7 Skills Jazz Beginners Don’t Spend Enough Time On

One of the biggest mistakes Jazz Beginners make is to practice a lot but not develop the skills that really will get them further, in fact, a lot of practice is just wasting time and building bad habits. In this video, I want to go over 7 skills that will help you beome a better Jazz guitarist, some of these skills you might be working on already, but you can use the video to check if something is missing.

#1 How Long Should A Note Be?

I actually think this one is easier to fix than most of the other skills in this video, and I am sure that if I had recordings of myself from when I was starting out, then I definitely did not have this skill and was very much guilty of too many long notes!

If you ask classical musicians who don’t play guitar about their “nickname” for guitar they will probably tell you “staccato festival” meaning that the instrument has absolutely no sustain (which is sort of true compared to a trumpet or violin).

But in this case, it is the other way around. For Jazz

I am sure you can hear that the long notes sound a bit strange, and check out how short notes are much better at conveying the rhythm and connecting with the groove, and this is, of course, very important for Jazz.

This problem comes up very often with students in the roadmap,

(probably this is not a good shot of the roadmap, the other one later on in the video shows the prices… you know better if and which shot to use…)

but they do hear it and fix it quite fast. The first step is usually to work on just ending phrases on a short note, and sometimes getting used to hearing melodies that end on an off-beat also helps.

Of course, you want to play long notes sometimes as well, the important thing is that you are in control and that you choose, it should not be a habit.

Let’s move on to an online comment that really annoys me.

#2 Jazz Is Not A Looping II V I

I should probably watch out if this doesn’t turn into a rant about what learning music is really about.

Jazz is a style of music, and it has a repertoire, and part of learning to play that style is to learn to play the songs in the repertoire,

so if you want to learn Jazz then you need to start working on how to learn songs and trust me, you want to know a lot of songs!

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Bernstein:

and you haven’t really learned anything until it is something you can use when you are playing real music.

All the Barry Harris solo masterclasses were about writing lines on songs, they were not about exercises, but about making music!

So you need to work on being able to learn songs, both from sheet music and by ear, just learn a lot of songs so that music theory describes music you already play and hear.
That way, you have music with diminished suspensions or altered chords,

and then theory isn’t theory, it is music.

This brings me to the type of comment that always irritates me: Every now and again I will get asked if I can give some suggestion on how to sound more modern, dark, or something like that on a II V I, and already in the question it becomes clear that the person asking is not learning any songs, just playing this loop of a II V I. A loop of a II V I is not a song, A song is a story, it has development, and twists and surprises, a loop is static. So keep in mind that if you were playing an entire song and not a static 4-bar loop it might not get boring as quickly.

But enough complaining, for at least a bit….

#3 Learning The Language

This is possibly a hot take or at least a delicate topic sometimes, but I think you can argue that Jazz has a certain language in the melodies we improvise, in terms of rhythm, flow, phrasing, and to some degree also what melodies are used. This is probably true for most styles of music, we can all hear when something is a blues lick, and if you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to check out vocabulary so that you get the sound into your playing. This can be checking out licks, and exercises

or what is probably the fastest way to improve: Learning solos by ear, something I have talked about often in videos.

So if you want to sound like Jazz then get good at learning Jazz vocabulary so that you know how it feels to play that, and how it is supposed to sound. A bonus, if you play along with solos that you have learned by ear is that you also improve your phrasing, timing, and swing feel which is also a part of the language.

#4 Make The Machine Swing!

Since I am on the topic of timing, swing-feel, and hearing the groove and the harmony, then that is all stuff that you want to improve, and another skill that will help you develop this is practicing with a metronome,

vastly underrated and a lot more fun than you think once you get used to it.

For Jazz, this is about playing with the metronome on 2 & 4, and learning to play songs and soloing like that will help boost your ability to:

  1. Keep time and feel time
  2. Hear the harmony internally
  3. Play in the groove

The concept is, of course, that you play and stay in time, keep the form, and lay down the groove. The difference between a metronome and a backing track is that it is much more difficult to play with a metronome, but if it swings then it is you. When you play with a backing track then if it swings it might be the backing track. If you look at how famous jazz guitarists practice then it is always a metronome, there are almost no exceptions. If you want to get started practicing with the metronome on 2&4 then I have a video for a few years ago on that topic,

You can check that out here: Practicing with the metronome on 2&4

#5 Putting Chords To Use

What I said about soloing is just as important for chords, so instead of just playing tons of inversions or other exercises on II V I progressions, you also need to work on putting those chord voicings to work on songs, and trust me, that will help you develop so much in terms of voice-leading, adding melodies and colors to your chords and all the other stuff that, like me, you probably love about Jazz and Jazz chords.

You can start rubato and explore the harmony and then later move it into time. Rhythm is also important here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

#6 Make Your Own Licks!

A problem that I have also encountered myself often when trying to internalize new material, like for example a new way of playing an arpeggio or a chromatic phrase is that I know how to play it, but it doesn’t really work when I use it in a solo, and that is because an important step is missing between practicing something as a technical exercise and turning it into great lines in a solo. Again, also something that I help students with in the Roadmap frequently.

The missing step is composing lines or even entire solos. It is completely unrealistic that you can just immediately get every exercise you do to work in a solo, but composing is improvising slowly and with a way to go back and fix the lines so that they sound better and that you can figure out how the new thing should fit in there. This is a very effective way to introduce new material into your vocabulary, keep in mind that composing solos is also what Barry Harris’ solo masterclasses are built on,

so they probably also will work fine as a part of your practice.

#7 Chords Should Be Phrases Too

The worst way to think about the chords of a song is as a chord symbol with some extensions, simply because that is not music. What you want to work on is opening up those chord symbols so that you can improvise and connect the whole thing, you want to turn the chords into music.

For many jazz beginners, comping rhythms are a mystery and something that is very difficult to improve on, but that is probably because the problem is often not the rhythms, it is how you think about comping.

I am curious, so please leave a comment and let me know when you last practiced comping a song with the metronome on 2&4. Because if you start working with your comping like that and start thinking in phrases then it becomes so much easier to develop rhythms and sounds.

When you comp on a song then you can start thinking in call-response, and riffs and become more free, get the song to sound good, and don’t get stuck thinking about which rhythm or which extension to play.

Use Joe Pass’ Approach

To be able to play chords in phrases and get through songs then you don’t want to get stuck with too complicated chords that are not flexible, and Joe Pass has a really solid approach for building a chord vocabulary that I talk about in this video:

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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