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Fretboard Workshop: Non-Chord-Tone Soloing


Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to incorporate non-chord tones into your solos.
• Build scales using overlapping triad shapes.
• Understand major and minor triad shapes on the top four strings.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

In my last lesson [“Using Triads to Create A Solo,” July 2013], you learned how to construct a solo using only chord tones. If you've mastered the art of developing creative ideas within those strict guidelines, you’re ready for this lesson, which expands upon those ideas by incorporating non-chord tones.

The use of non-chord tones can be both freeing and overwhelming. There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale, and only three belong to any given triad. That leaves nine notes, the non-chord tones, to create dissonance against the existing chord! A great improviser understands how to use dissonance to create tension and release in solos, ultimately resolving on choice chord tones.

Triad Shapes
Let's review the root position, 1st inversion, and 2nd inversion shapes of the major and minor triads on the top four strings, as explored in the last lesson.

Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 show the major triad shapes.

Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 show the minor triad shapes.

As you play these triad inversions up the neck, notice all the fretboard real estate you’re passing over. This is where the non-chord tones live.

Identifying Non-Chord Tones
Non-chord tones are categorized by how they interact with the existing harmony. Let’s play through a few simple examples.

Passing tones are stepping-stones from one chord tone to another, moving in one direction. This can be as simple as a scale. In Fig. 5, we use passing tones to connect the three major triad shapes.

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