Building a Line - Part 2
Now let’s look at how the three basic building blocks we have gone over in past columns fit into all of this. Our building blocks are scales, intervals and arpeggios, and from these three we are able to generate any kind of line we want, generating all of our line building concepts. Each of these three gives us a specific way to implement our line building.
Scales are the basis for all of the others. In the concept of line building, scales give smoother flowing lines, the degree of this smoothness depending on the type of scale used. For instance, a major scale is going to give a smoother flow to your line that a pentatonic scale will. Your choice of scale then, will allow you to determine the degree of smoothness.
Scales also set the key center of the line and add "color". A good example of how a scale can add color can be demonstrated by the scale choices available over m7 chords. Remember from past articles that these chords are found as II, III, and VI chords in the Major scale. So for a Dm7 chord, you could use a C, Bb or F Major scale for your line. The scale choice you make can add a very different color to your line over these chords. Try this and see how each sounds against the chord.
Intervals take you to the next level in terms of shaping the contour of the line. Depending on the size of the interval, you can go from relatively small, smooth jumps, to large, jagged jumps in your line. These will allow you to inject surprise jumps to smooth, subtle changes depending on your choice of interval. This is another thing that you have to experiment with. On many instruments, this is hard to do, especially the larger intervals, so it gets neglected. The time spent to learn to do this is well worth it, as it is great ear training and will allow you to go a long way toward developing your own voice on your instrument.
Arpeggios fall into the center here. They give you some angularity to your lines, while also having an element of smoothness and cohesion. You can use the appropriate arpeggio for the chord you are playing over, or apply the principles in the chord superimposition articles to add extensions to, or alter the chord you are playing over. Play the notes of the arpeggio in different permutations, and you can get more of the jagged feel of wider intervals, or more in order, to get more of the smoothness of a scale. Again, the more time spent on this, the more interesting you lines will be.
The main thing here to remember, is that all of these tools are worthless unless you put them into your playing. The more you work on practicing these concepts, the less you will have to think about them and they will come out more naturally in your playing. Also, when you hear them in you head, you will know what they are, and be able to play what you are hearing, which as we have said many times before, is the goal of your improvisational practice.