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The Sixth Chord in Swing

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by Leon Grizzard, Oct 29, 2009.

  1. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

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    This topic comes up from time to time in Western Swing threads, including the current Western Swing arpeggios thread. I would like to hear from you knowledgeable Jazz historians. Western Swing bands played a wide range of tunes, including copying the arrangements of current popular tunes. The question is: what was the standard I chord played in the Swing era, non-Blues (mid 30s to mid 40s?)? Triad? Sixth chord? Not major seventh during that era?
     
  2. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Here's a weird thing about 6th chords. In classical music, a 6th chord is a first inversion triad, with the third in the bass. It is called a 6th chord because the distance from the bass note (the third) to the root is a 6th. This is actually a shorthand name. Its full name would be 6/3 (read as 6 above 3). The third is a third below the 5th. This comes from the notational shorthand method called figured bass. It is still used a lot in analysis. Back when I was a freshman, the term 6th chord really confused me because I was looking for the 6th above the root. Musical theory calls that an added 6th chord.
     
  3. strat a various

    strat a various Tele-Afflicted

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    Guitarists back then were prone to grab a 6th, probably because it doesn't clash with much. The old original sheet music I own from the 30s-40s have 6th notated occasionally, you don't see Maj7 very often.
    Listening to the records, though, the pianists were varying from Duke who'd be very likely to play a Major Triad, or just two notes of one, to Errol Garner who would get flowery sometimes and play Maj9ths, or James Johnson who got bluesy with some stride, and might lay a 13th down on th I chord. With the b7 down low, it won't clash with a 6th.
    When I get old-timey and play 4 to the bar on swing and bigband, I'm incline to use a 6th mostly, because that's what I've heard the most, but if there's no pianist, a 13th can sound driving, and still retain the character of the I chord that a straight 7th won't.
     
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  5. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

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    Very interesting. When I listen to early Western Swing, I don't think I hear the 6th, but a lot of the recordings are not that hot. I need to go back and listen to some tracks that I know are copied from Big Bands, like Honeysuckle Rose. How about stuff with a 2/4 feel? Any difference?
     
  6. jazztele

    jazztele Poster Extraordinaire

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    yeah, the sixth basically gives you more color than a major triad, but it doesn't have the (possibly) close interval a major seventh chord can have...it seems over time, basically, what was considered "dissonant" became more "acceptable." It was also necessary to make the I chord a little more complex, since the rest of the chords in the tune were likely hamonized to at least the seventh...a simple triad could sound out of place amid a bunch of more harmonically complex chords (not a rule, mind you)

    I still love me a 6th chord, especially with the 9th as well--the "beatles ending chord" as i call it. (6/9)
     
  7. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied

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    Separate worlds, eh? I took a couple music courses at Uni, just for the heck of it. I remember being given music, like 16 measures of a Beethoven piano sonata, to analyse, finally we had to take its harmony and write a new piece on top of it. Most people regurgitated another piano piece, but I had nothing to lose, so I'd write some finger picking and give myself the liberty to use substitutions and extended chords: 13b9 etc... then when everyone else took turns sitting at the piano to play their exercise, I'd pull out my acoustic guitar and start hammering on it. The instructor actually liked what I did!
     
  8. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied

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    What Beatles song ends with this coming out of nowhere?

    x4334x -slide-> x3223x? It's come to me...
     
  9. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    I think there's a story that George Martin tried to talk the Beatles out of ending She Loves You with a 6th chord. It sounded very square to him, but he couldn't talk them out of it.
     
  10. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    You have no idea how boring most assignments in theory are. Students are so afraid of breaking the rules that they will not change notes unless they absolutely have to. I'll bet your piece rocked.
     
  11. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied

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    I don't know about that! But the course actually helped me write fingerpicking stuff. I thought more about voice leading, thinking of having independent SATB and trying to sometimes move them contapuntally.
     
  12. jazztele

    jazztele Poster Extraordinaire

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    i've heard that too, which is funny, because that chord and the harmony notes they chose to sing over it are hip as hell.
     
  13. Chris S.

    Chris S. Asst. Admin Staff Member

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    I'm with strat a various, the 6th is a default major for me when playing Freddie Green style. And the "grab" form I use most (given here in G) is 3x243x. Hope it helps, CS
     
  14. Joe-Bob

    Joe-Bob Poster Extraordinaire

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    Chris has it. It's used a lot as a tonic chord. Also, when a major 7 chord lasts a couple of measures, it is often alternated with a 6 chord for interest; either as a bar of maj.7 and a bar of 6, or as half a bar of each going back and forth.
     
  15. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

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    All of the above.
    As for when it became 'standard practice' to use it as mentioned ...
    On the recordings I have, I can't distinctly hear it until the mid 40's. After that it's all over the place - guitar, piano, vibes ...
     
  16. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

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    I played some 6th chords instead of triads on Saturday and thought they sounded cool; a lot better with the band than by themselves. We play mostly 2/4, and I wasn't quite sure what to do off the cuff for alternating bass with this form, in A: 5x465x, and the truth is I've always had trouble grabbing that form, but anyway, live and learn. I think for a lot of walking bass line Western Swing, the triad is still the way to go, but I've opened my ears a little.
     
  17. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

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    Try the alternating bass with this voicing. It's a 6/9 voicing (kinda 'steely' - pedal, not Dan) ...

    ---------12---------------------------
    ---------12---------------------------
    ---------11---------------------------
    ---------11----------------------------
    ---------12------------12-------------
    ----------------12-------------12-----etc.

    I barre the 11th fret notes with my 1st finger. Play the high B and E with fingers 3 and 4. The A on the 5th string with your middle finger and use that finger to do the alt bass with the low E.

    Or this A6 ...

    ----X(5)----------
    ----7---------
    ----6-----------
    ----7-----7--------
    -------7------7---
    ----X------------

    Or this A6 ...

    ------X-----------
    -----10-------------
    -----11------------
    -----11-------------
    -----12-------12-----
    ----------12-------12--

    They don't always fit but you can get that 'root, 5th' alternating bass with these voicings.

    *You can also just use part of these voicings such as just the Rt., 3rd and 6th or Rt., 6th and 5th.
     
  18. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

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    I really don't know much about the history on this one. For starters, I need to go back and listen to my Bob Wills records. I think that the biggest reason that 6th chords are so heavily associated with western swing is because of the steel sound that is so pervasive in a lot of the classic recordings. I'm not saying that 6th chords aren't a player in early western swing rhythm guitar, because I haven't properly researched it. However, many guitarists in scaled down outfits (minimal instrumentation) often call upon the 6th chord for swing because it's the best default choice in getting "that sound".

    Really though, my opinion is that the best gauge is the melody itself. For instance, take an old traditional fiddle tune such as "Black and White Rag". The tune starts on the V, not the I, but the 6th is an integral interval over bars five and six of the V, and depending upon how the chords are voiced, also over bar #12 in the 16 bar form. The 6th also figures heavily within the melody over the I chord in bars 3,4,11,and 12. So it only makes sense that a 6th chord would be good underlying harmonic choice. That said, the b7 is also a player within the melody over the V, so maybe a 13th is in order. In any event, the 6th as melody interval over V chord is not present within bars one and two of the form.

    I'm a 6th junky. I especially like it for swing, blues, and rockabilly. That said, I've always treated it with kid gloves as to voicings, even with sparse instrumentation. The five and six string guitar voicings tend to get muddy in a heartbeat for my tastes if it's a 'rhythm' thing, and if there's a pianist on board, I choose even sparser voicings. Most guitarists are aware of the 'whole step down' relationship that exists guitaristically (shapes) between 6th and (dominant) 9th chords, but the beauty of playing these effectively is in working out the inversions (especially on string combinations of 4,3,and 2, and 3,2,and 1) - and including the passing tone chords that exist between the 6 and 9. It doesn't matter if you're playing blues, jazz, swing, Freddie Green four-on-the-floor, or whatever, this is a viable, and (in my opinion) essential comping technique.

    As noted earlier, one decision is whether or not to include a b7th, in which case, obviously one is playing a 13th chord. 6/9 chords are also a beast unto themselves. They're great for embellishments, and obviously are prime choices as ending chords for Beatles songs and rockabilly tunes. I've personally never played a "boom chick" rhythm with a 6/9 chord, but that only means that I haven't done so, not that it isn't a viable approach. The only tune that I currently employ alternating bass with a 6th chord is Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)", which of course is not a swing number.
     
  19. woodman

    woodman Doctor of Teleocity

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    me too. in the hopped up neo-western swing style i play, it's a staple — rarely do i hit the straight triad. it's almost always the 1-3-6 voicing. i get a lot of mileage out of dragging that back two frets for a ninth of the same chord (often heard in blues as well — think T-Bone Walker).

    but like Klasaine, i only hear it starting in the '40s ... possibly a swing era big-band influence.
     
  20. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied

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    I like that, & I like the major seventh version (and you can slide it both ways) but this sounds more jazzy than straight-ahead western swing:

    A9/6 --slide-> Amaj13: x04455 ---> x06677
    or
    A6 --slide-> Amaj13#11: x04655 ---> x06877
     
  21. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

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    I mentioned partial 9 and 6 chord inversions in my previous post. Here's an example in A on the top three strings, and the chord implications are 9,6,9,6, etc. And also as previously mentioned, I often move in half steps between the 9 and 6 shapes with some chicken grease, as passing chords.

    -0-2--3-5--7-9---12-14-
    -0-2--5-7--8-10--12-14-
    -0-2--4-6--9-11--12-14-
    ------------------------- > etc.
    -------------------------
    -------------------------

    If you have hands like Allan Holdsworth (I certainly don't), you can try a "piano 6th". Voicing, low to high: (1) - 3 - 5 - 6 - 1.

    By the way, I think this is the money groove chord in Madonna's "Like a Virgin"... that's a swing tune, right?!

    -5--
    -7--
    -9--
    -11-
    -(0)-
    -----

    So I have small hands, but I often use three string clusters of this sort on the D,G, and B string or G,B, and E string sets. You can also take the shapes and move them around as interesting passing chords. Again, top three strings -


    Spelling, low to high: 9 - 3 - 5:

    -12-
    -14-
    -16-
    ----
    ----
    ----

    Spelling, low to high: 1 - 9 - 11:

    -10-
    -12-
    -14-
    ----
    ----
    ----


    Right on. I often avoid the 5th in my little implied 6 chords. In sliding shapes around between the partial 6 and 9 chords, the 5th often shows up within the 9's.

    So many guys of my generation learned second hand about T-Bone Walker after apeing the bits on that live recording of "Stormy Monday Blues" by The Allman Brothers Band. Thankfully, Pat Boone's version of this tune with its watered down lyrics was less of an influence!
     
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