How to use Target notes

The importance of Target Notes in improvisation

The notes that are our main objective in a solo are called “target notes“. To be clearer, let’s talk a little bit about “cool solos” and improvisation.

You already know that the basic thing to improvise on any base (chord sequence) is to know the tonality of the song and apply the major scale, relative minor or pentatonic. Great, but the solo isn’t always cool, is it? Even if you phrase and explore different techniques, sometimes some notes don’t sound so nice, despite belonging to the song’s key.

The explanation for this is simple: we cannot restrict ourselves to thinking only about the key, we also need to think about chords! You must agree that a solo works on top of a harmony and a harmony is made of chords.

Even if the key does not change throughout the song, each note on the scale will sound different (have a different impact) when played over each chord in that key. So we need to know which notes are the most beautiful for each chord!

Follow this logic: a chord is a union of notes. So, when soloing on top of a chord, we can play the notes that belong to that chord on the solo. For example, if a song had the C, Em, F and G chords, we could think about playing the notes:

  • C, E, G over the C major chord;
  • E, B, G over E minor;
  • G, B, D over G major;
  • F, A, C over F major.

These are the triads of each chord of the song. Note: If those same chords also had the seventh (tetrads), we could include the seventh degree as a note to be played as well.

What we just did wouldn’t sound unpleasant, would it? After all, it would be the very arpeggio of each chord! Well, the secret is this: a solo will always sound nice if we focus our attention on the chord notes throughout the song. But then you will say: “Gee, so you mean I’m going to have to do arpeggios all the time? Can’t I just play 3 or 4 notes per chord?”. No, my friend, that’s where this subject of target notes comes in!

Since the chord notes are the notes that sound great, they will be our target notes. In other words, we will do our solo with the objective of reaching those notes (hence the name: target). How do we do this? There are many ways.

Pay attention to the tonality of the song and try to emphasize the chord notes in some way, making them really appear on the solo. Here are some ideas for you to work on this; these are exercises that can be applied in practice.

Great, now we can reach the target notes in different ways, the most common of which are:

1) Ascending Diatonic Approach
2) Descending Diatonic Approach
3) Mixed Approach
4) Chromatic Approach
5) Conjoint Degrees Approach
6) Disjoint Degrees Approach

You don’t need to memorize all these names, just understand the idea behind each one. We will show you each technique on top of a certain song formed by the C, Em, F and G chords (C major key). So here we go:

1) Ascending Diatonic Approach: The name “diatonic” means that we are going to work with notes from the natural scale. It works as follows: we try to play the note of the scale that is located immediately before the chord note and then we play the chord note. For example, in the E minor chord, the target notes are E, G, B. What is the note that comes before each one of these notes? D comes before E, F comes before G and A comes before B. So, an option for our solo could be the following:

D – EF – G, A – B.

The logic is precisely this: “end” each section with a chord note. We can play with the order of the chord notes as we wish (D – E, A – B, F – G, etc.), it is not necessary to follow the order of 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees in sequence. See this application for the chords of our song below (the chord notes are marked in orange):

  • C major: B – C, D – E, F – G
  • E minor: D – E, F – G, A – B
  • F major: E – F, G – A, B – C
  • G major: F – G, A – B, C – D

2) Descending Diatonic Approach:

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Read the continuation of this article and many other full articles in the Simplifying Theory PDF Booklet.

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