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Chord Shape Improvisation, Part 1

Josh Graves (2401) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

If you haven't already done so, you should take a look at my CAGED lesson when you're done here. This will be essential for fully grasping the topics discussed in Chord Shape Improvisation, part 2. On this page, I'll wrap up the ideas I have presented in this lesson on minor chord shape improvisation, and introduce the non-scale approach that will be presented in part 2. It is also advantageous to have a good understanding of music theory, though I assume that some level of fundamental understanding exists, or else you would not have made it this far.

For the most part, pop music improvisation is based around the major chord, and this lesson (combined with CAGED) serves as a good primer for that. Using the major scale is usually not the way to find the sound you're looking for over a major chord, whereas the minor scale is almost always very effective over a minor chord. Understanding minor pentatonics will give you a good perspective, and help you realize something deceptively simple: once the basic pentatonics have been established, and assuming the use of the Mixolydian scale over a major chord, only the 3rd and 6th scale degree are different in minor vs. major improvisational approach. Meld that with the fact that the b3rd is often used in bluesy or jazzy solos right over a major chord and you'll see why I've spent 10 pages explaining minor chord theory as preparation for improvising over major chords!

If we break a scale in half, 1-4 and 5-8, either half could be thought of as minor or major, depending on the 3rd (1st half), and 6th (2nd half) scale degrees. This idea will resurface in part 2. Below is a comparison of the minor scale and the Mixolydian scale which is often used over a major chord.

Minor: A B C   D E  F  G
Major: A B C# D E F# G