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Practice Journal: Chromatic Subs Over Cm7

I was noodling around in C minor (dorian), and came up with this chromatic lick:

One of the tricks to playing outside the changes is using simple chord arpeggios or digital patterns in remote keys. In this example, we move through Cm7, F#7, G#7, C#m13, Bm7, Abm9(maj7), and Bbmaj9 before ending with a broken G major triad, which I actually intended to imply C melodic minor. We begin with a solid foundation in the home key, before moving through five fairly remote keys, then returning to B-flat major, which is relative to C dorian, thus adhering to the rule of thumb that tension needs resolution. The use of B-natural as a final note disrupts said resolution at the last moment, and its nervous energy is intensified by the sudden halt on a weak beat. It’s sort of inspired by the phrasing I hear from Greg Howe.

There wasn’t any intended logic to the implied chord progression, besides the intent to stay as distant from the C dorian key signature as possible. Upon examination, however, there is a hint of a pattern in the whole step motion, from F# to G#, C# to B, and Ab to Bb. Motion in whole steps is commonly used by improvisors (Oliver Nelson springs to mind), and it’s easy to visualize on the neck. The fact that the first chords in each pair follow a pattern of fifths is also an accident. The major 9th arpeggio one whole step below the home key — in this case Bbmaj9 — is something I often use in a dorian situation.

When I run across any new idea like this, I’ll try to use it to generate other fresh material. See what you can do with it.

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