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Targeting 2

Targeting (see the last post) gives us all the safe notes. If you use the chord-tones of the chord you’re on when you’re soloing, it’s going to sound ok.

But there are only three chord-tones if you’re playing triads, and four if you’re playing 7th chords. Since there are 12 notes to choose from, you might be wondering what you can do with all those other notes.



It really depends on how much tension you want to create. Instead of using all 12 of the notes available to us, let’s just use the seven that are in any major scale.

I implied in the last post, that the key of C has seven notes. And I pointed out the notes that are in a triad (root, 3rd, and 5th). Using a C major triad as an example, that gives us C (root), E(3rd), and G (5th), leaving D (2nd), F (4th), A (6th), and B (7th) just sort of sitting there.

Is it ok to play those on the C major triad? Sure, but you need to be careful with them.

You need to be careful with them because those are the notes that create tension.

And because they create tension, you need to know how to resolve them.



Resolving these notes is pretty easy. Just follow them with the closest chord-tone.


  • Follow the 2nd with the root or the 3rd.
  • Follow the 4th with the 3rd or the 5th.
  • Follow the 6th with the 5th.
  • And follow the 7th with the root.


Once you start playing these you might find that you like the sound of the 2nd against the chord. The 6th sounds ok, too, and if you play the 7th you’re essentially creating a 7th chord. So it’s ok, too. The 4th is the one that usually gives people the most trouble.

Keep in mind that each of them have a level of tension different than the others. You’ll wind up liking some more than others.



Record a C major triad, and practice playing all of the notes in the C major scale against the chord. A good way to approach this is to just play the scale, stop on the 2nd(D), and hold it. Then resolve it down to the root (C).

Do it again, but resolve it up to the 3rd (E). Do you like the resolution up or down? Or do you prefer to just stay on the D?

Staying on the D creates a feeling that we haven’t arrived at the end. All non chord-tones create this feeling. Because of this, it’s a good strategy to rest on non chord-tones at the beginning of a solo, and rest on chord-tones toward the end.

Go through the same process with the other non chord-tones (4th, 6th, and 7th). Pay close attention to what your preferences are. Do you prefer to rest on the non chord-tone? What resolution do you like: up or down? Knowing what you like and don’t like is crucial in developing a personal voice.

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I’ve talked a lot about chords in the last few posts. I want to focus on the individual notes in those chords now.

I’ve talked about how we get the notes of a chord (Take every other note of the scale).

And I’ve talked about what to name those notes. For example…


Key of C:


C           D         E         F         G         A         B

Root          2nd        3rd        4th          5th           6th        7th


So the C major chord has a C, E, and G, also known as the root, 3rd, and 5th.

Start the C major scale from D and you have the dorian mode.


D         E         F         G         A         B         C

Root       2nd          3rd        4th       5th          6th          7th


…and the notes of the D minor chord are D, F, and A.



Why am I talking about all this? Because the notes of any chord (called chord tones) can be used to make solos and riffs sound like they make sense (i.e. good)

How? By placing chord tones in strategic places in the solo or riff. This is called targeting. You’re targeting notes in the chord

And how do you do that? Take a look at your progression. Figure out the notes in each chord by taking the root, 3rd, and 5th of that chord. Then place those notes in important places in your solo or riff.


The important places

Where are the important places? Perhaps the most important place in a solo or riff is at the end. When you put a chord tone there, any tension you’ve created gets resolved. Everything sounds complete.

Of course, you may not want it to sound complete. But that’s another post.

So, an example…


simple progression


The first thing to notice is where the chord tones are. I’ve started the whole thing on the root of the first chord. The root is the most stable chord tone so it always works at the beginning. It communicates solidity. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing every time, but it’s not a bad place to start.



The second note is the 5th of the chord, and I end the first bar on the 3rd (E). In between those notes are non-chord tones (F and D); these communicate less stability, and are great for transitions to chord tones. To make things interesting, it’s important to create tension and then resolve it (which going from non-chord tones to chord tones does).


Do some analysis

Analyse the rest of the progression keeping in mind what chord you’re on, and what chord tones you’re looking for. Which bar creates the most tension (i.e. has the most non-chord tones)? Notice how a non-chord tone on one chord (E on the G chord, bar 3) turns into a chord tone on the next chord.


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Incomplete 7th chords

This idea makes 7th chords easier to play, and creates new possibilities. Instead of making them four-note chords, make them three-note chords.


Eliminate a note, of course, but which one? We can’t really get rid of the root or the 7th because they define the sound of the chord. The 3rd also plays an important role in defining a 7th chord’s sound.

But the 5th? We can lose that.


Here’s what you do. Just take any 7th chord, say a G major 7, and build the chord: G, B, D, F#. Now get rid of the 5th, and you’re left with G, B, and F#.

Now the fun part. Find those notes on the neck of the guitar, and build some chords.


Root in the bass

Keep the root in the bass for now. Put the G of the G major 7 chord on the 3rd fret of the low E string. Now find a place for the B and the F#.

You have three practical choices for the B:

  • 2nd fret, A string
  • 4th fret, G string
  • open B string


There are two practical choices for the F#:

  • 4th fret, D string,
  • 2nd fret, high E string.


If you put the B on the A string, the F# can go in any of its two locations. Try both. Which is easier to play? Which sounds better?

Put the B on the G string and, again, the F# can go in any of its two locations. Again, try both. Always ask which is easiest to play and which sounds better.

And finally, the open B. Again, the F# can go in either location.


The root on other strings

Now go through this process with the root on the A string. As before, identify where you can play the other two notes (put them on higher strings than the A), and figure out how many chords you can make.

Then place the root on the D string, and find the other notes. Finally, put the root on the G string.

Remember that, in all these cases, the root is the lowest sounding note.

And make sure that you’re writing down all the chords that you like. The ones you don’t use now, you’ll use later. You keep ideas fresh by making sure that you have materials you like, and by making sure that those materials aren’t all the same.

Some people never use anything but standard, open string chords…


The 3rd in the bass

If you feel like making more chords, put the 3rd in the bass, and then find the root and the 7th on the other strings. So the B (if you’re using the G major 7th chord) goes on the 7th fret of the low E string. Then find the other notes (G and F#) on the other strings. Same process as before.


Other things to try

I know. It never ends.


  • Use the 7th (F#) in the bass, and put the root (G) and the third (B) on the other strings.


  • Do the entire process from the beginning of the post, but get rid of the 3rd instead of the 5th.




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Changing 7th chords

Let’s take the C major 7th chord I talked about in the last post.

Cmaj7 chord

As in my post on ambiguous triads…

…start moving the notes around.


Lots of chords

In some cases when you do this, you get other functional chords (rather than ambiguous ones).

For example, move the 7th of the chord (the note on the E string) down a semitone and you get a C dominant 7 chord.



Move it another semitone down and you get an A minor 7 chord. Suddenly, we’ve changed roots from C to A.



Now, using the A minor 7 chord, move the note on the G string up a semi-tone and you get an A dominant 7.



Move that same note up another semitone and you get an Asus4 chord.

So the work is to simply move your fingers one or two frets up or down on each string, just like you did with triads. The difference is that with 7th chords, you get more material.


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Playing the bass line

It’s an effective move for the guitar player to become the bass player. Even if you never actually play a bass line, it’s a good idea to learn how to construct one.

I love it. It helps me get into the mind of a bass player. It helps me figure what they care about. And what they care about (probably more than anyone) is groove.

Let’s take a basic progression and see what we can do with it. We need the notes before we can sink into groove.


bass line


What you have here is a G major arpeggio, followed by and E minor arpeggio, a C major arpeggio, and an A minor arpeggio.  Let’s talk a bit about arpeggios.



Arpeggios are simply the notes in a chord played one at a time instead of together. These are the main notes that any bass player in any style will play. But outside of walking bass, no bass player will play them in the way I’ve outlined above. There needs to be some rhythmic interest.

Before we get to rhythm, though, let’s see how arpeggios are built. It’s not all that complicated.

Let’s start with the key of C.


C            D            E            F            G            A            B


How to make an arpeggio

Arpeggios are made by taking every second note of the scale. If you want a C major arpeggio, take the C, the E, and the G. If you want a D minor arpeggio, take the D, the F, and the A.

How do I know that building an arpeggio from the D is a minor arpeggio?

Here’s how it works in any major key (I’ll use C major as examples here):

  • the arpeggio built on the first note is always major: CEG
  • the second and third notes give us minor arpeggios: DFA and EGB
  • the fourth and fifth notes are major arpeggios: FAC and GBD
  • the sixth arpeggio is minor: ACE
  • and the seventh is diminished: BDF


To be totally clear:

C            D            E            F            G            A            B

maj            min            min            maj            maj            min            dim


Now you know how to find the main notes for making a bass line. Take a song that you like to play, and find the arpeggio notes on the E, A, and D strings.


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100 posts

This is my 100th post. Which seems a bit incredible. My other 4 blogs produced maybe 20 posts altogether…

Up until now, this blog has been about helping guitar players work with concepts that might make their songwriting/composition process and product more interesting. That won’t change.

But after 100 posts you start to want to stretch a bit. It will always about making stuff, but I’ll start introducing topics that I notice I’ve been shying away from: more advanced compositional ideas, some tech stuff, jazz harmony, artist reviews from time to time. Other stuff…

Stay tuned.


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