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    Riff of the Week: So What by Miles Davis

    by Simon James

    The Riff of the Week is back! And this week features a Jazz Riff for the first time. In this study we will be looking at So What by Miles Davis from the Album Kind of Blue.

    This is one of the most well known examples of Modal Jazz, consisting of 16 bars on a D Dorian Mode, 8 Bars on an Eb Dorian Mode and then another 8 bars back on a D Dorian Mode. We can term this 32 bar form as A-A-B-A.

    Although originally played on the Double Bass by Paul Chambers So What has become a favourite of guitar players. Larry Carlton recorded a high tempo version on Last Nite and other versions have been done by Ronnie Jordan on the album At Last and George Benson to name but a few.

    So What A Section:

    The A section begins on a D played on the 5th string with your first finger. Then move to the 5th (A) on 4th string with your third finger before playing up the Dorian scale from B sliding up to C, then D and to an E before coming back to a C and finishing on a D. This Dorian run is punctuated with an E min 11 chord on the 3rd beat of the second bar and D min 11 midway through the 4th beat. I would suggest that these Min11s were a contribution of piano player Bill Evans to the composition as chords built up of intervals of 4ths such as these are a common element in his compositions and can be seen again on Flamenco Sketches from the same album. The entire run is to played with a Swing feel.

    The second time around (bars 3 and 4 of section A) the run begins in the same way but is completed with a rolle of the 3rd finger from a D to an A in bar 4. The third time around is a repeat of the first, before we complete the riff in bars 7 and 8 with a slide with your first finger into an E played 3 times as ¼ notes. There is one more rolle with the third finger from a D to an A to finish.

    The A section is to be played twice.

    So What B Section:

    The B section riff takes exactly the same shape as the A section. This time the entire riff and Minor 11 chords are moved up a semi tone to Eb.

    so what written by miles davis  

    So What is a great tune to practice improvising around a Dorian scale. As it all takes place over one chord at a time it is an excellent way to become familiar with the sound of this particular mode.

    The trick of this riff is to keep pace with where you are in the tune. I recommend that you record a chord vamp for the A section on Dm7 and the B section on Ebm7 and practice improvising over the top to get a good feel as it can be easy to get lost when your are learning it for the first few times.

    It is also a good tune to maximise your practice time by working on your transcription skills. The lead line played by Miles Davis on the original recording is simple and minimalist enough for any first time transcribers not to be too overwhelmed.

    For more good examples of Modal Jazz also check out the various recordings of Impressions. It was written by John Coltrane but there is another version by Wes Montgomery that feature the same progression as So What but with a different melody.


    Related Posts:

    1. Jazz Guitar Scales: The Dorian Mode

    2. Jazz Blues Licks

    3. Introduction to Jazz Blues

    4. Stormy Monday: How Jazz Influenced Blues