Oftentimes as a single note improviser it is difficult to contextualise individual or groups of harmonic tensions by ear. That is, when playing just an A natural, for example, it sometimes challenging to hear that note as say, a 13th on a major chord or a sharp nine on a dominant 7th chord. This harmonic context is often something drive single note players to the piano (which is a good thing). Guitar players, piano players and other polyphonic instrumentalist can play a shell voicing or an entire chord in one hand and an upper-structure tension, group of tensions or entire melody in the other, giving them the complete harmonic or contextualised sound any harmonically ambiguous musical idea.
Over the years I’ve used a simple tool that can really aid a single note player in creating a harmonic context without a piano or chordal instrumen which is often not available. Simply by arpeggiating the shell voicing (root, 3rd and 7th of a chord) first and than playing a tension, group of tensions or entire melodic phrase.
In this lesson we just deal with one arpeggiated shell voicing (the dominant 7th) and 2 upper-structure tensions (the 13th and b13th).
To expand upon this concept, simply play any shell voicing (the root 3rd, and 7th of any major, minor dominant diminished etc) fallowed by any tension, group of tensions or entire melody. This will help give harmonic context to whatever your working on.
Although I’m no Art Tatum, I’ve found that, over time, my ear has improved at identifying tensions and becoming a bit more aware of the polyphonic, harmonically rich world of piano and guitar players.