Target 3's & 7's

Weekly Newsletter #66

November 11, 2022

Do you find yourself “searching” while you improvise? 

Most likely, the answer is yes. 

This is because you lack a clear set of strategies that you can reliably use when playing “off the cuff”. 

Many players tend to have pre-programmed licks they can fall back on when the improv doesn’t go their way. 

They practice them in all 12 keys and can whip them out at a moment’s notice. 

This is great, and useful, but it won’t make you a better improviser, it’ll make you a safer player. 

Instead of having a bag full of licks that are pre-written, you should have a bag full of strategies that can be used in infinite ways to navigate a solo, lick or any improvisation. 

Today, we’ll talk about one strategy in particular: Targeting 3’s & 7’s. 

-Check out the VIDEO here- 

What Is an Improv Strategy? 

An improv strategy is a musical tool that isn’t related to keys, scales, chords, rhythms or anything like that. 

Instead, it’s a way of approaching notes or phrases that allow you to play in a musical way, consistently. 

In the past I’ve written about some of these strategies such as Enclosure, Question & Answer, and Articulation. 

All of these share something in common: they’re ideas that can be expressed in a million different ways. 

In order to use the strategy of Targeting 3’s & 7’s you must first understand what that means. 

What Are 3’s & 7’s? 

3’s & 7’s are simply the 3 and 7 of any chord. When you target these notes, you’re doing something very important. 

You’re targeting the color tones of a chord. 

The 3 is the note that tells you if the chord is major or minor, so targeting that will highlight the “majorness” or “minorness” of the tonality. 

The 7 qualifies the chord. This means that it denotes whether you have a maj7, min7, dom7, or m7b5 chord. 

For more info on the types of 7th chords, please check out Newsletter #24 

Targeting the 7 of a chord is a great way to highlight a note within the melody that isn’t the 1, but is located nearby. 

Most 7’s are either a half-step or whole-step away from the root note, and so by targeting them you’re eschewing the root in favor of a note that is more important to the overall harmony. 

Without the 3 and 7 all you have left is a bland, colorless power chord, the 1 and 5. 

These notes tell the listener nothing, and therefore when you use them in a solo, it’s like putting more water into a glass of water, it doesn’t add much flavor at all. 

How Do You Target These Notes? 

By “targeting”, what I mean is making the focal point of your phrase. 

Very often that means starting or ending your phrase on that note. 

But it could also mean playing that note more times within the phrase than any other. 

In order to target a 3 or a 7 it means you need to see it on the fretboard as the centerpiece of the scale or shape you’re using. 

Most often when players improvise, their eyes dart around the fretboard looking for the root note of the chord or key. 

This often leads to playing that note to start a phrase, and essentially targeting the root as the focal point. 

As I said, this gets very old, very quickly. 

If every phrase targets the same note, the root note, then you really aren’t saying anything all that interesting with your phrases. 

In order to make the 3 or the 7 the target you must be able to see them on the fretboard at first glance. 

This means that you must come up with a way to visualize them, most likely in relation to where the root note is. 

Play any 7th chord and analyze what the 3 and 7 is. 

Then find the root note of that chord and try to find a pattern as to where the 3 and 7 are located relative to the root note. 

The 7 will be just below the root and the 3 will often be on the next higher string one or two frets back, but can also be on the same string three or four frets higher. 

Finding these relationships allows you to easily see these notes while you play and makes targeting them much easier. 

Do this on every string and in every position for that one chord. 

Then repeat the process for all the 7th chords. 

Putting It All Together 

When you go to improvise over a backing track, or with a band or something, the key is to make this strategy a part of how you navigate the fretboard. 

Just as you likely gravitate towards the minor pentatonic scale in order to improvise, you should begin to gravitate to more note choices than just the root or fifth. 

That means targeting the 3’s and 7’s. 

Obviously, making this an instinct while improvising isn’t something that happens immediately, but requires practice. 

Instead of trying to play a ton of flashy licks using these new target notes, try playing over a backing track using fewer notes, but targeting them more deliberately. 

These color tones allow you to “sing” with the guitar much more easily and because they’re the basis for the harmony in the chord, they can often stand on their own without needing too many other notes within the phrase. 

Get used to being able to play over many different chord progressions playing little else than the 3 and 7 of the chord. 

Force yourself to use rhythm, tone and expression to get your musicality across while keeping your note choice limited. 

From there, it’s a short jump to being able to implement this strategy at will, any time you play. 

-Max Rich