Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

How to Solo Over Rhythm Changes Part 1 – Two Approaches

How to Solo Over Rhythm Changes Part 1 – Two Approaches

While we have already examined comping over the rhythm changes in the 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar series, learning  how to solo over rhythm changes n single lines is also important and an essential part of learning how to play jazz guitar.

The progression comes from George Gershwin’s popular standard ‘I Got Rhythm’ written in the early 30’s and has become one of the most popular jazz progressions as well as the basis of countless standards.

The form for the vast majority of rhythm changes tunes is the popular AABA format and is typically performed in Bb but should be practiced in all 12 keys. Most of the chords move cyclically in fourths, and the tune features extensive use of the common I-VI-II-V chord progression.

Today’s instalment of the 3 step guide to mastering rhythm changes is going to be focusing on two ways that you can look at the changes when soloing.

The first example demonstrates the standard Rhythm Changes used by jazz musicians and the secound progression shows the simplified changes.


Standard RC Progression


Rhythm changes tunes are usually played at very fast tempos any where from 200 — 240 beats per minute is where most musicians play and practice the tune, although some of Charlie Parker’s original RC recordings are a little more adventurous and were sometimes recorded at rapid tempos upwards of 270 bpm!

When tunes are played at fast tempos improvisers tend to take at least 2 or 3 choruses because of how fast one chorus goes by, so you need to have plenty of material to draw up when playing over this progression.

Jazz musicians tend to focus on eighth note based lines when blowing to outline the harmony smoothly, which is great, but can get tiring to listen to and technically demanding when you’re taking a few choruses, so I like to use what’s referred to by my old guitar teacher Jamie Taylor as a ‘Two Speed Approach’.

This term means looking at the progression in two ways; the first being implying all the substitutions and alternate progressions to add as much harmonic content as possible.

The other way is looking at how we can simplify the tune by keeping the progression basic and diatonic.

Starting a rhythm changes solo with simple bluesy and melodic ideas is very effective because it makes the contrasting and more advanced eight note lines sound even better when you use them creating a balanced and varied approach.

Check out the simplified RC Progression in the example below:


Simplified RC Progression

Things To Notice About This Progression


  • Major 7th chords to major 6ths for more a bluesy A section feel
  • Only two key centres to focus on in the A section (Bb and Eb)
  • Removal of the preceding II minor 7th making bars 5-6 like a blues



Using Blues Licks In The ‘A’ Section


As mention above simple and melodic lines work great at outlining these simplified changes. Jazz guitarists such as Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel sometimes use this approach extensively, while at the other end of the spectrum players like Joe Pass are most keen on outlining the changes, and George Benson presents a tasteful mix of both ideas.

One way that you can sound bluesy over the rhythm changes ‘A’ section is with the use of pentatonic scales. Jazz guitarists often use blues and pentatonic scales in conjunction with more bop orientated lines to solo over the rhythm changes.

Pentatonic and blues licks give a nice crunch to the sound and lend some variety. Besides just using the pentatonic and blues scales you can also add colour tones to this scale to add variety.

Check out the ‘Bb Blues Scale with added notes’ example below that shows the added tones: C (9), D (3rd), and G (6th). These colour tones combined with the blues scale provide great potential for chromatic lines.




Check out the example below for a blues lick that uses the extended blues scale. These type of down-home blues licks are very effective over the rhythm changes.


RC Blues Lick


The next example is a longer motific based passage that I learnt from a good friend and mentor, Adrian Ingram.

This longer 8 bar line shows how you can combine rhythmic motifs with major scales and pentatonic for effective and melodic single line soloing.


Adrian Ingram Example


Bluesy lines which have a chromatic treatment of the third work well as demonstrated in the next example, a George Benson lick. Note that this line uses two triads in bars 1 and 2, like the first two bars of a jazz blues progression, creating an aesthetic bluesy feel.



As great as the simple melodic blues lines are, we need to be able to clearly outline the changes for the standard Rhythm Changes progression.

In the next lesson I will be showing you some fun ways in how you can do this with some cool bebop devices, substitutions and techniques used by jazz musicians, so don’t forget to check your inbox next Monday for the next lesson in the series

Why not head over to the backing tracks resource page and check out the free backing track to practice with?

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Any chance this and the follow up lesson are in pdf? So much easier to call up on my ipad.

Jamie Holroyd

Hey Matt, thanks for the comment. I have this entire series (with extra content) and a bunch of other lessons as a PDF with audio in my new ebook if you want to check it out: http://jamieholroydguitar.com/introduction-to-jazz-guitar-improvisation Cheers

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