Pitch Axis Theory: Soloing

Through an understanding of Pitch Axis Theory, you can greatly expand your ability to improvise (especially in soloing)

Ultimate Guitar
In order for the main idea presented in this article to be the most useful and make the fullest sense, the reader should already have a firm grasp over all seven modes of the Major scale for all possible tonal centers. In a nut-shell, Pitch Axis Theory acts as a guide during improvisatory soloing to inform the musician as to what scales will sound the most awesome over a series of changes (aka chord progressions). In order to obtain this guidance from Pitch Axis theory, the improvisee need only make two quick mental calculations in order to figure out what scale to invoke in his improvising. 1.) What is this chord progression's Pitch Axis? -The answer to this question is most frequently found in either the Chord progression's initial key, or in whatever tone is most common to the chords of that progression. Once you determine pitch Axis, you know what tonal center you will be using in your improvising. Example: Suppose that I start comping the following progression for you to solo over G Dominant 7th---> A Minor 7th---> D Minor 7th--->G Dominant 7th Right of the bat, it appears for a number of reasons that this progression's pitch axis is "G". It is the Starting tone or, "tonic" of this chord progression, and it is also a common tone to the first,second, and final chord in this progression. 2.) Now that I know my tonal center, what accidentals (sharps/flats) will be implemented in the scale that I am going to use? The answer to this question is to look to the sharps/flats that are being used in the chord progression that you are to improvise over. So for our improvising for the above chord progression, we will use a G-Mixolydian scale because 1.) G is the progression's Pitch-Axis, and therefore our tonal center, and 2.) the chords in this progression have no sharps or flats, and G-Mixolydian happens to be the only modal scale built on G that possesses no sharps or flats. So the next time you are playing over a series of changes, you will know what scale best fits over them, and you will be able to tailor your soloing around the chords that are being played through. (-: -Nicholas Jacquet

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Interesting. I kinda just figured this out by thinking about it real hard but this is a great way to explain this concept.
    Waking the Deam
    This is a good thread but maybe a little more detail, but then you also mentioned it was for people who no modes well, I have been studying them for a few months and understand the concept but have a hard time actually implimenting it.
    Bubonic Chronic
    The use of Mixo here is obvious given the fact that we are in the key of C. G7-Am7-Dm7... classic C progression. I would suggest exploring not only the G mixo scale, but also the G min blues (pentatonic + the "blue" note) since that will sound very "bluesy" indeed over G7. Moving back and forth from Mixo to blues, and even grabbing accidentals from harmonic minor to create tension is a much more interesting way to improv. The dissonant quality of dominant chords opens the pandora's box of possibilities, and allows the composer to move virtually anywhere: G7-A7-C#7... whatever. The presence of the tritone will create tension that can be resolved later. Far more compelling possibilities than simply playing in the key of C.
    i hate how when people get into modes, they overcomplicate things to get back to the same answer. it reminds me of middle school math teachers. you don't even have to think in modes in a typical solo. if everything is in the 'key' of C then play the C major scale. That is level one soloing. Or, depending on the chords, it would be good to play any of the smaller scales that use those notes. There are many pentatonic scales that use notes from the key of C. You can also throw in some blue notes no problem. Along with this make sure to emphasize certain notes. In this case, you're right, G is the right note. BUT, if you wanted to sound different, you can emphasize a different note. Remember, the same note has a different 'feel' depending on what chord is being played. If you were to emphasize D throughout the solo, you'd have a more interesting sound. It's also important to 'play the changes' which means when the chord changes, you go to a note that works with that, or play a note that works for both chords. I.E. sustain a B note from G7 to a Minor. The next 'level' is not using the same notes for every chord. When it comes to jazz, you can play any scale that contains the notes of the chord. Am7 is in the key of C, but it's also in the key of F. So you can switch that B to a bflat if you want.