John Stowell’s ModernChordMelody
My vocalist friend Cheryl Hodge has written lyrics to a number of
my tunes, and in some cases supplied titles as well. The chords
and ornamentations I’m using on this piece suggested an Asian
sensibility of tranquility and introspection to Cheryl, hence her
title “Haiku.” In this song, I’m using a combination of embellished
chords, such as major 9ths and melodic minor inversions, combined with major triads with flatted 9ths in the bass. The progression is a bit unorthodox; as the tune unfolded a few chords at a
time, I realized that I wanted to avoid traditional jazz harmonies
and cadences such as II-V-Is.
The piece is played rubato throughout, although some of the
individual phrases have an internal pulse that exists for a few bars
to move that particular section of the tune along. I like to think of
rubato playing as containing spontaneous breaths or pauses
that happen organically. I enjoy this approach when playing solo
as I do here, but it’s also rewarding in a group setting. Learning
to “breathe” and feel phrases together in an ensemble without a
fixed pulse or meter can be an interesting challenge. With some
history together and shared musical goals, it’s possible to take
more collective risks together as the level of trust and confidence
in your bandmates grows.
As with several pieces in the Modern Chord Melody course, I’ll
also play the melody on another guitar tuned a major third lower
(C to C, same relative pitches as standard tuning). The lower
pitch works better on some tunes than others; the open nature
and rubato feel of “Haiku” lend themselves well to this tuning.
If you want to experiment with tuning lower, you can also hear
and feel a difference with an instrument pitched a whole tone or
minor third below concert. Baritone tuning is a fourth below. Pat
Metheny has created an interesting sound by combining baritone
and Nashville tuning on one instrument, tuning down a fourth but
taking several of the high strings up an octave in that register.
Given the availability of good, cheap guitars, you might consider
buying an instrument that you can use to experiment with different tunings. Of course, you can try different string gauges as well.
Because I have a light touch with my right hand, typical gauges
for a jazz set (.012-.052) work fine for me. On “Haiku,” using the
lower tuning, I’m aware that the open strings used in the melody
are prone to more sustain. In addition to being careful with my
right hand to achieve a balanced sound, I’m also occasionally
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