Applying Target Note in Mastering Jazz Solo Improvisation

An Article on Inner Target Note/Guide Tone Application in Jazz Solo Improvisation

“If you can’t, you must. If you must, you can. ”
A quote from the great motivation guru, Anthony Robbins.

Here’s another paragraph from the true story of how Ear Training Guru, David Lucas Burge, first acquire his perfect pitch ability,

“Once I stopped straining my ear, I started to listen NATURALLY. Then the simple secret to Perfect Pitch jumped right into my lap.”

Two contradicting quotes show how different mastering music is, compared to acquiring other skills in life. Simply because music requires more of a development of our innate ability, then our intellectual mind.

Such is also the case when it comes to practising and applying target note / guide tones.

After reading Hal Galper’s book on Forward Motion, I started practise hearing target notes with small exercises such as this:


The notes circled are the guide tones which I always attempt to hear my melody resolve towards.

A few points I kept in mind when practising:

  • Repetition of the same line doens’t help, it only turns it into running licks and finger exercises. Therefore, a new line is constructed everytime based on the same target notes, or completely new target notes, or different chord progressions.
  • Everything must be played in time, there shouldn’t be any pause when trying to hear the target notes.

I practised hours and hours without being able to really apply it.

To my astonishment, the power or guide tones really occured to me when I was performing one night, when I wasn’t trying at all. I completely forgot about which tone I’m approaching, and just let my ears guide me.

Amazingly, my mind was able to automatically construct melodies that seem to fit the chord structure nicely, with nicely synchronized tension and release notes. All that was left for me to do, was to transfer what I hear in my mind to my fingers.

I will be posting more on Forward Motion in the coming weeks. Subscribe to the Pianologist RSS feed to be updated regularly.

Also check out these earlier posts on Forward Motion.

An Introduction to Forward Motion Theory in Mastering Jazz Solo Improvisation

Tutorial on Forward Motion, with transcription and video

Tension and Release beat

Until then, best of luck in your practising. And don’t forget to enjoy and have fun, cause that’s what music is all about.. 😀


  • Andrew

    Reply Reply August 25, 2008

    The farmer works and sweats….He plants his crops all spring.

    In the fall…the kids enjoy the pumpkins that “miraculously” just sprung up out of the ground.

    The hours you put in….came to fruition at later date! Great to hear it!

  • Alcatus

    Reply Reply February 25, 2009

    That is a brilliant metaphor.

  • Stefan

    Reply Reply February 3, 2017

    …hello…great articles on your site, thank you!…the above link to the little exercise is not working…greez Stefan

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