I think you should learn from my mistakes, so in this video I am going to go over 5 things that really slowed me down in learning Jazz, and that I now help students overcome so that they don’t get stuck along the way. When I look at how my students are progressing then it is easy to see that they get there a lot easier and a lot faster, and I am sure I would have too, so you want to get this right.
#1 Exercises Are Not Music
A lot of us come to Jazz when we already play the instrument and have experience with other styles of music, and since Jazz comes across as being difficult or complex (rocket science/music theory meme) then we often choose to be “a good student” and try to do all the exercises and put in the work. I really didn’t get this right in the beginning and spent way too much time thinking about what scale to play over which chord, and end up using it on a progression that was completely abstract to me, something that didn’t have a melody, that wasn’t a song, but this is something you can fix. (abstract progression + me thinking? like a II V I that turns into an equation?)
You already know that just playing a scale or an arpeggio is not a solo phrase. The same goes for chords, you are not learning to comp by just learning a lot of inversions.
Learning Jazz is learning a musical language, and that you can’t learn with exercises just like you won’t learn Spanish by just reading a dictionary (Que)
If You want to learn how to improvise the you have to also actually improvise. And it is more than just the notes, you also need to know how to play phrases that sit right in the groove, and express something that fits with the music, know the song and know where you are in the song.
Will never magically lead to this: Bebop line.
I think that is pretty obvious. And it means that you also need to learn some songs and some real music that you can play, because an arpeggio or any other exercise is not useful until you make it a part of the music, and you need to develop that skill as well.
None of this will work if you just do exercises and actually the worst plan I have ever heard from students, and I have heard it quite often, is “Before I start improvising I first I need to learn” and then insert:
#1 All scales in all keys or positions
#2 All Arpeggios in all keys
#3 All Chords in all inversions
That NEVER works.
The Most Important Song To Learn.
I think you could say that the most important song to learn is the first song that you REALLY learn.
When I started out then I wasn’t told to really learn songs so that I could easily play them by heart and use them to develop my improvisation skills, and that really slows you down. That is also why my course is a step-by-step guide teaching you that first song and so that you learn how to make music while you are improvising solos. Besides learning songs and soloing over them then there is one overlooked approach that is also incredibly useful…
#2 This Is How To Practice Improvisation
I am amazed at how rare it is to see this method is suggested for people who want to improve their vocabulary and learn how to play better Jazz lines with better phrasing, and speaking of phrasing I have a few quick fixes later in the video for that as well.
As a student, you are always told to practice slowly, and that is not any different for learning to improvise Jazz solos, but the problem that we all run into is that songs are not played that slow, and you can’t slow them down and still get it to make sense, so how do you practice improvisation slowly?
The answer to that is composition, which is essentially also how Barry Harris taught his masterclasses: composing bebop solos. If it is a good enough method for him then it is probably also an ok exercise for you. Let me demonstrate this with a practical example, and just to be clear, I still do this when I want to improve my solo lines, which is most days in the week.
Let’s say that I want to get better at using this chromatic enclosure:
For now I want to use it on a Cmaj7 chord, you can use it on a lot of things, but let’s start there. In the beginning, you just want to hear what it sounds like when you put it into lines.
Obviously, you can combine it with a Cmaj7:
So this is already fine, but let’s add a tail to it to make it a phrase:
Maybe it works with a descending Cmaj7 arpeggio
Of course, you need to spend some time experimenting and exploring how this all works, but that process really gets the sound of the enclosure into your ears and you find ways of creating playable lines that you can work on getting into your own playing.
This works really well in combination with solos you have learned by ear if you take your favorite phrases and try to make your own version of them. Sometimes it can be useful to write down what you come up with, but you don’t always have to. I think the biggest benefit is the process, not the licks you end up with, simply because you learn how to fit things together and they will come out in your solos.
It also really makes sense to watch Barry Harris teach and think of it as how to practice composing lines. You will learn a lot more and get a lot more options from that.
When learning Jazz then there are things that are more important than what notes you play in a solo I’ll get to that, but first let’s look at how you figure out how good (or bad) you are.
#3 How Do You Give Yourself Useful Feedback
One thing that I have to tell students all the time is that they can’t play a solo and at the same time tell how they are doing. And you can take my word for it, I record myself playing for a living and I have made ALL the mistakes that you can make while playing by now. (I have made a huge mistake)
If you want to know how YOU sound (and trust me, you do) then you have to record yourself playing and listen back!
This is incredibly useful for anyone trying to learn, but it is especially important if you are trying to teach yourself Jazz guitar. To make it more effective then there are a few things that you can keep in mind so that you don’t get distracted by your own brain when you listen, because listening to yourself can be a bit weird and difficult. (b-roll: me + headphones and me soloing)
#1 Record yourself often!
You get used to this, so the first few times it is weird and you get stressed out by all sorts of things, but that goes away with time.
#2 Decide what you are working on and listen for that.
This is simple: If you are working on phrasing or rhythm then don’t get lost in which arpeggios you use on altered dominants. Focus on what you are working on.
#3 Don’t Listen Right Away
Often when you just played something then you still remember what it felt like when you played it and you are not really listening but just reliving how it felt which is not helping you at all.
And it is when you start recording yourself that you probably discover the next thing you need to pay attention to, but I have a few quick fixes!
#4 Not The Notes You Play
This is often considered very difficult and vague, but it really doesn’t have to be. I am of course, talking about Jazz phrasing.
You may already have run into this, and I certainly remember when I felt like I was hitting a wall with phrasing: I know all the scales and arpeggios but my solos and what I play doesn’t sound the right way.
When I was starting out learning Jazz then the first problem I was confronted with was that I could not follow the chords and play a lot of wrong notes. It isn’t strange that I then focused on learning to play “the right” notes, but my focus on that came at a cost: I was not listening to how the phrases sounded nearly as much as what notes I was playing. So it really makes sense to become more aware of this early on.
There are a few ways to work on this, and some of them are really easy:
#1 End on a short note
I say this at least 3 times a week in the Roadmap community when I give feedback. Bebop is called Bebop because that is how the typical solo phrase ends, and that means it is a short note, Bebop On Guitar it is very difficult to play long notes so we learn that and make that the habit, but you need to take control of the notes and only play long notes when it makes sense.
#2 Play solos with fewer notes
The easiest way to develop phrasing and rhythm is to take away the other variables so that you have to focus on them. It can be super useful to voice-lead one or two notes through a song and then spend some time practicing soloing where you have to only use those notes. That will help you get more creative with, phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.
#3 Learn Solos By Ear
If you want to “hear” better phrases then learn some solid phrases by ear. Often the easier solos to learn like Charlie Christian and Grant Green are also great for learning to hear good phrasing and creative rhythms, and the next topic will help you get a lot more out of what you learn by ear and what you come up with when composing lines.
#5 So Little Theory, So Much Benefit
You have to stop being afraid of the holes, and you also have to remember to wonder. When you are starting out learning Jazz then it is easy to try to learn a crazy amount of theory, but what you really want to learn is actually pretty simple, and if you know that then it will teach you the rest, plus that you can learn it in a much more natural way.
When I learned Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love, the first songs I learned, then I couldn’t analyze them. But I still learned to play them, even if I only understood some of what was going on and played some wrong notes here and there. That was one of the things I did right.
Start with really knowing your basic scales, and just start with major. Then make sure that you also know the diatonic chords. Then you can start to recognize things in the songs you play like if you take There Will Never Be Another You.
First, you just look at what the key is and what makes sense just using that (fill that in one by one)
Then maybe you learn what a secondary dominant or a secondary II V is and then there are less gaps, and actually only a few more tricks to learn.
And that is also the best way to learn theory: Have it describe the music that you are already playing!
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