• Expand your harmonic vocabulary.
• Learn how to transpose phrases to different keys.
• Strengthen your awareness of jazz voicings.
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One of the most rewarding ways to express yourself as a guitarist is by performing a solo 6-string arrangement. In the jazz tradition, playing solo guitar is viewed as a mandatory skill. Once you acquire the chops to do this, you’ll also have the ability to outline the harmony in groups that lack a pianist. In my experience, having a few arrangements together—as well as being able to come up with some on the spot—has been a huge help. With a solo repertoire, I’ve managed to play a lot of cocktail gigs, private functions, and of course, weddings.
You could devote years to learning how to arrange for solo guitar and many greats have mastered this style of playing. If you’re not familiar with the likes of Joe Pass, Ted Greene, and Martin Taylor, then I’d suggest hitting YouTube for some research. In the meantime, check out the video below of Mr. Pass doing his thing on “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
In this lesson we’ll explore 10 different intros and outros that can be used in a variety of settings—and not just in solo guitar arrangements. Some of these will serve exclusively as introductions, others as endings, and several of them will work for either. Let’s get started!
Ex. 1 is a pedal vamp you could use for any bluesy number in a minor key. The example here is in G minor, but make sure to rework this in at least a few other keys. Hit the D7#9 when you’re ready to head back to the melody.
Rhythmic vamps for various Latin grooves such as a samba or bossa nova are rooted in repeated patterns. Ex. 2 is the most basic of patterns that will set up a tempo perfectly.The little half-step lift is easily modified to give you additional variations. For example, experiment with shifts up or down a whole-step or half-step.
Bill’s Minor Thirds
Ex. 3 is a little more harmonically interesting and can be used either as an intro or ending in the key of C. Here we’re outlining a IIIm–VI7–IIm–V7 progression, but with a twist: Between the IIm and the V7, we’ll use minor chords ascending in minor thirds to approach the V7 by a half-step. I stole this idea from the great pianist Bill Evans.
The bVI Turnaround
We head back to our minor-blues roots with Ex. 4. Again, it’s in G minor but we’re using an altered bIII7 (Bb7#5) and a bVI9 (Eb9) to dress up this basic progression. You can easily play around with the rhythm on this, and it works at any number of tempos. I’ve found success using this on “Summertime” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”
Play It Pretty
Ex. 5 pulls double-duty in that it can function as either an intro or ending to a tune in Bb. It’s common to play rubato, or out of time, when performing a solo ballad. In these situations, it's best to lightly arpeggiate the chords, so you will want a pretty chord progression. I’ve created a pattern here where the bass voice descends chromatically for four measures. In the fifth measure, you can set a steady tempo using quarter-notes or triplets.
The “Basie” Ending
Ending an arrangement is often as challenging as starting one. Although you could just stick to the standard song, it’s even better to come up with a simple progression to elegantly wrap up your arrangements. Ex. 6 is a basic turnaround with a simple rhythmic pattern in the final two measures that immediately brings to mind Kansas City’s favorite son.
Consider the Melody
You’ll need to use Ex. 7 in a slightly more specific situation. If the root or 5 is in the melody of the tonic chord, then this one’s for you. Simply raise the chord up a half-step and play a maj7#11, then resolve it down to the tonic chord. In the first measure of this example I just play a simple scalar passage that you can easily modify to make your own. Try this on tunes like “The Days of Wine and Roses.”
Tag! You’re It.
Tagging a turnaround is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, common way to end a tune. You can pull this off very easily on the guitar by just continuing to play a I–VI–II–V–III–VI–II–V over and over. Heads up: It’s easy to get lost in turnarounds, but this is a sure way to get out of the tune and end with authority.
The progression in Ex. 9 can be found in several popular standard tunes, but works wonderfully as an ending to any sort of arrangement from ballads to more up-tempo swing tunes. It starts on the bV (Bm7b5) chord and then proceeds to descend chromatically with a lot of strong voice-leading until a final cadence. It works great in major and can even be combined with other endings. Try this out on “All the Things You Are.”
The progression in Ex. 10 is similar to the previous example, however this one uses a technique called “cycling.” Once we have the target chord in mind (Bbmaj9), we simply approach with a series of chromatic minor II-V progressions. All the voicings in this example are in root position, rather than inversions.