Playing Over Changes – Part 4

In this video, Colin demonstrates how to smoothly link chord tones all over the fretboard over the chord changes to “Blues For Alice” and “Giant Steps”.

Knowing our chord tones all over the fretboard is an important first step when trying to play well over chord changes. But to improvise effective melodies, we have to understand how to connect them to each other. In this episode, I’ll show you an effective way to practice connecting chord tones through the changes of a tune to help you know your guitar inside out.

Now that we’re comfortable finding chord tones all over our fretboard, our next step is to find ways to smoothly link them from one chord to another. If you haven’t worked through the exercises in the other chord tone videos, go through those first so you have a strong foundation to work with for this video.

In this exercise, we’ll play one chord tone per chord again, but this time we’ll play them in a sequential fashion. It works like this:

  • Choose a chord tone to start on and a direction to move in.
  • When the chord changes, play the closest chord tone in the new chord from the pitch you just played.
  • Continue moving in the same direction until you run out of space on your fretboard, then change directions.

In order to have success with this, you have to think of all 4 chord tones quickly, then decide in the moment which one is the closest to the one you just played, and then play it in time. This is an incredibly useful skill to have as an improviser.

So let’s try it out on the chord changes to “Blues For Alice”. I’ll start on the root of the first chord, Fmaj7 on my low E-string. From there, I’ll ascend my fretboard through the changes moving as little as possible to make the smoothest connection from chord to chord. When I run out of room, I’ll descend my fretboard through the changes until I reach my low E-string again. Here’s 150bpm.

As you can see, when I reached the beginning of the form on my low E-string, I landed on a different chord tone than where I began. This makes the exercise perpetual. You can keep playing up and down your fretboard and explore all of the possible paths that these chord tones will take you on without stopping.

Once again, I recommend looking at a chord chart as you do this exercise, but rather than writing out the chord tones for each chord, try doing it from memory. This will help to improve the speed of your musical thinking and it will translate nicely when you’re improvising for real. And of course, you can apply this exercise to any song you want to master the chord changes on. For example, I’ll do this same exercise over the chord changes to “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane. To change it up, I’ll play the root of the Bmaj7 on my high E-string and have my line descend to begin.

Now you give it a go! As always, start slowly and build up gradually. With enough practice, you’ll see connections everywhere on your fretboard. Thanks for watching, happy practicing, and I’ll see you next time on Inside Out Guitar.

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