Solo Improvising with Chords

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in Composition, Methods

Improvising with Chords is another method of filling in short segments, or for that matter whole parts of a song with big sound. One of the easiest ways to understand this approach is first considering the bear structure form a song with a single note melody and a single note bass line.

Your bass player is going to likely play the scale or chord tones of the chord being used at the moment. The melody will be used as the top or highest note and chord tones will be used underneath it to produce the big sound.

On the piano this involves adding in chord tones and accenting the melody note above it. (Side note, it took me years to final master this technique, check that, I’m still working on it). In other words the melody is being supported by the chord tones under it.

When a band gets together, one of the horns may take the melody and the rest of the group can take the chord notes (each with one note) and play complex chords. Or the guitar may provide that support of chords.

For the piano soloist, this improvising with chords can be a fun, but sometimes difficult task to accomplish on the fly without a little practice time.

The following example shows how this might get accomplished. I’m using the initial melody developed in the octave unison post to form the basis of applying chords. I start by simple using the inversions of the chord for this example. Notice that in the second measure I’ve added a mini progression and substituted a II7 to transition to the root. ( check out our resources below for more on this theory.)

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This is an intense example, you may start out by applying just the beat notes or even every other beat to start as you get used to this approach. To see more on this approach you can go back to the series I did last year on the Power of Music Theory in Arrangement.

Reference lessons:

Chords page or Creating Chords Workshop

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