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Apr 29, 2022

Context is key. In music, the key gives you your context.

How cool is that?

I get asked to make videos about riffing frequently. While I’m happy to do them, I have to arbitrarily choose a context for the video. If, for example, I did a video with a bunch of smoking blues riffs, those would probably not be terribly useful in a pop music format, where petatonic scales are almost always used. Sure there can be a solitary blue note thrown in from time to time, but it’s largely diatonic.

If we want to riff, it helps to look at the context from the standpoint of the vibe of the tune, and also the harmonic underpinnings of the music.

If you’re singing jazz standards, you are almost certainly going to be singing in a modal context. Jazz frequently has many ii (two) V (five) I (one) chord changes. Understanding how a two five one works, the modality of it, and when they are used to change keys will inform your riffs.

If, on the other hand, you’re singing a pop tune, then learning something about how petatonic scales work would be advantageous indeed. The major pentatonic is a subset of the major scale. In other words, take your major scale and leave out the fourth note and seventh note, and you have your pentatonic scale.

Minor pentatonic scales work the same way as relative minors do, but it gives us a different shaped scale as we’re taking it from the C major pentatonic. It remains, however, the same five notes from the major pentatonic, just played from the sixth scale degree (relative to the major key).

Why get into the weeds on this? Because in the details of our chord changes and scales that we use to define them, we find our voices and melodies. It’s in the details of those changes that we find the notes and phrases that we find interesting, or enticing. Phrases that we may then choose to use in our riffing that would set us apart from other artists whose ears favour other colours.

RVC members check your podcast feed for an exclusive two five one melody practice!

If you have questions about this, or other singing topics, post them in the community so I can answer them!

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