A huge part of playing Jazz solos is following the chord progression. Learning how to solo over chord changes can seem difficult, but there are very useful exercises to help you develop that skill, and this video will help you nail the changes so that you don’t end up failing to keep up with the chords but instead naturally flow through the progression.
The Turnaround And A Surprising First Exercise
The chord progression I am using in this lesson is a fairly basic turnaround in the key of C major, and I am going to keep it all in this area of the neck:
Example 1 – C major scale
The first solo exercise is actually not to solo at all, because for any chord progression you want to solo over there is one thing you have to be able to do that is not about soloing:
You need to be able to play the chords so that you have an idea about what the progression sounds like.
A clear and basic way to do this could be:
I am using very basic chord voicings for this, if you want some more on learning chord voicings like this then there is a link to a video on that in the description.
If you think about it then I am sure you understand why this is important, even if it is not the first thing you think about. This is also related to why you get told to learn the melody of any song you want to solo on: The Melody is the real gateway to hearing the chords.
Now you know what the chords sound like, so let’s turn them into something you can use in a solo, which is the topic of the next two exercises, and then some exercises on how to get it to sound great!
It is probably not a surprise that to follow the chord progression then the “melodic” version of the chords, the arpeggios is a very practical thing to learn.
You want to think about it as this: If the chord is a Cmaj7 then you hear those notes in the background, and if you play one of those notes then of course that fits with what is going on.
Of course, just knowing the arpeggio doesn’t mean that you can play great solos, but we will get to that later in the video.
First, let’s just play the basic arpeggios of the chords.
Exercise #2 – Play The Arpeggios
You can already start to solo with this material and play things like this:
Example 2 – Solo with Arpeggios
If the Arpeggios is the skeleton of the progression then the surrounding notes are the meat, so let’s add some meat to the solo with some Barry Harris exercises
Exercise #3 – The Barry Harris Scale Exercise
When you play the scales like this you are still clearly getting the chord sound across because the chord tones are on the beat.
You may notice that I am using a different scale on the A7, because that is a secondary dominant resolving to a minor chord, Dm7 the II chord in the scale. I am not going to get into analyzing progressions too much here, but if you want to check out a video on secondary dominants, then there is a link in the video description.
The short description is that the secondary dominant takes the scale from the chord it resolves to, so in this case that is Dm harmonic to resolve to the Dm7, giving us an A7(b9)
These first exercises are things you can do on any song you study and get more material to use, let’s have a look at how you can use it.
Playing Towards Target Notes
Maybe the most important skill when it comes to learning to improvise is to be able to think ahead and not get stuck on the chord you are on. When you play then you always want to be playing towards the next chord, that is what keeps you from feeling you have to keep up with the chord changes.
So how do you do that?
This is a lot easier than you might think, you choose a note that you want to hit on the next chord and then you play towards that, this will do two things:
- Your melodies always have a direction and sound logical because of that
- You never feel like you have to keep up because you are always ahead of what is happening.
Choosing Target Notes
You can do a lot with choosing different target notes, but for now, I am going to focus on using notes that are not a note in the previous chord or and also a strong part of the color of the new chord.
The easy choice for a target note is to take the 3rd of the chord like this:
An example of a note that works really well as a color of the chord but that isn’t a core chord tone would be to use the b9 on the A7, so a Bb.
This note is very clearly not a part of Cmaj7 or Dm7 and in the key of C, the Bb is a sort of signal that you are moving to the subdominant area, in this case, the Dm7.
It can be a good idea to just play the target notes over the chords to hear how they sound.
Create a Flow In Your Solo
Now that you have the target notes then you can start practicing playing towards that note. So you are thinking about the target note and try to get to it in a natural way.
Exercise #4 – Soloing Playing Towards Target Notes
Remember that you can go back and check the examples again to hear what is going on and get used to how they sound. That is going to make it easier to learn them
You want to practice playing like this so that it starts to become easy and becomes a part of how you play, but already in this exercise you can hear how it really works to play from chord to chord and you don’t sound like “isolated licks” per bar.
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