I said last year I wouldn’t do any music or guitar theory, but this Latin loop changed my mind, as some interesting things came out of playing over it I thought I could share.
I have been playing the Jam tracks for the last few days since I got this Jam Man unit, so not even got too far with messing with loop creation or overdubs yet.
The reason is it’s fun just jamming so far! There are only 9 different tracks to jam over – simple – but they are cleverly chosen in my view, from a learning tool perspective, covering the important basic styles so there is something for most types of guitarist at least. They make you get stuck in the loop and force you to experiment with scalar and chordal ideas, and before you know it 20 mins of playing to one loop has gone by!
The one that really stood out for all the reasons that follow, is the Latin loop. I will go over a few things I found that I think will benefit beginners and get them fast tracked to a higher level of ear development without too much difficulty – I hope. The earlier you start listening to chord structures that enable semi-tone and diminished runs to be played, the quicker your brain will be able to assimilate more complex music, eventually leading to technical appreciation of jazz (even if you still don’t “like” much of it – or any other genre for that matter). This aids your development in soloing improvisation sooner, so you don’t get stuck in bad habits and the same boring and self identifiable licks that you fall back on through lack of imagination (like me!), so your improvisations will be more interesting and hopefully unique in the long run, and have an identity that is yours alone, and not sound like other people’s too much of the time (like me!), or just the same boring runs that you use because you didn’t push yourself to listen to ALL styles of music when younger and try to play to it (like me!).
Look at Guthrie Govan as the rising (risen!) star of being the best genre “All Rounder”, partly because of that genre open mindedness. He didn’t sit for hours being a robot with a metronome though, he played for pleasure mainly also. This is where these new tech units shine -which weren’t available in my day – you can learn so much so quickly these days, and it’s still fun and not a chore to practice.
Being able to slow down tracks without pitch change would have been Heaven in my day – not having to rewind tapes, lift needles to hear a lick over again, or retune your guitar! Make the most of it.
The reason this Latin loop is interesting for beginners and intermediate players to learn from is you can keep it simple at its basic level as a minor 1, minor4, dominant 5 progression, and slowly build complexity as you improve, whilst finding out why things work the way they do. For more knowledgeable players, you can theorise with it a lot and try some more interesting modes and rhythms that may work over it.
The two less usual modes I’m going to look at here are the diminished scale, and the Phrygian Dominant – the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale. This one works well through the whole piece – as you are playing the G harmonic minor over a G minor progression. See the video for the jammed examples to supplement the MP3s below.
HARMONIC MINOR SCALE AND ITS MODES
NOTES TRANSPOSED IN C
Most importantly, for me, this Latin loop is the most technically and musically interesting, up tempo, good mood loop for playing to, out of the rest.
For beginners, you can just play rhythm, with maybe pentatonic minor scale solos over the top of chords 1 and 4, and Mixolydian over the dominant seventh chord 5. Later, fill in the pentatonic with the semitones between 4th and fifth notes to get the “blues scale” and then add the major 7 to get the jazz scale. (See the video link for info).
A really important thing you can try to do as early as possible is blur the distinction between being a “rhythm” guitarist and a “lead” guitarist – become both at the same time, as Hendrix did so notably. Practice throwing in lead lines between chords and vice versa, as part of a solo. It is something I never tried as a beginner, so still find it hard to do.
As a reminder, here are the minor 7 chords and the dom7:
So, for this loop, you can play these 3 shapes in the key of G minor (fret 3) for the first chord, and C minor. The 3rd chord in the progression is a dominant 7th on D.
An interesting alternate/combo chord you can play for the 5th is the major/minor7, which gives a really ambiguous feel, as the chord has both a major 3rd note AND a minor 3rd note in it, so it is both major and minor at the same time. The 7th note is also minor.
It looks like this, played at fret 5:
(I added the major/minor 7th as a passing chord to the dominant 7 in this MP3 example):
It is helpful to learn the inversions of each shape so you can play in different neck positions, an example of this I have played at fret 10:
I had to import the loops to FLS to export them as MP3s, and lengthen them so you can hear them better.
As you progress, you can alter rhythmic styles to suit, play semi-tone slides, and extra notes for the whole shape, and the quick wrist flick funk style, as I did in the 2nd example above:
This dom7th chord as the fifth in a progression allows some weird and wonderful things to be played over the top of the change back to the 1st chord, and we are most familiar with this in the Blues. Because the 3rd note is major and the 7th is dominant (a minor7, 1 semitone down from a major 7 note) it has a tonal ambiguity that leaves it tense, where a variety of “outside” notes that are also tense, relative to the home key first chord in the progression. This means less usual scales like the diminished and/or the “jazz and blues” pentatonic scales fit over the top of this change depending on how they are played. (See the Holdsworth 10 Most Useable Scales Post).
This is an example of a harmonised diminished run over the top of the 5th chord, as it resolves to the 1st chord:
I have played exactly the same run, a minor 3rd above, except for the last note which must be in the key of G minor at the point of resolution.
I did the same again, for a 3rd diminished harmony – this is why the diminished scale is so ear bendingly cool and fun to play!
Another run I came up with is along the lines of a Scott Henderson instructional video example – based on a line he stole from another player – that is a jazz type semi-tone descent pattern, across 3 strings.
Again, interesting when a harmony line is added, a 4th apart (I erroneously said 5th in the vid):
The vid is here: