How to use Chord Tones to outline a solo FAST!
In this lesson we are going to show how to use Chord Tones to quickly outline a solo. This is a very effective way to generate ideas for a solo. By using the materials in this lesson, you will find that ‘starting from scratch’ on what to play in a solo will simply be a thing of the past!
What are Chord Tones?
Chord tones are simply put, the most important parts of the chord. If you’ve studied arpeggios, you already know the notes. The root, the 3rd, and the 5th of the chord are the tones we will focus on. If used correctly, these tones will outline a given chord. Any ‘chord of the moment’ can be highlighted by playing these chord tones on the strong beats of each measure. Below are a few examples:
- C major: C-E-G
- G major: G-B-D
- E minor: E-G-B
- F#minor: F#-A-C#
There are more than 3 guide tones for chords when speaking of extended chords (sus4, 7th’s, 9th’s 13th’s altered dominants, etc), but for this lesson we’re sticking with only 3 guide tones.
The theory of why and how notes are used goes back to counterpoint, the art of creating melodic lines that are independent, flowing and free, yet follow the harmony in a logical way. Without going too deeply into the rules of counterpoint, there is one rule we are going to follow strictly for this lesson:
- On strong beats there must chord tones that outline the harmony.
In the all the examples below, this rule will be followed strictly. All examples are in 4/4, and the strong beats are 1 and 3. Chord tones will ALWAYS be on these beats. Initially, it may seem restricting to stick to this, but, by sticking to it you can quickly get ideas out to start experimenting with.
Looking for music lessons with a teacher who can help train you on lead guitar? See how it works with us!
All the examples will be presented in the key of F# minor. We will be focusing on F#minor in the 9th position, as seen in the 2nd measure above.
Here we have the entire F# minor scale in 9th position. All the chord tones we need to properly outline our solo reside in this scale shape.
If you’re struggling with your scales, check out our free lesson here.
This example shows the F#minor arpeggio. These are the guide tones we will be using to outline our solo.
This example is the same F#minor scale, with the important scale tones highlighted red. Keep this in mind.
Solo Outline Process
The first thing we do is choose guide tones in which to begin. We know from the examples above that F#-A-C# are the most important ones, and the rules we’ve limited ourselves to state that on strong beats we must use these notes.
Using only half notes (which land on strong beats), we use F#, A, C#, F# one octave higher, before descending back to C#. A 4 bar climbing melody that resolves back to C# at it’s end. These notes will not change, we will only add notes to them.
By experimenting with the F# minor scale, and the guide tones we’ve laid down, we now have a more interesting melodic line. By using 8th notes, there is more motion, since the scale tones are on the strongest beats, the line will strongly sound as F# minor.
Example 3 contains more 8 note motion, as well as some string skipping in the 2nd bar, with a hammer-on/pull-off motive at the end.
This variation adds more speed and intensity to the line. The 8th note lines are replaced with triplets, only using the scale material. Pay careful attention to the strong beats, which still contain the same notes we started with. Their rhythmic value has changed, but, they land exactly where they should.
Example 5 is a challenging string skipping lick based on our chord tones. This lick could also incorporate sweep picking (if that’s your thing!)
And for our final lick, lots of movement, as well as hammer ons and pull offs. This lick still contains our primary chord tones on the strong beats. Give this one a shot over F# minor and feel how awesome it sounds.
How to Use This Lesson to Outline Your Solos
One of the biggest issues students face when trying to come up with solo material is sticking to material they’ve come up with. They continually edit/re-form/tweak, trying to make it ‘perfect’. The truth is that if you spend time honing your licks with the important notes already in place as guideposts, you will have considerably more success.
- Understand the chord progression you’re outlining your melodic material to.
- Strip away everything but the chord tones of each ‘chord of the moment’.
- Create a simple sketch of the solo, using only chord tones on strong beats.
- Experiment with melodic ideas, phrasing, and advanced guitar techniques to make the sketch more interesting.
- Create at least 10 variations on the melodic ideas.
- Try out what you’ve created and assess what works!