Challenge: Who Has The Most EPIC Jazz Chords (with Rotem Sivan)

Intros and Vamps With Beautiful Jazz Chords

At NAMM, amidst the clamor of the event, we retreated to my hotel room for a candid discussion on jazz chord hacks. Rotem and I, two musicians passionate about jazz harmony, shared impromptu insights into crafting captivating introductions and vamps for vocalists and instrumentalists alike.

 

Jazz Chord Hack #1 – The Altered Maj7

Starting with a simple 2-5 progression – Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 – we explored elevating it into something more captivating. Jens introduced the concept of altering dominants, replacing the standard G7 with an altered chord featuring a flat 13 and sharp 9. This unexpected twist injected fresh color into the progression, setting up a delightful resolution to Cmaj7.

Jazz Chord Hack #2 – Tritone Magic

We delved into the realm of tritone substitution, where the G7 chord was replaced by its tritone counterpart, Db7. This substitution added tension and intrigue, creating a captivating harmonic journey within the 2-5 framework.

Jazz Chord Hack #3 – Harmonic Multiverse

Expanding beyond traditional harmonic pathways, we discussed the idea of exploring parallel movement and chromaticism. Jens demonstrated how starting from a subdominant chord, such as Fmaj7, and descending chromatically to Cmaj7, can yield captivating harmonic motion and unexpected tonal colors.

Jazz Chord Hack #4 – Journey With Jazz Chords

We emphasized the importance of maintaining a melodic throughline amidst harmonic experimentation. By embracing tension and release dynamics, we crafted harmonic journeys that engaged listeners emotionally and intellectually. Rotem used this to extend the progression

Jazz Chord Hack #5 – Wandering Into Minor

Venturing into the realm of minor subdominants, we explored the rich harmonic possibilities inherent in minor chords. Jens showcased how incorporating minor subdominants into a progression can infuse it with lush, evocative colors, expanding the harmonic palette.

Jazz Chord Hack #6 – Tonal Detours

Building upon the concept of harmonic exploration, we discussed the idea of taking tonal detours within a progression. By introducing unexpected chord substitutions and extensions, Rotem created harmonic landscapes that surprised and delighted the listener.

Jazz Chord Hack #7 – Suspense Is Important

We highlighted the importance of suspense in crafting engaging harmonic progressions. By strategically deploying chords with altered tensions and unresolved dissonances, we kept listeners on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating each resolution.

Jazz Chord Hack #8 – Shifting Colors Around

Rotem introduced the concept of shifting chord colors within a progression, demonstrating how altering a single note can dramatically transform the harmonic landscape. By experimenting with voicings and extensions, we discovered new avenues for harmonic expression.

Jazz Chord Hack #9 – Uncommon Chords

Exploring the use of uncommon chord voicings and extensions, we pushed the boundaries of traditional harmony. First with a Dm7(13) for the II chord:

By incorporating chords like major 7#9#11, we discovered unique sonic textures that added depth and complexity to our progressions.

Jazz Chord Hack #10 – Space Voice-leading

In our final exploration, we discussed the concept of space voice-leading, where subtle chromatic movements create harmonic tension and release. By allowing chords to breathe and evolve gradually, we crafted progressions that felt organic and compelling.

 

In conclusion, our journey through these jazz chord hacks revealed the endless possibilities inherent in harmonic exploration. By embracing tension, color, and emotion, we discovered new ways to captivate listeners and elevate our musical storytelling. We invite fellow musicians to explore these concepts further and share their own insights into the art of jazz harmony.

 

Chord Melody – 5 Beautiful Methods You Want To Know

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The Basic Music Theory You Need As A Jazz Beginner

Having the basics down in music theory is an incredibly powerful tool. If you are playing Jazz then interpreting chord symbols can be very difficult and if you have a solid basic overview of what notes are in there, you can find other ways to play the chord and add notes and fills to it, the things that make it a lot more fun to play!

That’s what I want to show you in this video because an overview like that is going to stop you from sounding like a Pat Metheny Clone, and instead of learning a single Jazz lick, you can figure out how it works and turn it into a recipe for 1000s of Jazz licks. There’s a chance you know a lot of this, but then you can use this as a checklist to see if you have it all under control!

The Most Important Scale For Jazz

The place to start is the scale that you need the most: The Major scale.

I assume you are already somewhat familiar with the but to keep it simple let’s use the C major scale:

The important thing to remember is that a major scale is constructed by a series of whole and half steps, and that recipe is:

On guitar you have a shortcut which is a physical solution where you are just moving a shape around,  that means that if you play a C major scale then you can turn that into an D major scale by just playing the same shape but start on the note D,

but that also means that you don’t really know what notes in there anymore, and when you play songs then it is very practical to know that the next chord is the IV chord in the key and that is THIS note in the scale, so here’s how you can start figuring out the notes in a scale.

I am going to show you this using D major as an example, but it works for any note can think of. It is just about using sharps and flats You need to remember or write down the row of intervals that make up the major scale:

For D major you can write out the notes from D to D . You can then go through the scale and make sure that the intervals fit and then correct that:

D to E is fine, but E to F is a half-step which should be a whole-step, so you turn the F into F#.

Now F# to G is a half-step so that is fine, G to A, and A to B are both whole steps

but B to C should be a whole-step as well

and again you turn the C into a C# to fix that and then you have D major

The next thing to do when you know what notes in the scale is to map that onto any scale position: just start on the root, play the scale, and say notes – in that way this is as much about connecting the things that you know on the neck, because that is where it is useful!

Dmajor:

That is the basic construction of the major scale, but what you need is to link this to chords because when you are playing a song then it looks like this:

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World

The Strongest Chord we have isn’t a Jazz chord which would be a chord with at least a 7th, The strongest chord only has 3 notes and it is, of course, the triad.

 

The basic construction of a triad is a stack of 3rds, so for C then

C major is 1 3 5 – C E G which is really just 1 3 and 5 out of the major scale:

 

C minor  would be 1 b3 5 C Eb G and the difference is the distance between the two first notes: C to E is a major 3rd

and C to Eb is a minor 3rd

Like this, you can also construct a diminished triad which is: 1 b3 b5 in C that would be C Eb Gb and you can create an augmented triad which is a major triad with an augmented 5th: C E G#

Those are the 4 basic triads, but you probably also want to know these 3:

Sus4 where the 3rd is replaced with the 4th:

Sus2 where the 3rd is replaced with the 2nd:

If you check then sus2 and sus4 are actually inversions of each other, so they are the same structure.

Another triad that is maybe less common in songs but very common in chord structures is major b5:

But right now, this is all just structures without any context, and while it is nice to know then the best way to know this is to place them in a scale.

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World, In The Scale

As I mentioned then chords are created by stacking 3rds, and actually that is easy to do in a scale so to construct the diatonic harmony and place the triads in a context . That tells you which triads go together.

Start with the C major scale:

and we can put 3rds on top using the notes in the scale to get first a row of diatonic 3rd intervals

and then these triads which is another useful row to remember, just like the intervals:

It is incredibly useful to know what triads go together, and as you will see later it is a huge help in finding more arpeggios you can use when improvising over a chord, which means more melodies that you can use in your solos

You can do this with any scale, and you should certainly know the triads of the major scale by heart, so this order:

It is also important to figure this out for Harmonic and Melodic minor which will give you examples of the other triads, you’ll see later.

Enough with the triads for now, let’s get to some Jazz chords!

The First Group of Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

In Jazz, we don’t work with triads as the basic chords so often, even though we still play triads in solos all the time.

The basic chord type is the 7th chord, but constructing the 7th chords is now super easy, barely an inconvienience: You just add another diatonic 3rd to the triads!

So these:

Become these:

Again the order of chord types is really useful to know, so for a major scale it is maj7, m7, m7, maj7, dom7th, m7, ø

And as you can see you there are 4 chord types in the scale:

The reason that I construct chords in scales is because that added context really tells you a lot about what is going on in the music:

If you take this lick:

As you can see that if over the over a G7 then you can use a Bø arpeggio which is the diatonic arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, so we are combining the knowledge of the chord with the diatonic harmony.

You can also see that the Em triad sounds great on Cmaj7, but that is just because an E minor triad, E G B, is a Cmaj7, C E G B without a C.

And the same thing applies to chords:

If you play II V I that sounds like this:

Here I am using an Fmaj7 chord, which is giving me the Dm7(9) sound:

and a Bø Chord for a G7(b9) before moving down to Cmaj7, so the diatonic chords become a part of how you learn things, and you cna use the same stuff for a lot of things, it is very efficient.

Of course, at some point you have done that so many times that you will just know what the notes of Dm7 is and that the arpeggio from the 3rd is Fmaj7, but being able to figure it out is a necessary step, and knowing it like this is, of course, a lot better than just having a diagram that you are moving around without knowing what is going on.

The Rest of The Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

As I said, there are more chord types than just the 4 I already covered.

To find some of those then let’s try to build chords in Harmonic minor, because that should give us some more. To keep it easy, A harmonic minor:

To get you more comfortable with the process then we can start with the triads

A B C D E F G# A

Then you have:

Am Bdim Caug Dm E F G#dim

And once you add a 7th to this then you get:

Notice that the G#dim has a diminished 7th from G# to F, that sometimes a bit confusing because it is the same interval as a 6th

And to immediately show you how useful this is, in the II V I in C I used the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, and you do the same here and use a G#dim over an E7 because it is almost the same notes and they are from the same scale:

and, that is an great way to play an E7(b9) resolving to Am,

Working on this is something that can really speed up your learning process, because if you start practicing diatonic triads or arpeggios while also being aware of what triad or arpeggio you are playing then you

  • Have a better overview of the harmony and the scale
  • See the shapes you need for soloing on the fretboard
  • Figure out what is being played in Jazz solos so you can get that into your own playing.

All stuff that makes it easier to learn and play Jazz, but it probably isn’t going to be useful if you don’t learn any songs that you can use it on. Learning songs become a lot easier if you understand the harmony, and I talk about that in this video covering how I use Functional harmony but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino have shortcuts that are opposite of each other, but it will all help you learn and remember songs. ! It doesn’t have to be difficult to learn songs. Check that out

If you start to figure this out for the different keys and practice diatonic arpeggios while also being aware of triad or arpeggio you are playing then you start to connect all of this and that will help you:

  • Know the scale and the diatonic harmony
  • See the shapes on the fretboard
  • Understand how the chords move

You can figure out what is being played in Jazz solos

And, all of these skills are important things that will speed up your learning process, but it probably isn’t  going to be very useful if you don’t learn songs and also learn to understand how the harmony works and that you can check out by watching this video which covers how I use functional harmony for that, but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino think about chords and make things easier! Learning and remembering jazz songs doesn’t have to be difficult!

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

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10 Simple Jazz Chord Tricks That Will Make You A Better Player In 2024

Don’t Be Boring!

You don’t want to sound boring! Sometimes the obvious thing to play is a II V I, maybe you are playing an intro for a song setting it up when performing solo, or maybe jamming with a vocalist. But You still want to make the chords interesting and surprising to the listener without sounding weird or random.

In this video, I will show you 10 simple ways to interpret a II V I that will help you add passing chords, play fills, and suspensions, so that you can add some interesting sounds to this important and common progression, the stuff that makes it a lot more fun to play and helps you be a lot more creative with the harmony.

#1 Make It Move Around More

Let’s start with some solid extra chords before moving into fills and more advanced stuff, like dim chords.

The great thing about the II V I is that it has direction and it is giving us the sound of the key.

The II V I progression is named after the scale degrees, so in C major it is Dm7 G7 to Cmaj7, and the point is to have a progression that moves forward to the resolution on the I chord, which is then also the tonic of the key in this case.

The problem is that this also makes it predictable, but a little detour is often enough to freshen it up.

A simple one is to add an A7 as a new sound and in that way delay the G7 a bit:

When I play this I add a lot of movement and the melody to the chords, which is what I would usually do if I was playing an intro to a ballad, but don’t think this doesn’t work with more basic chord voicings as well.

The A7 is a secondary dominant, I have a video talking about that which I will link to in the description. The next option is a more advanced take on this concept:

#2 A Bluesy Detour

A Tritone substitution is a version of a dominant that resolves down a half step, and check out how great that sounds in this example with the Ab7 moving down to the G7

The Ab7 and G7 almost sound a bit bluesy with the Eb and the Bb notes in the melody, the is because both of those notes are also a part of the Cm pentatonic scale.

Instead of adding chords, you can also change the sound of the chords in the II V I, so let’s move to some variations of the II chord Dm7, after that, I’ll show you some beautiful tricks for fills.

#3 The’s not the II chord?

The Dø is a II chord that is borrowed from C minor, but that also makes it nice and dark plus that the resolution to the Cmaj7 becomes even more bright and clear. And I think that point is often overlooked: What is important is how these chords sound in the context, an F major triad is maybe boring in C major but at the same time exotic in A major.

Let’s try another borrowed chord. This one I usually refer to as the most beautiful chord in C major.

#4 The Most Beautiful Chord In C Major

Maj7 chords are always great to use as reharmonizations because we hear them as already resolved, similar to how the Cmaj7 sounds in the II V I, it wants to sound like a I chord, but when they are not resolved and a part of a moving progression then that is a little bit confusing and in that way, a great sound. Here’s my favorite example of that:

I have another video that covers the theory behind minor subdominant chords that you can explore, but first, check out this other multi-functional maj7 chord!

#5 Italians Have Good Taste In Chords

As you all know, then Italian harmony is almost as good as Italian food. The next chord is often referred to as the Neapolitan subdominant, and it can be used in many ways, here I am inserting it as a minor subdominant instead of the dominant chord:

But you can also use it as a suspension instead of the tonic chord so that the listener expects the I chord and gets a different but beautiful chord, again using the maj7 trick:

And, this is, of course, also the type of progression that sounds great if you play it with 3-note Shell-voicings

Let’s get to some chord fills and then later I’ll throw in a nice diminished chord as well.

#6 The Coolest Chord Fills!

The best scale in the world for chord tricks is probably not what you think… it’s the pentatonic scale, at least for guitar, nothing beats that! Simply because it is so practical, let me show you some of the things you can do.

It is easier to start with the II chord.

If you play Dm7 here

Then it is not a stretch to see that this Dm pentatonic scale fits that chord well

And you can play some stuff that is easy but sounds surprisingly complicated with that! Just play the pentatonic scale 3-strings at the time, in that position. Something like this:

I am doing that in this next example and then something  similar that sounds even more difficult on the Cmaj7, and that is easy too:

The trick on the Cmaj7 is almost the same. I am using Em Pentatonic, and the reason why that sounds good is pretty simple if you look at the notes of Cmaj7: C E G B and the notes of Em pentatonic: E G A B D then they have a lot of notes in common and the notes that are in Em pentatonic that are not in Cmaj7 are a 9th, D, and a 13th, A, both notes that sound great over the chord.

Since I am playing CMaj7 here:

Then this position of Em pentatonic is practical:

and of course, you can play that scale as 3-note chords as well:

But I play them in this pattern which is essentially still the same simple chords, just arpeggiated in a more interesting way:

I’ll put this to use in later examples as well, let’s look at some beautiful diatonic passing chords!

#7 Country Chords?

Often Jazz musicians make fun of pop music as being just I IV V chords all the time, but in this case, it is actually nice to turn the II V I into more of a IV V I progression. This one is incredibly simple and works on pretty much any II V I.

There’s a slightly more complicated but equally nice version of this that borrows some sounds as well.

#8 Walking into Minor

In this one I also use the pentatonic scale fills on the Cmaj7

But you don’t always need to change the chords, you can also just change a note in the chord and have a melody in there.

#9 Stairway To Heaven

A classic progression that you don’t usually associate with a II V I progression is this line-cliche. Again a progression that is fairly easy to fit into a song and that you can pretty much throw in everywhere. It is beautiful how this chromatic melody just spells out the II V movement.

The next one is a great sound, but also a little more complicated to throw in at random.

#10 Diminishing Returns

People keep telling me in the comments that this chord doesn’t exist. Luckily it doesn’t care and it still sounds great! Diminished suspensions are a great way to have a chord progression make a surprising twist

The suspension will only work if the melody fits with the dim chord, mostly it will be a 7th, but the root or the 6th can work as well.

Fix Your Thinking About Chords

Making Jazz harmony sound great is not about knowing 1000s of chord grips. It is about knowing some grips really well, and being able to get them to flow in the music and be creative with them. There are exercises that are essential for developing your comping and chord skills and also getting stuff like this into your playing, and that is what I talk about in this video which will help you level up your skills with chords and also teach you to think about voicings in the right way, so you get rid of all the isolated grips that are impossible to remember.

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

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The Ultimate Jazz Chord Guide – 12 Most Important Voicing Types

What you can do with Jazz Chords is pretty incredible! I am sure you already know that if you click on this video. I am going to give you an overview of 12 practical and important types of chords that you will come across if you start exploring Jazz guitar.

I am going to start with the ones that make the most sense as a beginner, but also add something that I often think is left out in teaching and understanding Jazz chords is that I will show how they fit together, because if you check out how Jazz chords are used then it is rarely just one type of chord used all the time, we mix it up quite a lot and often that is what makes it sound so great. Having that connection in there also makes it a lot easier to have an overview and remember all the chords.

#1 Shell-Voicings

These simple 3-note chords are the best place to start because they are easy to play, easy to hear, they cover all of the basic harmony, and as you will see they are also an amazing foundation to build a lot of other chords with.

The basic harmony in Jazz is built around 7th chords which is 4-part harmony, but you can get there using 3 notes instead of 4.

You want to look at the shell-voicings like this: Root on the 5th or 6th string and basic chord tones on the 2 middle strings. The note that is left out is the 5th.

So for a Cmaj7 chord you have C E G and B in the chord, we leave out the 5th, G, and then you can play the C either on the 5th string giving you this chord

Or on the 6th string giving you this chord:

Most Important Exercises For Chords

There are two ways that you want to explore chords if you are trying to get them into your playing:

Take them through a scale, so for the shell voicings that might be this:

And you also want to play some chord progressions to hear what they sound like in music.

Most of the chord voicings in this video will come from adding notes to the shell voicings or taking away notes,

as you will see, they are surprisingly important to know! I am also a bit surprised that there are quite a few types of chords that are very common, but you don’t have a good name for them, we’ll get to those a lot quicker than you think and feel free to suggest a name in the comments.

#2 Drop-3 voicings

Shell-voicings are a great example of how you can get things done with fewer notes and a bit of context, but as we all know then the Swedish Guitar Wizard says:

“How can Less Be More? More is More” – Yngwie Malmsteen

So let’s start adding some notes to the shell voicings and since “More is More”

The Shell-voicing with the root on the 6th string can have the 5th added like this:

So now you have a way to play all four notes again, and we call this a drop3 voicing because of how it is constructed. I’ll explain the Drop-something concept a bit later.

It is pretty clear how the Shell-voicings and drop3 voicings fit well together because you can treat them as just shell voicings with added notes, and that makes it possible to play short riffs mixing the two:

And of course, it is also useful to take these through a scale. Here’s an F major scale:

With the way Shell voicings are constructed then inversions don’t make sense, but it is more common with Drop3 voicings. For the Fmaj7 that would be:

But, it still is not something you want to spend too much time on. The root position version is by far the one that is used the most. With later voicings like Drop2, the inversions are much more useful.

This was only adding a note to one of the shell-voicing types, let’s look at what happens when you do the same with the other one, which starts adding extensions. That is also what will give you a way to play some smooth progressions using the drop3 which wouldn’t really work right now.

#3 Shell-Derived

The same process with a 5th string shell-voicing would give you this Cmaj7(9):

Because this adds a diatonic 9th to the chord then taking it through the scale does not yield only voicings that you are likely to use:

As I mentioned then there is not a common name for this chord construction, so I made one up for this video. If you have a better suggestion you can always leave a comment.

Together with the drop3, you can add more color to the chords because “more is more”

#4 Drop2 with a bass note

It’s maybe a bit odd to introduce these before I go over Drop2 but I think it makes more sense in linking the chords and how you use them.

You started with a shell-voicing, then added a note to the drop3 and you can even add one more note to create a Drop2. This is probably easier to demonstrate with a G7 chord:

The advantage here is that you really just learn a Shell-voicing

and then add notes to expand your options in terms of what melodies are available:

If you move these through the scale then you get something like this, but they are a bit difficult to play:

These are very practical for chord melody playing, even if some of them are a bit tricky to play.

To get to the Drop2 chords and some other very practical voicings it is useful to look at the smallest possible jazz voicings.

#5 2-Note Shells

Adding notes make things a bit more complicated both in terms of technique and having an overview of what notes are played, so this will make things easier!

When you play in a band then most of the time somebody else is taking care of the bass line, and that means that you don’t have to play that and it might sound better to get out of their way.

Going back to the shell-voicings then that is pretty easy:

For the 5thstring root:

And for the 6th string root:

With these chords you can easily play progressions and you are not very likely to clash with the soloist and get in the bass players way.

You can take these through the scale as well, but maybe you can also just think of the shell-voicing with the root

#6 Triads

If you take the drop2 voicings and remove the root:

Then you are left with a triad. You can see it if you write out the notes as well. Cmaj7 without a C is an Em triad, Dm7 without the D is an F major triad and G7 without a G is a B diminished triad

The biggest advantage here is that you can use this with the inversions as well.

The basic II V I could be:

 

And you can turn that into 2 more II V I progressions using the inversions of these triads, but maybe one of them is a bit mysterious:

The one for the G7(9) is in this case an F major b5 triad,

which sometimes causes a bit of discussion, and you have one more inversion:

The biggest advantage with the triads is that they become something else and are both very flexible and easy to work with for comping and chord solos. They also immediately connect to the next type of voicing:

#7 Drop2

Again you can lean on adding more notes to the shell-voicing and then end up with a Drop2, so the concept stays the same as when there was a bass note:

What Are “Drop Voicings”?

But maybe it is probably also useful to cover what the Drop concept means in voicings, even if that is not something you ever use when you are playing, that is a very common misunderstanding.

It isn’t super complicated. If you look at a root position G7 then you have

Constructing a drop2 is taking the 2nd highest note, D, and moving that down an octave. With a more practical way of playing the notes you have this voicing G7 drop2:

And, in the same way, if you take the 3rd highest note, B, and move that down an octave you have G7 drop3:

Knowing this is nice, but to get anything out of it in your playing then you need the voicings in your fingers and your ears. Just knowing is not knowing, because we don’t have time to think about constructing chords while we play. I think most people who use them never think about constructing them, they just learn the voicings.

With Drop2 it is useful to check out how they move through the key:

and also check out the inversions:

And the inversions make it easy to play chord progressions with smooth movement from chord to chord, like this turnaround:

Drop2 chords are incredibly flexible with what extensions and voicings you can put together, so they are worth the effort to study and way to big to cover in this video, because there are other sounds to explore, and now we can let go of starting with the shell-voicings.

#8 3-part Quartal Voicings

The way you usually construct chords, as you have seen earlier in the video, is usually by stacking 3rds in the scale, so from the G you create a G major triad by adding the B and the D on top

But you could also stack 4th intervals from G, giving you this 3-note chord of G C F:

With quartal voicings it becomes a bit more open, you don’t always have one chord that spells out the sound of the chord but rely on a few to get the sound across. That is also why I did not give this chord a name.

But it is still useful to take the chords through the scale and get some voicings to work with:

And you can put these to use on a II V I like this:

#9 Spread Triads

The construction of Drop2 chords where you move one of the notes down an octave also works very well for triads and can give you some nice open sounds.

If you have an F major triad like this:

And you have inversions for this as well:

You can put this to use on a II V I like this, and notice how beautiful they sound:

Again this works with the inversions as well, and what is great about them is that you can move the voices in beautiful melodies:

Let’s look at some beautiful voicings that are the opposite of open

#10 Cluster-like

It’s difficult to describe these chords with one construction since there are a few similar and common examples. The important part is the minor 2nd interval, and as you will see it is less important to have a complete voicing all the time.

One you want to explore using is, maybe surprisingly, the inversion of the shell-voicings. For Fmaj7 that will be:

And the shell-voicing that leaves out the 3rd and uses the 5th is also a good candidate:

You can use that for a II V I like this, combining it with Cmaj7:

There are more options for this that you can explore, but that is for another video, there are 2 more types of chords that should be mentioned here:

#11 4-Part Quartal Harmony

Similar to the 3-part Quartal harmony you also have 4-part quartal voicings which can sound great, even if they are a bit trickier to fit into progressions.

First, you can check out the chords through the scale, but again I have not given the voicings names, since that is a bit more open with this type of harmony:

You can put them to use on a II V I with an altered dominant like this:

Let’s look at another beautiful type of drop voicing that have sort of a Holdsworth sound to them.

#12 Drop2&4

You already know about the drop2 and drop3 voicings, but a more open version which is also sounds a bit like a colorful version of the spread triads, is Drop2&4.

You can create those by starting with a Cmaj7

which needs to move the 2nd and 4th highest note down an octave, so C and G.

The drop2 version of this chord would be:

and then moving the C down you have:

Taking this through the scale will give you these beautiful chords:

And you can use them as upper-structures as well giving you Fmaj7, Fø and Em7 as a beautiful II V I with an altered dominant:

But what about my favorite chord?

Is there a voicing type that I didn’t cover that happens to be your favorite? Maybe you use a lot of power chords? then let me know in the comments. I know Gilad Hekselman uses drop2&3 quite a lot but, it is as far as I know not that common.

When it comes to playing chords then there are other important things to work on than which voicing to play. You also need to be able to get the rhythms, the phrasing, and the progressions to make sense, and if you want to develop that side of your playing then the exercises in this video will help you level up your skills., and I know that because that is what I practice

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

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Your First 5 Jazz Licks (Beginner’s Guide To Arpeggios)

Everywhere you look a Jazz teacher is telling you that you should practice arpeggios if you want to play Jazz, but it is just as important that you know how to turn that arpeggio into music, into something you can play that also sounds like Jazz.

In this video, I’ll show you why you should not start with full arpeggio positions, not focus on arpeggio inversions (and give you something better instead).

I’ll also give you a way to find more arpeggios for the same chord, turn them into Jazz licks with a few phrasing and rhythm tricks, and of course The BEST arpeggio Exercise.

The Most Basic Arpeggio

Let’s start with a very simple arpeggio, here’s a basic one-octave G7. I’ll explain why I start here in a bit.

And so you have an idea about the sound, you can hear it as fitting with this G7 chord, just to have a picture of the harmony

You often find discussions online about whether it is better if you start with scales vs arpeggios or chord tones.

In reality, if you look at solos then it is clearly a combination of both, so you want to know your arpeggios and you want to understand that they are a set of notes in the context of a scale, they fit together and it is not one or the other, as you will see.

Rhythm and Phrasing

This is about building your vocabulary, and especially developing your rhythms in that vocabulary!

Think of the 4-note arpeggio  as a scale and start improvising just using those while using short rhythms and some phrasing like sliding into a note, in this case the 3rd:

Or using a pull-off to create more interesting dynamics in the line, here between F and D. This is the first type of Jazz lick: Arpeggio and rhythm

And when you try to make your own licks like this one, then start with a short 3 or 4-note phrase

Or like this:

Once you have that then compose a line, listen to what you can come up with as a follow-up and try somethings out to end with something like this:

Composing licks is where you get much more free to play melodies and also where you can start developing better rhythmical ideas. Limitation can be a great way to level up your playing, but now we need to add some more notes to the mix!

There Are More Notes!

As I mentioned, Chords and Arpeggios don’t exist in a vacuum, you can mix in the other notes in the scale and that is a great way to get better lines and be able to create a more natural-sounding flow in your solo.

It really is just about putting in some notes from the scale between the arpeggio notes, here’s a very simple one, and notice that you don’t have to start on beat 1 all the time:

And you can of course still add some phrasing to these more dense lines, which gives you the second type of Jazz Lick: Mixing Scale and arpeggio

Once you start working on the arpeggios like this then you can clearly create and play a lot more great lines with arpeggios because you can add in scale notes.

The BEST arpeggio Exercise

Before I show you some ways to add chromatic notes to your vocabulary then first, let’s quickly cover how you should practice the arpeggios. You already heard how useful it is to add the scale notes to the arpeggio when you are soloing, so it actually makes sense to focus on that connection when you are practicing.

In this case, the G7 is in the scale of C major, and you can turn all the diatonic chords in a scale into an arpeggio exercise which then links those arpeggios to the scale and as you will see later also gives you some more options with arpeggios that you can use over a chord, and you already practiced them!

For every note in the scale, you can stack 3rds in and in that way, create a 7th chord on each note of the scale.

If you play this for the C major scale then you get this exercise:

Once this becomes easy then you want to explore ways to add chromatic notes and rhythm to these arpeggios, but first, try to explore that in lines!

Chromatic Notes – Outside The Scale Are NICE!

There are many ways to add chromatic passing notes to your solos. First, check out this example, and then I’ll show you how you can turn that into some strategies and exercises you use yourself:

You have two kinds of chromatic approaches here, both are important to know.

First a leading note for the 3rd in the first chord run.

It can be useful to try this out as an exercise adding a note a half step under each chord tone like this:

The other approach is in the middle with two notes surrounding the 5th of G: D.

This is referred to as a chromatic enclosure. A chromatic enclosure is a short melody that moves to a target note,

in this case, it is sort coming from the previous exercise but combining it with a scale note above the chord tone.

YOu can see that in this exercise where there are enclosures before all the notes in the arpeggio:

And if you have the feeling that your solos are just running up and down scales and arpeggios then enclosures can fix that very effectively which gives you the 3rd type of Jazz Lick adding chromaticism:

It almost doesn’t sound like a G7 arpeggio anymore, but maybe that is also the point?  We a re just getting started, because there are more arpeggios you can use over a G7 chord, it isn’t only the G7 arpeggio.

More Arpeggios On Every Chord?

This way of thinking works for all chords, so you want to think of this as a system. Because it is really powerful!

The way it is constructed is by stacking 3rds, and if you add another 3rd on top then you have a G7(9) chord(play), but if you take away the G then notice that it is a Bø arpeggio (play)

And, this works over the G7 as well so you can use this to make lines as well, and of course, also use chromatic notes and phrasing.

I am using this Bø arpeggio:

And that can give you the 4th type of Jazz Lick with the arpeggio from the 3rd:

And keep in mind that this is why you can use an Em7 arpeggio over a Cmaj7 chord and an Fmaj7 arpeggio over a Dm7 chord.

It gives you a lot of great sounds.

I mentioned that you can use something else instead of inversions, and this is one of the best Bebop tricks in the book!

One of the Best Things Barry Harris Taught Me!

Beginner Jazz licks can sound too much like just running up and down scales and arpeggios in a mechanical way, and here is a great way to fix that which I learned from Barry Harris.

Usually, we play the arpeggio starting on the root and then up the arpeggio.

But you can also play the root and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave, it’s a more interesting melody and you are still just playing the arpeggio:

In this case, it makes more sense to play this arpeggio an octave higher,

and notice how you are for the most part just playing the arpeggio the same way we started the video,  now you are just changing the 1st note:

This is what Barry Harris called a pivot arpeggio, and again this is something that works for all arpeggios, and you can create some really great lines with it,  so the 5th type of Jazz lick is a Pivot Arpeggio Bebo Lick and notice the grace note on the low note as well:  :

The Source Of Amazing Bebop Techniques!

Barry Harris’ pivot arpeggios are a great way to level up your Jazz lines, and you can take this even further by exploring Barry’s approach to adding chromatic notes to your lines often referred to as Barry’s chromatic scale which is a great approach to make chromatic phrases very melodic! You can check out my video on that here, and also learn why Bebop scales are usually a complete waste of time!

Why Barry Harris’ Approach Is So Much Better Than Bebop Scales!

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The Massive Misunderstanding About Modulations

The problem is that you probably don’t know what a key is, and it is a LOT more than you think!

If you look at the C major scale:

Then that is just the scale, the key of C major is so much more, and once you start to understand that then you are going to find it a lot easier to understand chord progressions, songs, and how to improvise over them and it will blow your mind with what you can do with chordsin the key of C major! I’ll show you along the way.

If I have to sum up what this video is about the it is:

Scale ≠ key

Let’s start with a chord progression that is in C major, but has quite a few chords that are not in the C major scale.

Diatonic Chords

An important part of the chords associated with a key are the diatonic chords of that the scale, so the chords you get, if you stack 3rds in the scale:

3rds

Triads

7th Chords

If you do that you have these chords:

The Progression

Here’s a chord progression that we can use to understand some of the chords that are in the key but not in the scale. In the example there are 3 categories of chords that are not diatonic to C major but are all common chords in songs in the key of C:

Immediately you can see that Cmaj7, Dm7, and Fmaj7 are all diatonic chords in C so they are easy to analyze. But there are a few left, I’ll start with the A7 and Eø chords, but first, let’s just talk about what a modulation is.

Modulations – It’s not just changing scales…

The first thing you need to realize is wrong is the rule that if you have to change the scale then you are also in another key. That is not how your ear experiences this, you can go back to the chord progression and listen if you can hear the C as root, and if that changes once you hear the A7.

So the key is more sticky than just diatonic chords, and it doesn’t modulate until it really establishes a different key, take a famous song like All The Things You Are, the first part is almost pretending to be in Fm and then turns out to be in Ab major:

But then you get a clear shift once it goes to G7 and resolves to Cmaj7 instead of the Cm7 that your ear expects:

First, just listen and notice at this point, it would not sound crazy if the songs stayed there and started to play a turnaround in C, to stay in that key.

So what is the difference between the G7 in All The Things and the A7 in my example progression:

The biggest difference is what you hear, you can hear that Ab is not the root anymore when it goes to Cmaj7 and stays there. But that also has to do with the fact that the Cmaj7 is on bar3 in 4 bar phrase so it is given a place in the form that is reserved for the “important” chords. Compared to A7 that is tucked away in the 2nd half of a bar.

Another difference is that the Cmaj7 is a tonic chord, where A7 is a dominant that might lead to another tonic chord but instead resolves back into the key when it goes to the II chord Dm7.

You can start by asking yourself these 3 things if you want to figure out if something is a modulation, and the first thing is indeed to use your ears and ask yourself if it sounds like one. Do I hear another root.

Is it a tonic chord, because if it is modulating then there has to be a root, and you also want to check if it is immediately moving back to the original key. That will help you recognize modulations.

Now you know why A7, Abmaj7, Eø and F#dim are not modulations, but what are they then?

Let’s start with the most common category:

Secondary Dominants and…

This is about what is probably one of the most important things about chord progressions, and your music is really boring if that is not in there: Forward motion!

If you listen to a piece of music then the chords should help you feel a story, they should create tension and resolution to keep it interesting, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to use Secondary dominants.

The strongest resolution we have in music is dominant to tonic:

But in the scale there is only one real dominant, and for C major that is G7.

Luckily the V I, or dominant resolution is so strong that we can add dominant chords for other chords as well, and these are called secondary dominants.

In the progression, the chords go from Cmaj7 to Dm7,

but to add some energy and push towards the Dm7. You can add an A7, and in this case that is the A7 shows up as belonging to the key of Dm because it resolves to Dm7:

Compared to just moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7., then there is clearly more happening, and this is just using a dominant resolution to have some energy towards Dm7. When you analyze these then you write a V but in a bracket to show that it is not the V of the key but a secondary dominant.

But there is another variation possible as well which is a bit later in the progression:

This is a variation of the secondary dominant, but instead of using the dominant, I am using the 7th degree of of the scale to resolve, so in C major that would be Bø Cmaj7,

and in if the chord it resolves to is a minor chord you would use a full diminished chord like this:

These work like the secondary dominants and are a little less common, but still in a lot of songs. You analyze them as secondary seventh: [VII]

Let’s move on to the chords that are probably the most beautiful, and then get to the category that people always try to argue doesn’t exist.

Minor in Major – The Most Beautiful Sound

The Grass is always greener on the other side, so when you are moving around in the major key it can sound really beautiful to have some chords that sound like they are from minor. This is mostly used with subdominant chords, but we do us it with the dominant as well sometimes.

In the example progression, I am using my favorite chord in the key of C major: Abmaj7, the bVImaj7.

Here it is used to create a more interesting transition back to Cmaj7 from Dm7, so it feels a bit like a major subdominant to a minor subdominant back to the tonic Like this:

“and of course I am playing it like this”:

And you can use most of the other beautiful options like a IVm chord:

A Backdoor dominant, which is really just an Fm6 with a funny bass note:

Or the Neapolitan Subdominant which sounds great but is a bit more complicated to explain:

S)

I have another video going into how these work and where they come from that you can check out, there’s a link in the description

Let’s talk about the one that people are always trying to argue doesn’t exist.

#IV – It IS a thing!

The #IV diminished chord! So many people want to tell you that it is really another chord that should resolve somewhere else, which already tells you that it is not a fantastic description. I’ll cover the most common one of those in a bit, but first let us look at what the #IVdim chord is:

The easiest way to understand it is probably to look at it as chord coming out of voice-leading, so if it resolves to Cmaj7 then you could look at it like this:

So really just a way to add a few chromatic leading notes when moving from F to C,

but looking at it like this also makes it clear that you are not modulating to another key, it is not related to another scale in any way. You should also notice that this voice-leading works really well backwards as well especially if you have a 6th on the F chord:

This is what this common progression is Cmaj7 Ebdim Dm7 really is

So that also demystifies that progression, I hope.

The #IV dim is also a great way to create suspensions:

and you will often find it reharmonized as a IIø V to III, especially In Jazz Standards this is often to harmonize a phrase where the 7th of the key is in the melody like “I Remember You”

The Thing It Isn’t

Why is that a common mistake? That isn’t a huge surprise, The first thing you learn is with diminished chords is probably about dominant diminished chords, something like

This is where you get used to blindly turn a dim chord into a dominant, and usually that conversion is where the root of the dim chord is the 3rd of the dominant, so for C#dim then the dominant with C# as a 3rd is A7, which makes sense since A7 is the dominant of Dm7.

But try to listen to the part of the progression that has the F#dim chord:

in this example you have an F#dim which would then translate to a D7(b9), but that doesn’t automatically make it a V of V, looking at it like that would be just looking at the notes and ignoring the other chords.

 

In the progression the F#dim does not resolve to G or G7, it resolves to a Cmaj7 chord, and notice how that still sounds like a resolution.

If you are in a major key, (we are in C major) then the V of V does not have a b9, try playing some songs with a V of V and listen to how a b9 sounds in that place, because that is not a common sound, I can right now only think of one song that has that, and that is to get a blues sound.

You also want to listen to how that dim chord or it’s inversion will resolve not only to the tonic chord, but also to other subdominants like Dm7 and Fm6.

So there are quite a few reasons why this is not just a V of V, and in fact, the diminished chord is not dominant at all, it is subdominant.

But I am sure people will still comment that it is a V of V also on this video…

Think Like The Pros

And this has to do with how you think about chords. Chords are more than notes, because the same chord can be many things depending on what context it is in. This is also a part of what makes Functional harmony such an incredibly powerful tool.

You can use that to not only understand the chord progression and make it simpler, it is also a great help in improvising over chords and knowing what notes to play.

To get into that approach and also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino approach harmony then check out this video which covers that and will make it easier to learn songs and solo over changes!

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

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Jazz Beginners: 7 Habits That Keep You Stuck Forever!

There are a few habits that you need to quit if you don’t want to be stuck as a jazz beginner forever. Some of them might be a bit hard to give up, one of them will probably offend a few you, but it is worth it to get this right.

Let me know which one you think is most important or if I forgot to mention one!

#1 Thinking in Scales

Let’s start with some practical music theory, that helps you play better,  because this is a very common problem that you can do a lot about with very little effort. I certainly remember this part of learning Jazz from when I was just getting started.

It is pointless to try to translate chord progressions or songs to scales! So just Stop doing that! Simply because that is not actually helping you play better, it just isn’t useful information, and It will only help you to sound like you are practicing scales on top of the song:

You need to change how you think about what notes to play.  When you improvise Jazz then you are using scales that have 7 (or more) notes which means you can add a lot of color, but it also means that you need to be able to choose the right notes and be aware of what notes you are playing,

which is maybe different from what you are used to with the pentatonic scale. But you actually want it to be the same as the pentatonic scale, you don’t want to think about it when you are playing.

Let’s say you have a Dm7 chord and that is the II chord in C major,

you want to have different priorities for the notes in the scale. You want to be aware that the Dm7 chord tones are stronger or closer to the chord.

Having that overview makes it easier to play something that nails the sound of the chord, but you want to go a step further than just having that overview of the notes:

When you improvise over a chord then you are not starting from scratch every time, so you want to have a vocabulary of flexible licks that you can use in your solo and put together in different ways, so for the Dm7 you might know that you can use an Fmaj7 arpeggio

and that a certain chromatic phrases sounds great:

And if you put these two together you get:

The important thing here is that you have blocks of melody that you can hear and not theoretical notes that you have to think in your head while playing.

And that knowledge should be flexible so that you can create new things with the building blocks, not just play the same licks every time.

Practice your scales and arpeggios,  but make sure to also learn vocabulary using them so that you have some melodies that go with it, which is probably how you played a solo in the Pentatonic scale. You need something that is music not just theory and technique. Later I will also show you how you can fix the way you think about chords and chord progressions, because that can also be very inefficient!

#2 A 4-bar Loop is NOT a song

I guess Ed Sheeran and Daft Punk might disagree with me on this, but a 4-bar loop is not really a song, and if you want to learn Jazz then you also need to learn Jazz songs, and jazz songs are rarely just 4-bar loops. Learning songs is going to get difficult if you are only practicing looped II V I progressions or a static maj7 chord or something like that.

It is the kind of thing that can be beneficial to do for a period, but you probably don’t ever want to only be doing that for more than a few days. Learning songs, learning real music is much too important, and you don’t go to a Jam session to play an II V I in Eb for 20 minutes. You go there to play songs, so that is what you need to learn!

Of course, The first song can be very difficult to get through but if you pick an easy one then it is far from impossible, and you can check out my Roadmap course if you want a step-by-step guide to take you through that process, learning to solo on a standard.

The Roadmap: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

I have fun helping students in the community with feedback as they solo with the material on a Jazz standard and build their skills, it has become a great place to hang out.

#3 Chords Are NOT Islands

If you are trying to learn songs then it can be difficult to remember all the chords in there. Most Jazz standards are 32 bars,

so that is probably more than 32 chords you need to remember. The thing is that you should not be thinking about each chord at all because that is making it a LOT more difficult! Instead, you want to chunk the chords together.

If you know how to do that then you don’t need to remember as many chords. It is like learning to read the words in a sentence instead of trying to memorize all the letters in there. Improvising should also be more about playing through groups of chords.

For this, You want to learn to recognize these harmonic building blocks in the chord progressions, just start with II V I’s and turnarounds but make sure to learn more,

because that will make it 1000x easier to learn chord progressions by heart, and it also makes it easier to hear a chord progression because hearing a Dm7 out of context(example)  is not as easy as hearing a turnaround (example). The building blocks make it closer to something you can hear, relating it to a bass melody or how other songs sound.

Remember to let me know in the comments which habit is most important for you, or if there is one I forgot to include.

#4 Working On The Wrong Exercises

A way to transition smoothly from 3rds to triads to 7th chords  (or each of those exercises)

When I went from playing Blues and Rock to playing Jazz, then one of the transitions that was difficult to get used to was learning to improvise with 7-note scales like the major scale instead of pentatonic scales.

For me, it took some time before I figured out how to learn the scales and what to practice, especially when it comes to Jazz. I started with major scale exercises that might be useful for getting a bit more flexible with the scale in a technical sense, but they didn’t help me play Jazz. But you don’t need to do that, instead, you can focus on practicing the things that you need for Jazz solos. You don’t want to play 4-note sequences in a Jazz solo (Yngwie?)

You are better off focusing on diatonic triads and arpeggios, and also how to add chromatic leading notes to that, because that is what the jazz licks are made of. The way I always tell students to build this is by starting with the diatonic 3rds as a stepping stone

to diatonic triads

and then the 7th chords which are the main structure of most Jazz music.

When you work on these exercises then you are practicing things that you need when you solo and you make it easier to play lines like this:

So stop practicing things that you don’t need when you solo because that is probably a waste of time!

#5 Only Exercises

This is horrible about beginning Jazz and at the same time also one of the greatest things about Jazz:  There are so many possibilities and so many interesting and wonderful things to check out but you also have to watch out that you don’t get stuck just scratching the surface of a lot of stuff without really putting things to use.

If you are only practicing exercises and exploring new material without also playing music and putting the things you practice to use then you probably won’t learn what you are exploring and you also won’t get any better at playing Jazz which was the real goal to begin with. Don’t get stuck with only doing exercises! This is again an essential part of how I have constructed the roadmap, only a few exercises and then a practical way to turn them into music and help you get started playing solos!

Maybe this one is not a bad habit and more of a missing good habit, but if you are not listening to Jazz, you probably won’t ever learn to play Jazz. It is always a bit surprising that I have to say this at all, because why would you want to learn to play Jazz if you don’t listen to it?

I was talking to Adam Levy, who you may or may not know, he has been a guest on the channel quite a few times and has his own YouTube channel.

He mentioned some practice advice that he had received from Joe Diorio in a masterclass: Your practice sessions should always be 50% listening to music! If Joe Diorio recommends something then that is something you should consider, given how incredible and influential a musician he was.  But, you could also argue that this means that if you are driving and listening to Jazz then you are also practicing and you could be practicing while cooking or doing the dishes. Don’t underestimate how much you learn just by listening to a few albums of great music!

#7 Backingtrack Addiction

There is always a hot take in these videos…

One of the most important parts of learning a song and being able to improvise over it is being able to hear the harmony inside and being able to feel the time without leaning on the rest of the band and relying on them to carry you through it. The easiest way to get to that point is to practice with a minimal reference so that if you mess up the time or the chords then you immediately become aware of it. And of course, being aware of this and fixing it when you’re practicing is a lot better than messing up when you are playing with other people. One of my teachers pointed this out to me when I was studying, and I had never thought about it like that but Backing tracks are just always too easy. When it comes to practicing to play music and learning songs then you need to think about backing tracks as the chocolate cake of your practice routine, something that you enjoy at the end but which makes a terrible meal if you were to make it the only thing you eat.

Cut away the backing track and just play with a click. Start by playing the melody and the chords and then once you have the song in your ears you can start soloing. If you don’t believe me then just test it try starting with a metronome when you learn a song and once you can do that then you move to a backing track and notice how easy that is. Then try to do it the other way around, so start with the backing track, and then go to the metronome.  You will know what I talking about.

I know this is not what most people want to hear, but that does not make it any less true, and you can always leave some angry comments if that makes you feel better. Nobody who does the test I just sketched out will do that though, I am sure!

Bonus: What To Practice and How To Make It Into Music

An extra tip, related to practicing scales and how to do this right: In the beginning, it is very difficult to take the exercises and then turn them into music, into the flexible building blocks I mentioned. You need to add important ingredients like Rhythm, Phrasing, and Melody, but how do you do that? There is a way to build that skill, and you can get started with the method in this video where I even throw in some nice chromatic tricks as well that will make things flow and sound like your favorite Jazz guitarist!

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

When you think about Jazz Chord Exercises then it is probably about learning new chords, but it is more important is that you have exercises that help you use those chords and get them to sound great. That is what these 3 exercises will help you do. The first one is also, by far, the most fun way to practice chords, and the other two will help you use the chords better and add some better rhythms to your comping. In all 3 exercises, you can see how it pays off to work on simple things not making it more complicated.

The Exercise Nobody Does!

If you are nerdy enough with Jazz chords, like I am,  then maybe you can enjoy just listening to interesting chord voicings,

but of course, there is more to it than just the notes, even if they do sound beautiful.

The last few weeks I sort of re-discovered this exercise. As you may know, I was in Taiwan to play at the Taichung Jazz Festival with Nick Javier.

I had an amazing time there, but since it is quite far away then I had to deal with some jetlag when I got back which had me waking up at 3:00 in the morning since that is 10:00 am in Taiwan. While I was re-adjusting, I realized that I really liked getting up before everyone else and then spending some time practicing and getting started before sending the kids to school, one of the exercises I started to do in my routine was to take a song and practice comping it with the metronome on 2&4

There are many reasons to practice like this! The most important one is that it is fun and you are giving yourself a chance to be creative with the chords and the harmony of the song. I’ll show you how you might get started in a bit.

When I work on this then I am working on timing, and rhythm but also how all the chords should sound as a piece of music together and it is a great way to start getting new chords or concepts into your playing.

Working on:

  • Timing
  • Rhythm
  • Making The Chords Music
  • Adding New Material

And, of course, if you want to be good at comping then you should practice comping. Nobody ever spent all their time doing pushups and running to win Tennis tournaments, and if you do then you might get frustrated in the match.

So while practicing chord inversions and diatonic chords is useful then that should not be the only thing you are doing, also just because when you are doing that then it doesn’t matter if you screw up stuff.

Getting Started: Turn The Chords Into Music

If you have never practiced like this then here are a few steps to get you started and also a few simple tricks that immediately will level up how you sound!

Start with a song or chord progression that you know really well, for example, a 12-bar Blues like this one in C.

The first level:  is to just play the song, so turn on your metronome and just lay down the basic chords, don’t use complicated rhythms or voicings but if you can then get the groove across with a simple Charleston rhythm or something like that:

as you can tell I am mostly just using Shell-voicings.

A few easy ways to get this to move a bit more and sound more interesting is to use chromatic passing chords, simply try to use a chord a fret above or under to approach the next chord:

But you can also use this to create some movement on a chord, which sounds amazing on a blues like this:

From here you can start to expand and see if you get new ideas for rhythms or melodies, and if it doesn’t work then you can try it again in the next chords without the soloist wanting to fire you

When you use your chords like this then you might find this next approach to thinking about chords useful, and better than what you are doing now!

A Better Way To Think About Chords And Chord Voicings

You are not thinking about your chord voicings in a way that helps you use them. I am guilty of this as well in my videos: The way that we teach chords and think about chords are in separate categories like Shell-voicings, drop2, upper-structure triads, and stuff like that.

This means that we end up practicing diatonic chords or inversions only using one type of chord, but that doesn’t fit with what you do when you play music at all, so you want to change that!

Chords Across not along the neck

The important thing to remember is that when you are comping then you don’t have to think about a C7 as “Eø Drop2 inversion with the 7th as the last note and a 11th instead of a 3rd” That is much much too complicated, does anybody think like that?

This is more a question of exploring and then using what you discover but it is a great more practical way to connect chords and level up your comping.

Try this out: Most of us navigate the neck by thinking of the root of the chord and finding that on the two lowest strings E and A,

so if you are looking for a C7 then you have a shell voicing here

and here

Notice how adding the G on the B string makes it a Drop3 voicing,

and you also have the C7(13) Drop3 within reach

You can add one more string, and then you are playing Drop2 voicing with a bass note,

and there are variations of this as well:

And it is very practical to sometimes leave out the root to first get this 2-note Shell:

and add notes to have triad voicings

and drop 2 voicings as a part of what is available

Mixing Full and Rootless Voicings

When you think of C7 then you should see all these options and not just be stuck with a single grip.

That way you can add moving voices, melody, and rhythm to your comping and you don’t have to think about inversions that move to another place on the neck where you might not know the next chord. Thinking like this you are still connecting back to the chords you know and you are expanding what you can play without getting lost on the neck.

A great way to use this to open up how you comp or how you use this in chord melody is first to state the basic Shell

or an easy variation of this to be more free before changing to the next chord. For the blues that could give you something like this:

Music is Like A Language

Playing more interesting rhythms in your comping is also not necessarily about learning a lot of short rhythms, in fact zooming out and focusing on a few rhythms is probably the easiest way to improve on that.

And this is a lot easier than you might think. If you start thinking in call-response then a very easy but also very natural way to play something that really makes sense is to repeat a rhythm and then finish the sentence with something different as a conclusion:

When you are playing the same thing several times as a riff then you are giving the soloist something predictable to play against and you are giving the rest of the band something to interact with.

Then you can practice doing that on a song but coming up with different conclusions, so that you train yourself to hear how the different rhythms work together.

Maybe the next 4 bars could have this in the 4th bar

Like this, you are using the rhythms you know to come up with more. And you get a more natural flow if you work with this as a type of call response.

You can also do that every other bar:

This is almost always true; If you try to learn things in the context where you want to use them, then it is both easier and you learn it a lot faster because you can throw away a lot of useless theoretical rhythms or arpeggios inversions or whatever might waste your time.

Just Play Simple Chords!

One guitarist who understood how important it was to make things simple was Joe Pass, and while his playing was sometimes amazingly complex then his approach to Jazz chords was all about simplicity, and that is really the way you want to do this. You can check that out in this video, where it is about both the chords and the progressions being made easier to handle, and he certainly has a point!

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

 

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7 Skills Jazz Beginners Don’t Spend Enough Time On

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

#1 How Long Should A Note Be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 Jazz Is Not A Looping II V I

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

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

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

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Bernstein:

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

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

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

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

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

But enough complaining, for at least a bit….

#3 Learning The Language

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

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

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

#4 Make The Machine Swing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 Putting Chords To Use

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

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

#6 Make Your Own Licks!

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

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

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

#7 Chords Should Be Phrases Too

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

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

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

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

Use Joe Pass’ Approach

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

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

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$800 Pickups in a $400 Guitar – Is it Worth It?

Pickups: Are They Important for the Sound?

Does it matter what pickups you use? I was kind of just planning to do this video where I would follow along with the process of changing pickups in this guitar, my Epiphone Sheraton. But then along the way, I managed to get super surprised, not once, but twice.

And now that it has been a few weeks I can also add a bit more perspective since I shot the video, which I will at the end of the article.

The Epiphone Sheraton

You might know this guitar already. It’s my Epiphone Sheraton that was sort of an experiment to figure out if semi-hollow guitars were what I wanted to play. It’s actually a fairly, well, it’s a very cheap instrument, but it’s also a very good guitar.

When I got it, I quite quickly decided that the stock pickups were just not up to scratch. They were quite muddy. So I changed those out for a pair of these Bare Knuckle The Mule pickups.

And that was really a massive upgrade so that I could actually play jazz chords with extensions and alterations, and you could still hear what’s going on.

But I still always kind of had the feeling that maybe you could get more out of the guitar with some different pickups, that they were maybe a bit too dark. Of course, they still do the job for the type of sound that I use most of the time, but I have thought about changing them. But I just never really got around to testing that idea.

An Email From Ron Ellis

Then I got an email from the nice guys over at Ron Ellis Pickups,

and they suggested that I try out some of their pickups. And that was, of course, a nice opportunity to figure out if I was right about the fact that you could get more out of this guitar.

So I had a phone call with Ron. We talked about what would fit a guitar like this. And I ended up going with these, which are a pair of his signature humbuckers.

And full disclosure, they sent me those pickups for free. I didn’t pay for them, but they don’t get to see this video or have any influence on what I’m saying in it. That’s just my opinion.

Changing Pickups – The Debate?

In the last few years, there have been quite a few videos talking about whether the pickups make any difference in the sound of the instrument. I think I used to assume that there would be a massive difference.

From my experience with changing the pickups in this guitar from the stock pickups to the bare knuckles, the Glenn Fricker videos were probably the most entertaining.

And I thought it was interesting to see that he concluded that there wasn’t really any real difference when it came to what pickups you used for Metal. But of course, I think there are a lot of things that don’t make a lot of difference when it comes to metal….. 😁

And of course, Jim Lill has made several videos figuring out what makes the biggest difference, the wood, the strings, or the pickups.

So this is something that has been debated a little bit. But of course, I also play jazz. So I wanted to see what makes a difference when you’re playing jazz.

I wasn’t expecting a massive difference going from the bare knuckles to the Ronellis pickups because it’s just one boutique brand to another. And I’m sure they both make really solid products and the pickups are really good. So I was quite surprised that I felt a massive difference in the workshop.

Now, unfortunately, the way we recorded stuff in the workshop was just using the mic that I have on my camera.

You can’t really use that to compare in the YouTube videos. I have other recordings that I will compare later in this video. But you can at least judge from how I talk about it.

Talking To Richard Heeres At His Workshop

Jens: “So I’m here with Richard to help me change the pickups, or he didn’t help me. He did it. That’s a better description. So now you heard both before and after. I wasn’t really expecting much of a difference, but I was actually pretty blown away by it. There was a lot of difference in terms of how clear the chords are. And yeah, it really makes a massive difference, in my opinion. What did you think?”

Richard: “Both are still excellent pickups that are, these new ones, the Ellis are just more of everything. I had the feeling that the chords are really nice because you hear the trebles so well. And the bass is really there as a fundament, not to…”

Jens: “Yeah, yeah, not taking over the spectrum. Yeah, okay, so sure. Yeah, like I only played for a minute or something, but yeah, the difference is pretty massive actually. I’m quite surprised that it was this much of a difference. Cool, but hey, thank you for the help.”

Richard: “Thank you.”

Jens: “And I also have some videos coming, there’s probably gonna be some YouTube shots with one of his guitars, and in the future, probably more. Thanks.”

Trying The Ron Ellis Pickups

So I went home and it felt like the guitar was completely reborn. It had opened it up completely, but then I started to make some recordings to compare them.

I decided to compare the two sets by having single note lines in one example, and also compare how they sound when I’m playing chords. So for the single note lines, I’m using Straight Note Chaser because it’s a simple blues theme, I can just go back and forth. And then I also recorded two takes on Body and Soul using either set just to listen to how it sounds with when you’re playing chords, if it’s clear.

And I think chord melody is really good for this because there you kind of have sort of the full range of the instrument, you’re not just playing a few notes in the chord, you have like a bass note, and both high and low and mid in there to just tell if it’s really transparent, if it’s really clear. So first, just the single notes.

Single Notes

So there’s not a massive difference here, I think. You can hear that it’s not exactly the same, but it’s almost to the point that if you were listening to this with a band and I was changing back and forth between the takes, it would be difficult to tell that I’m actually changing anything because of course, it’s still the same guitar and it’s also still, unfortunately, the same guitar player.

And all I can think is really, do you really think it makes that big of a difference? But maybe it’s different with chords.

Chord Melody

I think there’s more of a difference of sound in the chord melody and it kind of fits with what I talked to Richard about. So the Bare Knuckle pickups are much more mid-focused. The Ron Ellis pickups have this thing that they’re not really boomy in the low end and there’s a lot more high end in there. And I guess the Bare Knuckle, it’s almost as if you kind of have like a tube screamer built into it. So it cuts the highs and it boosts the mids a bit. And that can be a good thing as well. That’s really gonna be a question of taste.

If I think about like how I reacted to the instrument because the instrument when I played it in the workshop really felt different. There was a massive difference for me and it really felt like it had opened up. And when I’m listening to the recordings also from the workshop, then I don’t really hear that back in the same way.

Conclusion (sort off..)

There can of course also be some factors when it comes to pickups in terms of how they react and how they feel to play. And that’s stuff that I can’t really describe. And another thing that’s most likely also a factor is that I’m human. So I’m also just reacting to it. And in this situation, there’s some psychology in there as well. And that will make the difference.

The only thing with that is that I was kind of expecting there not to be a difference. And then when I felt the difference, I was completely blown away by it. So it was actually a massive difference compared to what I was expecting. And that doesn’t really make sense to me.

So now that I’m finishing the video and editing it, then I thought I would just add a little bit of perspective to what’s going on because it’s been a few weeks. It’s been two weeks since I got the pickups changed. And this is still my main instrument. This is what I’ve been playing. You probably already saw it in YouTube videos, on Instagram, maybe on Patreon.

So I think that actually says something, even if it isn’t scientific evidence, of course.

Testing Guitars For Jazz

I’m curious what you guys think. So let me know about that in the comment section. It’s a very surprising result for me actually, but it’s not the first time that I’ve had really surprising results when I’m comparing gear. And if you want another surprise, then you want to check out this video where I’m playing a lot of very different guitars and they kind of all sound the same.

Which One Is The REAL Jazz Guitar?

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