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  • wes montgomery

    Using Chord and Scale Shapes to Improvise

    by Simon James

    One of the problems many people have when they come to me for lessons in improvisation is being able to navigate the fretboard with fluency. Often when soloing you will want to move around the neck from one position to another which at first, may seem that you need to know a multitude of different shapes and patterns. A really useful tool when it comes to improvising on the guitar is to be able to visualise the chord, scale and melody shapes that you make with your fingers and how they relate to one another.

    What we are going to look at in this study is how to learn a simple chord shape, and then the equivalent scale and finally a lick that utilises both the chord and the scale in two chord positions and finish by linking the two shapes together.

    I will be using an F7 and Bb7 Chords and a One Octave Bebop Scale in the example to make the shapes simple to visualise but this method can be applied to any scale, chord or lick.


    F7 5th String Root

    The first example uses an F7 chord with a root note on the 5th string. Play the chord, followed by the arpeggio and then the scale. Practice these exercises over and over so that you become familiar with them and are able to play them with a good degree of familiarity.

    f7 chord and scale shape  

    When you have done this practice playing the Bebop Lick in this position:

    f7 bebop lick  

    Bb7 6th String Root

    In the next example we will look at a Bb7 chord with a root note on the 6th string. As we did before, play the chord, followed by the arpeggio and then the scale.

      bb77 chord and scale shape  


    Now take a look at the Bb7 Bebop Lick:

      bb77 bebop lick  


    By running these examples over in the suggested stages you should be able to visualise all of the shapes in each chord position. Try improvising around what you have done by using different runs or an alternative triad in the middle of the Bebop lick, but always make sure that you keep with in the confines of the chord block and the suggested rhythm. Often working with in a particular confinement in improvising helps to generate more ideas!


    Linking the Chord Shapes Together

    In the final example, I have written out a lick that joins the F7 and Bb7 shapes together. In the first two bars we are playing the first half of the Bebop lick in F7 and the second half in Bb7, before returning to the F7 in bars 3 and 4 by simply playing an ascending Bebop scale before finishing on the 3rd. This is probably the most simple use of all of the exercises in this lesson and forms a good starting point for improvisation. One of the benefits of using Bebop scales is that the sound they create make your phrases sound more like solos than scales even though your are in fact simply playing scales! As your fingers get more and more accustomed to the positions you will find that you are able to construct your own licks with ease.   f7 bebop lick  


    Related Posts:

    1. The CAGED System for Guitar Playing: Learning the Chord Shapes

    2. Using the Major Scale to Improvise and Develop Melodies

    3. Introduction to Jazz Blues

    4. Introduction to Symmetrical Scales