[Sheet Music]

Lesson 34: Playing "Outside"

The Keys to "Outside" Playing

The keys to "outside" playing are:

  • Conviction: you have to sound like you know what you're doing
  • Logic: if there is an inner logic to the line, the listener will be able to follow that without being disturbed by the clashes with the underlying harmony

The principle is inside - outside - inside. You start in, go out for a while and then come back in. In this way you establish normality, then create tension and ultimately the tension is followed by release.

We are going to look at some common techniques for "outside" playing. These are seqencing, fourths, triads, altered cadences, chord substitutions, "Coltrane Changes", mode substitution and playing a half-step up ( side-slipping).


Take a small motif, a seed. Repeat it, transposed up and down and you get an interesting line for playing "outside":

An interesting fact about the above line is that it is very rich pitch-wise. It happens to contain every note of the chromatic scale except one: g#/ ab...

Mike Stern used this idea to great success in his rhythm changes tune Suspone. This is discussed in detail in lesson 45.


A fourth is a very strong interval. This makes it ideal for "outside" playing.

Check out this I-VI-II-V lick:


Triads are also very strong. This makes them very suitable for "outside" playing.

Check out this II-V-I lick:

this II-V-I lick:

and this I-VI-II-V lick:

Altered Cadences

Check out this II-V-I lick:

or what about these two sequenced I-VI-II-V licks:

or this one:

The I-VI-II-V/ III-VI-II-V cadence can be varied in a million ways. Check out lesson 7 where this is discussed in detail.

Now check out these two II-V-I licks:

Chord Substitutions

Here's another way to look at the II-V-I progression:

and here's still another way:


Here's an easy II-V-I example using side-slipping with the pentatonic scale:

Check out this ingenious II-V-I lick by Bob Russell using side-slipping with the pentatonic scale:

2005 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.