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Dissonance, Resolution & Note Enclosure

A guitar improvisation lesson by Matthew Hart

 

Dissonance is the use of notes that fall outside of the key signature of the tune. In turn, resolution is the return to consonance, to bring the melody back home. Consonant phrases can sound very good, in small doses, but quickly become tedious over the length of an entire solo.

The contrast between dissonance and consonance, used at opportune moments in a solo, is what keeps both yourself and the listener interested. Lets take a look at some phrases, over the same chord progression, but this time take advantage of dissonance.

 

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Dissonance & Resolution

All examples in this guitar lesson are played over a II V I in G major:

 

| Am7             | D7            | Gmaj7           | %                | |

 

 

Here's the backing track:

 

You can also download the backing track here.


Phrase 1

 

Listen & Play

 

G Ionian Phrase  with Dissonance

 

  • Bar 1 has no dissonance, as indicated by the absence of accidentals. However, when we hit beat one of bar two we are playing a B flat, which is not in the key of G. This tone is dissonant and creates tension in the melody. The last eighth note in bar two is F natural, this tone is also dissonant. The F natural appears to want to resolve to F sharp, which it does on the first beat of bar three.

    Even though we are using notes outside the key signature, it still sounds good, but why? The reason it works, is due to chord substitution. We won't go into any depth on chord substitution here, as it is a huge topic in itself, but we can have a look at what substitute chords are being implied by this phrase.

    Bar one starts on a non-chordal tone, relative to Am7. The note B is not part of the Am7 chord, but it sounds good because it implies an Am9 chord. In beat three we hit the minor third of Am9 (C), and move up to B again in the final note of bar one. This re-enforces the sound of the implied Am9.

  • The first note in bar two is a B flat, implying the D9 chord has been substituted for a D9#5 chord. The B flat is quickly resolved to the ninth (E) to release that tension. Holding a dissonant note for too long can often sound incorrect or unpleasant!

    The best place to use dissonance in a chord progression is the dominant chord. This is because the dominant is the least stable chord and naturally wants to resolve.

 "If you hit a wrong note, then make it right by what you play afterwards..."

         - Joe Pass

 

Phrase 2

 

Listen & Play

G Ionian Phrase 2 with dissonance

 

  • There is an A flat on bar 1 (beat 2), implying the substitute chord of AmMaj7. The note A flat is the major seventh.
  • On bar 2 (beat 1) we play an F natural to imply a D7#9. On the 'and' of beat 3, we repeat the F natural before resolving it to F sharp, in the form of a Note Enclosure.

 

Note Enclosure

As mentioned above, phrase 1 and 2 both utilize the note enclosure concept.

A note enclosure is a grouping of three tones, usually including a dissonant tone, that resolves to a tone between its two preceding tones.


Sounds confusing, so lets look at some basic examples in G Ionian:

 

Note Enclosure example 1

 

  • In bar 1, we enclose the note B between C and B flat. The chromatic tone B flat, is played on the up-beat, the 'and' of the pulse.
  • In bar 2, we enclose F natural between G and F sharp. Both examples fit perfectly over the Gmaj7 chord, because they resolve to the chord tones. Note that because the dissonant (chromatic) tones are on the up-beat, there is no chord substitution implied, but it does add flavor to a phrase.

 

This is the simplest form of note enclosure, using only a three fret range, making it easy to play without much thought.


Here is a handy trick for guitar that makes this type of note enclosure easy to use:

Anywhere a scale has two notes that are one fret apart, the lower tone can be enclosed by one fret above, and one fret below. So looking at bar one in the example, the notes B and C, of the G Ionian mode, are one fret apart. The lower tone B can then be enclosed between C (one fret above) and B flat (one fret below). The sequence of notes is then C, B flat, B.

Note Enclosure Exercise 1

The following exercise is good practice for this type of note enclosure, and unlocks its full potential. Practice groupings based on the two examples above, adding a 4th note, within the key signature, to the end of the note enclosure.

Here are some examples to get you started:

 

Note Enclosure Exercise Example

 

Practice ending on different notes of the scale, especially the chord tones of the progression. Also try playing the same groupings at other parts of the fretboard. As with the consonance exercise you will eventually be able to link these small groupings together to create some basic bebop phrases.


Here is a phrase exclusively using this type of note enclosure concept, over the G Ionian II V I progression:

Note enclosure 1 Riff example

 

 

Note Enclosure 2: Implying Substitute Chords

The following examples show another form of note enclosure that is used to imply substitute chords. The dissonant tone is played on the down-beat.

Take a look at the following groupings:

 

Note Enclosure type 2 groupings


  • Bars 3 and 4 are the same as bars 1 and 2, but played an octave higher in the A Dorian position.
  • Playing bar 1 over an Am7 chord implies the substitute chord of AmMaj7.
  • Bar 2, when played over an Am7 chord implies the substitute chord of Am7b5.

These implied substitutions create a very effective dissonance over the Am7. The groupings can be played starting on any down-beat, or for more variety, any up-beat. Playing them on an up-beat creates far less tension much like the previous forms of note enclosure.

The following phrase uses this form of note enclosure exclusively:

 

Note enclosure 2 example phrase

 

  • Bar 1 implies AmMaj7
  • Bar 2 implies D7#11 for two beats, followed by D7b9 for two beats.

Note Enclosure Combinations

Once you are comfortable with both types of note enclosure you'll have a huge improvisational vocabulary to play with.

Let's take a look at the note enclosure forms combined into a single phrase:

Note Enclosure Combination Phrase

 

  • The two note lead-in to bar 1 is our first form of note enclosure.
  • Bars 2 and 3 use the second form and you'll notice they are identical to the previous example above.
  • In bar 4 we play two more note enclosures based on the first form.

As you can hear, the combination of the forms can produce a much more diverse and interesting phrase!

 


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