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Jazz Guitar Lessons

New JGT Series, Finding Jazz…With Zack Devine



Guitarist Zack Devine looks at ‘jazz’ as compared to other styles of music and examines the contrasts and similarities. Part 1, Progressive Rock.

Zack Devine: My goal is to show you how playing other styles has helped me transition to jazz, and also how jazz can help to influence the way you approach other styles as well.

The main thing that has always drawn me to music, whether it be jazz, progressive rock, singer/songwriter, or any musical sound at all, is harmony. I consider it to be one of the most important aspects of learning how to express oneself in a sonic context. It is no wonder then, that I have always been so drawn to jazz. In my youth, I yearned to explore styles that had more aggression, overdriven guitars, and blazing fast solos. I quickly grew tired of power chords and monochromatic sounding songs and riffs that seemed to me to have a lack of substance, and always left me wanting something deeper to sink my teeth into.

It was then that I began delving into lots of different artists, including Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dream Theater, as well as older jazz like John Coltrane and even as far back as the incomparable Django Reinhardt. I noticed that I was expanding as a listener almost entirely because I was being drawn to the harmonic structures on top of which these artists were painting their sonic masterpieces. It was only once I seriously started studying jazz that I found out just how deep the rabbit hole of harmony can go.

In this article, we’re going to be looking at two small solo excerpts from the song Erotomania from Dream Theater’s 1994 album entitled Awake. I have chosen to show you these for two distinct reasons. The first solo section is in a major tonality and is about as simple as a chord progression can get. The melody is elegant and soaring, with characteristic rock vocabulary. The entire section is completely diatonic from start to finish.

We are in the key of B Major, and the progression is as follows; B Major (I) – C#min (ii) – E (IV) – F# (V). This progression repeats, with the only difference being an increase in the harmonic rhythm of the IV and V chords in bar seven. The phrase ends with a modulation up a minor 3rd to D Major, where the song continues, but we’re stopping here for our purposes. This I – ii – IV – V progression is very easy to understand and easy to improvise over, as you never have to leave your home key.

The second solo section is in a minor tonality, and the progression makes abundant use of diminished substitute chords. This has the effect of making an otherwise simple progression seem far more interesting and propulsive. We need to understand how fully diminished 7th chords can be used as substitutes for dominant chords. By spelling any diminished 7th chord from any chord tone of a dominant chord, other than the root, you will have the same notes as the dominant chord, only with the addition of the b9. For example, in measure one, we see a Bo7. This chord is spelled B D F Ab. If we consider the Ab as being a b9, we can easily see how this chord can be used as a substitute for a G7b9, save for the fact that we’re excluding the root note G. Now, whereas that diminished chord might otherwise cause some confusion, it’s now very easy to understand and navigate, as we can just think about the whole measure as a ii – V that resolves to the I, C, on the first downbeat of the following measure.

Measure three then makes use of the Bo7 again, but this time, it’s being used as a substitute for a different dominant chord! Since we can build a fully diminished 7th from any chord tone, and chord tones can exist in multiple chords, that means that we can use any diminished chord to substitute for four dominant chords each. The B acted as the 3rd of the G7, but now it’s serving as the 5th of the E7. The Ab will now be thought of as a G#, the 3rd of the E7, the D the b7, and the F the b9. And it will now make sense that when we see the G#o7, it’s still serving as the substitute for the E7, only now we’re a half-step below our resolution, which is A minor. And finally, we see the A minor become an A7/C#, which again pushes us to a half-step below our next resolution, which is D minor. For our final example, I have taken the chord progression from Ex. 2 and written an etude over it that would be more indicative of a jazz-style approach. I feel that it can really give you a good indication of how this harmonic structure is fairly universal and can be used in any genre, be it rock, classical, jazz, or otherwise.

Erotomania, Ex. 3

This song is a beautiful example of progressive rock utilizing more advanced harmonic concepts to break out of the simplistic ideologies commonly found in rock and its sub-genres. It’s examples like these that propelled me into new territories musically when I was discovering what I liked to listen to and what I wanted to achieve as an artist.

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