Saturday, July 9, 2011

Improvising with Large Intervals on Standards

A few weeks ago I posted an introduction to improvising using larger intervals, and I wanted to continue that train of thought with some ideas on how to get started using large intervals over chord changes.

Drop 2 Triads

Arpeggios are the saxophone players quickest tool for outlining the harmony, and, though in their basic form are made up of smaller intervals, they already create an intervalic mood. Voicing arpeggios in more open voicings (not closed position where their notes are as close as possible) will transform them into large interval constructions. The easiest large interval voicing is the arranger's 'drop 2' voicing. The basic idea is to drop the second to highest note in the original structure to the bottom. This is illustrated with the C triad below. The E, the second to highest note, is dropped below the root, and the interval construction transforms from its original 3rds to the combination of a 6th and a 5th.

Arrangers use this voicing technique, especially in horn sections, to fatten up the sound and give the top note clarity, but when you arpeggiate these type of voicings you discover large interval harmonic building blocks.

I would suggest mastering your drop 2 triads in their various positions throughout the range of the horn. The triads will be applicable as not only basic harmonic illustrators, but also as illustrators of the upper extensions of the harmony Below is an example of all the drop 2 inversions of the C triad arpeggiated throughout the range of the saxophone.

For those of you who need some application suggestions, the C triad can be used for CMaj7, C7, B7sus4(b9), BbMaj7(#11), Bb7(#11), Amin7, AbMaj7(#5). G7sus4, F#7(b9,#11), FMaj7, Fmin(Maj7), Emin(b6), E7(#9,#5) Eb13(b9) D7sus4, Dmin11, C#dim7(Maj7), and I probably missed some!

Hopefully, its obvious that it would be worth it to lay the foundation by learning your major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads in all keys in all drop 2 inversions (though you'll want to learn them in normal closed inversions first).

7th Chords and Rootless Voicings

The next step is to apply the drop 2 technique to your favorite 7th and 9th chords (and beyond).  Experiment and see what you come up with. A bebop line might transform from:


This is a very limited example, and the applications of these arpeggiated drop 2 voicings are only limited by creativity or closed mindedness.

One final suggestion is to apply the drop 2 technique to rootless voicing, similar to the voicings a piano player might comp with in their left hand. The two common 4 note voicings build from the 3rd (3,5,7,9) and 7th (7,9,3,5). So in C major in closed position they would be:
When piano players comp they switch the voicing they according to what will maintain the smoothest voice leading. They try to maintain smooth motion and avoid leaps moving from one voicing to the next. Following is a classic example of a 2-5-1 in C using these rootless voicings:
What I've found helpful, is to practice arpeggiating drop 2 versions of these voicings through chord progressions. This has extended my harmonic vocabulary and brought these large interval constructions to my fingertips instead of the being left in the recesses of my mind. Here is the 2-5-1 in C arpeggiated with drop 2 voicings:
I'd like to stress that these are just tools, and just like you wouldn't spit out arpeggio after arpeggio in a solo, these are not meant for verbatim insertion! 

To sum everything up I'd like to play an example of this. Due to being on vacation I won't be able to record something today, but check back later in the week for a recording of Confirmation applying these concepts to the improvisation.

Finally, I recently did an interview with Doron Orenstein over at covering various musical topics. Check it out here.

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