Making Sense of Jazz Soloing

author: BenTunessence date: 01/23/2014 category: soloing
rating: 8.5 / votes: 11 
Making Sense of Jazz Soloing
Soloing in a jazz style can be really intimidated for someone coming from a rock background. There tend to be a lot of key changes, making it hard to keep track of just which scale you're supposed to use in your solo. The trick is to frame the whole situation differently. Don't worry about keys, and don't start with scales. Start with just the chord. 

Let's say that the first chord in the tune is Bm7. One way to play this chord is with a simple "shell" chord shape, just the root, flat 7th, and flat 3rd.

Bm7 chord

|-------| 
|-------|
|---7---|
|---7---|
|---x---|
|---7---|
This provides just the absolute essential elements of the chord, just enough to let you know it's a Bm7. This shape can also act as a mental anchor. Let these three notes be the foundation of the chord on the fretboard, from which we'll build the arpeggio and the scale next. 

So you've already got the root, 3rd, and 7th of the Bm7 chord in the basic chord shape.

Next, fill this out into an arpeggio pattern by adding in the 5th of the chord. Let's also add in all the different octaves nearby of the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Here's what you end up with:

Bm7 arpeggio

|----------------------------7--10--| 
|---------------------7--10---------|
|------------------7----------------|
|------------7--9-------------------|
|---------9-------------------------|
|--7--10----------------------------|
Notice how the basic Bm7 chord shape is still hidden within this arpeggio pattern. The chord shape is just now surrounded by the rest of the notes of the arpeggio. Try to keep the chord shape and arpeggio shape connected mentally. Practice switching back and forth, playing the chord, then running up or down part of the arpeggio. The goal is to be able to switch between them easily at any time. 

Arpeggio patterns give you a good set of notes to draw from as you're soloing through chord changes. An arpeggio is sort of a home base that you can always fall back on. And hidden within that arpeggio is the chord shape you can always jump to for a bit of rhythm.

But let's say you want to spice up your playing with more than just the notes of the arpeggio. That's where the scale comes in. Think of building a house as a metaphor. The chord is the foundation, the arpeggio is the structure built on that foundation, and the scale is like interior decoration. The scale is where personal taste comes in. It's where you get to explore your own voice as a soloist. 

So which scale do you play over the Bm7? Well, you build your own.

Start with the arpeggio pattern. The arpeggio already gives you the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale degrees. Three notes are missing: the 2nd, the 4th, and the 6th. Here's where you get to make some choices. Do you want a flatted 2nd or a natural 2nd? A natural 4th or a sharped 4th? A flatted 6th or a natural 6th? It's totally up to whatever you like the sound of. 

Go through the arpeggio pattern from before, and try filling in the missing notes based on what you think sounds good. Let's say you like the sound of a natural 2nd, a sharped 4th, and a natural 6th.

You'd end up with a scale like this:

Bm7 scale example

|-----------------------------------------------7--9--10--| 
|-------------------------------------7--9--10------------|
|---------------------------6--7--10----------------------|
|------------------6--7--9--------------------------------|
|------------8--9-----------------------------------------|
|--7--9--10-----------------------------------------------|
That's just one example, but you can fill in the arpeggio with whatever notes your ear likes in order to build a scale. This approach ideally leads to a tight connection between the chord shape, the arpeggio pattern overlaying that chord shape, and the scale built out of the arpeggio pattern. Chord, arpeggio, scale. 

Both the chord shapes and arpeggio shapes are moveable, so you can use the above Bm7 arpeggio shape for any minor 7th arpeggio, as long as you start on the correct root.

Then soloing becomes a matter of just decorating each arpeggio as you see fit. That's where you can really let your ear guide you and enjoy the exploration of your own voice as a guitarist.
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