The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar
Targeting Chord Tones

Published May 18th, 2009. © Chris Juergensen/ All Rights Reserved.

This lesson appears in THE INFINITE GUITAR COMPANION 1 >>>

Putting the major scale into practice
As I mentioned, the best way to practice you scales is to chord changes, and even better, is to practice to chord changes with some kind of groove. Always keep in mind the goal; are you practicing your scales so you can remember them? Or to exercise your fingers? Or maybe to build technique? Although these things are part of the goal, the ultimate goal is to use them as tools to create a captivating solo. This is why it is so important to practice with the goal of being musical. Take it from someone who has taught thousands of students over the last twenty years, it is easy to teach someone scales, but teaching them to be musical is a much more difficult task. For this reason I am not a big fan of metronomes for practicing scales, they will help you divide and subdivide beats but that is it. Playing with a groove, nailing chord tones, and developing motifs are hard to do with a metronome. Playing with a sequencer, tracks or even a practice partner is a better alternative.

Let’s start by practicing the major scale pattern 4 over the following four-chord, chord progression. If you are less experienced at playing these scale patterns, first play up and down the scale at a rhythmic subdivision you can play without difficulty, perhaps quarter or eighth notes. After you are comfortable with the pattern, try to target chord tones on the first beat of the measure when the chord changes. Any of the chord tones will do, but to get used to doing this, take turns targeting first roots, then 3rds and finally 5ths. To make this easier for you, I’ve notated the major scale diagrams with the targeted chord tones shaded gray. To get used to thinking diatonically, examine the chord progression you are to play over comparing it to the palette for the key of C (you will find that it is a I-IV-vi-V chord progression):

Key: C
















Ex.1) Improvise a solo using the C major scale, pattern 4, targeting roots on the 1st beat when each chord changes. Roots for each chord are shaded gray:

Ex.2) Improvise a solo using the C major scale, pattern 4 targeting 3rds on the 1st beat when each chord changes. 3rds for each chord are shaded gray:


Ex.3) Improvise a solo using major scale pattern 4, C major scale, targeting 5ths on the 1st beat when each chord changes. 5ths for each chord are shaded gray:


Moving on to different keys

Ex.4) Improvise a solo using the G major, scale pattern 4 targeting roots, 3rd and 5ths on the 1st beat when each chord changes:


Ex.5) Improvise a solo using the D major, scale pattern 4 targeting roots, 3rd and 5ths on the 1st beat when each chord changes:



Questions I often get from students:

Q: I can't find the chord tones in time. How am I supposed to do this?

A: Look, if you could nail the chord tones everytime, I wouldn't be making you practice this now would I? I can't even do it all the time perfectly. You can start off by thinking about it a little before you actually start practicing. Pick one note for every chord change to start on and target. Although it would be great, I don't think you have to really know where every chord tone is for every chord in the progression you are playing over. When you can nail those, move on to some different ones.

Q: Will I have to do this forever? Thinking about chord tones takes some of the fun out of playing a solo.

A: I used to think that it wasn't important to practice this way but now, as a teacher, I realize that the ear takes time to develop and the quicker you get your ear to hear the chord tones in the scale, the quicker you will become a good soloist. That is why it is important to practice this way, simply because your ears will develop much faster. I don't think about chord tones all the time, but then again, I've been doing it for a long time and my ears are developed to the point where they just know where the chord tones are in the scale. There are times that they don't though, like when the chord progression is very unusual or very undiatonic. In that case I have to use my head as well as my ears to find the right notes to target.

Things to keep in mind:

Just because you target the root, for examples sake, on one chord, it doesn't mean you have to continue targeting roots throughout your solo. You can mix and match chord tones at will. Matter of fact, you don’t have to target chord tones continually, and occasionally a missed one may help build tension making for a stronger resolution when you finally do land on one. But for practice sake, try to make a conscious effort to hit chord tones. Remember, the biggest emotional impact for the listener, is when you as a soloist, play a chord tone on a strong beat.

How To Practice Over the Week:

  • Make up different diatonic chord progression using your pallet and practice soloing using major scale pattern 4 being conscious of starting on chord tones.
  • Challenge yourself by changing the frequency of the diatonic chords from one per measure to two per measure.
  • Practice playing the major scale over diatonic one-chord vamps. For example, improvise using the C major scale over a Dmin7 chord vamp. Be sure to start on chord tones.
  • Incorporate sequences as well, still starting on chord tones. Link >>>

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