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Beginner Relevance of Chords to Sax playing

kevgermany

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The thread on the 2,5,1 progression triggered this, but it's something that's been bothering me for a while. Time to ask for help. Have been looking at Pete's instructional stuff and in other places, but I can't find anything like this.

I am struggling a bit here. There are lots of examples around of chords and what they are (and the names aren't much more than a jumbled mess at the moment) - but how are they relevant to an instrument that can't play them?

For instance 12 bar blues theory pages star off with a set of chord changes. And this is great for guitar, keyboards etc., but I can't see it for sax.

I guess I'm missing the bridge between chords and playing single notes in a tune.

Would really appreciate a noddy level explanation and an example or two based on a common music which I can study with the example, so that I can download the sheet music and maybe listen to it on Youtube as well.

Many thanks.
 
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Andrew Sanders

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Hi Kev
You really shouldn't think of chords in one whole block of sound. It is best to see them in a linear form, one note after another, or as an arpeggio as it is called. Then if you see a chord written down for guitar or piano just play the chord one note at a time from top to bottom or bottom to top and this will help you to understand the building blocks of harmony.
Hope this helps
Andrew
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Kev,
Listen to, say the blues. Hum a note and stay with it all the way through. Did it sound okay all the way through? If yes it was possibly the flattened third of the key. If it didn't, where it didn't was at one or more of the chord changes.
Just listen to the changes again and see if you can recognise where those changes occur. When you can here those changes you will find playing somewhat easier as if you hit a bum note, it will be recognised quickly and then you can make a quick change. Also have a look at the blues scale for whatever key the piece is in, gives some guide and will cut down those dodgy notes but remember they are not gospel.
Hope this helps, otherwise put it down to the meandering of an ancient idiot.
 
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kevgermany

kevgermany

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Thanks, will do these things. Have been listening to a lot of blues. But the penny's not dropped yet. No dount it will one day - hopefully before I do.
 

Pete Thomas

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As a very quick example, say you have a chord of C. (C E G)

If you play a phrase using quavers (8th notes) that goes |CDEFGFED|C you will see that the chord notes C, E and G fall on the main (crotchet or 1/4 note) beats of the bar:

|C D E F G F E D| C

When improvising we use this relationship between chord notes and strong beats to determine how the impro fits the chords, either exactly (as above) or not, in which case there is more or less perceived tension because the notes are either right notes, wrong notes or (and this is the interesting bit) somewhere inbetween.

Learning the right notes is easy. Playing the wrong notes is easy. Knowing the rest is the tricky bit, ie how wrong is a "wrong" note?
 

Pete Thomas

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It's all hard for me......... :( :confused:
Sorry about that, not easy to answer this question briefly.

The best thing to do before trying to learn the answer is to get a keyboard and learn some very basic theory and a couple of simple tunes. You can then see and hear how the right hand (melody) fits with the left hand (harmony/chords).

Then think of the saxophone as a substitute for the right hand - ideally it still fits in with the harmony.

Of course if you are only ever going to read music or learn tunes (with impro), you may survive quite well without ever understanding how the two go together, but if you do want to embark on the journey of learning to improvise, then it does become necessary.

It's a very difficult to teach this early stage, I've been struggling with a book on the subject for a couple of years now.

Let me know if you find this attached PDF segment of a chapter useful (too simple, too complex?)
 

visionari1

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Hi Pete.
Yup looked at your PDF.

Plain sailing untill I got to the D7 section (right at the end) and had to read that several times to follow, finally understanding it.

As someone putting some time into theory (self study, on the net and books), it's starting to make sense, however to improvise over the chords at lightening speed with some sense of melody or beauty is still a big jump away.

Another thing that I have been working on is ear training and visualizing the numbers of the notes & the actual note name (Eb, C, G, etc) also being able to picture (visualize the notes/chords, in my minds eye) is another method I'm trying!
It appears to me that all this needs to be learned and understood at the same time to get any progress. Also the playing of scales as in up & down arpergieos etc, seems to ingrain only those sounds and patterns, which don't make for very jazzy improv's.

All in all , for me it's been a continuous learning curve, enjoyable although slow.

Hope this feedback is of interest?

Cheers
Jimu:mrcool
 

Pete Thomas

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Hope this feedback is of interest?
Definitely. When I look back to my early days of self learning, I remember it seeming to be a long process of half understood snippets here and there. Once you have enough of these it suddenly clicks into place.

Problem is all the good theory books I've seen have a big hole about 1/8th of the way through, somewhere between "C major chord is C, E and G " and "you can use a phrygian sharp second inversion sub modal demented scale with an Fb13 half sus/B# alt 5/9/#11/b13"

That's a hole I'd like to fill.
 

visionari1

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I remember it seeming to be a long process of half understood snippets here and there. Once you have enough of these it suddenly clicks into place.

QUOTE]


Hope your right there Pete.

Although the goalposts keep moving and one's levels of interest and enjoyment also increase.

One day I may be to follow the Chords of Giant Steps and make sense of em!

Best of luck with the hole filling!

Ciao
Jimu:sax:
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Pete,
Please write it soon, on two accounts:
1) It is badly needed and
2) I aint got that long left. ;}

Having a correspondence with my Zimmer retainer about the confusion caused to idiots-like-me who comprehend that what is acceptable as harmonic, if that is the correct word, is constantly moving. Consonant chords originally were only 4ths, 5ths, and 8va. Then the English got interested in thirds and so they became included. I found this history from Britannica and from YC but none of this appears in any theory book I own or have seen. According to YC, forgive me if I am misquoting him, this basic knowledge is only released to Grade Five-ish students. Yes, there has to be a generally agreed definition of consonant chords but can't we be told that this is not to be taken as a dictionary definition but as musical jargon?

I suppose the problem is that Music Theory Tuition still seems to be stuck in the "I'll pass on my hard earned knowledge in the same order that I learnt it." attitude rather than using a "Let's explore this together." coaching technique. Blame it on exam culture. Let's return to Ancient Greek University learning.
 

half diminished

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Sorry about that, not easy to answer this question briefly.

The best thing to do before trying to learn the answer is to get a keyboard and learn some very basic theory and a couple of simple tunes. You can then see and hear how the right hand (melody) fits with the left hand (harmony/chords).

Then think of the saxophone as a substitute for the right hand - ideally it still fits in with the harmony.

Of course if you are only ever going to read music or learn tunes (with impro), you may survive quite well without ever understanding how the two go together, but if you do want to embark on the journey of learning to improvise, then it does become necessary.

It's a very difficult to teach this early stage, I've been struggling with a book on the subject for a couple of years now.

Let me know if you find this attached PDF segment of a chapter useful (too simple, too complex?)
Pete

this is a great starter and explains it well. When Karen Sharp my teacher explained how the II V7 I works within the same 'signature key' it all started falling into place. The problem I have is less not understanding the concept/theory but more using it in practice.

Being able to improvise around the II,V7 I with E- (E, G, B, D) and then A7 (A C# E G) and finally D∆ (D F# A C#) is what I find hard - I just can't remember it that well. As for improvising 'on the fly' :confused:

Hi Pete.
Yup looked at your PDF.

Plain sailing untill I got to the D7 section (right at the end) and had to read that several times to follow, finally understanding it.

Cheers
Jimu:mrcool
It does take a while to grasp but then I find improvising around it even harder
 
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kevgermany

kevgermany

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As a very quick example, say you have a chord of C. (C E G)

If you play a phrase using quavers (8th notes) that goes |CDEFGFED|C you will see that the chord notes C, E and G fall on the main (crotchet or 1/4 note) beats of the bar:

|C D E F G F E D| C

When improvising we use this relationship between chord notes and strong beats to determine how the impro fits the chords, either exactly (as above) or not, in which case there is more or less perceived tension because the notes are either right notes, wrong notes or (and this is the interesting bit) somewhere inbetween.

Learning the right notes is easy. Playing the wrong notes is easy. Knowing the rest is the tricky bit, ie how wrong is a "wrong" note?
Looking good, thanks,

I guess you're assuming 4/4 time here. Have read (and it seems to be so in blues) that the first and third beats are stronger than the 2nd and 4th. Am I right in assuming that your example intentionally has the G/dominant on the second strong beat of the bar?

Sorry if I'm asking the b....y obvious, but it's a mystery at the moment.
 

Chris98

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Problem is all the good theory books I've seen have a big hole about 1/8th of the way through, somewhere between "C major chord is C, E and G " and "you can use a phrygian sharp second inversion sub modal demented scale with an Fb13 half sus/B# alt 5/9/#11/b13"
I'm glad I've not come across that book!

Is that why taming the sax (arrived at the weekend, thanks) starts at book 3? :)
Great book, but I sometimes feel I need the first two! I've been working Ex1-01 (warm up and chord tones) into my practice sessions as I think it's directly linked to this whole topic of this thread.


Pete,

I’ve just been working though your ‘Understanding chords for beginners’ PDF on my keyboard, it’s kind of a refresher of what I worked though on your site a good while back, and I’m grateful that you put it up, each time I revisit it I feel I understand a little more. I sometimes wonder if I’m stuck trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together but that there is a critical mass of pieces that I need before I can start to piece them together and revel the picture.

Generally my improvising over chords is okay until I pick up the sax, then I’m as lost as ever. At the best of times I’d struggle to tell you what the note is in relation to the chord unless I’m playing the root, but what use is that note as most of the time the rhythm section has it nailed for you. If I have my wits about me I try and get the third in quickly as that at least flavours it as a major or minor and usually after that it’s a free for all and I hope my fingers hit some notes that compliment, crafted and beautiful it isn’t but it can still be good fun.

I guess my problem is a slow mind that can’t work out fast enough what pool of notes is appropriate to use, let alone think of a good order to put them in and then a suitable rhythm.

I’m going to go back and check out all the teachings on your site but do you have any examples where you have say, four bars with a simple chord structure and a simple rift over the top and where you explain the notes that are suitable to use over the chord structure and why you chose the notes in the rift that you used?

All the best,

Chris
 

half diminished

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I've also been reading this book called Forward Motion which talks about the concept of ending a phrase on the 1st note of the bar rather than starting there, using pick-up notes/leading notes.... and so much more.

It's a good read and some of it is VERY advanced. Could do with better proof reading too!.
 

Pete Thomas

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Is that why taming the sax (arrived at the weekend, thanks) starts at book 3? :)
Yes

do you have any examples where you have say, four bars with a simple chord structure and a simple rift over the top and where you explain the notes that are suitable to use over the chord structure and why you chose the notes in the rift that you used?
NO, not yet. This will be in what I'm currently working on. With playalongs

I guess you're assuming 4/4 time here. Have read (and it seems to be so in blues) that the first and third beats are stronger than the 2nd and 4th. Am I right in assuming that your example intentionally has the G/dominant on the second strong beat of the bar?
Actually no. The word Dominant doesn't mean the note should dominate. I think that in this type of exercise where you try to get the chord notes on the beat, it's not really relevant whether beats 1 & 3 are stronger or 2 & 4 are, or which chord note goes best with which beat. As it happens, in much (most?) jazz, blues and rock, I think beats 2 & 4 are usually stronger.

I just chose this as its so simple to go up the major scale to the 5th note and back, and see how the chord tones go with the on beats.
 
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