Soloing • Construction and Theory Part II

When you are improvising on a set of chord changes, you are in effect telling the listener one of two things: what is the same about two adjacent chords or what is different about them. Notes that are the same from chord to chord are called common tones:

In this example, G is the 9th of F Maj7 and the 7th of Ab Maj7. You could use G as a point of emphasis in creating a melody over these two chords. To create this melody, an option would be to combine the common tone with notes that point out the differences between the two chords:

The difference in this case is the E natural on F Maj7 moving by half step to Eb on Ab Maj7. This half step is an example of voice leading at work. The E “resolves” to the Eb, even though the underlying chords don’t “resolve” in the usual sense.

This process can be used on any two chords or chord progression. In the case of a ii-7 V7 I progression, if the V7 chord is unaltered, the scales for all three chords are the same. To create resolution in this case, find the 3rd and 7th of each chord, and see where they move by half step to the next chord:

In the above example, the 7th of G-7 moves to the 3rd of C7 and stays on E, the 7th of F Maj7. Now start with the 3rd of G-7 which is also the 7th of C7, moving down a half step to the 3rd of F Maj7.

To create more points of resolution between chords, the dominant chord is often altered when resolving up a fourth (around the cycle). C7 with b9, #9, #11 and natural 13 (see Dominant Scales).

By altering the C7, another half step resolution is created:

The pattern here is 5th of G-7 to b9 of C7 to 5th of F Maj7.