Blue Bossa is a great way to start improvising following the harmony because it’s a well known tune that is not too difficult. In this lesson I’ll present a set of arpeggios, some exercises, target notes and strategies for making solos where you can hear the harmony in the improvisation.
The Song: melodies and chords
When you want to learn to solo over a tune you are often better off first learning the melody as well as possible. Most people have an easier time hearing the melody in the back of your mind as a way of keeping track of where you are in the form. I’d suggest you learn the melody by heart and in as many positions as possible. I’d also suggest you memorize the chords because you need that once you want to go through the exercises in this lesson.
Let’s first have a look at the chord progression:
The form is fairly easy. The song is in the key of C minor. Two bars of tonic (Cm) then two bars of IVm (Fm) followed by a cadence to Cm (Dm7b5 G7 Cm7) and a cadence to Db: (Ebm7 Ab7 Dbmaj7) and then a cadence to Cm again. The Db you need to treat as a modulation though it could also be seen as a neapolitan subdominant chord (You can read more about these here: IV minor chords)
If you count the chords you’ll see that we have 7 different chords. Since the goal of this lesson is to improvise fluently with well connected melodies using the arpeggios, I have written out all the arpeggios around the 8th position. Shifting up and down the neck is going to make it much more difficult to play logical melodies and almost impossible to do some of the exercises.
Practicing the arpeggios
First you should probably try to become familiar with the arpeggios in example 2 and then as fast as possible try to start using them on the song.
Besides just practicing each arpeggio it is a very good idea to work on playing the arpeggios in different patterns. I show a few in the video, but playing them in groups of 3 or 4 notes, skipping notes etc are good ways to get more flexible with the arpeggio. You need the flexibilty when you start improvising, and keep in mind that it is about flexibility and overview not about speed when working on this.
The first exercise is to just play through the song with the arpeggios from example 2 in a one octave version. This will not only help practicing the arppegios but also build your sense of the form of the song and help you hear the chords moving and when they change.
If you are very new to arpeggios you could do this playing the arps in 4th notes and not 8th notes so that the tempo is a bit lower in the beginning.
The next thing that I’d suggest that you start working on is connecting the arpeggios. Practicing the arpeggios in this way over the progression is a way to get closer to how you improvise, something that you should also strive after when making exercises.
The idea is to start playing the arpeggios over the progression and then when ever the chord changes to continue the movement with the note that is the closest in the next arpeggio. It’s quite tricky to get started with but very rewarding when you start getting the freedom while improvising.
With an exercise like this you get a completely new exercise if you start on a different note, and if you keep on going it should keep mutating into new exercises, also a very healthy way to keep your ears and mind busy while practicing something as simple as arpeggios.
As I demonstrate in the video the thinking behind making harmony clear in a solo line is to target certain notes of the strong beats (in this case the 1). The idea is that a strong and logical sounding line will be a line that has the direction towards a clear target note. I also discuss this way of making melodies in another lesson that you can check: Target Notes You will notice in the solso I improvise in the video that I am not too concerned with target notes unless the chord is changing.
In the video I demonstrate how I use this principle while playing a simple solo over the progression. The best place to start is to just use the 3rd of each chord as a target you can quickly expand this to other notes but the 3rd is fairly safe and easy to hear.
Here is an overview of the target notes:
I hope you can use the arpeggios and exercises I went over here to get started making some melodically strong solos that really dig into the harmony.
You can also check out the 3 chorus solo lesson in my WebStore:
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