Author Archives: jens

The Diminished Chords – Why They Are Great!

There are 3 types of diminished chords that I use all the time. They are great for a lot of things and sound beautiful in chord progressions.

Two of them are in all the Jazz standards and really just a part of tonal harmony but the last one, which I learned from Barry Harris, even if it is not a part of his diminished scale system, is maybe not even really a diminished chord. Maybe it isn’t even a chord, but I play it all the time and it is a great trick even if it doesn’t have a theoretical explanation.

Easy Diminished Chord

The first one you want to know is the easy diminished chord, the one that is easy to hear and easy to explain: The Dominant diminished chord.

A funny side-note is that I always get comments from people insisting that ALL diminished chords are dominant, which, as you will see, I don’t agree with but you should think about it in any way that works for you.

The dominant diminished chord is really from the minor key, but we can use it in major as well.

If you look at the diatonic chords in C harmonic minor: CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim CmMaj7

And you can also see that it is in fact the arpeggio from the 3rd of a G7(b9): G B D F Ab

 

so the connection to G7 is pretty clear and it resolves like this:

And you can resolve it to major as well:

A few Dominant Diminished Trick

There are two chord progressions with this chord that you see fairly often and both sound great, one of them is used as a sort of plot twist in the harmony, which is very nice.

What might surprise you is that most of the time the dominant diminished chord is used for secondary dominants like this where it is really a great transition to the II Chord

So here it is working as an A7, the dominant of Dm7, and creates a nice chromatic bass line moving up to Dm7.

Bassline melody is really what diminished chords are all about!

A great way to use the dominant diminished is to pretend that it is just a boring old II V and then it suddenly goes somewhere else:

I need to talk about the extension on the dim chord here, but first, just check out how this is a II V in C that then suddenly takes a detour and resolves to Am7 via the dim chord. That is a great plot twist.

 

On the dim chord, I am using a b6 as an extension and this is an important note to know for dim chords.

In both examples, the diminished chord is a secondary dominant and they simply just take the  scale that you would use for the dominant, so if you resolve to Am then you would use A harmonic minor over the dim chord because it works as an E7:

 

And from that scale, the E is a great sounding extension and also the root of the dominant it is associated with: E7

The reason why I say that is important is mainly that the b6 is very common as a melody note on a diminished chord as you can see here

But let’s move on to the subdominant diminished which are actually the most common ones.

Subdominant Dim – It Is a Thing!

The dominant diminished is easy to understand because it is a diatonic chord in harmonic minor and closely related to the V chord, but then you have these chords that move in a different way:

This one moves down!

And this one doesn’t resolve like a dominant

Let’s start with the F6 to F#dim example. I’ll first go over the chords and then get into scale choices

Here you can see how the F#dim appears from altering two notes in the F6. You can also see that it still contains a C and not a B which is why it isn’t dominant in the key C, they don’t sound anything like a G7.

The oversimplified way of arriving at that it is a subdominant chord is just to ask 2 things:

1 Does it move to Cmaj7 as if it is resolving? Yes – so it isn’t tonic

2 Does it sound and resolve like a G7, which it doesn’t so it isn’t dominant

If it isn’t tonic and also not dominant then it is subdominant. This is a bit crude, but it it does fit.

Since it is subdominant then it makes sense to notate it as derived from the IV chord, so I usually write them as #IVdim chords. There are actually other #IV subdominant chords, but that is for another video.

But it also resolves down to a subdominant chord.

Groups of Subdominant Chords

Sometimes I just write #IVdim instead of subdominant diminished, it is a looong word and I am from Denmark which is a small country, we don’t have room for that stuff. In fact, I will often just write IV when I mean subdominant, so a backdoor dominant which is also a minor subdominant is referred to as a IVm chord. I usually make it clear in the videos, but it sometimes slips. I find it useful to have these groups of subdominant chords that are #IV, IV and IVm, but it is probably short hand and not too precise

Descending Subdominant Dim

Before the last type of dim chord then there is also the other variation of the subdominant diminished.

This is really just an inversion of the #IVdim,

it is Ebdim and the subdominant diminished but it is resolving to the Dm7,

so it is a subdominant resolving to a subdominant. In a way similar to how you have IV IVm I.

 

And this works great to have a chord that can transition to a II chord which is of course also how you see it used the most.

Scale Dilemmas

With the Dominant diminished then you have a scale that is found in and that is part of how we understand it which makes it a lot easier.

The subdominant diminished is a lot more vague, but if you look at it from a different perspective then you can construct a scale that fits the context of key and then realize that you already know that scale.

If you look at the F#dim and the C major scale then there are two ways to create a scale that works:

 

They both work and there is one note difference so it is really up to you. I tend to recommend the harmonic minor scale mostly because you need that anyway and you probably know it already.

No Diminished Scale

So why am I not using the diminished scale, since it is called a diminished chord? It is the same name!

In the end, you can use any scale you want it is more about how you do it than which scale it is. The chord progressions that I talk about in this video are all tonal, so they are in a key and that tells you something about how they sound, and which notes want to go where. And you don’t hear each chord as an isolated thing, you hear the whole progression or the whole song.

The diminished scale is atonal because it is symmetrical, it can resolve to lots of places and nothing sounds like the root. That is why it doesn’t really fit and is more of a special effect in the music.

The Mysterious Diminished Chord

As I already hinted at then the final diminished chord is maybe not really a chord, but that doesn’t mean that you can learn something important from it.

When I was in the piano class with Barry Harris that first year I went to the Hague then he told the piano players to play this exercise that I then transferred to guitar. And it is all over my comping and chord solos:

The exercise is moving the maj7th and the 9th down to the maj6th and the root in half steps,

and as you can probably see, then every time the middle chord is in fact a Bb diminished chord. (highlight dim chord – Paly example and stop on the dim chord!)

But maybe this is a place where looking at what is happening vertically and giving it a name as a chord, is actually not the best way to understand it. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to think of it as voices moving, because the diminished chord only appears as a side effect of some chromatic voice-leading. Probably also why it is not something you will find notated as a chord in a song, at least I can’t think of one that has that. Sometimes focusing too much on vertical harmony rather than how the notes flow is not good for making music and hearing what is going on.

That of course doesn’t mean that this isn’t a great sound, and the exercise sounds great in minor as well, which doesn’t give you a dim chord.

 

 

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The 5 Skills That Make You Great At Comping

The most fun part of playing Jazz is playing with others and in the band shape the music together while you are playing. And when you are comping, that is a huge part of what you are doing, but a lot of the most important things about comping are not taught in lessons online and not in books on chords. So that is what I want to talk about in this video: Things that I learned, mostly from the people I played with or the people that hired me, and I have also found some great stories from some amazing musicians that explain it.

#1 Play The Chords

Even if it is not only about the chords, then you still need to be able to play the chords and get the harmony across, or the last thing you will hear on the gig is “Your Fired”

For any song you play, you need to know the voicings for all the chords

and have a basic understanding of what extensions are available in that song.

But it is incredibly important to remember what the overall goal is: Play the harmony in a way that fits with the music, so in this case the rest of the band.

This is what you need to focus on: build a practical and flexible chord vocabulary instead of learning complicated chords as grips that are sometimes difficult to play and that you can’t do anything with.

You want to try to not get stuck with a static chord, and focus on learning the voicings so that they are things you can improvise with. If you want a vocabulary of chords that helps you turn the symbols into music then this is the way. (b-roll)

It isn’t complicated: If you have a Bb7,

throw away the root. reduce it to the core.

Sit down and learn the other options and think of them as a small scale you can use on top of that chord

#2 Make It Into Music

If you approach chords and songs like this then the next skill gets a lot easier. Check out how Nir Felder Explains it, because he really nails it!

It is very often that I have students telling me how they are practicing chord inversions, but it is very rare that they talk about practicing comping.

And there IS a way to work towards playing music and not just feeding chords to a soloist.

When you practice, you need to play the song and make the music your priority. You are not just a robot interpreting a page in iReal.

So spend some time practicing comping a song and make that feel and sound good. You need to go beyond just playing a II V I or practicing voicings, and instead, also work towards playing entire songs.  There you can try to make melodies in your comping that work, take riffs through the progression, and make them into music.

#3 Communicate With The Band

Most comping lessons talk about how you should listen to the soloist, but actually, something else is at least as important if not more important.

Because, when you are comping then you need to get what you play to work together with the rest of the band, and think together with the rhythm section, especially the drummer.

Lewis Nash talks about it in this clip:

When you comp then you shape the music in that conversation with the drummer. I was lucky that I got the chance to play with some drummers that explained this to me early on and it is a bit strange that this is not talked about more also because it really makes playing together so much more fun.

With the rhythm section, you chose to be:

Repetitive:

Play sustained chords:

Busy:

Sparse:

loud, or soft and that is a huge part of how the music sounds. Of course, you are also listening to the soloist and the bass player, but most of this happens when you lock in with the drummer,  and I really think that is the backbone of any great rhythm section.

The way to start working on this is really with listening, I especially like the Wynton Kelly trio with Miles

or with Wes

for this, there are many great examples, and in my opinion, most of the good ones are piano, not guitar, which may be a painful truth…

Another tip is also to start checking out how drummers teach comping because I think we could really learn something from that, maybe that could be another video in fact. Let me know in the comments.

#4 Don’t Get in the Way

When I was still just getting started with Jazz then one of the first people that I really liked for the way he could comp was Russel Malone. I heard him playing behind Diana Krall and used a lot of that to figure out how to play behind singers. I also got to hear that trio live with Diana Krall, Ben Wolfe, and Russel Malone and at that concert, Russel took the solos so far out but still managed to bring us back home safely. That concert really blew my mind with harmonic things that sounded great but where I also had no idea what it was.

One of the things that is almost always a problem when you learn to comp is that you overplay. You practice all these things and then when you are in the band you want to use everything at once, and it ends up ruining the whole thing.

Comping is really like a conversation, you don’t open up a conversation by for example listing 25 Amazing and unknown facts about sheep.

This is also about getting that connection with the rest of the band that I already talked about, so it can be good to first focus on locking in with the drummer and the soloist. You can do that by leaving room with longer chords or more sparse comping in the beginning. That will give the freedom to take the music in a direction, and you can try to hear where they want to go.

#5 When To Push/ When To Support

Another aspect of comping is communicating with the soloist and figuring out when to push with more things happening in terms of density, rhythm, or harmony and when to lay back and supply a foundation for the soloist. When I have been playing as a sideman then I was often surprised by how this was very different from soloist to soloist. Some are really looking for ideas and communication and others just want something to play over without any interference. And this is really about trying to feel if the soloist is comfortable or not, it is a bit vague, but you do want to be aware.

As a soloist, I have had experiences playing a gig and when you start going to other places and reharmonizing the song then the piano player will very clearly spell out the original changes as if you are playing something wrong, or you take a solo and after playing one altered dominant then all the maj7 chords are maj#5 and the dominants are 13b9 chords because somebody practiced upper-structure triads that morning.

It is difficult to get this right but it is very important to be aware of, especially if you want to get called for another gig, and again it is something that I mostly picked up talking to people I played with and asking what they think, but you have to look out with that as well because you get great advice but sometimes you get presented with myths about how it works by someone who doesn’t know how it works or just can’t explain it.

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No Bending In Jazz, Please!

I guess this might be a hot take on the topic of bending in Jazz, but this is a really common question, and that was sort of surprising to me because I never really thought about it like that but I will try to explain that later.

I get a lot of comments about this ranging from “why is there no bending” or the more frustrated ones that are “Bending isn’t allowed” and of course my favorite which is to blame it on me. which is always fun.

But why isn’t bending a part of Jazz Guitar? And actually, I think there are quite a few reasons for this.

Is Bending Overrated?

Maybe sometimes string bending gets a bit overrated?  The main reason you would ask why Jazz doesn’t use string bending is usually that you come from playing genres where that is a common part of phrasing and playing. That would probably be Blues, Classic Rock, and Metal? In those genres bending has almost become synonymous with demonstrating good taste, emotion, and not over-playing in a solo. Usually, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd is the typical hero of this way of playing almost to the point of it almost becoming a joke.

Some of the comments I get on YouTube will explain to me that “bending is the BEST phrasing” and that is used to argue that Jazz is lacking emotion or expression, but maybe it is worthwhile to point out that there are a lot of genres of guitar music where bending is not a standard part of the phrasing. Unless you also want to write off Flamenco, Bluegrass, and Classical music as lacking emotion as well.

It is not that Jazz fans are really any better, you can easily find examples of Jazz used in the same way to dismiss chord progressions that don’t have extensions as boring which obviously is just as silly.

But, while you are learning Jazz then there is a reason why I often tell people to avoid to play in a way that makes it a lot less effective to play boomer bends as a way of phrasing.

There Are Jazz Players That Use Bending

Of course, there are Jazz Guitarists that DO use bends, let’s start with a modern example and then add some of the more classic guys!

John Scofield was one of the first Jazz guitarists I listened to a lot, and in many ways, he is also one of the people to use bending in phrases that are not just Blues phrases. You can hear it in this example where he is using quite a few bends in the theme of the Gershwin ballad “Someone To Watch Over Me”.

Scofield always had this a part of his sound. It is certainly a part of his style, but you can actually find examples of most Jazz players using bends, it is just not as big a part of their vocabulary and not something that happens every other phrase.

As I mentioned earlier then you most commonly hear this in Blues phrases, like this example with Barney Kessel –  BARNEY EXAMPLE  or here with Kenny Burrell – BARNEY EXAMPLE

Both are soloing on a Blues and using blues vocabulary which of course is a part of Jazz.

So it is in there and it always was, but it is not something you use all the time. I think there are 3 possible reasons why bending is not so common in Jazz.

#1 Jazz Melodies Are Different!

You want to keep in mind that string bending is primarily used in blues phrases, and it is not a technique you would use for the Bebop lines, let me show you what I mean:

In the Blues, bends are used more on sustained notes or when notes are repeated.

But Bebop vocabulary is not about long notes or repeated notes so the effect of bending is not as powerful. The point is that you want to clearly hear that gradual move in pitch. Another thing is that for Jazz lines, connecting and locking in with the groove is more important where Blues melodies often will float more freely on top of a very clear groove.

Example of floating Blues Lick?

Try to listen to this short phrase where you can hear that the melody uses more notes, has more direction and tension, and is a lot lighter with a more syncopated rhythm.

It is a completely different type of melody, and playing syncopated rhythms more freely floating just means that you lose what is nice about them being syncopated.

I don’t know if I need to mention this, but the difference between Jazz and Blues is not really about one being better than the other, this is just that they are different and what makes Jazz Jazz and Blues Blues.

It Is Bending Too Slow For Bebop?

If you were to try to add bends to an 8th note line then it is fairly clear that bending is not a very efficient way to produce a note compared to legato, slides, and the other techniques used in a phrase, and for Bebop then speed and efficiency is certainly a factor.

Maybe you can see that from the opening phrase of Donna Lee. You could choose to play the trill in the beginning of the melody with a bend:

But it is a lot of extra motion for the left hand so it is not very efficient to get to work in a Bebop line compared to a normal legato trill.

Another thing that is also worth mentioning is the guitars and I am sure they were certainly also a factor.

#2 The Guitars and Pickups

Evolution of sound: Acoustic, Jazz Guitar + Amp – Solidbody with effects – Guitar into Laptop

If you think of how Jazz guitar sits in the history and development of Jazz then it was mainly used from Bebop and on, and the instruments that were used at that point were archtop guitars with fairly heavy strings and some sort of early single coil pickup like a p90 or a Charlie Christian pickup.

This type of guitar sounds great but, similar to an acoustic guitar, does not have a lot of sustain, which again fights a bit against a technique like bending that works better if the note keeps ringing and doesn’t fade out before you have hit the pitch you want.

I think you can also sort of hear this in how T-bone walker, who also played a hollow body guitar, often repeats notes when bending almost like he tries to find a way to compensate for that.

Again, it makes sense to compare Jazz to Bluegrass where the acoustic guitars have a similar sound without a lot of sustain. In Bluegrass, the soloing style is also relying on more dense and active melodies weaving through the changes and not long notes with vibrato. The gear really does often shape the style of music, by now modern styles of guitar music really incorporates recording and studio effects as much as real gear like amps and effects to shape the sound. In a way, it is an evolution from acoustic to adding more and more ways to shape the basic sound.

There was another thing that we don’t talk about that much, but it most likely also played a fairly big role besides the guitar though.

#3 You Don’t Want Feedback

You might be thinking that even with a single coil pickup you can get more sustain, which is certainly true for a tele or a les paul with p90s where you can turn up the amp to get more compression and therefore also more sustain, but If you have ever played a hollow body with a p90 like this one, then you also know how much trouble you can get with feedback which can get completely out of control. In the 40s and 50s when the basic Jazz guitar style was evolved then most amps just had a volume knob and some sort of simple EQ. This limits how loud you can go with an instrument like that and if you want to play the amp so loud that it starts compressing and gives you more sustain then you are most likely going to be at a volume where you are spending more time trying to mute the strings and keeping the guitar in a direction away from the amp so it doesn’t go crazy with feedback.

I am curious about which reason you think was more important, maybe it is something I didn’t mention at all? You can let me know in the comments.

It Is Not Jazz, It is You!

A completely different reason for why it feels like bends are not allowed in Jazz has nothing to do with Jazz, because it could also be that you show up to a Jazz Jam session and want to play the blues licks you have in your fingers over the standards, which I imagine will not go down too well.

Before I start explaining why the way I teach Jazz sort of leads away from string bending there is something else that is maybe also worth understanding, especially if you were one of the people asking the question.

Does AC/DC Need Synthbass?

The first few times that I had students or people on the internet asking me about this then I was pretty surprised by the question, simply because it wasn’t something I had ever thought about. I guess that also has to do with how you approach the music.

When I got into Jazz then the main thing that drove it all was that I liked the music that I heard, and I was very curious about how to sound like that. That also means that I was not really concerned with what they didn’t do, only in figuring out what they were doing so that I could do that as well. If there was no tapping, bending, or delays then that didn’t matter. What interested me was how to sound like the music I heard. I especially remember this from hearing El Hombre, Pat Martino’s debut album.

The reason I mention this is because I suspect you will get that reaction more often, and it feels a bit like asking why there is no synth in AC/DC or BB king tapping licks. The music is fine as it is, and we can’t go back in time and change it.

Beginning Jazz Phrasing

When it comes to Jazz phrasing, and especially Bebop phrasing, then the fact that the vocabulary is about rhythm and syncopation also means that you start by letting people play shorter notes. That is also what you hear if you go back to the phrasing of swing which is the origin of Bebop.

Pat Martino playing the Benny Goodman piece, Seven come eleven is also an example of this. Phrases end are ending on an off-beat and the last note is short to make it clear that it is syncopated. Often when you come from especially Blues then it is less important to stop the notes and you let every note in the melody ring out. When you start playing Jazz then you need to learn to take control of the length of the note and really choose when to play long notes. Bending is just not that effective if you play a lot of fast short notes.

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The Basic Jazz Chords That You Can Expand into Amazing Sounds

Wouldn’t it be great if you had some Jazz Chords that are easy to play so that you can use them to play songs and progressions? Something that also works as a starting point for a lot of beautiful grooves like Bossanovas, and chords & Walking Bass.

You do actually have chords like that. They are called Shell-voicings and they are great for playing a lot of things, they can teach you about harmony and you can expand them to make it easier to learn some more complicated jazz sounds.

What is a Shell-voicing

Shell voicings are called this because they are 3-Note versions of 7th chords. A 7th chord is of course 4 notes, 1, 3rd, 5th and 7th and for the shell voicings we leave out the 5th:

And you can place them in a very clever way on the neck. For a Cmaj7 you have two versions:

C E B with the root note on the 5th string

and the one where you have the root note on the 6th string and flip around the 3rd and 7th: C B E:

 

Notice that this splits the strings so that the root note is on the 5th and 6th strings. The core sound of the chord, so 3rd and 7th are on the middle strings, and you have the top strings free so that you can later add extensions and alterations or use that for the melody in a chord melody arrangement.

You can probably hear this is going to go places.

Exercise #1 Play songs

How do you practice these? The first exercise is to just learn some easy and common chord progressions and then use those to start playing songs. Anything that you practice and don’t put to use in a song is probably a waste of time, and practicing finding chords for a Jazz standard is a great exercise for so many reasons, since it is music, fretboard knowledge, harmony and theory

The chords I am going to cover here are:

And actually, some of them are the same shell-voicing which is a bit strange but you’ll see how that works later (highlight m6 = dim and m7(b5) = m7)

Let’s start with a basic II V I which is sort of the core progression to know in Jazz. Just like the maj7 chord you have two versions, starting on the 5th string:

and starting on the 6th string:

Like this, you can already start playing songs like Satin Doll. If you don’t know it then maybe check out the Joe Pass version which is pretty amazing.

Playing The Chords of Satin Doll!

The song is mostly II V progressions, so first you get the II V in C major, which is repeated

then you get a II V in D major twice using the same way of playing the chords.

Next, you have a II V in G major and Gb major and it sounds better to stay in the same area of the neck so here you can use the other version, before resolving to Cmaj7.

Rhythm And Groove

Of course, there is more to it than just finding the chords and playing the right notes: We need some rhythm and groove in there as well,  but luckily shell-voicings naturally are split between the root note and the chord,

 

so you can add groove to it by splitting those two and create rhythms like this:

Exercise #2 diatonic chords

Besides playing songs then a great way to explore any chord voicing is to take it through a scale. In that way, you learn some of the other chords that goes with it and i’s a great way to find new voicings.

This exercise is useful for knowing your scales and your diatonic chords, which is very important, but there is one weird spot.

For the 5th string Shell-voicings you can move them through C major like this:

And you want to try this in different keys, the other string set, and also other scales like melodic and harmonic minor

What about the other chords?

With the Diatonic chords in major then we have maj7, m7,dom7th and also m7b5

But with the m7b5 you can see an example of how shell-voicings can sometimes be a bit unclear, because

Bø and Bm7 are the same shell-voicing and that is because the shell-voicings leave out the 5th of the chord, so you can tell if it is a perfect 5th or b5th. Luckily your ear will fill in the right notes from the context most of the time.

This happens with two other, even more, different chords as well:.check out the first part of the beautiful Bossanova: Corcovado, played with Shell voicings:

Here I am really just playing the same shell voicing moved down one fret when I go from

Am6 which is A, F# C

G#dim which is G# F B.

Here it is again the 5th of the chord that makes the difference. If you look at this with the chords both having the root A, then

Am6 is A C E F#

A dim is A C Eb F#

so if you play shell voicing, and leave out the 5th, then you are playing the same chord, but again the context will tell you and when you play Corcovado then it doesn’t sound like you go from Am6 to Abm6.

Now we have all the chords except one: The Maj6.

But that is really easy. If you can play a Cmaj7

and then find the maj7th and replace that with a 6th then you have this:

and the other version is this

As you will see in a bit then using the Cmaj7 and the C6 together works really well, but there is another great sound that I use shell-voicings for really a lot:

The Joe Pass Groove – Chords and Walking bass

Shell-voicings are great for playing chords and walking bass mainly because when you play 3-note chords with a bass note then it is a lot easier to play a solid walking bass line.

I can’t start explaining bass lines in this video, but I will link to a video that shows that in the video description. Before I get into adding extensions then I want to look at another important groove to check out.

Bossanova – Beautiful Rhythm

 

One of my favorite grooves that has become a huge part of Jazz is Bossanova and shell-voicings are great for this because you can play the chord and the bass note.

This works especially well when the bass note is on the 5th string, because you can go easily get to the other lower 5th on the 6th string, and if the root is on the 6th string then you just repeat that note.

This sounds great on a song like Girl From Ipanema:

Making The Harmony Interesting

As you have seen then until now, it has been about two of the string sets containing the chords and the bass, but there is also a lot to be done on the top strings.

When it comes to playing Jazz chords then it is important to keep it practical and playable, but for a lot of the shell-voicings it is pretty easy to add extensions and color, just by looking at what is close by on the next higher string.

So if you have a basic II V I like this.

then you can add a 9th to the Dm7, a b13 to the G7, and a 9th to the Cmaj7, just by checking what is available on the B string, and that will give you this:

This is of course something you can take a lot further, but it is actually also the way you get started making chord melody arrangements and you can check out this video if you want to explore the beautiful harmonizations that you can create by making your own chord melody arrangements.

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How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

I think that the most beautiful way to work with Jazz harmony is to work on chord melody, the type of playing you hear from Barney Kessel and Joe Pass where the melody is used as a foundation that you can add amazing chords to,  but you do need to work on it the right way to really get all the benefits, You don’t want to just play something from paper trying to make your way from chord diagram to chord diagram. You want to explore all the amazing colors and embellishments that you can add to the music.

I sort of stumbled my way into chord melody, and weirdly enough the first song I ever made a chord melody arrangement of was actually a song that I don’t really like, and when I made it I had never heard of Barney Kessel and Joe Pass who later became my main inspirations for this.

My First Chord Melody Arrangement

I was finishing a stay at a folk high school, which is really a Danish thing, a type of boarding school for adult education.  I had spent 8 months practicing and trying to learn Jazz after getting my bachelors degree in Mathematics at the university. I wasn’t very far in learning, but having the time to practice and play with others for that long was of course incredibly useful, and it was a part of what I used to prepare for getting into a school to get a degree in Jazz performance, which I did in The Hague a few years later

It was in June and I was sitting outside in the sun practicing, something that I am sure that you can tell that I don’t do often. A few months earlier, I had bought a real book which at the time was an incredible source of information since this was before the internet and online resources, it was all books and cds, and I hardly had any when it came to Jazz, in fact, the only thing I had was the real book and 5 or 6 jazz cds, which were mostly Scofield and a little Charlie Parker.

During my stay, when we played, a friend of mine always wanted to play Misty, because he had a Dexter Gordon version of that song that he really liked. I was bored with the arpeggios and scales, so I started flipping through the real book looking at the songs when I saw Misty in there, so I decided to play that. My favorite maj7 voicing at the time was the basic root position maj7 (Cut in – Incredibly Hip and Advanced, I know….)  and when I played through the chords then I realized that the melody was the top-note of that chord in the first bar. And this really made some things click for me.

At the time, I had heard people play chord melodies, especially Scofield and Wes Montgomery, but I hadn’t thought about doing that myself, then I realized that it could be fun to try and do that with this song which I had already played the chords of many times though I didn’t know it by heart.

Getting Started

I was of course lucky, that there were two things I already had going for me:

I could read music well enough to figure out how to play the melody,

and I was aware that I needed to transpose the melody up an octave which also makes it easier to put a chord under it.

Harmonizing The Song – First Rule

Misty doesn’t really follow one of two the things that I usually tell students to do when making their own chord melody arrangement, which is: Play the melody on the two top strings.

The reason for saying this is of course that if you can play the melody there then it is a lot easier to find chords to put under it.

For the first phrase you have a pick-up and a long note:

It works great with the Ebmaj7 chord, and later in the video, I will show you some nice suspensions you can add here on that long note, because there are a lot of beautiful options. As you can see then already the next phrase has a Bb which is of course not possible to play on the B string and there are quite a few notes in the melody that are lower than B. Luckily there is a fix for that.

Harmonizing The Song – Second Rule

The other advice that I give is to only add chords on beats 1 and 3 in the beginning, just to make it easier to play and also to make the harmony clear when the chords change. This makes Misty a lot easier since the melody moves around really a lot but only adding a chord in the important spots makes it a lot simpler.

That is clear already in the next phrase:

or

or better

There are two things you want to notice here:

As I said, just playing a chord on the heavy beats sounds great, and Shell-voicings are very useful because most of the time you can easily add a shell-voicing under a melody note or even just use the shell-voicing as I do here on Bbm7 and Abmaj7.

And that is lucky because the next part has an even more busy melody with the arpeggio as a pickup.

You also want to notice that I am using an Eb7 shell-voicing, but adding an extra note on the B string to make it a complete Eb7(9,13).

You don’t have to do that, but in this case, it is an easy way to add an extension to the chord and you’ll see me do that again in the next example.

Know the Song & Understand The Harmony

What is happening in the song is pretty simple. You get a tonic chord, then a II V to IV and then it goes to IVm as a way to get back to the tonic.

This is very common in Jazz standards so recognizing that, is very useful and will make a lot of songs easier to turn into chord melody arrangements. Knowing what is happening in the chord progression also gives you a lot more options for what will work in terms of changing the chords, so that you can add passing chords, and much more. I’ll show you later in the video.

The first Abm7 is played as a bar chord, and again you could just play the shell-voicing and the melody, but adding the 5th is practical and also sounds great.

If you want to think about this in visual terms then I am seeing the melody and the shell-voicing, and I know that adding the 5th is also an option so I do that.

In general, this is about knowing how chords are constructed, and when you work on harmonizing a melody like this then you are really developing your flexibility and knowledge with Jazz chords.

Just reading an arrangement and trying to play that is nowhere nearly as useful because there you are not really getting better at working with the chords and the melody and choosing how it should sound. You are just trying to read a piece of music and a harmonization that somebody else made which is like reading a transcription vs improvising your own solo. It is really something else.

But before you start interpreting the harmony, it is useful to have a basic arrangement similar to what I made on that summer day.

Don’t Limit Yourself To Chord Systems

The next part of the melody is emphasizing the 3rd of 4 chords in a row:

To return to my original take on this song: I hadn’t learned any systems for jazz chords, I just looked at the note I played on the guitar and tried to find a voicing that would fit. I already knew (Ebmaj7 and Cm7)

so that is what I used, and together with Shell voicings for the Fm7 and Bb7 then you have:

You can see how it is still very useful to only play the Fm7 on beat 1 and then be free to skip down and play the C, without having to add a complete chord there. It would not be impossible, but this is a lot easier.

A Better Turnaround

From here the Real book suggested a Gm7 chord, and I don’t remember what I played exactly but instead you can also use a Db7 in the turnaround which sounds a lot better. (voice over ex 6)

or

With a bit more color on the other chords that is going to give you:

 

You probably already noticed that the melody has quite a few long notes and also some places where notes are repeated, and that opens up for some interesting chords, which is of course way beyond my original harmonization. So let’s make it a bit more exciting.

A Cure For Boring Chords

The first chord with the maj7 in the melody can easily be a bit boring because it stands still, but it is a great place to add some surprising sounds:

The original sounds like this:

but a common version is to turn that into a diminished suspension with a #IV dim chord, so A diminished. In this case that actually becomes a D major triad over an Eb bass note because of the melody

You could also use a #5 as a tension that resolves later in the bar to keep things moving.

Or even this Lydian augmented chord with both a #11 and a #5

Another option is the Barry Harris 6th dim suspension and that would be this Ddim over Eb:

But coming from a Bb7, I don’t find that super strong.

You can look for tricks like this using both theory, and scales and even also just experiment with moving notes in the voicing. If you start just changing the chord then it can later be worthwhile to figure out what is actually going on so that you can use it in other songs as well.

More Than One Melody

Another thing that you can start to explore is to decorate the chords with other melodies inside the chords. A very common and beautiful option is to use this line cliche:

Where the II V I almost becomes a stairway to heaven quote.

If you split up the 3rd and 7th of the Abmaj7 and insert a 9th in there then you have this more colorful voicing:

and that means that you can add this nice move on that chord where the 9th and 7th move to the root and maj76th:

And you only find stuff like this if you are really making your own harmonizations and mess around with the chords when there is room for it.

Joe Was Good At Guitar, Be Like Joe

It can be useful to keep in mind is that these arrangements should not be set in stone and never changed. Give yourself the freedom to mess with them when you play because that is also what will help you discover a lot of things and not just play something like reading a classical composition.

And this also brings me back to Barney Kessel and Joe Pass, because they both are pretty open and harmonize things on the fly when they play, and that sometimes means making it simpler to keep it flexible but it also really opens up for making the song more your own.

The Easiest Passing Chords

Another way to add movement is to add extra chords to the progression so that there is more happening. On a II V then walking up the scale in diatonic chords can work very well, and in bar 4 that gives you something like this:

Which is just filling in the chords between Abm7 and Db7.

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3 Stupid Mistakes You Should Avoid When Learning A Jazz Standard

I had started really spending time practicing scales and arpeggios and even gotten them to where I could use that in my solos and could go beyond just playing pentatonic licks, but the first time I tried to learn a Jazz Standard, I failed completely, and was pretty much, doing Everything wrong.

A the time I had no idea what a Jazz Standard was, and if I had known that they were mostly songs written for musicals in the 30s and 40s then I would probably have run away screaming

My introduction to this was also a bit odd, and this is really the story about me being clueless and fumbling around in the dark while making every possible mistake., and hopefully helping you avoid that.

At the time I was still studying mathematics at the university, and I was hanging out with a bass player friend of mine that I knew from high school. I hadn’t seen him for a few years and we were jamming and improvising. Because we were improvising he told me about Jazz and played me some fusion albums.

I was not really impressed with the fusion stuff, it sounded like instrumental pop music with chorus on the whole album to me. The music I was listening to at the time was more blues-based and really not produced like the 80s fusion was. At the same time, I was still really curious to learn and to try to play Jazz because I wanted to become better at improvising. That part fascinated me because improvising was what I had the most fun doing when I was playing in rock bands, which I did next to studying at the university, and I was quite lucky that I played in bands where I had a lot of space to improvise like that (especially given how bad I probably was at it). I had been checking out some Satriani and Steve Vai, but when I realized that they were not improvising their solos then I lost all interest in their music and went looking for other stuff. It took a long time until I started to appreciate their playing, it is strange how pretty random things can influence our taste, I somehow also ignored that a lot of the rock bands that I listened to did not really improvise either.

Luckily Johan, the bass player, had an Aebersold album that I could borrow so that I could try to learn to play. If you don’t know what an Aebersold album is, then it is a book with sheet music for some songs and backing tracks for all those songs which is great to practice with if you know how to read and interpret a lead sheet.

 

At that time I had never listened to Jazz and the only Jazz song I had played was Mood Indigo where I had managed to teach myself a G7(b13) chord,

but I had absolutely no idea what to do with all the chords in that book, the most Jazzy song I had improvised on was probably T-bone Walker’s Stormy Monday which is still just a 12 bar-blues.

 

I started listening to the Aebersold cassette and the first song was Green Dolphin Street. Of course, I only had the backing track so I listened to the groove in the bass intro (which was a bit confusing) and especially the chords which sounded amazing with a lot of colors and it was moving around in ways I wasn’t used to which I found really interesting. I immediately set out to try and learn to improvise over that song.

Listening To The Song

If you want to learn a song then one of the first things you want to do is to listen to the song, that seems obvious. When I am working on a song then I usually check out several versions and also try to figure out what the “famous” versions of that song is.

But I was in the situation that I had ONLY the backing track album, and this was in 1994 without any Spotify, YouTube or iTunes then I had no idea how people played the song. Remember that I had no experience with listening to or playing Jazz, and the only source of music I had available was the library where it was hard to find specific songs if you did not know what album it was on or who had recorded it, which is really a pity because the Coltrane/Miles versions of this song would probably have been really cool to check out and would have made the whole thing a lot easier.

Learning the Melody

From the Aebersold book, I could spell my way through the melody, even though Eb was not exactly a key I felt familiar with. I might have had an advantage because I had been playing with my guitar tuned down a half step, just like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and I had had to sometimes play in fairly odd keys because of that when I was playing with other people, but reading the melody of the song was certainly a challenge and something that I could at most spell my way through. This meant that I did not spend a lot of time on it, since that was anyway not what I wanted to do, I wanted to improvise, I wanted to solo on it.

What I did not know was that, If you want to learn to improvise over a Jazz standard then one of the first things you want to learn is the melody. The two main reasons for this are:

#1 The Melody is what you use to hear the harmony

So you hear the melody note and from that note, you hear the rest of the chord that is around it,

that is much easier than hearing 4 beats of Cm7, just try…

#2 The Melody is what gives you the form

Instead of counting bars while you play you hear the melody as a guide through the form so you don’t get lost.

Not having the melody internalized made that VERY difficult, mainly I then had to count to keep track and the chord progression, which was anyway completely new to me. I had never heard of a II V I or a III VI II V anyway. I actually think that I could have gotten a lot further if I had learned the melody first and if someone had told me to do that, but nobody did, so I tried to count and keep track while I was improvising, which was a very poor strategy.

Modal Improvisation And Scales Sucks for Changes

What really drew me to Green Dolphin Street was probably that it had the A part with shifting maj7th chords that sounded both complex, surprising, and still pretty smooth or natural, and that was also what felt was the easiest to solo on, or rather possible to solo on.

That part of the song feels more “modal” and is not really a typical jazz progression. The 2nd 8 bars with the two II V I progressions with an altered dominant were impossible. I didn’t know what a II V I was, so I certainly had no vocabulary for that, and altered dominants were also pretty far out of my reach even if I knew what scale it was.

The way I had been taught to improvise at this point was to look at the chord progression and then figure out what scale to use and play something with that scale.

The skill of really spelling out changes was not something I was really aware of, and combining that skill with a chord progression so that your solo would flow through the changes was also not something I had heard of. Everything was per chord, and not about playing specific chord progressions. The other approach I knew was to have one scale that fitted the entire song and just use that, but I could not find a scale that had an Ebmaj7, a Gbmaj7, a Fmaj7, and an Emaj7 chord in there….

I could barely figure out what to play on the chords and had no idea how to tie together those melodies then 200 bpm is pretty fast! Those parts of the song were mostly just crash and burn, and often I would get completely lost trying to count and just play something.

This is really why you want to learn some vocabulary and also work on soloing over specific progressions like II V I and turnarounds, which will then give you much better tools to handle blocks of chords within songs, it isn’t just one scale per chord, and knowing the building blocks of turnarounds and cadences helps you hear what is going on. That way you are moving towards improvising more freely over the progression.

The Weird Paradox Of Difficult and Easy

The way I learned to improvise using chord scale relationships, is not that uncommon, and it is also sort of a logical next step if you deal with shorter progressions where you don’t have too many chords. Often that means that the first songs you are given by a teacher are modal, so different chords next to each other with no really harmonic connection. Songs like Cantaloupe Island or So What are typical examples.

This way of learning improvisation is useful because the songs are easier to play over, you don’t have to think about a million chords, scales, and arpeggios, but they do have a problem if you want to later play songs like Standards and Bebop Themes.

Jazz as a language was not developed by playing over a static chord for a long period of time. It was developed by improvising over Jazz standards which have faster-moving progressions, and a part of the language is how the solo incorporates those chords into the lines. You need to learn to think ahead and also to play a melody that spans several chords.

That is difficult if you are trained to think about everything one chord at a time and not have an overview of several chords in one phrase. In that way, the modal pieces don’t really help you get better at playing faster moving progressions since the chords don’t move in the same way as they do with Standards and you are not working on what connects the two chords.

At the same time, it can be really useful for a beginning improviser to work on a modal piece because it helps develop a sense of period (so feeling the bar, and the 4-bar periods) and a lot of modal progressions have really surprising chord changes that are easier to hear so that you don’t get lost when you play because you can easily hear what is going on.

This can be much more complicated with a Jazz standard. So there are pros and cons to learning modal pieces in the beginning that you might want to be aware of, but of course mainly if you aim to learn to also play Jazz standards.

My Aebersold backing track was clearly way too fast for me to play over it, and in this first attempt at learning a Jazz standard then I did not sit down and make my own slower and clearer backing track which is what I did later, just recording me playing the chords, but there is a funny side effect to practicing slowly when it comes to Jazz.

Practicing Slowly – The Wrong way

Any song that you play slowly enough becomes modal. You can easily try, just play a II V I but make each chord 4 or 8 bars long, and then you will hear how the forward motion of the progression disappears. This is also how The 2nd Miles Davis quintet made songs like Stella by Starlight and My Funny Valentine into modal pieces: slowing them down so that the function of the harmony disappears.

So when you want to practice slowly on a Jazz standard, then maybe it is not about taking the tempo too far down that will work against you because you can’t hear the flow of the harmony which is as important if you want to develop your jazz skills. Instead, you can slow other things down so that you internalize the harmony and learn to improvise over the chords. I have other videos on improvising with chord tones and in my course, I even reduce that as a starting point before gradually helping you develop your playing so that includes arpeggios, scales, chromatic phrases and octave displacement.

Another important aspect is to focus on the short chord progressions that are the building blocks of a Jazz standard progression. That is what makes it both easier to remember the chords and also what will make it easier to improvise over them because you have those shorter building blocks in your ears and in your fingers.

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Is Reading Music Important For Learning For Jazz?

Joe Pass couldn’t read music

Wes Montgomery didn’t know music theory

Guthrie Govan never used a metronome

John Abercrombie didn’t transcribe other people’s solos

Barry Harris never studied modes

So if I want to be better than Joe Pass, Wes, Guthrie, John Abercrombie, and Barry Harris then I should:

Not read any music, learn theory, never use a metronome, and not learn other people’s solos or study modes!

Be Careful With Advice From Anecdotes

As you can probably hear then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use an anecdote or a myth as a way of planning your practice and figuring out if something is useful for you.

Simply because the fact that someone else didn’t do something doesn’t mean that not doing that will be useful for you.

You are a completely different person, probably in a different time and with different resources available.

99% of the time I hear these statements used to either make someone sound like a “magic” talent or as an excuse for not practicing something that requires work.

Making artists “magic” is fine if you want to, but thinking like that also means that you are already giving up on learning to play like them or that you think you are magic as well. It doesn’t strike me as a fantastic strategy.

The same goes with using this as an excuse, if Wes Montgomery can’t read music then I don’t have to. but keep in mind that you are NOT Wes or Joe Pass. And Joe Pass not being able to read music does not mean that he was sitting looking at YouTube and commenting “got tabs?” or looking up chords in books with diagrams.

He learned things by ear which is something he trained his whole life.

What you really want to evaluate is whether learning to read music or any other skill, is going to be useful for you. It is not really about Wes or Joe Pass. It is about what you need to learn and what helps you the most.

The argument I will make for why you can benefit from learning to read music is probably different from what you normally hear, but I also think that it is much more powerful.

It Is SOOO Difficult!

I started with classical guitar, so everything was reading music for the first 4 or 5 years, but there was one aspect of it that I was not taught that is incredibly useful.  At the same time, I was reading all the music I was playing so it was never something that it felt like I had to work on that much since that was just how you played guitar.

Reading is often taught as a very mechanical process,  and the problem that guitar players usually have is that you can’t just point at a note in the sheet music and then say that is THIS note on the guitar, similar to a piano. On a guitar, you can play the same C in many places on the guitar, but maybe the focus for learning how to read music could be different. Maybe it should not be as much about how you play what is on the page but more about how it sounds.

I think it is much more useful to look at the page and then be able to hear what that sounds like, because if you know what it sounds like then you can also find a way to play it. This might sound even more difficult, but for a lot of music that is not as difficult as you might think. Reading music then becomes a part of ear training, and approaching it like that is probably one of the best ways to learn that will also help you with a lot of other things in your playing.

The way you do that is by learning to hear music based on the key it is in which you might discover is easier than you think, mainly because you probably already hear music in that way.

 

Let me quickly show you what I mean and then also translate that to the guitar.

Let’s say that we are in the key of C.

So you hear this as the root: C (play cadence)

This is the note that we hold on to and use to hear the rest of the notes.

With sheet music!

And if you hear C major then you can also hear the other notes, like you can hear a C major triad or notes from the C major scale.

Obviously, this will be something you partly already have and something you want to train and develop, but if you can read in a key like this, then if you have to play something almost only becomes a matter of knowing the scale of the key and then using that to play what is on the page.

Because that means that you can look at this:

And then you actually hear this:

MAY ALL THIS SECTION SHOULD BE REVISITED>>>Example with audio

And that is a very efficient way to learn music or internalize music, and the way music notation is made then it is a much bigger help than you think when it comes to this. This is really overlooked, and one of the worst examples of this is the Omnibook where everything is written out in C with accidentals, probably one of the things that annoys me the most in any Jazz education book.

If you want to have an impression about how that can work then try reading a song that you know in a key that you know.

Example Frere Jacques

You also need to be able to translate a written rhythm to something you can hear, so that a rhythm becomes something you can look at and then know the sound of. I am not going to get into that right now.

But hopefully, you can see how knowing the scale and being able to hear the notes in the scale will help you. There is another equally important thing to learn that is a little style-dependent, but which also makes things a lot easier.

First I think we need to discuss something else….

NOT Sight-reading

“but can you sight-read the black page backward on an Ab trombone”

I talked about this in a video a few years ago, and for some reason, people think that sight-reading is the same as being able to read music, which for the most part it probably isn’t, and I think it is useful to make the distinction between the two.

Just like anything else you have to play then you need to practice to play it. If you need to learn 40 pop pieces for a gig or if you need to learn the originals in a band, then you practice those songs. Sometimes you get the material as an audio recording and sometimes it is written out.

On a side note: It is NEVER written out in tabs, NEVER.

The goal is the same: You need to end up playing it convincingly on the gig, and if that means practicing what is on a page to get it to the point where you can easily play it and get it to sound right. In my experience, it is better to be good at preparing and really nailing your part compared to being good at sight-reading it mostly just because practicing towards really playing it to the best of your ability is just a better strategy than trying to be really good at surviving your way through it.

And it is a different process if you are working on reading music and trying to turn that into a solid performance with good phrasing and timing, instead of trying to become good at just superficially playing through songs you have never seen before. Approaching it like that is the same as trying to learn to solo by improvising with iReal and letting the app choose random songs without actually learning them, that is just way too superficial.

Chunks In My Music

Another useful connection when it comes to reading is that you want to learn to see the notes in a melody as a group of notes rather than reading everything one note at a time.

I guess that is about being able to recognize patterns in a written-out piece of music, but also linking how you probably think about what you play, how you analyze, and how you read.

Just like reading a text, t is much more efficient to read words compared to trying to spell everything. I think that is pretty obvious, and the better you get at recognizing the building blocks in the music when you read, the easier it will get. From a technical point of view, it also fits together very well if you read music in a key and you are able to play common building blocks like diatonic 7th chord arpeggios or triads. That is going to make the process of getting the notes off the paper and turning them into music A LOT easier.

What musical words you want to be able to recognize is of course style dependent, but for Bop-inspired Jazz then 7th chords, triads and inversions, chromatic enclosures, and octave displaced arpeggios are very useful. For other styles, you will have other words.

You Don’t Have To Learn To Read Music

Holdsworth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRJVhCLLCtw&t=1222s – 30:30

I don’t care if you want to learn to read, just to be completely honest. Lots of people have relied on using their ears instead of reading sheet music, as I was talking about in the beginning of the video.

In fact, I am not really that great at reading music myself, because it is not what I do the most, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t read. People always go to the extremes with this. You can either sight-read anything or you don’t know where the middle C is, there is nothing in between. There is a Holdsworth clinic somewhere where you see him get really annoyed that people think he is completely clueless with reading which he is obviously not.

But do keep in mind that knocking being able to read music and suggesting that tabs and diagrams are as useful is, in my opinion, just not true. You already saw how the notation ties in with how we hear and play music. Tabs and diagrams can never do that, and I am sure that you agree that these skills are essential to playing music and you can use reading as a way of improving them if you do approach it the right way.

 

Let me know in the comments what you think?

At the same time, I would not put reading at the top of the list if you want to learn Jazz. It is useful, also for communicating with other musicians and analyzing what is going on in the music, but learning solos by ear and playing music is more important. Spending a few minutes a day singing music and training your ability to hear a tonality is however not a waste of time, and maybe one of the most useful things you could do.

It Needs To Get Into Your Ear

“Just learn from the masters” is both the worst and the best advice you will get online. Learning solos by ear is a great way to both develop your ear, your phrasing and your vocabulary, but if you don’t get suggestions of places to start then learning a solo by ear can be almost impossible. If you have never learned to play a solo along with the album, then you are missing out, and it really doesn’t have to be that difficult! If you want some suggestions for easy but great solos to start with from Wes, Kenny Burrel, and George Benson, then check out this video!

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Jazz Chords – Drop2 is a Powerful Tool

I always loved playing Jazz Chords, mostly because you don’t just play the chord. You can change it and add your own colors and movement to it.

One of the most flexible types of chords for this is Drop2 chords., and once I started working on playing Drop2 chords then it felt like I could tap into a lot of new sounds. It opened a new world for me with comping and harmony.

In this video, I focus on how you can use drop 2 voicings on a standard and give you some rules that you can use to open up how you play chords because it is that process of taking chord symbols and then turning them into beautiful music that I find amazing, but, I  will also briefly explain what a Drop2 voicing is and why that isn’t very important, but we’ll get to that later.

Let’s first just go over a basic set of chords for the song.

The Basic Chords And What To Play

The song is in C major, and the first chord is a Cmaj7 chord.

For now, I am just showing you what I am using in this video, if you want diagrams of all the inversions and string sets, then you can download those on my website, but right now, the important thing is what you can do with this type of chord. And then. In the long run, it can be great to explore the inversions as well.

Then you have a II V in Eb, Fm7 Bb,

It is practical to stay in the same area of the neck,

then it is Back to Cmaj7

Notice that I am really just playing the basic 4 note version of each chord, so the voicings just contain root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th:

Cmaj7: G C E B

Fm7: Ab Eb F C

Bb7: Ab D F Bb

Then you get a II V I in Ab major: Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7

Another thing that you should always try to do is to think about the chords in small groups, so II V in Eb and II V I in Ab. That is much more flexible and makes it easier to learn songs by heart because you don’t have to remember as many details. I am going to show you quite a few ways of thinking about chords that are like this and incredibly useful for being creative with chords.

Next, you have a II V in G: Am7 D7

And a II V I in C major: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

For the turnaround I am just re-using the chords I already covered and adding a Db7.

Why Drop2 doesn’t matter

I think one of the most common questions I get whenever I talk about Drop2  is why it is called that and how they are constructed. Let me quickly show you why that isn’t that relevant for playing them.

Drop2 voicings are called like that because you take the 2nd highest note (Cmaj7 root position) and then you take that down an octave.

and you can play this in a much nice way like this (Cmaj7 drop2)

 

If you are playing chords then you have to know them, we don’t have time to think about what note is moving up or down an octave, and if you want to use drop2 voicings you need to have them in your fingers and your ears. Even if you are practicing the inversions then you don’t really think about how it relates to a closed voicing, so it is good to know but not something you really use while playing.

Let’s start putting the chords to use, because THAT is important, and that is what makes them great!

Rule #1 – Cmaj7 is also C6 and Cmaj7(9)

For “a Chord symbol is something you can interpret as” A Chord Diagram in Stone? (download cave painting and put2 chord diagrams on it)

When you play chords in Jazz then you improvise with the harmony. A Chord symbol is something you can interpret, it isn’t a static grip.

So when you see Cmaj7 then you are free to play

Cmaj7, C6, Cmaj7(9), Cmaj7(13)

And some of the other rules I will cover are about how you change the chords and add some of the more colorful extensions.

Now You can easily turn two bars of Cmaj7 into something much more interesting even add a bit of chromatic magic:  (Cmaj7 and C6 with Bb passing note

When you have all these options then you can also tell why I often just write the basic chord and don’t really spend time on the extensions. That is up to whoever is playing the chords

Rule #2 – 9th Instead of Root And Some Chord Relationships

When it comes to adding extensions to a 7th chord then one of the first ones to add is probably a 9th. For voicings with 4 notes then you need to play the 9th instead of something else, and in this case, the root is the obvious choice because it is right next to the 9th and the bass player is anyway taking care of the root.

I’ll demonstrate this with two chords and show you a useful connection at the same time: The basic Cmaj7 and Fm7 are

B-roll: sheet music replacing the diagrams and tabs

And the Root for Cmaj7 is here, so making that a D is giving us this Cmaj7(9).

On the Fm7 the root is on the B string and replacing it with the 9th gives you this:

Getting Out Of The “Grip” Of The Chord

It might seem like you have to learn even more chords to also have a Cmaj(9) and an Fm7(9), but if you look at those chords then notice that one is an Em7 voicing and the other is an Abmaj7 voicing

This is because:

Cmaj7 – C E G B – replace the C with D – D E G B which is Em7

and

Fm7 – F Ab C Eb – replace F with G – G Ab C Eb which is Abmaj7

Personally, I don’t like thinking other chords than what I am hearing, so I don’t want to think of that as an Em7, and I have become used to thinking of it as something that is both a Cmaj7(9) and an Em7 depending on what I hear in the music. But maybe that is different for you. I find it confusing to have these extra steps in between and I don’t want to think about stuff. You probably want to figure out what works for you with this.

Here you can also move with passing notes and create some beautiful movement, in fact, it works great to move both the 9th to the root and the 7th to the 6th on a maj7 chord:

The next extension that you want to add to a chord is a 13th, so let’s go over that.

Rule #3 – 13th instead of 5th

The basic chords work the best if you keep the 3rd and the 7th in the chord. If you take the Bb7:

Example (+adding examples of Bb7(9) )

For now, the root is used to get the 9th in the chord, so the next note to work with is the 5th.

You can replace the 5th in the chord with the 13th. This works great on dominant chords:

And the same process for the Eb7 can transform that into an Eb7(9,13).

The basic chord, the 9, and then the 9 and the 13.

Example Eb7 Eb7(9) Eb7(9,13)

With this you can create more movement on the II V I in Ab major by also adding the 9th to the Bbm7:

There is also a rule that sounds amazing for minor chords, I’ll get to that in a bit.

Getting Caught In The Grip of Chords

B-roll: G major, campfire, different bar chord options

When you are first learning chords then you learn a grip and that is how that chords sound, later you realize that there might be more ways to play that chord, but for Jazz, I would take that a bit further.

As you can probably tell, then you should not be thinking of these chords as different isolated things, they are more like a group, of chords. A set of options that I can use to make music. This is not so different from how you think about a scale or an arpeggio when you improvise and choose notes to put together in a solo line.

B-roll: Text Cmaj7 in sheet music, zoom in, and add different diagrams around it while blurring out the other chords.

Rule #4 – 11th instead of 5th

As you saw earlier, then you can replace the 5th with a 13th, but sometimes it is more useful to replace it with an 11th, which is a way to get a #11 on a maj7 chord and also have a very useful sound for m7 chords.

If you take the Fm7(9) that you already learned earlier in the video

then the 5th is the C on the high E string, and you can replace that with the 11th of F: Bb like this:

Besides being a beautiful chord this also gives you the chance to create some contrary motion in a II V which is when some voices move up and others down when going from chord to chord:

And using this to create a maj7(#11) is also really simple

Here’s a Cmaj7 and the 5th, G, is the lowest note in the voicing, so that becomes an F#, the #11:

And combining this with the Fm7 Bb7 you can get some cool sounds like this:

Simple Melodies – The Most Important Rule

When you are playing chords behind a soloist then it is incredibly important that you don’t get in the way of the soloist.

One of the ways to make melodic comping that does not get in the way is to focus on stepwise movement in the melodies. This ties together chords very well, and luckily is also a lot easier to play than skipping around.

It can also be a powerful tool to use short melodies that repeat through the changes creating a riff that the soloist can play over:

 

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The Real Secret About Chromatic Phrases And Great Jazz Licks

Chromatic Passing Notes are such a powerful part of the Jazz sound!

One of the few times that I had a guitar lesson that really blew my mind and opened up how I thought about music was before I was even interested in learning to play Jazz. In the lesson, my teacher showed me a way to use chromatic notes when I was improvising and that felt like I had just been given the secret power to use all the wrong notes, and still sound great! (EXPLOSION?)

Chromatic Phrases in Jazz

For Bebop-inspired Jazz, chromatic phrases and using chromatic notes is a huge part of the style, and, as you will see, it is one of the easiest ways to start getting that sound into your playing

The phrase he showed me was this:

Which is a great chromatic enclosure, and probably you are now asking what is a chromatic enclosure?

When it comes to using chromatic notes in your solos then there are two main ways you can do that.

Passing notes, which is a way to have a single chromatic note that resolves to a note in the scale or a chord tone

or longer chromatic phrases that approach a target note from above and below which is what we call Chromatic enclosures

Chromatic enclosures are great as short licks that you can combine with the scales and arpeggios in your solo to play lines that have a surprising element and really move forward.

They actually have an advantage over just adding chromatic notes, but I will get back to that later.

Let’s first check out some solid chromatic enclosures that you can easily add to your playing so that you can hear how powerful a tool they are for Bebop lines!

#1 Pat Martino

All enclosures have a target note, so the phrase is moving toward that note. (Pat Martino Enclosure) This enclosure is using a half step below and works better if you have a diatonic note a whole-step above the target.

When I was taught this I was told that it was from Pat Martino, but I don’t think I have ever heard it in any of his solos? But feel free to let me know in the comments if you know of a place where he uses it.

You can create a great line by combining it with an Am7 arpeggio:

And combining enclosures with arpeggios is a very solid strategy for making lines sound like Jazz!

You can also use the 3rd of the chord, C, as the target note and play that arpeggio giving you this:

I am sure you can hear how this is a fairly simple way to create some Bop lines that really work!

 

#2 Michael Brecker

Michael Brecker has some great chromatic phrases as well. This is a variation on one I took from one of his solos, and it is a great way to use a very dissonant note right on beat 1. I am combining the enclosure with the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord.

So if people tell you that you can’t put chromatic leading notes on the beat then play them this example. (Michael Brecker Enclosure) It is interesting that like this, the enclosure actually only has one chromatic note. but of course, in the end, a bebop line is about creating movement.

You can use it where more of the notes are chromatic because that works equally well if you use the root, A, as a target note and then you get this:

And as you can see, this phrase is really just built around playing the enclosure: ENCLOSURE and then playing the arpeggio ARPEGGIO.

Since you know the basic recipe then you can also start to try other things with how you play arpeggios and where you can put the enclosure, because there are so many great sounding options for this.

EDITOR JENS: I took this phrase from his solo on Confirmation, and I just went back and checked, and he actually plays it a little differently moving the rhythm, but this also illustrates how you need to make these things something you can use and a part of your sound.

Let’s try to use the enclosure a little differently in the line.

#3 Sonny Stitt

The reason I thought of this topic for a video was actually that I came across that first enclosure in a Sonny Stitt solo and thought it was worth showing you. This is a pretty common line, I have already talked about it in my video Doug Raney as well.

The enclosure is this:

What makes this an appealing melody is actually the interval skip in the middle as much as it is the chromatic leading note under the A, but maybe that is only me?

Using this together with an Am7 arpeggio, which is now played as a triplet gives you:

What Is So Amazing About Enclosures?

Melodies that just move in one direction are not as interesting as melodies that change direction.

and adding a single passing note rarely changes the direction of a melody, but adding an enclosure does. In that way, enclosures make your lines more surprising and interesting.

Barry Harris has a whole system for chromatic notes, which actually offers some really nice things as well. Let me know if you think a video on that would be interesting?

NOT only on the off-beat

In some lessons, you will hear that the chromatic notes are supposed to be on the offbeat and chord tones should be on the downbeat so that the chord is clear. That is actually not true, you are free to put them anywhere you want, but you do, of course, need to make it into a melody that makes sense.

The chromatic notes are there to create tension that then resolves back into the key and if you put them on strong beats then they just become stronger tension. Charlie Parker actually did this quite often, if you look at a part of his solo on Anthropology there are two very clear examples with a C# on D7 and an F# on Bbmaj7.

If he uses that, then so can you, so let’s go over an example that does exactly that:

B-roll: Picture from Omnibook

#4 Double Chromatic Enclosure

This enclosure is approaching the target note in half steps from both sides:

Which is often called a double chromatic approach.

And to make the line even more interesting then let’s combine it with a Pivot arpeggio. And Let me quickly show you what that is using a Cmaj7 arpeggio. A pivot arpeggio is an arpeggio where you play the root and then move the rest of the arpeggio an octave down.

And that will give you something like this:

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Jazz Chords – Easy To Advanced in 5 Levels

The most fun thing about Jazz chords and comping is that you can improvise with the chords and create your own sound in the song. But when you work on this then you need to get everything to work together:

Chords, Rhythm, and Melody!

That is what I want to show you in this video.

#1 Easy Jazz Chords To Great Jazz Chords

Let’s start with a basic set of chords that you can make a bit more interesting and then add some rhythm to. You probably know these already:

I already added some color to these chords, so the Dm7 has a 9th, and the G7 has a 13th, For now, the Cmaj7 is just a basic Cmaj7 chord

These already sound great and you can use them to play lots of songs, but we need them to be a bit more flexible, so let’s throw away the bass notes:

#2 Rhythm Is As Important

Now you have some more flexible chords to work with so the rhythm is the next thing to level up.

Here’s a solid riff you can use:

This demonstrates two important things  about comping rhythms:

First: Repeating rhythms is a very strong concept, it connects to the groove and is really comfortable for a soloist to play over, and actually it is a little bit overlooked for people wanting to play Jazz. It sounds amazing to just sit in the groove with the rest of the rhythm section

Second: When you think about rhythm then you want to think in longer periods, not just a single bar or even less. Here it is a 4-bar statement that is laying down the groove and then making a variation before the next 4-bar period starts. Comping is really about thinking like a drummer and playing the form, and in fact also locking in with the drummer when you play.

With some chords and more ideas about rhythm then you can add some melody to the progression, and you can do that in a few different ways.

#3 Melody and Fills (and more rhythm)

First. you want to just use melody in the chords and then later add fills in between the chords, and check out how this next example also uses another concept for the rhythm.

Let’s first look at the melodies. Here I am using the melodies that are the easiest to add to the chord, simply what I can reach on the top string which here is the B string:

So for Dm7 and for The G7 I have the same melody notes: – and for the Cmaj7 there are two:

The point here is that it should be easy to play, and you don’t need a ton of notes, in fact being too busy will probably just mean getting in the way.

The structure of the rhythm in this example is a mix of call-response and motivic development, so you have a call, then a response. Then I repeat the call and add a different response. When you listen to the rhythm, then try to really think of them as melodies because that is how you can make that a strong part of your playing, especially comping.

Before I start adding extra chords then let’s try adding some fills, so short melodies that are not played with the chords.

There are two ways you can use these:

#1 As melodies leading into or ending on a chord (slow b-roll)

#2 Or short melodies that just add something else in between chords (slow B-roll)

They sound like this:

The fills here have different functions in the music: The first one is a scale run, and really moving to the G7, where I am now using a 2-note version of that chord. The other is more used as a color or variation and is much more arpeggio based since it then sort of takes the place of playing a chord.

While fills often sound great they very easily get in the way of the soloist so you probably want to be a little careful with using them.

Why Don’t You Write G7(13)

I often get this question:

As you can see with fills and the melodies then the sound of the chord changes, sometimes there is a 9th sometimes there isn’t so it doesn’t really make too much sense to write extensions in sheet music unless you want to force the one playing the chords to use a specific sound. That is also why you mostly stick with symbols that demonstrate the basic version of the chord and then the rest is up to the taste and skills of the one playing chords.

Let’s look at a few ways you can change chords and add some extra chords to create a bit more movement.

#4 More Chords!

A great way to keep the chord progressions moving is to add some chords that have more tension and really pull towards a resolution.

This next example uses two ways of doing that.

You can add a chromatic passing chord. There are somewhat complicated theoretical explanations for this, but really it is just about looking at where you want to go and then take a chord that you can slide into that chord.

So if you want to go to this G7 then you can come from above like this: or you can slide up to the Cmaj7 like this.

Notice that I don’t put a name on the chords, and that is because that is not that important, they are just chords that you use to get to the main chord.

The other way that you can create tension is by altering dominants which makes them have more drive towards the resolution, like this:

And an example with chromatic passing chords and altered dominants sounds like this:

Two Ways To Think About Alterations

In this example, you see a G7(b13) on beat 4 of the 2nd bar, and here I am using the alteration as a way to play a chromatic leading note before resolving to the Cmaj7. When you do this then it doesn’t really influence the soloist to use a specific scale and force a different sound on the entire dominant, it’s really just a chromatic passing note. That’s one way to think of alterations on a dominant.

The other way you can use an altered dominant is to play it for an entire bar and really use that sound which also means that the soloist should also play a scale that fits with that. This is a different sound:

#5 Secret Melodies

Until now it has been about chords and the top-note melody, but there is another secret weapon, a beautiful way to add movement in your Jazz chords: Inner-voice movement.

Instead of having the top-note melody it can be nice to have simple melodies move inside the chord like this way of going from Dm7 to G7 with a chromatic enclosure inside the Dm7 chord:

And this also works incredibly well for a static Cmaj7 chord that otherwise can be a bit boring:

In context, that sounds like this:

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