Learn The Basics Of Backcycling For Chord Melody Jazz Guitar

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Welcome! In Part 1 of this lesson, we are going to explore Backcycling and how you can use it in your chord melody playing. Backcycling is a handy tool – you can add a lot of color and motion to a piece that doesn’t necessarily have it. Furthermore, when you have lead-up notes or measures with one chord, you can use Backcycling to explore the sonic stage and fill the arrangement with motion and intrigue.

What is Backcycling?

Backcycling is the process of working backward from a target chord to find its neighboring or leading chords. It involves working back from the 5th of the target chord and assigning that note as the root of your first back-cycled chord.


It’s easier to understand with an example. I tend to use Backcycling most frequently on lead-up notes. A classic example to illustrate is “Autumn Leaves.” The lead-up notes do not have any harmony associated with them. However, using Backcycling, we can add harmony that sounds like it belongs in the song. Let’s take a look at the first notes of Autumn Leaves:

Our First Chord Using Backcycling:

The first lead up note in backcycling Autumn Leaves
The first lead up note, with our Target Chord.

Our target chord is Amin7. The preceding note (G in Blue) is our first leading note, and where we want to create our first backcycled chord. The first step in finding our new chord is to find its root note. To do so, let’s start with the target chord’s major scale and grab the 5th note. Here’s the A Major scale:

Note that I highlighted the E. This E note is the 5th note in the A Major scale and our new root for our first back-cycled chord! We have many E chords we can choose from (part 2 will feature substitutions), but I’m going to select an Emin7 Chord for simplicity’s sake. So, our arrangement will look like this so far:

Our first backcycled chord
Our first backcycled chord, which is now the new target chord

Feel free to stop here. Backcycling should not be technical, but musical.

Our Second Backcycled Chord:

Now, let’s focus on the next backcycled note, illustrated above in Blue, which is F. Now that our new target chord is Emin7, we can apply the same formula that we used on our first back-cycled chord. Let’s start by finding the 5th of E. We always start with our Major scale:

Again, our 5th is B. Let’s start by adding a Bmin7 Chord (again…substitutions coming in part 2) with an F in the melody. Our standard Bmin7 shape will work correctly for this!

Our 2nd Backcycled Chord
Our 2nd Backcycled Chord, Bminor7, is now our new Target Chord

Our Final Backcycled Chord:

Lastly: Let’s finish our beginner back-cycling lesson by completing our back-cycled note, with an E in the melody. Again, we start by finding the 5th of our target chord, which is Bmin7:

Now that we know we have to find an F# chord with an E in the melody, I think I’m just going to keep with our Minor 7 “motif” here and show two separate voicings, each accomplishes the same thing, just in different tonalities:

Our First variation using an F#minor7 chord
Our first variation using our backcycled F#minor7
final backcycling example
Our fully-backcycled arrangement to Autumn Leaves

Well, I hope that helped with an introduction to Backcycling! It’s super fun, but stay tuned – the best is yet to come. We have a lot more to learn.

Tyler Avatar
A guitarist for over 20 years and an instructor for over 5 years, I'm passionate about Jazz fingerstyle Guitar. Knowledge is meant to be shared, so let's learn together!

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