If I want to compose a fusion piece (or improvise over one), what harmonic tools I can use to sound right in this genre? Every genre has a specific chords, progressions, scales, techniques etc. which can define a piece within this genre. For blues this could be: blues progression, using a blues scale, string bending, blue notes and so on. What about fusion guitar? (or the whole fusion genre) I have this list so far:

  • usage of slash chords
  • modal progressions and vamps on static (non functioning) chords
  • usage of tension scales on static chords(dominants) (i.e. super-locrian, diminished, Aeolian b5)

Any other points?

  • Can you explain what the question means - in English it is very difficult to pick out what you are asking.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 12:43
  • 1
    Jazz fusion as in Weather Report? Holdsworth? 70s Miles or Corea? McLaughlin? Metheny? Jazz fusion covers quite a bit of ground... Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 20:00
  • Weather Report, 70 Miles, Corea - YES (also Scott Henderson, Frank Gambale) Maybe also McLaughlin Metheny and Holdsworth music even more i think aren't suited well for generalization Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 7:10

3 Answers 3


Jazz fusion (sometimes called Jazz Rock) is typified by straight (as opposed to swung) rhythms, electric instrumentation (rhodes, synths, electric guitar and bass), and freeform improvisation and song structure that form a continuation the free jazz style of the 50s and 60s.

Harmonically, jazz fusion tends to eschew more traditional harmonic forms such as the II-V-I. Early fusion typically incorporated both modal and funk elements. This form of fusion would eventually become the funk- and R&B-influenced smooth jazz of the 80s. Later fusion, such as Holdsworth, tends towards rather esoteric modal structures, shifting tonal centers, and unusually voiced chords with large intervalic leaps.


Improvising and composing fusion are two different ball games and the former is a much easier one since the interesting chords are already there, and aside from some potential difficulties phrasing from one tonality into another dependant on the oddness of the chords underneath it tends to be standard analysis of tonalities and into subconscious phrasing mode (assuming you've programmed your subconscious in the usual harmonic and melodic tradition - anchors 3 and 7; 1, 2, 4 and 5 pentatonics; dominant tritone scale on dominants, chromatic sidestepping etc. In a nutshell, all the usual tricks, and if you hear something that sounds different and cool transcribe and assimilate it.

But how do you come up with chords like that in the first place? How do you compose Havona, or Looking Glass? I found a state of thinking that was really useful - in all places - in learning Giant Steps (on the piano). I found that if I kept consciously thinking the II-V-Is in each key and the major thirds I would get bogged down in thinking, whereas by thinking more "da-da-da-da-daaah" without the theory clogging my mind I found more fluidity. This non-theoretical thinking is especially useful when composing odd chords since I find I don't constrict into diatonic or substionary categories but rather allow for harmonic possibilities to suggest themselves.

Kind of fluffy, but I hope it helps.


Melodic Minor - C D Eb F G A B C

Lydian - C D E F# G A B C

Those are two of the most common fusion-y scales and associated chords.

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