The importance of Target Notes in improvisation
We call Target Notes those notes that are our main goal in a solo.
To make it clearer, let’s talk about “good solos” and improvisation.
You already know the basic to improvise in sequence of chords and you are able to know the tonality of a song, use the major, minor, relative and pentatonic scales. Very well, but it is not always that we have a good solo, do you agree?! Even phrasing and exploring many techniques, sometimes some notes do not sound good, even though belonging to the same harmonic field of the song.
The explanation for this is simple; we cannot restrict ourselves in thinking only in harmonic field. We need to think in chords too! You should agree that a solo works in harmony, and a harmony is made by chords. Even if the harmonic field doesn’t change during the song, each note of the scale will sound differently (it will have a different impact) when played in each chord of this harmonic field. So we need to know which notes are more beautiful for each chord!
Follow this logic: a chord is a group of notes. So, doing a solo in a chord, we should play in our solo the notes that belong to this chord. For example, if the song had the chords C, Em, F and G, we could think in playing the following notes:
- C, E, G for C major
- E, B, G for E minor
- G, B, D for G major
- F, C, E for F major
These are the tetrads (chord’s notes) of each chord of the song.
Observation: If these chords also had the seventh (tetrads), we could add the seventh degree as a note to be played.
It would be impossible to sound “ugly” what we did now, do you agree? Because it would be the own arpeggio of each chord! So well, the secret is this: a solo will always be good if we focus our attention in the chord’s notes during the whole song. And then you could say: “Hey, so do you want to say that I have to do arpeggios all the time? Can I only play 3 or 4 notes by chord?”.
No my friend, and it is here that this subject of Target Notes enters!
As the notes of the chord are the notes that sound very well, they are the Target Notes. In other words, we will do our solo with our goal in these notes (this is why the name: target). How will we do this? There are many ways. Pay attention in the song’s tonality and try to emphasize the chord’s notes in some way, doing that they really appear in the solo. We will show some ideas for you to work with this; some exercises that can be put in practice. We will see some ways of exploring this concept of Target Notes.
Kinds of target notes
Very well, we can arrive in these target notes by many ways, and the most common ones are for approximation:
1) Diatonic Ascending
2) Descending Diatonic
5) Joint Degrees
6) Disjoint Degrees
You don’t need to memorize all the names; it is just to understand the idea in each one.
We will show each technique in a song made by the chords C, Em, F and G (C major tonality). So let’s go:
Diatonic Ascending Approximation
The name “diatonic” means that we will work with the notes of natural scale. It works like this: we will try to play the notes of the scale that is located just before the chord’s note and then we play the chord’s note. For example, in Em chord, the target notes are E, G and B. Which are the notes that come before of each one of these notes? D comes before E, F comes before G and A comes before B. So, one option to our solo could be the following: F – G, D – E, A – B.
The logic is exactly this: “to finish” each stretch with a chord’s note. We can play with the order of the notes as we want (D – E, A – B, F – G, etc.), it’s not mandatory to follow the order 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees in sequence. See below this application for chords of our song (the chord’s notes are highlighted in red):
C Em F G
Descending Diatonic approximation
It works the same way that we did before with the difference that now we play the note that comes after the chord’s note and then return (descending) and play the chord’s note. Using the same example of Em, the sequence would be: F – E, A – G, C – B. Notice that F, A and C are the notes that come after E, G, and B, respectively. You can see below the application of the other chords:
C Em F G
It works by mixing the two previous approximations. Use your creativity! We can, for example, in the Em chord arrive in E by ascending, then arrive in G by descending, etc. Or even, we can play both notes that come after and before the chord’s note before finishing in the chord’s note. We will give examples below. About the C chord, we will show the mixed approximation ascending with the next note descending; and about the Em chord, we will show the mixed approximation descending with the next note ascending; and for the chords F and G, we will show the mixed approximation with everything in an aleatory way.
C Em F G
The idea here is the same that we had for Diatonic Approximations; the only difference is that instead of playing the note that comes after or before in the major scale, we will play the notes that are a semitone before or after the chord’s note, in other words, the notes of the chromatic scale. Although they are notes that don’t belong to harmonic field of the song, they will serve as passing notes, because the chromatic effect makes our ear “to accept” this reproduction. We will create a specific topic to give you more examples about this subject, because it can be well explored and used. Here we are just explaining and introducing the idea. In the case of Em, the sequence would be (in an ascending approximation): D# – E, F – G, A# – B. Below you have some applications to the other chords:
C Em F G
Joint Degrees Approximation
To work with Joint Degrees is to use the same concept of ascending and descending approximation to do longer sequences before arriving in the target note. For example, we can arrive in G by ascending conjunct approximation. For this, instead of playing only F – G, we can come from C doing that: C – D, D – E, E – F, F – G. This work as for ascending approximation, as for descending, mixed and chromatic ones. Examples:
Disjoint Degrees Approximation
Disjoint Degrees are notes that are not immediate one another, in other words, they have a bigger distance. For example, we can approach to E playing “C – E” instead of “D – E”. In this case, we use not the immediate note to the chord’s note, but the second previous note. Examples:
Nice, you can see that we have innumerous combinations and possibilities to explore the target notes! Your solo does not need to be a sequence exactly like these we showed; the ideal is that you pay attention in the chords and indentify which are the target notes, trying to emphasize them in your solo. These exercises are good for you to practice this idea and can be used as fragments in melodic phrases that you have created.
It can seem boring to have to know/memorize all the chord’s notes from all the possible chords. But it is not really hard. In the strings instruments, you need to focus your attention in the drawings and shapes. For example, the F in bar chord has the same shape of G in bar chord, etc. This means that if you know how to find the notes from F chord, automatically you know how to find the ones from G, because the drawing is the same. Then, our work is absurdly reduced, it is just to find the target notes of 3 or 4 different shapes and you will be able to work target notes in any chord in any song.
So, focus yourself in it!
Furthermore, this study of target note is important because we start to exercise a concept of improvisation that will be well worked forward: improvisation thinking in chords! Until here, we have talked about improvisation thinking only in harmonic field.
Advanced studies work with improvisation from the point of view of each chord, taking advantage in the opportunity of using many outside notes in each situation. It is this that will differentiate you from the 99.9% musicians of the planet who only know how to play pentatonic and major scales. It is incredible how you can find tutorials and classes just about technique, technique and technique. Everybody only cares about playing fast, and those who already understood that speed is not everything, try to create good and melodic solos using only technical resources, due the fact that they don’t know nothing about theory. Everybody forgets that a good sonority depends on the notes that you are playing! The musician that knows about musical theory will always be a step forward.
To achieve this level of thinking in chords and not being restricted in harmonic field, starts now, paying attention in each chord of the song. We are just starting our studies in this subject, starting with target notes, but it is a great start. This will add beauty to your solos. Get the hint!
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