Target Notes

A target note is a note that you play in your improvisation when the chord is changing so that the change in the harmony is clear in the melody that you’re improvising. So it’s a way to link your solo to the harmony under it, because you play harmonically clear notes on strong beats of the bar.

Another important aspect of this approach is that It will help having a natural flow in your solo because you are thinking ahead of the harmony and playing towards something instead of trying to keep up with it after it has changed, which is a more important part of playing over changes than a lot of people think.

I already talked a bit about target notes in my lesson on playing over changes with arpeggios. But I thought it deserved a lesson by itself.

Selelcting Target notes

I’ll demonstrate this on a turnaround with altered dominants, because it is easy to make it clear, but it will of course work on all progressions.

Here’s the turnaround:

Target Notes - example 1

I’ll just quickly demonstrate the scales I’ll use:

Target Notes - example 2Target Notes - example 3Target Notes - example 4


Important priorities:

  • It has to be an important note in the chord, but try to avoid the root. Color of the chord is important so 3rd, 5th and on an altered dominant for example the b5 will be clear.
  • Pick a note that was not in the previous chord and maybe not even in the previous scale, that simply makes it very clear.

If we compare the scale on the Fmaj7 to the D altered scale we’ll find that three notes are in D7alt and NOT in F Major: Eb F# Ab, so they would be good candidates for clear target notes.

In a similar way we can come up with this set of target notes for the turnaround:

Target Notes - example 5

You’ll notice that since the root for several reasons does not work to well as a target note we are free to have D as a target note on the Gm7.

Playing towards a target note

The way to improvise or compose lines within this approach is to always compose a line that moves to the next target note. So here are a few examples of moving from one note to the next. The strongest melody across the barline is a step wise movement so a whole or half step.

Target Notes - example 6

And here is a more realistic example where I play twice through the turnaround with the target notes I chose in the beginning.

Target Notes - example 7


Download a pdf of the examples: Target Notes

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.