Shape Strategies for Rhythm Changes


Compared to trumpet or saxophone, the guitar is a very visual instrument.

We guitarists can see shapes on the fingerboard; the guitar has its own geometry.

So why not exploit that a little bit?

This lesson is intended to give you a few ideas about playing with shapes on the first four bars of "rhythm changes".

Think of these things as kick-starts for your imagination;

these are just some possibilities for using fingerboard shapes to generate lines.

(If you're a thinking person, you'll also get some ideas for comping...)


Example 1 illustrates the shapes we'll be using to make our first line, simple major and minor triads.

Example 2 uses those triad shapes, descending chromatically down the fingerboard:

Notation, all examples

Audio, Example 2

Why does this work? Well, a D minor triad is what's left over when you leave the root out of a Bbmaj7 chord.

The Db major triad also implies G7(b5,b9). C minor sounds good over, well, C minor. And B major also implies F7(b5,b9).

In all these examples, sometimes I add another note or two to the basic shape.


Example 3 shows one of my favorite fingerboard shapes, a major second with a fourth on top.

Example 4 is a line created by moving the shape up and down...

Notation, all examples

Audio, Example 4

This shape is so ambiguous that it could be used in five different places on strings 1-3 just to imply Bb major family chords!

Start sliding it around and mayhem becomes possible!


Example 5 depicts two quartal shapes.

Example 6 is a two-bar line based on the shapes.

This one will test your cross-picking chops!

Guitar players tend to avoid ideas that cross the strings; don't fall into that trap.

There's cool stuff to be played that way if you're brave enough.

Notation, all examples

Audio, Example 6


There are many, many other possibilities to find; I hope this little taste will whet your appetite for exploration.

Although we're concentrating on rhythm changes here, don't forget that this principle can be applied in all kinds of situations.

Have fun trying out this stuff!

© 2004, Bob Russell.