By John Novello
LAST MONTH, WE TOOK ON A CHALLENGE THAT SEEMS SIMPLE BUT CAN
actually be quite difficult: keeping your keyboard solos interesting over an extended
one-chord jam. I introduced the three main types of approach to the problem—
melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic—and outlined several examples of melodic tools.
Now, on to the harmonic and rhythmic means to keep your audience—and yourself—
captivated by that one-chord solo.
1. Harmonic Tools
In Ex. 1a, we still have a single overarching chord
for the entire passage (F in this case), but the idea
is to create an imaginary chord progression
within that. You don’t actually voice the chords
referenced on the top staff ; they just suggest a
melody such as the one on the middle staff , where
each note harmonizes with (or is the root of) the
corresponding imaginary chord. Finally, doubling
up on the number of chord tones from each imaginary
chord yields the solo on the bottom staff .
As an alternative to imagining a series of phantom
chords, we can change the mode or family
of the single chord, a strategy I call modal interchange.
So, if the original chord is Fmaj7 as it is in
Ex. 1b, try changing the scale you’ll use for soloing
to that of an altered dominant chord such as F7#9.
Continue to comp with the original Fmaj7 chord,
and you’ll find that the clash of one mode over
another creates good variety and tension.
2. Rhythmic Concepts
Rubato means “robbing” the time: speeding
up or slowing down so you go temporarily off -
tempo, and then matching up with the original
or group’s tempo at exciting moments. Although
you can do this with chord changes, it works
best when soloing over one tonal area. (No transcribed
example for this concept.)
Polyrhythm is defined as the simultaneous
sounding of two or more independent rhythms.
In Ex. 2a, the use of quarter-note triplets over
a 4/4 time signature creates a three against
two feel: Three slightly shortened quarter-notes
evenly divide up the time span offered by two
beats. Played correctly, the payoff is a sense of
tension and resolution as those triplets of notes
roll over into the next downbeat.
Ex. 2b also uses polyrhythms, this time employing
dotted quarter-notes (equal in duration
to a quarter-note plus an eighth-note, as a
dot means any note is half again as long) so that
many notes hit on the “and” of a given beat.
This overlays a different audible rhythm on
what would otherwise be the boring metronome
pulse of 4/4 time.
Explore, but Don’t Get Lost
“Ultimately, rhythm is a flow. You can shape this flow and even depart
from it entirely, as long as you can eventually find your way back to the
original rhythm,” advises John Novello, whose method The Contemporary
Keyboardist is considered the gold standard of modern keyboard instruction.
“So always make sure you know where the ‘one’ is!” Learn more from
John at jazzkeyboardlessons.com.