One-Chord Soloing Part 2
Wed, 7 Mar 2012

By John Novello

actually be quite difficult: keeping your keyboard solos interesting over an extended one-chord jam. I introduced the three main types of approach to the problem— melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic—and outlined several examples of melodic tools. Now, on to the harmonic and rhythmic means to keep your audience—and yourself— captivated by that one-chord solo.

1. Harmonic Tools

In Ex. 1a, we still have a single overarching chord for the entire passage (F in this case), but the idea is to create an imaginary chord progression within that. You don’t actually voice the chords referenced on the top staff ; they just suggest a melody such as the one on the middle staff , where each note harmonizes with (or is the root of) the corresponding imaginary chord. Finally, doubling up on the number of chord tones from each imaginary chord yields the solo on the bottom staff .

As an alternative to imagining a series of phantom chords, we can change the mode or family of the single chord, a strategy I call modal interchange. So, if the original chord is Fmaj7 as it is in Ex. 1b, try changing the scale you’ll use for soloing to that of an altered dominant chord such as F7#9. Continue to comp with the original Fmaj7 chord, and you’ll find that the clash of one mode over another creates good variety and tension.

2. Rhythmic Concepts

Rubato means “robbing” the time: speeding up or slowing down so you go temporarily off - tempo, and then matching up with the original or group’s tempo at exciting moments. Although you can do this with chord changes, it works best when soloing over one tonal area. (No transcribed example for this concept.)

Polyrhythm is defined as the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms. In Ex. 2a, the use of quarter-note triplets over a 4/4 time signature creates a three against two feel: Three slightly shortened quarter-notes evenly divide up the time span offered by two beats. Played correctly, the payoff is a sense of tension and resolution as those triplets of notes roll over into the next downbeat.

Ex. 2b also uses polyrhythms, this time employing dotted quarter-notes (equal in duration to a quarter-note plus an eighth-note, as a dot means any note is half again as long) so that many notes hit on the “and” of a given beat. This overlays a different audible rhythm on what would otherwise be the boring metronome pulse of 4/4 time.


Explore, but Don’t Get Lost

“Ultimately, rhythm is a flow. You can shape this flow and even depart from it entirely, as long as you can eventually find your way back to the original rhythm,” advises John Novello, whose method The Contemporary Keyboardist is considered the gold standard of modern keyboard instruction. “So always make sure you know where the ‘one’ is!” Learn more from John at

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