How To Solo Over Rhythm Changes (The Easiest Way)

December 14, 2023
Solo over Rhythm Changes - Image of chaotic lights by Mikita Yo

Rhythm Changes is one of the oldest, most influential, and common chord progressions in the jazz repertoire. Based on the tune “I Got Rhythm,” by George Gershwin, this popular chord progression is not only a great template for writing songs, but it’s also great for practicing soloing.

If the thought of soloing over fast moving chord changes intimidates you, this bass lesson is for you. I’ll show you the easiest way to solo over rhythm changes.

You’ll learn:

  • how to solo over rhythm changes in a melodic way
  • an approach that’ll simplify your thought process so that you’ll have more freedom to improvise on rhythm changes
  • simple ways to introduce bebop chromaticism and blues vocabulary
  • important guide-tones found in rhythm changes

Let’s dive in.

TL;DR

If you’re short on time and struggle with rhythm changes, watch my video, “Solo Over Rhythm Changes.” These ideas are not only for bass players. Budding jazz guitar players can use these ideas too!

YouTube video
Solo Over Rhythm Changes

How To Solo Over Rhythm Changes (A Super-Easy Way For Beginners)

At some point in your career as a bassist, you’ll get asked to take a rhythm changes solo. And playing over fast moving changes is no easy feat on the bass. So, if you’re just getting started, this guide is for you.

I’ll show you the easiest way to approach improvising over rhythm changes. In a short amount of time, you’ll be able to solo over tunes, like “Oleo” by Sonny Rollins.

What are Rhythm Changes?

Gershwin’s well-known composition “I Got Rhythm” is used so much that jazz musicians often simply refer to it as rhythm changes.

This upbeat chord progression is 32-bars and the song form is AABA.

Each A section is based on variations of I-vi-ii-V. Often bebop musicians will play the vi chord as a VI7. By changing the quality of the VI chord to a dominant chord quality, unique chord substitutions, chromatic guide-tone lines, and tritone substitution become possible.

Rhythm Changes (Basic) - Chord Chart
Rhythm Changes (Basic) – Chord Chart

Here’s a basic chord chart for rhythm changes downloaded using the iReal Pro app.

Fast moving chords can be challenging to improvise on for bass players

As a bass player, depending on the style of music, you’ll probably solo less than 10% of the time.

So when you’re faced with chords that are changing every two beats, it’s perfectly normal to freeze up and feel intimidated. And thinking about the arpeggios for each chord can be daunting.

Let’s take a look at some easy strategies for conquering these changes with confidence. You’ll be able to write or improvise melodic bebop and blues sounding lines over this progression.

Simple Strategies for Playing Over Rhythm Changes (A Section)

Here are some strategies to get you started with soloing over a rhythm changes progression. To keep things simple, we’ll stay in the key of Bb. These ideas can be used over any jazz standard.

A Melodic Approach To Soloing On Rhythm Changes

Contrast is an important concept in any art, especially in music. So, when the chords are moving quickly, try focusing your solo on a single sound for larger portions of the music.

Focusing on a single sound can be liberating

​Rhythm changes is typically played in the key of B♭. The entire A section sounds and feels like B♭. So, the most important sound that you need to learn how to make should be the notes of a B♭6 chord: B♭, C, D, F, G.​

In other words, instead of trying to play all of the changes that are moving by, play strong melodies based on a static B♭6 chord.

Jazz pianist Barry Harris would often use a major bebop scale over a chunk of chords that centered around the tonic key center. A major bebop scale is like a major scale, but has an added ♭6. By inserting this additional note, scale runs using a B♭ Major Bebop scale will outline the sound of a B♭6 chord perfectly.

Rhythm Changes - A Section simplified approach
Rhythm Changes – A Section simplified approach

One way to simplify the changes

Some of the best players know how to play complicated things by thinking about it in very simple ways.

The less you have to think about the music and notes, the more you can focus on the melody and rhythm of your phrases.

This is also the secret to playing simple, singable, and memorable melodic phrases.

In order to simplify the changes, find sets of chord in the progression that all have the same general sound. Then, create melodies based on a limited collection of notes that those chords share.

Imply cadences to make stronger melodies

You can further strengthen your lines by simply playing the VI chord and V chord once in a while in certain areas. This will create the sound of a cadence and a feeling of gravity in your lines.

The best part is you only need to play the VI or V chord some of the time for it to have the effect and sound good.

With this approach, you don’t have to keep track of all of the changes. You just have to remember where you are in the form of the progression.

Jazz sax player Charlie Parker would often imply a V chord by preceding a chord with a simple diminished arpeggio. 

Soloing over the A Sections

For the A section, an easy way to approach soloing on these chords is to focus on the sound and tonality of B♭6. This can be done using a few scale options.

So, while the chord changes occur every two beats, your thought process is drastically simplified when you focus on establishing a B♭6 tonality.

Oversimplifying chord changes is also known as reduction, where you reduce a song to a basic harmonic framework. This is a common technique in jazz. And the first four bars of this tune is a great place to apply this technique.

When you make something that’s difficult into something simple, you can play far more melodic and expressive.

Adding to that, you can make your lines sound like they are playing the changes by simply playing the VI chord and V chord once in a while. This creates the sound of a cadence.

Scales That Create Nice Sounding Melodies

Here are some scale options to start with for establishing a sound. Play what you hear and try to come up with simple melodies.

One thing I love about playing the bass guitar is that you don’t have to play anything complicated to sound good.

Try these scales if you’re in the key of Bb Major:

  • B♭ Major Pentatonic Scale: B♭, C, D, F, G
    • Use this a majority of the time. This will establish the foundation of a B♭6 sound.​
  • B♭Major Scale: B♭, C, D, E♭, F, G A
    • Use this some of the time to add variation to your sound.
  • B♭Blues Scale: B♭, D♭, E♭, E, F, A♭
    • Use the blues scale to add some stank to your melodic phrases. This scale works well for creating a statement.
  • G♭Diminished Arpeggio: G♭, A, C, E♭
    • Diminished chords add tension that begs to resolve back to the B♭6 tonality. Diminished arpeggios and patterns imply a dominant 7♭9 chord (rootless).​

Emphasis the VI chord (Eb 7 dominant chord) in the following measures to strengthen your line in the A Section

  • measures 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 26, 28, 30, 31
  • playing the chord tones of an E♭7 will suffice to let the listener know where you are in the progression​

Emphasis the dominant V chord (F7 dominant chord) in the following measures to strengthen your line in the A Section

  • measures 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 26, 28, 31
  • playing a G♭ diminished arpeggio will suffice to imply a F7 chord.​ 

Simple Strategies for Playing Over Rhythm Changes (B Section)

The Rhythm Changes bridge consists of eight bars. All the chords are dominant 7 chords that last two bars each.

Try The Tritone Sub

The B section, also known as the Bridge to Rhythm Changes, is just a cycle of dominant 7th chords.​

Typically on the bridge of a song, you’ll want to change your melodic approach to give the ear a break from the sound and patterns from the A section.

Once way to do that is to use tritone substitution.

Start the B section playing melodies in A♭7 (tritone substitution of D7). Then, play phrases in G7. Next, play G♭7. Then, finally play dominant phrases in F7.

Rhythm Changes (Basic) - B Section simplified
Rhythm Changes (Basic) – B Section simplified

One Way To Simplify The Changes

This is a very bebop way to play dominant sounds.

Chromatic movement is more simple than moving in fourths and creates a strong pull towards the tonic center.

Remember, the bridge is meant to create contrast from the rest of the song. Since there are a lot of dominant 7th chords you can really go outside and alter the sounds. When you have a strong pull towards the tonic center, the resolution will feel very satisfying.

Think In Either Melodic Minor or Dorian Scale

Another effective and simple strategy for playing the bridge of rhythm changes is to replace the V7 with a ii7.

Your new changes for the bridge, become: Amin7, Dmin7, Gmin7, Cmin7.

For many people, the Dorian minor scale is much easier to think and play than the Mixolydian ♯11. You can also use the 4th mode of the Melodic Minor scale.

You can apply another tritone variation, which will make your new changes for the bridge: Amin7, Abmin7, Gmin7, Gbmin7.

It’s easy to keep track of descending chromatic movements and the resolutions are practically built into your lines.

Easy Ways To Introduce Bebop Chromaticism and Blues Vocabulary

Here are additional strategies for soloing over rhythm changes.

Bebop Style Chromaticism

One of the easiest ways to introduce chromaticism is by using a technique called approach notes.

Focus on a target note, then using any surrounding note, you can approach your target note.

This creates lines and phrases that have strong resolutions.

Add some soul to your lines

Every now and then, you can throw in some soulful lines using a simple blues scale.

This is an effective way to create soulfull phrases and change up the pattern.

Creating and Finding Guide-Tones in the Chord Progression

Whenever you hear or create chromatic movement (ascending or descending), that can be used as a guide-tone.

Use that to your advantage to play strong phrases that follow these guides.

The ear latches onto chromaticism very easily, even for non-musicians.

Now it’s your turn

Soloing over rhythm changes can be very challenging but also fun. The changes in the progression move quickly. Take these concepts and turn them into exercises.

With the right strategies, you can simplify your thinking, a make rhythm changes a progression that you’ll feel confident to solo over. And the best part is, you don’t need to spend much time trying to memorize licks.

Want more lessons, like these? Find more here.

PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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