A problem that comes up all the time with my students and Patreon supporters, and certainly also something remember from learning myself is that after a LOT of practice then you find yourself at a point where you know the scales and arpeggios, and you understand how that fits with the progression, but your solos still sound horrible!
But if focusing on playing the right notes is a mistake, then how do you fix this?
Clearly, something is missing, and you don’t want to only focus on the dry theory stuff, so in this video you can take a closer look at what great players like Barry Harris and Charlie Parker are doing, because then you can get started working on making it sound right, because some it is not about the notes.
#1 Bebop Energy
Good Jazz lines have a certain energy, this really comes from Bebop where there is a LOT of forward motion
Take a lick like this Barry Harris Line from his solo on “I’ll Remember April”:
It is pretty easy to hear that he is really playing from one chord to the next and has lines that move to a target note in the next chord.
In this case, I took an example where the targets are placed conveniently clear on the heavy beats of the bar. But you can open that up later.
This is from Live in Tokyo album which is really worth checking out. His playing is fantastic on this.
What you want to avoid is that your melodies have a lot of notes but are not going anywhere.
This is not a fantastic bebop line:
It doesn’t work because there is no direction, it is just moving back and forth and not really locking in with the flow of the chords.
You want to be able to make lines that move forward. You want to feel that the melody is going to hit the target note on the next chord. Your solo lines should feel like they are saying: “we’re on a mission from god” (Blues Brothers)
What do you need: If we take Barry’s II V I lick as an example then you can see that he is hitting chord tones on the heavy beat, and that is an easy way to get started. (Bring up his example with high lights)
The other thing that you need to get used to is knowing where the melody is ending and play towards that note.
Let’s say that you have a quick II V in C major and these target notes:
Now you want to make lines that go towards that note.
Dm7 to G7: You can run down the scale, super easy, barely an inconvenience!
To change things up a bit on the G7, we have 3 notes to get to Cmaj7 and you can do that by playing a Dm triad that naturally resolves down to the G on Cmaj7.
Then you have:
If you start practicing making lines that do this, then you will start to get more of that Bebop energy or momentum into your solos. Think of where you want to go, and play a line that gets you there.
#2 Notes With More Bebop Energy
The first thing to work on is something that I sort of skipped over the Barry Harris example. Notice how he uses chromatic notes to get more tension and in that way pull the melody forward. (Example with highlights?)
This can really help with the energy, and is a key part of the sound, I’ll show you more concepts like this later in the video.
Again it is something you probably want to mostly think of as moving to a specific note, and usually, that will also be a note in the chord at that point.
Check out how this Charlie Parker Lick from his solo on Cherokee is really pushing through to the resolution and has some great chromatic phrases as well:
It mostly makes sense to split these in two types: Single approach notes like these
The other type is a longer chromatic melody usually approaching the target note from above and below, which are called chromatic enclosures.
Adding this to your playing is really about learning to add chromatic notes and learning some chromatic enclosures that you then start to add to your lines, and the target notes for the chromatic phrases are often the chord tones that you would use as target notes in the line anyway.
An example of how you can do this with an enclosure on the Dm7 and two passing notes on the G7 sounds like this:
How Do You Practice Making Better Lines?
As you can tell by now, then I am showing you the concepts that are being used by Parker and Barry Harris. But how do you get those into your playing? If you want to play better lines or if you want to add a specific type of phrase into your playing, then you should work on writing lines.
This is not something that I made up, if you study Parker’s solos then he clearly has phrases that he uses a lot, and the Barry Harris masterclasses are really mostly about him showing the students how he composes solo phrases while breaking down the concepts he uses.
How it sounds
How you want it to sound
What is playable
And that is what you should do. If you want to become better at using F major triads over a Dm7 chord then write 50 II V I licks in C major that uses that triad. Then you cover the 3 most important parts of getting that into your playing: how it sounds and getting it into your ears, how you want it to sound, and what is playable. That way you can get it into your playing. You don’t need to always write it down, but it can be a good idea, especially if you want to figure out why something sounds good, or maybe if it sounds bad. I’ll show you how I do this later in the video.
#3 Arpeggio Motion
Now you have a better idea about how to create lines that move forward, but there are other ways to make your solo lines more alive, and they are actually easy to start using.
One way is to play arpeggios as triplets to add short rapid phrases to lines that are for the rest mostly 8th notes, this is really just about changing up the flow and create variation
Check out this Joe Pass line that does that in two ways:
Joe Pass is playing the arpeggios as 8th-note triplets, and here you have a Bbmaj7 arpeggio with a leading note, which leads nicely into an enclosure,
and later also an Am7 arpeggio that he plays as a triplet and use to target the note F.
Both techniques are very common ways to use triplets and can be applied to all chords. They are a great way to change up the flow and get to a target note. You also see Barry Harris using this in the example on the Gmaj7 chord, both using Bm7 and Gmaj7 arpeggios.
Practice playing your scales in diatonic arpeggios using these two recipes and then start using that in your solos.
But there is also another great device in this example that can help you break up the 8th note flow, especially if you have too many scale runs in your solos.
If you listen to the first part of the line then in the 2nd bar, Joe Pass plays a trill
which breaks up what is going on and stops it from just being a scale run, without it then you have this:
Joe Pass love using these, also often several after each, these are the kind of thing that you want to add to solos in the places where they are easy to play, simply because they are pretty fast and usually sounds the best if you can execute them with legato technique.
Barry uses them as well:
Here you have the trill leading into the root of F7, and this example illustrates another really powerful technique that I will get to in a bit as well, and I can use that to show how I compose lines to get something into my playing.
#5 Twist and Shout!
What I am talking about here is the first arpeggio in the line which is a pivot arpeggio, something that can really solve a lot of problems if your solo lines are very predictable and tend to just run up and down scales and arpeggios.
In this case it is an Ebmaj7 arpeggio over a Cm7 chord, so using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord.
The pivot arpeggio is constructed by taking an arpeggio:
And don’t underestimate how powerful it is to have a way to make large intervals melodic, because they can sound really unnatural in a line.
How You Improve Your Vocabulary
When you want to get better at using something like a pivot arpeggio then try to keep it simple when you are composing lines.
One Phrase (or arpeggio in this case)
One Chord to apply it to
One Way of playing it
You can so easily get lost in possible options, and it is not going to be nearly as useful if you do so.
If I use the Ebmaj7 pivot arpeggio and try to make a line that takes me from Cm7 to F7.
Try to get to A, as a target note on F7:
You could also target the high A by combining it with a Cm7 arpeggio
Maybe adding a trill to get to the F7
Or a chromatic enclosure:
The point is to play the pivot arpeggio and then see how you can put it together with the other stuff you know and turn that into a phrase that you like, essentially that is what Barry was doing in his soloing masterclasses by constructing great solos on songs. From there you can gradually start using it when you solo.
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