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What are some (fusion-like) options to temporarily play outside over a major 7 chord? E.g. if I improvise over Am7 - Fmaj7 in A aeolian, what are some options to escape F lydian or such and sound temporarily off (for some runs)?

What are some common practices for such a chord progression?

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  • I thought playing the upper extensions - the 9th, 11th, and 13th, with #11 being favored - and side-stepping - shifting the pattern up a half up - were common ways to get "outside." But wait for an actual answer from a jazz player. May 4 '21 at 21:13
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    I would not consider 9th, 11th and 13th as outside here. Side-stepping is one way for sure, but what would be an option other than major penta-tonic side steps?
    – Marion
    May 4 '21 at 21:15
  • I was mixing up extensions, the way Charlie Parker talked about them, and "outside." I shouldn't lump them together. May 5 '21 at 13:35
  • @Marion Were you able to use the example patterns, and did that kind of approach make sense? This is really interesting stuff for me. I've watched interviews and tutorials about how different players think of playing outside, and sometimes I kind of haven't "accepted" what they are saying, because the things aren't explained in terms of traditional harmony. It didn't "make sense" the way I expected - but I've gradually started to get the hang of it, I just have to keep playing different patterns and different logic over things, and then I slowly build vocabulary and develop a taste for it. May 7 '21 at 10:15
  • I have been using patters such as the above. And they make sense to me. But, I still struggle understanding which scale to use (e.g. over Fmaj) to make a fast run in-out-in that is not sequential and chromatice. I mainly have in mind rock-jazz fusion sounds. Hard to explain without performing but e.g. you could Check Max Ostro when he makes fast "outside" runs.
    – Marion
    May 9 '21 at 9:12
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I'm no jazz player, but I've learned some tricks for laughs. This is only my own opinion, but the main idea is that what you play follows SOME LOGIC. There has to be a pattern, any pattern as long as it is a pattern that has an internal structure.

To sound "outside", the structure must try and divert from the logic that the backing track is following. Even though many people might describe playing "outside" as sounding random, that's not at all the case. The patterns must have a logic, and you have to be able to concentrate and follow the logic.

And you have to play with GOOD TECHNIQUE, GOOD TIMING and the rhythmic ideas have to be CLEAR. It cannot be fluffy or random.

In order for this to be somehow in control, you need to know WHAT you play at least on some level, so that you can REPRODUCE a similar thing later on. You don't necessarily have to be able to analyze all possible theoretical harmonic implications and interpretations of the notes, as long as you have some means for reasoning about what's happening in the background, and what you played in relation to it. For example, "I played a second inversion major triad a half-step above the tonic". If that's the way you look at notes.

Here are a few ideas that illustrate the concept of following a pattern. Don't care about the enharmonic spellings, they are not supposed to make sense.

Ideas for playing outside over Fmaj7 Am7

In addition to those, try playing e.g. pentatonic scales from other keys. Or layer existing melody snippets in other keys, for example offset by one semitone or three/six/nine semitones relative to the backing music.

For more ideas, check out for example George Garzone's Triadic Chromatic Approach. That's heavy stuff! I can't do it for more than a few seconds before feeling like my head is about to explode from concentrating too much.

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On keyboard? You're currently using 'all the white notes'. Try using 'all the black notes' instead.

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  • This is what my question is about. How to do it consistently. Not sure if playing a F# over the Fmaj7 chord would make sense...
    – Marion
    May 5 '21 at 5:50
  • I think the idea is the same as en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outside_(jazz), the part to add the other five tones of the chromatic scale to whatever diatonic scale matches the chord. May 5 '21 at 12:59
  • @Marion Well, if it made sense, it wouldn't be 'outside'! May 5 '21 at 15:58
  • @LaurencePayne I am not sure I agree. Harmonically makes no sense, but this is not what I mean. I think piiperi Reinstate Monica's answer contains this "logic".
    – Marion
    May 7 '21 at 9:58
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An example technique is to play a secondary dominant. E.g. in the progression you mention, when you're on Am for a brief moment switch to E7. Then you can also add alterations to the dominant. You can also try with other secondary functions or extended progressions as well.

A simple trick is to move everything you play by a semitone up, so from e.g. Am to Bb... as Bb is a tritone substitution of E this works as a secondary dominant.

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  • Hmm, I dont think that would work here since the dominant would give a very diatonic flavour. I think that to make it sound more "modal" in such a chord progression I should avoid any tritones.
    – Marion
    May 5 '21 at 5:50

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