Target Notes with Jens Larsen

A description of a method that helps you play clearly and with direction through changing scales and chords. Also a good approach to use your solos to train your harmonic ear.

Ultimate Guitar
A target note is a note that you play in your improvisation when the chord is changing so that the change in the harmony is clear in the melody that you're improvising. So it's a way to link your solo to the harmony under it, because you play harmonically clear notes on strong beats of the bar.

Another important aspect of this approach is that It will help having a natural flow in your solo because you are thinking ahead of the harmony and playing towards something instead of trying to keep up with it after it has changed, which is a more important part of playing over changes than a lot of people think.

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I already talked a bit about target notes in my lesson on playing over changes with arpeggios. But I thought it deserved a lesson by itself.

Selecting Target notes

I'll demonstrate this on a turnaround with altered dominants, because it is easy to make it clear, but it will of course work on all progressions.

Here's the turnaround:

I'll just quickly demonstrate the scales I'll use:

Important priorities:
  • It has to be an important note in the chord, but try to avoid the root. Color of the chord is important so 3rd, 5th and on an altered dominant for example the b5 will be clear.
  • Pick a note that was not in the previous chord and maybe not even in the previous scale, that simply makes it very clear.
If we compare the scale on the Fmaj7 to the D altered scale we'll find that three notes are in D7alt and NOT in F Major: Eb F# Ab, so they would be good candidates for clear target notes.

In a similar way we can come up with this set of target notes for the turnaround:

You'll notice that since the root for several reasons does not work to well as a target note we are free to have D as a target note on the Gm7.

Playing towards a target note

The way to improvise or compose lines within this approach is to always compose a line that moves to the next target note. So here are a few examples of moving from one note to the next. The strongest melody across the barline is a step wise movement so a whole or half step.

And here is a more realistic example where I play twice through the turnaround with the target notes I chose in the beginning.

Download a pdf of the examples: Target Notes.

About the Author:
By Jens Larsen. There are more lessons on his website. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    You are seriously a gift to this whole community! Thanks for all your effort and work! I'll be definitely sharing it around with some of my fellow guitarist pals!
    Thanks! I am very happy that you find it useful! And I hope you'll let me know if you have any suggestions for topics or questions. Jens
    Serious question: How do you actually process so much stuff in your head while improvising?
    That's simple: Once you practice it you enough you don't have to worry about. I can't really think and play at the same time so it needs to be a part of your playing to the point where it's something you hear or maybe like a sort of reflex? In my experience there is no substitute for hard work, but at the same time getting there is half the fun.
    Yep. Once you've worked out the sounds and gotten all the mechanics under your fingers (and spent your time in the practice room), these kinds of processes are nearly automatic. As someone who has spent the better part of the last decade studying and performing jazz, I can say that this stuff comes out in your playing without needing to think about it if you've put the work in beforehand.
    I'm not that advanced player but once I practice anything and actually practice it not just messing around Its stays in my head no matter what even if i'm so freaking sleepy and about to sleep on my laptop still i can process that
    Fantastic lesson! Nicely constructed. I see you are an Axe Fx user as well. That's a great unit.
    Thanks! Yes I've been using the Fractal now for almost 4 years, it's a great box. I can cover a huge range of tones and I can also really mold the effects in it so that they suit me!
    I see. I have owned Axe Fx Ultra for few months now. I couldn't be happier with it. Still lots of functions to uncover...