Guide Tone Lines - A quick lesson


Guide tone lines – what are they and how do they help make you a better jazz vocal improviser?

Guide tone lines are a fundamental concept in jazz music that help singers (as well as instrumentalists) navigate through chord progressions. They are melodic lines that highlight the essential notes within each chord, specifically the third and seventh. By emphasizing these key tones, guide tone lines create a strong melodic connection between chords, providing a sense of movement and harmonic direction. 

Here's a step-by-step lesson on how to use guide tone lines in jazz singing:

1. Understand the Chord Progression: Begin by analyzing the chord progression of the song you're working on. Identify the chords and their corresponding qualities (major, minor, dominant, etc.). For example, if you have a II-V-I progression in the key of C major, the chords would be Dm7, G7, and Cmaj7.

2. Identify the Guide Tones: In each chord, the guide tones are the third and seventh. The third defines the quality of the chord (major or minor), and the seventh provides the harmonic tension. Determine the guide tones for each chord in your progression. In the example above, the guide tones would be F (third) and C (seventh) for Dm7, F (third) and B (seventh) for G7, and E (third) and B (seventh) for Cmaj7.

3. Construct the Guide Tone Lines: Create melodic lines that connect the guide tones of each chord. Begin with the first guide tone (third or seventh) of the first chord and smoothly connect it to the closest guide tone of the next chord. Repeat this process for subsequent chords until you reach the final chord in the progression. Experiment with various melodic patterns, rhythms, and note choices to create interesting and expressive lines.

4. Practice Singing the Guide Tone Lines: Practice singing the lines individually, starting either on the third or the seventh, throughout the song. You can use ireal pro to practice with a backing track and in your key, or you can also plunk out the bass notes on a keyboard to hear the connection between the guide tone and the root.

5. Apply Guide Tone Lines to Improvisation: Once you've mastered the guide tone lines for a specific chord progression, use them as “guard rails” to navigate your way through a song. This can be exploratory and fun. If you get lost, go back to the guide tone line sheet again that you hopefully wrote out on a separate piece of paper.

Remember, guide tone lines are just one tool in your jazz singing toolkit. As you become more proficient in using them, you can explore other improvisational techniques, such as embellishments, substitutions, and chord extensions, to further enhance your jazz vocal performances. 

Want to learn more? Enroll in my course Scat 101: Guide Tone Lines today! On pre-sale for only $19 until July 4th! (Course will be live as of July 1st)

Happy singing!


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