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Blog Posts by Jens

The 10 Bebop Skills You Want To Master

I think it is time you test your Bebop skills so you know where you are at with your solos. For some of them I am very happy I learned that early on and a few that I wish I had figured out a lot earlier, but I’ll tell you about that along the way.

#1 Diatonic One-Octave Arpeggios

This is essential for Bebop, and luckily something I was taught early on by both my teachers in Denmark and at the Barry Harris workshop in the Hague.

If you transcribe or analyze Bebop solos, maybe even jazz solo in general, you will see that most arpeggios are played as one-octave melodies and not the large positions we use on the guitar.

And it really makes sense a lot more sense to focus on practicing the things that you actually need in your solo, so you want to practice your diatonic arpeggios in any scale you want to use in your solos, but what is more important is of course that you want to practice using the arpeggios in your solos.

And you can use that in a line like this:

So the question is: Can you use these one-octave arpeggios in your solos?

Even if you don’t pass the test then this video will give you some things to you can add to your playing that really will improve how you sound, and it is fun to keep score.

#2 Arpeggio From The 3rd of the Chord

The great thing about the diatonic arpeggio exercise is that it gives you A LOT of material, and the 2nd most important arpeggio for a chord is the arpeggio found on the 3rd of the chord. This is all over Bebop solos, and something you want to have in your vocabulary for sure. Again something I learned from Barry Harris.

To demonstrate this, let’s take a II V I in C major: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

Dm7 to G7 to Cmaj7. And here you have an Fmaj7 arpeggio from the 3rd of Dm7, which is really giving you the sound of the chord and adding a 9th on top

and for the G7 you have Bø which essentially does the same thing giving you a 9th on top of the G7.

A line using these two could be something like this:

Where you have the Fmaj7 arpeggio here, and the Bø arpeggio on G7 here.

Do you use the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord in your solos? Keep track and leave your score in the comments!

#3 Ending Phrases On An Upbeat

This is something that is tricky for a lot of guitarists, probably because it is so difficult to learn to play sustained notes on a guitar, but Bebop is called Bebop because of the way a lot of phrases end, so you want to be able to play phrases that end with

I don’t remember when I started getting this right, but I am pretty sure it was after quite some time. It wasn’t really something I was taught or that my teachers pointed out to me, but it is a good skill to work towards:

If you really want to know then record yourself soloing and listen to how often you end on a short note on the offbeat. You may think you have it, but maybe not?

#4 Chromatic Passing Notes

This is usually one of the first things associated with Bebop: Chromatic passing notes, even though that is something you have in a lot of other styles of music as well.

The basic principle is, of course, to add a chromatic passing note that resolves to the next note in the melody, just to create a short moment of tension and some forward motion to the line.

That can be used like this, which is almost a Parker lick:

You probably knew this one, but the complicated cousin of the chromatic passing note, That, is a different story.

#5 Chromatic Enclosures

These types of melodies blew my mind when I first came across them with Pat Martino and Joe Pass. This is where chromatic phrases really start to become interesting. These melodies are also a lot less common in other genres of music.

The idea is to have a short melody with chromatic passing notes that move around the target note and there are many different variations you can use:

Here you have a chromatic enclosure before the C and also a longer chromatic phrase targeting the high B

And you definitely want to have this in your playing if you want to sound like Bebop!

#6 Triplet Arpeggios (two variations)

Playing Arpeggios as 8th-note triplets is a great rhythmical part of the Bebop vocabulary and also something that it really pays off to practice through your scales, both for technique and because it is great vocabulary.

The first variation is to play the arpeggio as a triplet with a leading note. That would give you this exercise.

But you can also drop the leading note and play this variation:

And that will give you phrases like this:

Where I am using the Em7 arpeggio with a leading note and the Cmaj7 triplet arpeggio without the leading note.

You practiced your triplet arpeggios, right?

#7 Octave Displaced Arpeggios

This is probably one of the Bebop secrets. At least it seemed magic to me when I tried to figure out how it worked by myself and just kept failing miserably

But actually, it is something you can easily work with and start using in your playing. The coming skills are not as much about what to play, but how to play it which is really what mostly is missing and what really makes the difference.

The concept is simple: Here is a one-octave Cmaj7 arpeggio, and instead of playing the arpeggio as an ascending melody you can move the last notes down an octave to get this great melodic skip in there.

And you can use that to create lines like this II V I where I use it twice:

And here you have the Fmaj7 arpeggio as an octave displaced or pivot arpeggio on the Dm7 and the Bø arpeggio on the G7.

#8 The Chord Tone Skip

Similar to the octave displaced arpeggios this is a great melodic skill that is a great part of the Bebop language: adding skips between notes in scale melodies. Mastering this helps you get rid of endless boring scale-run licks that are closer to a cure for sleeplessness than a great Jazz lick.

This is especially effective between two notes that are a half step apart like C and B on a Cmaj7 chord.

So you have the arpeggio from the 3rd Em7 arpeggio, and then a chromatic run where I am inserting the low E between C and B.

And you probably recognize this from the solos you have heard by George Benson and Pat Martino. The question for the test results is: Are you like George and Pat?

#9 16th notes

Another melodic embellishment that makes your solos sound more interesting is to add some 16th note turns or trills. I am not actually 100% sure what the name is, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. This is actually something that I think I could still use a bit more in my playing and have fun working in there more and more.

This type of phrase also helps you not get stuck in the boring 8th note lines, since it helps you how to change direction in a line and create some variation in the rhythm.

You can just add an arpeggio run to it and then it is a great Bebop Line

Did you fail already or are these last skills helping the score?

#10 triplet trill

This type of trill can also really change things up and make your lines sound better. This is all over Parker and Pass solos and also turned into a repeated figure by Grant Green and Wes Montgomery.

On guitar, this is usually executed with legato playing which makes it easier to play the fast-moving trill and also gives it a more fluid sound.

And you can put this to use in a line like this:

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5 Habits To Help You Learn Jazz Faster

You don’t learn to play Jazz Guitar in 20 minutes, it is a process and a set of skills that you build over time through practice. That is why you want to get used to doing things the right way, build the habits that help you progress faster so you are not wasting your time.

In this video, I want to discuss some of those habits that can help you level up your playing a lot faster because some of these are not obvious but they are all incredibly effective!

Practice Consistently

When I was studying mathematics at the university in Århus there was a summer where I decided that now I REALLY needed to start practicing every day, something my teachers had been telling me forever. And I still remember going to practice with my band for the first time after practicing daily for a few weeks. The instrument had just opened up for me, and I could play all these new things that I had never been able to play before, which felt amazing!

To be honest, I never had that again, but I immediately learned the lesson of consistent practice and what it could do. Which is maybe one of the most important things I have learned?

But it is more than just playing every day. If you want to improve something then you need to work at it until it really gets in there, and that often takes fairly long, like weeks or months.

The main thing to keep in mind with this is that you want to keep working on the same exercises for some time and track how you are progressing.

Here you keep playing the exercises to get better, and you track your progress to stay motivated. What you want to avoid is that you just scratch the surface and practice something new every day without really getting better. That is a lot less efficient.

This has often been a part of how I have worked when I have really improved my playing, especially with technique and speed but also with other things like improvising over difficult chord changes.

It is useful to often remind yourself that nothing will suddenly be something you can just do, you always have to practice, but you will see that later in the video as well.

Evaluate Your Practice

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”

This is often put forward as an Albert Einstein quote, but it probably isn’t.

While Jazz Guitar may qualify as some type of mental illness, then what this will teach us is something else. You need to check if what you practice also helps you get better at the skills you want to improve.

If you are following the advice of practicing consistently then you also need to look at what you practice and compare that to what is improving in your playing, and maybe look at what you want to get better at and change or come up with exercises that focus on that skill.

You can do this by trying to have a list of goals that you want to improve. That is anyway a good exercise, because the more specific you can be about what you want to learn, the easier it will be to learn it. It is amazing how much time is wasted fumbling around in the dark. You won’t learn to improvise over a Jazz Blues by practicing scales or get better at comping by just practicing chord voicings.

This is very important so that you don’t spend hours working on something that won’t help you get better at the things you want to level up, and one of the main things to have in there is the next habit:

Use What You Practice

I say this very often in my videos, and it is something that I have to remind students of all the time!

“Work on using the things that you practice if you want them as a part of your playing!”

And this goes for diatonic arpeggios, drop2 voicings, or pretty much anything else. If you don’t have a strategy for getting it into your playing then you are probably wasting practice time.

Building this habit often means that you have to find a way to go from a basic technical exercise into something you use while playing, and often the missing link here is to use some form of composition and explore how you can connect the new material with all the other things you already have in your vocabulary.

This is something you want to keep in mind with your evaluation of your practice routines and pay attention to so that you make sure that you get the most out of all the exercises you do and that you are not wasting time on stuff that you can’t use.

It is also something that you want to think about when you come up with exercises, if you practice something that you have no idea how to use then you should wonder if it is really what you should be practicing.

Borrow Other Peoples Ears

I guess I am old-fashioned with this, but I am pretty sure that the most efficient way to learn is to take lessons with a good teacher. You can always disagree in the comments.

The important thing to realize is that if you are learning something new then you have to rely on your own ear to figure out if it is good enough or what is wrong, and sometimes we forget that you need a trained ear to recognize things like phrasing problems, swing-feel or even just how melodies lock in with the changes.

That is the biggest part of why you take lessons to get access to an experienced listener that will tell you what to work on. That is also why I use the community in my online course to give feedback on how the students are doing, which even helps with things that I don’t always talk about in the course.

If you don’t have access to a teacher in some form then you can also find people to practice with or even use Facebook groups like my Jazz Guitar Insiders group. Posting a video and saying what you are working on can give you a ton of useful feedback. With posting videos on the internet you do want to be aware of the amount of nonsense you can also get, so it pays to know who is commenting so that you know who to listen to and who to ignore

Play With Other People

Jazz is not a solo art form. It was developed in bands and it is about making music together and communicating with each other while improvising, but there are more reasons why it is very useful to make music with other people.

For me, this was always the most fun part of playing Jazz; Making music with others, and that is also clear from the fact that I learned a huge chunk of my repertoire playing in the streets of Copenhagen with a bass player before I started studying in the Hague.

What I see as the most important advantage is that you

  1. Are forced to play and make things work
  2. Have to take everything to where you can use it
  3. Have more fun and stay motivated.

And these are all 3 more important than you might think when it comes to learning, so if you don’t play with other people and you want to play better Jazz, then seek out the opportunities and find people to play some songs with and both learn and enjoy that experience.

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New Beautiful Jazz Chords With This Powerful Triad Strategy

The best way to learn something new is to build on things that you already know. That way it is much easier to really get into your playing and more likely that you get something out of it.

That is how this exercise works and it is a great way to learn some very useful and flexible jazz chords that you can do really amazing things with.

And of course, you can also explore some that sound great and are a little more tricky to play.

Basic Jazz Chords

Let’s start with these basic voicings for a II V I and then work out how to create a lot more chords, and more importantly, chords that you can add color and embellishments to.

If we turn them into rootless voicings by removing the bass note then you get

Notice that the Dm7 voicing is, in fact, an F major triad.

And you can play Dm7 on the same string set in 3 ways by playing the different inversions of the F major triad:

And if you look at the II V I then you can see that all that is changing is a single note, C moves to B. So you can create II Vs for all the Dm7 chords by finding the C and then changing it to B:

Already here there might be G7 chord voicings that you don’t use that often, and we are only just getting started! Let’s make them complete II V I’s by adding the Em triads that are used for Cmaj7:

Exercises To Discover New Things

Usually, when you think of exercises, and maybe even practice, then it is about drilling scales and arpeggios with a metronome. Of course, you need stuff like that as well, but it is very useful to also have exercises that help you discover new things. Here, you start with chords that you know and play, and then you develop more options from that, and you can do this with any voicing or chord progression, and as you will see then we can add a lot of beautiful colors to these chords. This is not about repeating material 100s of times, it is about discovering things that sound great and then using that.

Adding More Colors And Tricks

The first thing you can do is make the G7 a G7(b9), so that it has more tension and adds more energy to the progression. This is really just lowering the A a half step to Ab:

and then you can take that through the inversions as well.

Notice that I am also adding a variation to the Cmaj7 chords because I move the 5th up to the 13th for all of them. You could also try to move it down to the #11

But I’ll let you explore that by yourself. For me, it is very important to think of chords as things you can change, not static grips so that you have some freedom to create the sound that you want from some basic chord symbols.

The Advantage of Rootless Voicings and Chromatic Voice-leading

A very common thing to play on a tonic chord like the Cmaj7 is to from the maj7th down to the maj6th in half-steps like this:

When I am playing this then that is not that difficult to do with these 3-note voicings, but if I was playing with the root then that is a very different story.

So playing with the 3-note chords adds quite a lot of flexibility or options for what you can do when playing chords. Which, as you will see, is where all the fun stuff really starts to come up.

When I was in the first few years of my study at the conservatory, then most of the gigs that I did were these long 3-4 hour standard gigs comping singers. Depending on the singer then everything from 1/3 to 1/2 of the songs was ballads. This can get a bit boring, but it is the perfect place to also develop voicings and voice-leading like this. This also helped keep it interesting not only for me but also for the rhythm section while the soloist was still happy (so that I didn’t get fired)

Jazz Chord Heaven!

Let’s try to take that a bit further, so you can start to see all the things that are possible, just starting with those 3 basic Jazz chords.

You have the 7th to 6th thing and you can also work with the 11th on the minor chord. Try to pay attention to how the sound changes when the movement is in different parts of the chords.

What is happening here is often referred to as inner-voice movement, and it is a beautiful way to embellish chords and add some interesting twists and turns that keep the harmony flowing in a nice way.

You also want to notice that I don’t rely on a static fingering for the chords, but instead try to find a solution that helps me play what I want to play. That can be really useful to keep in mind so that you are not stuck with only being able to play a chord in one way.

You can of course also take ideas that start with another inversion like this one:

 

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10 Classic Charlie Parker Licks That Will Make You A Better Player

If you want to learn to play Jazz, then nothing is more useful than checking out Charlie Parker, but you can learn a lot more than just where to add a chromatic note or which arpeggio to use. The 10 examples in this video will show you that but also some great ideas you can use for making better licks which is probably the real genius of Charlie Parker!

#1 Classic Parker With Odd Note Groupings

This example is one that you will find in a lot of Parker solos., and there are a few things to pick up here.

  1. Triplet arpeggios are great! Here it is a Gm7 arpeggio over the C7 chord with an F# leading note.
  2. The main thing here is the groups of 3-notes are a nice way to create an interesting flow on top of the changes. He is playing this with the chromatic phrases, but it can also work with a lot of other things like diatonic triads

Here you have a line using Dm, C and Bb triads as 3-note groupings on the C7

#2 Voice-leading Creates Beautiful Melodies

Another thing that Parker uses very frequently, especially in BLues is to play relatively simple melodies and then just lead the voice-leading turn it into beautiful music

 

So he is nailing the changes AND telling a story by just changing one note from D to Db which turns it into a great example of motivic development.

You can also add some extra chords in your solo to get more movement in the lines:

#3 Embellish The Chords

 

This line is from the solo on Billie’s Bounce, and Parker turns Gm7 C7 into Gm GmMaj7 Gm7 C7 and even adds this nice wide trill to the first Gm triad.

In fact, he uses the same technique in the theme, but with a different melody. It is also worth noticing how he changes up the sound by following up this fairly dense line with a really basic F blues lick with a lot of repeated notes.

#4 Don’t Be Afraid Of Chromatic Passing Chords

Another example of using more dense harmony is this part of a Rhythm Changes solo:

Using chromatic passing chords is something that didn’t really become that common in Jazz until after Bebop, but Parker was ahead of his time. Here he is turning Dm7 G7 Cm7 F7 into Dm7 Dbm7 Cm7 F7.

He probably thought: As long as you get to the right place then it doesn’t matter what route you take.

This next example is a great example of taking a very simple one-bar idea and then creating a 10-12 bar story with it.

#5 Arpeggios And Rhythm!

 

This is amazing! He is playing a very simple arpeggio melody, repeating it, and then developing it. This is a great example of how to develop a simple descending arpeggio with rhythm! That you can make a million variations of!

Let’s check out another real strong use of an essential melodic technique

#6 Motivic Development – Simple But Effective

 

The line on this Bb7 is really just using a Dø arpeggio, but then making the main motif a little more interesting with some 16th notes and moving around where it is played so that it is first on beat 3 (with an upbeat) and then on beat 2.

Changing the last note also gives it a typical blues call-response sound.

#7 Triad Inversions Are Bebop Gold

Chances are that you are not practicing your diatonic triad inversions. Most people don’t get beyond the root position triads, and that is a pity because you can make some great lines with them:

 

Here is a fairly simple short example of Parker using a 2nd inversion C minor triad, and in general you will find a lot of triad inversions in his solos, so just go practice that! You can thank me later!

Here is another example with a Bb major triad in 2nd inversion:

#8 Scale Runs Made Beautiful

The next example will show you two very common Bebop devices.

Here you have Parker inserting an arpeggio in a descending scale run. This way of breaking up scale runs to make them sound more interesting is all over Bebop, and in this case he is inserting an F major triad which is the triad from the 3rd of Dm7 which also adds the complete sound of the chord to a simple descending scale melody.

#9 How Grown-Ups Use Chromatic Passing Notes

You have jazz licks with chromatic passing notes, and then you have Parker licks with chromatic passing notes. Just check this out.

This is a lot more interesting and unpredictable than just adding a chromatic leading note before an arpeggio and he is really skipping around and adding leading notes in the middle of arpeggios. You really want to open up how you think about this!

#10 How The Pros Use Diatonic Triads And Arpeggios

You also want to be able to put together different diatonic triads and arpeggios to create more inspired melodies. Here Parker is doing that by playing the arpeggio from the 3rd, Dm7 as a triplet and then using that to transition into a Bb major triad adding scale runs in between to give it a great flow.

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A Simple Jazz Blues Approach That Makes You Sound Better

You already know it: It is not nearly as important what notes you play compared to how you play them. That is what I am going to use in this video because you can just take some really basic notes and then work on playing them in a way that sounds better. Once I started thinking more like that I really started to feel a difference in what I played, and it really lifted the solos and made them sound much more like “Real Jazz” (if that is actually a thing)

We can start with a basic C7:

And then use this simple one-octave version of the arpeggio for a C7:

Phrasing And A Little Rhythm

Now you can start working playing these notes and get them to sound like a Jazz Blues phrase. This is really about imagining a slow medium groove and just see if you can make some simple melodies, something like this:

So simple short phrases in the groove, think Wes Montgomery or Grant Green, and just try experimenting with coming up with some melodies.

You can actually get them to sound even better by adding this:

All that is changing is that you slide into the notes, which is sort of the Jazz version of bending strings.

Before you move on to another technique you probably also want to start to make longer phrases as well:

Here you want to notice that the longer phrases is really just two phrases put together and that one phrase works as a call (play) and the other as a response.

You can practice this by just playing a phrase then stop and try to imagine what you think should come after it, is it an ascending or descending phrase? A lot of notes or a few etc. Try to start getting used to hearing phrases and listen to what you hear inside

The Power of Legato Dynamics

Often when you practice legato technique then you are probably working on getting notes to sound equally loud so that there is no real difference between the picked notes and the ones you play with hammer-on/pull-offs

but they do have a different quality of tone, and this is something you can use to make your solos much more expressive and add some dynamics to your lines, which is a really important part of Jazz lines.

First, you can add the rest of the position around the one-octave arpeggio

This is just to have more places with two notes on one string so that you can use legato.

Now you can start creating lines like this:

And the fact that some notes are louder than others really helps make the whole thing much more interesting, so it is also something you can incorporate in your music as a dynamic quality. In fact, the is what you will hear with a lot of players like Grant Green, Wes, and more modern guys like Pat Metheny.

Adding A Little Color

Because you start with the basic chord tones then everything you play will sound good, but also very safe and maybe even a little bit boring. Besides working with phrasing techniques you can start to add in some more colors by surrounding the arpeggio with the rest of the scale. So let’s do that and then move on to some double stops.

So you go from this:

And then you place that in the scale:

The best strategy is probably to start by just adding notes in between the notes of the arpeggio:

Here you have the A before the 7th but notice that you can still use the slide to add another sound and the F is inserted to lead to the E.

And you are using scale notes to lead into the arpeggio. here’s another example:

Notice how the slide takes an incredibly simple melody adds a more bluesy character.

So the difference between the two bars below:

Double-stops and Pedal-tones

Double stops are often associated with Blues and work great for the sound. But there is another polyphonic technique that is also really great that you use which I will cover after this.

You can use double stops as a sort of emphasis on a chord tone, like this:

Here the double-stop is the important part of the phrase, and then the descending melody ending on the b7 drives home the blues feel. This is btw something you will hear Parker do very often: ending phrases on the 7th in a blues, especially just before moving to the IV chord.

Another great way to use double-stops could be this:

Example 13

The tritone is a great choice for a double stop that also really nails the sound of the chord.

Another way to use several voices that Kenny Burrell also uses quite often works like this:

Example 14

Using Pedal notes is a great sound, and it is a little overlooked, but still something you will hear in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s playing quite frequently.

 

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3 Reasons Wes Montgomery Is Amazing And Worth Checking Out

Wes Montgomery is the father of modern Jazz guitar, but it was not because he played with his thumb or used octaves. This video explores what is truly amazing about his playing.

Discovering Wes

There are not that many recordings that made such a huge impact on me that I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard them the first time, but it is amazing when you have that experience. My classical guitar teacher, Morten Skott, had suggested that if I wanted to learn Jazz then I should listen to Wes Montgomery, so I went from that lesson down to the record store and bought a Verve compilation on my way home.

The first tracks didn’t really resonate with me, and especially the string orchestra and big band were not what I expected. I was used to Parker playing with small groups and Scofield playing trio or quartet.

I guess it was the blues that really made the difference for me when I got to the last track on the album, the thumb. My way into Jazz was really coming through blues, I had the same thing with Parker where I completely got, KC Blues, Now’s The Time, and Au Privave but a piece like Donna Lee that I had heard of as being very famous just sounded random and chaotic to me.

The Thumb, is Wes playing in a trio with Ron Carter and Grady Tate, and the track is a masterclass in phrasing and Jazz tradition. Wes makes the trio sound like a big band and really relies as much on swing and blues tradition as he does on bebop harmony, again not unlike Charlie Parker.

It Is Not Playing Octaves With Your Thumb

To me, the essential lessons you learn from Wes are not about playing with your thumb, using octaves, or playing chord solos. Those are really great techniques, but they are just techniques. I think there are much more important things to learn and get into your own playing than focusing on those.

Now, If that offends you then feel free to relieve your anger in the comments, down below.

These discussions with only playing Wes line with your thumb and Django only used two fingers. To me, it doesn’t really make sense, but I guess for hardcore Django fans there is only one way to go…

At the same time if you listen to people like Robin, Christiaan and Mikko then I think have all fingers seems work too.

For the rest, you will probably agree with everything else I say in this video and I have one influence on Wes that I think is seriously overlooked, but I’ll get back to that later.

#1 Not Afraid To Keep It Simple

One of the things that Wes does really well is to make every note count, and he doesn’t rely on using many notes very often.

You can see examples of this in how Wes often uses quarter note with a single note, like this phrase from Four On Six:

and it is common when he plays octaves like this example from the thumb:

In this example from the Thumb, he is actually ignoring the changes and just playing the root for almost 4 bars which is also not that common in Jazz.

You also want to notice that he might be playing one note and only play quarter notes, but he is still playing with dynamics adding an accent to 2 and 4 to lock in with the groove.

#2 The Power Of Short Phrases

Compared to a lot of other great improvisers then Wes plays a lot of short phrases, especially if you compare him to a lot of other Bebop and Hardbop guitarists, but that is also one thing that he uses to make his solos so incredibly melodic and often also incredibly groovy.

Wes will play short melodic ideas and he is a master at tying them together in very creative ways:

In this example, he starts out with call-response between a lower and a higher melody.

Then this is turned into a descending arpeggio motif that he takes through the shifting II V’s

And you can easily hear how the shorter phrases are connected to each other and develop tying the entire segment together as a complete piece of music. Again not playing more notes than needed.

Side-note: If you know your Wes solos, then you will probably notice that I am using fragments from both the Incredible Jazz Guitar version and the Smokin’ at the half note version. This last one was from Smokin at the half note.

Another example of how he employs Call response is from the other recording of four on six:

Here you have a very clear call with octaves and then the response with the arpeggio melody.

Again the idea is that we recognize one part and hear the other part change

The most important aspect of this is that it ties the whole solo together, he is not just playing from one note to the next. He is playing phrases that are related to each other, and often this ties together longer periods like 8 or 16 bars.

I think this is a huge part of what Pat Metheny describes as “melodic clarity” when he talks about how Wes influenced him in the interview on Alex Skolnick’s podcast “Moods and Modes”. If you haven’t heard that then go check it out, it is certainly worth listening to, both for Pat being an amazing musician, but also for Alex’s really useful perspective and explanations that tie together the whole thing.

#3 Repetition Legitimizes

Another thing that is closely related to the short phrases that Wes also really takes advantage of very often is using riffs. In the Thumb he repeats a two-note figure that really comes across as a part of a big band shout chorus:

Example 5

Essentially he plays the same melody with the same rhythm and only changes things to fit the chord progression.

The use of quarter note rhythms and drop2 voicings also really helps to bring the big band vibe.

The Secret to Wes’ Phrasing?

There is one influence on Wes that is rarely mentioned but is clearly very important.

This example is almost a direct quote of the shout chorus riff in Count Basie’s Splanky, and usually we talk about Wes being inspired by Charlie Christian, and you can hear Parker licks in his playing quite often, but you have to remember that he was also growing in a period where popular music was Big Band Swing, and those types of melodies and that type of phrasing is not getting the credit it deserves for being a part of his playing.

Splanky is off the legendary Count Basie album Atomic Basie, and if you want to improve your phrasing and learn to think in shorter riff like phrases in your solos then learning a few of those melodies and playing them along with this amazing big band is probably not the worst idea in the world.

Another example of a similar big band inspired riff is found in his solo on Nica’s Dream, again using rhythm and drop2 voicings to make it really stand out:

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For Any Jazz Lick You Need To Understand These 3 Things

In a lot of lessons on playing Jazz then chord progressions are reduced to scales and then that is the only way you try to understand what is being played. Obviously, that is important but you can learn so much more than this very basic understanding of what is happening, which is really just scratching the surface of the music and not really helping you make your own lines, which is probably why you are studying the licks in the first place.

Level #1

Even before I was playing Jazz, I was always more interested in trying to figure out how to make my own version of whatever lick or solo I came across. That is the real goal of checking it out.

So let’s say you have something like this:

Probably the things that you actually find great about the lick is not only going to be which notes are used or the scales for each chord.

If that was the case then you could just scramble the notes around, but that will mostly turn it into complete nonsense

I remember having problems with lines that I learned and could not turn into something of my own, I could only play THAT version of it and not get it to work in a different way, and that was really annoying. One of the first ones was this Parker Octave displacement line:

EXTRA example 1

And it was impossible to move it around and get it to work and I got licks that didn’t resolve right and just didn’t sound good.

Extra example 2+3 (voice-over)

And I could not figure out what I was missing but something was certainly missing….

Level #2

A Jazz lick is a melody, sometimes we forget that, maybe because we zoom in too much on the chord or the notes. Melodies are not just individual notes next to each other, they are a long story, and very often they have building blocks. This is true for Jazz melodies like “In The Mood” which is built on a 1st inversion major triad:

But this is also the case with songs like the Jazz Standard “All Of Me” which also uses a 1st inversion major triad, and in fact, continues with a root position triad as the next phrase.

Instead of just looking at the individual notes that are played in a solo then it can be really useful to recognize which structures are played, and how they sound similar to Charlie Parker loves to use the m7b5 arpeggio from the 3rd of a dominant chord. This can give you shorter melodies and sounds that you can use in your own playing. It can also help you find new melodies in another way which I’ll show you in a bit, let’s first just look at another example and start with identifying some harmonic structures:

 

Here we have on Gm7, Dm7, Bb major triad,

For the C7alt: Ab major and Db minor triads

And finally an Am7 arpeggio for the Fmaj7

But there are also other melodies that you want to recognize besides arpeggios and triads. You don’t have rules or the exact names for them, but that is not that important, since it is more important that you have a way to identify what you want to play. Whether you call something a Honeysuckle Rose arpeggio, a pivot arpeggio or octave displacement is not going to make a big difference for what you play.

This example uses a few different melody types that are very common in Jazz.

When you analyze lines then start with the things you can easily recognize. Here that would be the arpeggios

Bbmaj7 on Gm7 and an Emaj7(#5) on the C7

A few of the new types of melodies

Before the Bbmaj7 you have an enclosure of the Bb.

The phrase after the arpeggio on C7alt is a scale melody with a chromatic passing note and

on the Fmaj7 you have a scale run from A down to F with an inserted chord tone.

But this is still about what is being played and not why it sounds good. Let’s have a look at how you might describe the melody that you are playing, something that I think we don’t spend nearly enough time on in Jazz and Jazz education

Level #3

One thing is that you can make melodies and use arpeggios then you still need to connect the melody across the chords for it to be a great line. There has to be a bigger picture or larger story to what you are playing, so let’s look at that.

This isn’t taught very often, and I think we still miss the tools to describe it, but it is beginning to show up in education. Let’s start with some examples using techniques that you probably already know and then a few that are more, sort of my own way of describing melody.

This is a clear example of a basic motif that is moved from chord to chord using voice-leading. This is a great way to tie together, and as you can see, it doesn’t have to be obvious.

Another way to play a motivic melody is to use the same type of melodies:

Here the skipping arpeggio melody is continued through the line creating melodic tension as well as harmonic tension. This is then resolved on the Fmaj7.

You can also use shifting phrases as a type of motivic development:

Here the arpeggio melody on the Gm7 is shifted to an Ebm7 melody on the C7alt and in that way, there is a motif that is developed.

The other well-known type of Melodic development is call-response, which sounds something like this:

Here you have an ascending call on the Gm7 with a descending response on C7.

But call-response can also be seen as a sort of melodic tension and release so in a simplified way, and you can think of melodic or rhythmic tension which then resolves on the next chord.

This example is creating tension by having arpeggios and large intervals on Gm7 and then resolving that tension with more stepwise motion on the C7alt. Rhythm can be a way to work with this as well:

Here you have the syncopation on Gm7 creating tension that resolves on the C7, and this is what ties the two melodies together.

 

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5 Reasons You Fail To Learn Jazz Standards And Simple Ways To Fix Them

The way I learned the first two Jazz Standards when I was starting out is almost a perfect example of how to screw up everything I am going to talk about in this video, and one of those things is especially tricky the way we often practice now.

#1 The Song Is Too Difficult

The first two songs that I learned were Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love. Both are incredibly beautiful songs and they are also very common standards so they are useful to have in your repertoire. But they are not really beginner songs, so it was a lot of hard work to learn them and maybe I did not get as much out of the process as I could have.

What I did was that I recorded the chords of the song and spent hours every day improvising over them, gradually finding ways to go from one chord to the next and finding something to play everywhere on the song.

It took me more than two months to learn the songs.

These two songs were much too difficult. There are so many different chords and chord progressions that you don’t get the opportunity to develop different options, and you don’t start working on making variations of what you are playing. This really means that you are not developing your ability to improvise and you are not building a flexible vocabulary which is what you want to do because then learning more songs gets a lot easier. Stella by starlight is also a pretty difficult progression to analyze which means that you end up just playing from chord to chord and not really trying to sound like real piece of music.

So you want to make sure to choose easy songs when you start out. Think about it like this: You will probably learn a lot of songs and you might as well ease into it, so If you are looking at a song and think: “I have absolutely no idea what is going on with the harmony” then keep looking for another song to learn. Nobody starts training for a marathon by running 42 km.

#2 Learn The Melody

One of the blessings of using apps on your phone is maybe also something that is really slowing you down in learning Jazz. Here I am, of course, talking about iReal, which is a great very practical app to have if you have to play a song that you don’t know. But there is one really huge problem with it:

A Song is not a row of letters, and if you focus too much on learning songs with iReal then you are probably very often ignoring the melody. Keep in mind that the melody IS the song, it is rarely just the chords and in a lot of songs then the chords are open to interpretation and there are many variations available, so if you only know one set of chords and you don’t know what other options fit the melody then you might get in trouble later.

So you want to spend time learning the melody because:

If you know the melody you always have something to play in your solo

The melody is a great starting point for a solo, and if there is one difficult spot to solo over, then use the melody in that spot.

If you know the melody you have a guide so you don’t get lost.

It is difficult to hear a chord progression in your head, like 1 bar of Gø, one bar of C7 to two bars of Fm6, but it is easier to have the melody playing in the back of your mind because that is a lot less abstract

If you know the melody it is easier to hear other chord changes because you can hear the melody against the chords

When you are playing a standard then sometimes the band plays other changes than what you know, but having the melody in your head helps you to hear those chords. For example, here is the opening for Stella,

and if I change the first chord like this…

you can hear that the melody is the maj7th of the chord so the 1st chord is now a Bbmaj7. (Stella with Eø on chord 1 + Stella with Bbmaj7 on chord 1?)

A bonus from this is that eventually, you want to start learning songs by ear, and the easiest place to start is to learn the melody by ear don’t worry about the chords, just learn the melody and maybe check out a few different versions. Then you can transcribe the bass and combine those two to figure out what chords are played.

#3 Learn To Play The Chords

I am actually surprised how often I have run into this. Imagine a student coming into the lesson to a lesson and we play a song he or she had to learn. The theme and the solo is ok, but playing the chords is not working at all. Whatever song you play, it really pays off to just learn to hear the harmony and to feel how it is to play that harmony. Not only for you to learn the song but also because you want to play with others. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be there.

There is one thing that is going to make this a lot easier, and that is what I will talk about next.

#4 Think In Blocks Of Chords

Starting to think about chord progressions like this is such a gigantic step up. You can save tons of time and open up your playing really a lot. And this is just doing the same thing as we do whenever we read a book or a newspaper article.

Whenever you read a sentence, then you read the words but you don’t spell them, you read them as complete words.

“Scandinavian People Are Always Fantastic”

And that is something you also want to strive to do when you learn a song or even while you are reading and improvising. Make it into chunks of information that help you play over it. Something you can sum up in a few blocks instead of 30+ different chords.

And actually, there is a next-level of thinking related to this where you also start to realize how different chords are actually the same, but maybe that is for another video.

#5 Have The Material Within Reach

When it comes to improvising over a song you are still learning there is one part of the preparation you want to get right:

You need to be able to have all the scales or arpeggios that you want to use within reach. It is pretty much impossible to have any kind of melodic continuity or freedom if you need to skip up or down 3 or 4 frets to have material for a part of the song.

And this is probably not something that is impossible to overcome with a bit of practice, and if you are not at home over the entire neck then pick a place and start there. Once you have one position under control you can expand from there taking the positions next to the one you know..

 

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The 5 Types of Dominant Chord You Want To Know

There is ONE mistake that you don’t want to make when it comes to improvising over chords because that will hold you back when it comes to understanding and hearing chord progressions that you want to play. And this is especially true for dominant chords.

It sort of goes back to the Joke or anecdote about Mozart driving his father crazy by playing something like

When I play this then you can hear probably hear what the root is, because the last chord wants to resolve to the root. You can also hear that the last chord wants to resolve, and I did not resolve it. That is also the joke, Mozart would play this and not resolve it to infuriate his father.

Music Is More Than A Row Of Letters

But, what this tells you is that in a lot of music, chords are not isolated things. A piece of music rarely sounds like unrelated harmony next to each other, you immediately start to connect the chords and hear some chords as tension and others as a resolution.

I am going to make a statement that sounds sort of ridiculous in a bit!

If you want to solo over a chord progression then you want to understand not only what chord is there, but also how it relates to the song and the surrounding chords because that will make it a lot easier to improvise over it and it will help you hear the harmony that you are soloing over.

If you just zoom in on each chord then that is like reading a sentence but only spelling each word. If you spell this sentence you may miss an important part of what is being said:

Your Lunch Will Kill You

Another thing that is true both for music and for language is that you can say the same thing with other words:

That Sandwich Is Poison

Hearing Chord Progressions

With experience, you start to hear the progression, similar to how you can probably imagine how a 12-bar blues sounds and play that in your head like an audio track.

So what you REALLY want to avoid is that you just look at the chord symbol and ignore everything else. To compare this to language. If you are reading the words of a sentence but only focus on how each word is spelled then you ignore what is actually being said in the sentence, and if you think about it, then the important thing about the sentence is probably the meaning and it could be said using other words as well. This is also true for, at least, most music: A Chord is a part of a context and you want to understand what that context is.

And here is where I get to make this crazy statement:

“Not all dominant chords are dominant”

But throughout this video, you will see how this is maybe not that crazy.

#1 Most of the time Dominant chords are Dominants

The strongest connection or resolution in harmony is a dominant resolving to a tonic, so V – I. By resolving then I mean that the chord on the 5th note of the scale resolves to the root chord.

This is also what I used in the intro, but there I didn’t let it resolve.

You have two main variations, the V chord is either in a major or in a minor key, where a major dominant will have a 13th, and a 9th and resolves to a maj7

The minor version is usually the dominant coming from the harmonic minor scale with a b9 and b13 (PLAY). But there are a lot of other options as well.

Let’s go over another very common dominant before getting to the dominant chord that is actually subdominant.

#2 And These are Dominants As Well

The next type of dominant chords are the ones that you come across that resolve but just not to the tonic chord, the secondary dominants and if you analyze harmony then you write a V in brackets.

     I       [V]      II       V

 Cmaj7 A7   Dm7  G7

 

Some of the common ones would be the ones that take us to II, like this A7: Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

The V of V: D7 Dm7 G7

Or if you have a song that moves to the IV: Cmaj7 C7 Fmaj7.

These follow the same guidelines as the regular dominants so the extensions depend on whether the target chord is major or minor, so a if the target chord is major it will have a 9th and a 13th and if it is resolving to a minor chord then it will have a b9 and a b13.

Let’s have a look at some less obvious options.

#3 This Dominant is Subdominant

In this example, you hear a C7 resolving to Fmaj7 which is just a secondary dominant, but the Bb7 resolving to Cmaj7 is not like that. But it does sound like it resolves.

In this case, the Bb7 is a subdominant chord. In fact, it is just an Fm6 with another bass note.

You can hear how this progression moves in the same way:

So the Bb7, which is often referred to as the backdoor dominant resolves like an Fm6 to Cmaj7 so it is a subdominant chord.

In terms of improvising then mostly you would play it as a Lydian dominant, which here means using F melodic minor, again a connection with IVm in the key.

#4 The Disguised Dominant

When you have a dominant chord that resolves by moving down a half step then this is referred to as a tritone substitution. In fact, this is the dominant of the key in disguise, I’ll show you that in a bit.

When you analyze this dominant you write add sub in front of the dominant

II subV I which means that it is the tritone substitute of the dominant.

In the progression above you would expect a G7: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7, and the reason why a tritone substitute works is that if you look at G7 next to a Db7 then you can see that they share the core part of the chord: 3rd and 7th. And a Db7 can be seen as a G7 with a lot of alterations with a Db in the bass.

You can come across tritone substitutions for secondary dominants as well. Below is an example of how is a substitute for the A7 in a C major turnaround.

#5 You Never See This But Is Good To Know

The last dominant chord is also in fact subdominant since it is derived from a subdominant diminished chord.

The most famous example of this chord is probably in Out Of Nowhere, where you have this progression:

You also find this in the original Star Trek Theme.

In this case, the Eb7 is in fact an inversion of another chord, namely a #IV double diminished.

Constructing the Double Diminished Chord

In the key of G major, the #IV is C#

The #IV diminished would be C# E G Bb

So the #IV double diminished is C# Eb G Bb which is then played with the Eb in the bass.

The Other Name

There is another way of describing it where you focus on it being minor subdominant and then end up calling it a German augmented 6th chord.

I call it #IV because I think that describes the sound better and links it to other chords in the key in a useful way.

Besides Out Of Nowhere you see this chord in Angel Eyes and My Foolish Heart, but it is not terribly common.

Soloing over the chord

In Jazz, you mostly play it as a Lydian dominant chord, but often it is also turned into a II V which is also very common in Out Of Nowhere giving you Gmaj7 Gmaj7 Bbm7 Eb7.

How Well Do You Know Your Diminished Chords

It may be useful for you to dive into the different types of diminished chords if you want to understand Jazz harmony better. Often people try to reduce diminished chords to dominants, but often that doesn’t really work that well and help you describe how it sounds. This video will show you how to understand them.

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An Overlooked Skill That Will Give Your Jazz Solos A Massive Boost

It is funny how sometimes a single solo that you hear can really change the way you think about music and what you are trying to learn.

In this case, it was a pretty obscure video and a single solo, that I kept coming back to and that has influenced what I practiced for years, and I never even transcribed it, I just realized that I needed to figure out how to get that one thing a lot stronger in my playing.

The solo I am talking about is this incredibly low-resolution Jon Damian solo, where he is playing Sweet Georgia Brown in a duo with Jake Langley, both, of course, amazing guitarists.

A part of what made it stand out is probably the contrast between Jon and Jake’s solos, where Jake is playing a lot more traditional Bop-oriented 8th-note lines and Jon is relying almost purely on sparse melodies and A LOT of creative and swinging rhythms.

When I first listened to this then I did not immediately get what it was that I liked so much about the solo, but that is why I kept coming back to it and I tried to figure out why I thought it was great. Gradually I started to realize that it was about playing more interesting rhythms and not focus as much on 8th note lines which is what I had done until then. I needed to learn to hear phrases with that type of rhythm.

What Is The Difference?

Let’s first look at what I am talking about. A great but dense 8th note Bebop line could be something like this:

But Jazz is also about syncopation and rhythm and what you also want to be able to do is improvise lines like this:

And here you have fewer notes, but there is a lot of energy and tension in the rhythm that really comes to life, Who said early Jim Hall?

Get More Creative With Rhythm

So How Do You Practice This? Ironically the best way to get more options is to limit yourself and use that to develop your skills.

Let’s start with a simple rhythm, something you compose or take something from a solo that you like. Actually, there are some great themes and solos to check out for inspiration, but I will come back to that later.

In this rhythm, I am just using a few notes to keep it flexible. Here, I am using 2, but 3 would work as well. Just make sure that you don’t make a long complicated phrase like this:

And that is because you want something you can work with, and make variations of and eventually even take through an entire song.

Displaced Rhythms

Displacing rhythms is actually a very important part of jazz phrasing and jazz melodies if you listen to songs like Bernie’s Tune or Broadway.

You can practice is to take the basic phrase and then move it around, that can be in like this where I am shifting the phrase around one 8th note at the time:

Example 5

Of course, this is a pretty intense exercise and you can also just work with this as a way of composing lines and in that way expand the rhythms you use. This could give you a II V I line like this:

Another thing that can be fun is working with this on a one-chord backing track is a great way to learn to hear more rhythms and in that way expand what you can do, and gradually start to move it over to more complicated progressions.

Developing Rhythm and Melody

There is another way that you can develop more rhythmical playing, which will also lead me to give advice that I usually never give..

What you can do is explore simple ways to make variations of the rhythm.

Since there is a fair amount of space in the main rhythm that you are using then you can easily explore how to make variations by adding more notes here and there.

When you have very active rhythms like this then it is often easier to use very basic melodies. Usually, I suggest working with arpeggios, but you should probably start by using scale melodies here because that is less likely to sound like abstract skipping around.

You can of course also explore removing notes or shortening the phrase instead of adding to it and in that way take it further

Who To Check Out?

Anything you want to learn, you also want to learn at least partially by ear. You need to know what it sounds like.

I have already mentioned that you should check out themes similar to Bernie’s Tune or Broadway. Actually working on Bebop themes in general, is very useful, because even if Charlie Parker often plays more dense lines then these rhythms are certainly there and most of his compositions are not great examples to learn from. This is also one of the main reasons why Donna Lee may not be written by Parker since it is a lot more dense and on the bear than the rest of his compositions.

Call-Response

As you can probably tell by now, I am using the same tools for the rhythm that I use when I am working on melodic skills in solos. Another great way to work with melodies is to use Call-response.

The concept here is that you listen to what you play and then come up with a response to that.

In this case, the main statement is relying mostly on off beats, which creates tension, and then a logical response will be more resolved and have more downbeat. That is also what you can see in both of the examples of responses.

Of course, these are just examples of what I hear as a response, and you might hear something completely different, which is actually great.

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