What are guide tones

What Are Guide Tones and How to Use Them

What Are Guide Tones?

Guide tones are the notes in a chord which leads or gives harmonic pull toward the next chord, these are an excellent way to study and absorb the sound of any chord progression. 

Guide tones are used to outline chord progressions in an improvisation. They are most of the time the 3rd and the 7th because this is what determines whether a chord is major, minor, or dominant. 

This jazz guitar lesson explains how to solo over common jazz progressions by using guide tones.

Guide Tones Within Scales And Chords

Guide tones are made up of the third and the seventh degree of the scale they belong to. This charts shows you the relation between the main scales, triads, seventh chords and their guide tones.

Degrees 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C Major scale (Ionian) C D E F G A B
C major triad C x E x G x x
C major seventh chord C x E x G x B
Guide tones x x E x x x B


Degrees 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
C Dorian mode C D Eb F G A Bb
C minor triad C x E x G x x
C minor seventh chord C x Eb x G x Bb
Guide tones x x Eb x x x Bb


Degrees 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
C Mixolydian mode C D E F G A Bb
C major triad C x E x G x x
C dominant seventh chord C x E x G x Bb
Guide tones x x E x x x Bb


Degrees 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
C Locrian Mode C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb
C half diminished triad C x Eb x Gb x x
C m7b5 chord C x Eb x Gb x Bb
Guide tones x x Eb x Gb x Bb


Degrees 1 2 b3 4 b5 #5 6 (bb7) 7
C diminished scale C D Eb F Gb Ab A B
C diminished triad C x Eb x Gb x   x
C diminished seventh chord C x Eb x Gb x A  
Guide tones x x Eb x Gb x A B


Depending on the quality of some chords, notes other can be made guide tones as the sixth, the fifth or the ninth.

How To Use Guide Tones?

This basic II V I chord progression demonstrates how guide tones work. As you can see, the 7th degree (C) of Dm7 leads to the third degree (B) of G7 by a half step. The 7th of G7 (F) leads to the third of Cmaj7 (E) by a half step again. 

While comping it is important to play the Guide Tones because they spell out the quality of the chord and that is what the soloing musician is basing their approach on.

II V I Sequence

The guide tone technique can be applied to any progression to outline the harmony. Here are some easy examples of jazz lines based on one of the most important and commonly used guide tones, the b7 to 3 movement into a II-V-I progression. The b7 of Dm7 is C which moves to third of G7 (B) then the b7 of G7 (F) moves to the third of Cmaj7 (E).

Minor II V I

Here are two minor II V I jazz guitar using guide tones. The b7 of Dm7b5 is C which moves to third of G7b9 (B) then the b7 of G7 (F) moves to the minor third of Cmaj7 (Eb).

 I IV Sequence

Theses two I IV sequences can be found on bar 1 & 2 of a basic blues progression. The b7 of C7 is Bb which moves to the third of F7 (A).

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