Playing over a Dominant 7th Chord

With this article/sound file / pdfs, I'd like to discuss and demonstrate some of the thinking and techniques I use when I'm faced with having to solo over a dominant 7th chord for an extended solo. 

In college, we often called the dominant 7th chord the "dumb chord". Why? Frankly, it's easier to play an interesting solo when you have a few chord changes instead of just one. You just have to get through the changes and your melodies (almost) create themselves. But this is exactly the challenge with a single chord. 

How do you be creative with such a limited harmonic structure? 

Well, that is exactly what we need to realize. The chord does not have a limited harmonic structure. It is actually ourselves that may have a limited harmonic understanding of the chord at hand. 

Sure, pianists and guitarists have the luxury of playing an extension of the chord or another chord completely in order to support the melodic line they are playing. We single-note players will have to be clearer about what harmonic structure we are spelling out in our improvisations. 

First of all, as I just said, dominant 7th chords are not limited. Depending on the genre you're improvising in, the mood of the music, your harmonic understanding, etc. will determine how much room you have harmonically in order to create an interesting solo. 

On dom. 7th chords you can use a Blues scale, a Diminished scale, a whole-tone scale, various Pentatonic scales, Diminished-Whole Tone scale or you can treat is a dom.7th sus4 chord. 

One of the things I like to do is to create "implied chord progressions" to the chord. What I mean here is that I may create another set of changes to play over that dominant 7th chord. 

The fact is: as long as your melodic lines follow logic harmonically, and resolves properly, you can play whatever you want! That is the real "secret" to "out" playing. 

The audio example I chose is from a recording I did many years ago with a band. The tune was called "Middleman", composed by saxophonist Michael Green. A link to the recording is provided at the end of this post. 

The band played a type of odd-meter avant-garde funk, "M-Base" type of thing. I transcribed the beginning of my solo in order to display a little of my approach to playing over a single "F7" chord. 

The solo is transcribed in 4/4 meter although it may not sound like that. In truth, the drummer and bassist are really playing a figure alternating between 9/8 and 7/8, while the guitarist is playing an overlapping figure in 6/4. It sounds complicated but the effect was interesting and provided for some great adventures. 

I've made some notes of the chord changes I was kind of thinking of as I often experimented with it. The transcription is provided in Eb Alto and Bb tenor. 


Check out the full, original recording at 

Go to Patreon to get the Audio file and PDF!

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