Breakthru: chord-tone soloing

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by willhutch, Jan 29, 2008.


  1. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    I feel good about my playing now. This is a rare occurence for me; thought I'd share with those of you who care.

    The title of this thread is a little misleading. I don't think I have breakthroughs anymore. More often what happens is I realize that I have assimilated into my playing a skill/idea that I have been working on for months. The realization is usually sudden, and feels kinda like a breakthrough.

    Anyway, I've been noticing lately that I now am better at using tension and release in my soloing. In particular, I am now better able to achieve satisfactory resolutions in my phrasing. I find that my playing has more body than it did before; I have better control over when I start and end phrases and am expressing the chord changes better. Also, I can better use chromatic stuff without sounding aimless.

    At core, this has been the result of a couple of years of attention to lining up chord tones with downbeats. This is a pretty basic concept behind jazz phrasing, but I had never internalized it. In the past, I would fly around with 3-note-per-string movement, pentatonic scales and up-and-down-arpeggios. My playing never "latched in" to the underlying harmony. I would just skate around on top.

    Let me share some of the experiences and materials that got me here:

    1) It started when I took a block of lessons from a jazz guitar teacher. His approach boils down to the idea that jazz phrasing stems from chord tones. Deviations from chord tones are simply embellishments or bridges that connect to the next chord tone. He had me doing arpeggio etudes where chord tones landed on the downbeats. I could then put in non-scale tones on the offbeats.

    2) I got the book "Target Tones" by Don Mock. This laid out a pragmatic, guitar-oriented system by which you can nail chord tones on downbeats. I didn't master the whole book, but I got a sense for how his approach feels.

    3) I got the book "Forward Motion" by Hal Galper. This book - a great read - deals with how we percieve music. My takeaway from the book is that potent, effective phrases synchronize harmonic tension/release with rythmic tension/release. Basically, this means putting chord tones on the beats. Galper asserts that as long as you do this, you can put ANY notes on the offbeats and your phrase will still make sense.

    This all started about 2 years ago. In this time I have done a lot of work to gain control over where I am placing chord tones. At this point, I have better access to chord tones on the fretboard, but more importantly I can feel WHEN they are supposed to happen! This general approach to phrasing is a fundamental shift in my music-making. I think it has made me a more effective player. Also, it has made me a more perceptive listener.

    Of course, at the same time I have been working on other material, too. Here are some things in progress:
    • Varying my rythmic phrasing
    • Relaxing my time feel
    • Hybrid picking (got the EZroll vdieo)
    • Drop-2, drop-3 voicings
     
  2. Swain

    Swain Member

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    That's so cool!

    The longer you play, the more rare those moments of real progress seem to be. And it's always nice, when you realize it's happened. Congratulations!

    I know you're talking about prolonged, in-depth work towards this goal. But, Is there one particular exercise or etude, that seemed to really help? Sometimes there's just one or two things that really seem to click with me. And those are the ones that give me the most mileage.
     
  3. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Congrats. I like the books you mentioned too.
     
  4. bickertfan

    bickertfan Member

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    I'm presently working through 'Forward Motion', and so far I've been very impressed with the results I've got from it. Getting your lines 'in sync' with the strong rythmic beats. I have never seen that info laid out with such importance. So far this has been musical theory that I've enjoyed studying and applying.
     
  5. Mickey Shane

    Mickey Shane Supporting Member

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    I'm going to try some of this when I get home after work.

    Thanks for sharing!
     
  6. cram

    cram Member

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    breakthru == epiphany

    I'd use that word.
    cheers. thanks for posting.
     
  7. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    What I did was make up arpeggio etudes over a jazz blues progression. Start simple. Use quarter notes (then work up to eighths) and play ONLY chord tones thru entire progression. Keep the etude within a singe octave-and-a-half or so. As chords change, try to connect your arpeggios with neighboring notes. Once you have created an etude, learn it in different positions and octaves. Then take your etude and shift it up by a chord tone. i.e., if it started on the root of the I chord, start it on the 3rd of the I chord and shift the entire etude up by a chord tone. Work with it.

    Eventually (months of pracice), you will gain facility with chord-note only playing. Then you can try adding other notes on the offbeats.
     
  8. cram

    cram Member

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    Care to elaborate a bit on this? Are you saying that if I play a chord or diad on a beat in the measure, find another chord or even the same chord that makes sense with the song - I should experiment with any notes within that space between the two?

    Did it get funky with you and have you found favorite routines with this?

    I'm interested.
     
  9. bluejack

    bluejack Member

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    Thanks for sharing that. It's something i've been working on for awhile also. Also, you inspired me to get the Galper book which i've been meaning to do. I've also gotten some great ideas from Sam Most's book " Metamorphosis:Transformation of the Jazz Solo " Writing, playing etudes is where it's at! Everything you say, strikes a chord.
    J
     
  10. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    Not quite. I'm talking about hitting chord tones while soloing. Example: if the underlying harmony is G7, you would play the notes of the the G7 chord, G, B, D, F, on the downbeats of the measure. As long as you do this, you can play any other notes in the in-between spaces. Try hitting these cord tones from a half-step below on the offbeats, resolving to the chord tones on the downbeats (start with F# on the and-of-four).

    This approach starts sounding really cool when you use chromatic 16th notes to target chord tones.
     
  11. Free

    Free Member

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    Thanks for sharing that new insight, Willhutch. Very altruistic of you. I always knew about emphasizing chord tones for degrees of resolution, but I never thought of it as systematically as you've presented. So, thanks.

    -Mike
     
  12. Nick31

    Nick31 Member

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    same thing happened to me lately with Forward motion as well. I also hear people's solos (playing in general) a lot better as well or clearer.
     
  13. james russell

    james russell Silver Supporting Member

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    Hey Will,

    Thanks as usual for posting about your growth process. Your postings (and others here as well) about the drop 2, and drop 3 voicings were the exact push I needed to actually do the work and integrate them into my playing.

    I've been trying to improve at sounding hip over changes for about twenty years (without a teacher) and even though I don't sound bad, to myself I just never sound hip.

    This stuff is so exciting to learn. It sounds like it might be what I was sensing as un-hip in my playing. I'll be checking out those books.

    James
     
  14. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Member

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    The classic bebop approach is to play chord tones on beats "one" and "three". This makes a lot of sense if you think about chords changing every bar- beat one solidifies the chord with your line, and beat three restates that before you lead to the next chord with beat four. Then it starts all over again...
     
  15. Free

    Free Member

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    Very good example of this. Nothing like those Bebop chords flying by.
     
  16. Lucidology

    Lucidology Member

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    Great thread Will ... thanks!!
     
  17. SuperElastic

    SuperElastic Member

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    Will, congratulations on this, I'm tuned in to your progress because I am at a similar level. DO you find it important to know which scale degree you're on when selecting chord tones? I find that I make much more satisfying note selections if I can pick out the 3 and 7 over a dom chord, for example.

    Russ
     
  18. willhutch

    willhutch Member

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    I think it is important. But I am not particularly aware of which chord tone I'm on at a given time. I can pretty much hear where the next tone will be, but I don't have the scale degrees flashing in my mind as I play them.

    It's kinda like the notes on the board. I don't track what notes I'm hitting, I go by ear or by fretboard shape. I can tell what the notes are if you ask, but I do not pay much attention as I play.

    If anything, I keep track of the root notes. One advancement made in pursuit of chord tone soloing was the ability to build arpeggios and chords off of a root note on any string. It used to be that I needed to relate voicings/fingeings to a root note on the E or A strings. I now can see the shapes even if the root note is on, say the 3rd string. This helps greatly in following chord progressions.
     
  19. pedped

    pedped Member

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    Yes, that's one of the trademarks of that era and from that desire came the bebop-scale which is also a very good tool regarding this subject.

    Another great way of learning this is to 'compose' your solo in i.e. a notation program. Often you are able to hear the solo, but not able to play it at the same time (what every musician seeks). To write it down will give you an insight in how to get to goal. Playing the written solo will help you imply the methods and ideas.
     
  20. joejazzguitar

    joejazzguitar Supporting Member

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    Great thread.... one thing that I've been working on to help my solos sound more organic (and less "forced") is to minimize the interval between the last note of the measure leading to the chord tone and the chord tone itself.

    So, for a basic example, if I were soloing over a I-IV change in a G dominant blues, I would craft a line such that the last note that I hit on the G7 chord would be F (the flat 7th) and then resolve that F to E on the downbeat of the IV chord (which is the 3rd of C7).

    The half-step interval between those two chord tones sounds really cool... and if you can nail that change in the middle of a chromatic run, it'll sound even cooler...

    joe
     

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