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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

It is rare that a band will groove on a minor chord for long durations of time, although practicing with a static groove is not a bad idea. Less rare would be a funky jam on a dominant 7 or 9 chord, which will be discussed in part 2. For now, our next step is improvisation over minor chord changes, and learning what to do when encountering minor chords in other situations. Major chords and more complicated improvisational ideas will be discussed in part 2.

A common change is the i - iv idea. (In classic music theory, uppercase roman numerals refer to major chords, and lowercase refer to minor chords. The actual number refers to the scale degree of the root note of the chord.) So in the key of A minor, this would be Am to Dm.

When we encounter a chord to improvise over, assuming that the progression is rhythmically slow enough to effectively visualize each change, we must deduce the proper "chord shape" to utilize. To do so, you first must find the root note of the chord in an acceptable location (on one of the lower three strings), and then use the appropriate shape for that string. Assuming the chord is minor, the root, b3rd, 4th, 5th, and b7th (the notes of the pentatonic scale associated with that shape), will be good notes to start with.

Below I have a jazzy progression in A minor using only i and iv. For improvisation, I stick with the 5th position for both chords, using "E shape" for the A minor chord, and "A shape" for the D minor chord. When the rhythmic speed of the progression doubles, melodic ideas based on the "E shape" are used over both chords, with passing tones coming from the A minor scale, much like the initial pages of this lesson, with special attention paid to the measures with Dm.
Chord Shape Improvisation, Part 1 - Page 9