One of the best ways to approach soloing over changing harmony and to have melody lines that flow naturally from one chord to the next is to use target notes. In this lesson I am going to go over how you can use target notes when you are improvising over a II V I in the key of C major.
Using target notes in your solos is to choose a note in advance and then try to play a melody towards that note. This way of constructing lines is very useful because if you have that in your system you will always play melodies that are moving towards something and not sound like you are trying out how notes sound or that melodies are moving at random. By choosing target notes that are related to the chords it is also a very powerful way to really spell out the chords.
The first thing I will go over is the II V I progression and the scale and arpeggios we need to make lines and find the target notes. Then I will go over 3 examples on how to make lines using target notes.
The Chords, The Key and the Target notes
The examples in this lesson will all be on a II V I in the key of C major as shown in example 1.
The II V I is of course a progression in the key of C major and all the chords are diatonic to C major, so it makes sense to connect this progression to a C major scale:
Since we are trying to set some target notes that will help us clearly spell out the harmony in the solos it is best to start with the notes of the chord, which are of course the arpeggios. For each of the chords we can play the arpeggio in this position as shown in example 3:
You should notice that I chose not to start each arpeggio on the root, but try to keep the arpeggios in the same range. In this case that means that the G7 arpeggio has a D as a lowest note.
Choosing Target Notes
For the examples in this lesson we are going to use target notes that we play on beat one of each bar. This is when the chord changes and also a heavy beat that makes it easy to really convey the sound of the new chord.
To choose target notes for the progression we have to take into consideration what notes are more important for the color of the chord and what these notes will imply. In general the root note is not too strong as we are playing a melody that is supposed to yield a chord sound on top of a root note, therefore I have left out the root as target for the whole progression.
The 7th on the Dm7 is a C which is the root of the key, and a melody with that will easily start to sound like a I V I progression instead of a II V I progression, so I left that out. This leaves us with the 3rd and the 5th on Dm7.
On the G7 the 7th is a really strong part of the sound so here we can target that note as wel as the 3rd and 5th note.
On the tonic (Cmaj7) the 3rd and the 5th are good options, the 7th can easily sound like you don’t resolve at all which can be fine and could be one of the first extensions you should add later but for now I will stick with the 3rd and 5th.
I realize that most people learn that in jazz the sound of the chord is contained in the 3rd and the 7th, but this is actually more the case when playing chords. It is not as strong when playing melodies, here the 5th is a more stable and clear choice.
One very good strategy when starting out is to play towards a target note that was not a chord tone in the previous chord. In that way you can play towards a note that will clearly spell out the chord change. In the examples I do this using the 3rd(B) on G7 which is not a chord tone in Dm7.
If you get used to playing with these target notes you get good at playing very clear lines that are well connected to the harmony and you can start to check out using extensions and alterations as target notes to really bring out the sound of that note in this context.
Making lines with Target notes
In example one the target notes I used over the chords are the 5th over Dm7, and the 3rd over G7 and Cmaj7.
In some ways it is hard to really call the first note on the Dm7 a target note since there is no line played towards it.
The first part of the Dm7 line is an F major triad played in a sequence. From the high F on be three the line descends down the scale to resolve to the 3rd(B) of the G7. On the G7 it starts with a B dim triad and then makes a small scale run via the 9th to resolve the 3rd(E) of C.
When making the lines it is important to have a clear direction to the target note and in the beginning it is also useful to move to the target note in a stepwise manner, as I do when moving from C to B (Dm7-G7).
The 2nd example is starting with a Dm7 arpeggio inversion over the Dm7 and then a descending Am pentatonic scale run. The C and the A nicely encircle the 3rd of G7 which is the target of the G7. The G7 line could be seen as a melody made with a G7 arpeggio with an added diatonic passing note E (on the 2&). The 2nd half of the bar is used to encircle and point towards the E that it resolves to on the Cmaj7.
In the final example I am starting with a line that is beginning as a Dm7 arpeggio excerpt and then continuing as a descending scale run. It resolves to the D target note on G7. The G 7 line is first a G major triad and then a small scale pattern from F that resolves to the 5th(G) on C.
How to practice using target notes
The target note approach is a very strong principle when composing and later improvising lines. It is also something you can train first by playing rubato, for example slowly making lines from Dm7 to a target note on G7. Then try to compose (or improvise in rubato) on the whole II V I before moving to a slow tempo and by that time you already should have it in your system for the most part.
Taking the Target note strategy further
If you want to check out some more material on Turnarounds and target notes then you can also check out this webstore lesson where I am using that approach on the Rhythm Changes.
If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.
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