October 2018

Techniques: Guide Tones

Using guide tones for improvisation.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11

Prepare: Have the class read Techniques: Guide Tones (page 22 of the student edition).

Key points in the article:

  • The best improvisers have ideas of how they want to sound in their head, and can produce those ideas instantly on their instrument
  • Knowledge of scales, chords, and chord progressions is crucial for good improvisation
  • There are three types of seventh chords, for example in the key of C: Cmaj7, C7, and Cmin7
  • Guide tones are the third and seventh scale degrees of a chord
  • 12-bar blues is a core chord progression used in popular music
  • II-V-I is another common chord progression in jazz music

Begin: Review the different types of seventh chords with students. discuss major and minor triads (root, third and fifth). Here are some ideas for exploration:

  • Playing through the chords on a guitar or piano and talking about the differences between each
  • Discussing how chords are built by layering scale degrees on top of one another (one, three, five, seven) and how changing one of these degrees changes the entire chord

Develop: Review guide tones and 12-bar blues

  • Play through some of the examples on a piano or guitar
  • Ask students to listen closely for how the chords change through the progressions
  • Ask students if they have heard of 12-bar blues before and if they can identify a song that utilizes this pattern (some famous ones are “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller or “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, among hundreds of others)

Expand: Play “2-5-1 Jazz Backing Track” and then “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington

  • Review the concept of the II-V-I progression
  • Ask students to follow along with “2-5-1 Jazz Backing Track” and try to pinpoint when the chords change
  • Do the same with “Take the A Train”