The Yinyang


Live Long and Prosper

 I have some daily practice rituals that revolve around scales, keys, chord voicings, and that sort of thing. I suppose what I need is for it to be done quickly, and then move on to other practices. Of course, if all you practice is scales and exercises you could be the kind of musician who sounds like everything he plays is scales and exercises, and can’t really play any music. On the other hand, Coltrane is reported to have spent a lot of time practicing scales. Maybe he got into it a little too deep with the sheets of sound, but it got him where he wanted to go. My teacher recommended that to play faster, rather than practice scales, it helps to practice trills. Even more boring, but he claims it works. You just try to work on trilling from one note to the other with the smoothest, most efficient finger movement. There are a lot of different views on the best way to practice, but what I am doing is just trying to get a little exercise going where I play the scales for 2 keys per day, so every week I have gone over all 12. I think that sometimes it takes me longer because as I go over the scales, I keep coming up with new ideas that I want to try out. But I strive to stay on track, and then maybe, when the exercise becomes so ingrained that I no longer am really learning anything, I will change it. Trying to add stuff to it but not make it so long and involved that it takes up all my practice time. 

In a previous post I spoke about how I formulated 5 scale patterns or positions for the guitar that all repeated the same pattern of what I called Yin, Yang and Skip:

     Yang  Yin  Skip

       X    X     X
       X          X
       X    X

I thought of these scale patterns myself though you can also find them in books. While studying jazz on the piano, they talked about using chords built from the melodic minor ascending scale, or the jazz minor scale. This was very confusing to me for a long time because the scale was just a major scale but with a minor instead of a major 3rd. For example, C Major but with an Eb instead of an E natural. On the piano you would shift the fingering to accommodate the change, but it was relatively easy. On the guitar, however, it really distorted the pattern and made for some awkward stretches. The way I dealt with the problem was to look at the scales as Lydian Flat 7 scales, which is the Jazz Minor scale, but starting on the 4th. That way, the pentatonic scale remained intact, and you only had to add a # 4 and a flat 7. F Lydian Flat 7 would therefore be like a C Major Scale, but with an Eb. This scale would also produce a half diminished chord beginning on the 6th degree of the scale, and an altered dominant on the 7th. The Lydian Flat 7 would be on the 4th, and the Tonic on the 1 would have a major 7th but a minor 3rd. This scale had a pattern of 5 note sequences but one of the sequences was what I call a Yin Yang, with both the Yin and the Yang present but overlapping:


This is kind of awkward, but you have two fingers together, then a gap in the middle, then the other two fingers are together. The pattern for these scales would therefore be Yang Yin Skip Yinyang Skip. This is like the Vulcan Salute that Mr. Spock would sometimes greet fellow Vulcans with. “Live long and prosper.” You can Spock it with one finger per note, or you can kind of slide into it, like Captain Kirk or Chekov might do it. Start on the Yin but slide into the Yang, though knowing Captain James Tiberius Kirk, he’d probably want to slide the Yang into the Yin. Kirk, out. As in the normal major scales, these five elements would always follow in the same order, then the first element would repeat on the high e string.

I can hear a student in the back, going “oooh, oooh,” like Gomer Pyle when Sargent Carter asked a question and he knew the answer. Got his hand raised. All right, I know what you are going to ask. You are going to say, is there such a thing as a Yangyin, and yes, it is theoretically possible, but really awkward. In a Yangyin there is a Yang on top overlapping the Yin, so there is a whole step, a half step, then a whole step. In a Yinyang you stretch your fingers the width of 5 frets, but in a Yangyin you have to cover 6 frets, because there are two gaps. Now, at the bottom of the neck, near the nut, this might just be a bridge too far, but closer to the bridge at the top of the neck, the frets are closer together, and all kinds of stretches are possible. Anyway, the Yangyin is theoretically, hypothetically, and physically possible, but it isn’t really practical and is unnecessary, so just forget about it for now.

Now, as far as scales go, if you want to use 1 finger per fret plus the open strings, you can really play any note within that range without shifting the position of your hand. This is the first position where the index finger covers the notes on the first fret. That is good to know. You can play a complete chromatic scale there. Now, most of the scales that do not use open strings still fall within that 4 frets per string, even if you have to shift a little bit here and there when moving from string to string. So, the Yinyang being a 5 fret stretch is kind of awkward, but you’ll get used to it.

In Jazz they use a chord progression that you’ll see over and over, and it is known as the ii V I. Or for those who Roman Numerals are all Greek to them, the 2 5 1. The two chords are a minor 7 chord built on the second degree of the major scale, the five is a dominant 7th chord built on five, and the one is a tonic major 7th chord on the one. In C that would be Dm7 G7 C^7. Now, one way to think of minor chords are as major chords with a lowered or minor third. But I found that the best way is to think of the relative minor of a major pentatonic scale. Like, A is the relative minor of C. The C pentatonic scale is C D E G A. 1 2 3 5 6. But the A minor 7 chord is A C E G. These are all the notes of C pentatonic except D, and D could be considered an 11th. Anyway, the 2 of the 2 5 1 change is D, not A. D is the relative minor of F. The subdominant chord built on 4. So, there is a relative minor for every major chord, and they are found a major 6th above or a minor third below. In C, the 2, 3, and 6 are the relative minor chords of the 4, 5, and 1, respectively.

This is for myself, mostly, in case it doesn’t make sense and seems like obfuscation or needless complication. I am just saying that for me it is very quick to think what minor 7th chord form to use if I think of the subdominant pentatonic.

I am using the idea of pentatonic scales in another way for the Blues and for Jazz. All right, without explaining it too much, but the reverse of relative minor scales is the scale that is a minor third above and a major sixth below. Like, the pentatonic scale you use for Blues in A is the C pentatonic scale. Then, there is a thing in Jazz where the ii% to V7alt is moving the scale, and often the chord voicing, up a minor third. For instance, the A Lydian b7 scale would form a C#%, then move that scale up a minor third and you get C Lydian b7 scale, that would give you an F#7alt chord. Any scale patterns you play on the first scale could be repeated verbatim transposed up a minor third on the second scale, and they would still fit.

Anyway, there are a lot of fascinating juxtapositions that occur with this minor third movement, in Classical Music with Relative Minor Scales, in Blues with the Blues scale being a minor third above the chords, and in the movement of the Jazz minor scale a minor third up when playing the minor 2 5 change. There is another one that also happens with the half step whole step scale used on dominant 7 b9 chords, or the whole step half step scale used on diminished chords. These scales are identical and symmetrical, but the only difference is if you start the pattern on the whole step or the half step. There are really only 3 of these 8 note scales, you would think of them in the context of the root of the diminished or dominant 7b9 chord they were played over. These scales alternate Yang, Yin, Yang, Yin, Yang, etc. And the pattern repeats every minor third. If you start on the D string with a Yang it works out very well. It goes right straight across, because the third interval between the G and B string cancels out the shift that would occur between strings. Now, say the pattern starts on the 5th fret of the D string. That would be on G. G A Bb, then on the G string C Db D#, on the B string E F# G, and on the E string A Bb C. Yang, Yin, Yang, Yin straight across. Now, if you start that scale on the 8th fret, or the 11th fret, or the 2nd fret, it will still be that same scale.

The minor third interval sure has a lot of applications and I will get back into the topic soon, but I have reached the saturation point and that’s all for now.

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