How to Play Outside Like a Pro: 4 Techniques That’ll Make the ‘Wrong’ Notes Sound Right

You’ve heard solos with wrong notes. Unfortunate note choices that make you cringe, questionable scales that clash with the chords, and licks that sound forced and unnatural. But I’m guessing you’ve also heard players that can make any note sound good over any chord, as if they can simply improvise whatever they want.

Here’s the interesting thing…

Those notes that sound like mistakes in one player are often the same exact notes that another player will use to get cheers from an admiring audience.

So what’s the secret? Why do some soloists sound hip when they play outside while others are stuck landing on wrong notes?

The answer goes back to the way you approach these “outside” notes and the process is simpler than you might think. Let me explain…

It all starts with your definition of wrong…

What exactly is a wrong note?

Theory books and music instructors will tell you that there are certain notes to avoid or treat as passing tones if you want your solos to sound good…

The 4th on Major 7 chords, the #11, the b9, the Major 7 on V7 chords…

However, if you take a quick listen to some of the great compositions and improvisers of our time you’ll hear that these rules were broken over and over again.

For some musicians these wrong notes led to new harmonic possibilities that transformed their musical approach.

“They may be the wrong notes for her, but they are the right notes for me!” ~ Igor Stravinsky, responding to a neighbor’s complaint of wrong notes as he composed The Rite of Spring at the piano.

This is because the idea of a wrong note is relative. What you think is a ‘wrong note’ is not a wrong note for another person. It depends on your cultural background, your musical experience, and the sophistication of your ears.

Art Tatum

Instead of thinking of right ...

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