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Double Visions: Alternating Parallel Major and Minor

December 20, 2012

TRIADS ARE BASED OFF OF THREE pitches. Technically any collection of three pitches defines a triad, but more commonly the word “triad” refers to tertian triads: a three-note chord that can be stacked in thirds. This produces four possibilities [Ex. 1]. Of the four triads, the major and minor are arguably the pillars of Western harmony and normally mutually exclusive, i.e. we don’t say, “This song is in the key of D minor major.” It’s either one or the other.   


But for dominant 7 chords that contain a #9, playing major and minor tonalities is normal and sounds great. Take for exam- ple the ever-popular “Hendrix” chord: E7#9 in Ex. 2. Borrowed from the jazz vernacu- lar, this type of harmony can be found in most genres of music today. Notice that this chord has within it the major and minor 3rds, G# and G respectively (even though it is enharmonically labeled #9, the pitch is still G.) This parallel major/minor ambiguity can serve as the launching point for some very creative single-note and chord ideas.

Most of time, the major and minor 3rds are within the same octave and, over dom- inant chords, give a very familiar blues sound [Ex. 3]. In this lesson however, we will separate the major and minor 3rds in register to create some twisting single-note lines and then smash them into tight clus- ters for some wicked chord voicings. We are going to use E7#9 as the implied har- mony for the remaining examples. Once you understand the concepts you can move them anywhere you wish.

Ex. 4a begins by alternating full E major and E minor triads, and Ex. 4b reverses the order. Try accenting the G and G# notes throughout these examples. By separat- ing the major and minor 3rds in register, the ear has a chance to perceive each triad individually rather than blurring the two tonalities like in Ex. 3. It’s subtle, but brings about a very modern and angular sound using a very simple concept. Bonus: They also make a nice sweep picking exercise.

Examples 5a and 5b take this concept and use hammer-ons and pull-offs with string skipping. Note that they each begin with a different triad quality and there is a strangely symmetrical nature to the fingerings. For Ex. 6, I add the b7 into the mix, thus hit- ting all the pitches in the E7#9 chord (E, G#, B, D, G).


Ex. 7 shows some of the true potential of this concept. It covers almost three octaves, begins with two closed-voiced E major and minor triads followed by two open-voiced E major and minor triads, and still main- tains a descending line!

It's time to bring the funk in Ex. 8. Here, we have our first fragment of the E7#9 chord at the end of the first measure (the G-G# diad). It’s super angular and very funky.


What happens if we take this concept and try to make chord voicings? Ex. 9 shows four really usable voicings that sound very modern and fit over E7#9. The remaining three figures in Examples 10-12 demonstrate how to mix single-note lines and chord frag- ments to generate really interesting musi- cal ideas. These should get you thinking in a different way and add a new element to your playing. Keep experimenting!

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