Jazz Guru André Bush

If you’re a guitarist, chances are few things are more thrilling to you than discovering simple ways to pull inspiring new sounds out of your instrument. That being said, it’s a wonder so few guitarists ever break out of the confines of the standard chords, scales, and progressions they have learned.

One great way to enhance your creativity and broaden your harmonic palette is to create your own scales. I stumbled on this concept one day after improvising a funky (and fairly chromatic) bass theme. After vamping on the line for a while, I wondered about the notes I had chosen. Where did they come from? Were they completely random? Were they possibly part of some exotic mode? From Mars?

By isolating each note in the line and arranging the notes from low to high, a brand new six-note—or sextonic—scale was revealed to me [Ex. 1]. Intrigued, I decided I wanted to generate some music using this scale, so the next step was pulling from those six pitches to form complete or partial voicings of fairly recognizable chords [Ex. 2]. And just as one can use the C major scale to improvise or compose melodies over Am, Dm, G9, Bm7b5, or any other chord derived from the notes of C, I used my new collection of chords to create a progression over which the six-note scale would work. The result was the short composition in Ex. 3.

The implications of this process are exciting, because through a simple collection of six notes I created the basis for a unique harmonic and melodic language. Suddenly, in one sitting, new musical vistas stretched out before me that previously would not have been available had I stuck to using only scales I had already practiced. Exercises like this can really open your ears in ways you never thought possible, and if you’re interested in similarly adventurous fretboard approaches, I explore several in my new book Modern Jazz Guitar Styles [Mel Bay Publications].