Tag Archives: block chords

Block Chords – The Ultimate Jazz Guitar Challenge

In this lesson, I am showing you how to use Block Chords on the guitar by breaking down an arrangement of the melody to Solar.

Playing Block Chords is quite demanding on guitar but at the same time Chord Solos, and Block Chord Harmony is a big part of the Jazz Guitar Tradition. There are countless great Block chord solos by Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Joe Pass. It is in some ways the highest level of putting chords to a melody.

I made The Chord Melody arrangement using some of the core principles in harmonizing melodies with block chords. This also links a bit to the Barry Harris 6th diminished scale system, though that system has a lot of other aspects as well.

Harmonizing the melody – Simple Rules

It is really quite simple:

The core principle that I am using for this harmonizing is that I am splitting the melody up in notes that are chord tones and notes that are leading notes.

You harmonize The Chord tones with voicings that are for the chord itself. The leading or passing notes you can harmonize with a chord that can resolve to the chord itself.

Block Chords for the first line

For the first chord The melody notes are C, B, D and G.

You can harmonize C and G with Cm6 voicings. B and D are harmonized with G7 or in this case rootless G7(b9) chords, also known as B dim chords.

The final note in the 2nd Cm bar is an A leading up to Gm7. I harmonized that as a leading note to a Gm7 chord using F#dim.

The Gm7 and C7 melodies are harmonized in the same way. Alternating between Gm7 and F#dim voicings. The first note on C7 is played as a C7sus4, which is really a Gm7/C. This is because that works really well with having a preceding F#dim voicing. Later in the bar, I resolve the sus4 to C7(b9).

Making Exercises for the different chords

You can create exercises for each chord alternating the chord with a diminished chord belonging to the dominant of the chord. I wrote This out here below for Cm6:

You can also check out some of the similar exercise I use in this lesson:

Best exercise for jazz guitar chord solos!

Taking the Passing note strategy a little further

I am using the same approach to harmonize the Fmaj7 line. Here the melody notes are A, G#(or Ab), Bb and C.

The A and C I harmonize with Fmaj7 voicings. For the low C, I am using an Am triad because a four-note Drop2 is a bit heavy.

The Bb is again the dim chord associated with C7(b9: E dim. The Ab is harmonized with a C7alt voicing. The Ab is a chromatic leading note and there are many ways that you can harmonize it, but in this case I find that the C7alt sounds better than for example an Emaj7.

The Fm7 Bb7 bars are harmonized exactly like the Gm7 C7 so I am not going to break that down.

Faster melodies and other strategies

For the last four bars of the melody I am using another more practical strategy.

When the melody starts moving in 8th notes it becomes very difficult to change chord for each note. This is not impossible, but not easy and also tends to sound a little too busy.

Instead I am using a static chord and move the melody on top of that.

In this case, the entire chord is 3 notes, so the static part is just two notes. If you listen to Bill Evans you will hear him do this quite often as well. On Piano that is playing a melody with the right hand and a chord in the left hand. His recording of Beautiful Love has a long section of the solo like this.

For the Ebmaj the underlying chord is the 5th and 3rd of the chord. That is also what I use on the Dø. The Ebm7 Ab7 bar has the 7th and 3rd as the static part of the chord.

Download the Solar Chord Melody Arrangement

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Up Your Chord Melody with some solo improvisation skills!

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Best exercise for jazz guitar chord solos!

Chord solos have been a part of the Jazz Guitar skill set since the 50’s  and 60’s when players like Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery used it in their music. A Chord solo is a harmonized melody line, so you don’t only improvise a melody, you also harmonize it by adding chords to it.

This might seem a little scary to start working on, but if what you want to work on is harmonising melodies. One of the simplest melodies you can harmonize is a scale, so in this lesson I will take an F major scale and show you how you can harmonize it with both some chords and some progressions.

This material I will also put to use in some chord solo licks that I have written over a turnaround in F.

The Scale

The scale that I am using for the exercises is this segment from the F major scale. It is on the top two strings because then it is easier to put a chord under it. In the exercises I might choose to move notes between the strings depending on the chords and voicings.

Right hand technique

For me it is easier to play the chords with enough control if I use my fingers on my right hand. You can of course do this with a pick or with your thumb. Just make sure that the melody is clear when you play. It is quite common for students to focus only on the chord and forget that it is actually a melody with some chords under it.

The first exercises – Harmonizing the scale with one chord

To start with we can take the F major scale and harmonize it with an Fmaj7 chord. That is shown here below in example 1

Notice that I often use the same chord for several melody notes. This is purely to make it practical and easy to play. Another point of interest is the Bb. This note does not sound good over an Fmaj7, so I harmonize it with a Gm7. You can do several things in terms of choosing chords or even just changing the Bb to a B and play a Fmaj7(#11). What you end up doing is a question of the context and your taste.

In example 2 I harmonize the same scale with a Gm7 chord.

Here again I am using the same “chord” over several notes. The difficult  note is in this case an E. I opted for a Gm13 voicing, but you could also use a C major triad or Am7 passing chord.

You probably want to work out your own versions of these exercises for a few of the chords in F major, so I, II, IV, V, VI and maybe also try it on some harmonic minor or altered scales for some of the common dominants like C7 and D7.

Harmonizing the scale with a progression

Once you can get through the scales with one chord at a time then you can start using a progression so that the chords change along the melody. This is getting you a step further in being able to play chord solos.

In example 3 I have used a II V I VI(7) to harmonise the scale: 

So here we get a bit in trouble with the Bb on an Fmaj7 again, but here I solve it by making it a B. In that way I am able to keep the Fmaj7 there, since it would be problematic to just sub the chord for another chord.

Example 4 is harmonizing the scale with a I VI(7) II V:

This get’s us into trouble already in the first bar. The F and D7 chords are fine, but we end up with a Gm13 and a C7sus4 because there we have the E and the F as melody notes. For the rest it is quite easy to go up the scale. In the last bar we have an E over the D7. While this is possible a D7 in this context would really ask for an Eb. I could have changed the note but opted for a Dm7(9) chord. Another option would have been to use an Abdim chord.

Chord solo licks!

To demonstrate how I come up with chord solos I have written three examples of chord solo licks. They are all on a medium I VI II V in F major because that is a common progression especially in the types of pieces where you might play a chord solo.

If you want to check out some more examples you can also check out this Chord Solo on a Blues In F

Scale runs and chord economy

In this first example I am starting with a scale run over the Fmaj7. This is moving from the A down to E harmonized with two different chords. THe D7 is using the same C,F# tritone with first an Eb and then an F in the melody.

On the Gm7 I am using an ascending scale run from D to A. On the D and F I am using a Bb triad. The E is harmonized with a C major triad which is also easy to play. The last chord is a C7 altered. and is really just using the same voicing but first leaving out the top string.

Motif chord solos

The next example is using a simple motif and then first playing it on the I VI progression. Then it is repeated on the II V. The motief is a really simple repeating melody. The first part is harmonized with an Am7 voicing where I can change the top note. The dominant is taken care of with drop2 dim chords. On the Gm7 I can repeat the exact same idea as on the Fmaj7 but then 2 frets lower. The melody is varied on the C7 where I use a chromatic Db7 passing chord before I resolve to Fmaj7 

It is important to take care to make strong melodies when playing chord solos which I hope to illustrate with this example.

A great trick for harmonizing larger interval skips

In the last example I start out with a a  scale run on the Fmaj7 up to the #9 on D7. From there I it moves down to the Eb and then skips up to an Bb over the D7. This is achieved by using the same voicing but just adding the Bb on a higher string. This is a great smooth way to deal with the skib from Eb to Bb.

On the Gm7 I am using a simple melody consisiting of A and G which is harmonized with the same chord. The C7alt is a repeating note and chord which then resolves to Fmaj7. 

Conclusion: Make your own exercises!

So what you have to remember with this material is that you will learn the most if you make your own exercises that use the voicings you are comfortable with and you know the sound of. This will also help you figure out how to go through the scales and solve the problems that give, which is also very helpful!

Chord Solo transcription and Lesson!

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Best exercise for jazz guitar chord solos!

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