Contact   |   Staff  |   Contribute  |   Advertise  |   Site Map  |   Legal
Guide Tones: The Bare Essentials

Guide Tones: The Bare Essentials

October 15th, 2007 by




Get the Flash Player to see this content.

Very often, “less is more” is a good policy to adopt when playing jazz. Overplaying usually gets both players and listeners pissed off because you’re getting in the way of the other musicians, while creating cluttered, disorganized music.

This can be a hard habit to break, especially for us guitarists, who are used to being the center of attention. There are many remedies that can help overcome overplaying, and the use of guide tones, which we will discuss in this lesson, is one of them.

The term “guide tones” refers to the third and seventh of a chord. These particular chord tones are the most defining in the chord, the third determining whether it is major or minor, and the seventh determining whether it is a major, minor or dominant seventh chord. Using guide tones reveals the most basic tonality of the chord and nothing more (in the realm of jazz, not the case in other styles).

Ex. 1: Defining the Chord

Example 1 shows how guide tones define a chord with Bb as the root.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

ex1

Ex.2: Comping

In a scenario when you are playing chords and want to play very minimally, guide tones are the perfect choice. Not only is the sound good for these situations, but also in many standards, the guide tones actually create lines in which one note will move one half step or one whole step, while the other remains the same. This makes guide tone lines easy to play and helpful in figuring out common and neighboring tones between chords. Example two demonstrates the use of guide tones in comping “Autumn Leaves” over a bass line.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

ex2_01ex2_02ex2_03ex2_04ex2_05ex2_06

Ex. 3: Soloing

If you’ve ever looked at a chart for a standard and said to yourself “Look at all these chords, how am I supposed to play a solo over all these changes?” guide tones can help you overcome this problem. If you know which scales to use and what the guide tones are, you can combine both to make a logical, melodic solo. Example 3 is a one chorus solo over “Autumn Leaves”. Also, if you look at the melody to this tune, you’ll see that it also targets guide tones, a prime example of their defining role in jazz.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

ex3_01ex3_02ex3_03ex3_04ex3_05ex3_06ex3_07ex3_08

Guide Tones: The Bare Essentials

About Mark Kilianski

Mark Kilianski is a Guitar player, teacher, and composer based in Boston, MA. Mark has been trained in Jazz Composition at the infamous Berklee College of Music and gigs regularly with the Progressive-Folk duo, The Whiskey Boys (www.whiskeyboys.com). He is well versed in the Jazz, Blues, Classic Rock, and Bluegrass idioms, an eclectic blend that gives his playing and writing a unique flavor.

View other posts by
Visit Mark Kilianski's Website: http://www.myspace.com/markkilianski


  • Dan

    Dude, guide tones can be used in all music. By definition a guide tone is fundamental tone used in the song be played. Common guide tones for western music are the 3 and 7th. Bebopers like the extensions. However, even in music using only drums a guide tone can be the bass drum or another drum as long as the tone is clearly defined. This is harder to hear but it still exists. In modal music, the guide tones are very few. But the timing is simple, when one wishes to play “inside” any style guide tones will cause it to occur.

    • Mark

      Thank you Dan, that was very informative!