To solo harmonically is to make melodic decisions based on chords changes.
The experience of soloing in this way is similar to the experience of strumming through a chord progression. Both skills require that you know a song’s changes.
This blog post will map out the concept so you can get started with this kind of improvising.
I like to describe harmonic improvisation as chasing the chords. It seems to me that playing chord specific licks and phrases that go right along with a song’s changes is like a never-ending game of cat and mouse. As a bonus, chasing the chords is also fun.
Here’s how it works:
If the band is playing a D chord, for example, then you must play D-chord-specific melodic figures.
Play this chord:
Then play this phrase:
This phrase corresponds with the D7 chord for two reasons: (1) the lick and the chord are made up of the same notes—D, F#, A, and C; (2) the chord and the phrase exist in the same region (position) of the fretboard.
Notice how nicely they work together. It’s as if D7 and that lick were made for each other. Next, let’s map this idea onto a three-chord-progression that you might encounter in a song.
Play these three chords to give yourself a road map:
Then play this etude to drive home the idea (click to enlarge):
Here I am playing the etude:
In the video, I looped the chords, played the exercise as written, then improvised using the etude as fodder. This, in a nutshell, is the concept: develop some chord-specific vocabulary, then use that vocabulary to inform your soloing decisions.
Now you’re a chord chaser, too!
Okay, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this post. Keep chasing them chords.