[This article first appeared in the October 1980 issue of Keyboard magazine.]
Recently I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of readers of CK. I asked them what they would like to see in my column, and the majority said they wanted to see more about chord voicings, chord progressions, and lead lines. Their choices make perfect sense, in that the foremost goal of any keyboardist is to know chords and progressions so they can lay down creative harmonies and to know lead lines so they can also step out and express themselves as soloists.
Presently, I am helping out an R&B group made up of some excellent Bay Area musicians. Quite a lot of their material is based on progressions in which a minor mode resolves to a major. Here is a basic example:
In this example, you would play a D dorian over a Dm9; of course D dorian has the same notes as the C major scale. In the case of the Bb13, as I have mentioned in several earlier columns, any dominant 7th type chord can be thought of as the V chord of a major scale. In this case, Bb is the V of Eb major. Don't forget that you can precede a dominant chord with its associated IIm7—here that would be Fm7. In the same way, we can think of the Dm9 as a II in C and follow it with its associated V chord. Now the progression looks like this:
Now we have a pair of chord progressions that can be looked at as either Im7-IV7, in C and Eb or D minor and F minor. Thinking of it different ways doesn't change the basic progression, but it may offers some other possibilities for thinking about voicings, so things won't end up sounding so repetitious.
Here are some simple chord voicings you could play with this progression. First, I've shown a basic voicing on the upper notes of the chord. Either the bass player could be playing the roots, or you could play these voicings with your right hand while playing the roots with your left. Next, I've shown a two-handed voicing using some suspended chords. In this case you might leave it up to some other player to fill in the harmonic movement from bar to bar, and think of your role as being one of tying the sound together. Finally, I've shown a couple of simple rhythm patterns to play with these voicings. Playing full-sounding chords and holding them for an entire measure is a good way to start a section, but as the energy increases, you will want to add rhythmic excitement to the chords. Create different rhythm patterns to inspire the person soloing.
Next I've shown some simple runs you could play over these chords. If you're playing a touch-sensitive instrument such as electric piano, be sure to play the accents. They're important for making the line strong and alive. A very nice effect when playing these lines would be to use an echo delay device. The delay sets up a polyrhythm within the solo line which gives it great energy.
Finally, you can experiment with these lines in various ways. For example, try leaving various notes out to give a different rhythmic feel.
There are many other experiments you could try with these lines, and many other lines that could fit above the chords. Don't be afraid to experiment—that's really where it's at.
Until next month, stay happy!