How To Use Grace Notes

Spectral analysis of two diverging tonesImage via Wikipedia

Are you familiar with grace notes, or crushed notes? Do you use them in your piano playing? Nothing gets your sound more soulful quicker than throwing in some grace notes. Grace notes are notes that a played very briefly and often very softly before the "main" note is played.

Grace notes sound good because they introduce an element of notes that do not fall into the scale you are using. It brings a bit more emotion to your sound -- sometimes playfulness, sometimes sadness.

Like everything else in music, it's not a matter of throwing in any old chromatic note. Let me give you three principles for using grace notes that I learned:

1) Blues Grace Notes - if you are working in the major scale (or in the minor scale as well, I suppose, though I haven't worked that out yet) identify your major scale, then identify the minor blues scale of that same key. Like this:

C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
C minor blues: C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb, C

Now, you don't have to pay in the minor blues scale per se (indeed, many major scale songs won't "allow" it), but you want to "borrow" notes from this second scale strategically.

You can apply this in your right hand soloing. Next time you're doing a run up the major scale, introduce some of the blues minor scale notes, very briefly, as grace notes.

Example. Instead of playing:

F, G, A, B


F, G, A, (Bb), B [Bb is your grace note]

You can also apply it to your chords. Instead of just playing

G - B - D [G major]


G - (Bb slide into) B - D

Practice doing it very lightly and subtly for a nice soul feel. But why does this work, besides the fact that you are borrowing from the blues scale? Well...

2) Minors into Majors - The basic idea is that just about any major chord can be made to sound soulful by sliding from its minor to its major in a split second. Works on piano, works even better on guitar.

Some examples:

C major = C, (Eb into) E, G
F major = F, (Ab into) A, C
G major = G, (Bb into) B, D

3) Tension and Release - Tension and Release is a major concept in writing lead parts. It is the process of building up a bit of tension via dissonance and then release that tension by creating consonance. In other words...

in the chord of C major (C-E-G) in your left hand with an F in your right hand
would be considered a dissonance, because although F falls into the C major scale, it is not part of the chord. However, slide that F up to G and now that G is consonant. Congratulations -- you've just created a tension and release.

Now, we can use this as another principle for grace noting. Instead of going straight into your intended note, touch on a dissonant, yet diatonic, note on the first beat then glide into your intended note. That should create a lovely bit of sweet emotion.

Some more applications of grace notes:

a) use it to create lovely 7th chords. Can't decide whether you want to use a bluesy dominant seventh or a jazzy major seventh? Use both! Crush the dominant into the major like this:

C-E-G-(Bb into) B

furthermore this relatively "open" voicing sounds pretty sophisticated, even "Burt Bacharach-ish."

b) create phat bass lines in a piano roll.

c) relearn your major scales with blues grace notes thrown in to enhance your soloing.

* Related Posts:

* Urban Pro600

Beef up your playing drastically by adding these small
little grace notes, slides, and fill-ins to your chord
transitions. Jon utilizes this trick at least 80% of the
time and he spills the beans on exactly what to do to "own"

Clip from GospelKeys Urban... How To Use Grace Notes


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