“How do I connect chords when I’m soloing?”
You’re asking yourself this question in the practice room and you’re frustrated when there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. But you’re not alone. This is a question that every improviser struggles with as they create solos over tunes.
Improvising over one chord is simple enough, however when you begin to play tunes with actual chord progressions, creating and connecting lines becomes a bit more challenging.
This musical obstacle goes to the heart of the skills you need as an improviser and the solution, like many obstacles we encounter in music, is simple in theory yet significantly more involved in implementation.
Imagine for a moment that you took away all the theory terminology, the voice leading rules, the maze of scales and the chord symbol jargon that you normally encounter as an improviser. What would you be left with? You’d be left with sound – that’s it!
Despite everything that our brains get caught up in as we try to create a solo, the harmonic aspect of improvisation boils down to sound: Individual sounds (chords) and the relationships between these sounds.
As an improviser a theoretical understanding and technical proficiency are the first steps when approaching these harmonic relationships, but your ultimate goal is melody. Can you create a seamless melody over these sounds and subsequent chord progressions?
Your ability to play melodies over a chord progression is directly related to how well you can hear the individual chords of a progression and the relationships between them. If you want to play effortlessly over any chord progression you need to start by focusing intently on the movement between one chord and the next.
Approaching chord relationships
Think back to the first time that you where introduced to the idea of a chord progression. If you were like a lot of people most of your time was spent figuring out “stuff” to play over those individual chords, not on the relationship or melodic connection of the entire progression.
Around the same time you also likely encountered the ii-V7-I progression. With this harmonic relationship came ideas of connection like voice leading, guide tone lines, and 7-3 resolutions. This is a great place to start learning the basics of functional harmony and chord relationships.
Many musicians begin their journey into chord progressions with a study of ii-V’s, the only problem is that this is also where their study of harmonic relationships stops. If you think about it a ii-V-I only contains two chord relationships: a minor ii chord moving to the dominant V7 chord and a V7 chord resolving to the I chord.