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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Around the m7b5-chord

Introduction. 
After being away from the blog-business for a while, I finally got some more time to continue.
This lesson will be for the theory geeks and people who seek some inspiration for their improvisation. It is pretty boring stuff, but very usable. But that's also life of a musician, some times you got to do some hard  'woodshedding' only to come back even stronger. 

So, hard work? yes. Boring? maybe. Meaningless? Not at all!

I want to talk about the m7b5-chord. The theory of the chord is rather simple in itself and the chord can be applied in different ways and gives you some very cool sounds. Last I will talk a bit about how I like to practice it. How get to be familiar with the sound of the chord and how to put it in a context, so you can relate the chord to different kinds of tunes and sounds, and not just learn the theory. It makes it easier to remember and more natural to use in a live situation.

The theory.
The m7b5 chord is build from the 7th degree of the major scale. If we harmonize a C major scale it would look like this:

Cmaj7 – Dm7 – Em7 – Fmaj7 – G7 – Am7 – Bm7b5

The C major scale consist of the following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B

So we build the Bm7b5 from using every second note, starting from the B note. Like this:

B, C, D, E, F, G, A: So we got the Root (B), The 3rd (D), The b5 (F) and the 7th (A) = Bm7b5.

Applying the chord.
So the interesting thing about this chord, is that you can use in different ways in your improvisation. I will focus on the three most common:

1) Use it simply over the m7b5 chord In a 2-5 sequence in minor. Nothing more is needed to say I think.

2) Use it over minor 6 chords. So if you want to improvise over a Am6 chord you can play the m7b5 arpeggio built from the 6th of the minor 6 chord. In Am6 that would be the F# note, so you can play a F#m7b5 arpeggio. Another way to see it is like this: The root of the minor 6 chord is the b5 of the corresponding m7b5-chord. Related to a minor 6 chord it would give you all the notes of the chord.  So you might as well call it a minor6 as a m7b5 arpeggio.

But it's all about how best to remember it and how you visualize the fretboard. For me it works well with small self invented rules like that.

3) Use it over dominant chords: If you want to improvise over a, say G7, you can play the arpeggio from the 3rd of the dominant chord. In the case of G7, it's the B note. So you can play the Bm7b5 arpeggio over the G7 chord. It would spell out a dominant 9 chord without the root. Related to G7 the notes of the Bm7b5 chord gives you the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th and the 9th. So you got the two most important notes from the chord (the 3rd and the 7th), you got the 5th and a colour tone, the 9th.

From practice to expression.
Now its time to find the m7b5 arpeggio all over the fretboard, and were ready to go!

The sound of the arpeggio.
I think its a good idea to know in some way to distinguish the two sounds.
When using the chord in a Minor 6 context, the sound of the 6th is pretty significant. I normally relate it and use it in a Jazz-manoush context. With tunes like Minor Swing, Minor Blues and Douce Ambiance by Django Reinhardt. It has this dark and mysterious gypsy flavor which, among others, makes the music of Django Reinhard so significant. But of course the sounds would be a good flavor also when playing tunes from the standard jazz repertoire. Tunes like Blue Bossa, Lullaby of Birdland, Autumn leaves comes to mind.
When using the chord in a Dominant 7th context, it is the 9th which stands out. It gives you a sharp, cool and straight-to-the-point sound (at least in my mind). It works very well when playing blues tunes, standards, but basically in any 2-5 chord sequences it's usable.

Practice suggestions.
Finding the arpeggios all over the freetboard and being able to play them is a lot of hard work, and I dont think there's any easy way of learning it. 

When practising these arpeggios I suggest some common rules, which is important in any practice situation:

1) Start slow. Make sure each note is well articulated, before increasing the speed.
2) Practice in time. With backing tracks, Band in a Box or, a metronome or by tapping your foot.
3) Be consistent. To practice regularly and focused (maybe only 15 minutes) over a given period of time (maybe three weeks) is often the most effective way of learning.
4) Variation. Transpose the arpeggios in different keys and octaves. Don't start the arpeggio from the same note each time. Experiment with phrasing, pauses, repetition etc. Only your imagination is the limit!

That's all, enjoy!

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