Bebop Without Scales And Why You Need This Skill

Bebop, but then without Scales.

What makes a great Bebop line is the flow in the melody that keeps it moving forward,  syncopated rhythms, and also that it is not too predictable or boring. It should surprise you as well. That is what makes it interesting to listen to and what makes it fun to play.

But usually, when we talk about playing Bebop then it quickly just becomes about scales, and that is not the only way to go about it, and probably also not the easiest way to get that right type of sound into your solos.

George Benson Gets It!

Let me show you what I mean with this George Benson lick, where the line on the II Chord is put together in a really clever way.

The trick is to not think about scales with lots of notes, but instead, use basic chord tones, in this case, the Gm triad, and then create a line by using melodies that naturally have that forward motion or flow that you want in there.

That makes your solo have a natural flow and, as you will see, it actually also helps you add some more interesting rhythm.

The George Benson line is really just a series of short melodies that create tension and resolve to the basic chord tones. First the 3rd, then the 5th, and then the root before adding two notes that take us to the next chord, C7.

This is put together around the basic Gm triad:

Amazing Lines With A Boring Exercise

So what you need to create melodies like this is a vocabulary of short melodies that resolve to the chord tones of the chord you are solo on. We have an exercise for that, and there is a good chance you already know this exercise but you never realized how powerful it actually is.

Let’s take a Dm triad:

And then you have this exercise where you add an enclosure around each note

To me, this always seemed an incredibly basic and actually pretty boring-sounding exercise, but you can make some pretty amazing lines with some really simple tools, as you will hear in a bit.

First, let’s go over one variation of the exercise that is good to also check out: turn around the enclosures. I’ll show you how important that is later. That sounds like this:

The Trick To Make Better Melodies

Just playing the exercise is not going to sound very inspiring, it quickly becomes boring and predictable, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get some great lines out of this approach:

And here the melody on the Dm7 chord is using the basic triad notes:

A F D A, really just a descending Dm triad, but then adding the enclosure before the F and also adding an enclosure that takes us to B, the 3rd of G7, so really helping with driving the solo line forward and keeping things moving.


Solving The 3 Problems with Scale Soloing

As you will see then this approach to making lines can solve 3 common problems with Bop lines, this first one was adding direction to the melody, but there are two other things that are a lot easier to get right with this approach.

A Single Chromatic Note And A Bonus

The previous example only used the enclosures but you can of course also just add a single chromatic leading note before a chord tone.

For a G7 that would give you this type of sound:

And that is something you can easily use in a line, and there is another bonus feature with this approach, which I will explain as well.


In this example, you have two places where there is a leading note: G# into A on Dm7 and the C# into the D on G7. You could also see the D# resolving to E as a leading note, but here it could also be heard as an enclosure with F and D# resolving to E on Cmaj7.

A problem that you often run into with scale based soloing is that everything is just running up and down the scale and if you try to add large intervals to the melody then they sound strange and unmelodic:

But if the melody is constructed of chord tones and then just adding phrases to those chord tones, then it is a lot easier to skip around and still get it to make sense.

In the example, you saw that on the Dm7 where there is a skip down to the 5th with a leading note, and again the same type of melody on the G7.

So when you are constructing the melody by putting together shorter melodies resolving to chord tones you have a much stronger strategy for adding melodic interval skips to your solos

Getting The Rhythm Right

When you are playing lines trying to nail the changes then you have to watch out that you don’t end up with heavy uninspired lines like this:

You need to have more inspiring rhythms happening, not just run up and down the scale from heavy beat to heavy beat.

Instead, this works a bit better:

And what makes the rhythm work better here is that the melody is put together from groups of notes that make sense for the chord but are not always falling or ending on the heavy beat.

The F stands alone, followed by the descending Dm triad with the enclosure around the first note. Then another enclosure takes you to G7 and a melody resolving to Cmaj7 on the 4&, so anticipating the heavy downbeat. Closing the phrase you have a melody that you can either see as based on a C major triad with an enclosure or a G major triad.

So working like this opens up how the rhythm of the melody flows and helps you hear melodies that are not only tied to beat one and three and helps you add syncopation to your solo.

Learn Some New Building Blocks

When you are working on getting better lines into your solos then it can be really useful to work on learning some new building blocks and start adding those to your vocabulary. Check out this video with 7 solid Bebop building blocks that you want to add to your solos

My 7 Best Jazz Licks with Only Four Notes

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