JAZZ GUITAR: Tension Tones in Melody Lines

When soloing, if you stick to the chord tones you will never be wrong. But, if you do this in Jazz, you'll have a little trouble being able to maintain the listeners interest for very long. 

Playing notes "outside" of the chord tones is essential to creating strong melody and cool sounding movements in Jazz. The easy to follow guide within this post, will help you apply tension tones that work.

There's an old saying that one of my jazz mentors used to relate to me time and time again, "All Roads Lead to Jazz." 

This is an interesting statement, because as a musician develops their playing and performing chops, they move through a whole host of music styles. 

As the styles move along further and further, (becoming more complex), eventually the player enters the world of Jazz. And, a big part of what makes Jazz happen - is tension.

What are "Tension Tones?" ...Most guitar players perform stock phrases, which use only the tones of the scale related to the key which the piece was composed in. This is where the term "Diatonic" comes up.

DIATONIC: When you play only those scale and chord tones that relate specifically to the key signature, you're playing "Diatonic." This sounds great in almost all music styles - except Jazz...

Figure a). The diatonic "C Major" scale

All of the scale tones in the "C" scale above exist within the key signature of "C Major." These tones are considered "Diatonic." If any other tone were to be played in and around these tones, it would be referred to as a "Non-Diatonic" tone.

The "effect" of Jazz happens when musicians create different "Non-Diatonic" sounds in a key by imposing what we would technically call, "wrong notes" over the chords.

Extended, altered and chromatic tones act to invite the jazz sound using these tension producing intervals. It is a very unique effect that can only happen when tones from outside of the scale are applied.

Example 1). Tension tone application for "Dmaj7" or "D7"
This phrase can operate over either major 7th or dominant 7th chord types.

This phrase in example one is a common sounding Jazz phrase and functions along the stylistic lines of Jazz great "Charlie Parker." The phrase creates tension and release. Add to that, the notes are strong enough to lock into the sound of any major tonality, or blues tonality "D" root note. This ends up producing strong enough notes to play against the chord types of either "D maj7" or "D7."

Tension tones create a sense of movement that would not otherwise be heard if you played only the chord tones found in the diatonic scale.

Tension tones in Jazz offer players the ability to add twists and turns to a melodic line that operate to jolt the listener and make them pull their attention toward other tonal directions.

This is a fantastic technique, however it does take both time, knowledge and some experience to develop. Learn songs by the jazz greats and practice adding various passing tones to connect your diatonic scale degrees. After awhile things will get easier and you'll be able to add all kinds of interesting passing tones in the music you play that will support this sound.

NOTE: Have run through my guitar lesson post titled, "3 Fantastic Chromatic Tricks," for a few nice ways to phrase lines with tension tones.



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