How to Solo Over Chord Changes - Make The Connection
Soloing over chord changes is
one of the most valuable skills you can learn as a guitarist, but it
can also be one of the most challenging. It therefore needs to be
broken down into the smallest steps possible.
The aim of this lesson is to get you into the right frame of mind
for learning how to play through chord changes and to give you three
key ways to help connect your solo to the chords you're playing over - a connection that many struggle
worry if the first solos you attempt sound a little... basic. Every
take in this lesson, no matter how small, is fundamental to our
progress. You'll gradually build on this rudimentary knowledge - it
will become the base for your soloing technique (bends, legato, speed,
Start by watching the short
Then, before viewing the supplemental content further down this page,
ensure you bookmark this
page as it's quite long and should realistically give you
weeks worth of practice material.
1. Use chord shapes to find the chord tones
mentioned in the video, the first (and arguably most important)
approach for learning to solo over chord
changes is to find the related tones/intervals of the chords you're
over on the fretboard.
These chord tones act as safe target
notes to help put your soloing phrases into context and
give your lead lines a sense of purpose and direction. Simply being
aware of their location will make improvising and writing solos a hell
of a lot easier. They will save you on many occasions from
wandering into (unpleasant) dissonance!
easiest way to find these chord tones is to visualise the chord
progression in the form of chord
shapes. To keep things simple, we'll start by using the E
and A form barre
you're hopefully familiar with. In the coming lessons, we'll explore
additional shapes (C, D and G) to give you even more positions to
visualise chords, but this is a good place to start.
"A form" major chord
"E form" minor chord
"A form" minor chord
So the first step is to get comfortable with using these shapes (or any
others you're familiar with) to
locate each chord in the progression. In the video, the example was Amaj / Emaj / Bm / Dmaj, but you should
be confident with finding these major and minor triads in any key.
If you're thinking "what about diminished/augmented/altered chords?!" -
Patience! We'll move on to soloing over more complex chords later. One
step at a
Let's just try a fresh major key example: Abmaj / Cm / Fm / Bbm
Where might we play these chords on the fretboard using E and A form
barre chords? The answer is
below, but at least try yourself before you look!
When selecting your chord shapes, try and choose the ones
that are in close proximity to the previous and next chords.
Once you have your chord shapes/tones identified, try playing over the
progression one chord
tone at a time.
That means for Abmaj, we'd play either the root, 3rd or 5th of that
chord. When the chord changes, we'd play the root, 3rd or 5th of THAT chord etc.
If you know your seventh chord shapes (e.g. Cmaj7, C7, Cm7)
you can also
use the 7th as a chord tone.
Try it yourself. Listen to the backing track below (it's the chord
progression we've used in this example) and then start playing the
appropriate chord tones as the chords change, perhaps selecting
different ones each time around. I've included some tab examples below
each track to start you off...
Once you're confident with finding the chord tones through shapes, try
and find the same notes on different
strings. If you know the notes
across the fretboard,
this shouldn't be too difficult. In fact, this is a great exercise to
help test your knowledge of how well you know the note positions!
Take your time with the one-note-per-chord exercises and, when you're
ready, try linking them
using notes from a related scale (e.g. for the Abmaj
major scale or major pentatonic. For the Cm progression, C natural
minor or minor pentatonic).
Want to quickly learn the most
important scale patterns for this
method? Jonathan Boettcher has a great free
cheat sheet here.
You should also allow for some trial and error and let your ear be the
judge of what sounds
good when moving between chord tones.
Start by using just one note in between the chord tones, then 2, then 3
etc. Embellish your phrases in gradual layers like this.
If you're struggling with identifying the correct scale/notes to use
between the chord tones, don't worry, we'll cover that in more detail
lessons. Even without this, you should be able to hear how important
these chord tones are in creating musical, natural sounding solos.
2. Use arpeggios to support the chord changes
In the video I briefly explain the "arpeggio approach" - using
arpeggios as the skeleton or scaffolding of your soloing phrases.
Arpeggios can help outline the chord you're playing over and put any
embellishments into the context of the chord you're playing over
Think of them like the "centre of gravity" over a given chord. Sure,
you'll play notes outside the arpeggio (i.e. from a related scale), but
the arpeggio will help pull
it all together. Listen closely to your favourite solos
and you'll hear a mixture of "horizontal" scale runs and "vertical"
So it's similar to the chord tone method above (since arpeggios are
essentially the notes of a chord played one after the other), but this
time we're using them more as part
of our phrasing, combining them with scale movements.
Just like the chord tone approach, all you need to work on at first is
being able to visualise these arpeggios in the correct positions based
on the chord you're playing over.
Using the example from the video - Amaj
/ Emaj / Bm / Dmaj - I might use
the following positions (fret number below the diagrams!)...
Over E major
Over B minor
Next, try playing over each chord using its related arpeggio. When
doing this, think about how you might connect each arpeggio to the
next. Don't simply play every arpeggio from the lowest to highest
string, try connecting them a bit more smoothly.
For example, take a look at the tab exercise below based on the same
chord progression: Amaj
/ Emaj / Bm / Dmaj. Look at and
listen to how I
connect each arpeggio
- I take the last note of the current arpeggio
and play the first note of the next arpeggio in close proximity (both
pitch wise and on the fretboard).
This is good training for ensuring your chord change melodies flow smoothly and fluidly
rather than sounding disjointed.
(Click the tab to hear)
Spend as much time as you can arpeggiating chord changes in this way.
This is extremely valuable practice time for you, I promise! We'll
build on this skill in later lessons.
This is a more advanced approach to soloing over chord changes, but
it's just another way of seeing it. If you already know the
pretty well, you may even find this a more efficient approach
than the others in this lesson.
First, understand that most progressions, especially those in
mainstream pop and rock, are connected to the major scale. This is
because the chords contain notes from the major scale.
So we're now looking inside
the scale pattern for our chord tones. They're in there
If you picture the major scale in its natural sequence (1 2 3 4 5 6 7),
each degree of
scale marks the root of a new chord.
So from 1 - 7 we have a sequence of 7
chords that reside
within this scale system. You'll often hear this referred to as
You'll also commonly see Roman numerals used to symbolise these chords
(upper case numerals for the major chords, lower case for minor
These are the chord relationships used in countless songs. The
major scale is the "formula" for many chord progressions over which
you'll be soloing.
to get up to speed on this "chord scale" I highly recommend you check
out the course Unlocking I IV V.
So, start by identifying the roots of each chord in the scale. Easy.
chord's root is the 1st note in the scale. The 2nd chord's roots is the
2nd note. The 3rd chord's root is the 3rd note etc.
So if you saw a 1 4 5 (I IV V) chord progression, you'd know the roots
of the chords are 1, 4 and 5 from the scale respectively.
The next step is to work out which intervals in the major scale are
used in each of its chord.
For example, the 1 (or I)
chord, which is major, uses the 1 3 and 5 from the scale.
The 2 (or ii)
chord, which is minor, uses the 2, 4 and 6 from the scale.
The 3 (or iii)
chord, which again is minor, uses the 3, 5 and 7 from the scale. And so
it goes on...
Scale Tones Used
The pattern you should be seeing here is that when we move to the next
the sequence, we also move each tone in the preceding chord to the next.
Notice also how we take the root of the chord, add 2 for the 3rd and
another 2 for the 5th.
For example, the IV chord uses the following tones from the major
Once you have this sequence commited to memory, you'll know exactly
where the chord tones for each chord in a typical major key progression
lie, assuming you've also learned some major scale patterns, such as
Let's use the example from earlier - Amaj / Emaj / Bm /
We know from earlier that this is a 1 5 2 4 (I
V ii IV) progression, which
uses the 1st, 5th 2nd and 4th chords from the major scale.
Therefore, from learning the chord sequence above, we'd know that for
the 1 chord the chord tones are 1,
3 and 5 from the A major
scale (since A major is our 1 chord).
For the V
chord, the chord tones are 5,
7 and 2 from the scale.
chord - 2, 4 and 6
And the IV
chord - 4,
6 and 1
These are exactly the same chord tones we located using the chord shape
method (albeit within a smaller area). The only difference is we're now
using the scale pattern
reference as opposed to chord shapes.
While the scale method is a slightly more complicated way of finding
chord tones, the benefit of learning this method is that you're already
thinking in the context of the scale, rather than having to superimpose
a scale pattern over chord shapes or arpeggios as with the other
So the scale method is a far more integrated way of selecting target
notes for your soloing phrases.
Here are the tracks again to help you practice finding the right scale
tones for each chord.
key 1 - Amaj
/ Emaj / Bm / Dmaj (I / V / ii /
IV - A major scale)
key 2 - Abmaj
/ Cm / Fm / Bbm(I / iii / vi / ii
- Ab major scale)
you made it this far...
impressed! Maybe you're the only one... who knows? Either way, keep
practicing at least one of the approaches we've covered in this lesson
(the one you're most comfortable with).
Working on this stuff
will have a huge impact on your ability to improvise and write your own
solos, without that feeling of wandering aimlessly around the fretboard.
There are more chord change lessons to come... subscribe below to stay
updated. Thanks for your time!