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Guide Tones by Joshua Barnhart

Guide Tones by Joshua Barnhart… Welcome back it’s been a while. This time we’re going to jump into ‘Guide Tones’. “What are guide tones?” you ask. Well guide tones are notes out side of the root that define the chord being played. It has more to do with 7th chords, as this is typically a jazz concept. Guide tones are the 2 notes in the chord that are what tells you the type and quality of the chord ie. Major, Minor, Dominant, ect.

So for any chord we have the root, we have the fifth, we have a third, and a seventh.  The fifth is a support tone for the root. It doesn’t do much to help define the chord unless it’s a diminished or augmented chord. So for today we’re going to drop the 5th from the chord. The root is what labels the chord. If it’s a Cmaj7 then C is the root. As bass players we get that concept. But simply playing a C and one of the other note in the chord won’t tell you what type of chord it is. So the root sets up the name for the chord and the guide tones name it. These 3 note chords are called ‘Shell Voicings’. They give you the most information about the chord with the least amount of notes.

Lets take a look at some of these shell voicings. These are all in root position:

The guide tones are the 3rd and 7th of each chord. Properly voice-leading shows that almost all of the tones are step wise. Sometimes you have to change the order of the 3rd or 7th to get it to do that.

This concept works well when you’re trying to arrange for horns, voice, or what ever the instrument may be. If you have a limited amount of instruments and have to cover a lot of ground shell voicings are the way to go. Also building these guide tone lines are a great foundation for writing a melody that smoothly moves in and out of each chord. And if you’re playing with a group of musicians you can make it interesting by using one of the guide tones lines as your bass line.

Guide tones are also the reason that tri-tone inversions work. So take for instance this G7 chord in the example. It’s a G B and F. lets drop the root and concentrate on the B and F. The G tells us that B is the third. Now with out the G we have no reference. All we have is a tri-tone between B and F. we also have the same interval between F and B. Now if we make D the root. The D tells us the F is the third. Now it’s a D dominant chord. It doesn’t matter which note is in the root. The power of the dominant chord is in the tri-tone, and how it resolves. Either way the B moves up to C and the F down to E.

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