Applying Guide Tones

by Julian
(South Africa)

Hi Marc, thanks for a great site, it truly helps us in every corner of this world…

What is the best way to practice using guide tones? I am at a level where I can play arpeggios, scales over chords, but struggle with the changes. I am sure your ideas will assist.



M-A’s Answer :

They are several ways in which in can *practice* using guide tones. One good thing to do at first is play through a tune (like something you know VERY well) or just a blues and allow yourself to play ONLY guide tones … keep it in time!

This requires discipline, but after a while, it will become like a reflex. Keep it simple, play them in half-notes or whole-notes and always make sure of what *function* you’re playing (“is that the 3rd?” or “is that the 7th?” etc.)

Then, it becomes important to make the guide-tones resolve into one another. The rule of thumb is “7th of THIS chord resolve to the 3rd of the NEXT chord” and so on. This is called voiceleading.

And lastly, our aim is to play improvised lines in and out of guide-tones. I call this “ornamenting” on the guide-tones. It’s a real challenge!

Of course, you could read this article I wrote a while ago (many practice suggestions included). It explains a few things, including the few suggestions I just made above :


I hope this helps,

Please leave your (further) questions here as comments.

Thank you,

Marc-Andre Seguin