Guide tones are a topic that comes up early and often when learning how to play jazz guitar.
These essential chord tones outline chord progressions in the smoothest way possible, and therefore are essential jazz guitar tools.
While you may have read about guide tones, you might not know how these small musical devices can transform your playing.
This lesson does just that.
The material in this lesson teaches you what guide tones are, how to apply them to your solos and comping, and how to use them over songs.
Everything you need to bring this essential jazz technique into your playing today.
Guide Tones Quick Facts
Guide Tones for Guitar (Click to Jump Down)
- What are Guide Tones
- Major ii V I Guide Tone Lines
- Minor ii V I Guide Tone Lines
- Blue Bossa Solo
- Major ii V I VI Chords
- Minor ii V I bIII Chords
- Sunny Guide Tones
What Are Guide Tones
Before you take this essential jazz concept to the guitar, it’s important to understand what guide tones are.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to guide tones, so it’s best to learn the simplest definition of the term.
Guide tones are notes that connect chords with minimal movement, mostly half-steps.
Here are the two most popular ways to connect chords using guide tones.
The first interval is played on the chord you’re on and the second on the chord you’re going to.
- b7 to 3
- b9 to 5
There are other guide tones available, but these are the most popular and this lesson focuses on these two patterns, and mostly b7-3 as those are the most commonly used.
Once you can apply these guide tones in real time, explore more half-step connections between chords in your playing.
Guide tones aren’t the end of your studies, nor will they instantly make you sound like Joe Pass in your solos.
But, they’re an essential tool for outlining chord changes, with or without a band backing you up.
Major ii V I Guide Tone Lines
Now that you know what guide tones are, and how they connect chords, you take that knowledge to the fretboard.
Here are 5 major ii V I phrases that all use b7 to 3 guide tones to connect each chord.
Learn the lines as written, then take them to other keys and add them to your solos over full jazz tunes.
The first guide tone pattern goes up an Am7 arpeggio before going down a D Mixolydian scale and resolving to the 3rd of Gmaj7.
Notice the b7 to 3 movement between each chord, which are the guide tones in action.
Once you can play this line, take it to other keys and begin to experiment with it in your solos over backing tracks and full tunes.
Notice that the arpeggios in the first bar connects the b7 to the 3rd of the next chord, bouncing around over the D7 to make that happen.
As you become comfortable with guide tones, you move those resolutions around the bar.
But, for now, it’s best to keep land on the 3rd of each chord on the downbeat of that change in the progression.
Here, you play one chromatic note above, then two below, before landing on your target note.
The first note of the pattern is the b7 of that chords and the final note is the 3rd of the next chord, completing the guide tone line.
Work this line in a few keys and then take it to full songs as you improvise with this concept in your playing.
Click to Hear guide-tones-3 In this line, you use enclosures to connect the b7 and 3rd of each chord.
An enclosure is where you play a fret above, then fret below, before resolving to the target note in your line.
After you can play this lick from memory in a few keys, add enclosures to guide tones in your solos to expand this concept.
When you want to add tension to a ii V I, you can play biii-bVI/ii-V/I to sidestep your way into the tonic chord.
As you create tension with this sub, the guide tones hold the line together.
Experiment with this sound over backing tracks and full tunes as you take it to other areas of your playing.
Click to Hear guide-tones-5
Minor ii V I Guide Tone Lines
The first minor guide tone line uses both the b7-3 and b9-5 patterns over a short ii V I in Gm.
This lick uses ascending arpeggios over the ii V before resolving to the 5th of Gm7 in the second bar.
Work this pattern in every key if possible, and take it to full tunes as you add it to your soloing lines over jazz chord progressions.
Click to Hear guide-tones-6 Here’s a descending minor ii V I guide tone pattern that uses b9-5 over both connections.
Mix this idea with the first pattern as you begin to combine guide tone lines in your playing.
As well, work this line over tunes to build confidence when soloing over fast-moving ii V I chords.
Click to Hear guide-tones-7 Here you ascend both Am7b5 and D7alt before resolving down to the Gm7 chord, using a b9-5 guide tone pattern.
Notice the F#dim7 arpeggio used over D7alt, creating a 3 to 9 arpeggio over that chord change.
As well, there’s a b7-3 guide tone pattern that connects the Am7b5 and D7alt chords in the first bar.
Click to Hear guide-tones-8 Here’s a standard bebop phrase that uses both guide tone patterns over a minor ii V I in G.
The second bar in particular is a must-know bebop lick that you can extract from this line and use it in other areas of your playing.
Work this guide tone line in other keys as you move this essential phrase around the fretboard.
Click to Hear guide-tones-9 In this final guide tone line, you use both the b7-3 and b9-5 patterns.
The first bar is a classic bebop line that every jazz guitarist should learn, so take this bar to other sections of your playing.
Take this line to other keys, as well as jam it over tunes as you expand this phrase in the woodshed.
Click to Hear guide-tones-10
Blue Bossa Solo
Bring these guide tone lines together in your improvisations, here’s a solo over Blue Bossa that uses b7-3 and b9-5 guide tones.
Learn each four-bar phrase on its own first, before combining them to play the study as a whole.
There’s a backing track to jam over when you feel ready to solo using guide tones and guide tone lines over this chord progression.
Backing Track blue-bossa-guide-tones-backing
Click to Hear guide-tones-11
Major ii V I VI Guide Tones
Moving on to the harmonic side of guide tones, you now take 3rds and 7ths to your comping, chord soloing, and chord melody playing.
When doing so, you play the 3rd and 7th, or 7th and 3rd, of each chord on two strings.
From there, you can simply comp with these shapes behind a soloist.
Or, as you see below, you can comp for yourself as you solo over any jazz standard.
The first example has the 3rd and 7th for Am7 on the 4th and 3rd strings, then moves through each chord from there.
Take these shapes to other keys, as well as play them over tunes to expand them in your studies.
When doing so, change the rhythms, break up the chords, and find ways to be creative with these two-note chords.
Click to Hear guide-tones-12 You now invert the previous example as you play the 7th and 3rd of Am7 and move around the chords from there.
Work these chords in multiple keys, and take them to full songs when you’re ready.
Lastly, when taking these chords to songs, change the rhythms and picking patterns to expand them in your practice routine.
Click to Hear guide-tones-13 The next example shifts the 3rd and 7th down to the 5th and 4th strings.
You can play these guide tones on the 6th and 5th strings, but they tend to sound muddy down there.
As well, you can play them on the 3rd and 2nd, or even 2nd and 1st, strings, but they sound too thin in that range.
The 4th and 3rd, then 5th and 4th, strings sound best when comping 3rds and 7ths behind a soloist.
Click to Hear guide-tones-14 This final major example inverts the previous one, as you now play the 7th and 3rd for Am7 and move to the closest shapes from there.
After working these chords in a few keys, mix all four ii V I chord variations together to compare them in your studies.
Click to Hear guide-tones-15
Minor ii V I bIII Guide Tones
You now move into the minor realm as you work 3rds and 7ths for each chord in a minor ii V I bIII progression.
The first example starts on the 3rd and 7th of Am7b5 and moves to the next closest chords from there.
After you’ve learned this example as written, take it to other keys, and add it to tunes in your studies.
As well, change the rhythms for this, or any, guide tones chord exercise to personalize these sounds in your playing.
Click to Hear guide-tones-16 Here’s an inversion of the previous example, where you now start on the 7th and 3rd of Am7b5 before moving to the closest shapes from there.
When you take these chords to other keys, notice the open string on the Bbmaj7 chord, as you’ll have to fret that note in any other key.
This example happens to have open strings on the Bbmaj7 chord, so take that into account when transposing this example to other keys.
Click to Hear guide-tones-18 You now invert the previous example as you start on the 7th and 3rd of Am7b5, working to the closest next chord from there.
Once you have these chords under your fingers, mix them with the other examples, as well as take them to other keys and full songs in your practicing.
Click to Hear guide-tones-19
Sunny Guide Tones
Here’s a solo that mixes guide tone single-lines with 3rds and 7ths over the chords to the jazz standard Sunny.
Mixing guide note lines and guide note chords creates a pianistic sound, where the lines are the right hand and chords are left hand of a pianist.
Go slow with this study, learn the lines first, and then learn the chords on their own, before bringing them all together in your studies.
There’s also a backing track so you can create your own lines and chord phrases over this 16-bar form.
Backing Track sunny-guide-tones
Click to Hear guide-tones-20