Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

How to Play Over Rhythm Changes Part 3: Against The Grain Patterns and Scales

How to Play Over Rhythm Changes Part 3: Against The Grain Patterns and Scales

In last week’s issue of the 3 part rhythm changes soloing guide we looked at how to become better jazz guitarists by outlining the changes of the A section.

Now that you have got these changes under your fingers, it’s time to let our hair down and have some fun in this final part of the series by checking out how to apply some very cool ‘against the grain’ scales and patterns over the changes.

What do I mean by against the grain? For those that are wondering, when I say against the grain I am talking about ideas and lines that don’t always completely outline the harmony, but work in their own way.

Having already looked at some against the grain ideas such as the blues and pentatonic scales in the first issue of the series, but today’s examples are a little more hip and angular.

Missed the first two issues? No worries, you can catch up with part 1 here, and part 2 by clicking here.

You can also checking my lesson on rhythm changes comping as well as a comping etude for further study.

Why not also check out this free backing track to practice the examples from this lesson over


Non-Harmonic Patterns


The first idea is the use of non-harmonic patterns which are melodic patterns that do not belong to a particular key or chord and work by their own internal logic.

Jazz saxophone legend John Coltrane was a big fan of practicing these patterns. For more information on these cool patterns I recommend checking out the book ‘Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns’ by Nicolas Slonimsky.

Check out the example below that I’ve notated and tabbed out where the pattern is a fourth up – whole step down — fourth down – H-S Down.

The pattern is then reversed as an ascending lick directly afterwards.



Symmertical Scales


To add some spice to your rhythm changes playing you can practice applying the whole tone scale to the progression.

This may sound a little strange at first and some notes will work better than others on different chords, but it sounds particularly effective in the last few bars of the ‘A’ section before resolving the bridge due to the tension the scale provides.

You can also use the whole half diminished to solo over the A sections for a similar affect. Check out the example below for notated examples of these scales and start to experiement with them.


Bb Whole-Tone & Whole-Half Diminished Scales



Knowing what whole tone or whole half diminished scale to use over the A section is simple, if you’re playing rhythm changes in Bb then you can use the Bb whole tone scale.

You can also apply the whole-tone scale to the ‘B’ section too. Remember that you only need to know two whole tone scales to play over any chord; C and Db, so over the Rhythm Changes bridge you can play C whole tone scale over D7, Db whole tone scale over G7, C whole tone scale over C7 and Db whole scale over F7.



Other Recommended RC Practice Ideas


  • Consistent 8th Notes — most exercises in these articles have been rhythmically straight eight notes and while you not play like this at a gig, it’s extremely useful to be able this flow to your lines, so that they can be as long or as short as you hear them
  • Rhythm Changes Heads — Most bop themes are pieced together solo’s so they all contain great lines that you can use in your playing.
  • Chords — Although we have discussed a variety of single line devices, busy progressions like the rhythm changes make great potential for chord solos (link here), and we must practice playing the chords to get the sound of the progression in our ears.
  • Write Down Your Own Licks — Playing through etudes, transcriptions and studies is great but try and write down some of your lines. Not only is this great for analyzing what’s happening harmonically, being able to creating your own lines will ensure you have learnt why the lines you have learnt from others work so well.


The Rhythm Changes is a progression with endless potential for single line soloing and comping. It would be impossible to fully explore these possibilities within this short series but I hope that it has given you some insight to what you can play over this tricky progression.

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