Larry Carlton

When playing blues, sometimes my ear tells me to seek more color in my chord voicings. The standard approach for generating such color is to play an altered I chord going to the IV. For altered harmony, I like using the raised 5, often with a raised 9 or lowered 9. In the key of A, for instance, that would be A7#5#9 and A7#59 heading into D9 [Ex. 1]. Take a minute to listen to the tension and release. On the first string, do you hear how C [written enharmonically as B#] and B lead to A? Against A7, C and B are the #9 and 9, respectively, and these altered tones draw your ear to A, the 5 of D9. On the second string, we hear additional tension and release, as the #5,
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The next step is to incorporate these colors into your lines. In the jazz world, it’s pretty common knowledge that to add altered tones to a line, you can play phrases drawn from the melodic minor scale whose root is a half-step above the I chord. This means going from an altered A7 to D9—the I-IV change in the key of A—you’d use tones from a B melodic minor scale [B, C, Db, Eb, F, G, A], as shown in Ex. 2. This scale contains the three notes we heard in Ex. 1’s altered voicings—C, B, and F, the #9, 9 and #5—as well as E, the key of A’s 5. The latter is the fourth altered tone available for soloing over dominant chords. And check this out: Bb melodic minor also contains A7’s 1, 3, and 7—crucial chord tones. These notes are A, C# [enharmonically , D src="graphics/flat.gif" class="symbolimg"], and G.

The trick is to build a ramp from the I to IV using notes from the melodic minor scale, which, as we’ve seen, yields four altered tones and three chord tones when played over the I chord. At first, you’ll probably try playing the melodic minor scale from its root. But, as I found out when I was first exposed to the melodic minor concept, this ordered approach doesn’t sound very musical. To get around the problem, I laid down a little background track with blues changes, and then worked on playing the altered notes until I didn’t have to run them as a scale. I spent time exploring each altered sound, getting to know my choices. Eventually I was able to create melodies using these colors.

Your melodic minor ramp into the IV can be as short as two beats, as in Ex. 3, or fill the measure preceding the IV change, like Ex. 4. In our next installment, we’ll build a ramp from the altered V to the I. See you then!