I'm a fairly advanced guitarist/musician and love improvising, as most of us do. However, when a progression goes out of the main key, such as borrowing or substituting, I tend to get lost in my head. It still sounds good because I'll follow the change with my ear well or I'll use some chromatics or figure out the chord structure to fill the change. But theory-wise and thoughtfully I'm lost if it's not within the main key or a modulation of it (I.e. C Major & C Mixolydian).

So my question is: Can I get some examples with chords, progressions, scales and theory to help me thoughtfully bridge the gap? And don't be afraid to go deep because I have a strong understanding of theory as well as playing skill, it's just the application of both together in certain areas that needs work.


There's a lot of different methods to use when soloing over a given progression however the one I think is the simplest taking the given chord and working backwards to the mode and the scale you can use.

A simple example in the key of C major is the progression C - A♭ - F - G. Three of the four chords are squarely in the C major scale, however the A♭ is not. Obviously when playing you'll want to highlight the chord tones of the harmony so you know you'll be safe playing A♭, C, and E♭ and also approach tones to each (G, B♭♭, B, D♭, D, F♭). From there assuming the original tonic of C is still implied you want to find a scale/mode that uses this chord and still implies C as tonic which in this case C natural minor does. So if you wanted to go up or down a scale over the chord, C natural minor would be the most likely and you could even look at it as A♭ Mixolydian as that would be the same scale with A♭ as the root note. From here just connect the dots between the other chords for example the C is common in the C, A♭, and F chords so using a C to transition from one to the other makes sense.

If you can't see where the chord is coming from on the fly, just go with the chord tones and approach tones and look at it closer later and see what you can learn from it and how it relates to the tonic and the other chords around it.

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