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Tom Quayle - Soloing Over Chord Changes Part 7 - Soloing with Altered Scales

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 23 **

Hi there guys and welcome back to part 7 of my ‘Playing over Changes’ guitar tutorial series. In this lesson, we’re going to be dealing with a subject that causes major road blocks for many improvising guitar players as they investigate playing solos over II-V-I chord progressions and add more Jazz-based vocabulary to their guitar soloing.

We’ve already explored the concept of the II-V-I progression pretty extensively in previous issues so I won’t be covering the basics again but rather focussing on developing some approaches to soloing with the Altered scale over our V chord.

The first idea I want to make you aware of is that we can use the altered dominant chord in both our Major and Minor II-V-I progressions and thus solo using the altered scale over a V chord in both also. This actually works regardless of which voicing the chordal player is performing, as long as your phrasing is both confident and solid with good time feel and interesting lines. In other words, in the major II-V-I, even if the chordal player is playing a V chord based on the Mixolydian scale, the soloist can play lines based on the Altered scale and sound great. I the minor II-V-I progression we already use the altered scale and its chords for the V chord so just keep doing what you were already doing.


The hardest thing for most guitar players to achieve is not necessarily learning the altered scale but rather creating lines and vocabulary with it, due to the fact that the scale has such an unusual sound to uninitiated ears. I want to show you a method for developing vocabulary that works well over the V chord and allows you to practice resolving your lines into the I chord at the end of the progression.

First of all let’s have a quick look at the altered scale again. It is essentially constructed using a basic dominant 7th shell consisting of Root, 3rd and b7th chord tones plus four altered or tension notes - the b9, #9, b5 and #5. Adding all of these notes together gives us our 7 note scale - Root, b9, #9, 3, b5, #5, b7. We write it’s formula this way in order to show the dominant 7th structure and the tension notes that can be added to form chords or lines that create tension leading into the I chord. In this way we can construct chords such as A7b5b9 or A7#9 or A7#5#9 by simply taking the A7 shell voicing (root, 3rd and b7th) and adding in the relevant tension tones. I show you some of these voicing in the video and accompanying TAB.

The first thing you’ll need to achieve is a working knowledge of where the scale is on the fretboard by learning scale shapes and the intervals shapes within the scale. Learn the scale starting from each finger in various parts of the neck and learn to identify and visualise each of the intervals in the scale from the root note in each of its guises. For example, starting with an A root note, there are many ways to play the b9 interval or the b5 interval and you need to learn them all. This is a LONG process that requires a lot of work but is essential to developing the vocabulary that will allow you to solo effectively with the scale. After all, if you can’t see where the notes are on the fretboard quickly and easily you will never be able to create lines with them.

Once you are familiar with the scale in various parts of the neck you can start to construct phrases and this is where a lot of guitar players become stuck. There seems to be a misconception that simply learning a scale will allow you to improvise effectively with it but the number of players simply running up and down scale patterns and not playing actual lines or phrases is testament to the inaccuracy of this idea. Learning to phrase and construct lines with a scale takes a long time and requires a different type of practice. What I suggest is that you pick a sub-division to work with, let’s say 8th notes, that will tell you how many notes you can play in a bar. Let’s say that our V chord lasts for one bar meaning we’ll need to play eight notes to fill that bar plus a 9th note to resolve into the I chord in the next bar - a nine note phrase. Now we can start to very slowly construct nine note phrases where the first eight notes come from our altered scale and the ninth note comes from our Major or Lydian scale that fits over the I chord. For example, in the key of D major we would use A altered for the first 8 notes followed by a chord tone or scale tone from D major or Lydian.

Start out simple, just playing ascending or descending scale patterns, resolving to the nearest chord or scale tone for the D major scale. As you grow in confidence try to play wider intervals or create interesting melodic shapes with your altered scale. The concept is that by doing this process slowly and out of time you are developing a much better ability to both ‘see’ and ‘hear’ lines on the fretboard and increase your improvisational ability with the scale. This will allow you to construct much more interesting lines than simply practicing the scale up and down. Once you are confident with 8th notes you could try 8th note triplets or 16th notes where you would need to play 13 and 17 note phrases respectively in order to resolve onto the I chord.

Check out the video and TAB for a few examples of this process. I wish you the best of luck with this long journey and of course this process can be adapted to any chord changes you are struggling with. Until next time!

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