Improv Lesson 3 (Targeting 3rds)

In this lesson, we will look at soloing in a Bebop style using a technique I call “targeting 3rds.” This technique will help make your soloing sound like you are always right on the changes. The most important aspect of soloing on standards and Bebop tunes is to sound like you are playing on the chord changes and not just wandering around the modes. An important characteristic of a great Bebop solo is that you can hear the chord changes in the soloing even when no one is comping.

The way to achieve this is to always make the first note of a new chord change one of the chord tones. Making the 3rd of the chord the first note you play for each new chord is one of the strongest ways to express the sound of the chord.

The first step is to practice playing only the third of each chord for either a standard or Bebop tune. As an example, let’s look at how we can apply this to the standard “Lady Bird.”

In the example above, only the 3rd of each of the chords is used. To start, play only the 3rds as written. Use the chart as a guide. Next, try not using the chart but instead finding the 3rd of each chord as you play. If you are playing only the 3rds, you should have enough time to figure out the next note in your head.

Once you are more comfortable finding and playing the 3rds on your guitar, the next step is to try and improvise a few note which will lead you to the next chord. As an example, I will start with my “E” note on the Cmaj7 chord and improvise a few notes to lead to the “Ab” note of the next chord which is Fm7.

The example below illustrates one of a vast number of possible ways to do this.

Step 2, add a few notes

As you get better and better at this, you will be able to use this technique to build more intricate and interesting solos. The example below uses more complex Bebop lines but still always starts on the 3rd scale degree of each chord.

Author: Michael Berard

Michael Berard was a part-time music professor for over 25 years at Concordia University in Montreal Canada. There he taught jazz guitar, jazz arranging, jazz composition as well as other jazz related courses. He has worked over the years as a jazz musician playing jazz clubs, concerts and studio sessions. Michael has played on numerous recordings including 3 of his own: "It's Autumn," "Little Voices" and "Good News." Michael is also the author of "Jazz Guitar Elements," a comprehensive jazz guitar method and "Jazz Reading Elements," a new jazz sight reading book geared towards jazz guitarists.