Drone Chords : An approach towards chordal improvisation.
This lesson covers an concept I refer to as "drone chords". This relatively simple musical device works great as a tool to improvise with chord shapes and it will help you find new interesting voicings too. I'm referring to this as "drone" chords as an open string functions as a drone to supports your chordal improvisation.
The basic shapes.
The examples below are in the key of E major. I'm playing all chords on the A,D,G and B string starting on Amaj7 on the 12th fret and ascend all the way down. As you'll notice I'm playing a D#m7 instead of an D#m7b5. In this particular voicing there is no 5th so in this context this chord works fine. If I was playing a chord progression where a m7b5 chord would appear I would probably not replace it for a m7 chord though as it wouldn't function properly in that context, but more about that in an upcoming lesson soon.
Back to Drone chords.. In the following two examples you'll see that once you drop the root of each chord you'll end up having just two shapes to cover the chords of E major with. Once you are able to combine these "drone chords" or "chord segments" you'll find that these simple voicings enable you to create interesting chordal lines. The open string (this works with either the E or A string) functions as a drone and determines the actual root. Playing the "chord segments" over an E string you're basically playing a chordal melodic improv. over the I chord. Playing over the A string you're improvising over the IV chord.
When you remove the root from each individual chord these two shapes remain to play through the scale. You can related them to the original chord or simply memorize their position. These are the basic shapes we'll use for chordal improvisation over the open string or "drone note".
The theory behind it?
Well, sure you could name every individual chord you end up with in relation to the drone note, but the aim here is simply to come up with chord segments that are easy to memorize and offer an easy way to embellish your playing. In that sense simply consider this of a melodic/chordal tool which you can apply over the root of any given chord within the context of a scale.
In practice I find that this works particularly well with the low E and the A string and not so good with the D string as it's simply not low enough to my taste to function as a proper drone. However this doesn't mean you're limited to the key of E or A major. For example :
An A major chord can be the I or IV chord or even a V7 chord of a major key. As a minor chord it could be either the I chord of a natural minor scale, a II,III or VI chord of a major scale etc. Naturally all of this applies to any given E chord too. So you see even though this "drone chord" concept is based around having an open string as the root of your chord, there are plenty applications for it in various keys.
Droning with a fretted note !?
The general idea behind this is to come up with shapes that are easy to memorize derived from your familiar 7th chords, and use these for chordal improvisation over an open string. However the question arrises ; "how would this work if my root is not on an open string??" Well it would mean turning something simplified into something difficult, but admittedly it's a great and creative way to come up with new voicings too.
The following example is a 12 bar blues progression with the drone chord concept put into practice in very single bar ! In the final measure the drone chords are played over a fretted note, do you recognize the basic shapes?
Beyond the drone..
Evidently the above example has a little to much droning going on, but it's just to give you a good sense of how the concept can be put to practice..
In regards to this example, aside from the drone chords with fretted root (please note that I added some inversions, the D# in measure 9 is the 3rd of B7 and the C# in measure 10 is the 3rd of Amaj7) I've also added two new chord shapes in measure 11 and 12. These are derived from respectively the C#m9 and F#m9 and only work on the II and VI of the major scale.
I encourage you to experiment with all the above and be sure to transpose this concept to other keys that have any type of E or A chord in them.