Target Tones for Jazz [Guitar] Improvisation Chromatics

Making Jazz sound, well, Jazzy?

Many people learn modes and scales and arpeggios and copious amounts of music theory. They are then confronted with the biggest problem of all. How to make music out it!

The key to all of this is to look at the rhythm. Rhythm is the key to fluid professional sounding lines. But, how to we do this from a beginners perspective?

Firstly: The most important thing to do is outline the chord tones that are “On” the beat. This way the ear can follow. Because the chromatics on the “Off beat” will then sound correct, interesting and colourful.

The 2 little chromatic set ups/melodies below detail this.

jazz improvisation target tones for jazz improviser

Play through the exercise below and you will hear and see the C7 arpeggio outlined on beats  1 and 3 in all bars. Also, notice the “Up beat”. This sets up the rhythm by targeting the “On beat” chord tone.

jazz improvisation target tones lesson

Here is another example in double time. Notice that this time the complete C major scale is played on each 1/4 note beat of the bar. Again we have the upbeat to create forward motion.

Jazz improvisation lesson target tones C major scale

This doesn’t mean that we do this every time but it shows how to create and then develop really hip lines that are “Musical”. From here on in you can manipulate it.

Jazz/Fusion Line: Don Mock classic “Anacrusis”

Don Mock target tones jazz improv line

John Mclaughlin Classic beginning “In the bar”

Below is a variation using a John Mclaughlin phrase. Notice how Mclaughlin starts on the second semiquaver [off beat] of the second beat of the bar.

John Mclaughlin Target tones example

Here are a couple of other rhythmic set ups to try out,

Notice the off beat to triplet arpeggio. This is a very common rhythm but it always sounds good and works well.

Charlie Parker Be Bop jazz improvisation line

 This line starts “On the beat” but the rhythm gets pushed.

Charlie Parker Be Bop jazz improvisation line

This is just a taster of what makes Jazz sound like jazz. Looking and learning about rhythm is "Everything" because without understanding where the "On' and "Off "beat are it is impossible to syncopate and anticipate musically. All the theory in the world won't help without good forward moving rhythm.

The best book that I have ever read and studied on the subject of enclosure/approach notes/rhythmic set up is,

"Target" Tones by Don Mock.LINK DON MOCK

Target tone Don Mock

For a deeper and intellectual look there is a book called "Forward Motion" by pianist Hal Galper. This book is for someone really wanting to go deeper into the rhythm of jazz.LINK HAL GALPER

Forward motion book by Hal Galper

yt_logo_rgb_light CLICK SUBSCRIBE!

SHAKTI Indian Raga Guitar Lesson #2 John Mclaughlin

yt_logo_rgb_light CLICK SUBSCRIBE!


This little exercise works on the development of another basic guitar fingering idea. This fingering [as you will find out when playing through the notation/tab] lends itself well to the rhythmic development of John Mclaughlin’s alternate picking guitar technique.


SHAKTI John Mclaughlin Indian Raga Guitar Lesson

As always keep the alternate picking rhythmical and tight and count in groups of “Tetrachords” [four 16th notes or “TA KA DI MI” Konokol ]for fluency and good timing tap your foot as you play the Raga line.

Good luck and thanks for reading this post. I hope it has been helpful, Oh and don’t forget to subscribe to us on youtube. Many Thanks from GuitarGti!

yt_logo_rgb_light CLICK SUBSCRIBE!


Guitar Trio-John Mclaughlin-Al di Meola-Paco de Lucia

yt_logo_rgb_light CLICK SUBSCRIBE!

Performing in the style of the Guitar Trio with the plectrum requires strict ALTERNATE PICKING for the solo lines that are picked at a very high velocity. You need to be able to “Jump” straight into the rhythmic flow. The patterns below detail the best key alternate picking patterns to gain mastery for this.

The key to all of this is to “Count Time/Groupings”and “Tap your foot” as you do so. If you count time you will play what you hear. It is the key to performing this guitar trio music.

Line 1-“16ths” Alternate Picking starting on a “Down” stroke

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola

Line 2- Extended version of the previous line above, again starting on a “Down” stroke

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola alternate picking lesson

Line 3-Groups of “4” with strict Alternate Picking but this time starting with an “Upstroke” creating a “Rolling” effect as the plectrum glides across the strings.

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola alternate picking guitar lesson

Groups of 6 VARIATIONS:

Line 4-This is a “Variation” of our very first pattern but this time played in “Sextuplets” starting on a “Down” stroke.

6s 1

Line 5-This line can be heard as Triplets or Sextuplets. This time though we are starting on an “Upstroke”. Again, because we are starting our alternate picking on an up stroke there is a fluid rolling effect as we cross the strings.

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola

Line 6-This is a key signature line of Pace de Lucia and Al di Meola. It is an ascending G major scale in double timed triplets [or Sextuplets]. We are starting our picking on an “Upstroke”and ascending passionately up the scale, The better the rhythm of the alternate picking the more clean and powerful this little lick becomes.

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola alternate picking

Line 7-Here is another variation of the 16th note line. This time we start “Upstroke and roll the line along with tight rhythmical alternate picking. The key as always is to count good time when picking and tap your foot for precision.

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola alternate picking guitar lesson

Line 8-“Spanish” descending 2 string line. Really it is an ascending “Down” stroke alternate picking pattern followed by an ascending “Up” stroke rolling alternate picking pattern. If you treat it like that then it is easy to play and learn.


For a closer look there is a complete transcription of “Friday Night in San Franscisco” Book available AMAZON

Guitar Trio Paco de lucia John Mclaughlin Al di Meola alternate picking guitar lesson with tab, video and music notation