Chord Tones And Approach Notes

This lesson begins with a video dealing with making intelligent note choices based on a songs's harmony:


On Developing Style

Okay, we've all been good guitar students and have learned our minor pentatonic bending, wailing, fair share of standard clichés and have memorized solos by our favorite all-time guitarists. As part of this process we have inevitably bought books of scales and hired teachers that reinforced this common knowledge, intro to music improvisation, minor pentatonic way of thinking and enabled us to play some really great stuff, really satisfying things like what we heard on our favorite tracks.  Good Deal, job well done.

When I played that way, when the only thing I knew was the minor pentatonic box pattern and the common out of position scale extensions, I was young but I knew I was just pretending.  I knew I was letting one simple technique, a trick really, represent my entire depth and comprehension of music improvisation.  Playing lead guitar with that frame of mind quickly became a shallow and empty experience. I really didn't know what I was doing I was just blasting through this pattern that seems to always work in one way or another.  Running up and down the minor pentatonic box is tempting and fun, you can't be a guitar player without serious minor pentatonic chops but it is not a good way to go through your life as a guitarist.  It is a good way however to be a poser.

It is for these reasons that I always begin my studies of lead guitar playing by discussing the chords, chord shapes, chord tones, and learning how to successfully create the sound of a chord using the small, simple bits of musical material. Once we understand that we progress to any discussion of melodic tensions and chromatic approach notes. This opens up a whole new way of thinking, a whole new spectrum of sounds and musical effects that you can control, instead of just the same tired old scale patterns do whatever they want. When this new scale is used to complement and embellish all of the hot rock and blues licks we already know, your playing will begin to sound amazing. It will have a melodic and creative substance, musical interest and intelligence. If I had to oversimplify this approach, I would do it like this: bits of chords plus bits of scale equal good leads.

Minor Chord Tones And Tensions

Below is an interactive training guide designed to help you internalize the sound of minor chord tones and their melodic tensions when sounded against a vamp consisting of a I minor chord, C minor in this case.

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Use the playalong tracks below to warp up and get your feet wet in the key of C minor, if you are at a loss concerning what to play, use the shape of the C minor chord or the good old C minor pentatonic box pattern.

Melodic Tendencies

As with the major chord exercise, play your way through the diagram below with a loose and slow approach. The notes in red are the root notes of the 4 string C minor shape and the black dots represent the chord tones. This of course, is the garden variety C mi chord found on the top 4 strings with the melodic tensions labeled in the blue boxes. After you have explored this diagram thoughtfully and slowly, try playing some solos incorperating the chord tones and tensions using the play along track just above.

Melodic Study And Technical Exercise

Just below there is a video of the melody for a tune called El Choclo, an Argentine Tango that has been a musicians' favorite and instrumental standard for well over a century. The song is a study in the minor key sound as discussed in this lesson and is a great of example of the "bits of chords plus bits of scales" approach we have established.




El Choclo is not only haunting, memorable and intriguing in a musical sense, as a technical guitar exercise it is also a winner. You will notice the many trills and quirky nature of the melody as El Choclo captures minor key soloing in a unique and interesting way. Print out the PDF study notes for the piece and follow the fingering indications exactly as they appear in the score.

Click here to open the sheet music and TAB for the El Choclo

Print out the tab and lesson notes for El Choclo and study them throughly. Your goal is to be able to play along, in unison, with the performance of El Choclo in the above video.

Tried And True Minor Key Rock Licks

Just below you see a typical rock style minor key progression in A minor as can be heard in countless famous recordings in one form or another. Notable examples in clude You Are Like A Hurricane by Neil Young, All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan, Runaway by Del Shannon.

If this lick gets a little gets a little difficult under your fingers, play without the recordings a few times and see if the fingering indications are helpful. With the exception of the last 2 measures, where E7 appears in the harmony, the solo is based strictly on chord tones and approach notes of the common knowledge chord shapes in the chart. This type of recipe for a classic lick is one of those types of 'good things' that guitarists keep in their back pocket.


Tried And True Rock Lick No. 1

Since we want to continue using our system of root 6 and root 5 thinking for our future guitar adventures, its a good idea to have a tried and true, never fails rock lick based on a root 5 A minor chord form. The lick below is based on the all time blues standard All Your Lovin' I Miss Lovin by Otis Rush. The notes are all sustained as long as possible so you would to hold on to and gently shake the 3 note A minor triad pictured below. The second half of the lick can be easily explained as well; chord tones and chromatic approach notes based on the root 5 A minor chord form pictured just above the lick.


Tried And True Rock Lick No. 2

Click here to open the study notes and diagrams for the 2 solos written above

Print out the tab and lesson notes for the tried and true minor rock licks. Experiment with chord shapes, approach notes and the scale form found in the notes. Of course, practice the solos until you can play in perfect unison with the recordings.

Backing Track: A Minor Rock

Finally use the A minor rock backing track below to develop your own ideas and licks using the materiial you have learned in this lesson.