Introduction to Block Chord Soloing

To borrow a term from jazz piano, block chords are how most big band rhythm guitarist took solos during the Swing-era, especially before the Charlie Christian revolution. In an earlier post, I posted links to several excerpted block chord solos.  Perhaps the finest practitioner of the style was (again) Allan Reuss. Take another listen to Allan’s ripping solo on “Bye Bye Blues” with Arnold Ross and Benny Carter. Awesome, right?

When approaching the style, I find the easiest place to start is to find chord shapes that leave the pinky free to play a melody alternating with the fretted notes. I'll start things off with a couple examples to show the idea in action.

Example 1 - "On the Sunny Side of the Street" Introduction

Here is the first two bars of the intro I generally play for "On the Sunny Side of the Street." It uses a couple different voicings that leave a finger free to fret additional notes.

Examples 2 and 3 - "Honeysuckle Rose"

Here is a two-bar excerpt that I use over quick ii-V vamps, like on "Sweet Sue" or "Honeysuckle Rose." Again, the basic idea is using voicings that allow the pinky free.

Example 2

This example is something I would play over the next 4 bars in "Honeysuckle Rose." This time we'll add in another technique common in block chord soloing, chromatic approaches. It is pretty common to slide up or down a fret to a chord.

Example 3

This is clearly not the alpha and omega of block chord soloing, but these are some simple ideas to get you started.