The Mistake Everyone Makes Learning Jazz Guitar

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.

#4 Trills

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:

You play the root and then move down the rest of the arpeggio an octave to get this much more interesting melody with a large interval skip: 

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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This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

Like me, you probably transitioned from playing some sort of Blues or Rock into playing Jazz, and often one of the first things that you “get” when listening to Jazz and that makes you explore the genre more is Jazz Blues. For getting that sort of crossover sound then I think this solo is the best there is, the perfect storm, and I never hear people talk about it which I find super weird.  It is the perfect mix of Bebop lines and Blues Licks and it is much more dynamic than most Jazz, but I’ll explain that along the way.

I was talking about this with one of the students in the Roadmap course the other day, and that made me think of this solo which really nails what Jazz Blues as a sound is and it is an Amazing solo! Certainly one of my favorite Jazz guitar solos of all time, and probably my favorite Joe Pass solo. It is a great song to demonstrate what is Blues and What is Jazz because it has clear elements from both and Joe Pass mixes that up and uses it in an amazing and creative way while also demonstrating just how incredible his range is with the music both in tempo, technique, sound, and harmony. Some of it is about the notes, but there is a LOT more going on.

There is a lot of real blues in this, with minor pentatonic stuff already from the rubato intro:

This is really all Blues scale stuff and using that sound. But he goes into some bop lines quite fast afterwards. Side note: I think the first part he is playing with his fingers and not with a pick, it is a little bit like you can hear the finger mute the string before it sounds which is different from playing with a pick, with a pick it is faster, almost instant.

Joe’s Blues & The Album

The song is off the “Intercontinental” album from 1970 which has Joe playing in a trio with drummer Kenny Clare and bass player Eberhard Weber.

Weber, is for me, much more associated with modern ECM stuff, so to hear him in this setting playing on an album of mostly standards is a bit funny, but he plays great on it! I have talked about how this is one of my favorite Joe Pass albums, if not just my favorite album. As far as I can tell, they didn’t rehearse anything and just spend a day in the studio with Joe calling tunes, which makes this album even more mind-blowing.

B-roll: Viking guitar teacher – “Learn Joe Pass” “go practice” + tape with Joe’s Blues

I was introduced to this song as homework, which was sort of scary. My teacher copied a tape of it and told me to go learn it. At the time I hadn’t really been listening to Joe Pass that much, I had been checking out Wes, Ulf Wakenius, Scofield, and Pat Martino,  not so much a choice on my part, it was just what people told me to listen to, since this was before the internet, so I couldn’t google it

This solo was really different from the other Jazz Blues things I had heard.

Most of the time when I had heard Jazz Blues then it was a LOT faster and a lot denser, more 8th note based, like Parker playing Au Privave.

And at those tempos then the solos are much more bebop lines and most of the time the emphasis is really on the Jazz side of things with phrases weaving through the changes.

That is not how Joe’s blues works though, there’s a lot more space in there.

The Sound – Archtop and Polytone?

But first, let’s talk a little bit about the sound, I think Joe’s sound on this album is a great traditional Jazz guitar sound. I always imagined that he used his ES175 into a polytone on this album, but I don’t know if it was that guitar and what amp was there, though it does have a polytone vibe to me, it could just as easily be fender tube amp or a music man. I am not even sure if Polytone amps existed in 1970?

There is also quite a bit of reverb on the guitar, and, to me, that sounds like a plate reverb, not an amp spring reverb, which you may already know that I don’t really like. As far as I know, most Polytones don’t have a reverb, so it is likely that it was a plate reverb given that it was recorded in 1970 before digital reverbs.

I am curious what you think he used, and you can hear it all quite clearly in the intro before the rhythm section comes in. Let me know if you have a suggestion, or maybe you know what he used.

Leave a comment to let me know!

Jazz Guitar Has NO Dynamics

Jazz guitar as an instrument actually suffers a bit from not having a very wide dynamic range, compared to drums or a trumpet. In this song, then the rhythm section is really playing as if they are in your living room, so the bass is really loud in the mix, and the drums playing only brushes is really just supplying a clear groove for Joe Pass to lock in with and float over, and because the drums are very soft then Joe Pass has an easier time using the dynamics of the guitar to the full extent.

I don’t know if you have thought about that, but traditionally,  Jazz guitar trios were often softer than bands with horns, and you can tell that they often are still a bit more in the chamber ensemble corner when they play. Like if you listen to Julian Lage trio, or Gilad Hekselman

Both, modern guitarists, who really embrace this and are very good at using dynamics and colors in their playing, while also being really different.

If you listen to Julian Lage on Nocturne then you can probably hear that if the band was louder then his soft call-response would just disappear, or have to be so loud that it wouldn’t come across as comping the melody.

And that is also how the rhythm section works behind Joe Pass giving him room to really get the contrast out between loud and soft and using chords and single-note lines. Let’s look at some of those types of phrases he is using, and how that is as much about rhythm.

Mixing Up Blues and Bebop

Most Jazz solos will stick to the subdivision of the groove, which is usually 8th notes, but for a slow blues like this that really is more like a ballad then you can do a LOT more and Joe Pass almost uses all the options!

He has phrases that are using 8th notes as this part from the beginning:

But since Blues is more fluid on top of the groove he also uses that in some of the phrases mixing 16th notes and triplets into it, more open but also sort of going for the Blues feel.

And then a few beats later he plays double time phrases:

And we didn’t even get to the IV chord in bar 5 yet!

Another really nice harmonic trick that he uses a few times is to turn the Am7 in bar 9 into an A7, and then us notes from the G blues scale to make it sort of an altered sound and then stick to the blues sound on the D7 that follows.

That is really giving you an A7 with a b9 and a #9 when he uses C and Bb over the A7 it is like a phrase you can hear in two ways at the same time.

Another nice variation with the rhythm is where he uses straight 8th notes on top of the swing groove

Harmonizing Blues Licks

Of course, there are also some really great phrases, harmonizing melodies, and mixing chords with single-note lines.

A great example is this really simple 3-note Blues phrase that is harmonized on a G7:

and then repeated on a C7

First using G7 and Ab7 chords and then the same notes but now using C7 and Db7 chords and he is using some of the same chords and a G pedal note for this simple but very effective part of the solo

 

Wes Montgomery!

Another guitarist with incredibly strong melodic ideas who is a a master of using chords in his solos is Wes Montgomery. If you want to know more about his playing, then check out this video that talks about both his singl note lines and his chord solos.

3 Reasons Wes Montgomery Is Amazing And Worth Checking Out

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTOTO4CGrzs&list=PLWYuNvZPqqcGmFEa5n98zh0m46GcARyUh&index=1

 

 

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3 Ways To Fix Your Chord Progressions To Be More Interesting & Beautiful

I always loved that Jazz Harmony is full of amazing chord progressions that have a natural flow but still contain some surprising sounds that make them interesting to listen to.

But how do you write chord progressions like that? Because most likely you’ll see 100s of lessons on II V I’s and while that is an important progression, you also want to be able to play other things.

I  was always messing around with writing music and putting chords together also before I was playing Jazz, probably because I couldn’t really play a lot of stuff so I experimented and improvised together things.

The problem I kept having there was that I didn’t really know what chords would fit together, not beyond the  I IV and V chords in the key, and even that I didn’t really get, so it would be more about luck and a lot of messing around before I created chord progressions that I liked.

Most of that is about having a better foundation and it is pretty amazing how far that will take you in terms of finding a lot more chords, and a lot more interesting sounds, that work together.  I could probably also have used some sort of strategy to help me put stuff together, but I was just trying things out at random.

Let’s look at finding some interesting chords and then  talk about how to fit them together!

The Basic Chords

I am going to start with a few basic things and then expand that REALLY a lot.

The basic process works for ANY scale and knowing this is useful in so many ways!  If you start with the a major key, like C major then you have one chord for each note in the scale:

You build the chords by stacking 3rds so for C major

Adding an other 3rd gives you the triads:

 

and then add another note a 3rd above to get the 7th chords:

This is pretty basic and it is going to get a lot more colorful, but you can already do great things with this! If you have a basic progression going from Cmaj7

to G7 then you can use the other chords to walk there in steps down the scale:

Or you can walk up; Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7

Or if you are moving from Cmaj7 to Fmaj7 then maybe add an Em7 as a step up to the Fmaj7

 

Let’s use this to make it a bit more interesting!

#1 Beautiful Borrowed Chords

The upside to not knowing anything and improvising is that you have not idea what won’t fit and you probably don’t mind so everything is worth a try, the downside is that most of the chords don’t sound that great. The key of the music you creating or playing is a very powerful tool when it comes to creating chord progressions. In this case, the best place to start is to add the chords from the minor key, so C minor, then I can show you a secret subdominant trick and a fun way to create some wrong chords to make everything weird.

For C minor, you have these chords:

These are much more fun to add to our C major chord progression because they fit in there but they clearly also sound different.

Especially the chords you can use as minor subdominants in major are great, in this case: Dø, Fm7, Abmaj7, Bb7:

So if I am going from Cmaj7 to Fmaj7, I can add the Em7 to get to Fmaj7 and use the Abmaj7 to go back:

And this works with pretty much all the minor subdominants, for example  Bb7:

And I am using the minor subdominant chord as a surprising sound that isn’t really dissonant but still resolves back to the tonic chord.

But you can also use them to get to the dominant like this:

Making Chord Progressions

Now that you have a few more chords to use then we can talk a bit more about how to put chords together. And this is useful if you are making your own songs, but it is also important if you are making your own chord melody arrangements and want to add a more personal color to them, or make your own intros or outros.

There are 2 ways that you can put chords together easiily, but keep in mind that they are not rules, if you play something else and it sounds good then that is fine as well, in fact I will show you some examples of that as well later.

#1 Circle of 5ths

Chords like to move in 4ths and 5ths, take a song like Autumn Leaves.

Cm7 F7 Bbmaj7 Ebmaj7 Aø D7 Gm6, everything is moving in 5ths or 4ths depending on if you see it as moving up or down.

That is also how I started with the basic chords going from Cmaj7 to G7 or Cmaj7 to Fmaj7.

#2 Step-wise

The other approach is to move the chords in steps. You already saw examples of this, but here is another one which is really a stepwise variation of a II V I:

And the other option is to use stepwise motion as a sort of leading note. so just a single step before the next chord:

And like this you can create some great progressions putting chords together that will flow!

The next type of chord, before I start breaking the rules, is really a bit overlooked, which is useful because then we can sound different from everybody else.

#2 The Secret Subdominant

You already know about the diatonic chords, and some of the minor subdominants, but you also have the #IV subdominants, where the most common ones are the #IVdim and the #IVm7(b5)

And these are amazing ways to get some other sounds into the progression, just more variation together with the subdominant and minor subdominant chords.

The classic example is this one:

But can also work with it in a progression from Am7 to Cmaj7 like this

You can see that here I am turning the Em7 into an inversion to get step-wise movement, this is another thing you can also do to get your chord progression to flow better, explore making some of them inversions so the bass becomes stepwise movement.

The other one is a diminished chord that you probably know from a chord progression like this:

But it is also amazing as a suspension like this:

#3 Disguised Chords That Sound Amazing!

It can also be great to sometimes be less obvious. Check out this progression, and see if you can recognize the chords:

So it is starting on  Cmaj7 and ending there as well. The 2nd chord is a G triad with a B in the bass, so an inversion to make a stepwise bass melody, and the Am7 is also fairly easy to recognize.

The chord with Ab in the bass is a little less clear, but in fact that is an Fm6 with Ab in the bass, which makes a lot more sense than trying to call it an Ab6(b5) the fact that it is an Fm chord also makes it clear why it resolves so nicely to Cmaj7, and it is a beautful variation instead going to an Fm chord or using Abmaj7, because you sometimes want to search for a less common sound.

Working with stepwise movement and inversions is a very powerful tool that you also will come across in Jazz Standards, maybe check out the beginning of” Like Someone In Love” as an example.

But a much more exciting and less typical idea is to make the chord progression more vague by changing the bass note, so that you don’t have a too obvious connection, check out how this sounds:

What is happening here is that I am taking a G7alt (play) and then using a b9 so the Ab as a bass note which creates this Abm6. The voice-leading still makes sense but the bass movement isn’t as obvious, which might be exactly what you want.

You can make a turnaround much more interesting by turning a G7altered into an Fm7(b5) which will eliminate most of the 1 6 2 5 sound. But you do need to couple it with an Em7 to justify the bass being F:

The Best Strategy for Creating Chord Progressions

As you saw already from the beginning of this video then I tend to start with a few chords and then find a way from chord to chord adding more harmony. This is an incredibly strong principle, but you need to be able to reduce chord progressions to the basic chords to tap inot that freedom. Using functional harmony like that is an incredibly powerful tool, and you can check out how to use it and also some approaches from Barry Harrys and Pat Martino in this video:

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

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The Biggest Problem With Scale Positions and How They Can Ruin Your Progress

You have probably already realized that it is important to practice the right things so that you don’t waste time, and one of the things that most people, including myself, often tell you to work on is learning scales in positions but is that really what you should be working on? One aspect of this approach can waste a lot of time, but being aware of that can also be very useful for pretty much everything else you want to practice.

3 Position systems

There are different ways of creating scale positions with 3 main systems. I actually used or use two of them:

CAGED:

5 positions, built around 5 campfire chords and emphasizes never spreading your left-hand fingers.

3 notes per string:

7 positions built on consistently having 3 notes on each string

The Berklee scale system:

7 positions is focused on staying in one position on the neck.

 

Of course, they all work for more than major scales, so for each system,you have arpeggios and other scales that work together.

I learned scale positions very early on, first a mix of CAGED and 3NPS and later the Berklee scale position system, really just going with what I was told to practice by my teachers, and it was not presented as a grand system that would solve all my problems. On a recent video, I had a conversation with a commenter where we also talked about how we don’t always know exactly how people like Wes and Charlie Christian practiced.

Some of the later guys like Joe PaSs taught things to students and wrote books, so with them there is a better picture of how they worked on things like scales.

ish

With Wes, I don’t know how he thought about it, and I can’t really see it in his playing, but with Charlie Christian, you often clearly see chord voicings as the basis of the line,

which is also why he uses drop2 chords as arpeggios here and there. I think he played from chord shapes more than separate scale shapes.

For this video I am not going to get too much into a discussion of whether you should practice scales at all, it worked for me,  it is clear that Joe Pass did, and Barry Harris uses scales really a lot in his teaching, which is also a part of why it worked for me. I also don’t really want to get into the huge discussion of which scale position system is better, I used the Berklee system and 3nps the most but I also have had periods where I don’t practice scales in positions at all. You can check the old video on my technique practice on the channel if you want to know how that works

Scale Positions Are Great!

Before we get to the problems then let’s first look at why scale positions are useful, because In my experience both as a teacher and a student, then learning scales in positions is a very efficient and practical approach.

#1 Chunks

It is a way to make fretboard overview easier to learn. Instead of learning the entire neck, you can get a very solid overview of a small part of the neck and still start to improvise and develop those skills, so you can learn C major here and improvise over a song in that key and use the diatonic arpeggios to hit the changes.

#2 Moveable

You can move them around. On the guitar, you can move around positions and learning one position really means learning it in all 12 keys, and learning 5 or 7 positions is a lot easier than having to learn the neck for every key, and since the same scales go together in songs then you can move those relationships from song to song and key to key as well.

#3 Complete You won’t play yourself into a dead end in the middle of a solo – Illustration: playing a moving line on Cmaj7, but then have to move back to the play something on D7

It is also very complete. Sometimes I have seen students who were free over some chords in the song and then very limited on other chords, and which meant that they could solo all over the neck but kept being pulled back to one place when certain chords came by.

So there are many reasons for beginners to start with positions, and Joe Pass actually demonstrates a C major CAGED position in the video. (show video with diagram?) and later a scale position that certainly isn’t CAGED, maybe more Berklee System.

Scale Positions Can Be Tricky!

But no system is perfect, and working with positions then there are also things that you do need to take care of so that you actually make the information useful and can use it freely when improvising. Though these first ones are not that difficult to overcome, and not as serious as the last one.

#1 Open up the scale

You need more than just playing the scale. You don’t want to end up sounding like you are just running up and down the scale and only playing scale melodies.

 

You want to really play lines, and Jazz lines also have other things like arpeggios, triads, and chromatic phrases.

However all of these things can be practiced in the scale, so you can practice other melodies in positions by working on diatonic triads, chords, and triad inversions. Of course, you need to practice using them as well but working on that makes sense for so many reasons, and this is of course also what you will hear if you study Barry Harris stuff:

#2 Tie It Together

You want to Connect the information! This is probably one of the most important parts of fretboard visualization. I mentioned in the beginning that all of the different scale systems are not only major scales, they also have arpeggios and other scales, and you want to connect these things as well to get the full benefit of what is going on.

Getting those connections is not that difficult if you are already practicing, for example arpeggios and major scales, just choose a chord and a scale where that chord is diatonic, play the scale position, and try to see the arpeggio in there.

Maybe see if you can make some lines with that material.

Keep in mind that this is the kind of thing that you don’t want to approach in a too systematic way, something I will get back to later.

#3 Scale Boxes Should Not Be Prisons

Another common problem that you will need to overcome is that when you play then you want to be able to move from position to position. The positions should not be walls on the neck that you can’t get over, and there are some really good exercises to really connect the fretboard and become free.

The main thing to spend some time on is to improvise forcing yourself to change position, getting used to seeing the notes in the positions around the one you are playing in, and being able to move to them while continuing your phrase.

Another thing that is useful to work on is practicing along the neck with scales, arpeggios, and other things that you also use in the positions, hopefully recognizing those same shapes in the scale positions.

Here you have a Cmaj7 arpeggio in a C major scale position (using 3NPS)

It Is How You Think About It

B-roll: practicing a scale with overlay of scale fingering? or picture of a neck with overlay

What I mostly see getting in the way with scale position systems is that they are systems and that everything should be approached as a system. It is easy to think that we should learn things in a system, but if you think about it then it quickly becomes clear that working like that is probably going to have you practicing exercises in positions 14 hours every day for years and years, while not playing any music which is not going to work.

You can quickly learn to play the scales in a way that requires very little effort. You see the notes on the neck and use muscle memory, and you also take some exercises to that level, like diatonic triads or 7th chord arpeggios,

but you can’t have that as a goal for every exercise, and at some point playing an exercise probably becomes more about relying on how well you know those basics and then hearing your way through the scale and using that you know the position. It is about a much more useful flexibility.

In the roadmap course, I teach a song using a small area of the neck because I want the students to practice some scale stuff, but the important lesson is what you can do with that, and what many also experience is that if they work on it like that then it becomes something that you can actually improvise with. But in the Roadmap I also get questions about making all the exercises into huge projects in all keys and all positions, and in my experience, that really doesn’t work and you end up not getting the material to a level where you can really use it in your solos.

The main thing to get rid of is probably the idea that you need to play things entirely automatically or as muscle memory, but instead it is about working on exercises to become better at moving and hearing them as melodies through the scale position.

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5 Of My Favorite Bebop Shortcuts To Fix Your Jazz Phrasing

When I was still just getting into playing Jazz, before I moved to the Netherlands,  then I often found it very frustrating that I knew what scale to play, the arpeggio of the chord, and all those basic things, but I still couldn’t get it to sound right.

The lines that I played in my solos were correct but way too boring:

At the time I was checking out solos from Parker, Joe Pass, and a Danish Jazz guitarist called Jakob Fischer, and the way their lines flowed were much more elegant:

But while I mostly understood the notes and how it worked with the chords then I could not make my own version of it.

The solution sort of came from two things: Going to Barry Harris workshops in the Hague where I later went to study,  and then those solos that I was checking out.  Barry could really explain Bebop melodies in ways that made sense, and that also taught me more about how to break down the phrases I found in solos so that I could make them into more flexible chunks and get into my own playing.

That is what I am going to show you here, Let’s get to the first Building block which you might recognize from the previous example.

#1 Beautiful Bebop Interval

One of the problems in the boring line is that the melody is super predictable in how it flows which makes it heavy and not very interesting in terms of rhythm. In fact, all of these blocks are really about adding rhythm to your lines, because that is what Bebop is all about.

Here’s a great way to change the melodic direction by adding a lower chord tone, in this case, the 5th of the chord, and a chromatic passing note, it is actually a Barry Harris technique, but I’ll explain that later.

And that can be put into a lick like this:

But you can use this on other chords as well, on a G7 where the 3rd is B and the fifth is D:

or on a maj7 chord also going from the 3rd down to the 5th (show the lick Ex 7)

So you can see how you can easily move it around in the scale and have your melodies come more alive.   The next one is taking this and going a step further.

#2 Beautiful Bebop Interval 2.0

Now that you have the large interval skip you can also add a leading note to that low chord tone and that really works:

And, of course, this can become a line:

Again this will easily work on a G7 as well, giving you something like this:

A side-note to these two examples is that you can see them as part of Barry Harris’ chromatic scale where he essentially sets up a system for adding leading notes, where anything can be a leading note, and that gives you some really amazing options, I’ll link to my video on that in the description of this video.

Make it your own!

An important thing to keep in mind is that you want to use these to develop your own material, so make variations of them, and explore what you can turn them into because that is where they really become valuable.

A few basic takes on the first two blocks could give you:

So there are all these things you can create from this and they all work. Let’s explore a way of changing up the rhythm by adding embellishments which is a little less complicated than these large intervals.

#3 The Triplet trill

It is nice to have material that is easy to throw in there and that change things up so you are not stuck with endless rows of 8th notes, again this is about rhythmic and melodic variation.

Let’s say you are playing a line like this:

But you can add a bit of energy to the first part of the line by playing it like this

And that trill is essentially just this phrase:

I  think you want to play this with legato to get it to sound good, because playing it picking all the notes just doesn’t sound as good 99% of the time.

This little phrase can be used in so many ways. If you combine it with an Em7 arpeggio it is great for a Cmaj7 chord:

Or if you move it in the scale and add a leading note then you have a Dm7 lick:

In those Barry Harris Masterclasses, I remember Barry referencing this as a Parker thing when he added it to the solo line he was working on, but I am not sure if he always did that, it is certainly something you will find only in Parker solos, it is all over Bebop, and maybe a little less in Hardbop.

When it comes to learning this, then being practical is usually  more efficient than being systematic, so an easy way to start exploring this in a scale is really just to move from string to string and see where it is easy to play, and from that try to see where you can use it, which for this position could give you an exercise like:

And an ascending where you are adding that leading note could then be:

Let’s take a look at another important trill to use, so that you never get stuck with 8th-note sickness again.

#4 The 16th Note Trick

This is also really easy to insert into your lines, notice that it again is easier to play it with legato technique, especially for higher tempos, but here you can actually get away with picking the notes as well.

Like this it sort of works as an enclosure for the note F and if you add an Fmaj7 arpeggio you have a great Dm7 line:

Again you can try to move that around to other strings, if I start on E on the G string then it can become a great line like this:

Which is obviously a lot more interesting than:

And here again, you can explore it by moving it around, and see what is practical for you, which is also how I came up with this exercise:

It is about using it!

As you can tell, then I am focusing on how you can use these phrases not only how to play them, and that is because I think that is way more important. In the long run, you want to make it a part of your playing, and your sound and you do that by learning the concept, not just a lick.  Which is also really what Barry Harris taught by moving things around the scale and how to make phrases into exercises. Let’s make arpeggios more Bebop!

#5 The Other Triplet Arpeggio

This is different form the Bebop  arpeggio that  ou probably already know, with a triplet and a leading note:

Another approach that is also really useful is to play arpeggios like this:

This is especially great for targeting the 3rd f the chord, so for a Dm7 you can use an Am7 arpeggio and get a line like this:

And it also is a great way to get the transition from Dm7 to G7:

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The Problem With My Vintage Gibson

I often get asked why I don’t play my Gibson ES175 more often, and in general, not everyone understands why I mostly prefer semi-hollow guitars over archtop, and of course specifically my ES175. The Gibson was my main guitar for more than 10 years,  while I was studying and a few years after. An odd side note to the story is that I later also discovered that it I had in fact not bought it legally.

The Audition

When I did my audition to get into the conservatory in the Hague then I was playing my SRV strat which I had fitted with flatwound 13s at the time.

That guitar had served me really well until then while I had been playing in Copenhagen.

The strat was my first “serious” guitar and I had been more busy trying to learn to play Jazz than looking for what is traditionally considered a Jazz guitar. So I hadn’t really thought that much about it, figuring that it was more about what and how you played than which guitar you used.

The audition was nerve-wracking and actually, I was so nervous that I don’t really remember that much about playing it. Still, I do remember that after the teachers had discussed my performance. I was called into the room again, I was told that I had been accepted and that while what I played really was Jazz, then once I started studying I would have the option to borrow money from the school to get a “real” jazz guitar. Later I asked my main teacher, Peter Nieuwerf, about this, and he told me not to worry about it, explaining that one of the other teachers, Eef Albers, also mostly played a strat. But I did start looking around for an instrument since people kept asking me why I played that kind of guitar.

Finding the Gibson

A few months later, I had been to some shops and tried some different guitars, but mostly being scared by the price of a new Gibson and also not really liking how they felt if I was allowed to try them, so I hadn’t found one that I liked. A friend of mine told me about an ES175 that he had tried at a guitar shop in the Hague.

I went there the same day to try it, and it was a 50s model(not that I could actually tell), and it had some setup issues but was probably a good option. The price was pretty ok, but in hindsight, there might have been a reason for that.

I pretty much don’t know anything about guitars, but the guitar played quite well except for the 1st string buzzing high on the neck. It was in the original case (I think) and it seemed like it had been lying in the case for a LOONG time, which turned out to be true. The owner of the shop assured me he could set it up to fix the fret buzz and that turned out to be true when I came back the following day. It really played like a dream, and actually still does. He insisted that I pay in cash, saying that he didn’t trust foreign students and the shop did not accept credit cards, so I went to the bank to get the money and took my guitar home.

When I showed it to my teachers I was made aware of how lucky I was that the guitar had aged well, the top of these guitars can sometimes over time yield under the pressure of the strings and that can render the guitar unplayable, but this one had aged very well. I actually had two teachers who had experienced that with older Gibson archtops.

I also learned that it was the same type of guitar that Jim Hall used for a long time, even if he changed the pickup in the early 70s and probably also what you hear Wes play on the incredible Jazz Guitar album.

I did the rest of my study on that guitar, a few different albums, and I took it on tours around Europe and a single trip to North Africa, but by that time I also had started getting into more modern Jazz styles which didn’t really agree with the Guitar.

Problems With The Sound

There were two things that started to become a problem, especially with the music I was playing and writing myself for our band Træben:

I could feel that I was lacking sustain when I played which meant I couldn’t do some of the things I wanted to do, and another thing was that while the guitar has a beautiful warm sound, it does have a very pronounced pick attack. To me it felt like I was missing a sort of singing quality in the tone of the guitar, it was pretty percussive. Obviously, I was both coming from listening to rock and blues guitarists who play with overdrive and more sustain and I was at that time mostly listening to people who played with a more modern sound, singing sustain, reverb, and delay, mostly Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder.

This is difficult to demonstrate even though it is so easy to feel when you play.

If you try to keep notes and have other things moving around it then that effect is pretty much lost comparing the two, and if you are soloing and in your head you hear a long sustained note then it quickly becomes frustrating when the note does not behave like you want it to.

Long notes:

And of course especially if you are playing a long note and then later adding a chord under it while it keeps ringing.

I think it is a pretty clear difference, but I wonder if it is clear how massive it actually feels when you are playing.

Thunk

A short side note on this, while I was researching stuff for this video, then I came across a few discussions online about “Thunk” which was actually a new concept to me. Apparently, it is the sound of an archtop like this with a pronounced pick attack and very little sustain.  It had a few really good quotes from Christian Miller who also makes videos on his channel the Jazz Guitar Scrapbook:

“Thunk is not a concept. Thunk is a lifestyle.”

“Thunk! Because sustain is for kids”

You can check out Christian’s YT channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@JazzGuitarScrapbook

I guess this is considered the holy grail of Jazz tone by some. Obviously, I don’t really fall in that category, but I am curious about what you think? Another thing tangent is that if you listen to most Jazz guitarists then it is fairly clear that the whole turning down the tone and not having any treble in the sound, is sort of a myth, but I guess that is a topic for another video.

Do I hate P90s?

At the time I first try to get the ES175 to act like the semi-hollow by using reverb and delay,and even overdrive, but THAT was not useful live. Reverb and Delay was also not really getting me anywhere which was when I realized that probably I needed another instrument to get the sound that I wanted.

I have sometimes had the comment that I should consider changing the pickup in the guitar since the single-coil P90 pickups will not give you as much sustain as a more compressed humbucker,

which is probably true. I did become aware that my ES175 did not have the same type of sound as what you hear with a humbucker version, which is pretty clear if you listen to someone like Jonathan Kreisberg or Pat Metheny, or also how Jim Hall’s sound changed when he replaced the pickup in his 175 going from the P90 to a Guild Humbucker,

what you hear in this concert clip:

And here he is with the P90:

Obviously, you can’t really compare these two since they are recorded differently and there is almost 10 years between the two recordings, but I think you can still hear a difference, and also that Jim Hall is actually using the sustain in his playing.

So maybe it IS just mostly about the pickup, but having played the guitar the way it was, and considering the fact that it is an instrument from the 50s then I did not feel that it would be right to change the pickup. That said, I do have the impression that I am not a huge fan of p90s, possibly because of my playing style, because I find that they have too much pick attack, and a very sort of aggressive mid-range. That could also be a part of the reason Jim Hall almost always turned down the tone and the volume on his guitar?

I guess I could use this video as an excuse to get an archtop with a humbucker…

After all: The correct number is n+1, where n is the number of guitars currently owned.

It was Stolen!

I switched to using semi-hollow guitars as my main instrument in 2010, which also fitted much better with the music that I wrote for the 2nd Træben album Push. First the Epiphone Sheraton, and later the Ibanez and the ES335.

A few years later I started making YouTube videos, which I thought was a lot of fun, and therefore still do, and in 2017 I suddenly got an email from a guitarist in Belgium who told me that the guitar I had on the wall behind me in the videos was in fact stolen from him when he was living in Amsterdam in the mid-80s. He could describe it in a way that made it clear that he did indeed know it up close. This was of course a bit of a shock, and I guess whoever stole it had not been able to unload it or dared to unload it and therefore it did not surface until 15 years later in a shop in a different city.

I have later heard stories about that shop in the Hague not being 100% legit or trustworthy, but I didn’t know that when I had just arrived in ’98, and the shop when bankrupt a year or so later. The state of the guitar did really fit with it having been put away in an attic for more than a decade, and making this video, I am realizing that it was funny that I had to pay in cash, but at the time I did not find it super strange that he did not trust foreign students and foreign banking. I was lucky that the previous owner did not want the guitar back, which would also have been pretty complicated since I had bought 18 years before that email.

In this video, I have mostly talked about what I did not like about the guitar, but I actually do use it fairly often, simply because it is an amazing instrument and it plays really well, and there are some things in my work, that calls for an instrument like that, so that is what I bring. Things like more traditional big band stuff or if I have to play things that are more leaning towards swing, and I will probably never sell the guitar, just considering the staggering amount of hours I have spent playing it.  Another guitar that I don’t use all the time is my Epiphone Sheraton which is really an amazing instrument, especially since it was so cheap and easy to upgrade.

The Great $400 Guitar I Used On 5 albums

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How To Use Outside Playing – A Few Secrets And Some Important Advice

Sometimes you have to solo on a single chord for a longer time, and it can be hard to keep things interesting, so having the option of using some outside material to change things up can make your solo a lot better if you can get it to sound right.

The point of using outside material is to make it sound wrong.

Because you want the listener to feel the tension that needs to resolve and that helps make the solo interesting and gives it a story.

Playing notes that don’t fit the chord is pretty easy, but playing something that moves away and comes back so that it still sounds like the music is MUCH more difficult, but as you will see it is far from impossible, and there are a few ways to do so.

#1 – Ab7 – Side Stepping Up

The first approach is to move up a half step from the chord you are soloing over. For this video, I am using a static G7 chord,

in fact it is a really nice backing track from Quist, there’s a link in the description. If you move up from G7 then you, of course, have an Ab7 chord. Almost all the notes in the scale will sound outside, and in fact the Ab7 works as a tritone substitute for the dominant D7, so there is also a harmonic connecting, but that is not really what I am using in the solo.

Instead, I am moving from the “normal” solo into the outside material by repeating a phrase or a part of a phrase and give the listener something to hold on to when things get weird.

Here it is this section

And then that short phrase is shifted up and I can keep on improvising using Ab7 material.

Another thing you should notice is how I play long notes to really drive home the tension they create before resolving with a short phrase that moves back into the G7 chord

Here’s the complete solo:

The next one is also using another chord as a way of thinking about the outside solo, but then we get into using some exotic scales as a diffrent approach, and rely more on structures like triads.

#2 F#7 – Side Stepping Down

Another option for side-slipping or side-stepping is to move down a half step, which sometimes is a bit nice because it sounds less like a dominant and therefore a little bit more mysterious.

This solo also uses the motivic way of getting to the outside section, but here the motif is also placed differently in the rhythm as well.

It is about giving the listener the idea that they get the melody but then because it is shifted away they at the same time are surprised about the sound.

And the same type of motivic development is used with a basic F# triad melody to go back up to G7.

A later example will also use voice-leading as a way of resolving which is a more abstract motivic technique.

The F#7 Solo is written out here:

#3 Augmented Scale

So, let’s try a funny scale that doesn’t really fit the chord, but also almost does.

The augmented scale is a 6-note scale which you can see as constructed either of 3 major triads a major 3rd apart, in this case G B and Eb major.

A

or it is the sum of two augmented triads a half-step apart, here I am using B and Bb, but you could also call it F# and G,

Since the chord is a G7 then some of the notes in the scale work pretty well and others are pretty far out.

As you will hear I am really focusing on using the major triads as a way to create melodies. This creates melodies where sometimes it is inside and sometimes outside the G7 sound, but it still works because the triads are strong enough melodies to carry it.

The transition is a bit more abrupt with taking a pause before starting the augmented lick, sort of a shock effect, and then you can use the G major triad to return smoothly back home.

The entire solo is written out here:

You Need To Get This Right!

The trick to getting outside playing to work is to make sure that what you play as outside phrases still makes sense. It still has to be a melody. The two strategies that I am using for this have been either:

#1 Think another chord

So that you can use that chord to create melodies with arpeggios and licks that you already know, even though you still need to get used to how weird it sounds on top of the chord in the music. Sometimes I am also using a chord that I naturally can resolve back to the music like a dominant, and sometimes I don’t that is really something you have to experiment with yourself to figure out what you like. Just make sure that you are playing melodies that you really think sound like melodies, otherwise it falls completely apart.

#2 Think in Melodic structures 

This is a bit more abstract and you probably need to develop this a bit by in your playing. But it is about relying on structures like triads and then put those together. You can work on this by sitting down and making melodies with the triads to get that sound into your ears.

And Luckily that skill is useful for a lot more than augmented scale stuff on a G7, as you will see already in the next example which also has a bit of quartal harmony.

#4 The Wrong Dominant Diminished’

B-roll Cleaning? Sweeping away alterations b9, #9, b5, b13

Sometimes you want to resolve the melody as if it is a chord, so you want to resolve several notes in one phrase down to other notes in the next phrase.

This is subtle but it actually really makes a difference, and It is a little bit like going back and cleaning up the mess you left unresolved

You can use D7 diminished or what I would actually refer to as F# diminished, as a great tension over G7, and it lets you play a sort of dominant sound that resolves back to the G7,

but here I am more focused on using triads and quartal arpeggios.

Let’s first look at the scale:

If you write it from D then it would be these notes:

D Eb F F# Ab A B C D Eb F F#

And the first structure that I am using is a quartal arpeggio from C: C F# B which you could also see as the upper part of a D7(13) chord.

This scale also contains 4 major triads a minor 3rd apart.

D F# A – D major

F A C – F major

Ab C Eb – Ab major

B Eb F# – B major

This example also jumps more or less abruptly out of the harmony, using the quartal arpeggio and following it up with a wide-range melody with the B major and Ab major triads, landing on the high Ab which of course is very dissonant over the G7.

The resolution, in this case, is first running down the scale to resolve to D, the 5th of G7 and then back up to A as a resolution to the Ab which is in a way voice-leading the resolution, and also taking care of resolving that long Ab that was just there.

 

The solo is here:

#5 Altered, But Wrong

The point of playing altered is usually that you want to create some tension that you can resolve moving to a I chord. But in this case, the chord doesn’t go anywhere, and you can still change things up and create a lot of tension using the altered scale.

The outside line starts with a G7(#5) arpeggio which begins by sounding like it is just chord tones but then the Eb makes it clear that something else is going on.

That arpeggio also contains the augmented triad, G B Eb which really helps getting the outside sound across.  From there the line continues up to an Abm lick that is shifted up as a sequence to Am and then Bdim which helps it get back to the chord as a resolution.

The Altered Scale solo:

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3 Goals That Block Your Progress Learning Jazz Guitar

Like me, you probably played guitar for some time before you became interested in learning Jazz. In a way that should make it easier to learn since you can already play and know a lot of things, but often that experience can also be what gets in the way of learning.

The advantage to learning Jazz when you are already used to learning guitar is that you can recognize a lot of the skills you need and come up with exercises to develop those skills, but that is actually also often where it starts to go wrong.

Consistent Practice = Massive Boost

One of the first times I encountered this was when I had just figured out how valuable it was to be consistent, and especially being consistent with practicing technique. This was before I decided to pursue guitar as a profession, and I was jamming with one of the bands I was in next to studying mathematics and computer science at the university.

Since I had just started practicing scales and arpeggios then the boost that gave my ability to improvise was pretty massive, but of course, going from zero to something is a huge difference.

Starting to be able to find notes on the neck and play the notes of the chord was giving me all these options and pretty much everything sounded new and exciting so this seemed like the way to go.

My goal in this was of course to get a better overview of the Fretboard so that I knew where to find arpeggios of the chords and how to play the scales I wanted to use.

There is nothing wrong with the goal in itself, you DO want to have an overview of all the arpeggios, scales, and so on but what often happens is that it starts to overshadow learning to play, and that gets very tricky very fast.

Myth #1 – Fretboard Overview

“I first want to learn all my scales and arpeggios in all keys and all over the neck, and THEN I want to start improvising”

Then you are probably setting yourself up to fail, simply because when it comes to learning Jazz, or any other kind of music, then knowing where the notes are doesn’t mean that you magically know how to play the right melodies, use the right phrasing or how to put those phrases together in a solo, if you think about it then it is sort of obvious. Joe Pass would not be great in Van Halen,

and Eddy Van Halen would not sound amazing doing chord melody.

The other skills required for that style of music have to be there as well, and they are much harder to learn because there are no scale exercises or arpeggios that will teach you that. That is about playing music, not exercises.

And this was also close to how I felt after a year of trying to play Jazz. I had practiced technique and was able to play a lot of it over most of the neck, but  I wasn’t really told to learn something that made what I played to sound like Jazz, there was no vocabulary it was more scales and arpeggios, but not with a way to get it to sound right, not how to play it. At this point, I had finished University and had decided that I needed to figure this Jazz thing out and maybe do that for a living. I wanted to be able to improvise in that style and play those types of melodies that I heard especially with Charlie Parker. I listened to other things like Scofield and Metheny as well, but I could tell that they were playing different things, and the Parker stuff was what really fascinated me.

The way I started to solve this was not the easiest way, and also not how I teach this, which I will get to. As I kept listening and trying to figure some Parker stuff out by ear while mostly failing pretty badly then I started to look for solos that were closer to Parker and easier to figure out. I ended up with some Ulf Wakenius solos and finally Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends which really helped a lot. I was also listening to Wes, but the stuff I had was more of the commercial stuff so it was mostly octaves and chords all the time. in the late 90s, you were stuck with CDs and no internet which, in hindsight, was a pretty limiting factor. Once I moved to Copenhagen then I also started to have lessons with teachers who gave me a lot of vocabulary to learn,  jazz licks and easy example solos to play so that I started to get the language into my ears and also into my fingers. THAT made a huge difference and really helped me sound a lot better.

What should you do instead

In my opinion, it makes a lot more sense to have a more balanced approach to your practice so that you are not only developing some of the skills you need. Only working on technique and fretboard overview without actually learning to play music is almost like making a decision to only work on your alternate picking technique without ever learning anything that is really music, and it is not so that you have to learn all positions and variations in all keys of everything to play music. You CAN start working on songs and developing those skills almost immediately, which is also how I teach in my online course and how I have taught 100s of students.

The recipe is not rocket science:

Find an easy song where you need a few scales, learn the chords, learn the melody

Figure out what the key is and a place to play all of that in the same area of the neck,

Start playing music.

If you can couple this with learning some vocabulary then you are working on taking the things you practice to the place where you can make it into music, and you can expand your fretboard knowledge along the way.

In the end, you did not start exploring Jazz to learn to play scales or find notes on the neck, you want to use that to make music and that part of it is just as important as practicing scales if not more important. I can promise you that Wes and George Benson did not only practice scales, they probably spent more time playing music

And you see the same type of problem with chords, but luckily people like Ted Greene did understand this.

Myth #2 – Chords

“I can’t start learning songs, I first need to learn all my Drop2 and Drop3 chord inversions”

The idea that the more chord voicings you know, the better you are at comping, is something that I come across very often online. And that is definitely not true, it is almost so that those two things have nothing to do with each other. Let me show you:

When is comping good? It has to:

  1. Fit the music – so the right type of sound for the song and how the band is playing
  2. Make the Groove and the Harmony Clear – So you need to state where the time is and what the chords is (as much as is needed in the band)
  3. Be a part of the music – What you play should be a story, it has dynamics, development and makes sense beyond being a robot playing a chord with some extensions.

And these skills don’t really depend that much on knowing all your drop2 or drop3 inversions. Again, it is not so that you will not benefit from learning inversions, but at the same time, you won’t learn to make music by just playing a bunch of inversions. You need to take the time to learn to make them into music, and often that process is approached in a different way, which moves across voicings and you will end up thinking more about melody and rhythm than about the chord.

I mentioned Ted Greene earlier in the video, and I think that is a good example of material that is trying to teach not only some chords to play, but also how they fit together and become music, simply because he teaches the chords in the context of a progression so that it is not empty knowledge.

The more I teach harmony and comping then I also start to think that maybe it is very important to learn to understand chord symbols as options and think of groups of chord voicings instead of learning separate chords, especially since we use them together all the time.

Learning the connection between the voicings is as important as learning the voicing. I doubt if Joe Pass spent most of his time learning inversions, I am pretty sure he spent more time learning songs.

At one point, I had some lessons with a guitarist who insisted that I also buy his books on chord voicings, which were in fact just books with all drop2 chords, first maj7 then m7  then dom7th, and then the same for drop3 and drop2&4. The books didn’t contain any examples of how the material could be used, it was just a lot of diagrams. I did practice that a bit, but as I was practicing then it occurred to me that it was better to just make the inversions myself because then they were easier to remember and I knew the chords a lot better.

On guitar it is fairly simple to make inversions along the neck for any chord: Let’s take this Cm7 chord. First, you find all the notes in the chord and then you order them in pitch:

C G Bb Eb – order in pitch would just be C Eb G Bb. Now you just look at the chord and see that

C goes to Eb

G goes to Bb

Bb goes to C

Eb goes to G

And then you can keep on going moving each note in the chord. And essentially this works for any chord,

but sometimes the inversions are pretty unplayable

What should you do instead

Again, I think you want to learn to comp on songs, so take an easy song and try to play the chords just using basic shell voicings. Pent Up House is a nice and simple song.

From there you can develop your options by finding notes that work on top of the chord, so that you can play melodies and create something that flows from chord to chord.

Like this, you can start developing your ability to improvise while also playing the chords, learn how to repeat rhythms, and have melodies across a chord progression.

It is about turning chord symbols into music, not turning them into diagrams of chords.

Myth 3 – Pentatonic Scales

“I don’t want to learn music theory and scales, I want to play Jazz just using Pentatonics.”

I guess this is the most guitar-specific example in this video, and it is actually very common that I get that statement followed by the a question of what video to watch first.

There are two ways that this falls apart, the first one is a bit more subtle for beginners. For most people then the sound of Jazz is not pentatonic, there are pentatonic things in there here and there, but if people think about jazz solos then usually it is about arpeggios, chromaticism and more dense lines, and that is not really what you get from a pentatonic scales. Even if I don’t really like Bebop scales, then it says a lot that they are created by adding notes to 7-note scale, not taking them away.

See if you can hear it:

A Bebop phrase on an Am7 chord sounds like this:

And an Am7 phrase using Am pentatonic scale sounds like this:

What you maybe can hear, is that If you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to use the melodies and structures that fit in that style because they are a part of the sound, just like you don’t try to learn to play Blues using the chromatic scale and not learning the pentatonic scale.

The other part of where this gets very difficult is that you need to be able to figure out which pentatonic scale goes where.

it is fairly common to superimpose pentatonic scales in Jazz, that is how they are mostly used, and the way you do that is by figuring out if a pentatonic scale works over a chord and if it gives you the notes that you want to use there. Then you can improvise using the “pentatonic sounding” melodies over the chord.

If you want to do this then you need to have a fairly good overview of what pentatonic scales are found in the scale that fits the chord, so you do need some theory.

Let’s say that you are improvising over Cmaj7(#11) and you want to use pentatonic scales.

If you want to find a pentatonic scale that works then you need to be able to find a scale that has the important chord tones which would be E and B, the 3rd and the 7th and you probably also want the #11 in there, the F#.

Instead of just trying to construct something at random with those notes in there, then you can also look at the scale where the chord is found and what pentatonic scales are in there.

They all can work over a Cmaj7 chord, there are no strange notes in there:

But only one of those scales has the F#: Bm pentatonic and luckily that has the E and the B as well, so that works.

Figuring all of this out does take a fair amount of theory, and it is actually very useful to be able to easily figure out what a set of notes like a pentatonic scale,  triad, or arpeggio will give you against a chord since you can get a lot of options from that both with what notes to play and what types of melodies you can make.

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The Most Important Scale For Jazz

“Scales Are NOT going to solve problems”

I think sometimes when you want to learn Jazz then it is too much about learning 100s of scales, and that is not really what Jazz is about. There are a few scales and especially one scale that is endlessly more important than the rest.

Scales are not going to solve problems for you. if your solo doesn’t sound good, then learning hypochondrian b6 is not really going to make you sound any better over a Blues in F, and focusing on the scale takes away attention from more important things in your playing like the melody, rhythm, and phrasing.

You are much better off focusing on the most used scale and then really learning that, and this is mainly because

  1. it is the most used scale – so you are practicing things that you need to play often and
  2. It Becomes Easier To Learn Other Scales because they are mostly just variations on this one.

So of course, I am talking about the major scale!

Simply because that is the scale that is used the most, it covers the most ground and contains most of the chords.  It is not the only scale you need, but if you really dig into that then you will sound a lot better than if you try to learn 20 scales at the same time. This is also one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of modes, but I will return to that later. Let’s look at what to learn and what to practice.

The Scale

My thoughts on what to practice are heavily influenced by how Barry Harris taught this in his masterclasses in The Hague. That was maybe one of the most important things I learned from him.

Let’s start with 2 octaves of C major:

When you learn any scale then it is useful to know what notes are in there, so C D E F G A, and it is useful to know the intervals in the scale relative to the root, Root, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th etc.

Basic stuff that you want to know, but that you don’t want to think about too much unless you are figuring something out.

Of course, just playing the scale makes for some incredibly boring melodies that everyone will get tired of very quickly, so how do you get further? And THIS is a part of why the scale is important because the approach you use on the major scale will make it a lot easier to learn other scales and make that process a lot quicker.

When you improvise in Jazz then the melodies in your solo follow the chords of the song, and if you are playing a song in the key of C major then a lot of those chords are actually in the C major scale, so you want to be able to find those chords.

I am going to show you how this fits on a very common Jazz progression, a II V I. But first you need to be able to find the chords.

The Chords In There and the II V I

This  also works for other scales, and is something you want to keep in mind for working on them.

A chord is a stack of 3rds, so if you have the scale then you can construct the diatonic triads by stacking two 3rds on top of each other.

Here you will get:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C

As you can see below, in Jazz, the basic chord type is usually a 7th chord:

but all you need to get those is to add another 3rd, to get these 7 chords:

The Diatonic 7th chords: Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø Cmaj7

Finding the II V I

Now you have the diatonic chords in the scale, then you can pick out a II V I, since that is just the 2nd,  Dm7, the 5th, G7,  and 1st chord, Cmaj7 in that row of chords

You can play them like this:

And the II V I progression is very common in Jazz and probably the most common building block in Jazz songs, so it is a very useful place to demonstrate how this works and ties in with the major scale.v

You also want to notice that all of these chords are in the scale, so here the scale is a bigger thing containing and tying together several chords in a song, that means that often you stay with one scale but the important notes change with the chords.

Soloing over Chord Changes

Before I get into what exercises to focus on and the Barry Harris thing, then it is useful to look at what you actually need from the scale when you solo.

As I mentioned earlier, when you improvise in Jazz then you follow the chords, and you try to make melodies that make it clear what is happening in the chord progression. The easiest way to do that is to play the notes of the chord, which is what we call the arpeggio.

If you turn the row of chords for C major into arpeggios then you can easily play that through the scale and get some raw material for soloing:

and if you then take the 3 arpeggios of the II V I then you would have something like this:

This still sounds like an exercise, but already if you start being creative with the order of the notes you can turn this into something that sounds more like a melody, something that has a flow moving from one chord to the next:

And of course, the scale sits under this, and you can also use those notes when you solo as you take this further.

How To Really Internalize The Scale

So you already have the exercise that is playing the diatonic chords in scale. Another very useful option is to learn the diatonic triads which as you will see in a bit is great material for soloing as well, and then we can get into some of the Barry Harris-inspired exercises.

You probably remember that to create the 7th chords then you first stacked 3rds to create a triad and then added another 3rd to get the 7th chord.

And the notes of the 3 chords in the II V I are these:

What you want to realize is that the top 3 notes of each chord is a triad, and that means that you can use F major, Bdim and Em as material when you create lines over a II V I:

And create lines like this:

So for soloing it pays off to know your scale, to know the diatonic 7th chords in the scale and the diatonic triads, and it is practical to know what notes are in the chords because that helps you connect other arpeggios and triads to a chord, and it is fairly clear that this is important for almost any scale you want to use, not only the major scale.

But, these are all the basic things to give you an overview of the notes, the harmony, and how it all fits together. Another important thing to keep in mind is that you want to use this for solos, and that should be a part of coming up with what you practice!

Borrowing From Barry’s Vision

One of the things that really changed how I practiced after I had attended my first week-long Barry Harris masterclass in the Hague was a smarter much more efficient way to practice scales.

Several times in the masterclass while Barry had taught us bebop lines and explained how they worked, he had also taken a building block, or a piece of vocabulary, and turned it into a scale exercise.

This direct connection between what you wanted to play in your solos and what you should practice in your scales makes scale practice much more efficient.

I will go over some of the more advanced ones as well, but the basic example that you have probably heard me talk about before is playing the diatonic arpeggios as triplets with a leading note, which is sort of instant Charlie Parker:

And that allows for playing lines like this:

Pivot Arpeggios

Another great exercise that Barry used was pivot arpeggios, so an arpeggio where instead of just playing the ascending arpeggio then you play the first note, and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave:

You can turn that into an exercise like this:

And if you take the last Cmaj7, and just add a few chromatic passing notes then it immediately becomes a great Bebop phrase like this:

Getting Creative

And this is where it starts to get really interesting because you really turn anything you like into a scale exercise and then explore how it is to use the same idea or melody on other chords.

As an example you can combine the pivot arpeggio and the triplet with a leading note concept and then create a short building block like this:

 

As you can see it is not a systematic way to combine the pivot arpeggio with the triplet, but it sounds great, and it will work really well in some Bop lines, but first I’ll take it through the C major scale:

And then if you take the Fmaj7 version and use that on a Dm7 you can get something like this:

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Make Your Jazz Chords Sound Amazing (for normal people)

When it comes to adding fills and embellishments to your chord melody arrangements and comping then when you are listening, it can sound like you need to have a degree in quantum physics and be a brain surgeon at the same time, just to come up with it.

And of course, sometimes it is about adding a lot of chords and reharmonizing the song, but it doesn’t have to be.

Let me show you what you can do on this song, with some beautiful ways to add chord runs and embellish the harmony, and most of them are actually pretty simple and easy to add to your own chord melody and comping.

I was really baffled by this in the beginning if I listened to Joe Pass or Ted Greene and heard all these extra chords and inversions flying left and right, and it was too difficult to figure out and also seemed impossible to play. And of course, some of that IS difficult and complicated, but it doesn’t all have to be.

An Easy Start

When you want to add something to a chord melody then it has to either be built into the melody and fit around it or you add it when nothing is happening in the melody

The first bar of Misty is great to work with because you have a long note, the maj7th D:

For this first bar you can create a fill using pentatonic scale chords, so chords that you construct in the pentatonic scale, and move around.

The pentatonic scale from the 3rd of the chord is useful for this since that will give you 3rd 5th 13th maj7th 9th which are all great sounding notes and colors over an Ebmaj7.v

If you create chords on the middle string set you get this:

Essentially it is just playing the Gm pentatonic scale as 3-note chords, and everything fits and you have already stated the chord so that part is taken care of.  Later in

the video, I will show you another option with some beautiful open chords voicings, in fact they are huge voicings but they sound amazing. On the following II V then there isn’t much room around the melody, but on the Abmaj7 you can use a trick that I incorporate very often: Creating a melody by moving one note in the chord and in this case a chromatic melody moving from the maj7th down to the 6th. Barry Harris likes this one as well, it is sort of a bebop sound.

What I was using in the previous example is that you can freely decide whether you want to use a maj7 or a maj6 chord. Since the first chord is low and only 3 notes then it is easy to create some movement, and actually also some rhythm with a motif that is moving around in the bar.

Let’s try something a bit difficult: using the “James Bond” line-cliche on the Abm7 Db7 II V. I’ll also show you an easier option as well.

Some Difficult Cliches

This is clearly difficult to play but the wide range and the static melody really make it sounds great.

Line-clichés work really well on II V progressions, and the other one, The Stairway To Heaven cliché, is also a great, more playable option here:

Partly Voiceover Ex6 end of sentence back to talking head

As you can see, then the melody is also really active here, so there is not really room to add extra chord runs and embellishments. This is also true for the next two bars, where the melody is moving all the time, but then you have the turnaround which is really just one long note and therefore a lot more flexible. And here I can show you how I deal with one of the things I really don’t like about using the diminished scale for chords.

A Turnaround of many tricks

This is the turnaround:

Here are a few things to work with. I am not really doing a lot on the Db7, but on the C7alt that follows I am using a combination of different voicings together to play a melody, and this is a great fairly easy way to play something that is a block harmonized phrase, and as you will see it is using how voicings fit together across types different types of voicings.

 

These are all just C7alt voicings, first a drop3 then two drop2 voicings and together I have a melody that is an Ab major triad that makes the whole thing work.

You can do this with other chords as well, like a Bb7(13), starting with a drop3 and then moving to drop2:

Or an Abmaj7:

And with a melody like this then it is easy to get it to flow into the next chord.

The next thing is a really practical way to play harmonized moving melodies, especially arpeggios. On the Fm7 you have a melody harmonized in 3rds to move on to the Bb7. The melody is a Cm triad and all the 3rds fit perfectly with the Fm7:

but you could also do this moving in a stepwise manner. Like this:

The Diminished Dilemma

On the Bb7 I am using a solution to my diminished dilemma, and I am cheating a little bit. The diminished scale is incredibly practical because it is symmetrical, so you can move things around in minor 3rds, and that makes it easy to play chords. But the problem with that is also that moving things around sounds pretty predictable and boring, so you want to disguise it a bit.

What I am doing here is that I have two voicings that fit together, one is a shell voicing and the other sort of looks like a dom7th(b5) without the root. I don’t really think of them as independent chords, so we can call them A and B, the first part is playing A-B and then I move up a minor 3rd but to disguise the symmetry a bit then I switch around the chords and play B-A. I really like this effect and it keeps things pretty easy to play without very being boring copy-paste chords (unless you do it really a lot)

I said I was cheating and that is because, if you are playing the song, then you need to make space for the pickup for the second A, which I didn’t do, but before we get into comping then I do want to add one more trick on that first tonic chord:

Some Beautiful Huge Chords

B-roll: Get it into your system – downloading or upæloading, processing picture or video?

 

Here I am using a chord run using 3 drop2&4 voicings. These chords have a beautiful open sound, but they are often hard to use in a chord melody, however, for this type of effect it is great to have a few of them next to each other.

Here, I am moving up from Ebmaj7 to Gm7 and then an Ebmaj7 inversion.

To show you how this might fit in comping then I am going to go over a chorus on Lady Bird using these different tricks, and actually, that is a great strategy for working on things like this: figure it out in a chord melody arrangement and then start using it in comping to make it easy to play and really get it into your system

Comping With Pentatonics, Tricks, And Intervals

The first 4 bars use the pentatonic scale trick on the Cmaj7 and also the 3rd intervals on the Fm7 Bb7, so first stating the chord and then adding a melody with the pentatonic voicings. Essentially the 3rd intervals are used in the same way, first the chord and then the intervals to help move to the next chord.

The pentatonic scale used is from the 3rd of the maj7 chord, so in this case, that is Em pentatonic over Cmaj7. Let’s add some beautiful open voicings and a line cliché

Here you can hear how the drop2&4 voicings really fill up the bars nicely and then transition into the II V to Ab that is using the Stairway to Heaven line cliche.

Once the song is on the Abmaj7 then that becomes a great place to use the inner-voice trick moving from 7th to the 6th

and then use the other line cliché on the Am7 D7, also because that fits perfectly with the same range and makes that chord change incredibly smooth.

The final II V showcases the idea with the triad melodies over chords shifting across different chord types, here it works on both the II and the V chord, and the II chord is actually starting with a drop2, but the principle still clearly works:

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