The title of this article is "Improving Your Improve". In order to do that you have to have to have direction so you do not waste your time learning things that will not achieve your goals. Here are your objectives: playing both inside and outside. Playing inside means to use scales over chords that are diatonically based from a key. Playing outside means to use scales over chords that are not diatonically based from the chord progression. Once you become a good inside player you can move on to playing outside.
Inside playing will involve learning the chords and scales to 36 keys. They are 12 major keys, 12 harmonic minor keys, and 12 melodic minor keys. Once you learn the chords and scales in all 36 keys you will have a strong foundation to solo inside with.
If you solo inside or outside you still we be using 36 keys. The only thing different with outside soling is the notes used for your solo will not come from the key that the chords are played in. You can quickly see that the mathematical combinations of scales over chords will become much more involved. Whereas, you once only had seven notes to chose from you now have all 12 notes to play over a chord or progression.
For example if I take the chords A minor, D minor, G major, and C major. I have a 6-2-5 1 chord progression. Here would be the notes in each chord: (A C E), (D F A), (G B D), and (C E G). You can see we are in the key of C. If I was going to play inside I could only use the 7 notes from the key of C. Now, If want to play outside I could use all 12 notes. The outside notes create tension. The tension the outside notes produce will need to be resolved back to the inside sounds to be pleasing to the ear and produce rest. This is why you need a strong foundation of inside harmony before you branch out into outside sounds.
Now, we will look at some rules to follow to play outside. Since there are 36 keys this means I will make my choice from 35 keys. One key will be excluded because it is inside the chord progression. Since I am in the key of C I will not use the key C for outside playing. Now, when I approach outside playing I can approach it by getting a little outside the chords or way outside the chords. Being able to control the degree of outside playing to this level is what my goal is.
I have now defined three goals for improving your soloing. The first one goal is learn to play inside. The second goal is learn to play a little outside the chords and the third goal is learn to play way outside the chords.
Playing with the different degrees of outside tensions will largely be controlled by the style of music you are playing. For example you were in a rock band playing the progression I mentioned you could play the following keys and their modes: F, G, and A harmonic minor. The A harmonic minor will produce the most tension. The key of F will produce the least. The key of G will be almost the same degree as the key of F but just a bit more outside.
If I want my solo to be just a little outside of a progression I will chose a key that has only one note different than the key I am in. For example if I am in the key of C my notes are: C D E F G A B so, I will choose the key of F as my first choice because I have only one note different. Here is the key of F: F G A Bb C D E . Or I may choose the key of G. Here are the notes for G: G A B C D E F# G.
Now, if I want to get a minor sound I will choose a minor key that has only one note different from the major key. The A harmonic minor has all the notes as C major except the note G#. So, for any major key the chords are in my first choice is 2 major keys and one harmonic minor key.
Here is how I will always know what keys to use. From the root note of a key I will go to either the 4th note for the root note of the first outside key or the 5 note for the 2nd outside key. For the minor key use the Aeolian of the major key your are in.
When I choose the major keys like I have just explained this is called the circle of 4ths or 5ths. The notes C and F are a 4th. The notes F to C are a 5th apart. A great thing to do is learn all 36 keys using the circle of 5ths. This builds the outside playing into your automatic thought process.
Now if I want to get way outside with my solo playing I will use keys that move in minor thirds over chords. This type of playing is found mostly in jazz, bebop and fusion jazz styles. Here is an example if I was playing the chords I mentioned from the key of C I would start my improve in C. Then I would move to Eb then to F# and then A major. Each key produces tensions over the chords. In most cases the chords I mentioned would be altered to the following notes: A C E G, D F A C, G B D F, and C E G B. In more progressive fusion styles the 2nd note of each chord would be removed. This would give you intervals of fifths which create what we call power chords.
Now with each key moving in minor thirds I also have the harmonic minor scales and jazz melodic minor scales to use. This gives 4 major scales, 4 harmonic minor scales, and 4 jazz melodic minor scales to use. Now if you start with the key of C and do minor 3rds you would wind up in the key of C again. From the key of C move to the major key that is a 4th up and do minor 3rds with that key. Then move to the key that is a 5th up and do minor 3rds with that key. Thus, you have played all 36 keys over one chord progression.
Now, if you use just one chord or two chords, this type of improving will produce less tension. For example if the chord was G 7th or any G dominant chord or just a G power chord I could easily move through all 36 keys and not create as much tension. It should go without saying that I am not limited to just 7 note scales with all 36 keys. I could use pentatonic scales as well as the modes. You could also use arpeggios from each key too. In summary learn all 36 keys. Then learn to play inside all 36 keys. Then apply the rules for outside playing and you will be able to solo over any thing.
Greg Brown is a guitarist and instructor from Texas who has written instructional books and authored videos and CD-ROMs designed to help a wide variety of guitar students..
His latest work is a method called the "Master All Strings Visual Learning System" that leads a guitar player into total visualization of all chords and scales as opposed to memorizing everything.