Major Chord Soloing Techniques

Dude, Where’s My Scales?

Given that this is a course in lead guitar playing you must certainly have been expecting a good healthy dose of scales by the second or third lesson, rest assured scales and their uses is a big part of this course. Experience has shown me however that jumping right into scales, chord scales or modes when teaching and learning the art of lead guitar playing is a big mistake. It’s a mistake because it’s very difficult to recognize the musical possibilities and control the sounds of the notes in the scales when we are just learning. Practicing scales and then attempting to turn the running or reciting of the scales into guitar solos is a very mechanical affair with a stiff feeling and boring, constant rhythm of eighth notes. It takes a professional with a lot of experience to craft interesting melodies and solos out of different scales and scale sounds.

As you may know, the style makers, the trendsetters, the inventors of lead guitar and modern guitar playing of virtually every ilk created their individual sounds and styles by playing inside the chord, using chord tones, inventing licks with these chord tones and their embellishments. Playing this way provides a solid feeling of being connected, in key and in perfect harmony. Not only is this approach accessable, logical and doable, it feels good and right. That having been said, our study of learning to improvise by thinking about chords and their shapes continues below.

Table Of Compound Intervals


C Major Chord Tones And Tensions

All 3 types of basic chords, major minor and dominant, accept good sounding and interesting harmony notes taken from the scale. These are logical, obvious, upwards harmonic extensions of the chord called tensions or melodic tensions. This is also called harmony by thirds or ‘tertial’ harmony. My interactive diagram for the chord tones and tensions associated with the the key of C major encourages you to view these tensions as melodic embellishments, or decorations which provide extra character and personality to the basic chord sound. I often view them as spices because they enrich and enhance the overall flavor and sound of the chord without changing the basic quality of the chord.


“My first experience with the guitar was taking lessons from Karl Aranjo as a high school student. His lessons were more than just a collection of tips and riffs: they were a method. As I look through, I get to take a trip back through those lessons and am reminded about I loved about them. His strong focus on the fundamentals quickly draws a connection between general music theory and the particulars of how that theory can be applied to the guitar, even allowing us as guitarists to use our instrument as an abacus-like tool to enhance our musical insight. In high school, Karl’s lessons got me up to speed to jam with my friends and in the school band almost immediately. In the almost 20 years since I left high school and had my last lesson with Karl, the things he taught me have continued to serve me well; I’ve played almost continuously in a variety of styles (jazz, rock, funk, folk), both as a hobby and as a part-time professional (currently playing with San Francisco’s Smash-Up Derby). If I hadn’t grown up in the same town as where Karl taught, I might have missed out on a lifetime of fun playing the guitar. With, wherever you are, you can benefit from the same quality instruction that I had!

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