Robben Ford

March 1, 2005

The last time we met [in the January ’05 GP], I showed you how useful the G half/whole, “symmetrical” scale [Ex. 1] is for improvising tangy lines over a standard blues groove in G. I also showed you that any lick you create using this scale can be shifted up or down the fretboard a minor-third—three frets—and it will magically revoice itself with colorful new notes, yet still suit the underlying blues harmony just fine. (You can even transpose your riff two or three minor-thirds—that’s six and nine frets, respectively—for similarly intriguing inversions.) But it’s worth pointing out that I don’t use the symmetrical scale all the time. Like most strong spices, the symmetrical scale is most effective if you’re conservative with it, and only use splashes of it here and there.

If you listen to Miles Davis soloing over a blues vamp, he’s not playing a bunch of out fusion licks, he’s keeping things simple. He’s playing the f****n’ blues. But every now and then he’ll inject some hip harmony. To show you what I mean, check this out [Ex. 2]. Here, I’m playing standard stuff over a 12-bar blues in G—chordal stabs, pentatonic licks, etc. But, in bar 4 of the progression, where the I chord, G7#9, is about to resolve to the IV chord, C9, I throw in a dash of notes from the symmetrical scale. In fact, I might use that same little run higher up the neck during the turnaround section of the 12-bar blues form [Ex. 3]. In this phrase—which starts in bar 11 of the cycle—the symmetrical lick begins on the 13th fret of the high-E string and leads you from the climactic D7#9 chord back to G7, which is bar 1 of the next cycle. I like that laid-back sixteenth-note triplet in there—it sounds like something a tenor saxophonist might play. —As told to Jude Gold

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