Rhythm Changes – Part 2

This rhythm changes lesson is going to focus on making lines that clearly follow all the chords so that you can make some good lines that include all the colors of the different chords.

I’ll first go through a rhythm A section and then discuss which scales fit the turnaround and give you some exercises to help making lines on it. The last part of the lessons talks a bit how to make lines and contains an example A part solo.

Rhythm Changes and the Turnaround

In the first lesson I talked about simplifying the progression so that it was easier to make coherent melodies on the rhythm changes. You can check it out here: Rhythm Changes – Part 1.

In my experience one of the key elements of a good rhythm changes solo is the ability to make a solo that sometimes is very dense and follows all the harmony and at other times have more simple changes to create space and rest. If you check out older rhythm changes solos by Charlie Christian for example you’ll find that he mostly just plays melodies derived from Bb or Bb7. Charlie Parker is often going back and forth between the Bb F7 approach and using turnarounds with 4 chords like I will cover in this lesson.


The progression that I will work on is the turnaround found in bars 1-5 and 7-8 in example 1.

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 1

The turnaround has 4 chords: Bbmaj7, G7(b9), Cm7 and F7. In example 2-4 I’ve written out the scales for the chords in one position. It is important that you have the scales in the same position because it is otherwise going to be very difficult to create coherent melodies across several chords.

For the Bbmaj7 and Cm7 I am using Bb major:

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 2For the G7 I am using it as a dominant from the C harmonic minor scale (because it is resolving to Cm7)

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 3

On the F7 I am borrowing the dominant from Bb minor and playing Bb minor harmonic:

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 4

You should try to learn these scales and also learn them in diatonic 3rd, triads and 7th chords to get as good an overview as possible.

A few ideas for basic exercises

The first very basic exercise in example 5 is just going through the progression with the basic arpeggios. This is something you should aim to be able to do with any progression you have to solo over.

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 5

You can of course do a lot of other exercises with the progressions like connecting the scales so that you start playing the scale and then try to continue in the same direction whenever the chord (and scale) changes. You could do the same sort of exercise with arpeggios, or play through the progression with the arpeggios from the 3rd of each chord: Dm7, Bdim, Ebmaj7, A dim. etc

Target notes and melodic approach

When you try to make lines over a progression that moves as fast as this (it’s as difficult as Giant Steps in that respect)  it is important that you make lines that move towards the next chord. Mainly because this will give you the most logical line and also because when you have to play at fast tempos this keeps you ahead of what you are playing. Something that many people overlook as an important part of up tempo improvisations, in that way it is very similar to reading music.

I have already discussed target notes in other lessons and for a further look you can check out this lesson: Target Notes

The target notes I have chosen for this rhythm section A part are shown as intervals in example 6. The choice of target notes is a bit subjective, what I tried to do here was to choose them so that they are more or less unique to the chords in the turnaround. Another thing that I think is worth pointing out is that while it for the harmony is most important to have the 3rd and the 7th in the chord, it is melodically often stronger to resolve to the 3rd or the 5th. You can try to resolve to a 7th on a minor 7 and see if you really hear a resolution.

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 6

In the video I play throug the example using the intervals. WHne you practice making lines with the target notes then make sure that you are not playing too fast, so that you stay in control, but if you practice too slow you are likely to start playing triplets and double time and that is not useful when you speed it up to a tempo where you can’t play those sort of lines.

An example of a dense solo using target notes

In example 7 I have listed an 8 bar example of how a line might look using the target note technique and the scale I went through above.

Rhythm Changes - part 2 - ex 7

In the video I go over the contents of the example, in this article I am not going to go over it in too much detail as it is just using the material I already talked about. If something seems mysterious to you then feel free to ask!

As I mentioned earlier it is important to have a few approaches to move in between when playing rhythm changes, so just Bb major, Bb7 or Bb Blues, The Bbmaj7 F7 approach from part 1 and this approach of spelling out the changes very clearly. Only using one approach is probalby not going to be enough to keep it interesting.

If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here you can do so here:

Rhythm Changes – part 2

If you want to see a longer solo example then you can also check out the rhythm changes lesson in my WebStore. It is a 15 minute video that includes 2 full choruses of solo with explanation. It’s available for purchase here: http://jenslarsen.nl/product/rhythm-changes-solo-etude-1/ 

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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