Ultimately there are no shortcuts to sounding great. No matter what, you still have to put in the work. However, sometimes you can have an epiphany that helps you change your mindset and saves you precious time! Here’s a short, easy to digest tip that can help you play better solos:
Frequently play off the 3rds of chords.
This is an amazingly simple idea, but many novice improvisers do not do it. When you hear someone improvising “in the changes,” that means you should be able to hear the changes in their solo EVEN IF THE RHYTHM SECTION IS NOT PLAYING! That sounds like a tall order, but if you play off the chord tones, and in particular play lines that highlight the thirds of each chord, then you’re one important step closer to sounding in the changes! It’s a quick fix that can pay big dividends quickly.
For instance, check out these 25 Jazz Licks and notice how frequently the 3rds come up in these various lines. You can also check out solos by almost any great player from the bebop era and notice the same kinds of things: they highlight the thirds frequently in their solos. That doesn’t mean they always play the thirds, and they may not stop on the thirds. However, working the third of a chord into your line helps to define the harmony that much better and is a great way to play in the changes!
Here’s a quick example:
There is no substitute for putting in the work; this tip will not immediately turn a novice into a professional. However, keeping it in mind may help you on your journey!