Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

You Don’t Have to Be Joe Pass to Play Solo Jazz Guitar Arrangements

You Don’t Have to Be Joe Pass to Play Solo Jazz Guitar Arrangements

Developing a good comping and chord vocabulary means knowing how to play scales in chords. Jazz guitarists practice their scales in chords so they have them ready for solo jazz guitar arrangements.

If you would like to learn more about how to play single lines as chords check out this article. For those wanting to check out the different harmonization possibilities of a single note melody follow this link.

Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of chords or scales to play on the guitar, but how do we use them in chords and solo jazz guitar arrangements?

This article aims to demystify this process and give jazz guitarists a practical approach to chord soloing and chord melody guitar playing so that you can easily play scales in chords and use them when you’re improvising.

Perhaps the most common type of jazz chords that guitarists learn are drop 2 chords.

As great and important to learn as drop 2 guitar chords are, there are a few inversions that provide difficult stretches or simply just don’t sound particularly hip, so most jazz guitarists use chord voicings from a different family that has the same melody note.

Just to clarify, when I am referring to harmonizing a scale in chords I mean harmonizing each note from a scale with a chord and keeping the chord type the same which is different from harmonizing each degree of a scale and obtaining different chord types.

The following diagram shows how a C major arpeggio can be harmonized using a mix of different chord voicings. Notice that a harmonized C major 7 arpeggio can also be played in drop 2 chords because each of those voicings has one of the melody notes on top.

Instead of using drop 2 voicings here, I’ve used a mix 4th voicings and close-position.


C Major 7 Arpeggio Intervals: R, 3rd, 5th, 7

C Major 7 Arpeggio Notes Names:  C, E, G, B


C Major 7 Arpeggio in Chords

major 7 arpeggio in chords


To take this idea one step further, we can then to start to look at playing entire scales in chords. The next example shows how scales can be played in chords on the middle strings of the guitar.

Note that I have used a #11 major 7th chord instead of an 11th to keep each voicing some sort of major 7th chord. Check out this article to learn more about #11 chords:

Like with the first example I have written the first set of voicings with the melody note on the 2nd string, and the second set with the melody note on the top E string.


C Lydian Scale Intervals: R, 2nd, 3rd, #4, 5th, 6th, 7th

C Lydian Scale Notes Names:  C, D, E, F#, G, A, B


C Lydian Scale in Chords

scale chords 1

scale chords 2

Dorian Scale in Chords


Like the major scale, the minor scale can also be played in chords. In this case I have harmonized a C minor Dorian scale using a combination of different chord types as highlighted below.


C Dorian Scale Intervals: R, 2nd, b3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, b7th

C Dorian Scale Notes Names:  C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb


solo jazz guitar arrangements


Practicing Scales in Chords


In order to gain the most from this exercise you must start out by playing each voicing of the scale slowly.  When you can play one new voicing per bar cleanly and in time, try playing two voicings per bar, then 4.

solo jazz guitar arrangements

Remember that these voices are just a guidance of what I would use, so feel free to change them for other major 7th voicings that have the same melody note on top. Practice chord scales in different keys, and remember that you don’t have to play them with the roots on either, but they can sometimes be useful as a point of reference.

Start to create some chord licks too. For a little inspiration and some ideas, check out this article on 3 must know jazz guitar licks. What are some of your favorite ways to practice soloing in chords? Share your thoughts below.

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