Are there rules for Jazz? When you are learning something then it is nice to have simple and clear rules so that you can evaluate and practice towards something that fits the rules. Unfortunately, rules are rarely a good description for learning to play music, as you will see in this video. There are a lot of very common “rules” that you should be breaking as soon as you can, they will only waste your practice time and keep you from learning.
Rule #1 – Chromatic Notes
Let’s start with a very practical one, and then move on to some techniques and practice stuff that are bad advice.
A big part of Jazz vocabulary is the sound of chromatic enclosures and passing notes, and this rule is about that:
Chromatic Passing Notes Should Never Be On The Downbeat.
So why is this not a rule? The point of a chromatic leading note is to create tension that then resolves to a chord or scale note, and it does that whether you place it on a downbeat or an upbeat.
Placing it on a downbeat will only create more tension, but that is also something that works as a sound, like this:
You want to learn to use that creatively, and it is pretty easy to find examples here’s Charlie Parker’s Billie’s Bounce:
And he also uses it in Moose The Mooche
So you can put leading notes wherever you want, just like Parker. Let’s take another very common misunderstanding with notes, but this time the notes in the scale:
Rule #2 – Avoid Notes
Many questionable choices have been made in the name of “Avoid notes“. I imagine it is mostly just because the name is too short and unclear so it is easy to abuse or get wrong.
An avoid note over a chord is a note that is dissonant, the usual example is the 4th or 11th over a major chord, so an F over a Cmaj7. Listen to how the b9 interval between then E and the F really begs to resolve:
But just because you should not emphasize or sit on a note, that doesn’t mean that you should spend too much time worrying about not hitting it.
In general, it is better to focus on what you want to play, and not what you shouldn’t play, and there is no need to try to choose scales that have no avoid notes or only practice not using them in your lines, they are there to be used in the music, and the music is probably boring without them.
Check out how you can use it in your lines as a tension that resolves. Here I am playing the avoid note on beat 1 of bar 2:
Rule #3 – Bending
Once in a while, you will hear people insisting that certain techniques are not allowed in certain styles of music, so there is no tapping in Blues unless Billy Gibbons does it and there is no bending in Jazz.
But, of course, that is not really true, there is quite a lot of bending in Jazz even if there are also complete albums without any, and many guitarists that never use it.
Often this is connected to Blues phrases like this Barney Kessel example:
but there are also Jazz guitarists who have made it a part of their expressive vocabulary outside of Blues phrasing. My favorite for this is probably Pat Metheny:
I made a longer video on this a few years ago, and to me, it was always a bit surprising that this was such a sensitive topic, it is just a technique after all, and you don’t have to use all techniques all the time, surely there is no outrage that people don’t play sweep arpeggios in Blues. I don’t think I ever thought of this as a rule. You probably won’t find a lot of bends in Bop lines, because the effect of this technique really comes across better with long notes, something that there are not a lot of in Bebop, but it is up to you to figure out how it fits in your playing.
This might offend a few people, but I always imagined that it came from guitarists going to Jam sessions and then playing their blues clichés over jazz pieces without ever really sounding like Jazz, connecting to the song or the groove, but I don’t think I ever saw that at a session.
My personal favorites with this are probably Scofield and Metheny. Let’s go to what is probably the biggest waste of time for beginning Jazz guitarists
Rule #4 – Always Practice Everything In All Keys And All Positions
This rule will help you waste a LOT of time, so feel free to ignore it!
“You Need To Practice Everything In All Keys And All Positions”
There is a good reason for eventually taking some things and working through that in all keys and all positions, but this is probably more a few very fundamental things like the 3 basic scales: major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. Diatonic arpeggios, triads, and that sort of basic foundational vocabulary.
Let me show you how easy it is to overload yourself with work like this very quickly:
This is a great basic line, consisting of an enclosure and an arpeggio
It’s a simple melody so you should check it out for all the diatonic chords in C major, in other positions, in other keys, do all 12, and it probably also works in Harmonic minor:
Or is it maybe more useful to work on using it in your solos?
You can take the lick and then add another ending:
Maybe it is nice with some more chromatic stuff and a leading note on the downbeat:
Or you could be leading into it with a Coltrane Pattern;
Of course, you might have time to do both, but do you have time to do both for all variations in all keys, scales, and positions? You need to be realistic with what you get out of it.
Working like this is great for exploring but it should not be the way you always do everything. Ask yourself how common 7th-chord arpeggio inversions are in Bop lines? Are they common enough to spend hours practicing that? Or a similar thing: It’s good to sometimes take a song through all 12 keys, and it can also be fun. But it is not always the way to do, maybe it is better to get really good at it in the key you need to play it in?
Rule #5 – You Need A Foundation in Technique and Theory
A very similar Rule that people think is part of Jazz is that you need to have a foundation in Theory and Technique to play it. That is also not true. You could get started with a lot less, even no theory at all, and just start learning solos by ear and other vocabulary only to learn the theory as you work on the vocabulary.
If you are starting with some not-too-modern bop-inspired stuff then most of that is going to be major scale, a few chromatic notes, and the odd blues phrase here and there. You can get very far with that. Don’t get lost in modes, and different minor scales right away, you can better focus on learning to improvise, getting the right vocabulary, and learning to play songs.
Getting those things down will get you to play music and really, and it is probably also closer to why you are interested in Jazz in the first place. I am sure you did not start playing Jazz just to learn how to play melodic minor.
My Jazz Guitar Roadmap course is built around that as well, a major scale, some arpeggios, a song, and figuring out how to play solos, using rhythm, phrasing, and chromatic stuff to make it sound right. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated!
Check it out here: The Jazz Guitar Roadmap
Get the PDF!
You can also download the PDF of my examples here:
Get the PDF and GuitarPro on Patreon:
You can get the PDF and GuitarPro files on Patreon here:
Get a free E-book
If you want to download a Free E-book of 15 II Valt I licks then subscribe to my newsletter:
Jazz Guitar Insiders Facebook Group
Join 15000+ Other Jazz Guitarists 🎸Join us in the Facebook Jazz Guitar Group Community: http://bit.ly/InsidersFBGroup
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for topics, then send me an email or leave a comment here or on the video. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.