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3 types of Rhythm Changes licks you NEED to know – Bebop Guitar Lesson

Rhythm Changes and The Blues are probably the two most important chord progressions that you need to master if you want to play jazz guitar and especially bebop.

This lesson is going to go over 3 different approaches to play over the rhythm changes. Each one demostrated with a 4 bar lick and some exercises.

Rhythm changes in Bebop

Since Bebop the chord progression from I got Rhythm has been used countless times for great bebop themes such as Anthropology, Oleo, Dexterity, Moose the Mooche etc. In fact about 30 percent of all Charlie Parker compositions are on Rhythm Changes

Most of the time when you are soloing over a rhythm changes form you find yourself improvising over this turnaround in the key of Bb major.

Of course there are many variations available on this turnaround, but the essence of it will probably always be this progression.

Using several approaches to a solo

In most good solos you will find that during the solo different things are being emphasized, so the approach in the solo changes. In fact I think that most (good) solos on Rhythm Changes will probably contain parts that use each of the ideas that I go over in this lesson.

Room for rhythm – The Simplified Chord Progression

The first concept is to reduce the amount of chords that are played in the solo. This means that instead of playing all 4 chords of the turnaround in example 1 above. The focus is now on the two main chords in that progression: Bb and F7, the tonic and the dominant.

Both of these chords are diatonic to the Bb major scale as shown in example 3.

One good exercise to get used to hearing these two chords and the scale over the changes is to do the Barry Harris scale exercise shown here below:

Another very important exercise is to play the chords in time over the progression as shown in example 6:

The example line that I played using this approach is shown here:

The first line on the Bbmaj7 is a line consisiting only of Bb maj7 arpeggio notes. On the F7 the line is first a descending scale run from Eb to Bb and then a small melody with the notes of an A dim triad.

The 2nd Bbmaj bar is using a Bb6 or Bb major pentatonic melody that with a string skip moves to an Eb major triad over the F7. The line concludes with inserting a chromatic passing note between D and C.

Advantages to this type of thinking

For this type of  playing you get a lot more freedom to think about the rhythm since you don’t have to catch as many changes. In fact this approach is also very close to what you will hear in older swing recordings on Rhythm Changes.

Nailing all the changes

This way of playing over the chords actually makes the progression as difficult to play as Giant Steps from a technical perspective.

Very often if you analyze Charlie Parker solos on rhythm changes you will hear him play simpler phrases in the first two bars and really spell out the changes in the next two bars.

Finding the scales

In order to play over the chords we can use the Bb major scale on the Bbmaj7 and the Cm7 chord.

On the G7 the scale that is most appropriate is a C minor harmonic or G mixolydianb9,b13

We can do the same thing with the F7 as shown in example 9:

Setting the target notes and connecting the dots

The concept behind the lines in this example is to use target notes, and then make lines that move towards that line. Something I have also worked on i other lessons.

An example of a set of target notes that you can fill in with short melodies.

The line example that I am playing is using this technique to connect the lines. To build a vocabulary for this type of playing you need to work on having simple 4 note phrases that you can use to aim for the target notes in the next chord. 

You can always use the Blues

Of course since the Rhythm Changes is such an important part of jazz it also is connected to the Blues, and using blues phrases on a rhythm changes progression is very common.

The approach that I am using in the line below is mixing some blues phrases with more some F7 phrases. The blues phrases are using  a more mixolydian sound than an actual minor pentatonic sound. You can use the Bbm pentatonic as well of course, but the more major sounding blues phrases are a little more common, which is of course also the case for jazz in general.

The phrase on the first Bb chord is a D dim arpeggio. The line on the Cm7 F7 bar could be seen as both a F7 line or a Bb major line. 

The 2nd Bb bar has a clear Bb7 line with a leading note to the 3rd. This also really evokes the blues sound.

The last bar has a Cm7 line to take us back to the chords before the progression would go to the 4th degree.


As I already mentioned it is important to realize that you should vary your approach during the solo. This is by the way true for all solos. I hope you can use the examples as inspiration to widen your vocabulary and the array of sounds you have available over Rhythm Changes.

Take your Rhythm Changes skills to the next level

Rhythm Changes – Target Note Strategies


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3 types of Rhythm Changes licks you NEED to know

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