• Here’s a quick and easy way to solo over chord progressions

    in Salsa & Latin styles


    Lately, I’ve been having a good time talking about minor keys, scales, and chords!

    (If you’re just now catching the blog, I’d recommend eventually going back to the last 7 or so posts to catch yourself up).

    Today, I’m going to show you how to actually use one of the minor scales we’ve been talking about in real-life situations.

    Theory is great! It helps you to understand the “what” and “why” behind things. But I’m going to show you how it also allows you to systemically pick what scales to improvise with over certain progressions. It’s not guesswork. There’s actually systems behind a lot of it.

    First, you’ll probably need to review this post on the salsa progression I’ll be reusing.

    I’ll repost the video below but the in-depth explanation will be found at the page above.

    When you’re ready, watch this short clip:

    Jeff Goodkind, the instructor in our Salsa Piano 101 course, is basically playing only 3 unique chords in this progression:

    C minor
    C + Eb + G + C

    F minor
    F + Ab + C + F

    G major
    G + B + D + G

    He doubles up on the keynote by playing octaves. So you get a “C” on the bottom and on top, for example.

    You actually strike those two octave notes first and rebound with the middle notes.

    So for the C minor chord, it’s like doing this:

    C + C
    Eb + G

    (The two C’s surround the “Eb + G”)

    And you apply the same pattern to the other chords.

    This part is better observed by watching the clip above.

    Once you’ve mastered it going up (from C minor to F minor to G major), you just do the same thing coming down.

    The whole thing looks like this:

    C minor
    C + Eb + G + C

    F minor
    F + Ab + C + F

    G major
    G + B + D + G

    F minor
    F + Ab + C + F

    C minor
    C + Eb + G + C

    But this is review.

    Here’s where I’m going with this.

    Out of all the corresponding chords I’ve taught you, this progression should point to one. Let me explain…

    First off, it’s utilizing the 1st, 4th, and 5th tones of the scale.

    However, the 1st and 4th tones are minor and the 5th tone is major.

    When looking for a scale to use over a particular progression, ask yourself this question:

    “What possible scales do these chords come from?”

    What scale naturally creates a minor chord on the 1st and 4th tone and a major chord on the 5th tone?

    Let’s go into our toolbox and recall some of the chords we’ve learned from scales:

    C major scale (triads):

    1st tone – C major
    2nd tone – D minor
    3rd tone – E minor
    4th tone – F major
    5th tone – G major
    6th tone – A minor
    7th tone – B diminished

    (No matches here except for the G major on the 5th degree.)

    Let’s keep going to see if we can get closer…

    C natural minor scale (triads):

    1st tone – C minor
    2nd tone – D diminished
    3rd tone – Eb major
    4th tone – F minor
    5th tone – G minor
    6th tone – Ab major
    7th tone – Bb major

    Hmm, we’re getting closer because the 1st and 4th tones are minor chords in this scale. But the 5th tone is not major like the progression we’re learning above. We do know, however, that we can get away with playing a C natural minor scale over these first two chords.

    Better yet, we could take it further and play modes of the natural minor scale. In other words, when we’re on the C minor chord, we’d play notes of the C natural minor scale from “C” to “C” (just like normal). But when we get on the F minor chord, we can actually keep playing notes of the C natural minor scale but from “F” to “F” (rather than from “C” to “C”).

    So that gives us a totally new scale to work with. To be exact, the “F dorian” mode (…I’ll make sure to talk about the minor scale modes in future posts. Don’t worry, there not much different from the major scale modes).

    F dorian
    F G Ab Bb C D Eb F

    (You can look at it two ways: the notes of the C natural minor scale from F to F or simply the notes of the Eb major scale from F to F. Why? Because our C natural minor scale basically comes from the Eb major scale so by playing this same scale from F to F, we’re essentially still playing the Eb major scale… just changing our frame of reference just like we did to create this C natural minor scale from the Eb major scale. Again, I’ll reserve more space for this on a later).

    But again, we’re not all the way there because we still have to consider the harmonic and melodic minor scales. They just may give us a closer match.

    Remember, we’re looking for the 1st tone to be minor, the 4th tone to be minor, and the 5th tone to be major.

    The natural minor scale gave us two matching chords (the 1st and the 4th chords) but it didn’t really give us a match for the G major chord on the 5th degree.

    (And we may never find that match but this is the process of elimination that can help you to find the right scales to play over progressions until you basically internalize what to do in various situations).

    C harmonic minor (triads):

    1st tone – C minor
    2nd tone – D diminished
    3rd tone – Eb augmented
    4th tone – F minor
    5th tone – G major
    6th tone – Ab major
    7th tone – B diminished

    Wow! I think we’ve found something.

    Let me isolate just the 1st, 4th, and 5th chords of this scale:

    1st tone – C minor
    4th tone – F minor
    5th tone – G major

    By golly! It looks like we’ve found our progression.

    So this let’s me know that I can really play around with the C harmonic minor scale over this progression.

    Truth be told, the C natural minor and C harmonic minor start out the same way. They only differ by that raised 7th degree at the end. So that’s why the natural minor scale can basically be played over the 1st and 4th chords because it’s essentially the same as the harmonic minor scale at that point. However, when you get to the G major chord on the 5th tone, that’s where things may clash and the raised 7th comes in right on time!

    Here are some other ideas:

    1. You can either play the C harmonic minor scale or the C natural minor scale over the 1st chord (or notes of it since you probably won’t be able to fit in all 7 tones).
    2. When you get to the F minor chord, you can play the C natural minor scale from “F” to “F” over this chord. Or you can mess around with the notes of the C harmonic minor scale trying to somehow use the “B” to connect to the G major chord that’s coming next.
    3. When you get to the G major chord, it’s obvious that the C harmonic minor is the match because it incorporates all the notes found in the G major chord (the natural minor doesn’t do that). You can even experiment with playing the harmonic minor scale from G to G if you want. The idea is to have fun and see where your creativity takes you by knowing the right notes to include in your scale, licks, and tricks.

    Side note: I know I haven’t talked about the chords of the melodic minor scale yet (it’s coming soon), but let me just share them below without any explanation… for now, at least. This will show you that the melodic minor wasn’t as great of a choice as the harmonic minor scale for this progression because it actually has a major chord on the 4th degree and that may clash.

    C melodic minor (triads)

    C minor
    D minor
    Eb augmented
    F major
    G major
    A diminished
    B diminished

    (But more on this later).

    I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson!

    Exercise: Help me in posting this same progression in all 12 minor keys. I’ll start it off below in the comments section. Let’s try to knock this one out the park!
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    Until next time!

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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