Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Chord tone soloing - an exercise
One of the hardest things with learning to hit chord tones while soloing, is trying to do the mental multitasking it requires. At first, keeping track of which chord comes next in your mind - while you "relax" and solo - feels damn near impossible.... But it really isn't. It just is for you right now!
Do you remember the first time you rode a bicycle? You likely wobbled down the street, eventually gaining stability, then you get it BOOM! Before long, its tough to remember why you struggled with this in the first place. The same holds true of learning anything new. It takes a bit of doing but once your mind latches on, these tasks become almost second nature.
One of the hurdles we have to overcome in this day and age is there seems to be a real tangible fear of doing anything badly. Which is nonsense. Let me help liberate you on this - EVERYBODY who is good at anything, once sucked at it. Embrace sucking, learn to laugh at it, expect it. Because it is part of the road. A BIG part of it.
OK, so how do we get there then?
Leverage what you know
A great exercise to begin with is take a song that you know really well. Preferably a campfire style chord strummer and make sure you know the chord changes inside and out and can say them out loud. Now, pick an area on the neck and learn the arpeggios of these chords in this position. Play the song, but instead of strumming the chords, simply walk through the arpeggios, playing each chord change as a single note line.
IMPORTANT - Turn on a metronome, or tap your foot - something, ANYTHING giving you time. Force yourself to really nail the change on the click. The click is important to the process because it makes you accountable. You can't fudge this, either you are on it or you are NOT.
Once you are good with that now begin to improvise melodies using ONLY chord tones. At this stage, your only allowed pool of notes over each chord are the ones in the chords themselves. Try to create motifs and alter them accordingly as the change happens.
Once you have this DOWN in this one area of the neck, do the same thing in another area. Do not move forward until you have each area really owned. THEN and only THEN combine the areas - eventually spanning the whole neck.
Sounds kind of drab? How do we spice it up?
Turn each of the chords into scales... So if you are playing over a minor chord, use its minor scale (preferably Dorian!) using the arpeggio as its skeleton - these are your strongest resolve points. Same process if you are playing over a Major chord - use it's major scale.
Now do the same drill, but this time change the entire scale ON the chord change. Try to hit one of the chord tones of the new chord in your melody with each new change. The key here is developing awareness of the impending change. It forces you to do some pre-planning as you play, which is EXACTLY the exercise here.
Man, I sucked at that!
Yes you did! And you will for a bit. But that's OK. As I said above, learn to expect and embrace being bad. Notice the minute improvements as you go along. These are small victories. The reaching of these micro goals are steps toward reaching the macro goal of owning this technique. So be proud of each one you hit. How your think of your progress is a big part of succeeding.
Now, try this approach with other songs you know really well first.
I should say that an immense help to this process is something that will generate a loop for you to play over. Using a looper pedal is a massive help. In my opinion, every guitarist should own one of these pedals. There are also software packages like "Band-in-a-Box" where you can input a chord change and it will generate the accompaniment for you. There are also some inexpensive iPhone based apps like ChordBot which do the same type of thing. I would highly recommend researching and purchasing something like this.
With some hardware or software at your disposal, the next steps would be to input some random chords. Diatonic - or of the key - first, eventually moving to completely unrelated or non-diatonic chords. Remember the chords can be anything really as the exercise here is doing the mental multi-tasking of getting ready for the change, knowing when it is and getting to the nearest chord tone in a musical way.
Jazz it up
Another fun thing to do is to get a jazz fake book. Open it up to a song with some chords you feel OK with and work with these changes. This is really helpful as it will also help develop your chord chops. Inevitably there will be some chords in there that you don't know well. Which forces you to learn not only it, but it's arpeggio as well, in more than one area of the neck.
The main thing with anything you do is to have fun with it. So get creative. If it's not fun then make it so or simply dump it and move on. If you do a little bit of this each day it will oneday click. Once you get good at this it can be really fun and addictive. It becomes a little mental puzzle for you to work through. When you go back to playing the one-key based structure that most popular music follows you will be surprised how easy it is. Soon you begin to HEAR the changes... no thinking required. This is when the real music begins to happen. Before long - like your bicycle - you will wonder why you weren't able to do this all along.