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  1. #1

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    In the book Pat Metheny - The ECM Years, it states Gary Burton gave Pat Metheny highly specific technical guidance including "not to utilize the third degree of the scale to excess".

    I haven't come across that advice before. Since the 3rd (& 7th) are the most important tones defining the type of chord, why would that be? Is it a general rule of thumb in the jazz world or just the way Burton approaches improvisation?

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by zdub
    In the book Pat Metheny - The ECM Years, it states Gary Burton gave Pat Metheny highly specific technical guidance including "not to utilize the third degree of the scale to excess".

    I haven't come across that advice before. Since the 3rd (& 7th) are the most important tones defining the type of chord, why would that be? Is it a general rule of thumb in the jazz world or just the way Burton approaches improvisation?
    I do not know how the exact advice sounded, but in general I believe in do not play (anything) in excess, and more general do not do anything in excess.

    Back to the music, in a jazz solo I would like listen a melody, then language, than surprises, and doing anything in excess probably do not lead any of those.

  4. #3

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    Improvisation as narrative was Burton’s thing. Perhaps excessive third degree interrupts the telling of the story.

  5. #4

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    Don't take anecdotes like this to heart... It's possible that Burton may have been hearing Pat (or other players) lean on the 3rd too much and thus gave the suggestion. This isn't really a "rule" per say.

  6. #5

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    Say you're playing a ii V and you emphasize the 3rd of the V chord. It will sound very consonant and might, depending on the line and the context, sound old fashioned. I think it's fair to say that it won't sound adventurous.

    I remember hearing Gary Burton at Newport in the 60s and, even then, he was playing a more modern sounding harmony, for want of a better way to describe it. I remember wondering what the harmony was, because it was unfamiliar. My guess is that Burton's advice had something to do with getting that sound.

  7. #6

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    I read an interview with Pat Metheny where he says he builds most of his lines from the 3rd of the chord. So he obviously didn’t take much notice of Gary Burton’s advice.

  8. #7

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    Same story with Bill Frisell. He said that when he learned about avoid notes, he would, instead, emphasize them. That made him sound modern.

    In Herbie Hancock’s masterclass he tells the story about Miles telling him to stop playing the “butter notes”. He interpreted it as playing without the shell notes 3-7. Though Miles might have said something entirely different, (don’t play the bottom notes...) Hancock goes on to show what a song sounds like when voicing and improvising without 3rds and 7ths. Pretty out there. Sounds like... Hancock and Shorter.

    Reminds me of Upper Structures (246 of the scale), which sounds modern too.

    Oh yeah, before I forget, Herbie talks about harmonizing a minor scale. He does that with a Major triad starting on the major third of the minor chord. I can’t, but he can! So: Cm harmonized with Emaj triad.

    though it’s way beyond my skill level, the Hancock Master Class is really something. He explains too little of course and, even in his most simple playing, he goes way out, but what an inspiration.

    Anyway, in Bergonzi’s first book, Inside Improvisation, the third 4-note cell is 23#46 for maj and 2456 for minor. Even though it is perfectly in the scale it sounds way out.

  9. #8

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    Didn’t know Burton’s advice but that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Here’s my take on it:



    in general 3rds and 7ths aren’t always the most important notes of chords, and even where they are (in dominants) it is stylish to not always play them.

    because these notes on dominants have such a strong resolving tendency in tonal music they can sound a bit too obvious. So it’s cooler not to play them perhaps using a sus sound instead, and this sort of thing has a long history going back to Louis and Lester Young, Charlie Christian and into Wes...

    OTOH playing the third all the time on the tonic function chords can just be a bit obvious. Resolving instead to the 9 or the 7 is a good way to get out of this. You can also think of the related triad on the V, such as G/C for a Cmaj7 or Cm(maj7) chord. Actually very bop.

    Furthermore, if you want to resolve to, say, the 7 on a I chord, it makes for a stronger cadence not to play the 3 on the dominant. Use instead #9 or sus4 on V.

    Another way of looking at this is it is often good simply to ignore some of the changes in favour of melody. Secondary doms etc can be ignored and this has much the same effect.

    Heres another one. Barry Harris suggests not always playing the third of the V on a minor II-V-I



    his reasons were more to do with the applicability of bop language on the dominant chord to different situations.

    As always: check out the records... only noobs play all the changes it seems...
    Last edited by christianm77; 08-22-2020 at 06:12 AM.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Djang
    Same story with Bill Frisell. He said that when he learned about avoid notes, he would, instead, emphasize them. That made him sound modern.

    In Herbie Hancock’s masterclass he tells the story about Miles telling him to stop playing the “butter notes”. He interpreted it as playing without the shell notes 3-7. Though Miles might have said something entirely different, (don’t play the bottom notes...) Hancock goes on to show what a song sounds like when voicing and improvising without 3rds and 7ths. Pretty out there. Sounds like... Hancock and Shorter.

    Reminds me of Upper Structures (246 of the scale), which sounds modern too.

    Oh yeah, before I forget, Herbie talks about harmonizing a minor scale. He does that with a Major triad starting on the major third of the minor chord. I can’t, but he can! So: Cm harmonized with Emaj triad.

    though it’s way beyond my skill level, the Hancock Master Class is really something. He explains too little of course and, even in his most simple playing, he goes way out, but what an inspiration.

    Anyway, in Bergonzi’s first book, Inside Improvisation, the third 4-note cell is 23#46 for maj and 2456 for minor. Even though it is perfectly in the scale it sounds way out.
    is that the Herbie thing on the MasterClass app?

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    I read an interview with Pat Metheny where he says he builds most of his lines from the 3rd of the chord. So he obviously didn’t take much notice of Gary Burton’s advice.
    Yeah, and if you transcribe his lines... filled with basic triads. The man loves his 1-3-5

  12. #11

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    My solos suck, and the only thing which can make them even worst is trying to apply rules, like chord tones or thirds and sevenths... (and alcohol) :-)

  13. #12

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    If you don't use thirds you are like playing over sus chords, and you can play almost whatever you want over those chords.

  14. #13

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    You can play whatever you want over a dominant anyway... the trick is knowing how to resolve...

  15. #14

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    Tension and release,...

  16. #15

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    I don't really know the context of the discussion but one of the first things that jazz improvisors learn to avoid is starting on the root too much, which sounds really obvious and ... square?

    So....... they're advised to start from the 3rd. Then they get stuck on that just like it's the new root, which winds up sounding obvious again.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    is that the Herbie thing on the MasterClass app?
    oh yeah. Impossible to “understand”, but blows me away every time.

  18. #17

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    Understanding is overrated

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by powersurge
    Yeah, and if you transcribe his lines... filled with basic triads. The man loves his 1-3-5
    so true. maybe one of the most triadic players in jazz.

  20. #19

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    3rd is important harmonic note... when you play solo there is probably a comping behind it.
    So maybe the ides is 'Dont' play much what's already there...'

    It is the same as in classical 'avoid doubling 3rds'

    Mayby this advice could be about that?

    Ofc ourse, any rule of this kind is very general... you can use whatever if you know the character/colour/ meaning it will bring.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonah
    3rd is important harmonic note... when you play solo there is probably a comping behind it.
    So maybe the ides is 'Dont' play much what's already there...'

    It is the same as in classical 'avoid doubling 3rds'

    Mayby this advice could be about that?

    Ofc ourse, any rule of this kind is very general... you can use whatever if you know the character/colour/ meaning it will bring.
    No, I don't think so.

    You can always play the 3rd if you want. It's more that I think in jazz you want to avoid too much of an overt feeling of functional tonality as you are locked into a preexisting set of chords. It's one way of creating more variety over a set harmonic sequence, for instance by avoiding the highly functional leading tone and reserving for use as an extension of tonic function chords. Obviously, all the various chord subs introduce variety one way or another, and this may involve not playing the third - for instance the common practice of subbing a chord a fifth higher than the original.

    Another way would be to use an overt melodic cadence to the root except where that has a structural function, for instance the end of series of phrases that constitute the equivalent of a sentence or paragraph (listen to Bird.)

    Jazz theory often talks about pitch sets without making distinctions between the role of the pitches within the set in terms of melodic syntax; for instance the notes of a triad, pentatonic scale or a melodic minor mode are seen by theory as interchangeable. This is not in fact the case in terms of the music, and Burton's advice reflects this deeper understanding. This is something that usually has to be internalised on an intuitive level through listening and playing (and bandstand feedback), so it's no surprise there isn't much theory about it.

  22. #21

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    (The other thing is good improvisors know when to 'nail' every chord, and when not to. You can see practices such s generalising and embellishing progressions to create clusters of harmonic detail and areas of more relaxed melodicism. In terms of secondary dominants in functional tunes, that often means not playing the thirds.)

    Of course Burton wasn't playing functional tunes at this point...

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    No, I don't think so.

    Jazz theory often talks about pitch sets without making distinctions between the role of the pitches within the set in terms of melodic syntax; for instance the notes of a triad, pentatonic scale or a melodic minor mode are seen by theory as interchangeable. This is not in fact the case in terms of the music, and Burton's advice reflects this deeper understanding. This is something that usually has to be internalised on an intuitive level through listening and playing (and bandstand feedback), so it's no surprise there isn't much theory about it.
    Maybe of course... I thought also that my explanation is .. well too classical...
    Jazz player (and Burton maybe especially) would thing of 3rd rather in relative to the scale than in harmonic sense that I pointed out...

    it was just a guess.


    I also say sometimes that playing jazz line is often much about skills how to postpone and avoid chord tones gracefully and with meaning....
    and 3rd is especialy strong in that case.
    Appogiatura/embelishment that becomes rather a substential part of the language than just and ornament...

  24. #23

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    Well it's like a lot of things

    - you spend a lot of time copying soloists and then you get told off for being derivative and to find your own voice
    - you learn to play every chord change and get told your playing is 'too correct' and to loosen up
    - you are told to hear everything you play, and then you learn its OK to play somethings you don't hear
    - Vaughan Williams could compose scores out of his head - Ravel told him to write at the piano
    - you learn to play on the 3rds and then get told not to

    and so on

    Learning to do the first thing is important, so that you can then unlearn that and get away from it...

  25. #24

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    If you play it as a minor 3rd rather than a major 3rd it's going to have more of a Blues sound which can sound more hip in some cases

  26. #25

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    Have some context, if you think of the music Pat was playing with Gary, it makes perfect sense.

    Nobody said Gary said "and do this for the rest of your life."