A Look at Triad Pairs at Casa Valdez

Jazz saxophonist and blogger David Valdez has recently posted some thoughts about using triad pairs to select note choices for improvisation.  I’ve explored this a bit, using Walt Weiskopf’s book Intervalic Improvisation.  The basic idea is that instead of using a scale or chord arpeggio, you can improvise over two different triads that relate in a particular way to the chord.  For example, over a Cmaj7 chord you might use a C major triad and a D major triad.

This can produce some interesting sounds.  While stepwise motion between pitches can happen while switching between the different triads, there is a tendency to avoid them and the line has a more “angular” sound to it.  There is also a bitonal implication to the sound, even though all the tones played can be thought of as extensions of the 7th chord (D is the 9th, F# the raised 11th, and A the 13th).

The distinctive sound that this approach has is also its drawback.  It has a very obvious color to it that can get old pretty quickly, and I’ve found it can be hard to combine this with linear approaches in such a way to sound cohesive.  David Valdez, though, has come up with several suggestions.  He writes:

Here are some ways that I have found to make Triad Pairs sound less formulaic and more organic:

  • Play only two notes of a triad before switching to the second triad
  • Use two different  types of triads (Maj/Aug or Min/Dim)
  • Try using two notes of one triad and three notes of the second triad
  • Side-slip chromatically to a triad(s) a half-step above or below one (or both) triads
  • Stack the triads on top of each other to create uneven (chunky) vertical structures
  • Add a pentatonic scale to the mix so you are alternating between three different elements
  • Displace notes of the triads to create unusual spread structures (see exercise #2)
  • Add a third triad to the mix (example: Over C-7 use Eb Maj, F Maj and G Maj triads)
  • OR one of my favorite things to do- just start throwing some chromaticism into the mix

David has a downloadable PDF of his examples and more on this, and other jazz topics, at his blog.

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