[Dixielandjazz] Guide tones---explained

Ken Gates keng at iswest.com
Tue Jan 18 18:47:57 PST 2005


Paul Edgerton gave permission to forward extracts of his explanation.
Here it is------------

             ABOUT GUIDE TONES
> Chords are defined mainly by their thirds (major or minor) and by their
> sevenths (dominant or tonic) though I have oversimplified somewhat.  If
> analyze a chord sequence in terms of its thirds and sevenths you will find
> that some of them are diatonic to the key.  That is, they are contained in
> the scale of the key signature.  But some of them are chromatic, or
> of the home key.
> For example, the  here are the first four chords of the tune Sweet Georgia
> Brown in Ab:
> Chord Third Seventh
> ----- ----- -------
> F7 A* Eb
> Bb7 D* Ab
> Eb7 G Db
> Ab C G**  (or F)
> The tones marked with one asterisk don't fall in an Ab scale and are
> therefore VERY IMPORTANT! I'll get back to them in a minute, but I should
> explain that in most jazz styles, chords typically have four voices.
> Dominant chords by definition have a major third and a minor seventh.
> tonic chords, the major seventh might be used (Struttin' With Some
> but more often the diatonic sixth is used instead.  That's what the double
> asterisk is for.
> Anyway, some people think of these thirds and sevenths arranged like this:
> Chord:  F7   Bb   Eb   Ab
>         ==   ==   ==   ==
> Line 1: A  - Ab - G  - F
> Line 2: Eb - D  - Db - C
> It doesn't matter which of the two lines is on top, because they keep
> interchanging thirds and sevenths.  Do you notice how each of the two
> move down by whole step or half step?  These are the sort of lines that
> hear the cellos playing in elevator music.  When you are just learning how
> to hear chord changes, these are your friends because they are
> easy to pick out.  This is what some people mean when they speak of guide
> tones.  They help guide you through chord progressions.
> I like to carry this one step further.  After a certain familiarization
> period, these become so easy to hear that you don't have to think about
> when the chord changes are "circle of fifths" like this example.  But
> remember that I said the thirds and sevenths that fall outside the home
> are the most important ones -- those are the real guide tones because they
> tell you when you have to deviate from the home key.
> Finally, I should mention that your home key isn't always the one given by
> the key signature.  For example, the tune China Boy is usually played in
> and most of the tune can be played by noodling around an F scale.  But the
> bridge actually changes abruptly to Ab, even though the key signature
> doesn't change.  You're temporarily in a new key, so you should look at
> chords in the context of the new key.  On the bridge, you should be
> in Ab, not F.  Soon enough the tune returns the home key.
> Some of the more complex tunes change keys (actually they change tonality)
> every few bars.  Especially the bridges (Cherokee, Have You Met Miss
> et al.) Tunes like that can be a lot of fun if you know where they're
> and they can be real traps if you don't!
> You might want to take a few of the tunes you like and write out the guide
> tones keeping them in the middle of the staff and usually moving by step.
> Then go through and circle the tones that aren't in the home key.  These
> the ones to learn, and make all the difference between sounding right and
> sounding like you don't know the changes.

This is Ken speaking now-----

Most people I know find music theory to be hopelessly boring.
I know very little--but I'm learning---guess I'm just curious.
I don't think that knowing these things will suddenly make me a great
player (I'm in a student phase---maybe at some intermediate level).
But I do think that some theory just might bring something new to
my practice/learning sessions that could slowly cause some improvement.

My thanks to Paul for a clear and concise explanation.

Ken Gates


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