazz artist. He joined the Muse label for Live! (1972), Consciousness (1974), Exit, and We’ll Be Together Again (both 1976) before jumping to Warner Bros. for two forays into fusion, Starbright (1976) and Joyous Lake (1978). As GP’s Darrin Fox put it, “Martino’s awe-inspiring technique, endlessly inventive lyricism, and driving feel—thanks to a wicked picking hand that can deliver endless streams of notes with a stunningly beautiful and powerful attack— have made him one of jazz guitar’s most dynamic, singular exponents.” During the late ’70s, Martino was also a frequent visiting instructor at Hollywood’s G.I.T., where he was revered as a guru, and his brilliant seminars enlightened students with improvisational ideas and concepts that had as much to do with geometry as music.

But in 1980, fate intervened as Martino was stricken with a brain aneurism, and the reparative surgery left him with virtually no memory of family, career, or how to play the guitar. Some might call his recovery a miracle, but it was Martino’s inner drive and lust for life that eventually led to a complete recovery, and the deep-thinking guitarist seemingly picked up where he left off, recording more than ten albums, including his comeback, The Return (1987), Think Tank (2003), and his latest, Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note). Pat currently maintains a healthy teaching and touring schedule (he’s gigging and conducting seminars in Tokyo as I write this), as well as a splendid website (patmartino.com) where you can check out bio info, a complete discography, multimedia presentations, and stream non-stop Martino audio. So you want to play guitar like a real hero? First, you’ve gotta...

The art of improvisation has always been one of Pat Martino’s main areas of musical exploration. He points out in the introduction to his groundbreaking book, Linear Expressions (first published in 1983 by REH Publications; buy it!), how all serious students of the guitar spend years of practice overcoming such initial obstacles as lack of technique and physical dexterity before they begin to focus more on what is being played as opposed to how it is played. “The quality of the music is now the primary concern,” Martino philosophizes. “With this in mind, the maturing guitarist will temporarily sedate his on-going urge to play lightening fast guitar licks and flashy feats of fingerboard gymnastics. Finally, the guitarist comes face to face with the nemesis of every budding musical artist, namely, improvising over chord changes.” Early on, Martino mastered the “correct” traditional method of memorizing scales and arpeggios, and treating every chord in a progression individually with the proper device, but found this piano-centric process to be complex, cumbersome, and very un-guitaristic. In retaliation, Pat came up with an ingenious, simplified system that utilizes only minor scales to cover any type of chord sound, wrote it down, and the results are astoundingly empowering and totally guitar-friendly. Though Linear Expressions’ streamlined convert- to-minor concept can change your life (it changed mine.), Martino is also quick to point out the value of exploring all avenues of study: “The art of improvisation is by no means to be considered simple or easy and should not be taken lightly.” From where does one draw such deep inspiration? You’ve gotta...

Martino’s natural tendency is to view music and the world from many different angles— to embrace the simple alongside the complex—and this holistic attitude has opened his awareness to numerous parallels and connections between music and the cosmos at large, many of which he generously shares with students. His conversion-to-minor system, which we will be exploring in depth momentarily, epitomizes Martino’s ability to look at both sides of the coin equally. And for a truly cosmic example of how Martino sees music in everything, just Google or Wiki a gander at the plate of 64 hexagrams found in the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of wisdom. To dedicated followers and scholars, these ancient symbols represent truths and wisdom, and have been pondered for centuries, but Martino looks at the plate and sees “all that was ever done on this 6-string instrument, all that is being done at the moment, and all that ever will be done.” Yipes!

Martino detailed his perspective in a 2003 interview with Victor L. Schermer posted on his website: “The skeletal framework for the system of symbols that the I Ching is based upon is 64 symbols (hexagrams), and each has six straight lines. There are two types of lines: One is whole, the other is broken. Now, the guitar has six strings. The broken line stands for a string that isn’t used. Therefore, if the fifth and sixth are broken, and the other four are not, wow, that’s the fourth, third, second, and first strings of the guitar. That’s string use. Any chord that can be played on those strings, that’s what that symbol and any of the other 63 symbols represent, included ‘all strings broken’, which is silence.” In other words, Martino sees a holistic representation of every possible way to play one-note, twonote intervals, and three- to six-note chordal groupings on six strings—every combination of guitar strings. And guess what? He’s absolutely right. You’ve gotta check this out!

He admits that the guitar is his favorite toy, but gear is probably the most insignificant element in the Martino equation because what Martino plays has always been more important than what he plays it on. More significant than the Gibson Les Paul Customs, ES-175, L5-CES, and Johnny Smith model guitars and Fender Twin Reverbs he used in the ’60s, or his current Gibson Pat Martino Signature model paired with an Acoustic Image Clarus head into a Mesa/Boogie 4x12 closedback cab, are the super-heavy strings he’s always strung up with (currently an .016 set!), an early habit Pat adopted to offset his brutal right-hand pick attack. Martino dabbled with auto-wah effects and synth controllers on Starbright and Joyous Lake, and used custom Abe Rivera and Parker Fly solidbodies on 1997’s guest-laden All Sides Now, which paired him with legends and rockers from Les Paul to Joe Satriani and the late Michael Hedges (who, by the way, was a devout Martino disciple), but most of his records feature a warm, fat sound achieved by rolling back the tone control on his neck pickups.

With that in mind, let’s begin our fantastic journey into the mind of Martino by getting a few of his signature moves under our fingers. The quintet of melodic lines in Examples 1a through 1e cover the entire fingerboard with hip, two-bar eighth-note runs that fit comfortably into the trinity of basic chord sounds—minor, dominant, and major. Approach each line as a pure melody (don’t worry about how or why it works for the moment), and precede each one with the suggested chords to observe how it behaves in each harmonic climate. See how all three chordal climates reference a partial barre shape at the third fret? Where do these lines come from? Why do they sound so dang cool? How do they work over multiple chord sounds? Can we use them to play over chord changes? Glad you asked. First, you’ve gotta...

The first step in Martino’s simplified system for improvising over chord changes (detailed in full in Linear Expressions) is to organize the entire fingerboard into a matrix of interlocking minor scale patterns. Ex. 2 maps out five distinct G minor scale fingering patterns, which Martino calls “forms” and you may already recognize in a different order as five Bb major scale patterns, and highlights their four resident Gm7 chord inversions voiced on the sixth, fourth, third, and second strings. (Hmm ... that’s hexagram #49 from the King Wen sequence, right?) Note how scale patterns #4 and #5 share the same Gm7 chord grip. Concentrate on memorizing the relationships between G minor scale patterns and Gm7 chord shapes first, and then get to work transposing the entire matrix to every other key. See you in a week.

“Faster and faster, my playing concepts are being reduced to just melody line— melodic development through tension and resolution,” Martino revealed in the June 1977 issue of GP. Appropriately, the next step in Martino’s Linear Expressions system involves dividing the fingerboard into five playing areas and memorizing five G minor line forms, or “activities,” each of which is derived from one of Ex. 2’s scale patterns and embellished with chromatic passing tones, plus excursions into melodic minor and harmonic minor territories. Ex. 3 reprints the first four bars of each G minor activity from Linear Expressions. Again, you want to approach these activities as pure melodic line form. (Note: To my ears, these line forms tend to reflect a G Dorian, not Aeolian, tonality. To accommodate this, you may wish to shift perspective by re-numbering and relocating the G minor scale patterns in Ex. 2 as follows: use pattern #3 with chord form #1, pattern #4 with chord form #2, pattern #5 with chord form #3, and patterns #1 and #2 sharing chord form #4.) Without doubt, you’ll have to invest some time here. Start in G minor and learn each line in bite-sized two-beat chunks, two beats at a time, and append each new grouping to the previous one. Martino tends to pick every note, but once you’ve nailed each activity you can add slurs, explore each key chromatically, run the lines through intervallic cycles of major 2nds, minor 3rds, major thirds, perfect 4ths, etc., and try starting them on different beats. It may take months to fully absorb these activities and relate them to their chord forms, but believe me, the payoff is worth it as you gradually discover how to incorporate these lines into your own musical vocabulary.

Now comes the revelation: All of the preceding minor line forms are interchangeable and can fit into virtually any harmonic climate (i.e., chord progression, i.e., song). Once you’ve absorbed and assimilated Martino’s five G minor activities and become facile with each one in all 12 keys, it’s time to try them out in different harmonic climates by applying the following substitution rules, which also illustrate transposition formulas for converting a variety of common chord types to minor

Given: Gm, Gm7, Gm9—Play: G minor (as is for Dorian), C minor (P4th higher than root for Aeolian), or F minor (M2nd lower than root for Phrygian)

Given: Bb, Bbmaj7(9), Bbmaj7b5—Play: G minor (m3rd lower than root for Lydian), or C minor (M2nd higher than root for Ionian).

Given: C7, C9, C11, C13—Play: G minor (P5th higher than root for Mixolydian).

Given: C7(9,13)alt. (b5, #5, b9, #9)— Play: Bb minor or Db minor (whole-step below or half step above root for altered dominant sounds).

Given: Em7b5 (Note: Em7b5 = C9)—

Play: G minor (m3rd higher than root for Locrian).

Given: Caug—Play: A melodic or harmonic minor (m3rd lower than root for augmented sounds).

Apply these minor subs to any chord progression. Start with a simple 12-bar blues in C and play G minor lines for the I chord (C7), C minor lines for the IV chord (F7), and D minor lines for the V chord (G7). You should be able to hear the chord changes in your lines. For a major IIm-V7-I progression in C, play D minor lines for Dm7, F minor or Ab minor lines to create altered tensions for G7, and A minor lines for Cmaj7. The same minor subs also work for the relative minor IIm7b5-V7-Im progression—Bm7b5 - E7 - Am. Pretty cool, eh? Transpose these progressions and subs to all keys, explore modal cycles, and most importantly, put ’em to work in standards like “All the Things You Are,” “Stella By Starlight,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Summertime,” “Blue Bossa,” etc., or incorporate them into your favorite songs. But how about those unorthodox progressions with strangely named slash chords? You’ve gotta...

Every guitarist has at some point had to deal with a set of triad-over-bass-note chord symbols, or slash chords, where the bass notes no longer represent the root of the chords. Well, fear not, because now you can simply convert any major or minor slash chord to minor by learning to recognize the triads within and applying the appropriate minor line forms. The following chart lists all 12 major and relative minor slash chords and their minor conversions. Trust me, they work

Given: C/C or Am/C—Play: A minor (m3rd lower than bass note)

Given: C/Db or Am/Db—Play: Bb minor (m3rd lower than bass note)

Given: C/D or Am/D—Play: A minor (P5th higher than bass note)

Given: C/Eb or Am/Eb—Play: C# minor or E minor (whole-step below or half-step above bass note)

Given: C/E or Am/E—Play: A minor (P4th higher than bass note)

Given: C/F or Am/F—Play: D minor (m3rd lower than bass note)

Given: C/F# or Am/F#—Play: A minor (m3rd higher than bass note)

Given: C/G or Am/G—Play: A minor (whole step above bass note)

Given: C/G# or Am/G#—Play: F, A, or C# minor (m3rd lower, half-step above, or P4th above bass note

Given: C/A or Am/A—Play: A minor (as is)

Given: C/Bb or Am/Bb—Play: G minor (m3rd higher than bass note)

Given: C/B or Am/B—Play: A minor (whole-step lower than bass note)

“There are many ways to reuse information that you already know to help you grow,” Martino told GP in June 1977. “The guitar can give you access to creativity.” While deconstructing traditional chord construction and harmony, which designates major and minor triads as primary building blocks, Martino discovered how symmetrically formed augmented triads may just make better parental units, and he’s definitely on to something. Witness how lowering any note in the 4th-fret Caug cluster shown in Ex. 4a by one fret results in three different inversions of three different major triads a major third apart (E, G# , and C), while raising any note a half step produces three different minor inversions of C#m, Fm, and Am, which also happen to be the relative VIm chords of the three major triads. Since any augmented triad fingering inverts and repeats every four frets due to its symmetrical construction of major thirds, the same moves applied to the same fingering played at the 8th and 12th frets will yield the same results—two trios of related major and minor triads, albeit with each triad switching order and jumping to its next inversion. The implications are huge. By repeating these six chord conversions at the 5th, 6th, and 7th frets (4 positions x 3 chords), and then repeating the entire process beginning first on the 8th, and then the 12th fret, one can produce every inversion of every major and minor triad. Take into account that this formula works with any three-note augmented chord voicing, and the six grids in Ex. 4b (along with those 64 hexagrams!) will go a long way when it comes to writing your own chord book, or coming up with off-the-beaten-path chord progressions. Likewise for the Edim7 fingering in Ex. 4c, which Martino uses to produce four dominant seventh offspring (each a minor third apart) by lowering each note a half step. Diminished chords invert every three frets, so repeating this quartet of onenote alterations at the 3rd and 4th frets will give you all 12 seventh chords (3 positions x 4 chords), and repeating the whole deal starting at the 5th, 8th, and 11th frets will yield every inversion of every chord. From this we also learn that any diminished 7th chord is actually four different 7b9 chords, which can be converted to minor using the altered dominant sub rule from thing #6. Follow suit with the grids in Ex. 4d, and check out Jude Gold’s “Sacred Geometry” in the April 2004 issue of GP for more of Martino’s chordal chemistry.

Octave displacement, which involves raising or lowering one or more notes in a melodic line by one or more octaves, is a signature technique Martino uses to generate out-of-the-ordinary lines. “I take melodies and transpose the notes to various points in three octaves, write them down, and practice the results.” In Ex. 5a, we extract bar 2 from Ex. 1a and displace by one octave one additional note per bar. (Tip: Try this with any part of any previous activity.) Regrettably, I missed Martino’s 1978 seminar at G.I.T., but my bud, the late Kimbo Smith, hipped me to Pat’s zany displaced chromatic scale shown in Ex. 5b. The up-stemmed notes present a descending, one-octave chromatic scale beginning on F, while the down-stems document Martino’s wild and crazy multioctave displacements. But check out how something that at first seems random reveals under closer inspection a pair of identical sixnote fretboard shapes played a tritone, or flatted-fifth, apart. Work out your own displaced chromatic scales, then drop these monsters into your next jam and watch the fur fly!

Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of Pat Martino’s ability to find music in everything and then share his discoveries is revealed in the story of how he composed the title track from Think Tank. “I had a student in 2001, a professional musician, who was interested in [John Coltrane’s] ‘Giant Steps,’ and more than anything, because of what it brought to him regarding facility, to be able to move through those changes quickly. If you ask for the complex, I will give you the complex, but I also will give you the simple, primarily because the totality of it has to be seen holistically, otherwise you only have half the coin. So I took the alphabet from A to Z, and I took the Aeolian mode, A-B-C-D-E-F-G, in the C major scale, and I took those notes and spanned them from A to Z so that the entire alphabet now became that A minor scale. And then I took C-O-L-T-R-A-N-E, and CO- L, and T-R-A-N-E, and then T-E-N-O-R, and there was ‘Think Tank.’ There was the alphabet, and an interface of two systems that transcended a musicianship, a musical hunger for accomplishment on his behalf.”

It’s in this spirit that I’d like to close this session with a personalized gift of melody derived from the alphabet and a looped chromatic scale starting on C (Ex. 6a), and the notes derived from the letters P-A-T-M-A-RT- I-N-O and G-U-R-U (Ex. 6b). Rhythmically and harmonically, it could have gone a hundred different ways, but Ex. 6c is what I ended up with. (For a rhythmic variation try starting the first two notes in bar 1 and the last four notes in bar 4 on beat three of their respective measures.) And while two harmonic climates are suggested, feel free to come up with your own—it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I know this is a lot of homework, but folks, this is the s**t! I can’t begin to express the impact Martino’s virtual teachings, especially Linear Expressions, have had on my own playing. Absorb and assimilate these concepts and I promise that your playing will never be the same. Thanks for sharing, Pat. You’re beautiful!

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