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Soloing with Chords Part 1



Soloing and improvising with chords can intimidate even the most seasoned guitarists. It can be a frustrating experience because you’re technically playing two to three scales at the same time, which increases the risk of sounding as though you’re playing random chords rather than a solo. The last thing you want is to sound like an amateur.

If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, then you’ve probably learned to travel up or down the fretboard via scales. By improvising with chords, it will take your solos a step further, giving you the professional sound. In addition, playing cool chord runs are often associated with being an advanced guitarist. Imagine the impression you’ll make upon onlookers and listeners!

In the first of this two-part lesson, I lay out the framework to show you how to move from one position to the next using small chord shapes. Once you’re able to run these shapes up and down the fretboard, your solos will reach a whole new level in terms of sound and appearance. So without further delay, let’s get started with Part 1.

Exercise 1 uses the 3 major chords in the key of G (i.e., G, C, and D) and moves them up and down the guitar neck. Starting on the 3rd fret, strum each chord up the neck until you hit the G chord on the 12th fret.

Breaking this down a bit further, notice that the three notes of each chord are found on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings. If you’re new to guitar, it can be tricky to get your playing hand to make these funky little shapes. Take your time and practice the exercise as if you were playing scales, going back and forth until your finger placements become automatic. Once you feel that you have them mastered, go ahead and add rhythm variations as you strum from chord to chord.

Ex. 1


For this lesson, practice this exercise forward and backward, paying particular attention to proper fingering and smooth chord changes. If you find that you’re stumbling as you switch chords, slow your tempo down and do just one measure at a time. If, on the other hand, you breeze through the chord changes, focus your attention on your rhythms and get creative with your solos. Whether you choose the style of rock, jazz, blues, etc., the concept of how to use chords for solos remains the same; it then becomes a matter of rhythmic skills, strumming techniques, and creative freedom!

Next week, I’ll add a string to the mix, which will bring even more variation to your playing options. Until then, stay motivated and keep those music juices flowing!

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