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Playing "outside"

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Lesson written by Simeon Harris, textural guitarist.

One of the things that sets fusion players apart from rock players is their tendency to play "outside" - so I?ll give a brief explanation of what this actually means and give a couple of examples...

Playing "outside" does not involve chucking a bunch of random notes into a solo that aren't in key - try it - it sounds pretty crap!

Playing "outside" can be described as actually playing inside a different key to the one that the rhythm section is playing. This "inside-ness" is what gives the outside section of the solo musical sense.
So to play successfully "outside", you need to be able to play successfully "inside" - which means practicing over changes and being able to analyse chord/scale relationships so that you're using scales appropriate to the chords that you're playing over.

There are several ways to play outside - here are some of them (explanations below)...

  • Implying changes that aren't being played by the band.
  • Sidestepping.
  • Approach tones.
  • Sequences.
  • Tonal substitution.

Implying changes that aren't being played by the band:

John Scofield is the master of this style - check out Uberjam which is full of one chord vamps - because the band is grooving on one chord, you can easily hear when Scofield is moving in and out of the tonality.
For example - the band is grooving on an Am chord, so instead of just playing A Dorian, you can pretend that the band is actually playing Am and then playing C7b9 / F#7#9 / Bm7b5 / E7#9 - you play those changes, but the band just plays Am for those four bars. Your lines are "outside" Am, but follow a common III VI II V jazz chord sequence - a very strong sound that the listener can follow and that makes musical sense.
A simpler example would be to imply Valt / Im / Valt / Im etc, so play E7alt licks for one bar followed by Am licks for one bar.


A bit simpler this one - just move sideways for a bit, so if you're playing over Am, play Bbm licks for a bit, or Abm licks for a bit - as with all outside playing - be tasteful and always try to end on a chord tone - so finish your outside lick on an A, C, E or G note.

Approach tones:

This a a bebop technique - Scott Enderson and Holdsworth are good at this - approach chord tones with a note that's a semi-tone above or below your target note, so in Am, approach an E from Eb or F. These sound good if you play the approach note on a weak offbeat. They sound even better if you use lots and play really fast! A slightly more advanced version of this is "double chromaticism", where you play an approach tone, like Eb (going to E), but instead of playing E as your next note, you play another chord tone and then play the E.


Man, you could spend your entire life studying sequences...
There are basically two types - diatonic and non-diatonic.
Diatonic sequences involve playing a pattern of 3, 4 or 5 notes and then cycling that pattern through the parent scale - keeping all the notes within the scale (the intervals in the sequence will change to keep all the notes "in" - non-diatonic sequences step outside the parent scale by keeping the intervals in the sequence the same.
For example - the band is grooving on Am and you play C B G A you now have a choice and you decide to play a diatonic sequence moving through each note of A Dorian, so you follow that up with D C A B, E D B C, F# E C D etc etc (you're not stepping outside the scale of A Dorian).
In an alternate universe you decide to play a non-diatonic sequence that cycles all the first notes of the sequence through all the notes of an Am arpeggio, so you play C B G A, E Eb B C#, G F# D E, A Ab E F#.
The first notes of each group of four notes = C E G and A = Am arpeggio. If you wanted to sound more outside then the first sequence of notes could have contained outside notes and you could have cycled it through the arpeggio of an Em chord...
Or the first sequence could have contained notes from an E7 alt chord and you could have cycled it non-diatonically through the notes in an E diminished scale...
Hopefully you're beginning to see that this is a BIG topic!
One very effective way to use sequences is to move them chromatically - so shift a lick by semitones, tones or minor thirds, or even major thirds for a hip bebop sound. You're not implying another key by doing this, but the chromaticism forms the basis of your logic and the listener will pick up on it.

Tonal substitution:

Basically substitute the scale you're using for another one - The band continues to vamp on an Am (bless their cotton socks!) and you're happily using an A Dorian scale. But then you decide to use an Eb Dorian scale for 2 bars, you go back to A Dorian and then you play C Dorian for two bars (you've kept the same mode, but changed the root). You could play C# Lydian, C
Altered or B Locrian (changing key and mode) - almost anything, depends on what you like the sound of and how far "out" you want to go!
This technique can become too obvious if overused, so only dip into it once during a solo for maximum effect...

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