Target Notes Practice for Improvisation & Ear Training

One of the best ear training exercises you can do to learn jazz standards and improvisation is Target Notes.

Target Notes over Complete Jazz Standards Progressions

Imagine this melodic line over the progression:

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We could use our classification method to classify each note against their respective chord. But this would be a futile effort, since this line’s main purpose is to land on the b7 of the G7 chord.

The previous note classes don’t really matter that much, the rhythm and shape of the line takes priority over the classification of the notes. But the most defining element is that landing note, because being a chord-tone, and moreover a guide-tone (the b7 of a dom7 chord) it guarantees the release of tension. This is what we call a target note. A target note is not just a note, it is a point of resolution. When we play a line thinking of the target note we know the amount of tension contained at the end of our line. Not only that; we will also know the color of that note against the chord. In our example, choosing to target the root instead of the b7 drastically changes the color.

It is worth noting that the previous notes will affect the amount of tension released (or created) when we arrive at the target note but not the final color. In some sense the target note determines how the line is perceived by the listener.

Approaching target notes by half steps or even whole steps, suffice to release tension when we arrive at the target notes (assuming we are targeting an inside note)

What is really quite fascinating is that, if we approach a target note, the listener will clearly hear the resolution even if the target note is omitted.

The trick is creating a line thinking of the target. Playing that target is just a formality we could ignore.

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Target Note Lines

Target Notes also allow us to tell a story secretly codified inside the harmonic progression. Playing a simple melodic line built using target notes over a chord progression is like drawing a sketch of the tune.

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Let’s say we play the roots of every chord in a song. We are now playing a melody that outlines an essential path encoded in the harmonic progression. We could say we are drawing the surface of the landscape where the story takes place. That’s why bass players usually stick to it. Learning the bass line of a harmonic progression is one of the best ear training exercise you can do. Once you know the bass line in a song (and I mean KNOW the bass line, with your ears!) you can ride on it creatively, and improvise more freely. It is also important during performance because you can clearly know your place in the form when you are improvising by just listening to the bass player (assuming your bass player is good enough)

The same applies to other target notes. The fifth is like the root’s sibling. Remember the fifth is the first overtone (different from the root) that appears in the overtone series. It is very much related to the bass line, but it tells the story from yet another perspective.

Guide-tones define the color of the chord. So, if you create a guide-tone line you are outlining another fundamental aspect of the story, like coloring the scene. Guide-tone lines are more involved than bass lines since there are two, and sometimes even three guide tones on every chord: the 3, the 7 and occasionally the altered 5. So, you have different paths you can take when moving from chord to chord in the progression. You also have to take into account suspensions (replacing the 3rd with the 4th in sus4 chords) or 6th chords (replacing the 7th with the 6th).

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It is also interesting to practice targeting available tensions, and of course to create tension-lines. These targets sound more outside the chord changes but are still outlining the harmony.

The Target Notes Book Bundle from mDecks Music

After releasing the Jazz Standard Progressions and the Upper Structures over Jazz Standards Progressions book collections we decided to embark in the creation of a method that will offer a systematic way of practicing target notes over chord changes from complete jazz standards progressions.

This collection offers a complete method to practice target notes over complete jazz standards. Each jazz standard appears 10 times (one for each target note technique) including:

Chord-Tones: Root • 3rd(sus4) • 5th • 7th(6th)
Tensions: 9th(root) • 11th(3rd) • 13th(5th)
Tone-lines: Guide-tones • Chord-tones • Tensions

Volume 1 contains 291 Jazz Standards in a 3-book set (3,500 pages) and is now available on

The books are available for C Instruments Treble and Bass clefs and also for Bb and Eb instruments.

Learn more on

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