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Tom Quayle - Soloing Over Chord Changes Part 3

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 19 **

Hi guys and welcome back. I hope you’ve all been practicing your intervals and enjoying the development of your fretboard knowledge along the way. For this guitar lesson we’re going to be focusing on scales and their application for practicing playing guitar solos over chord changes.

Scales often get a bad rap for being unmusical and certainly not something to focus on during your improvisations for fear of producing very boring, shapeless lines. However, as I’ve mentioned before in previous columns, scales are a fantastic way of representing the chords or harmony that you’re playing over in a linear fashion. Since each scale contains all of the chord tones and extensions of each chord you’ll be soloing over, they are fantastic for training your ears and eyes on the fretboard and creating a linear connection between each chord. Of course, producing good music with this knowledge requires a series of practice techniques and a lot of experience and creativity, but for now, simply playing each scale against the chord will be a great exercise for both your ears and eyes let alone your fingers of course.

For this issue we’re going to revisit our II-V-I progression rather than use the more complex chord progression from issue 18 (we will come back to this though). To remind you of which chords we’ll be using let’s lay down all of the diatonic 7th chords in the key of C major as follows: -

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5

Now you can see that the II chord is Dm7, the V chord is G7 and the I chord is Cmaj7. From our previous modal studies in earlier issues (please feel free to check out my earlier columns for more information on modes and chord scales) we also know that over the II chord – Dm7 – we need to play D Dorian, over the V chord – G7 – we need to play G Mixolydian and over the I chord – Cmaj7 – we need to play C major or Ionian (two names for the same scale).

For some of you, alarms bells may already be ringing saying ‘wait – these are all the same scale, why don’t we just think C major over all three chords?’ Well, by playing from the root note of each chord we outline the specific sound of that chord giving us the sound of the II-V-I progression in a linear or scalic manner as opposed to a generic C major sound with no definition of each chord. We’re trying to develop a chord specific approach here so it’s good practice to treat each chord as an individual entity as opposed to a generic part of our C major tonality.

As far as creating a practice regime for this kind of approach goes, we can take this a lot further than simply playing one octave of each scale over each chord from root to root. Our next step would be to take each scale and play it over its relevant chord from 3rd to 3rd and then from 5th to 5th and finally 7th to 7th. By starting from each chord tone and progressing through one octave like this we develop an ability to see the harmony in a linear fashion from any chord tone of each chord as it occurs. We could now, with lots of practice, thread a line through the progression starting from any chord tone we like and always know where to go next regardless of which chord tone we wished to start from. Now our scalic abilities take on a much more powerful and musical force giving us definite ‘routes’ through the chord progression and a very strong visual and aural path from which to improvise.

In the accompanying TAB for this issue you’ll find multiple fingerings for each scale starting from the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th of each chord. Learn these scales by shape and sound and try to find as many fingerings for each of them as you can. In the next issue we’ll develop this further with some limitation exercises to really test your knowledge of the fret board and return to our original chord progression.

See you there and good luck!


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