In the first part on how to solo
we were introduced to the initial 4 step process for establishing our
key and scale.
With step 1 out the way - finding the key/root note - we can now
move on to identifying the chord type we'll be soloing over. This will,
in part, determine which scales/tones we can use in our solo.
The most basic chord types are known as triads - 3 note
chords. These triad types are major, minor, suspended, diminished and
as... (when chord root
C or Cmaj
Cm or Cmin
Cdim or C°
Caug or C+
All chords are based on one of these triads, but some may contain
notes, giving us extended
First, let's focus on triads, as these are the basis of all chord
types and will help us narrow down which scales and notes we can use in
There's some overlap between this lesson and the first two parts of the
chord theory series, so
it's beneficial to spend some time on that series getting to know how
chords are constructed.
Soloing over major chords
Major triads consist of the root (1),
3rd (3) and
5th (5). The
3rd is also known as the major
and tells us the chord is major. If a chord only contains this basic
triad, it's simply called a major chord (e.g. A major, B major, C
major) and abbreviated simply with the chord letter (e.g. A, B, C).
This means we can use any major scale over that
chord, as all major scales contain this triad and you'll see these
tones appear in the major scale diagrams on this site. Any additional
tones in the scale can be seen as "colouring" the basic major sound.
Each scale has its own unique major flavour.
Let's say our backing chord is D
major. This means
the root note will be D.
In the first part, I recommended that you use the bottom 2 strings (I
just use the low E string) for your root note, as most chord shapes and
scale patterns use a root note on these low strings as the bass note.
Therefore, one major chord shape we could build is a standard barre
chord rooted on the low E string at the 10th fret (the note D)...
you can see, this chord form contains only the major triad tones (1, 3,
5) so it gives us a suitable reference point for starting our solo.
we need to do now is choose a major scale for our solo, also rooted on
a D note. Again, use that same low E string root note so you have a
clear starting point.
most commonly used scale patterns rooted on the low E string are the
"1st position" boxed patterns, which I show you in all my scale lessons.
For example, we could use the major/Ionian scale:
The Lydian scale...
Or something more "exotic" like Phrygian dominant...
Or even just good old major pentatonic...
As you can see, all
these scales contain the major triad tones (1, 3, 5) and
therefore would be compatible with our major chord.
these corresponding boxed patterns are only used to get our bearings on
the fretboard. We don't have to stay around them. If you've learned
your chosen scale across the entire fretboard (I have lessons for this
in the scales section), then you're free to continue your solo "outside
the starting box".
Find the root note of your major chord (D major = D,
A major = A,
C major = C
etc.) on the low E string.
Use that same root note for your chosen major scale. Use a
pattern rooted on that same low E string root note to help you find
As soloing over chords is a fairly advanced
concept, we need to take things one step at a time. We'll learn how to
use scales in a fluid and musical way in a later lesson (or you can get
Soloing over minor chords
Exactly the same process as above, but this time it's the minor triad
that will determine which scales we can use.
The minor triad contains the root (1),
minor 3rd (b3)
and 5th (5).
All minor scales contain this basic triad.
Let's say our backing chord is C minor (Cm). That means our root note
will be C.
So we first find the C note on the low E string (9th fret) and build
our minor scale from that point.
If we look at the two most common minor chord forms, we can see that
they contain the minor triad (1, b3, 5).
Because all minor scales contain this minor triad, we can choose
any minor scale. As we're in the key of C for this example, the minor
scale's root note will also be... C!
Some minor scales we could play (you can learn these and more in the
And of course minor pentatonic...
All these scales contain that 1, b3, 5 minor triad. It's the b3 (minor
makes them minor scales. As mentioned before, the other tones in these
scales are like additional "flavouring" for the basic minor sound, with
each scale offering a unique flavour.
So if the backing chord is simply A minor, B minor, C minor etc. or
abbreviated as Am, Bm or Cm etc. then you'll know that the chord only
the minor triad and therefore will be compatible with any minor scale.
Remember, you can use more than one scale in your solo!
Soloing over suspended chords
Suspended (or "sus") chords in their triad form consist of the root and
5th, just like major and minor triads, but instead of the major 3rd (3)
3rd (b3), intervals of the major 2nd (2) or perfect 4th (4) are used.
For example, a suspended 4th triad would be: root (1),
4th (4) and
A suspended 2nd triad would be: root (1),
2nd (2) and
What does this tell us about the scales we can use over these chords?
As there is no 3rd, we're not limited to major or minor
Basically, just like the major and minor chords, if the scale contains
those triad tones, it'll be compatible.
As most major and minor scales contain these tones, we have a wide
choice of scales. For example...
and the major/Ionian scale...
...all contain the 1, 4, 5 or 1, 2, 5 suspended triads. Like
major and minor scales, you could use more than one scale in your solo.
Pick a chord, major, minor or suspended, find its bass root note and
then a compatible scale pattern on that same root note. Ideally, you
should record a backing chord (or use the backing tracks in this
lesson) and experiment with the various compatible scales over that
It may not seem obvious now, but repeating this process
trains your ear to different scales' tonality, meaning it'll get easier
and easier to pick the right scale for the sound you want. It'll also
prepare you for learning to solo over chord changes.
don't know many scales, don't worry, just spend a little time every day
going through my scales section to build up your repetoire. The same
goes for chords in my chords section.