This is article 4 of the series of articles on improvisation. You can access the first 3 articles right on my home page. Please make sure you have viewed the previous articles before you continue with this one, as the articles build up on previous ones.
Would you be surprised to know that some of the great classical pianists might have a hard time playing a great solo or improvisation? It happens! They are great at executing sheet music, but unless they get into the habit of improvising and use the techniques that I have been outlining here they just can’t do it. So you are learning the greatest stuff ever when it comes to music playing! Let’s get started.
Some chords just scare the holy daylight out of us (well, some of us). In fact, sometimes even the signature of a key scares us. But today I am excited to tell you that we have some good news for you. Those scary chords/scales will become your friends. And it might just happen that they become your closest/indispensable friends! Let’s look at some of those.
See that big bold chord above? That’s a scary chord. But you will in love with it at the end of this article. Let me tell you why.
Given a chord, we should always try to first understand its relationship with the key/scale we are in. If you were to guess, what key would you say the above chord is in? If you guessed C, then you guessed right. I only know it’s C because of experience. But let’s get into some logic.
At the very beginning of the series of harmonic lessons, we said that to form chords we superpose 3rds (3 half tones) on top of the root. If you take C and add a 3rd, you will have C, E (which is a major 3rd). Going one more step, we will have C, E, G – which is a chord with 3 tones (triad, tri-tone). That’s the C chord.
The interval between E and G is a third, but it’s a minor third. If we add another 3rd, we will have C, E, G, B – which is Cmaj7. Another 3rd will give us Cmaj9. Let’s stop at that point. We have added 4 notes on top of the root. Now let’s repeat the same exercise for the 4th degree of the scale of C.
We will have F. Adding a 3rd will give us F, A. Another 3rd will give us F, A, C. Yet another 3rd will give us F, A, C, E. And the last one will give us F, A, C, E, B. The last note of our chord, B, has relationship with our root F; it is a #11. That’s what gives us our chord, Fmaj7#11.
As we said earlier, the 4th degree has a relationship with the 1st degree, I which is C. We then come to the conclusion that if we encounter a Fmaj7#11, we can improvise with the scale of Cmaj7, with Fmaj7#11 being the 4th degree of the key of C (I).
Try it and you will fall in love with it.