How to Use Guide Tone Voicings in Fingerstyle Jazz

How to Use Guide Tone Voicings in Fingerstyle Jazz guitar lesson music notation

Separating parts on the piano is fairly easy, because each hand is essentially free to function independently of the other. It’s an entirely different story on the guitar, where both hands must constantly work in tandem—and with an absolute maximum of six notes sounding at any one moment. As we’ll see in the next few examples, guitarists like Breau answered this challenge by playing lines on top of compact guide tone voicings.


Example 1 shows a simple scale line on top of guide tone voicings moving through a ii–V–I in C major. The Dm7 and G7 chords do not have roots, but the strength of the guide tones keeps the harmonic motion intact. Example 2 also moves through a ii–V–I, this time using guide tone voicings up the fingerboard and adding roots on the first beat of each measure. The trick with both of these examples is to keep the half-note guide tones sustaining while playing the eighth-note lines on top. Feel free to experiment with different fingerings that are comfortable for you.

Excerpted from Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Essentials

Sean McGowan
Sean McGowan

Sean McGowan's work focuses on jazz, fingerstyle, composition, and injury prevention for musicians. He is a professor of music at the University of Colorado Denver and has authored several instructional books.

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