William Flynn

Guitarist | Composer | Educator

Be Like Mike (Part 1)

I've gotten several emails regarding two blog posts I used to have on my website that examine the playing of Mike Moreno. When I restructured my approach to this blog, I took these posts down for two reasons: 1) Because they were way more in-depth and analytical than the sort of posts I wanted to have on my new blog, and 2) Because, to be quite honest, I didn't really think anyone out there saw them or cared about them (aside from my nerdy musician friends on Facebook). So, after getting several emails asking where they went, I decided to re-upload them. Here is the first one:

originally posted in March of 2012

Last month, around the time EPSN was celebrating Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday with a series of specials, I happened to be in a phase of transcribing a lot of Mike Moreno. So in honor of this coincidence, and with the tune from this old commercial ringing in my ears, I decided to devote a series of blog posts to musical discoveries and insights gained through the time I spent listening to, notating, and playing Moreno’s musical ideas. The solos that will be discussed in this series of posts are a combination of studio recordings and bootleg videos taken from YouTube. They are as follows:

Airegin: as featured on Moreno’s 2011 album First In Mind (PDF)

All the Things You Are: as played live with Aaron Parks (PDF | video)

All the Things You Are: as played live with Julian Lage (PDF | video)

All the Things You Are: as played live in Paris (PDF | video)

Isotope: as featured on Moreno’s 2008 album Third Wish (PDF)

Out of Nowhere: as played live with Julian Lage (PDF | video)

Woody ‘n’ You (transcription includes left hand notation): as played live at the 55 Bar (PDF | video)

So without further ado, I will begin this series by discussing an intervallic idea used by Moreno so often that it warrants a post of its own. On paper, it is simple enough idea—a major third followed by a perfect fifth. However, in the commanding hands of Moreno, the idea is played so many times and applied in so many different ways that it takes on a life of its own, and becomes immediately recognizable as a significant structure within the framework of his intervallic vocabulary. I will begin by discussing the idea’s construction, followed by an analysis of Moreno’s application of it, and will conclude with several ideas for implementing the idea in your own playing.

Example 1 illustrates the intervallic idea. As stated, the idea is a fairly simple one to play.

However, the most important aspect of the idea is now what is played, but how it is played. It is immediately recognizable that the idea is the arpeggiation of a major 7th chord omitting the 5th. Therefore, it would make sense that playing the idea can be approached any number of ways, just as playing a major 7th chord can be approached any number of ways on the guitar. However, every time Moreno plays the idea, he does so in the same tactile way (one of the benefits of transcribing from YouTube videos is that left hand fingerings can be examined). Thus, rather than approaching this idea in a linear way, as three notes of a major 7th arpeggio, Moreno approaches it in a harmonic way, as three notes of a major 7th voicing. The fingering he uses—illustrated in Example 2—is shown on all string-sets, and will be a familiar one to jazz guitarists, as it is a commonly-used major 7th chord voicing (the fingering on the second string set will look most familiar).

So how does Moreno apply this shape? First of all, although the idea is an arpeggiated major 7th chord voicing, he doesn’t only apply the shape to major 7th chords. When placed in a different harmonic context, the Cmaj7 voicing illustrated above can function in a variety of different ways. For example, if we were to arpeggiate this voicing over an Am7, it would give us the b3, 5, and b7 of Am7. If we were to arpeggiate it over a D7, it would give us the b7, 9, and 13. Over an F#m7(b5) it would give us the b5, b7, and 11. Over an Fmaj7 it would give us the 5, 7 and #11.

This concept of the shape’s changing function is an important one governing Moreno’s use of it. He most often uses the shape as an “idea starter” by contextualizing the shape over a given harmony as a means of beginning phrases. The following contextualizations are used by Moreno. They are listed from most common to least common, including the chord tones that the contextualizations highlight.

  1. Shape started on Root of maj7th chord (root, 3, 7) – utilized 7 times

  2. Started on b7th of 7th chord (b7, 9, 13) – utilized 7 times

  3. Started on b3rd of min7th chord (b3, 5, 9) – utilized 6 times

  4. Started on b5th of m7(b5) chord (b5, b7, 11) – utilized 6 times

  5. Started on 3rd of altered dominant 7th (3, #5, #9) – utilized 3 times

  6. Started on 5th of maj7th chord (5, 7, #11) – utilized 1 time

  7. Started on b9 of altered dominant 7th (b9, sus4, root) – utilized 1 time

  8. Started on b9 of m7(b5) (b9, 11, root) – utilized 1 time

Examples 3-10 illustrate specific instances of these eight types of contextualization from Moreno’s solos.


A second way that Moreno implements the major 7th shape is by planing the idea over a ii-V7 or ii-V7-I progression. He does this by transposing the idea to different parts of the chords, thus using the same intervallic idea to navigate through the progression. This creates a sense of both chromatic interest and logical coherence. Two instances of this are illustrated in Examples 11 and 12.


In both these examples, Moreno builds the shape off the b3 of the ii chord and 3 of the V7 chord. In Example 13, we see Moreno building the shape off the b5 of the iim7(b5) chord, 3 of the V7 chord, and root of the I chord. Additionally in Example 13, Moreno implements a slight anticipation to the V7 chord and extreme anticipation to the I chord. The symmetrical nature of this string of ideas (due to their identical interval structure) allows for such an extreme anticipation to be detectable and effective.

A third way Moreno implements the major 7th shape idea is by using it as a means of voiceleading. We can observe a fairly straightforward instance of this in Example 14.


Moreno begins the line by playing the major 7th shape off the b7 over the B7 chord, which contains the b7, 9, and 13 of the chord. The C natural that is played directly after ascending through the shape produces the effect of moving from a B13 to a B13(b9). Moreno sustains this C natural for the duration of bar and into the next, where it becomes the #5 of the E7 chord. After briefly escaping up to an F#, Moreno continues the chromatically descending line by resolving to a B natural, the 5th of E7. In doing this, Moreno shows he does not simply approach the major 7th chord idea as a static and rigid shape. Rather, he sees it as an idea that can be chromatically mutated over the course of a chord progression in order to melodically convey principles of voiceleading.

In Example 15, we find a more complex instance of Moreno using the major 7th shape as a means of voiceleading.

What makes this example more complex than Example 14 is the multiple layers of voiceleading that can be interpreted in it (indicated below the staff). The top layer of voiceleading can be seen by following the top note of the major 7th shape. Although the top note is technically not within the shape, it can be considered part of the overall structure when viewed as the upper octave of the structure’s root. The first two notes of this layer are the Ab’s which are played across the F-7 and Bb-7 and articulate a 3-7 resolution. In the third bar, the Ab is resolved to a G as Moreno transitions from an Ab major 7th shape to a G major 7th shape. This articulates a 7-3 resolution. The second layer of voiceleading can be seen by following the second line from the bottom of the shapes, and is indicated by the middle line below the staff. The C natural played in this line between the first two measures creates a 5-9 resolution between the F-7 and Bb-7. When Moreno begins to make the transition to the G major shape in the third bar, the C is lowered to a B natural, which articulates a 9-#5 resolution between the Bb-7 and Eb7 chords. When Moreno returns to a partial Ab shape in the fourth bar, the line is raised from the #5 of Eb7 to the 3rd of Ab.

The third layer in the example can be interpreted as delayed voiceleading. The chords in parentheses above measures three and four indicate this delay in the ii-V7 progression. The reason I contend it is possible to interpret a delay in the progression is due to the manner in which Moreno transitions from a an Ab major 7th shape to a G major 7th shape. As stated above, the Ab shape functions equally well over the F-7 and Bb-7 chords. The G shape functions well over a dominant chord (as eliciting an altered sound), and is a shape I have proven Moreno to use effectively in that context. Thus, the Ab to G movement that occurs over the course of the example can be seen as movement from subdominant to dominant. The shape that is played on beats 2-4 of the third measure is a hybrid of the two shapes—it begins on an Ab, but transitions to a G shape after the initial note. I feel this hybrid shape can be seen as a transition point between the Ab and G shape, and consequently, a transition point between the subdominant and dominant sounds. In other words, I contend it is possible to interpret Moreno as still on Bb-7 in measure three, and finally resolving to Eb7 in the second half of measure four. Thus, a 7-3 resolution occurs as the bottom layer of voiceleading in the example. Now obviously, the bottom layer of voiceleading is only valid if interpreted in light of a delayed resolution occurring, and the top two layers of voiceleading are only valid if interpreted in light of a delayed resolution not occurring. Although this may come across as slightly confusing, it is a reason why I feel this example is such a complex and intricate instance of Moreno using the major 7th shape as a means of articulating voiceleading.

Thus, in this first installment of my “Be Like Mike” series, we have gotten acquainted with a versatile and effective little idea in Moreno’s tool-kit. Hopefully these examples and ideas will spur some musical exploration of your own.