A Tricked-Out T-Bone Turnaround

Young guitarists often ask, “How can I choose better notes in my solos?” I always tell them the answer lies in learning harmony. To solo over chord changes, you’ve really got to understand how harmony works. Actually, studying harmony can be fun. For example, here’s a blues turnaround based on T-Bone Walker’s classic “Stormy Monday.” Learning this phrase gives you a chance to hear altered chords and analyze a substitution—both of which will help you construct better solos.
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Notice how the top note—A—stays the same across several chords. It’s the root for A7, the b7 in Bm7, the #5 in C#m7#5, and the 13 in C13. You can finger these voicings differently, but I often use my thumb to fret the root on the sixth string. You’ll notice I’m playing Bm7 two ways. In bar 1, I’m fretting the A on the first string, and in bar 3, I’m fretting A on the second string—where it’s the common tone for C#m7#5, C13, and Bm7. You don’t have to use two versions of Bm7, but this approach serves to physically connect Bm7 to the preceding chord.

The way I’m playing C13, the only difference between it and F#7#9 [the “Hendrix” form on the inside four strings] is the root. Play the chords and you’ll see how Bb, E, and A are common to both. Basically, it’s a C7-for-F#7 tritone substitution with the added A note. [For background on the tritone or b5 substitution, see this month’s master class]. If I played C#m7-F#7 in bar 2, it would form a momentary IIm-V heading toward B, which it turn launches another IIm-V—Bm7-E7—heading into A7, the I. Substituting C13 sets up a chromatic walk-down—C#, C, B—into bar 3.

In bar 4, the E7#9-E7b9 move includes G and F in the top voice, notes we saw previously in the F melodic minor scale [See “Jazzin’ the Blues with a V-I Ramp,” Nov. ’05]. It can take time to tie all this together, but if you’re patient, it will happen.