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Tips for Better Improvisational Solos

Chuck Anderson

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OK – let’s discuss chord spelling. Simply asked, do know the notes in the chords you play or do you rely on shapes?

The purpose of knowing the notes in your chords is to benefit your improvisation.

Improvisational solos are built on the foundation of chords. Solos can reference the melody but in this context, we’re talking about spontaneous melody over a predetermined set of chords. The progressions can range from one or two chords to a complex maze of chords. If someone asks why jazz guitar improvisation is difficult, it is because the chords and the progressions used in jazz tend to be complex.

Here are the 6 most important chords to learn to spell. They are maj7, m7, 7, m7b5, dim7, aug7.

Each chord has a formula.

Maj7 = 1 3 5 7

m7 = 1 b3 5 b7

7 =  1 3 5 b7

m7b5 = 1 b3 b5 b7

Dim 7 = 1 b3 b5 bb7

Aug 7 = 1 3 #5 b7

Use the chord building chart with these formulas to determine what notes are in what chords.

Here are some examples.

Fmaj7 = F A C E

G7 = G B D F

Am7 = A C E G

Dm7b5 = D F Ab C

G dim7 = G Bb Db Fb

C Aug 7 = C E G# Bb

Look these types of chords up in any fake book and determine the notes that are in them. This will be an important step as you develop your improvisational skills!

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