Fun With Six-Tone Minor Scales!

When October finally rolls around, I usually make a bunch of jams and loose compositions with minor modes and scales. This year I’m going to go into a little more in depth about why this is so cool, and why removing notes or scale resources actually gives you more freedom to improvise and compose intelligent melodies around a simple, repeating chord progression.

In this case our chord progression is mostly Em – D – Em – D — except the end which usually goes Em-Bm – Em (or Em-B5 – Em, which just means that you have no 3rd in your Bm chord: just a Root and 5th – for instance when you do a barre chord on the 5th fret). So the chord pattern is very hypnotic and easy to remember if you play it over a few times. To create more interest and “directionality” I usually move these chords with a descending bass line:

|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-B5 |Em |

or:|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-Bm/D |Em |

If you’re not familiar with these “slash chords” — it is a great system of showing a chord progression AND a bass line at the same time. Its not hard to understand this system if you can get a few things solidly implanted in your brain:

  1. If you see a chord with no slash, like the first two measures: these chords are in “root position” as the bass note is the root or name of the chord.
  2. If you see a chord with a slash and a note after the slash, like Em/B: this means “play an E minor chord with B in the bass”

So to read the descending bass line then, you would just say to yourself: “E down to D down to B, down to A, then G down to F#, and E up to B (1st fret middle string) — and finishing on low E” — or in fret numbers mostly on the bass string:

|–8–|–7–|–5–|–4–|–3–|–2–|–1-0–|–1–:||

This one uses the second progression with the Bm/D instead of the B5 chord.

If you have a keyboard instrument like a piano, organ, or synth, why not try this out and see if you can come up with some ideas. (NOTE: I have no piano chops at all….I barely got through keyboard harmony class before I entered Ohio State as a music major. But keyboard work always gives me another window into what might happen on the dulcimer or the guitar, and besides, if you have a piano handy, your left hand can play such nice low bass notes!!!)

In 2017, I did some lessons at Patreon on this stuff, and for the November lessons I will soon add some new melodic ideas, and even some basic two-part counterpoint for the Intermediate level.

Here are the pdf files from 2017:

Thanks for reading and trying stuff!

E minor Hexatonic Jam-A-Round

I think this 6-tone or hexatonic Em – D Jam-A-Round is the most fun of all so far!! The Jam-A-Round idea is very simple: over a repeating chord progression, often using a descending scale, we just plug in parts where the 8-bar progressions begin. You never know how parts interact until you try, so if you have a playing partner with another dulcimer, you are in for a fun time! With a room full of dulcimers and a little imagination, there could be some amazing music!!

ThisĀ EminorJAR1 is the first melodic sketch around these chords:

Em / / / | D / / / | Em / / / | D / / / | Em / / / | D / / / | Em / Bm / | Em / / / :||

There are basically three parts here: part one is measure 1 – 8, part two is measure 9 – 16, and part three is measure 17 – 24. If you do it as a traditional round, you can play all 24 bars as written, with 2nd and 3rd players coming in on measures 9 and 17. The most fun, though, is where you assign one player to part one, one player to part two, and one to part three. With a little playful messing around, each part can vary according to each players’ ability and imagination. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have one or two of these parts just repeating without variation, because this will act as a great anchor for the more daring improvisers!

Measure 24 is an incomplete measure: I have beat 4 wide open for you, in case you want to put in those high B or E pickup notes into variations of part three from measures 17 through 24. Have FUN!!!

Hexatonic Scale with Em and D Triads

I found a very interesting way to build a hexatonic (or 6-tone) scale using just two adjacent triads, with no overlapping notes or common tones. Here is the diagram of the six tones from low to high, and a diagram showing how the two triads are complementary and how they are interlocked:

Diagram of D and Em Triads complementing each other to form a hexatonic scale
Diagram of D and Em Triads complementing each other to form a hexatonic scale

The dulcimer TAB below the notes is for DAD tuning, and the important thing here is to see the 7 – 5 – 4 of the D, and then the 8 – 6 – 5 of the Em. Each triad adds three essential ingredients to the hexatonic scale: there is no overlap. I’ve been using this scale referenced to Em as the tonic chord, so we have: the notes E (Root) – F# (2) – G (b3) – A (4) – B (5) – D (b7).

So for the great round Hey, Ho, Nobody Home–which does an endless cycle of Em / D / –this scale works wonders going consecutively down or up, and in many patterns that can be sequenced over the repeating chords.