Watch the Tension and Release online guitar lesson by Andy Timmons from Electric Expression
We're going to continue to use "Cry For You" as a springboard to talk about some other ideas and this concept is tension and release, this idea is everything about music. It's everything about life as well, when you think about everything melodically. If it's a chord tone, consider that home, but if it's not a chord tone, it's a tension tone and it's going to sound like it wants to go somewhere. "Cry For You" is the perfect example for this melodically because the melody is built on a tension tone set up over the D minor chord. If we study what that note actually is to the key and to the chord of D minor, it's the note E not a chord tone. It's the second scale degree, you might call it the ninth because the seventh is in the chord but it's the second scale degree. It's the E note and as we talked about before, there's that third of the chord, that's the note that really gives you the flavor of the chord, it gives you the emotion of that chord, so there's that tension. It wants to go somewhere it can resolve back down to the tonic note, the D. But that's where I release it right there on that F natural, which is the third of the D minor. The next chord is B flat major and that D is the third of the B flat so that's already home. Again, the reason I'm pointing this out is that the melody is going somewhere, it's not just static, there's a time and place for that as well. But music to me is emotional, it has direction, it has tension and release. This goes back to all the great classical composers that were the masters of this, from Bach to Beethoven. So, there's recommended listening but this is a much simpler form of it - that's the basic idea. If it's not a chord tone, it's going to be a tension tone, and it's going to want to go somewhere. So let's check out a couple of other tension tones. There's the ninth. It either wants to go up to a chord tone or down to a chord tone. That's as simple as that. So we just went up to that minor third. Now what if it had been the note G? Another good tension note, it's the fourth scale degree. So you've got root, second, third, fourth. If I were to land on that I want to hear it go to that A, the fifth or back down to that third, the F natural. If I'm thinking about going to that B flat major, keep thinking about that chord shape. I'm on a chord tone, that's the fifth.
Okay, we're going to use the backing track for "Cry For You" to demonstrate this idea of tension and release and again, the chords are just D minor to B flat major essentially. Although, there really is a seventh in the chord and maybe a major seventh I might allude to. But this is going to illustrate the tension and release, so at the beginning of each bar I'll start with a tension note, meaning a non-chord tone. But within that bar I'll resolve it to more of a static chord tone. So here's the track ,let's try it. Within that example I was just improvising , but it brought to light a couple of more things in this regard that I can talk about. Where I started with the melody, that will give you an idea of what that tension and release sounds like. But then I started really developing that same concept over the whole neck and over that D chord. There's that G note, it's a non-chord tone and I bent from that, the A to the C and there's the release, then when it goes to the B flat chord, I bent up to an E, which was the tension note on the D. But it's also a tension note on the B flat because it's a sharp 11, for those keeping track. It's that E natural on the B flat so when released it is a really nice resolution into the third. That's the D natural of the B flat or I could've bent up to the F, because that F is in the chord and if you think about it pentatonically, it is right there releasing to the tonic of the key. But again this happens to be the third, which is a really nice note on that B flat. That note F is a nice chord tone, not to say you need tension and release in every bar. Sometimes I'll start with a nice strong note, if I've had enough tension just prior to that particular segment, I'll decide that I just want to hear over that B flat chord, those are really strong notes. Still just a straight D minor pentatonic over that B flat major is really one of the most pleasing collections of notes, because it's got the fifth, the third, the ninth, and the major seventh. That's my favorite note on the whole chord in addition to the third. I'm hoping that gives you a little insight into that, the technique of tension and release. Again, everything in music is really based on that. So getting your ears tuned into that, and adding that to your repertoire can really help you make some great music. That's my hope for you.