Easy Melodic Soloing Using Chord Tones

09/02/2022 11:30:00 -0400

Easy Melodic Soloing Using Chord Tones

Ever wondered why you feel so many emotions every time you listen to David Gilmour's Comfortably Numb first solo? Obviously, the main solo is phenomenal as well, but that's for other reasons.
Well, if you're like most people, the first solo hits differently. It's kind of nostalgic and bitter-sweet. And that's because David Gilmour is doing something particular that we'll address in our lesson today.

Today's lesson is about melodic improvisation and soloing, using only a few notes; this will work for players of all levels. We will not use scales or licks for this guitar improvisation lesson, so that you can put all of that on the side for now.

The system I want to tell you about is triad soloing or chord tone soloing. Now, if you have no theory background and these terms are confusing, DO NOT worry; this is way easier than it sounds!

So, what is chord tones soloing on guitar? let's suppose we're playing over a track. We have an A major chord going on. We usually would play the A major scale or the A major pentatonic, but now we will limit ourselves to the notes of the chord or chord tones, so in this example, the notes of the A major triad are (A C# E).

This instantly makes you sound more melodic and forces you to put more emphasis on your phrasing to keep things interesting. If you don't know how to find chord tones, don't worry. Here is a quick and easy way to go about it.

Finding The Chord Tones

Let's take A major scale. We are basically going to play the one three and five (1-3-5) of the scale, so for this example, we take the A major scale's first, third, and fifth notes.

Starting from the A on fret five of the low E string, we're going to play:
• The first note of the scale, or root note (which is A)
• The third note of the scale (which is C#)
• The fifth note of the scale (which is E)

Check out the diagram below for reference.

A Major Scale on the Guitar
And that's how we find our chord tones: A, C#, and E respectively.

Check out the video lesson @2:09 for a quick visual demonstration.

What would happen if we wanted to find the triads of a minor chord? Well, we could:
• Think of it as finding the first, third, and fifth note of the corresponding minor scale
• Or just follow the same process above, then flatten the third (take it down a half step or down 1 fret on the guitar)

So, if we take A, for example:
1. The A major triad we found was A (the root) C# (the third) and E (the fifth)
2. We want to flatten the third so, C# becomes C.
3. Giving us the A minor triad: A (the root) C (the minor third), and E (the fifth).

And that's how we find the chord tones of every single chord in our progression.
Let's use those to make our solos and improvisation more melodic!

How To Improvise Using Triads

Now for us to improvise using chord tones only, we need to memorize the notes for every chord and follow along with the progression. 

I created a backing track for you in A major just for this lesson, it's changing between A and D at first, and then it goes to a minor part but for the purpose of this lesson let's just stick to the first part for now.
We would play:
• On A, the chord tones of A (A C# and E)
• On D, the chord tones of D (D F and A)
Check out @4:17 for a demonstration

Even with just playing chord tones it already sounds cool and melodic, but this is where it gets tricky; you need to be able to play those chord tones everywhere on the fretboard. This is where you'll need your theory, and in case you don't know how, here is another lesson where I teach you how to find any note everywhere on the neck!!

Anyway, for the sake of today's lesson, even if you don't know how to do that, don't worry; we can simply use the chord shapes to find our triads
• Open chords.
• Any barre chord shape you might know works!
• Feel free to use any inversion. (Same chord, but the notes are in a different order)
• All you need to know is at least one shape for every chord!!

Check @5:18 for a quick run through a couple of different chord shapes you can use.

Note: You can look at the chord tones as being triads, chords, or arpeggios they're practically the same thing

After doing that, half of the work is done! All we must do now is just stick to those notes and use them to solo over each chord on the track, so pick up your guitars and let's go!

Practicing Chord Tone Soloing

For this example, I'm going to start by playing around fret number five first!

So step 1, as we covered before, is to just play the chord tones in any one area of the neck and that's already melodic, but it could quickly become boring, and this is exactly why we want to find them on different areas of the fretboard.

For step 2, I'm going to jump from playing chord tones around fret number five to playing chord tones around fret number ten, this makes things more exciting and helps work on finding/playing the triads all over the neck on command.

Note: For practicing, we have been sticking to just playing the chord tones; however when you start getting comfortable doing that, you can start experimenting with adding a few passing notes between chord tones to keep things interesting.

Now that we have:
-learned where the chord tones are/how to find them.
-gotten familiar with switching between playing chord tones on different areas of the neck.

For step 3, what you can do is, for a certain section/cycle, stick to playing chord tones and then for another section, do your regular improvisation, mess around with any appropriate scales (A major or A major pentatonic for this lesson's backing track) to spice things up!

Check out @10:50 of the video lesson for a taste of advanced chord tone improvisation!

To take things a step further, check out this lesson on one string melodic soloing!

Final Words:
As you see, we are limiting ourselves to using only three notes for every chord focusing on phrasing rather than notes; this will make your solos and improvisation sound infinitely more melodic.

We must restrict ourselves before we can open up and just shred all over the place afterward. Ideally, you want to be able to switch between both styles on command.

We can also add more techniques to the mix, such as sweep picking, string skipping, or a pedal tone/pedal note (playing the same note repeatedly but alternating with some other notes). Check out @12:27 for a live demonstration.

This can get tricky because it combines other techniques like hybrid picking and string skipping. The idea is simple; the whole point is to make chord tone improvisation another tool you can use in your everyday playing.

Have you been playing guitar for a while and feel like you've been stuck playing the same old lick? If you want to learn more ways to add some spice to your improvisation or maybe get some new ideas to develop that solo you've been working on, then you need to check out our premium guitar training program, "guitar elevation'' and it might be just the thing you've been missing!
Author: Jack Haddad
Jack Haddad is an expert Guitar educator and teacher and has been helping guitarists, through his innovative methods, get incredible results on the guitar, whether they want to jam with friends or rock out on the big stage.

You can find out more about Jack Haddad's teaching here: https://www.jhguitarschool.com
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