Lessons and Training

Jazz Guitar Soloing Concepts: A Pentatonic Modal Approach to Improvisation – Dr. Ronald.S.Lemos

Some time ago I wrote a small article concerning the many choices of instructional material pertaining to that most humble of devices, the pentatonic scale and my thoughts on the most relevant purchases for the aspiring shredder. Well I have no excuse for the length of time it’s taken me to finally write the review of the most musically intriguing publication on the subject…*deep breath*…Jazz Guitar Soloing Concepts: A Pentatonic Modal Approach to Improvisation by Dr. Ronald.S.Lemos …but having finally done so I have come to regard it as one of the best sources of inspiration It has been my pleasure to read of late.

I’m very partial to the lowly pentatonic for many reasons that I’m sure most guitarists would agree with; although it’s apparent simplicity generally indicates that this is the first scale that we learn the fact of the matter is that many of the guitar cliches which form a basis for improvisation in rock, blues and jazz are derived directly from that scale, or one of the many simple variations we can arrive at with the addition or substitution of a note.  The scale itself ages with you as a player so those humble Chuck Berry riffs make way for more energetic blues/rock examples a la Stevie Ray Vaughan or Gary Moore…to the metallic styling of Zakk Wylde and and Kirk Hammett….and these in turn pave the way for more exotic technical applications such as those employed by Rusty Cooley, Derryl Gabel or Allan Holdsworth. Let us not also forget those virtuoso musicians who employed that same quintet of tones on other instruments such as the incredible Art Tatum or Frederick Chopin and it rapidly becomes apparent that a more thorough study of the permutations is required.

“Jazz Guitar Soloing Concepts..” as the title suggests devotes it’s 254 pages to a more modern approach towards the harmonic and melodic possibilities of these scale types but also provides a chapter devoted to the pentatonic/blues scales we know so well. In order to maitain a level of brevity I’ll try to avoid lengthy exmplanations whilst striving to provide appropriate information for such a worthy book.

Section 1 – The Eleven Pentatonic Scales

Covering pentatonic scales dervied from the major scale modes, one each from the harmonic and melocdic minor scales, as well as the more standard minor/major pentatonic and blues scales we see a slight divergence from Modal Pentatonics as understood by many Jazz Theorists. The “standard” approach is to focus on the “characteristic” note from each mode as applied to a standard major/minor formulae. Dr. Lemos’ approach is more akin to the arpeggio of each mode and not only does the intervallic structure provide what I feel are more satisfactory harmonic and melodic  approaches, but also encourages technical experimentation whilst navigating the fretboard. I’ll leave the discussion as to which constitutes the “best” methodology to the halls of subjective debate as both approaches have merit although of course this material should provide enough new treatments to revive the interest of even the most familar students.

Section 2 – Substitute Scales

This section is devoted to the practical applications of those scales learned in the first with referrence to various chord types and progressions. Of note is the presentation of scale choices in the order of least to most dissonant and highly useful diagrams noting how each scale differs from the other options as related to the chord(s) being discussed. Understanding the scale tonalities and their construction equips the guitarist with a wide pallete in a short period of time and once more it’s a tribute to the unclouded writing style of the author that a wealth of information is outlined in a readily understandable format.

Section 3 – Symmetrical Pentatonic Scales

Including not only the whole tone and diminished (half/whole & whole/half) pentatonic scales , playing over passing or reharmonized chords, as well as altered dominant chords and a treatise on the function of the diminished chord in Jazz with referrence to scales learnt in prior chapters. Long-beloved of jazz-inspired rock solosists I found that adding a new dimension to an oft-abused pair of scales was very much a breath of fresh air that will be appreciated by many, and of course the detailed theoretical explanations pertaining to the subject fully answered several questions of mine.

Section 4 – Other Pentatonic Scales

Section 4 deals with 5 additional scales and their specific applications over a tonic minor chord, Lydian maj7th chord, or an altered dominant chord – here we meet the m/M7 pentatonic, Lydian #4, Lydian #11, Mixolydian #9 & #5 as well as the Mixolydian 13b9 with the familiar musical examples and theoretical explanations required to fully comprehend how they might best be used.

Section 5 – Chord Progressions

Perhaps the most useful section of the entire book here we’re given practical applications for the pentatonic scales over common progressions such as blues, rhythm changes, and Coltrane’s daunting “Giant Steps”.  For me, this section ties together all the approaches in a choesive manner and to address Dr Lemos personally – it absolutely does answer the claims he makes regarding the effectiveness of the Pentatonic Modal approach.

With over 6 section, 30+ chapters and 4 appendices this weighty tome presents enough practice material and theoretical information for a long period of study regardless of your musical leanings. Complete with a CD, abundant and clear scale/chord diagrams in standard notation and tablature,  a host of musical examples and a gift for concise text Dr. Lemos has penned an outstanding work that deserves to be in the library of any guitarist. If you’re looking to add colour to an existing style, completely reinvent yourself as a soloist or perhaps address the material from a musicologist’s point of view I can whole heartedly give Jazz Guitar Soloing Concepts: A Pentatonic Modal Approach to Improvisation my full recommendation.


September 18th, 2010

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