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The following constitutes part I of a system of theory that I have used in my teaching practice. I am (re)-posting this in order to share information about improvisation and to establish a dialog. I have played jazz guitar for over 30 years and have studied with Pat Martino, Howard Roberts, Andrew White, Mark Copeland, Herb Ellis, etc.  Dodecaphonics is the name of a "System of Harmony" that I derived from my various studies and is particularly inspired by the works of John Coltrane.

Dodecaphonics is the 12 tone application of chord substitution. This Applies to soloing and comping concepts.  About 20 years ago, I started cataloging various ways to play over certain chord progressions. I had random bits and pieces of formulas that worked over different chords. For some, I had theoretical practices to back them up, and for others, I just knew they sounded good. As I became a more proficient improviser and my tastes grew to include some of the modern masters of jazz such as Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, I knew that there had to be more than the standard theory that I knew from college. I began to develop a system...

The system is based on the assertion that in a 13th chord, all the notes in the scale are represented. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that (taste aside) any combination of notes in the scale can be "substituted" for the 13th chord. It can also be derived that any diatonic chord based on the scale can be treated likewise. Thus, any fully diatonic chord may be substituted for any other diatonic chord. This concept is called "diatonic extensions".

For example, the chords:
(fig 1)
Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5 are all essentially the same chord.

Now, following up on that is my assertion that the V chord (G7) is the most important chord in the series. The strongest resolution between any 2 chords in the diatonic sequence is the V-I relationship.  This is because the 3rd of the V chord wants to resolve up to the root of the tonic and the 7th of the V chord wants to resolve down to the 3rd of the tonic. Try it and you should hear what I'm talking about.  Whether you believe me or not... Bear with me and take the following road...

I used to hear 'Trane playing Dm7 Fm7 and Abm7 runs over the G7 chord. I wondered where this came from. Of course I could analyze the notes over the G7 chord and they all made sense but occasionally he would "lay" on F# notes which I "knew" were wrong :-) Eventually, my small mind figured out that he was simply playing standard 'Trane licks built on the 5th, b7, and b9 of the V (G7) chord. It started coming to me...

Let's use the Abdim7 chord and how it relates to dominant 7th chords. Take a look at the notes in the Abdim7 chord enharmonically spelled as (Ab B D F). Now this chord also happens to be, G7b9, Bb7b9, Db7b9, and E7b9 chords. Notice that going from the Abdim7 chord to any other chord in the sequence involves simply adjusting one note:

G B D F G7
Ab Bb D F Bb7
Ab B Db F Db7
Ab B D E E7

These 4 chords are related through the Ab diminished chord and are found by harmonizing the Diminished scale (symmetrical in half and whole steps). Understanding this Relationship is key to understanding what 'Trane was doing in the '60s.

We've already diagramed the diatonic extensions of G7 (fig 1). Let's do the same for the other 4 chords in the sequence:
(Note the V chord in each sequence)
(fig 2) (Bb7)
Ebmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Abmaj7 Bb7 Cm7 Dm7b5

(fig 3) (Db7)
Gbmaj7 Abm7 Bbm7 Cbmaj7 Db7 Ebm7 Fm7b5

(fig 4) (E7)
Amaj7 Bm7 C#m7 Dmaj7 E7 F#m7 G#m7b5

Now put all the chords together (1/4th of the dodecaphonic system) and you have the following table:

(fig 5)

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5
Ebmaj Fm7 Gm7 Abmaj7 Bb7 Cm7 Dm7b5
Gbmaj7 Abm7 Bbm7 Cbmaj7 Db7 Ebm7 Fm7b5
Amaj7 Bm7 C#m7 Dmaj7 E7 F#m7 G#m7b5

This produces a table or formula of chords that are essentially synonyms for each other. *NOW* what you do is this. Take a chord progression such as
(fig 6) |Dm7 G7 | Cmaj7 A7 |

Use the table to produce some substitutions for the original progression.  Note that this is not just for comping but is also used for improvisations. In fact, at first you should learn to "hear" these synonyms over the original progressions. I suggest using a sequencer or tape recorder and have the chords playing in a loop while you take a certain sequence of synonyms and practice them over the original progression. Take small steps at first such as using the standard chord\scales for all but 1 of the chords...The dominant being the place to start with. For example, we'll take the IV chord from the 2nd row (Abmaj7) and use that in place of the G7 chord in fig 6:

(fig 7)
| Dm7 Abmaj7 | Cmaj7 A7 |
(Leave the A7 alone until you become more proficient). Again remember that you should be practicing melodic lines over this, not necessarily chords although the concept works both ways.

Try different parts of different tables as well. Don't shy away from chords that sound "funny". The first time I heard the ii chord row 4 of (fig 5) (Bm7) over the G7, I hated it. It had the F# in it after all, and I was taught that there was no more wrong chord than an F# over a G7 chord. I couldn't have been more wrong. If you "live" with the Bm7 chord over the G7 for a while, you will understand how it wants to resolve and it will begin to sound more "inside," same for all the other chords in the sequence. In fact, the point is to get your ear used to hearing things that it did *NOT* hear the day before.

Position Studies

I have taught intermediate students how to play over Giant Steps and Countdown using this technique.

Start with a simple chord progression and once it starts making sense, apply to other tunes like Giant Steps, Countdown, etc.

In the video I'm using:

|: Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 | A7 :|

But you can also use a sequence such as:

|: Dm7 | G7 | Cm7 | F7 | Bbm7 | Eb7 | Abm7 | Db7 | Gbm7 | B7 | Em7 | A7 :|

The basic idea is:

  • improvise over it using (mostly) scale tones with occasional chromatics.
  • Start at the lowest non-open string (CAGED) scale position for the given chord.
  • Improvise using 8th notes only.
  • When the key changes (every 2 bars in this case) you can only move up and only one position.
  • Once you move up, you cannot move back down
  • You should see yourself progressing through each logical caged position each time the progression repeats.
  • After 5 times through the progression, you should be ready to repeat the original position but be up an octave from where you started.
  • Once you are at this point, work you way back down the neck using the same formula except this time, you can only move down and only down one position. After 5 times through, you will be in the original position.
For example:
  • Dm7 - G7 (II position)
  • Cm7 - F7 (III position)
  • Bbm7 - Eb7 (III position)
  • Abm7 - Db7 (IV position)
  • Gbm7 - B7 (IV position)
  • Em7 - A7 (IV position)
  • ================
  • Dm7 - G7 (V position)
  • etc.

Step 2:

Move the whole thing up a 1/2 step and make sure your pattern relationships hold up.

take the following chord progression:

|: Amaj7 | C9sus | Fmaj9 | Bm7 E7 |
| Fmaj7 | Ab7sus | Dbmaj9 | Gm7 C7 |
| Dbmaj7 | E7sus | Abmaj7 | Ebm7 Ab7 :|

To be continued...

steps.jpgContent 2

This represents Pat Metheny's 7 trademark "riffs". Click the measure to hear the example played. Click the title to hear them all.

This is the classic Min7 line that Pat Martino employs in his playing. Click the image to hear a midi file of this melody. Tablature and fingers will be available soon.