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Lead-Ins and Chord Progressions

Carson Roulston

Through the years of giving lessons, I realized students who were developing an accompaniment style really wanted to emulate a piano.

Carson Roulston When you’re strumming along on the same chord for a number of measures, there isn’t much ‘motion’, like the way piano parts are written. However, you don’t want to totally re-harmonize a song – it can throw your vocals off.

A common concern of solo singer/guitarists is keeping it interesting, especially on longer sets. Using lead-ins allows you to go ‘in and out’ while staying with the chord progression. If you’re on a gig that is blues-, jazz- or pop-oriented and there is a lot of ‘sameness’ in the song list, here’s a way you can improve your audience’s pleasure and alleviate your boredom.

You’ll probably find that some ‘lead-ins’ appeal to you more than others, and that’s how you develop your sound. I like to use them in slow blues or R & B tunes.

‘A common concern of solo singer/guitarists is keeping it interesting … lead-ins …  can improve your audience’s pleasure and alleviate your boredom.’

To introduce the concept, we’ll use a 12-bar blues progression in the key of C major:

C /// | C /// | C /// | C /// |

F /// | F /// | C /// | C /// |

G7 /// | F /// | C /// | G7 /// : ||

The idea behind this practice is to liven up a standard form. We’ll start with single-chord lead-ins.

There are 3 options:

Note: An asterisk * denotes a lead-in.

1. Chromatic Lead-In

C /// | C // *B | C /// | C // *E |

F /// | F // *B | C /// | C // *F# |

G7 // *Gb | F // *B | C /// | G7 /// : ||

2. Scale-Wise (Diatonic) Lead-In

C /// | C // *Dm | C /// | C // *Em |

F /// | F // *Bm | C /// | C // *Am |

G7 // *Em | F // *Dm | C /// | G7 /// : ||

In this case, you see that we are using the root notes that occur in a diatonic scale, e.g. Dm is the second note in the C major scale. Likewise, Am is the 6th note in the C major scale.

Note that the lead-in is the note adjacent to the chord in the progression, i. e. Dm is adjacent to C, Em to F and Am to G7.

3. Diminished Chord Lead-In

Here you can use a diminished chord root, or a root a half step below, in a chord in the progression.

C // *Cdim | C // *Bdim | C /// | C // *Edim |

F // *Fdim | F // *Bdim | C /// | C // *F#dim |

G7 // *Fdim | F // *Cdim | C // *F#dim | G7 /// : ||

Now we can extend the idea by using two approach chords. For example:

Chromatic – Diatonic

B >>> Dm >>> C

Diatonic – Chromatic

Bm >>> Db >>> C

Diminished – Diatonic

Bdim >>> Dm >>> C

Diatonic – Diatonic

Bm >>> Dm >>> C

Diatonic – Diminished

Dm >>> Bdim >>> C

You can use any combination, in any order, as dictated by taste.

C / Db Bdim | C /// | C // B | C / Dm Em |

F / G7 Edim | F / Dm Bdim | C /// | C / F F# |

G7 / F# Em | F / Em Dm | C / Am F#dim | G7 /// : ||

Of course, good taste will also dictate how many lead-ins suit the musical situation, as will your personal style.

This is a practice used quite often by arrangers in string or reed sections backing a lead voice. Remember, this does not change the chord progression itself, but is meant to spice it up.

Tip: This works best when you are the only chord-playing instrument in the rhythm section. When you are with keyboards, etc., you should ‘conference’ with the keyboard player so you don’t clash or sound too busy.

About the Author

Carson Roulston is a certified guitar instructor who has been playing the guitar professionally for over 40 years. He attended university with a major in jazz studies and completed a certificate program in orchestration/arranging. His specialty is the blues but he enjoys all genres. He provided a Q&A page on a local music store web site for a number of years and still has an active lesson program.

Our goal is to provide you with the training, inspiration, motivation and confidence to become the guitarist you dream of becoming.

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