Intervallic Patterns & Improvisation On Guitar, a.k.a. Guitaxohpon-ification
“Envy…” Photo via flickr by ChimiHoffa
I’ve always been mesmerized by the playing of contemporary saxophone players. I’ve transcribed their solos, studied with some of them, and, more often than not, bombarded my saxophonist friends with questions on how they practice.
A couple of years ago, I found out that part of what was so appealing to me in certain saxophone improvised lines was the use of intervallic patterns. Practicing such patterns over familiar scales will probably challenge your knowledge of those scales Practicing scales in intervals was not enough to develop that particular sound, so I started practicing scales using multiple intervals combinations. In this article, I have used the same system that I use for myself: I label intervallic sequences with a + or – (depending on the direction of the interval, up or down), and the interval type. A typical formula will read like this: +2, -4, +5, +2. As a general rule, I find that 2nds, 4ths, 5ths and 7ths yield the most modern sounding results (but sometimes 3rds and 6ths sound just fine!).
At first, you will probably notice that augmented fourths, as well as the tuning of the guitar between the G and B strings give you a hard time playing the patterns throughout the neck. Also, practicing such patterns over familiar scales will probably challenge your knowledge of those scales. Just be patient!
The following examples show different patterns applied to various scales. Each example is accompanied by an improvised line that features the pattern. Everything in this article is in the key of C, and most scalar exercises are in one position only. Transpose them and move around the neck to get fluent! Some examples require some unusual stretching, so be sure to warm up before playing those. Although I am not a fan of tablature, I have added it so you can figure out which fingerings I am using.
Example 1 shows an ascending major scale played according to the following interval formula: +4, +2. Notice how the pattern is being played depending on where you are in the position. The line that follows features the pattern played both ascending from bottom of the sequence (+4,+2) and descending from the top (-2, -4).
Example 2 – A is a little more complex. The interval sequence is longer: +4, +2, -4, +2. Notice that this time, instead of starting again on the following degree of the scale, the pattern “skips” a degree. The pattern replicates in 3rds,
Examples 2 – B, C and D share the same “musical DNA” as example 2 – A, only starting from a different step of the pattern. The resulting offspring patterns look like this: 2 – B = +2, -4, +2, +4 ; 2 – C = -4, +2, +4, +2 ; 2 – D = +2, +4, +2, -4. Notice how the actual sounds of these 4 examples vary from one another. When dealing with such pattern concepts, it has been my experience that the sound of the pattern results from a direct correlation between the rhythmic placement of the pattern and the type of intervals that are being dealt with. Also, pay attention to the different fingerings that the “offspring” patterns suggest.
The corresponding line features the pattern on the V and I chords.
Example 3 takes us to a different zone. So far, we have dealt with 3- and 4-note patterns. This time, the pattern comprises 5 notes. The pattern reads like this: +2, -4, +5, +3. Odd grouping patterns can be practiced in two ways: as actual odd subdivisions of the beat (as illustrated in the example below), or as regular subdivisions (multiples of duplets or triplets), which yields interesting polyrhythms / rhythmic displacements.
While examples 1 through 3 have dealt with patterns using a 7-note scale, example 4 deals with pentatonic scales. Furthermore, instead of applying an intervallic formula to the scale, we are now allowing the logic of the instrument to take over. The idea here is to play 3 notes of the scale per string while remaining in the same position. Inevitably, some pitches will be played twice. Using such extended positions sort of emulate the sound of alternate fingerings on a saxophone (alternate fingerings are marked with a “+”).
The corresponding improvised line has a Michael Brecker influence to it. Notice how all of these consecutive same pitches played on different strings produce a good amount of rhythmic ebb and flow. A minor pentatonic is used over D minor, and Bb minor pentatonic over G7 altered.
Patterns and symmetrical scales work very well together. Example 5 deals with the symmetrical diminished scale. Here, the 4-note grouping is transposed in minor thirds and keeps a constant intervallic structure (+m3, +Aug4, +M2). However, you may notice that some symmetrical scales patterns are hard to transpose over different string sets.
The improvised line is a good example of that. The fingerings for the V bar use an open string to reduce the number of strings crossings. Here, Ab symmetrical diminished is used over G to produce a G13b9 sound.
Finally, example 6 tackles another symmetrical scale, the augmented scale. The formula for this pattern is +M2, +Aug4.
Guidelines for practicing patterns
Here are a few general observations on scales and patterns:
- Try to explore as many different fingerings as possible for the same pattern;
- Patterns can only sound musical when used with intelligence. The intent is not to sound like a robot, but rather to have new sounds available to you;
- The suggested patterns are only starting points – find your own!
- All patterns that you like should be played as retrograde, inversion and retrograde inversion of the original pattern;
- Patterns are as much rhythmic as they are melodic. They are a great gateway to the world of polyrhythms. You can also combine different groupings to build more rhythmically interesting and elaborate lines;
- Patterns are a great picking workout;
- Work with different articulations (any combination of picked, slurred, swept or accented). You’ll find that different fingering options lend themselves to different articulation options.
I hope you find as much interest in developing your own patterns as I did! Until then, happy patterning!
Edouard Brenneisen, February 2009