Hey Jazz Guy,
Once I’ve mastered the “jazz power chords,”
how can I better understand upper structures and
incorporate them into my playing? —Basic in
This is a way of exploring upper structure
harmony using triads on the guitar that I find
quite sonically delightful. Triads are easy to
play and they present an obvious color shift
in the harmony. All the examples here are
over Cmaj7 and the implied harmony is listed
as well. Ex. 1 shows the natural extensions of
the Cmaj7 chord (Lydian). All the triads contained
in that scale, G major, are fair game
for upper structure playing, so C, G, D, Em,
Bm, Am, etc, all work. In Ex 2, we’re following
the upper structure triads around the
cycle of 5ths, so we go from Cmaj7 (which
includes a G triad) to D, A, E, B, F#, C#, G#,
etc. Each triad is further from the home key
of C major, so will give a brighter sound. To
really hear this effect, play the later keys in
a higher register.
In the next example [Ex. 3],
we string some triads together and voice-lead
by half-steps, and return to Cmaj7 at the end.
Ex. 4 shows an intervallic approach, in which
the triads are connected by common tones
(the E and the A).
To go even further, here’s a concept I call
“stacking keys” in which instead of playing
only the upper-structure triads, you can play
in the key of that triad. So, in Ex. 5, we’re playing
the key of A on top of Cmaj7. We also go
through some other keys (D, G, B) until returning
to C major to finish out the line. This is a
deep topic, but shed these concepts, listen hard,
and master upper structures you will.
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the
non-jazz world. Send your questions to email@example.com. Jake’s latest release is
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