The First Steps to Playing Over Advanced Chord Changes

Are you frustrated when it comes to playing over complex chord changes? Does leaving diatonic harmony blow your mind? 

Well, this lesson will help you come to terms with the first steps for playing over more advanced chord changes...

Learning a practical common sense approach that will be helpful for understanding how to play over more advanced chord changes is the key to nailing this topic. Once you gain the proper processes for bridging the learning gap, you'll be able to understand this world of advanced chord progressions.

Even if you have absolutely zero knowledge for advanced chord progressions, you'll be able to use these ideas to go through a study routine that breaks down playing lead lines over even the most complex of chord harmony.


Most rock, folk, pop, and country songs operate in the "diatonic" key center. This means all of the chords are built from notes of the key signature.

For example, if a pop group writes a song composed within the key of "A Minor" (a key that has no sharps or flats), every note in their melody and all of the chords in their song will exist free of any sharps or flats. The song would be considered "Diatonic."

These diatonic progressions are actually quite easy to play solos over since they only require one scale to create melody. The scale of the key is used to compose or improvise lines that will easily relate to the underlying chord changes.

When a song is composed that does not sit within one single key, that song would be considered as, "Non-Diatonic." A song that operates as non-diatonic will have more advanced progressions for the musician to deal with. The chords must be viewed "on the spot" and that makes them more difficult to perform melodies over.

Each chord in the more advanced "non-diatonic" progression must be understood as individual ideas, removed from a group harmony. This will mean that to play over progressions like this concepts such as modes and arpeggios will need to be applied.

The example below is an example of a group of chords that does not exist within a standard key center. Each chord may have some remote ties to the harmony of other chords around it, but as a group, the chords are all quite unique.

Example Progression:
Learn to play the chord progression given below.

click on the above image to enlarge full-screen

Across the chord changes, there exists some relationship to the "Am7" chord with the appearance of the "E7" resolution chord. However, the other chord changes are coming from all over the spectrum and share little to no harmonic ties to the key center of "A Minor." This is a very good example of a group of advanced chord changes.

The difficult part of playing over advanced chord changes is dealing with the rapid changes occurring through unrelated chord types. When a chord progression is diatonic, the chords all relate to one scale and one key. So, this makes lead playing easy. If the song is in "G Major" then you can simply perform the "G Major" scale over the entire progression.

However, when we encounter advanced chord changes, we need to switch scales and use arpeggios so that we can follow the chord movements with tones that will match. It isn't easy to do and requires a lot of training.

Scales and arpeggios are the way to achieve success with this method. If you learn all of your arpeggios, (major, minor, augmented, diminished, and dominant), you will have the tools to be able to cover even the strangest of chord progressions.

Another area of practice should be learning how other guitarists perform over chord progressions like this. By lifting off other solos and melodies that use advanced chord changes, you'll learn an incredible amount from how the lines were formed.

This work will help you move forward with establishing your own way of playing over advanced chord progressions.

Take a moment out of your day, and learn how to perform the melody I've composed for the advanced chord changes given up above.

Example Melody:
click on the above image to enlarge full-screen

Work on the melody lines composed for the chord changes shown in the above progression. These chord movements are more advanced non-diatonic ideas and the chord harmony must be followed using modes and arpeggios. Spend time studying how each phrase is connected and begin trying to invent some ideas of your own. As you get better at the established lines in the example, you'll find it easier to invent your own original ideas.

If the sound of advanced chord progressions seems interesting to you, spend some time breaking down the process for learning the theory, chord patterns, scales, modes and arpeggios involved with making this sound come alive. Start by making-up some of your own advanced chord progressions and study several jazz standards as well.

Once you start to understand some of the basics involved with these chord progressions, and once you've learned to play over some advanced progressions, develop a routine for studying other peoples solos over complex changes.

One band that you may want to start studying is Steely Dan. Their chord changes definitely fall into this category, and their music is certainly something worthwhile to spend time learning from.



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