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Fretboard Workshop: Non-Chord-Tone Soloing


Let’s look at one more example (Fig. 15), this time over a four bar I–V–VIm–IV progression. Keep in mind that this passage is played using only the notes from Fig. 11 and Fig. 12 above!

Notice how each bar primarily uses chord tones from the triad shapes we’ve been discussing, but a few non-chord tones are thrown in to make the melody more interesting.

The first measure is just a big arpeggio. But wait! The F# and E are not chord tones! Correct. However, the melody moves consistently in one direction as an arpeggio, so we’re going to include all of it. It's also worth noting that if we account for all the notes in the arpeggio, it’s an Em9 chord, which sounds great when played over a G major triad.

The end of the first measure uses an enclosure to resolve to the first beat of measure two. Check out how the enclosure starts over the G major chord, and resolves as the chord changes to D. When you solo, you should always be thinking about where you’re headed and set up resolutions before the chord changes. The second measure uses a similar arpeggio/enclosure approach, but in the opposite direction.

I also highlighted two sections as Phrase A and Phrase B. These phrases are similar in that they start with two descending steps followed by a descending leap. Phrase B mimics Phrase A, but is a step higher so the resolution lands on a C, highlight the chord change.

Phew! Analysis can be exhausting. But hopefully by this point you're beginning to see where these chord shapes and their adjacent non-chord tones lie on your fretboard. On your own, find similar patterns on the neck surrounding the 1st and 2nd inversions of the G triad, as shown in the second and third lines of Fig. 9, and following the same steps we took in Figures 10 through 13.

Triad Patterns

Finally, I’m going to introduce one more concept: how to use these triad shapes to get up and down the fretboard.

In the composed solo from my previous lesson, we shifted positions every four measures. This approach isn't used exclusively for the purpose of the exercise—it also adds excitement via ever-higher pitches. But sometimes you want to move up and down the neck throughout your solo, and we can use triads to create more interesting lines.

Let’s take a simple ascending line, Fig. 16, moving from a G chord to a D chord.

Now let’s harmonize each note with the other two notes of its triad, relative to the key of G major (Fig. 17). You end up with a series of 1st inversion triads on the top four strings.

Finally, let’s play these triads with an arpeggio pattern moving up the neck (Fig. 18).