Sunday, 25 November 2018

Triadic systems

Here's something that I thought I'd post about triads for improvisation, after speaking several years ago - via the net - to David Valdez about triadic improvisation. I should point out that this is not my own idea (originally), this is something I learnt from John Ruocco way back in 1989. In fact there's a little bit of a back story behind how I came across this system. I remember I was introduced to John after seeing him play in the Travers jazz club, which no longer exists, by a good friend. My friend, Bernard Dossin, suggested I speak to John and ask for a few lessons. He kindly agreed an told me to come by the next morning. John used to stay at the club after gigs, so I met him the next day up in the kitchen of the club. He must have seen I was just a beginner, but after showing me a few basic patterns which we played through, he gave me a piece of paper with his triad ideas written out on. Naturally it meant nothing to me, but I copied it down anyway. I spent the next year or so showing it to various local jazz musicians who didn't see what it was, or how it could be used. After some time I did gradually start to see what it was, but had by that time lost interest in the whole thing.

It was only in the following years when saxophonist Walt Weisskopf published his book on triadic, or intervalic improvisation, that this became a really widely practised system. When I say 'widely practised' I mean that everyone had the book, or had a teacher that had studied with Jerry Bergonzi or Walt Weisskopf and C°. Anyone into John Coltrane will immediately know that he'd been using this system (as can be heard on many albums) and which he developed to become more and more densely sounding in his later years. John's (Ruocco) way of looking at it is almost mathematical, he leaves no stone unturned. If you think he didn't use some of the crazy sound combinations you'd be wrong. I have some bootleg recordings with him playing some of the more out combination stuff, which sound great!

Ruocco Triads by on Scribd

So, how does it work? Well, if you're a seasoned jazzer you'll need no explanation, but for anyone just starting I'll save you a lot of head scratching and explain the basics, you'll need to download the chart and look through it (naturally). I'm not going to go into detail about where to use all of them, but more what the principle is. Firstly, John has looked through all the possibilities of combing two triads, in any shape major, minor, diminished or augmented. If, when you put two triads together, there's one note the same, then he eliminates it. As an example C major and Db minor both have an 'E' in them, so they're out! After that John just looked at every one to see what colour it makes against another triad and then linked them to the chord sounds he liked, or could justify harmonically.

Triad Pair Examples by on Scribd

Above is an example of just one of the ideas. You'll notice I've taken a Dominant 7th chord (G in this case) and used the beginning few examples of Johns first column. The classic use of triads every musician knows is 1 over flat 7 - in this example that mean G over F. This equals chord tones: 1, 3, 5 over b7, 9, 11. Its followed by G (1) over  E augmented (6+) which = 1, 3, 5 over 13, b9, 11. Notice how he makes the 6 triad augmented, otherwise you'd have a repeated note, or two times a 'B' (G, B, D and E, G#, B). I then follow the Maj' column down using each example - stopping at the flat 5 just so the page isn't too long. After that it's pretty simple, if one follows through the example. 

On John's sheet he tries 1/major 7, but I've left this one out (although it does work), just so one can see the context. 

My example uses a dominant 7th chord, but in reality you could use any chord. As an example, on a F major chord, why not try A minor over B diminished = 3, 5, Maj 7 over #11, 13/6, Tonic. As you'll notice, the problem is there's just so many possibilities. But, if you look through them and try them out you'll soon see/hear which ones you like, or what type of dissonances you can handle over a chord progression. It's also important to remember to look at them in different ways, to be played in intervals, with approach tones, odd combinations of 3 notes against 4 notes (ex: G, B, D, + F, A, C, F), making them rhythmically interesting.  

I hope you have fun, and, if there's any questions, post them in the comments section below.   

Here's a few links to the excellent David Valdez's posts on the subject. You'll get plenty of good ideas here and here also.

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