Ground Your Phrases in Chord Tones and Watch Your Solos Soar

Posted by Michael Mueller on January 27, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Guitar ruts ... They're disheartening, frustrating, and not a whole lot of fun. But if dealt with effectively, they can end up being your best friend. About a year ago, I decided it was time to seriously start working on my craft again, and one of the problem points I identified was that I relied entirely too much on scale-based lines and licks. And even though I knew the solution, it just didn't take root until a series of encounters with players I respect enormously.

The first was when my good friend and former colleague Troy Nelson (Guitar One, Guitar Edge) visited last summer. He picked up one of my guitars and started playing a string of mighty tasty phrases, to which I said, "You've been practicing!" Then he told me that he'd been focusing on building his lines around chord tones and arpeggio shapes, rather than scales. "Of course," I thought. I knew that, but old habits die hard. (By the way, Troy's great book Guitar Aerobics offers one heck of a fretboard workout!)

Then, less than two months later, Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti told me how he was working on some Robben Ford solos and licks, and the examples he played were just loaded with chord tones supplemented with slick, chromatic leading tones and passing tones. "A-ha!"

And finally, while perusing YouTube videos recommended by friends and colleagues, the coolest lines were almost always arpeggio-based.

So, even though progress has been slower than I'd like (due to things like this full-time gig, kids, chores, etc.), this shift in strategy to focusing on chord tones and arpeggio shapes has opened enormous doors for my improvisation. And if you've been finding yourself in a similar rut, I'm quite certain it will have the same effect for you.

To learn more about this strategy, check out these two lessons:

Chord-Tone Soloing by Doug Boduch
Nailing the Changes With Arpeggios by Tom Kolb

Or check out Barrett Tagliarino's excellent book, Chord-Tone Soloing (MI Press).

Chord-Tone Soloing

 

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