The task of properly outlining chord changes (or "making the changes" in the jargon) in jazz improvisation can seem like a daunting one. On tunes such as All the Things You Are, you, (the improviser) can be confronted with several choices: arpeggios, scales, guide tones, memorizing licks, etc. But chords change go by so fast, that by the time you made up your mind, the song is over! ;-)
You can then go onto blogs and forums and try and find out (argue?) if it's best to use scales or arpeggios during soloing. In my mind, this is all superfluous: the chords go by whether you play scales, arpeggios ... or silence! What happens in our ears (at the point of chord change) is really what interests me the most. Notes move around, and we hear a re-organization of the tonal centers.
In this post, I'll share with you the three strongest ways to go from one chord to another on the form of All the Things You Are. The theory behind the exercises is rather simple. Our ears believe that the "best", most chord-defining tone to play on any single chord is the 3rd degree. So the following exercises use thirds as a cornerstone and work backwards to find what comes before, to build absolutely "perfect" (in the J-S Bach sense of the word) melodic lines.
It is recommended that you download all the examples discussed below in this convenient PDF. It's five choruses of 36 bars, including chord symbols, standard notation and TABS.
These are not only really good exercises, they also constitute "life-saver lines" you can get back to whenever you're in trouble in your solo. Remember that last time you went astray soloing on a standard? That's what I mean. You can clearly define the harmony by coming back to one of those melodic ideas.
Just Descending the Scale (First Video)
Aim for the 3rds! That's it. Here's the first few bars on ATTYA with the third of each chord happens on beat one, followed by the descending (Ab major) scale: Notice how playing the third of the current chord and simply descending the scale (in this case Ab major) makes you land on the third of the next chord, as if by magic. This happens since the chords on All the Things You Are move in the cycle of fourths. For beginners, try playing just the third of each chord. Then add just one note before it. That will make you "hear the change" so to speak. Like this: And lastly, when using this way of "making the change", make good use of spinning the octaves. Spinning? Yep! When you run out of frets (or strings) when going down the scale, simply play the next available note, up an octave. Feel free to do this *twice* during the same melodic line! Here are bars 9-10-11 on All the Things with two "octave spins":
1-3-5-7 Arpeggios with Resolution (Second Video)
Aim for the 3rds, again! But this time with the arpeggios. Yep. Good old 1-3-5-7 on each chord. This is a classic, and a good starting place for lots of newbie jazz improviser. But have you ever considered resolving your arpeggio to the third of the next chord? Ah-ha! You'll be amazed. Here's the first four chords on All the Things You Are: So, you see, doing 1-3-5-7 on the first chord and 1-3-5-7 on the chord right after is in fact a "mistake". It's not bad per se, but it's depriving our ears of a really interesting (and natural) resolution to the third of the next chord. Of course, you can aim your arpeggio "towards" any chord in the song. You don't have to start in the first bar. For instance, here's how to work a variation on the first four bars of All the Things. It's the same idea, but starting in bar two. And with a bonus "octave spin", just for you! (Yes, octave spins also happen on arpeggios)
3-5-7-9 Arpeggios with Resolution (Third Video)
Now's the time to shift gears, a little. We'll be aiming for the 5ths instead, but still starting on the third of each chord. This yields an ascending 3-5-7-9 arpeggio. And since we want to get something out of it (don't we?), we add a descending arpeggio that plugs back in nicely when it's repeated. This is the trickiest exercise on this page, but also the most rewarding one. So basically, we go up 3-5-7-9 then down 5-3-1-7 on the next chord. The last 7 goes the 3 of the next and so on. Here's a snapshot of the first few bars on All the Things: Remember also, that this can be started "in bar 2", the same way we did with the 1-3-5-7 arpeggios with a resolution (above). You would thus get ascending 3-5-7-9 to descending 5-3-1-7. :-)
It Don't Mean a Thing ...
It goes without saying, all lines must be activated rhythmically to become interesting. After you get the concepts (scales and arpeggios) and are able to clearly outline the changes, I highly recommend creating rhythmic variations. Make your lines come to life! Here's an example I had on the top of my head at the time of writing this blog post:
Hungry for more? Download all exercises above (and more) in this convenient PDF. You get five choruses of 36 bars (that's 180 bars of music!) all written and TABBED for you. For free.
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, mastermind and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.