Theory: Playing Changes

To get a handle on playing over chord changes, the best place to start is a 12-bar jazz-blues.
Within this progression, you have the most important changes to concern yourself with, the 2-5 and the 1-6-2-5.
Two other changes that are no less important are the 1-4 and the 1-6.

For this session, we are going to use the diminished scale to create tension over Dom7 and altered Dominant (Dom7 flat9) chords. This will keep things very simple theory-wise but still create a good amount of tension through the changes.

Here’s a really simple melody played through the changes:


>>> View Full Transcription <<<

>>Chord Chart <<

Now Let’s break it down:

Ok, so it sounds a little goofy…but you really have to learn the basics before diving into triad substitutions and all the really modern stuff, trust me!

Ok, For the first five bars, I just use Dom7 scales and arpeggios to spell out each chord. Pretty straight forward.
Notice the last note in each bar is a chromatic ‘lead-in’ note to get you to the next bar. This is the simplest form of creating some flow┬áin the lines. It shows that you are addressing each change and ‘setting up’ for each chord as it comes.

In bar 6, we have an E diminished 7 chord and play 2 diminished triads, creating the tension over that chord.
bar 6

In Bar 7, over the Bb7, we’re back to the Dom7 sound.

In Bar 8, over the G7, we have a Gdom7 arpeggio and then over the G7b9 (altered tension) we use another diminished triad.
It only takes a couple of notes to spell out the chord, and the faster the tempo, the less time you have, so every notes counts.
bar 8

In Bar 9, we have a C minor arpeggio. This is the start of the 2-5 progression. I am not going to get too deep on this yet, so we will stay pretty simple here.

In Bar 10, over the F7 and F7b9, we use a diminished arpeggio. Notice the diminished arp. works over the regular Dom7 and the b9 chords.
bar 10

In Bar 11 and 12, this is the 1-6-2-5 progression. The arpeggios outline each chord, using Dom7 – diminished – minor7 – diminished, resolving on the 1.

And here’s a version with backing track:

Play through each section, focusing on the transitions and setting up for each change as it comes. Once you get comfortable anticipating the changes with the right connecting notes, you should be able to search out other places on the neck to get the same arpeggios and scales.
We are only really using the diminished scale here to create the tensions, but you can also use other scales to get the same results.

More on that later!