Playing The Changes
In this series of videos, we look at how to play the changes to a song and be able to play melodic lines that smoothly flow over changing chords.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Chord Tones
In this video, we look at how to make the sound of a chord by emphasizing its chord tones.
Discuss this tutorial here.
timestamp 0:11  One of the first and most important things you have to do when learning to improvise is how to make the sound of each chord in a song. You need to be able to play something that's harmonically strong enough that the listener can still hear the changes, even if you don't have a band playing the chords behind you.

timestamp 0:52  To make the sound of each chord, we identify which notes give it it's particular sound and character, and then emphasize those notes in our melodic line.

timestamp 1:22  In the Cmaj7, Cdom7 and Cmin7 chords, the 1 and the 5 are weak chord tones. They are the same across each chord and so don't give any clues to the listener as to what type of chord is being played.

The 3 and 7 are different across each of the chords and are the strong chord tones. They are what give each chord its own distintive sound.

timestamp 2:15  Some ways of emphasizing notes:
  • play them on the strong beats of the bar (1 and 3)
  • play them longer and/or louder
  • play them with some kind of effect e.g. string bend on guitar, growl on sax
timestamp 2:50  My sample solo, alternating over Cmaj7 and Cmin7.
timestamp 3:18  An analysis of the solo.

Some of the techniques used:

  • Phrases start with chord tones (on the strong 1 beat).
  • The 1 and 5 have a stable sound and can be used as musical commas and full stops.
  • Notes are repeated for emphasis and to help establish the sound of a chord.
  • The major 3 and minor 3 are constrasted to highlight the difference in sound between the Cmaj7 and Cmin7 chord.
  • Notes are growled for emphasis.