In this entry I will be using terms and from intermediate music theory. But not to worry, I will explain in detail and you will not be quizzed on the material. With that behind me, the trick I am explaining today has many names, “The Axis of 3rds and 7ths,” as Jazzmando’s site likes to call it.
I prefer to call this idea, “the fact that all notes are not created equally.” This of course is only true if you believe me.
A chord is made up of notes stacked together. The most simple being the major chord, which is made up of the 1,3, and 5.
G major for example is made up of: G, B, and D
in that order 1 3 5
The numbers are also called scale degrees, as you will see lead players should stay around the third and seventh scale degrees for more sophistic sounding phrases. Bass players in rock and country are very familiar with the 1 and 5, weather they know the names or not.
The context of this lesson is assuming one wants to play lead! Be it electric guitar, trumpet, piano, mandolin, flat-picking guitar, banjo, or even bass (during that right moment in the show). Melodic lead playing of any sort is more dependent on the 3rd and 7th than any other notes, (also known as scale degrees). With other instruments (rhythm guitar, bass) already gravitating around the 1 and 5, we as lead players are given a canvass to work with by our comping players. This painting analogy is a good one, 3rds and 7ths are often called color tones, (other notes in extended chords, ie. b5, #5, b9, #9, are often called color tones as well, but we will save that for a later lesson).
So, our band is warmed up and ready to play, we are headed into a medium tempo tune in G major. “Sitting on Top of the World.” They count it off and look to you wanting a tastefully improvised idea around the melody. Before you blow into your horn make sure not to just repeat the G note.
The one (Tonic) is almost always taken care of by the bass, so to play this note could sound less than interesting, it could even muddy the painting by using too much of same color at the same time. Lets draw out your note choices to be more clear.
G major, 1, 3, 5, 7
G, B, D, F#
tonic, maj/min, Fifth, Dominant/or not
The 3rd, if dropped a half step, also know as “flattening,” the third, would make the chord Minor. The Bb, instead of the B would make it a G minor chord.
The 7th scale degree if flattened makes for a dominant chord, also know as a 7th chord. An F natural instead of an F# would make for a G7 chord. We are playing a simple G major though, we must know the 3rd and 7th to rule out any other chord.
Over the G chord we will focus on the the B note first. In my opinion it sounds best when using slurs, slides, and other ornamental techniques from Bb up top B, and/or from C down to B. This is breaking the earlier mentioned rules, and doing so makes for a bluesy, fluid sound. “Playing around,” a note is more literal than many think. It is alright to play your flatted 3rd as long as you have it resolve back to the regular 3rd on a strong beat. I will post video examples in the future, also all of my Tony Rice videos, use this technique in some manner.
The mighty 7th is a F#, play around it, not on top of it the whole time, walk it down away form the tonic then chromatically back up to your G note. Your solo now has movement and melodic intent. Once this trick is used it becomes clear most melodies, sung or not, revolve heavily around the 3rd and 7th scale degrees, for they were not all created equal.