No More Excuses – Part III
By David Barrett
In our first issue we explored the standard three chords used in the blues, the I7, IV7 and V7 chords. If you spent the time necessary memorizing those three chords on the C Harmonica and playing the examples to a twelve bar blues jam track in the key of G (2nd Position), then you were ready for what we did in our last issue, playing the ii7 and vi7 chords. I provided you with jam tracks that utilized the common I7—VI7—II7—V7 chord progression; I hope you enjoyed the challenge of playing this progression. This month let’s look at the last two chords based on the major scale, the iii chord and vii chord.
Again, grab your C harmonica and we’ll dig into blues in the key of G.
Let’s review the notes in the Key of G Major—your task was to memorize this scale in our first lesson.
G A B C D E F# G
You also memorized the note layout for the C Harmonica. Here it is again for your reference.
Below are the notes of the iii and vii chords.
iii = B D F#
vii = F# A C
In my experience the iii chord is usually played as a dominant seventh chord and the vii chord is lowered by a half step and played as a major or dominant seventh chord. Below are the notes of the III7 and Flat-VII7 chords.
III7 = B D# F# A
Flat-VII7 = F A C E-flat
Here’s the same information in graph form:
Below is a chart to see where these chord tones are found on the harmonica. As you continue to work on memorizing the chords and where the notes are found on the harmonica you won’t need this chart.
|III7||-||2’||3”, 3||-||-||6||7||8’+||9’+||10, 10’+|
Looking at our two chords we see that the III7 chord is exceedingly difficult to play, but the flat-VII7 chord is very playable. For difficult chords like the III7 a good plan of attack is to find one or two solid notes to present strongly, playing actively before it and after it, thus creating a phrasing model that makes sense in normal soloing. Presenting a difficult chord in this way sounds purposeful—the listener won’t catch on to the fact that the chord we’re playing over is a difficult chord for us to traverse. In fact, if you play that one note(s) with conviction (loudly, strong vibrato, etc.), it can be a focal point for the entire solo.
This month we’ll look at each chord in its own setting. Starting with the III7 chord, historically we find it works beautifully in a slow, ballad blues. Below is a progression similar to “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.” Note the use of I7, IV7, V7 chords and our focus from the last issue, the II7 and VI7 chords. Since you’re already experienced with these chords I’ll only present the root notes, but you’ll want to explore all of the notes available on the harmonica for each chord (If you’re still working on memorizing your other chords you may find it helpful to pencil in the available holes under each chord). For our new III7 chord I’ll write the most usable notes up to the 7th hole. Play along to the provided jam track to experience all of these great chords in one progression.
For our Flat-VII chord we’ll use the solo section of “Butter Strut” from the soon-to-be-released Rock Harmonica Method. In this progression the band moves between the I7 and Flat-VII chords. Below I provide the solo I played for the song. Being an aggressive song there’s a strong use of the blues scale. When the blues scale is used, at times the chord progression takes a back seat to the use of the scale. This makes for an interesting study of how a player can use notes of a given chord when they decide to hold a note and when they’re playing faster there’s less of a focus on the chord and more of a focus on the scale. For example, in measures 4 and 8 where I hold a note for three beats it matches one of the chord tones of the Flat-VII chord. In all other places where the Flat-VII chord appears, the playing is much more active and focused more on the blues scale and phrasing.
In the end, soloing is a tradeoff between notes that match the chord, notes from a soloing scale or phrasing. Each one of these can be the focus and it musically makes sense. Be aware of the fact that there is one universal rule: if you hold a note, you’re presenting that note. If the note you’re presenting is of the chord, it matches and sounds good. If it’s not a note of the chord it will be dissonant, which is okay, but be aware that it will need to resolve to a note that does match, i.e. to a chord tone and ultimately to the root note of the song).
I have also provided a jam track for you to experiment with the Flat-VII chord. Take your time and enjoy the challenge!
About the Author David Barrett
Thank you to Diane Smith for proof reading!