Outside Playing Techniques in Jazz
I get asked a lot of questions (especially by jazz and fusion guitar students) about improvising ‘outside’ of the given chord changes in a composition. This term is referring to playing melodic ideas that are not normally associated with the key of the music and create a momentary dissonance against the harmony.
Outside playing techniques are not to be confused with just playing the wrong notes of course, but rather employing a structured melodic approach to adding some tension to your soloing.
In the examples below, I have taken a one chord ‘vamp’ (i.e. single chord accompaniment) on Am7 and demonstrate some common melodic approaches that I like to use to play ‘outside’.
Minor Pentatonic Scales
The first example of outside playing techniques uses minor pentatonic scales in a fashion sometimes referred to as ‘side-slipping’. You’ll see that I move from an A minor pentatonic scale up to a Bb minor pentatonic scale and then back again. I then repeat the approach, but move down to Ab minor pentatonic before resolving back to A minor. I think you’ll get the ‘side-slipping’ idea quite quickly by listening to the audio file lower down the page.
Another popular way of playing ‘outside’ is to cycle arpeggios (either triads or seventh chords) This next example uses the famous ‘Coltrane Cycle’ as composed by saxophonist John Coltrane. He used this sequence in several of his compositions as the basis for the harmonic structure, however it can also provide a great way of intelligently playing outside of the harmony, even on a single chord vamp.
The final example uses major triads only and each of the triads has the octave added to give you a four note motif to work with. The triads are: D, F, Ab and B. These triads are used because they are separated by the interval of a minor third, giving the sequence a consistent sound.
OK that’s it for this lesson…I hope you have enjoyed learning these outside playing techniques.