Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chord tone soloing - I wish someone gave me this lesson!

On the journey that is guitar, there are certain observations you make over time.  Over these many years, and after learning how to play countless guitar solos, one thing above all else has become abundantly clear. Most soloists use chord tones during their solo.

What is chord tone soloing?
Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is using predominately the notes, that make up the chord you are playing over, in your solo to make melodies. So, if you are playing over a C Major chord: The notes in C Major are - C, E, G. Therefore, if you are soloing, what 3 notes on the neck do you think will likely always sound good?

You got it! C, E, & G!

For you advanced people you would probably say "Well that is just an arpeggio*?" To which I would respond "Yes it is!". I have always maintained, that for actual application, arpeggios are actually far more usable than scale forms to the beginning soloist. But that discussion is for another day!

So how do I use this?
OK, down to the nitty-gritty! Let's say you have the following chord progression:

|  C / / /  |  G / / /  |  Dmin / / /  |  C / / /  |

This progression is in the key of C, so theoretically any note of the C Major scale will work over this.

Here is the scale form for C Major. The darker circles form the scale pattern.



However, for this chord-tone approach; over the chord C you would want to stress the notes - C. E. G. For the chord G you may want to stress the notes - G, B, D. For the Dmin chord you would want to stress the notes - D, F, A. All these notes reside inside the C major scale. 

As the progression passes these notes of the scale should "light up" in your mind. These notes represent home-base for each chord if you will. They will always sound good for the beginning, or more importantly, the ending of your phrases. 

Here are the 3 chords in their "lit up" state. The coloured notes are your chord tones for each corresponding chord.




So why wouldn't I just save time and use the C Major scale for all 3?
Sure you can, that is one approach and it is MUCH easier. But herein lies the crux of why most  players don't learn this. It takes work to not only learn the scale form; but then learn how each chord within breaks out of the form. It is this "work" that is the gate between many, and the promised land of melody we all seek. If you can do yourself one favour, do this: stop looking for shortcuts! Face the work head-on and you will get there quicker. Take it from the KING of all shortcut lookers. Let me help save you the wasted time. Rant over : )

Consciously changing your notes, with the chords going by underneath, takes a lot of practice to get smooth at. But trust me, you will get better at it, once you begin approaching it this way. The first time you try, you will think "this is WAY too hard" and many will give up. But I urge you, for the good of your playing and for all those that will listen to you, forge onward. It WILL get easier with each passing session.

OK buddy, you got my interested ... now inspire me.
Honestly I could post many examples of famous players doing this for your listening pleasure... but I won't. I will do one better! One of my favourite all-time guitarists, is the masterful David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Known for his melodic singing-style solos.  Over the years, I have had many students eager to learn how to play the way he does. There is one element to David Gilmour's playing that many fail to recognize - he uses chord tones constantly. He is ALWAYS addressing the chords.

The following is an analysis of the first solo in Pink Floyd's classic song 'comfortably numb'. Take a look at how often David hits chord tones in this very cool solo. I have coded the chord tones in colour, with their corresponding chord above. I believe, he views each chord change as almost a key change... with minor pentatonic lines mixed in.

 


As you can see at a quick glance, there are more coloured notes than non-coloured. This demonstrates the power and melody that chord tones can bring your solos. Actually some of the non coloured notes are the 7th's! So if we extended out the chords by one more note almost all of them would be labeled. (Remember as you look at this, when you bend a note, it is now a new note regardless of the fret number - a full bend is the note 2 frets higher and a half bend in the note one fret higher. )

For an up close video of the both solos in the song, click here to see this post

Is it the only way to solo? Of course not. But it is certainly a skill all advanced guitarists have. As I said in my rant, there truly is no one-size-fits-all solution where music is concerned. Some players do all of this by ear. Many dont realize they are doing it... they just think that note sounds "cool" over that chord. OF COURSE IT DOES YOU FOOL! It is most likely part of that chord.

This approach is not genre specific. Rock, Jazz, Country, you name it. The chord types change but the principle of the approach remains the same. Do yourself a favour and get this skill in your pocket. You will be glad you did.

Then send me a cheque : )


* from wikipedia: In music, an arpeggio (plural arpeggi or arpeggios, or known as a broken chord) is Italian for broken chord where the notes are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously.

34 comments:

  1. If you think about how chords are all made up of intervals it all comes back full-circle, eh? :) I love how music works like that.

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  2. Absolutely Mark!

    The discovery that to create a diminished chord (for example) I just had to stack up minor 3rds was an epiphany. Can you say arps on the fly!!

    From there it really clicked for me that single note lines are really just like layering chords on top of other chords it changed everything about my approach.

    Music is a wonderful puzzle that inspires me every day.

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  3. Cheque sent ;-)

    JP

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  4. I HAVE BEEN THINKING IN TERMS OF "SOLOING IN THE CHORD" AND THE CROSS-OVER POINTS FROM ONE CHORD TO THE NEXT. IT IS DIFFICULT, BECAUSE YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE DOING, INSTEAD OF JUST STAYING IN ONE PARTICULAR SCALE SET TO SOLO. BOTH WORK, BUT THE FORMER IS MUCH MORE INTERESTING I THINK. NICE EXPLANATION.

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  5. Yes Terry for sure! I think the key is to spend the time with "soloing in the chord" until less thinking is required. First time I tried this I thought "holy hell this is impossible!" then with practice it becomes much easier. Not overnight but with time.

    Once you have the skill then you can let your ears off the leash. This is when the good stuff happens!

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  6. Awesome blog! Thank you for using comfortably numb as an example, it helped me see the light big time! I always thought the solo had to do with the Em Pent which it fits inside. I never listened to the chords! duh! Anyhow, while doing my own harmonic analysis of the song I tend to think the first solo Idea is from Dmajor, not A major as the text suggest. The use of the G not and the absense of a G# to nail down the A major sound, implicates D major as the solo's percieved key, at least to my ear. Makes sense also that he uses the D root over the D chord. Also this would leave the A as the 5th. the perfect destination, from a D chord, then back home for a nice resolve before heading over the the G/C sound. At least thats what my ears hear...

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  7. It says up there what is printed below. I agree, both of these ideas are fantastic. I just did a big bunch of diminished arpeggios flawlessly, and I always avoided diminished. That was just COOL

    The chord tone thing, I was hip to that , but never saw it as that way,,,, I program java, it makes me think of an object oriented kind of illustration of jazz improv. Yes, chord tone works in rock too, or any kind of music. Doesnt matter because those players don't use that approach, they do scales. Chord tone soloing is a jazz thing, because its hard to learn to do and get under your fingers.

    How would you best advise me to learn chord tone soloing ? The chalenges are remembering of the chords as they go by, and seeing the arpeggios of chord tones light up. Thats all there is to it. Not so easy.

    I would Really like to hear you comments, thanks for any insights like the ones quoted above, thats for Sure.

    Mr Theory not so Hot a Player -
    Orangeburg, South Carolina

    The discovery that to create a diminished chord (for example) I just had to stack up minor 3rds was an epiphany. Can you say arps on the fly!!

    From there it really clicked for me that single note lines are really just like layering chords on top of other chords it changed everything about my approach.

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    1. No it isn't easy at all! But with practice, like everything, it does get a LOT easier. Before we go into it I would say this is used in rock all the time - by the good players. Sure many of the average bands just use scales etc but the big boys are hip to this... I mean, ya kind of have to be! Otherwise you are just shooting darts.

      The best way to practice this is with a looper pedal, or band in a box, some device that allows you to program in some changes. Work on hitting each change dead on. Start with arpeggios, ascending and descending. When the chord changes you change your arp without stopping your pattern. So if you are descending on a Cmaj7 chord using eighth notes when the chord changes to say a D7 you should switch to the dominant arpeggio without missing one eighth note... Strive to make it seamless.

      This is going to be REALLY tricky at first but stay with it. Start in areas of the neck you really know. Then progress into areas you need some work on.

      You can start with quarter notes or even whole notes, just make sure you hit the change. When you get bored, pick some new chords and move on. Make this part of your daily routine and before long you will do this stuff automatically. It is OK that it sounds like an exercise for a bit. It HAS TO. Strive to make music with it, but be patient, it WILL come.

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  8. so where the change happens as you are going up or down the arpeggio is random ? could be going up or down , and not necessarily change directions on the change of chord ? like if you are going up Am and the change happens, just keep going up from where you are at from the next note in the new chord ?

    a pointer to a demo track somewhere would be awesome if you know of an example....sounds like thing Paul Gilbert would do.... But I know he said a while back he is just learning chord tone , all his stuff prior was scales. Plus by ear of course, preferably

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    1. You should try it many different ways.. But yes a GREAT way to practice this is to continue on up your pattern only altering the notes to fit the next chord. They key to it is learning the awareness. Be AWARE - intimately AWARE that the harmony has changed when the chord changed. You should address this shift... least that is what all the bigs do. Even if they don't realize they did. Chord tones just sound the best as resolve points.

      Gilbert uses chord tones all the time.. Just because it sounds like a single note line or scale doesn't mean those notes in his riff aren't chord tones.

      As i showed in the post, David Gilmour is a great example of this. Check out other Floyd tunes. Learn the solos then look at how many of them are chord tones. It is like 90%. He is not alone. This is a common common thing amongst pros.

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  9. Oh yeah, that's for sure. You pointed out, there is no other way almost, to sound good

    Gilbert and guys at his level are playing chord tone centered phrases all the time just by ear. Its no problem for him, without knowing how to conciusly pick certain tones.... he wrote where since he was from a rock background, that was never his approach, and was at that time getting that skill

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  10. Hi Jeremy, I'll be honest as possible, I always under midis from different authors as Stravinsky, The Beatles, etc. I try to do soloing with chord notes of two, three or four notes, I say, I do not understand because it sounds bad on such a score converted to midi with PhotoScore, score it was well written, I do not understand, maybe my VSTS are detuned, I use the nuendo VSTS, the a1, etc and others like b4 to Nanotron meltron or wathever, the only thing is the piano sounds good, you do not know why this happens the notes sound so bad?, my names is carlos



















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    1. Hey Carlos, glad to hear you read the post. Honestly I have no idea why you are having those types of issues. Sorry i wish i could assist more. If you are playing over a chord using notes that make up that same chord there is almost no way it can sound "out" ... it will be solidly "in" ... now "in" can be bland if you are always playing in a resolved state... The outside notes provide the spice. The "in" sounds moreso when placed beside a note that is OUT. But I suspect none of this has to do with your issue as you describe it. Sounds like a hardware/software thing... yuck!

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  11. So do I toss my theory of focusing on scales and replace it with focusing on chord tones and their respective 7ths. (PS thank you for an incredible post)

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    1. In a word Yes ... for a bit that is. Scales are important as they are the overall pool of notes you can work with. But depending on what chord of the key you are playing on, you strong points change. If you learn to think of a solo as a chord progression - and approach it as such replacing arpeggios and triads for scale notes. You soloing will have a much more purposeful sound. Like i said above. Listen to David Gilmour. He uses about 90% chord tones in his solos.

      There is no disadvantage to trying this approach for a while - but do it long enough to get past the early hurdles. It's tough at first. But does bear fruit as you get more familiar with the neck.

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  12. Tying chords to scales and then narrowing the focus to chord tones seems to really be a solid place to begin building playing chops.

    I'm going to burry myself in chord tones for the next few months. When I get comfortable with that I'll see about adding a few notes from the various appropriate scales.

    I'm looking forward to growing a set of chops. Thank you for the time and the insight. I'll be back.



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  13. I like this approach but the problem arises when chords that are not minor, major or 7th are played. For me. That's because I like to remember patterns over the whole fretboard, just like remembering aminor scale over the whole fretboard, it's easy to remember also the Amin(or any other minor key) chord notes over the whole fretboard, so it is also with major chords or 7th dominant chords. This saves me alot of thinking as I will see the pattern when the chord is played by the rhythm guitar. The problem arises when other types of chords are being played, that makes it necessary to remember tens of whole fretboard patterns and that's pretty difficult... Any tips on seeing the chord note patterns on the fretboard when one has to utilize other than minor, major or 7th arpeggios? If I start to think in terms of notes, not patterns I get stuck

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    1. as continuation, what notes one should use as passing notes when playing chord notes? Naturally it would be A minor if playing for example chord progression which has Am-F-G, but what when playing over a chord that doesn't fit the Amin scale, what would be right choice as passing notes(notes that aren't in the chord)?

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  14. Well, there are a couple ways you can handle those different chords. The most obvious is to determine the parent scale they came from and use that (focusing on chord tones of course). If the chord is an alteration in a true sense.. and the chord comes from a scale you aren't familiar with, then I typically either don't address the alteration note (b9, #5 etc) and just treat the chord by its primary triad type. OR if I want to stress that particular alteration I will figure out what that specific note is and work with it. In reality here we are talking about arpeggios... So if you say you know the Amin chord notes all over the neck solidly... Then we are only talking about adding one note to what you already know. Yes this will create you to do some additional shedding... But frankly, what doesn't! That's why the greats are the greats, they don't avoid the work (not implying you are).

    As far passing tones to add, the most common would be chromatic approach notes. Also pentatonic scale notes. Going further out would be modal scale notes. Another approach could be stacking triads on top of others. Over an Amin chord you could work with a C triad.. Or an E minor triad... There really are more options than not so the choice as to which needs to come from your ears and what sounds good to you.

    How much lifting and analysis of other people's solos do you do? This can be VERY enlightening. Lift a solo and after you do, go through every single note used and figure out where this note choice came from. Was it a chord tone? A scale tone? If you do this enough you will see your favourite player's style in a whole new light.

    The truth is the answer to your question lies in your 'CD collection'. Only you know what you like, so when you hear something that really moves you - lift and analyze. Everything you need to know lives here.

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    1. Thanks for your reply!

      I have another question on this:
      "As far passing tones to add, the most common would be chromatic approach notes. Also pentatonic scale notes. Going further out would be modal scale notes. Another approach could be stacking triads on top of others. Over an Amin chord you could work with a C triad.. Or an E minor triad... There really are more options than not so the choice as to which needs to come from your ears and what sounds good to you."

      I understand that we can use basically every note of chromatic scale in between chords but to make it more simple and easier to choose good notes I ask:

      If I were to play over Am-F#-Dm-B7-Em chord progression for example and using the modal approach for passing notes, would it be more traditional and acceptable to use separate scale for each chord(using corresponding minor, phrygian or dorian scale for the minor chords and major and mixolydian for the maj and 7 chord) or use Aminor scale for the Am, Dm and Em chords and B mixolydian scale for the B7 chord and F# major scale(or lydian) for the F# chord?

      I would see it kind of easy to think in terms of a base scale (Amin) and added scales for the chords that have notes outside the base scale ( f#major and B mixolydian) in this situation when looking for safest passing notes with the modal approach. Is this a common practice? Or do people use more the approach that for every chord a new scale is used?

      As an example on that, for the above chord progression one could choose for every minor chord between phrygian, dorian and minor scale, for the major between a lydian or major scale and for the dominant 7 a mixolydian scale to use for passing notes.

      It really isn't too difficult when thinking in terms of patterns, if I would think in terms of location of notes on fretboard my playing would be too much thinking with chord tone soloing.

      thanks I appreciate your advice

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    2. Short answer: yes

      Long answer: With a faster moving progression, or a different sound jazz players switch scales with every chord. Typically Dorian for minor, Mixo for dominant, Lydian for major type thing. So sure, that approach works. But if you really want to hear the harmony of the changes - for practice - use the chords arpeggios only for a bit. It is a killer mind workout and really plants in your head the sound and also the 'safe' notes or home bases if you will. If you can solo using these alone - comfortably - for a while. Then when you begin adding in these other colour tones you will own the progression.

      It's not easy, especially at first. It is REALLY hard for a while. But if you do this as part of your everyday noodling, before long it becomes easy as you start to really hear the progression in its entirety. Not just the roots either! The arpeggios allow you to hear each note clearly.

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    3. Thanks. I don't think it's too difficult to learn at least first soloing over chord progressions that have only basic minor, major and 7th dominant chords. For me at least, it's about eliminating as much of thinking as possible and knowing the arpeggios over complete fretboard patterns, this way starting slow is the only thing required as automatically with more playing the patterns become more easy to see and feel. Usually I play the chord tones by feeling through a "base scale" but knowing beforehand which tones are in the progression makes a very useful skill worth learning. Certainly I think a guitarist should try to learn both skills as soloing by feeling can be in many situations necessary. Thanks for your help, best regards!

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  15. Great post. Chord tone soloing is new to me, but I'd suggest checking out Govan Guthire's playing. Look for 'Bullet Blues' on you tube and you can really here the target notes in the first few bars when the chord changes in a simple blues progression

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    1. Thanks! Yes I am very aware of Guthrie, he is monstrous. He - like all the bigs - employ this technique all the time. Find a "great soloist" and you will find this technique. They all address every single chord that passes (if they can as tempo allows). Even if they don't know the theory behind what they are doing - they are still doing it because these notes simply sound the best.

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  16. This is a great read. I knew instinctively this is the way I would like to play and discovering that David Gilmour does this inspires me. You still recommend Jon Finn's book, or do you have updated resources?

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    1. Thanks! Jon Finn's book(s) are excellent. He is such a down to earth guy and his methods are clear and understandable. I'd recommend him to anyone.

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  17. A friend of mine just turned me on to this post. Very timely. I play rock and, in the past (for too many years), have stuck to pentatonic. I have a decent amount of speed, and I can visualize the pentatonic all over the keyboard. But that's about all I can do.

    OTOH, I just learned that very same solo from Comfortably Numb, and was struck with the obvious arpeggios. (I think there is an obvious one in "Time" if I recall).

    The problem, of course, is re-adjusting my fingers and visualizations for something I've never done before.

    So, any recommendations other than just plain old arpeggios for, say, a jam that is (primarily) just Am and G.

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  18. Hey Sholom!

    Glad to hear of the referral. Nice to know.

    This is not something that will come easy at first. I needed to work very diligently for a long time to get this into my arsenal and it is still an on-going work. But if you work at it regularly for a while, soon it will become pretty second nature. THIS is the point where the cool stuff starts coming out. At first it will all sounds pretty blah.

    Where I started was very simply as you describe. Set up a loop that features 2 or 3 basic chords. Work up and down the arpeggios changing ON the chord change. Keep doing it until your really own it. Then swap the chords for different ones. Do this over and over until your friends and family hate you. As I said, it will be awful for quite a while but trust me, forge on.

    The next step is to use a jazz fake book and work the more complex chords. There really is not end to it. Just keep ratcheting it up. If you spend just a couple short months focussing MOSTLY on this, when you come back to a simple rock diatonic tune, you will be shocked at how easy it becomes. THEN you can fly. You will really begin to hear the intervals better too. Plus your knowledge of the neck and chord library will expand as well.

    This was the single best drill I ever worked. Try it out and report back with how you did with it.

    Good luck!

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  19. Thanks, Jeremy. You're right -- especially the part "needed to work very diligently for a long time..." ;-)

    I started very simply. In a gig last night we had a song with a jam that had and extended (simple) Bm/A/Bm/A part, and I felt like my brain/fingers were just starting to get some interesting stuff coming out.

    (And I re-learned that this stuff is easier to plan out in a self-practice as opposed to doing it on the spot in front of an audience!)

    In any event, I added a few minor things that sounded nice.

    But, sheesh, that was for the simplest of progressions. So, yes, I can see that: (a) it will pay off, but, (b) it will take a lot of work.

    A long way to go, but now I see a direction.

    Thanks!

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  20. You did your shed stuff on a gig! Brave dude : )

    As I said, at first this seems really forced and hard, your lines can also sound rather bland for a while too. But what is also happening without your knowing, is that you are teaching your ears to hear these sounds. If you stay with it, eventually you won't even need to think about it any more... your ears will guide your hands to the tones and then you can truly play.

    BUT none of this will happen if you stop too early. Just stay the course for a bit and one day it will just be there. Awesome to hear your success story with it - even if it is just a moderate success at this point.

    Cheers!

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  21. I find it very interesting that you said "at first this seems really forced and hard" and that it might sound "rather bland for a while too."

    You're right. I thought I sounded a bit forced and bland, yet the guitarist to my right (who was the one who turned me onto this post) told me I sounded improved since the last gig. Who woulda thunk it?!

    So, yeah, I can see it's going to be hard. I only added a very little amount, and yet, I guess it was noticeable.

    I can see it'll be slow going, but I can also see that now I have a direction to go in.

    Thanks!

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  22. Awesome bro! Glad to hear you are obviously progressing.

    A good way to work on this is to grab a free iPhone app called ChordBot... or something similar. Where you can loop a few chords and see them as they go by. I set up loops all the time while relaxing around the house and just practice going through hitting the arps and scales for the chords. Find a way to quickly be able to set this up for yourself, perhaps a looper pedal as well (I do this a LOT). AS you advance with it move to a real book app with jazz progressions. It's really fun after a while almost like a game. But there is nothing light about it, this is a serious workout for your ears and knowledge of the fretboard.

    Just do it every day if you can as part of your practice sessions.

    Cheers!

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  23. Thanks for your post. Awesome!

    For a long time, I've gone from memorizing scale shapes, learning triads, 7th arpeggios, and intervals, learning licks, etc. Problem is, lack of focus has restricted my progress, I've concluded. I'd go down a road and then switch directions. Memorizing scale shapes has never felt right to me, because that alone is without context, and often leads to mechanical improvisation without an understanding of what's really going on. Funny how that's how most teachers seem to teach. "Learn your five patterns."

    The chord tone approach you suggest seems like a good place to start and then gradually add the other scale tones and passing tones, and to gradually use your ear to guide you.

    Learning the guitar these days can actually be overwhelming with so many resources now, like never before. Time to focus, start looping and looking for chord tones.

    Thanks.

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