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Exploring John Coltrane Modal Lines for Jazz Guitar

Though John Coltrane is known for his fast-paced harmonic soloing over tunes such as Moment’s Notice, Countdown and of course the ever challenging Giant Steps, his approach to modal soloing has also stood out as one of his biggest contributions to the jazz genre.

Having been involved in one of most famous Modal albums, Kind of Blue, and modal songs, So What, Coltrane continued to pursue Modal jazz improvising concepts for many years after this classic recording was released.

In today’s lesson, we’ll be looking at three approaches that Coltrane liked to use in his modal soloing ideas, diatonic arpeggios, the “scoop” pattern, and 4th intervals, all of which can be used to bring a Coltrane vibe to your next modal guitar solo.


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John Coltrane Modal Lines 1


The first concept we’ll explore is Coltrane’s use of diatonic arpeggios, non-tonic, in his modal lines.

As you are soloing in a given key, in this example it’s E Dorian, you can use any/all of the available diatonic arpeggios to create your lines.

In this John Coltrane Modal Line, there is an F#m7 arpeggio being used in bar 1, which highlights the 9th, 11th, 13th and root of the Em7 chord. As well, there is a Bm7 arpeggio outlining the 5th, b7th, 9th and 11th of Em7 in bar two of the line.

To take this concept further in your own jazz guitar soloing ideas, practice playing over a one-chord vamp and use two or more of the diatonic arpeggios from that key to build your lines.

Eventually you can choose any of the 7 diatonic arpeggios to create your own modal jazz lines, but starting with two will give you enough options to create interest in your phrases, while not overwhelming you with options as you first begin to explore this idea in the woodshed.


Click to hear audio for the John Coltrane Modal Lines 1 Example


John Coltrane Modal Lines 1



John Coltrane Modal Lines 2


The dominant pattern in this Coltrane inspired phrases is a pattern I refer to as the “scoop.”

This concept is fairly straightforward, and the example below provides a few different variations on this idea that Coltrane liked to use in his solos.

To build a “scoop” pattern, you start on a note, then go down by one or two notes, using skips or steps, before moving back up to the note you started, one note above your starting note, or one note below your starting note.

The result of this pattern is that the notes on the staff make a “U” scoop-like shape that you can see throughout this entire phrase.

To practice these variations of the scoop pattern, take one four-note shape, such as the C-G-Bb-C notes in the second half of the first bar, and run it through the diatonic scale, C Dorian in this case, starting the scoop pattern on each note in the scale.

This might be a bit tricky for beginning jazz guitar improvisors, but with time adding the scoop pattern to your lines will bring a bit of Coltrane’s signature sound to your own jazz guitar phrases and improvised solos.


Click to hear audio for the John Coltrane Modal Lines 2 Example


John Coltrane Modal Lines 2



John Coltrane Modal Lines 3


In this final Coltrane Modal Line, we’re look at more diatonic arpeggios, this time an inversion (staring on the b7th) of the Am7 arpeggio over Dm7, as well as the use of large leaps in the phrase.

As guitarists, we can sometimes get stuck playing lines that are more scale based, steps, or arpeggio based, 3rds, and don’t venture too far beyond those intervals in our soloing ideas.

Once thing that Coltrane like to do, was insert larger leaps into his phrases, such as the 4ths that are highlighted throughout this example line.

To work on this approach, first try learning 4th intervals, both ascending and descending, through any Dorian Scale Fingering that you know.

From there, put on a m7 backing track and solo over that chord using as many 4ths as you can in your improvised lines.

This will allow you to work a bit of Coltrane 4th interval sounds into your lines, as well as build your technical knowledge and facility at the same time.


Click to hear audio for the John Coltrane Modal Lines 1 Example


John Coltrane Modal Lines 3



Coltrane obviously used a lot of other approaches in his modal lines when creating legendary solos over tunes such as “Spiritual” and “Impressions.”

But, learning how to use diatonic arpeggios, the “scoop” pattern and 4th intervals in your lines can help bring a better understanding of Coltrane’s modal approach, and allow you to raise the level of interest in any modal jazz guitar solo you improvise.


Do you have a question or comments about these John Coltrane Modal Lines? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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