Tag Archive: Jazz Soloing

Guide Tones

Simply put the guide tones are the 3rd and 7th of any chord. These two notes contain the essence of the chord. All chord’s can be reduced to these notes and still retain their harmonic function. Keep in mind that 9th’s, 11th’s and 13th’s (and their variations) are chord extensions which add color to the chord, but do not effect the chord quality.

Often pianists and guitarist’s will use guide tones in comping for others or themselves. In addition if you analyze any of the great players in jazz you will always find guide tones present in their solo’s.

Using the guide tones within a solo is an excellent way to help propel your solo forward and give it a real sense of movement. In fact J.S. Bach used guide tones to great effect in his unaccompanied music for violin and cello. Even though there is no harmonic accompaniment in these works the strength of the melodic writing and the use of guide tones outlines implied harmonies and creates harmonic movement via the melody.

Practical Application(s):

1) To help your understanding of guide tones pick a solo from a player such as Charlie Parker and analyze his solo. Then select one of Bach’s unaccompanied pieces for violin and compare how the guide tones are used in each (I would recommend also playing the solo and singing it).

2) Next, begin to implement guide tones into your playing. You can begin by playing one or both guide tones per measure in a 12 bar blues and then go on to some of your favorite tunes.

Ear Training:

1) An excellent way to improve your ear is to play the guide tones at the piano and sing the root of the chords through a progression such as a blues. Or any progression from any tune. However, I would start with the blues.

2) Next begin to work on playing the root and singing the guide tones in a arpeggiated fashion. If you do this daily you will find that your ability to hear the inner-workings of a tune and to aurally navigate them will become much more fluid. In addition your musical confidence will increase.

3) A more advanced kind of ear training is to play the guide tones at the piano and sing lines over them. Do this and all exercises through all the keys.

Have Fun!


Simplify your Approach

It has been quite a while since I have written anything and for that I do apologize. For my return article I wanted to write about how to simplify your approach to improvisation with an end goal of becoming a fluent improviser utilizing a limited amount of material.

Many players are concerned about learning every  scale and mode possible when learning to improvise. However, it is my belief that this simply inhibits the player. The reason I believe this is simple. When you are soloing over a tune the idea is to play the sounds of the chords you are soloing over. As a soloist you want to evoke the feel of those chords in a melodic and inventive way. I suggest that instead of filling your head with as many modes and scales as you possible can (which by the way also fills your head with a great many notes that you CAN NOT use over any given chord or progression), that you instead rely on your ear. Now if you have not cultivated an ear for the language of jazz then you must go back to that stepping stone (more on this later).

In the meantime I suggest that you limit the amount of materials you draw on while soloing. In this way  you can be harmonically accurate and true to the form of the piece while building your creative powers.  One method of doing this is to play only chord tones (this includes upper structure tones), rather than scales applied to chords or progressions. If you listen carefully, and analyze any jazz legend you will not find complex mode after complex mode. Instead, chord tone after chord tone. As you practice, sing your lines and then play them. When you sing a line, have a particular chord or progression in mind. When you have sung and played a line with a certain chord or progression in mind, then transpose that line through all keys. Next, take that same line and see what other chords it can be applied to, play the line in all directions and have fun.