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Right Or Wrong?

Many of our students tell us the private Facebook Group is their favorite part of the Method. Here’s an edited excerpt from a question a member posted about why certain chords can sound “right or wrong”.

Q: In the section about Harmonized Scales, Paul said that you could use the same patterns over the 4 chord by just moving to the 4 chord position and playing the exact same pattern, but I’m thinking there are some intervals there that don’t sound correct. I understand that you can play them from the root position when the song goes to the 4, but at the 4 chord position things don’t always sound correct?

I totally understand how wrong things can sound. Musical genres can determine what sounds correct to our ears. The theory for how/why things work in any given application will vary per genre. Some opinions about “what sounds right” will always be debated because we subjectively train our ears to like what we listen to the most.

I work for a producer who will not allow the sound of a dominant 7th to be played over a 4 chord. It sounds wrong to him – and he is a monster musician. The producer would explain to anyone who questioned that decision with this answer: “The tonal center is the 1 chord and there is no b3 in the major scale” (the b3 of the 1 chord is the b7 of the 4 chord). He would say these are “simple three-note chord structures”, not Jazz or Blues. He did not want the chords to have much coloring.

My personal choice is to pour out all the crayons and color accordingly, using whatever applications I studied during my practice sessions. I listened to so much early Rock & Roll by Chuck Berry and the steel guitar of Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons that dominant 7ths sound normal to me played over a 4 chord. My ears accept them because of how they applied them.


Herbie Hancock tells a story about playing with Miles Davis where he played (what his ears told him) was a big chordal clam. Miles immediately played something against his clam chord that made it sound correct.

The Point: The correctness of everything we play depends on how its applied. Herbie’s story resonates with me because when I moved to Nashville I was so self-conscious, I never wanted to play anything that sounded wrong. I played every note and chord choice a bit safe back then. I knew how to play at the level of the other  players I admired, but I had to learn what kind of tension I liked and how to apply it on the gig. I needed more harmonic knowledge.

The players I admired who were trying to encourage me to step out of that “safe box” would always say things like “There are no wrong notes, just soft and hard notes” They would tell me the only way to learn how to use the harder, or more “wrong” sounding intervals, is to try to make them work in practice. They also said “It’s OK to avoid some choices” and the big one is “Never dismiss anything, because someday that door of possibility will also open”.


The truth is what you like I may not like. Both of our missions is to grab from all of the tool boxes. This is just one of many harmonic tool boxes. The concept that those chords can be applied is what I bank on. Granted some choices are much harder to make work in more basic structures and especially traditional country music. It’s up to each individual to find ways to apply the harmonic and interval options.

The key is to not linger too long when those wrong/hard sounding intervals poke their heads out. It’s also OK to train ourselves to avoid them completely. What I typically do is follow my ears at first. It was easy for my ears to like the sound of tension that a 5 chord creates over a 1, or the 2 chord over a 1, or a 4 chord over 1. Those sounds are heard throughout Country music. By knowing that those sounds are sweet, I can create phrases for solos by running through the harder sounding intervals as single notes using the diatonic approach.


Play these single notes as eighth notes over the 4 chord. These notes come from within the “G” diatonic structure. 

Key of G major, starting out of the “C” position then moving through the D /Em / F# diminished and back to “C”. These notes are from the G diatonic harmonies placed over the “C” major (4 Chord)

  • String 5 (fret 8)

  • String 5 (fret 10)

  • B&C pedals down (10th fret) strings 5 to 4 to 3

  • (fret 13) Raise E’s to F, pick strings 3 to 4 to 5  

  • 15th fret A&B pedals down pick strings 4 to 5 to 6

Try this during practice: take a single note that sounds wrong or out to you. Now force yourself to apply it until you find something that makes it sound right. You are the Miles Davis!

I would advise you to practice this concept before taking it to the stage. Create a few three-move chordal phrases at home and try them out on the gig. Try to find a lick that works, and the ears will come around.

– Paul Franklin

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