How To Improvise Advanced Blues Guitar Solos With Chord Tone Targetting

by Antony Reynaert

After receiving a lot of positive reactions on the previous dominant pentatonic scale article, I decided to go more into detail about this topic. Every guitar player starts by learning one or several positions of a scale, which in most cases is the pentatonic scale. With the necessary knowledge you learn to apply this scale over chord changes and those are your first steps to improvisation on the guitar.

Many guitarists get stuck in this particular phase and it can take them years and years before they start improving again. A worst case scenario is that they are stuck in this phase forever. I was stuck in this phase for months myself. When someone asked me to play something, I did not get past playing the pentatonic scale or playing half a song. Even improvising over a backing track became really boring after only one minute, just because I repeated the same licks over and over again.

How To Keep Improving Your Blues Lead Guitar Playing

Now, how do you keep improving your lead playing? From training many guitarists, I constantly notice they all lack the same particular skill (at least 99,9% lack it). They lack the skill of being conscious of the chords over which they play their solos. Being conscious of the chords will lead to better choices during your solo. Think about all the times you got goosebumps while listening to solos on your favourite records. I assure that those guitarists are aware of the chords they play over and that is how they give you goosebumps.

So any intermediate guitarist should become aware of the chords they play their solo over in order to play better solos. Now I hear you thinking: “How on earth do you do that?” That’s a good question and the answer consists of several aspects that I will explain to you right now. First of all, it is important that you understand how essential this awareness is, so I am sure we are on the same page. What we actually do when we play the D dominant pentatonic scale over a D7 chord (as we have already discussed in this manual), is the following: we choose the best sounding notes and play them at the best possible moment, that is while the D7 chord is being played in the background.

How To Give Your Audience Goosebumps When You Play The 'Best Sounding Notes' At The Exact Right Time In Your Guitar Solos

If you want to find these ‘best sounding notes’ while improvising, it is essential that you develop the consciousness to be able to listen and play at the same time. To make sure we are on the same page about this topic, I will give you two examples.

1) This is a short video (captured with my sister’s iPhone, so don’t mind the quality) from a gig that I played as the opening act for the Rhythm Junks.

Pay extra attention to the end of the video, because you can hear me play the G chord at the exact same time the backing track ends with the same chord. This relates to being aware of where you are in the chord progression. Focussing on ending songs in style is a very good exercise to practice your listening skills. Most intermediate guitarists tend to get lost in an endless solo at the end of a song, while playing along with a backing track. This causes their improvisation to miss power and most of the times it does not sound great either.

Do you recognize yourself in this description? If so, you should work a few days with discipline on ending songs. Choose a backing track and only improvise over the last 20 seconds of the track. Try to land on the root note of the last chord or on the chord itself while it is being played. So if you play over a backing track in G major, 99% of the time the track will end with a G chord. Try to play the G note or the entire G chord at the exact same time when the G chord is being played. One very good tip is to play the lowest G note, because the lower the note, the better it will sound.

How Practicing Chord Tone Targetting Will Get You A Better Guitarist

What I have been explaining now, is Chord Tone Targetting. That’s the reason the article I refer to is called ‘How To Break Through Your Guitar Soloing Limitations – A Story About Chord Tone Soloing And The Dominant Pentatonic Scale’. When using Chord Tone Targetting, we're play the best sounding notes (they can be different notes, though) at the right time. We’re not restricted to only applying this to the last chord, we can apply this to every chord. Let’s take a look at the second example.

2) In this video I’m improvising over a backing track in C minor pentatonic. As you probably notice, I consciously opt for certain notes, depending on the chord I’m playing over.

A good example is at 00:14 in the video, where I slide to the F note on the B string (the highest note I have played up to that point). At that moment, the Ab13 chord is being played at the back, so I emphasize the F note, which is the ‘13’ in the Ab13 chord. A bit further in the video there are several moments in which you can hear me pick out certain notes (at 1:13 for example, the note I play with the whammy bar). You are probably thinking: “How can I practice this? It’s challenging enough to end the progression with the last chord and now I have to pick out certain notes while I’m busy playing?”

Chord Tone Targetting is not easy to learn. As I have mentioned before, improvement and the process of becoming an advanced level guitar player starts when you become aware of the possibilities of Chord Tone Targetting and why it is important to learn this. Because the learning curve is quite steep when it comes to teaching Chord Tone Targetting, many guitarists don’t master this skill. This is due to the various perspectives from which we can look at this particular topic and the guitar in general. 

It is important to realize there is no one single way to look at guitar playing. There is no single method of getting to know the guitar entirely. It's a combination of different ways of thinking that will make you master the guitar.

The Best Method To Learn Chord Tone Targetting In A Step By Step, Easy To Learn Approach

You might wonder which system is the best to start with. That’s again a good question. The answer is: the system with the learning curve that is the less steep. In November 2013 I started desiging a home study course in which I teach melodic soloing over specific chords (i.e. Chord Tone Targetting) instead of soloing over an entire chord progression.

After about 10 months of work this systematic method is now available for every guitarist who wants to break away from his limitations step by step. You can check out this educational program right here: Blues Guitar Soloing Method.

This method is for everyone who:

  • Is determined to take his guitar playing to the next level. As I have mentioned before it is important to realize why it is important to practice this.
  • Takes at least 10 minutes a day to do the exercises in the home study course. Understanding everything I described will not take you to the next level, but practicing will!
  • Has the desire to break free from their restrictions and learn how professional blues guitarists think when they play blues solos so that you can practice this in order to fix and improve your own blues guitar playing.

Follow the next link to learn more about my blues guitar solo study course: Blues Guitar Soloing Lesson.