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I have a question about guide tones, and I apologize beforehand if it sounds a little ignorant or basic. I'm a junior in high school and our student teacher, who is a great guy and great musician, but sadly not very good at teaching, has taken the duty of leading the jazz band over the past couple months. This week he began to emphasize the usefulness of practicing guide tones over the chord progressions of the tunes we're working on and how they could be useful in a real solo setting. I recognized the term from somewhere before, and I got the basic concept from him, but as I said, he's not so wonderful at translating concept into explanation. I know that they're generally the 3rd and 7th of the chord, but how/where exactly are they played? How do they fit into music theory and function practically? Basically what I'm asking is what are they, how do they work, and how should I use them?

And let me say right out before the hardnose brigade jumps on me, I am aware that I shouldn't actively plan out or think about using guide tones while I'm soloing. I know that improvising should be a natural, organic process developed through practicing, listening, transcribing, etc. But I need to build some kind of technical ability and melodic proficiency somehow, and from what I understand, developing the ability to use guide tones as second nature is a very worthwhile exercise for the practice room.
 

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Hi. I'm a senior on retirement who has all his life played by ear. I have, however, a son who knows some music theory, and what he told me about guide tones is simple enough for me to understand with my poor background in theory. So I hope it can help you as well.
The 3rd and the 7th are the two tones in a chord that define what kind of chord it is. (Leaving the root to the bassist)
When soloing, start on the 3rd (or the 7th) and play it on the down beat. Then you are less prone to play something wrong on the next tones - especially if you play by ear, like I do.
It helped me a lot on the bridge in "Girl from Ipanema" which is very akward for a person playing by ear.
That's about it. Hope it helps.
 

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The third and seventh (or the 2nd and 4th note - vertically - of a typical 4 note voicing) determine the quality of the chord. If you raise or lower the 3rd you change the very nature of the triad from a major to a minor, same for the 7th (major 7th or -7th). The 5th is less important believe it or not, many compers dont even bother including it in voicings. So focussing on these notes directs you to the tones that suggest the actual harmony of the moment, and their step-wise mtion through time is the fuel of melody.
The other important thing to consider as well, is that ,melodies are derived LINEARLY through the voicings. Note how the guide tones move step-wise through chord progressions that move in 4ths or 5ths. How can that be? Most functional dominant cycle chord motion suggest chromatic step-wise motion through them.

"I know that improvising should be a natural, organic process"
Nothing natural or intuitive to me at all for a beginning improvisors, imho.
 

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Guide Tone Theory - specific sounds you're aiming for at specific times in an improvised solo. Typically guide tones are chord tones. Typically the time you want to land one is on one. Learn this much and you'll be more than half way there.

Creativity comes when you explore the Atypical, that is experimenting with tones other than chord tones and on moments other than one.
 

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Guide Tones - sounds you're aiming for at specific times in an improvised solo. Typically guide tones are chord tones. Typically the time you want to land one is on one. Learn this much and you'll be more than half way there. Creativity comes when you explore the Atypical.
I thought he meant voice leading but its not really clear.
 

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And let me say right out before the hardnose brigade jumps on me, I am aware that I shouldn't actively plan out or think about using guide tones while I'm soloing.
Why not?

Here are some examples (in the key of C)

Dm7 to G7

Drop the C of the Dm7 to the B of the G7


G7 to C (major or minor)

Resolve the B of the G7 to the C of the C.

Resolve the F of the G7 to the E of a C major or an Eb of a C minor.

When there are secondary dominants, e.g. A7 to Dm7:

The C# of A7 moves up to the D of D min 7

When there are secondary dominants, e.g. A7 to D7:

The C# of A7 moves up to the D of D min 7 and the G of A7 resolves down to the F# of D7. (or F if it's Dm7 of course)


Those are the very basics, but you must also play the chords on a keyboard to understand how it works.
 

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Guide Tone Theory - specific sounds you're aiming for at specific times in an improvised solo. Typically guide tones are chord tones. Typically the time you want to land one is on one. Learn this much and you'll be more than half way there.

Creativity comes when you explore the Atypical, that is experimenting with tones other than chord tones and on moments other than one.
I hear you giles, but thats not what this beginning junior high school kid needs to hear. He needs to have a foundation of TYPICAL before exploratio of anything can occur. And its clear by his story that the teachr is referring to the classic "3&7" guide tone explanation. I dont believe most would think of guide tones as any chord tones, but specifically 3&7. That doesnt mean lines cannot be made with myriad other connections.
 

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I've always thought of guide tones as just resolutions. When I'm playing a line over D m7/G7/CMaj7. When I'm playing on Dm7 and I get to C at the end of the measure I will most times resolve it to the B of G7. When I'm continuing the line over G7 and get to the end I need to resolve to C Maj so if I end G7 on a F I go to E. If I end on B I go to C. If I end on Ab (b9) I go to G. Many times these sounds and patterns are turned from a concept to reality by practicing some common bebop licks and getting them really in your ear.

I have found that it can really be confusing to a young student when they here the concept without examples. When you get examples to practice I think it really makes more sense.
 

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Guiding tones same as laeding tone? Maybe try to play on the triads of the chords, the surrounding notes. For instance (in key of C): C you put one note from above out of the scale so that is d and the leading tone from below that is b.
A melody with it for instance DCBC. next note from triad c is E you put surrounding notes there and you have FED#E and last one G: AGF#G.
Maybe not what you ment otherwise a nice thing to practice.
 

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No matter what chord tone you are on, you either on a tone of the next chord or within a whole step of a note in the next chord. To me this is what voice leading means. You go smoothly between chords. Of course and escape tone sounds good too.
 

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The most important course you could ever take, and one that is much overlooked by young jazzers because of its seemingly irrelavent nature, is traditional 4 part voiceleading. It's the fuel of western music. On Neff's thoughts, all of his examples are 3rds or 7ths resolving except the b9 example. Suggesting altered harmony to a junior high school kid who is having difficulty conceptualizing "guide tones" and chord scales might be folly at this point in time. There are many "resolutions", "connective tones" etc etc possible other than 3rds and 7ths, especially when chromaticism and altered harmony are involved, however when the term Guide Tone is used, especially in Academia, they're talking about the 3rd and 7th specifically.
 

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A yellow Lab who knows voice leading
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Okay, so just to make sure that I'm understanding correctly: a guide tone is any note in one chord that is a half or whole step away from any note in the chord that follows it. And by gravitating towards guide tones during chord transitions, you create smoother voice leading. Okay, that seems relatively clear. My follow-up question would be, then, for someone who has not practiced using guide tones before and would like to develop the proficiency to naturally incorporate them into their improvisation (that is to say, me), how would you recommend practicing and building up that technique?
 

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Bert Ligon has some great material related to this topic. Have a look at:

http://www.music.sc.edu/ea/jazz/Improv219.html

In the left column about a third of the way down, there's a heading called "OUTLINE TRANSFORMATION". Ligon talks about 3 outlines that are a big part of the vocabulary. As you look at the examples, you'll see the 7-3 voicing leading. He then expands on the basic outlines with chromatic approaches, etc. There are examples applied to tunes, etc.

If you find the material useful, look for his book called Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony.

Scooby
 

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A good way to practice playing with chord tones (aka guide tones - the "most important" being the 3rd and 7th, target notes, etc.) is play thru the progression using only the roots, but be musical about it. Don't only use whole notes, try to incorporate a rhythm, esp. one from the melody. Yea its only one note per chord, but playing that musically with good tone, etc. is a real challenge. Get the sound of the root motion in your ears. Then move on to all the 3rds, after that I'd probably go to the 7ths, and then the 5ths. After the 1's, 3's and 7's, I might decide to combine a couple and add some complexity. When playing 2 or more notes I'm still using rhythmic ideas from the melody and matching the melodic contour (following the ups and downs of the melody).

This isn't the quick way to go about this, but it will get the sounds of the chord tones in your ears. As you play more complex ideas and work farther away from the basic harmony, you need to know where you home bases are. BTW, BEFORE I do all of this I learn the melody by ear and work on simple alterations and embellishments to it. The melody will likely have lots of chord tones in it anyhow. If you apply some systematic alterations to the melody, you'd be surprised what you can do without ever messing with too much harmony by itself.

And also, its totally fine to write out solos trying to utilize guide tones, that's called writing your own etude. Or you could think of it as writing a contrafact, the beboppers did it all the time. The key is to only tackle one or two concepts in your written solo. Come up with a theme, some small melodic idea, and develop it in purposeful ways. By doing that you practice maintaining continuity. I think it was in Paul Berliner's book where he documented old school cats saying the "rule of thumb" was playing an idea and using it two (or three) other ways before playing another idea. Their point was to not hammer on the same idea over and over and over, etc., till it gets boring.

Find Bob Reynold's video lesson (free) on a 'deconstructive approach to learning a standard.' Look up the "jazz advice" blog, lots of great stuff. My bottom line is, Stay away from chord-scale crap for now. And, spend some time just listening to a tune over and over, listen to the lines that develop in your ears. you're working towards playing those. Hal Galper has some awesome masterclass clips on youtube. Hope I didn't confuse you.
 

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Okay, so just to make sure that I'm understanding correctly: a guide tone is any note in one chord that is a half or whole step away from any note in the chord that follows it. And by gravitating towards guide tones during chord transitions, you create smoother voice leading. Okay, that seems relatively clear. My follow-up question would be, then, for someone who has not practiced using guide tones before and would like to develop the proficiency to naturally incorporate them into their improvisation (that is to say, me), how would you recommend practicing and building up that technique?
I typically only think of guide tones as 3rds and 7ths (maybe 9ths too). A lot of harmonic movement is based on the circle of 5ths and for these progressions, one of these notes usually changes while the other stays constant. As mentioned, in Western harmony, if you have a progression like G7 - C, the 3rd usually resolves up to the root of the next chord while the 7th resolves down to the 3rd of the next chord. In this case, it would be B to C and F to E. Each one of these movements is a half step. It's these half step resolutions that have the most gravitational pull. In jazz, we usually add a Major 7th to our tonic chords, so instead of resolving the B to C, it can remain on B and become the 7th (ie, a guide tone) for C Maj 7.

Let's look at the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves (I'm using tenor key):

Dm7, G7, CM7, FM7, Bm7b5, E7b9, Am7

Let's create a guide tone line starting on the 3rd of Dm7 which is F. The 3rd of Dm7 stays the same and becomes the 7th of G7. The 7th of G7 (F) resolves down a half step to the 3rd of CM7 (E). The 3rd of CM7 become the 7th of FM7. The 7th of FM7 resolves down to the 3rd of Bm7b5(D). Then the pattern continues. The 3rd becomes the 7th and the 7th resolves down to the 3rd of the next chord. So for this line you get:

F, F, E, E, D, D, C

And if you do one starting on the 7th (C), it would be:

C B B A A G# G#, G

Notice that when one of those guide tone lines changes a note, the other one stays on the same note. This is really cool because when you strip the harmony down to the notes that really define a chord (the 3rd and 7th), only one note has to change to imply the next chord. And because of that, one of the best ways to outline the harmony on a single note, non chordal instrument is to emphasize the 3rds and 7ths of the chord. And the most obvious way to outline the change from one chord to the next is the 7-3 resolution (assuming the progression is follows the circle of 5ths).

It's something you see/hear all the time in jazz solos, the soloist resolving to the 3rd of a chord and then making their way back to the 7th, resolving it back to the 3rd of the next chord. It's one of the cornerstones that separates somebody from noodling on a scale or playing in key to actually "making the changes".

Practicing guide tone lines helps you recall these chord tones faster instead of always gravitating towards the root. It helps you to emphasize these chord tones more and to also resolve them more easily.
 

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Lot's of good info in this thread.

A suggestion I would add is to spend some time at the piano, playing the roots of the chords with the left hand, and the 3rds and 7ths of the chords in the right hand. Using economy of motion, change from chord to chord moving each 3rd and 7th to the the closest 3rd or 7th of the approaching chord. By doing this, you'll begin to understand the voice leading function of guide tones. The piano practice should also help with your improvisation practice on sax, because you'll begin thinking more of the chord and the function of the tones rather than just scales and arpeggios.

Sometimes when you play, you want to use the voice leading function of the guide tones. At other times, you may choose to use the chord defining qualities of the 3rds and 7ths somewhat more independently. Either way, guide tone knowledge and practice is essential in developing a valid improvisational vocabulary.

Randy
www.randyhunterjazz.com
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Okay, so just to make sure that I'm understanding correctly: a guide tone is any note in one chord that is a half or whole step away from any note in the chord that follows it.
No, that would probably cover just about any note in a chord. Apart from notes that are the same, also very useful notes to know about.
 

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My follow-up question would be, then, for someone who has not practiced using guide tones before and would like to develop the proficiency to naturally incorporate them into their improvisation (that is to say, me), how would you recommend practicing and building up that technique?
When I was studying at Berklee, particularly playing in small combo rehearsal groups (as part of the scheduled classes), many of the instructors would have the horn players who weren't soloing, play guide tones quietly behind whoever was improvising at the time. Playing guide tones behind a soloist without being obtrusive is an art in itself, and well worth practicing...not to mention how it helps in getting your head wrapped around chord progressions, which in turn helps when you start improvising. You can practice this yourself by pulling up any of the thousands of jazz standards by well known artists on youtube and playing guide tones whenever someone is soloing. Try to find videos where the musicians are playing the standard chord progressions if possible...and make sure you either know the progression or have it in front of you so you'll know the proper guide tones to choose from. Since you admit that you're not up to speed on guide tones, faking it by trying to play by ear may not be a good idea for now. The object however, is to practice playing guide tones until the ability to HEAR them and play them by ear does become second nature. Practicing guide tones is a great ear training exercise.
 

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If you take a standard progression and write out all the 3rds and 7s you wind up with, essentially, two lines. One of these 3/7 combinations will usually descend by 1/2 steps. That is the line you're most interested in, that is "showing" the harmonic motion. This one of the key features of 2-5-1's that show why it's such an important candential progression. Strong voice leading.

AN additional exercise to the one mentioned by CooolJazzz is play along using only one note and only change it by a 1/2 step when needed to maintain consonance. So basically you're picking a chord tone and trying to stay on that tone as closely as possible taking advantage of common tones. It really makes you listen and hear your pitch in relation to the other tones in the chord. Its another way of hearing your way through changes and how the voices move in relation to each other.
 
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