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The Best Way to Nail Chord Changes

What’s the secret to getting great sounding solos and nailing the changes? Is it playing the most notes? Or is it about playing the right notes?

There are plenty of ways you can make a great solo, with all kinds of advanced techniques like melodic chromaticism, approach notes, and playing outside.

But what a lot of folks forget about are the fundamentals. What makes a melody sound good against the harmony? Well the easiest way to do it is to make the melody fit with the harmony (or even a part of the harmony).

Maybe you see where we’re going with this.

Yes, we’re talking about soloing with chord tones. And before the advanced players run away saying, “well I already know how to do that, that’s easy…” not so fast!

Maybe you know how the changes go for a tune, but can you identify the chord tones for each chord? And better yet, can you play just the chord tones in interesting and varied ways to make a hip solo—how about without thinking too much about it?

If you can confidently solo with just chord tones, you’ll be able to hear the chord changes better and ultimately be able to improvise a lot better.

We’ll dive into a few ways you can make your chord tone solos even better, but before we do, you’ll want to check out our accompanying YouTube video on Chad LB's channel. Plus, if you want to really improve on this concept, be sure to check out our masterclass called Practicing Standards. In that masterclass, Chad breaks down a step-by-step process you can use for practicing standards. This gets into chord tone solos as well as the techniques mentioned above—melodic chromaticism, like approach notes and enclosures and more!

Now let’s get soloing!


Standard arpeggio shape

A lot of people don’t realize how good you can sound playing just chord tones. And a good place to start with chord tones is arpeggios. If you’re a guitarist or a pianist, you already kind of play the arpeggios in the form of the chords, but for many players, they’re uncomfortable once they start breaking out into melodic use of the arpeggios. Similarly for horn players, we have to start from scratch, since we can’t play chords per se.

So what we’re going to do is play the arpeggios over the changes for a standard, and we recommend doing it along to a metronome, since you want to do it with a consistent pulse. Now this might sound really elementary, but you’d be surprised how many advanced players can’t do this one simple exercise.

We’re going to start simple, with just the 1, 3, 5, and 7, arpeggiating up and holding the rest of the bar on 7. Here’s what that looks like on the standard “There Will Never Be Another You.”

Simple ascending arpeggio on jazz standard
Simple ascending arpeggio

Moving through eighth notes

This 1, 3, 5, 7 arpeggio has its limits, though, and it’s helpful to expand the arpeggio so that we can play straight eighth notes through the bar.

What we can do is add the ninth (or the second) and we can extend the arpeggio a bit. Here’s what that looks like:

Ascending and descending jazz 9th chord arpeggios over jazz standard
Eighth note arpeggio with the 9th

And if you want to hear what any of these exercises sound like, make sure to check out our video on nailing chord changes, Chad plays through these examples and improvises some of his own solos as well.