Chord Tone Soloing For Powerful Piano Improv

chord tone soloingWould you like to learn how chord tone soloing works? You’re in the right place.

In the video below, Steve teaches a Jazz Inner Circle student how to build attention-grabbing solos using chord tones.

Learning chord tone soloing will help you craft beautiful melodies. These melodies will give you plenty of ideas for improv.

Take 4 minutes and watch the video below. Steve will break down how to use chord tones to better improvise on any tune.

Chord Tone Soloing Video

5 Tips To Master Chord Tone Soloing

Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to watch the video above, let’s go deeper into how to improvise with chord tones.

1. How Learning Inversions Can Help With Chord Tone Soloing

chord tone soloingTo improvise using just chord tones, you need to know exactly where those notes are.

You can lock those chord tones into muscle memory by practicing inversions.

Pretty simple, right?

The first step in practicing chord inversions is playing block chords. Whenever you practice like that, pay attention to where the notes of the chords are.

While playing your chords, identify where are the roots, 3rds, 5ths, 7ths, and the tensions.

Practice your chord inversions as block chords to the point that it becomes natural to you.

The second step is practicing your chord tones as arpeggios.

Practicing your chords as arpeggios is a precursor to chord tone soloing.

If you’ve practiced inversions as block chords, you’ll be able to map out the chord tones. This makes it easy to play arpeggios.

However, simply playing arpeggios up and down is not music. Eventually, it will sound boring.

This is why you need to take the next step below.

2. How Smooth Voice Leading Can Help You Improvise Melodies Like Bill Evans

chord tone soloingThe next step is to practice playing chord progressions with smooth voice leading.

You want the transition from one chord to the next to be as smooth as possible. The effective way to do this is by using chord inversions that are closest to each other.

By using various chord inversions, movement between notes is kept to a minimum.

Here’s an example of how to play using smooth voice leading. Let’s say you want to play a I – IV – V chord progression in the key of C.

Your chord progression will look like this if you practice it using smooth voice leading:

I – C E G – Root position of C

IV – C F A -2nd inversion of F

V – B F G – 1st inversion of G

I – C E G – Root position of C

chord tone soloingIf you do this properly on the piano keyboard, your hand won’t jump from one location to the next.

In fact, you are keeping your hand on only one location of the keyboard.

This time, try playing a basic ii – V – I chord progression with smooth voice leading. Let’s use Dmin7(9) – G7(b9) – Cmaj7(9) as our chord progression.

Play these rootless chord voicings with your right hand. Play the root with your left hand.

When played correctly, the right-hand notes should look like this:

Dmin7(9) – F A C E

G7(b9) – F Ab B D

Cmaj7(9) – E G B D

Can you see how little your hand moved from one chord to the next? Have you noticed how smooth the transitions are?

Smooth voice leading gives that choir-like vocal effect to your chords.

By understanding how smooth voice leading works, you can improvise a melodic jazz piano solo.

Now it’s time to discover two secrets that will help you improvise interesting melodies.

3. Two Secrets To Improvise Interesting Melodies

chord tone soloingThere are two secrets you need to know for chord tone soloing.

We’ve talked about the first one extensively, and that is smooth voice leading.

The second one is targeting either the 3rd or the 7th of the chord on strong beats.

Whenever you hear the sound of a 3rd or a 7th over a strong beat, it just sounds sweet.

Work on playing a 3rd or a 7th on high points of a tune. Use longer rhythms and accents for added emphasis.

Still unclear about how to target these chord tones?

chord tone soloingDon’t worry. In fact, we have a brilliant program that shows you step by step how to master this technique and 100’s of other must have jazz piano success skills.

The good news is that inside the Jazz Inner Circle, you will discover efficient ways of how nail chord tones in the right places.

The Jazz Inner Circle provides that personalized, one-on-one training that will help you with chord tone soloing and much more.

You can learn how to join the Jazz Inner Circle program here.

Let’s go deeper into these secrets by weaving them into chord progressions.


4. How To Improvise Melodies From Chord Progressions

chord tone soloingMuch of jazz improvisation is nonlinear. The greatest improvised solos never sound like a scale going up and down.

Start practicing chord tone soloing using a simple ii – V – I chord progression in C.

Try to create some melodies with the chord tones of each chord. Use an 8th note rhythm.

Approach the note of the next chord with the nearest chord tone from the previous chord.

For example, if you improvise from Dm7 to G7, you want the last note of your Dm7 melody to be a C. This C is nearest to the B of your G7.

You can also practice your chord tones using various melodic patterns within the chord progression.

The problem though is that sometimes it’s not so easy to find some great melodic patterns.

chord tone soloingWant to know where to find some of the best melodic patterns to practice?

They’re inside the Jazz Improvisation Super System.

The Jazz Improvisation Super System offers a step-by-step way to teach you how to weave patterns In your solos without sounding obnoxious or turning people off.

Get instant access to the course here.

Now is the time to put all of this into practice by improvising over songs.

The question is how do you choose which songs to work on?

Discover the answer below.

5. How To Pick Tunes To Practice Chord Tone Soloing

chord tone soloingTo put all of the previous tips together, start improvising with tunes you already know.

In many cases, you’ll succeed better at chord tone soling with songs you know by heart.

This is because you can easily map out the chord progressions and the chord tones.

The second way of picking tunes is by choosing from a list of jazz standards you should learn.

Some of these tunes include All The Things You Are, Autumn Leaves, and Satin Doll.

The third way to pick tunes is to go with what you want to learn.

It can be a pop song that you want to “jazz” up. It can be something that’s not a must-know but is very interesting.

With all of this talk about chord tone soloing, could it be that you still need more direction?

Warning: Are You Missing This Key Element In Learning Jazz?

chord tone soloingDo you feel stuck because of bad jazz piano practice habits? Are you frustrated by a lack of progress?

You may have tried to learn jazz by yourself. You might have experimented with tricks from various sources.

The problem with that approach is it’s like trying to hit a bullseye blindfolded without proper training. You won’t get the right skills for playing high-level jazz by using aimless experimentation.

What you need is a mentor that will give you the proper guidance.

The next problem is that finding the right mentor feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The good news is you can find that mentor inside the Jazz Inner Circle Program.

chord tone soloingThe Jazz Inner Circle is our one-on-one jazz piano mentoring program.

Our world-class teachers will give you the exact steps to take your jazz piano skills to the highest level.

Even if you are too far from a qualified jazz piano teacher or have limited time to practice, you can have your Jazz Inner Circle lessons at home and gain the most efficient way to learn jazz.

Inside the Jazz Inner Circle, you’ll have:

  • Private 1:1 lessons with world-class jazz pianists such as Steve Nixon, Bruce Katz, and Matt Slocum.
  • “The Jazz Piano Mastery Program” (Over $25,000 worth of jazz piano training resources, tools, practice templates, improv strategies, & tons more.)
  • “The Ultimate Jazz Workout Training System.” This is where we implement a complete practice program to build your jazz piano talent in record time.

The thing about the Jazz Inner Circle is that slots are very limited.

I highly recommend getting booked for a Jazz Inner Circle interview and secure your slot right here.

Enjoy learning chord tone soloing. If you have any questions about the lesson or things to add, please feel free to leave a comment below.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful time learning these tips and tricks. We look forward to helping you move along your jazz piano journey.



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Mark A. Galang, OTRP, MAM-MT(c)

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music. Mark is also a licensed occupational therapist in the Philippines that combines music therapy intervention with occupational therapy.