Playing “Out” with Symmetrical Scales

March 1, 2010

I OFTEN HEAR THE TERM “OUT” FROM fellow players. Playing “out,” or outside of the tonal center, is one way of building tension in a solo. Have you ever listened to some guitarist take a solo and thought, “What the hell was that? It wasn’t a minor pentatonic!” I use a variety of symmetrical scales to this effect. If your accompanying instrument is only playing the root, then the harmony or chord quality can be interpreted as different things, such as Ddim, Ddim7, or even G7b9. Ex. 1, I combine an open-string idea with a diminished scale. Decide which scale to use, either whole-step/half-step (a.k.a. W/H, spelled D, E, F, G, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db) or half-step/whole-step (a.k.a. H/W, spelled D, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bbb, Cb, Dbb) depending on which open strings are available within the scale. Open strings: A, D, and B fall into the H/W diminished scale from D. The difference in timbre between the open string, and fretted notes adds to the effect. Ex. 2 I play a three-note intervallic sequence where I start on the root (D), go down major 6th (F), then up a minor 2nd (F#). Repeat that same shape up a minor 3rd and then up another minor 3rd for a spooky, angular sound. 3 illustrates a sweep idea. With the background harmony of a C chord, this lick starts on the root, but you can create interesting tension by viewing this starting note as the b7 (making the first phrase a rootless D7 voicing). In any case, from your first tone, go up a tritone, up a minor 3rd, then up another minor 3rd. Then, slide the sequence up a minor 3rd, play it backwards, slide it up another minor 3rd, and repeat. Land on a chord tone an you can bring your outside sound back inside. out a similar idea using a whole- tone scale pattern in Ex. 4. This will definitely grab the listener’s attention over a C chord, but the final slide up to the root makes sure that no one gets too thrown. 5 combines the whole-tone sweep with a rhythmic grouping of five. The idea ends with a whole-tone sequence (down tritone, down tritone) descending chromatically.

Like any spice, use these flavors judiciously, but they will definitely add some pizzazz to your solos.

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