Jazz Guitar Chord Solos: How to Play and Create Them
When it comes to using chords in improvisation, there’s a variety of ways that jazz guitar chord solos can be used to add interest to improvisation.
Chords can be used in a pianistic style to fill out space by been used in conjunction with single line playing which is popular with guitarists like Lenny Breau and Ed Bickert, but they can also be used as a solo device by themselves which will be explored in this article.
Jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass would often improvise a full chorus or two of jazz guitar chord solos. Wes even had a formula where he would often used chord soloing towards the end of his solo to add intensity.
Choose The Right Harmony for Jazz Guitar Chord Solos
The first step in learning jazz guitar chord solos is discovering how to harmonize melodies. Jazz guitarists and pianists have countless fun options when it comes to adding a chord to one note because of all the different inversions and substitutions available.
To take chord solos, you must have learnt many inversions for each chord type (major, dominant, and minor) with at least every arpeggio note being the highest note of the voicing on the one of the top two strings.
For example to play a chord licks over C major 7 chord, you need to know at least 8 C Major 7 inversions; 4 with C, E, G, B as the highest note of the chord on the B string, and 4 with the same notes being the highest note on the E string.
Once you know these inversions find or create chords with the root, 9th, 3rd, 11th, 5th, 13th, and 7th on the top two strings and start to practice going up scales in chords.
Chances are if you have learnt the chords in this book so far, you will already have this under your fingers, for example Drop 2 chord voicings give you the root, third, fifth, and seventh on the top two strings.
Dominant 7thb9 voicings will give you the b9, third, fifth, b7, and you might find some of them tastier than the dominant 7th drop 2 voicings.
Quartal voicings and triads can also be used to do harmonise melodies too.
The more chords you know, the more options you have for harmonizing, but don’t limit yourself to strict voicings, try changing notes around and creating your own chords too.
See Single Lines as Chord Licks
Now we know how to harmonize, let’s check out turning single line phrases into chord licks with an exercise that I teach to my private students that helps develop basic chord soloing skills.
First pick a key and play a simple single note like on the top two strings, then repeat the phrase in chords. For this example I’ve picked the key of Bb major and harmonised the single line melody in major 7 chords.
The lick will determine what chords you can use, try and create a line that will work for the various chord types so you can see how the harmony changes for each chord like in the example below.
Obviously not every single phrase will work with each chord type. For example the phrase below wouldn’t work with major 7th inversions because of the b7th being a long held note.
Practice playing single lines as chords in all 12 keys.
Chromatic Chord Movements
Single line jazz improvisation often includes adding chromatic passing tones, so how do we incorporate that into chord soloing?
A cool technique you can do when chord soloing or playing chords in general is slide into chords a half step below or above as seen in the example below.
In this example I’ve added the A7b9 as a passing chord and it has great affect because it’s on the off beat and goes right into the Bb7.
Combine Single Lines with Chords
Sometimes playing a chord for every note of a phrase can even sound a little clunky, so to avoid this, chords can be added either at the start or the end of a phrase.
I hope that you enjoyed this jazz guitar chord solos lesson. We will looking at other ways to balance out our single line blowing with chords, so be sure to check back later in the series for more lessons on this.
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Chord soloing is a world of infinite possabilities and I hope this article has brought some light on the key insights to this style. What are some of your favorite jazz guitar chord solos? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.