Adding Chords to Single Note Lines – Part 1

In this lesson I’ll discuss a few strategies for adding chords to your solo lines and give you some exercises and ideas to help you practice and figuring out how and when to add chords to your solo lines.

I’ve never really had any lessons on this and have sort of worked it out along the way while improvising so I had to look analyze this and try to remember how I worked on it to try to make some exercises and guidelines for learning this.

Why do we add chords to solos.

  1. To clarify the harmonic sound of a melody note by adding the sound of the chord it’s played over. It gives us the ability to play harmonically vague because we can make the notes sound like the extension of the chord.
  2. Add an extra layer that fills up spaces, so you can use the chords to clarify the harmony between the lines and also convey the groove that is being played under the solo.
  3. Give certain notes an accent within a melody by making them the top note of a chord.

How to practice

In this lesson I’ll be using an Am7 in the key of G major, what is also called A dorian and give you some exercises and ideas to help you practice adding chords and figuring out how and when to add chords to your solo lines.

When I was listening to how I place the chords I realized that for me the chords are mostly  at the end of lines because if they are at the beginning you probably have to mute them right away. If they are at the end of a line they can help reinforce the last note (and maybe the previous melody)

If you get used to knowing where the line you’re playing ends (the target note) then you’ll have an easier time being ready to put a chord under it. I already made a lesson on target notes that you can check out to get better at this.

THe first exercise is a demonstration of how you can put Am7 chords under the notes in A dorian around the 5th position. When you try to play like this you are probably better of not restricting yourself too rigidly to positions. I’ve started with the E on the D string, if you try to harmonize lower notes than that it might get too muddy.

Adding Chords to Single Note Lines - Part 1 - Ex 1

As you can see I us fewer notes the lower the melody this is also to get clear voicings since it can be difficult to get clarity with dense low voicings. The higher the melody is the more notes you can fit under it, but you should of course keep the voicings so easy to play that you can easily add them to the solo, so big stretches and huge voicings are often not too practical.

Another observation I made about my own playing is that I very often add the chord after the line has ended. This is probably for two reasons, it takes away the risk of the melody disappearing in the chord because the top note does not get enough emphasis. The other reason is that if you add the chord afterwards it gives a little more of the feeling that the chords are independent of the melody and therefore more polyhponic.

Adding Chords to Single Note Lines - Part 1 - Ex 2

When you start practicing you should probably just start in rubato and try to add a chord in the way it is done in example 2 at the end of the phrase. Then once that is starting to work try to play lines in a slow tempo and try to always add a chord at the end of the line.

Make sure to record yourself and check that the melody is clear when you start playing chords. The point is to use chords to empasize the solo line, not the other way around (in this lesson anyway…)

Solo Lines with chords

The first example is a fairly straight forward Am7 line. First an Am7 shell voicing as arpeggio and then an Em pentatonic descending scale fragment ending on the 13(F#) that is then harmonized as an Am7(13) chord. Here the chord on the last note makes the somewhat unclear extension clear as n Am7(13) chord and not a D7 or Gmaj7 resolution.

Adding Chords to Single Note Lines - Part 1 - Ex 3

In the 2nd example the chords are used more as accents, so they are there not only there to support the harmonic picture but also to add weight to some of the notes in the melody. The first movement is a scale run from D, via E to B where the first and the last note of the run is harmonized with an Am7(11) and Am9 respectibely. After that the line is resolved with another Am9 chord on the and of 4. This way of harmonizing the low 9 on an Am chord is something I find my self doing quite often.

Adding Chords to Single Note Lines - Part 1 - Ex 4

For the 3rd example I wanted to demonstrate a bit more of how you might add chords in a way that really emphasizes the 2 layes present in the solo. The first bar is quite straight forward. The A is harmonized with an Am triad and followed by a scale run down to the E which is harmonized as a major 3rd interval. In the 2nd bar I am using a part of the 2nd exercise to add chords right after the melody notes and then finally resolve to an Am7(11) chord on the and of 4.

Adding Chords to Single Note Lines - Part 1 - Ex 5

I hope that you can use the exercises and examples I made here to get started with using Adding chords to your solos. As always you will probably learn more from making you own lines than just copying mine, and you probably need to make your own versions of the voicing exercises too so that they fit the type of chords that you are used to working with.

Download a pdf of the examples for later study here:

Adding Chords to Single Note Lines – Part 1

I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.