Pass the Test, Take 2

In our previous lesson [“The Joe Pass Acid Test, Take 1,” Mar. ’06], I shared a story of taking guitar lessons with the late Joe Pass, and how he would determine where you stood as an improvising musician. He’d say, “Let’s play a blues, but only use eighth-notes.” And then he’d listen to a few choruses and grade you as a player. He could immediately hear where you were at harmonically, and how well you could control extensions and alterations against the underlying progression.
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The first installment of our Pass test showed how I might navigate bars 1 to 6 of a 12-bar blues, the section that spans the I and IV chords. Now, let’s explore a route I might take across bars 7 to 12—the concluding six measures that contain the I-V-IV-I-V changes.

As you play this line, listen for superimposed arpeggios, such as the Dm, Em, or G6, and Dbaug I play in the two-bar C9 section, the Gaug against F9, and Dm7 against the final G9. Because arpeggios have inherent structure and logic, they sound strong and intentional when you use them to generate tension over standard blues changes. And if you choose carefully, a superimposed arpeggio will offer a mix of inside and outside tonal colors. For instance, when played against F9, Gaug (G, B, D#) yields two F9 chord tones and an altered note: G is the 9, B is the #4, our altered tone, and D#—or, spelled enharmonically, Eb—is the b7. By experimenting, you’ll find your own favorite arpeggios to inject jazzy colors into a blues.