The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar
Improvisational Theory - Intervalic Approach

Published May 10th, 2005. © Chris Juergensen/ All Rights Reserved.

This lesson has been revised and published in THE INFINITE GUITAR. Info >>>

Breaking the tertian paradigm - Western Music is based on what we call Tertian harmony. This basically means that the chords we use are built by stacking 3rds on top of each other. Because of this, our brains are wired to hear and accept 3rds over all other intervals and that is why, even when we improvise, we tend to use 3rds as our interval of choice. This lesson will help you break out of restraints of Tertian harmony and at the same time help you break away from using the standard scale shapes that have become ingrained in your brain. You see, intervals larger than 3rds create technical problems on the guitar and the scale patterns that we use aren't designed for the task either. In this lesson I will introduce to you various intervalic ideas and to play and use them effectively, you will find that you will have to throw away all the scale patterns you have gotten used to, which I believe is the first step in realizing improvisational freedom. You will have to think in intervals rather than in scale steps.

How to use these ideas - Unless otherwise described, most of the examples in this lesson have been made using the diatonic C major scale. This means that any modal application will work fine. Each example can be used effectively over a Fmaj7 (lydian), Dmin7 (dorian), G7 (mixolydian), or any of the other modal type chords. Moving them around to other keys and expanding on each concept is up to you. I don't want to rob you of the opportunity to use your creative mind so I'll only be transcribing the examples in the most minimal manner. Take the next step yourself. You can always e-mail me if you need help.
Why 4ths and 5ths? - 4ths and 5ths are angular and modern sounding, making various sequences using these two particular intervals perfect for the applications described in this lesson. It is also important to remember 4ths inverted are 5ths and vice versa. The "major/minor" type intervals (2nds, 7ths, 3rds and 6ths) are more organic sounding by nature and used in similar applications sound less effective.

Ex.1) - Perfect 4ths are difficult to play on the guitar because they usually fall on the next adjacent string on the same fret which means you are forced to used the same finger. This is fine when you only want to play the 4th interval once but if you want to play a line utilizing a series of 4ths it becomes quite difficult to play the line smoothly. Although it is quite a stretch, I found that rather than playing the 4th on the adjacent string it is possible to play it on the same string. For me, doing this using a legato style of playing works great. Check out the line:
Ex.2) - This example is simply expanding on the last one:
Ex.3) - This example runs through the whole series of 4ths in the C major scale. Take notice of the one diminished 4th (F - B). I also jump down an octave twice to accommodate the line:
Ex.4) - Next I'm going to use the same intervalic idea to play through a ii - V - I in the key of C:

Ex.5) - In order to get you used to playing and hearing 5ths, I'm going to get you to play through the major scale using them. You are already familiar with the shape of the 5th interval, it looks like a simple power chord. The only exception is the B - F interval which is a diminished 5th:
Ex.6) - I'm stacking 5ths on top of each other for this example. Notice how every note in the C diatonic scale gets used:
Ex.7) - A variation on the last example using pull offs and slides. Play the intervalic 5th, pull-off to the diatonic note below, slide up to the 5th again with your first finger and repeat the process:
Ex.8) - You can make some very wide sounding arppegios by using stacked 5ths. These can be sweep-picked for a spectacular effect:

To explore this subject further, see if you can find the book "Intervalic Designs" by Joe Diorio. It is probably the most concise book on the subject but may be difficult to get a hold of. You can also listen to Joe Diorio who is the master of this kind of thing. Another guitarist who uses intervalic phrasing quite often is Jennifer Batten.
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