Mike Kearney’s Suggesture 101 – Episode 3: Moving Chords

In more recent years, as we’ve progressed through the system, we’ve come across a paradox. When improvising with others musicians must be quite intuitive. They must use their musicality and their instinct to ‘feel’ what to play and how to play it. They must be quite reactive and sensitive to the music going on around them. However, when following the direction of a Suggestor, this intuition must be suspended. The players will have to trust that the Suggestor is performing with the same amount of intuition, instinct and sensitivity.

These two attitudes are hard to marry. If the ensemble has little faith in the Suggestor, the music will reflect it. On the flip side, if the group can read each other and play exciting, progressive music simply though intuition, the Suggestor’s job becomes minimal.

I think there is a balance between a player staying true to themselves and staying true to the suggestions. It’s not one group of people doing what a conductor says. Its everyone working together in their different roles towards a common goal – making good music. Hence, the idea of each signal or direction being a ‘suggestion’. As individuals or as a group, each suggestion can be taken or left, or interpreted, or approximated, or developed, or mistaken for better or worse. It doesn’t matter. Its the process that counts, and this relationship between the players.

It’s been said before, if you’re going to improvise badly, why not just play a great tune instead? There is a fair point to this. Improvisation skills need to be honed, practiced and executed well if the thing is going to be worth it. Just waving your hands about and creating a few hits and a few chord changes isn’t enough. The quality of the music needs to be weighed up against the effort of the process. One of the major benefits of improvisation verses composition is that, with Suggesture, there is much more scope to latch onto spontaneous ideas, develop them quicker and more effectively and have more fun. It’s always exciting performing without a prepared script but if the final product can rival a ready made piece, then that is certainly worth the risk.

moving chord 1

On a geeky note – When moving the major chord, we use the dominant scale or mixolydian mode. When moving the minor chord, we use the natural minor scale or Aeolian mode. The reason for this is that we think it sounds better. The flattened seventh in the major suits The Katet’s bluesy style of harmony. The flattened sixth in the minor always sounded better when using descending patterns.

However, all the scales are assignable. All a group has to do is agree which signal means which mode before playing. Any combination of fingers in the ‘scale’ hand can signify any number of keys/modes/scales, existing or made up. This means that the harmony of a moving chord is not fixed or limited. We just prefer to use the scales we do. Different groups will differ. People are like that.