Chord Tone Soloing For Beginners

You’re jamming away in a song, playing some tasty-manelli licks. Its going great. You play through the song a 2nd time round. Its ok. 3rd time… getting stale… What’s happening here? Where did the sparkle go…???

This is what happens when you solo with no structure. When you’re playing only one scale to fit all the chords. (ONE SCALE TO RULE THEM ALL) Don’t go all Sauron, Lord Of The Rings over your soloing. Get some structure. This is what this post is all about.

Because, Mr. Frodo, Gandalf said to look after you. And I mean to. #geekout

 

Why Learn Chord Tone Soloing?

Enough LOTR!

Chord tone soloing is the key to soloing over any chord. Yes, any.

It essentially targets the most important notes of a chord, the ones that make a chord what it is. So when you also highlight those notes in your soloing, you become much more in harmony with the rest of the song.

Chord tone soloing is a fairly easy concept to understand (that is, if I’m doing my job properly!). We’ll go into more detail soon, but essentially you are targeting the core notes of a chord, which are usually the:

Root
3rd
5th

There are exceptions to this rule, but this is the basic foundation.

With chord tone soloing, its a lifelong skill you develop, because of the near endless combinations of chords you can solo over.

 

What does it sound like?

Good question.

Here’s a simple chord progression: D  G  C  A

This chord progression is in the key of D Major. Therefore, we can play a D Major scale over the entire chord progression.

However, using chord tone soloing creates a more harmonious solo with the underlying progression being played, compared to just playing the D Major scale. There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. There is a note in the C Major chord that doesn’t belong in the D Major scale, creating dissonance
  2. The strong tones of each chord are not being played on the strong beats of the rhythm 

How To Do It Yourself

The first step to doing it yourself is to choose your chords. These will be determined by what song/ backing track you’re playing with.

Example: We’ll continue to use our D G C A progression.

The next step is identifying the chord tones of these chords. Each chord includes 3 – 4 notes that serve as ‘strong tones’, or, notes that give the chord its particular sound; notes that, if you changed them, you’d be changing the basic nature of that chord.

Example: The chord tones are commonly the:

Root note (1st note)
3rd note
5th note

… Of each chord. Chord tones for each chord in our progression are:

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.54.07.png

  • Root: D
  • 3rd:   F#
  • 5th:    A

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.54.16.png

  • Root: G
  • 3rd:    B
  • 5th:    D

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.54.12.png

  • Root: C
  • 3rd:   E
  • 5th:    G

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.54.22.png

  • Root: A
  • 3rd:   C#
  • 5th:   E

Note: The C note in the C chord is the note that doesn’t belong in the D Major scale (the scale being D E F# G A B C#)

Now we need to target these chord tones when a chord is being played.

Think of each chord tone as a ‘strong tone’, or a strong note, that emphasises the chord it belongs to. These strong tones need to be paired with strong beats of the underlying rhythm, so they stand out more clearly.

Example:Here’s a rhythm:

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.38.07.png

The strong beats here are the 1st, 2nd and 4th beats – those where a down strum is being played. So over each chord, we need to play chord tones on the 1st, 2nd and 4th beats.

Over our D G C A progression, It looks like this:

Chord tone soloing over D Major
Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.45.25.png

Chord tone soloing over G Major
Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.45.45.png

Chord tone soloing over C Major
Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.44.33.png

Chord tone soloing over A Major
Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 17.46.00.png

To ease into this approach to soloing, start by playing only 1 chord tone over each chord at a time. If you feel like it, you can fill in the gaps with whatever else you would like, as long as you target the chord tone on the strong beats of the rhythm.

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