As jazz guitarists, many of us have spent a good amount of time listening to, transcribing and generally checking out the jazz guitar chords of jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery.
One of the most easily recognizable sounds in Wes’ playing is his personalized approach to comping and chord soloing, and it is one of the aspects of Wes’ playing that many of us work on in the woodshed to get under our fingers and into our ears.
While it may seem like a daunting task to play chords and chord soloing like your favorite Wes recordings, if you break things down and look at the concepts Wes uses behind his chord solos, you can make it easier to get those cool-sounding Wes chord licks in your playing.
In today’s lesson, we’ll be breaking down one of the most widely-used concepts taken from Wes’ chord playing, the V-I chord concept, digging into the theory behind this approach as well as checking examples of how to practice it over ii-V-I chord progressions.
To learn more about Wes’ soloing approach, check out my in-depth video lesson “Movin’ Along: Analysis of a Lick”
One of the techniques that you can take from Wes’ chord approach, and apply to your playing today, is his V-I alternating chord concept.
With this concept, you take any chord you are working on, we’ll look at Gm7 and C7 in today’s examples, and alternate between that chord and its relative V7b9 chord, usually using the dim7 chords built from the b9, 3rd, 5th and b7th of that V7b9 chord shape.
This approach produces a cool “Tension-Release” sound in your chord playing as you move between the V7b9 (tense) and I chord (release).
In order to make this technique easier to apply, just think of any chord you are on as a temporary tonic, so that you can find its relative V7b9 chord without having to think too much on the bandstand or in a jam when you bring this approach into your playing.
In case this is new, or you need a refresher on the V7b9-dim7 chord relationship, here is how that system works.
Say you are comping or chord soloing over a Gm7 chord and you wanted to use Wes’ V-I chord concept, which means you would be moving between Gm7 and D7b9.
When you look at the notes of the D7b9 chord, D-F#-A-C-Eb, and take away the root, F#-A-C-Eb, you are left with an F#dim7 chord.
Because dim7 chords are symmetrical, meaning that any note in the chord can be the root, you now have 4 dim7 chords that you can use to alternate with Gm7, as in the chart below.
D7b9 Diminished Chords
Ebdim7 = Eb F# A C
F#dim7 = F# A C Eb
Adim7 = A C Eb F#
Cdim7 = C Eb F# A
So, playing between Gm7 and any of those four dim7 chords will bring Wes’ V-I chord concept into your playing, as you are essentially playing Gm7-D7b9 each time you use one of those dim7 chords and Gm7 together.
To solidify this concept further, let’s take a look at Wes’ V-I concept over a C7 chord, the V in a Gm7-C7 ii V progression.
In this case, you can alternate between C7 and G7b9 to produce the V-I chord movement.
If you look at G7b9, G B D F Ab, and take out the root, B D F Ab, you are left with the four dim7 chords listed in the chart below.
G7b9 Diminished Chords
Abdim7 = Ab B D F
Bdim7 = B D F Ab
Ddim7 = D F Ab B
Fdim7 = F Ab B D
Again, you now have four options for adding dim7 chords into the mix over a C7 chord to produce Wes’ V-I chord concept in your playing.
OK, enough talking, let’s look at this approach on the guitar and begin to hear how it sounds when applied to a m7 chord, Gm7 in this example.
Check out the example below to see how you can apply the V-I chord concept to Drop 2 chords on the top 2 strings.
Notice that the phrase starts on Gm7, then plays F#dim7 (rootless D7b9), then moves to the next inversion of Gm7, then Adim7 (rootless D7b9), continuing with this pattern until you’ve played all four inversions of Gm7 and all four dim7 chords from the chart we say earlier, F#-A-C-Eb.
Not only is this a fun way to add some new sounds to your chord soloing and comping, but it can be a productive and musical way to practice learning inversions of chords across the neck, as you are working Gm7 inversions and dim7 chords at the same time.
To practice Wes’ V-I chord concept further in the practice room, try taking this example and moving it to all 12 keys using Drop 2 chords on the top 4 strings.
Then, play this example in 12 keys on other string sets, and using other chords such as Drop 3 and Drop 2 and 4 chords. You might be surprised how good this technique can sound once you get it under your fingers and into your ears.
The tension-release sounds created with this scale are a staple of Wes’ soloing style, as well as the soloing style of many great jazz guitarists, and so it is well worth getting this idea under your fingers and into your ears in the woodshed.
You can also see this technique applied to a C7 chord in the second example below.
Here, you alternate between inversions of Drop 2 C7 chords on the top 4 strings with the four dim7 chords from the chart above, Ab-B-D-F (G7b9).
Doing so gives these chords the sound of moving between C7 and G7b9, creating that tension-release sound we’re going for when applying this technique to our chord soloing and comping.
Again, check this idea out in all 12 keys on the top strings, as well as on other string sets and using other chord types such as Drop 3 and Drop 2 and 4 chords.
As well, feel free to change up the rhythms as you work through these chords. I wrote them out as half-notes to make it easy to read them on the page.
But, try mixing in different syncopations or rhythmic durations such as the Charleston Rhythm when working on these chords to add another level of engagement to your practice routine.
I also like to run these chords through progressions such as ii-V-I’s and the Jazz Blues chord progression.
Here, you can start on a dim7 chord, then move to the Gm7 chord, and later the C7 chord, on beats two and four as you alternate the V-I sound in this exercise.
You can see this written out in the example below, where I moved up the neck, alternating dim7 and Gm7, then dim7 and C7, before doing the same with the Fmaj7 chord in bar 3, alternating Fma7 and C7b9 (Edim7).
When doing this exercise, try starting on any of the four dim7 chords that you can use over the iim7 chord, F#-A-C-Eb in the case of Gm7.
Then, move either up or down the neck from there in order to see how this approach can be applied to different inversions and chord combinations as you work through ii V I’s in different keys and with different string sets and chord types.
In the last example, you can see that I’ve used Wes’ V-I chord concept to come up with a chord-soloing line over a ii-V-I in the key of Fmaj7.
After you check this lick out, try taking it to other keys and string sets, then come up with some lines of your own using this V-I alternating approach in your phrases.
Learning to play chord-solos like Wes Montgomery is a long process to be sure.
But, by taking his concepts, such as the V-I concept in today’s lesson, and applying them to your own comping and chord soloing, you can bring some of that smooth-sounding Wes chord style to your own lines before you know it.
What did you think about today’s lesson? Share your thoughts in the Wes Montgomery Guitar Chords thread at the MWG Forum.
Click any link below for answers to the 9 most frequently asked questions that I receive from readers, students, workshop participants and Facebook followers about how to learn jazz guitar.
Do you have a question about playing jazz guitar? Post it in the comments section below.