Every morning, I spend about 20 minutes playing scales and arpeggios to warm up my fingers. Guitar is a little different from most instruments in that there are several ways to play any given scale. For example, on the piano, there is only one middle C. On the guitar, there are several middle C's sprinkled around the fretboard. Similarly, there are several different fingerings for a C major scale on the guitar, depending on where you start on the neck. I use 5 basic patterns to play any given scale. If I were to play all my scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys, I'd be worn out by the time I finished warming up, so I warm up in a different key every day, moving my way through the circle of 4ths. Today happened to be my "C" day. It'll be F tomorrow and B-flat the next day, etc.
I recently began to apply this "key of the day" concept to I Got Rhythm, by George and Ira Gershwin. The melody isn't the most fascinating string of notes you'll ever hear, but the chord changes are extremely important in the jazz world. There are many variations on "Rhythm changes," and there are several tunes based on Rhythm changes. (By the way, a new melody written over a set of chord changes to a previously written song is called a contrafaction. Now you know.)
Since I play my warm-ups in a different key every day, I've also begun playing I Got Rhythm in the key of the day. I'll play the melody, play the chord changes, outline the chord changes as arpeggios, and then improvise. When I began this little adventure, the key of the day was G-flat, so it got off to a slow start!
I'm already finding this to be a tremendously valuable exercise. My transposition skills are improving. The song is filled with ii7-V7 progressions to work through. Some keys force me to find licks in chord shapes in which I'm less than comfortable. Just as with scales and arpeggios, I plan on working through Rhythm changes for a long, long, long time.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.