L9: Grandmaster of Embellishment


This lesson is closely related to the Level 8 section under soloing, but with a slightly different spin.

At this point we will leave off learning new chords and inversions (a process you can continue on your own when you encounter them in songs you’d like to master), and focus on making the chords we’ve already studied more interesting and musical.

In the following video, master teacher Curt Sheller improvises on a I-IV-V-I progression in the Key of C using several inversions. The solo combines strumming and fingerpicking techniques as well as embellishments added to the chords from the C scale. Watch the video carefully, several times if needed, and compare your observations with those below the video.

  • He sets up the solo with a basic groove and tempo that he continues throughout the solo. It is consistent in timing.
  • He uses more than one inversion of the chord progression to add variety and interest to the solo.
  • He switches back and forth freely between fingerstyle and strumming.
  • He adds melody to what would be a simple progression by adding tones from the C scale above the chord.
  • He also uses scale tones to add interest through chord suspensions and added tones in the middle and low ends of the chords.

How do you get as fluid as Curt in doing these things? The best way is just to mess around, jamming on the chord progression and adding scale tones to the chords from the key (in this case C). The groove implied by your strum and fingerpicking patterns will greatly influence the feel of the solo. Practice slowly at first, getting used to keeping a steady beat (to develop this kind of timing, practice with a metronome). Your soloing will get faster and more fluid as time progresses.


Earn your L9: Grandmaster of Embellishment patch by demonstrating any two chord sequences, each in a different key, adding scale tone embellishments to the chords to compose or improvise the solos. Also:

  • Be sure to use at least two different inversions of your chosen chord progression.
  • Tempo may be slow, moderate or fast, but the solos should last at least 30 seconds.
  • The solos should use strumming and/or fingerpicking techniques and maintain a steady beat.

Going the Extra Mile

Consider using hammer-on and pull-off techniques with your embellishments (see the following video).