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7 Guitar Skills That Pay Off Forever

Some skills are more difficult than just learning a new lick:

or a chord voicing,

and you want to keep working on and developing these skills because THEY will benefit your playing and progress forever. They are sort of the opposite of a quick win., but probably also a lot more important. In this video, I will go over 7 of those skills including one that I really suck at, but there is still hope. Some of these may also be unpopular opinions, but I am sure you guys will let me know in the comment section.

#1 Learning By Ear

When I started learning Jazz, I was told to learn songs by ear and transcribe solos pretty early on, and in hindsight, that was some of the best advice I ever had, even if it had a few funny side effects which I will get back to later.

Right now it is easy to get any information, everything is available as a PDF transcription and you can ask “got tabs for that” on any post on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, but learning by ear is incredibly important for how well you play guitar.

When you learn songs by ear then you reinforce the connection between what you hear in your brain and what comes out on the instrument and while this is a pretty obvious advantage for learning to improvise and compose music then that connection is just as crucial if you are playing composed music.

If you are just reading the notes then that is what we call “typing” and you are not really making music just making sounds from a piece of paper.

The odd side-effect that I had by learning songs by ear was that I wasn’t really jamming with other people at the time and just learned songs that I liked from the albums I listened to, and It turned out that “I Heard You Cried Last Night”, “This Is No Laughing Matter” and “She’s Funny That Way” was not really songs that I ever got to play with anyone.

If you are completely new to learning by ear then it can seem difficult to get started, but don’t be afraid to ease into it and go learn songs that you know but never played, and it really is perfectly fine to start with the riffs from Sunshine Of You Love or Seven Nation Army and build from there instead of giving up on a 10 Coltrane solo.

#2 Analyze Your Own Playing And Progress

In my experience, the biggest problem with self-teaching, and this is true for students of any level, is ear training. Not only being able to hear notes and chords but really being able to hear how something is supposed to sound when it comes to all of the important aspects of music.

Keep in mind that Stevie Ray Vaughan uses pentatonic scales, but so does a lot of African folk music and a ton of heavy metal, and they all sound pretty different!

So there is a lot more to music than what notes or scale is used because you need:

Rhythm

Phrasing

Melody

to all come together and none of those are described by a scale.

If you are teaching yourself then you need to train yourself to hear what is wrong and figure out a way to improve on that. I am sure you can see how this is difficult to get right.

The way you do that is by recording yourself because It is impossible to listen and catch it all while you are also playing. Then you start analyzing what and how you play so that you can figure out how to get better. and This is something that no YouTube video, blog post or podcast can do for you, but it is an essential part of learning, and it will help you improve your playing forever. The fact that giving yourself feedback is almost impossible is actually also why I have included a community in my course to give students feedback on their playing, in a way that is to let them borrow my ears, get some feedback and help focus their work while going through the course.

So record yourself and listen for what needs work and focus on improving that, and train your ears to hear good rhythm and good phrasing as well as notes and chords.

#3 Fretboard Knowledge

Building an overview of the fretboard so that you are free to move around like Joe Pass does here and play lines over any chord on any part of the neck is of course the goal,

but it is something that you want to build over time. In fact, I found that it works better to start with one place of the neck and make sure that you can make music there and then expand that.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I don’t think I have seen anyone really get a lot out of trying to work on fretboard knowledge without also using this in music. When I see students improve this aspect of their playing then it seems to be mostly by learning a song in one position and then gradually adding the surrounding positions to have an overview of that part of the neck.

The types of exercises that work beyond that seem to be exercises that help you find things in a context on the guitar, so playing diatonic triads or arpeggios across the neck or on a string set, but you need to pair it with using this material to really integrate it into how you already play and actually learn something.

#4 Knowing Music Theory

This is possibly a hot take when it comes to guitar skills, but in general, most people get a lot out of learning some theory so that they can understand the music that they play and what they are doing when they improvise. It really does tend to make them better musicians in the long run.

The trick with theory is that you need to get it away from being just theory for it to be useful, so if you want to understand harmony then you want to know songs that use that harmony, if you want to use the altered scale then know how solos sound that uses the altered scale.

For a lot of us, certainly, for me, it is pretty easy to learn the theory part, but it takes a lot more work to also connect it to your ear and in that way get it to the point where you can actually use it, but that is worth working on and can open of for amazing things in your playing.

#5 Reading Music

Not sure if this is another unpopular opinion, but reading music is really good for learning to play an instrument, and maybe the most important part of that is something that nobody ever talks about.

On guitar then most internet stuff will include tabs and diagrams which are ways of writing down what to play in a very direct and easy-digestible way. They do however leave a lot of information out and some of the advantages to reading sheet music that are not included in tabs and diagrams are:

The Rhythm, a bunch of numbers doesn’t give you the rhythm and that is at least 50% of the music most of the time.

How it sounds in the context and where the notes are going, the number describing the root of the key looks just like the number that is the most dissonant chromatic note over a chord.

Music Notation is more general so if you can read, then you have access to great music that is written for violin, saxophone, piano etc.

Most of this is obvious, but just to give you a superficial example of hearing things in the context, here are the tabs of a II V I lick. From looking at this then it is not immediately obvious that the V chord is going to be sounding out of the key, but if you add the sheet music you can see how suddenly there are a lot of notes in there that are not in the key so you expect those to sound further away.

In fact, if you train reading and especially singing from sheet music, then you are working on hearing what is written, and THAT helps you hear music and know what it is you hear, which is a great shortcut to playing what you hear.

Let’s talk about a skill that I do NOT master….

#6 Setting Up A Guitar

I actually tried to learn how to set up a guitar and become less dependent on others, but I ran into a problem that needed help solving.

The reason that I suck at this is that I am lucky and unlucky to be surrounded by people who are incredible at doing setups and I was always more interested in playing a guitar than setting it up. I actually bought my Yamaha SG1000 as a project to practice setting up guitars.

Most guitars are made of wood, which sort of means that they are still alive and change over time. So the instrument changes with temperature and humidity and you need to set them up so that they play well and stay in tune. This becomes especially relevant when you start traveling with a guitar.

With my SG1000 project, the problem that I ran into was that the bridge had bowed inwards over time and needed to be replaced, That was more than I could figure out myself, see the part of the video on self-teaching, so I just kept trying to get the guitar in tune, with the right action but kept running into problems because the bridge and the neck don’t curve the same way.

This is something that I do plan to pick up again though since it sucks to be stuck in a city in another country with a guitar that doesn’t play as easily as it did at home, maybe I will keep you up to date along the way on that.

#7 Playing With Other People

The only reason that I managed to start playing Jazz at 23 and get into a conservatory two years later is that I focused on playing with other people. I love making music with others, that is by far what I find the most important about making music and what I enjoy doing the most. Spending hours every day during the summer playing Jazz standards in the street really made that all come together and got me to the level I needed to get into music school.

Playing music with others often boosts progress massively when you are learning an instrument for 3 main reasons:

Motivation

Communication

Internalization

The skill you want to develop here is to be able to communicate, which really means that while you are playing, you need to be able to listen to the rest of the ensemble and decide if you want to follow or lead something in the music and know how to get that across while you are playing. If you just start playing and close your ears to what is happening around you then you will not be called again.

The reason that this will pay off forever is pretty simple, playing with other people is fun and incredibly motivating for you to keep practicing and explore new things, and if you want to be able to use what you practice then you need to internalize it so that you can play like that and still pay attention to the band. In the end, you can jam a standard with a band 100s of times more than what you can practice it, and that will make a huge difference to your development.

So try to work on becoming great to play with by being flexible when you play with others and listening to what they are doing, regardless of how your level of ear training is you will only hear something if your ears are open in the first place.

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The Truth About Avoid Notes and Target Notes

There seems to be some confusion about what avoid notes and what target notes are when it comes to improvisation even mixing them up, so I thought it would be a good idea to show you which one is incredibly useful and which one really isn’t, because in a way, they are the opposite of each other.

When I was starting to learn Jazz, I was taught both along the way, and for me, one helped me build an essential skill for Jazz while the other one was something that I knew but it never really made any sense to me.

Avoid Avoid Notes

Usually, avoid notes are defined as the notes that create tension against the underlying chord. So the most common example would be playing an F over a Cmaj7

Here the F and the E and also the F and B clashes quite a bit.

But really any note that creates tension would be an avoid note.

It is probably clear that I don’t think in avoid-notes and thinking about avoid-notes is very useful. The reasons for this are quite simple when it comes to improving your playing. There are some essential things missing:

#1 It doesn’t tell you anything about what to play.

If you take the common example F as an avoid note over a Cmaj7 chord, then the only thing that tells you is to NOT play an F, which is not really useful information when you want to solo. You are much better off thinking about what you SHOULD play. You also don’t drive a car thinking about NOT hitting something.

#2 It doesn’t describe the music

If avoid notes make sense then surely nobody uses the avoid notes in their solos. But at the same time, I was given a ton of examples and transcribing solos and it doesn’t matter if it is Joe Pass, Charlie Parker, or Pat Martino. They all use avoid notes in their solos, even if they don’t often really sit on them. So that never made any sense to me. It was not only a rule that I couldn’t use to make music it also seemed like it wasn’t actually true.

Bad Teaching vs Good Teaching

To me, avoid notes is the same as teaching people not to use a hammer because that isn’t the right tool instead of teaching them how to use a screwdriver which would be the right tool when they are putting together something they bought at Ikea.

And it is really obvious that you benefit more from thinking about what to play instead of thinking about what not to play.

So focus on playing notes that sound good and making melodies that work with for example the arpeggio of a chord rather than thinking about not hitting a specific note in a scale. It is almost like telling you “don’t think about a pigeon.”

What Are Target Notes

The strange thing about target notes is that it isn’t really about the notes, it is about playing towards them. Anything can be a target note, that is really up to you.

You can even make an avoid note the target note, and sometimes that is a great thing to do…. 

I’ll show you that later in the lesson

In general, we often hear music as movement so there is a flow and there is a direction.

You can hear how this works with Bach:

Where the melody is moving forward and aiming for the target notes repeating a similar structure or motif to make it clear when you hit the target note on beat 1 of the bar.

And This is one of the things that really link Bebop and Bach: playing the movement and linking to the chord.

Take this Barry Harris lick, Where is clearly aiming for the 5th of Cm7 and uses the Bdim to really add momentum on the G7 that resolves to that Cm7 and in fact does the same to moving from Cm7 to F7 targeting the A.

So when you talk about target notes then you are talking about something that you can find in the music, which, as you may or may not know, is how I usually like to think about valid music theory: Something that describes the music that we play.

And it is also a way to develop your playing. Whatever target note you choose, you can sit down and practice to make lines that hit that target note, gradually moving from composing lines to improvising them and in that way internalizing the skill.

Examples of lines resolving to the 9th of Dm7: E.

This is important to be able to do. so let’s go over a basic example of how that works.

Practicing Target Notes

I’ll demonstrate this the way I learned to use target notes from my teacher, but actually, Hal Galper wrote a book on the topic that is worth checking out it is called Forward motion. I am just using the approach that I learned because that worked for me and has also worked very well for my students.

Target notes as a strategy works because you play melodies that are actually going somewhere. You are not just playing another note into the void (b-roll into the void) As you heard with Bach or the example from Barry or actually any other Bebop solo, there is an energy that drives it forward.

The first thing is to choose a target note, and if you are new to improvising over changes then you want to take notes that are very clear and easy to hear. This is just because that makes everything easier to learn and also helps you hear how the chords are moving, but as I already mentioned, you can really target any note you want to (which often ends up being any note you can hear anyway because otherwise you probably can’t make any lines that make sense).

For a II V I, the easiest place to start is just to use the 3rd of each chord: Clear notes that define the color of the chord:

So for a II V I in C major you have these chords:

And if you take the 3rd as a target note for each chord then you have these notes:

Now you can practice composing simple melodies that take you from one target note to the next:

And I am sure you can imagine that you have lots of options in terms of melodies for these target notes here’s another basic one:

If you start to be able to do this then You can also start to use the same target notes in other octaves, again because you build on what you can hear and use that to expand.

And then you can start opening up which notes you use, after the 3rd then the 5th is a great option, here I use that on the Cmaj7 chord:

And from here you can gradually start to learn to use other notes, see what you think works and give your ears time to get used to the sound. You can also gradually start to add things like other sounds on the dominant and extra chords. Having the direction in your lines will make a lot of things easier to get to work.

Target Avoid Notes

As I mentioned earlier, then you can take any note as a target note also a target note like the F over a Cmaj7. A basic way to do this could be this:

As you can hear then I treat the F as a suspension and resolve it to an E later in the bar. And that is simply just because the F sounds the way it does, and the most common way you will see the note in a melody would be like this, so a tension that is resolving later. Which is a great effect used in many melodies, and keep in mind that if you thought of it as an avoid note then you couldn’t do stuff like this.

Target Notes Are Not Everything

As you might have realized then there is a specific drive or type of sound to this type of melody, and that is a huge part of especially Bebop-inspired music, but it is not the only type of melody that you want to be able to play, so while this is a great way to get started playing over chord changes then it is not the only way you want to work on creating melodies. You want to also work on melodic techniques like Motivic development and Call-response. If you want to explore these techniques that are amazing for getting more of a story into your solos because phrases are more connected then check out this video that builds that up step-by-step.

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Overlooked Barry Harris Wisdom That Is Amazing Advice For Jazz

In the late 90s when I traveled from Copenhagen to The Hague to follow masterclasses with Barry Harris at the Royal conservatory I didn’t realize that I was going on a trip that would really change the rest of my life.

Going to that masterclass would change a lot about how I thought about music, and the trip would also make me move to another country to really go deep into the study of Jazz at the conservatory there. Of course, when you are in the middle of it you can’t know that while it is happening but it is fun to see how that works.

Barry Harris was of course an iconic Jazz teacher having taught everyone from Paul Chambers to John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, and his very complete approach to teaching Jazz has taught 1000s of people.

Some of the things I learned going to those masterclasses really changed a lot about how I was studying music and quite a few of those things are not what is mostly discussed when we talk about his teaching. That mostly stays with notes, scales, and chords. Those things are important of course, but if you take a step back and look at some of the overarching principles of how the lessons work then there are other things that are as important, and actually also relevant beyond Jazz as a style.

Practice Technique On Songs

Song with exercise moving around it (maybe sheet music showing arrows or analysis moving a phrase from one chord to the next)

A few bars with triplet arpeggios fading into licks (Often an exercise will naturally evolve into a lick just taking it through a song.)

The Masterclasses at the conservatory would often start with learning a song, so Barry would use a scale exercise to teach you the chord progression, even if most people usually knew the song already.

It would usually be starting with a basic scale exercise, just to make the chords clear and help you have a starting place for the lines that would be created later. Then it would gradually evolve bit by bit into a complete solo where you would learn some great vocabulary and melodic techniques along the way.

The advantage of linking scale practice to actual music is HUGE. Whatever you practice as an exercise is a lot closer to becoming a flexible part of your vocabulary if you immediately work on it on a song. Often an exercise will naturally evolve into a lick just taking it through a song.

Another way that this is also incredibly effective is in terms of taking a piece of vocabulary and then really exploring how to get the most out of it, and a lot of Barry Harris exercises and systems were really made to be able to do that easily, something that is not mentioned so often. When you move an exercise around a chord progression like that then you need skills for making it make sense on different chord types and really know what works and what doesn’t work on a chord.

And of course, Barry would keep it exciting by pushing the tempo up, sometimes even putting money on whether anyone could play it, oddly he never seemed to lose.

Write Licks And Write Solos

Strangely enough, the next exercise is pretty global. Most of the masterclasses I went to from Barry were centered around him teaching a song and writing a solo on that song.

In that way a masterclass would teach you:

  • The Song and The Chord Progressions
  • Vocabulary And How To Construct Lines
  • How To Deal With Smaller Progressions within the songs, something you can take to other songs

And that exercise is exactly what I think you should work on: Composing vocabulary on songs. For me, this was very useful for learning vocabulary and making it a flexible part of my playing, and using this as an exercise can easily be a big part of how you develop your vocabulary and explore how you can add new material to your solos.

Another place where writing material is useful is when you are dealing with a spot in a song that is difficult. Slowing it down and constructing lines, figuring out what really works, what fits together, and how to make it playable is the best way to go, and clearly also how Barry works his way through songs.

Write licks for the difficult part of the song:

Of course, you are probably not going to be able to write solos that are as good as what Barry seemed to produce in pretty much every class, but that doesn’t mean that composing lines won’t teach you something and help you get further, even if it is only by making you wonder why something doesn’t work.

  • The Song and The Chord Progressions
  • Vocabulary And Constructing Lines
  • How To Deal With Smaller Progressions within the songs

Turn Vocabulary Into Exercises

What all of these exercises have in common and what is one of the strongest aspects of this is that everything is about connecting every single note you practice to the solo you want to play and the songs you want to learn.

And actually, that is something that very often gets lost in planning practice and creating exercises.

It is not enough to play the exercises, you also need to link them to your repertoire and your vocabulary because you need to think about whether the exercises improve your playing.

For me, the shining example of this was the exercise of playing diatonic arpeggios with leading notes that I learned the first time I went to the Hague for the masterclasses, but there are a lot more examples in there. I covered a few of these in this video on scale exercises that are already Jazz licks, there is a link to that in the description.

Making your own exercises is a great way for you to develop your vocabulary and get better at constructing lines.

Very often these types of exercises are really just combinations of two or more exercises, for example, you can practice using Barry’s chromatic scale exercise:

and maybe you want to also work on being more flexible with your triads so you combine that with this exercise:

Together you get lines like this:

And that can be put to use like this:

This connection between what you want to play and the exercises you make for yourself is useful for being efficient, but it is also a lot more motivating and fun to work on things that you actually use in your playing.

If you want to explore some more examples of how you can work on this and see how Barry teaches that in one of his classes then check out this video where I show you how to construct scale exercises that are already Jazz vocabulary and actually use one of his examples as well.

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Most Important Skills For Jazz Chord Tones on a II V I

A difficult thing when you are starting Jazz is that the chords are flying left and right while you have to keep up and play a solo that fits with the chords and also doesn’t sound like you are playing something that is completely random.

In this video, I am going to show you how you can work to develop skills that help you play natural sounding solos that follow the changes, starting very simple and the expanding it gradually, and I will give you an example of how great Jazz players make amazing lines with these very basic tools because that is possible too.

Why Chord Tones and Not Scales?

The first problem that you can easily overcome is to stop thinking in scales and start thinking about chord tones, so the notes in each chord. This is to help you learn to play the changes and hear the chord progression and you can always add the scales back later, they fit around the chord tones anyway. Reducing a song to a bunch of scales is not really helping you play a solo over that chord progression, simply because it is too much information, and not clearly connecting you to the chords. Instead, you want to focus on the chord tones or arpeggios of each chord.

In Jazz, the basic chord type that makes up the chord progression is a 7th chord, so when I talk about chord tones, then I am talking about the root, 3rd, 7th, and 5th of the chord (on screen: Cmaj7 adding the interval under the notes)

When you work on improvising with chord tones then you are learning to:

  • Improvise Melodies That Follow The Chord Progression
  • Hear The Chord Progression, not just understand it
  • Play Solos With Melodies That Make Sense and Sound Natural

Starting With A Scale?

The progression that I am using in this video is a II V I.

A II V I is a very common progression in Jazz that you need to master because they are all over the place!

When I am talking about a II V I then I am referring to scale degrees, so for C major then you have a chord on each note in the scale and we use the roman numerals to refer to those so in C major,

a II V I is Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

Since these chords are in the key of C major, then it is really useful to still keep in the back of your mind that this scale is the backdrop

Let’s start with a really simple way of playing arpeggios, just using one octave, and then expand from there:

Right now all the arpeggios have each note once. You will see later in the video, how to open that up and make it more flexible. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t already start to make some really good lines with this, and that is of course the goal: To play solid melodic Jazz solos.

Making Solid Lines With Few Notes

Here you have a basic II V I lick, just using the chord tones.’

You want to know the arpeggios so well that you don’t end up just running up and down the arpeggio and always start on the root.

If you want to use the arpeggios to play melodies then you need to be free to move around and play them, not be stuck only playing up and down the arpeggio. Simply because this is not a really interesting melody, it is predictable both on each chord and from one chord to the next.

Technique 

Ears

Imagination

You want to practice making small melodies with an arpeggio to get your technique, your ears, and your imagination to open up. So for a Dm7, try to practice making small licks like these:

When you are working on this then you are starting to get used to improvising with them and what is often overlooked:

Composing lines is practicing improvisation slowly

So the more you do that and play those lines the more material you will have to play in your solos.

Nailing The Changes

The next thing to do is to start working on playing from one chord to the next and get it to sound like a melody not like two things next to each other.

If we start with going from Dm7 to G7.

This is sort of common sense: If you play a note on beat 1 of the G7 bar that is not in the Dm7 arpeggio then it is clear that you are now on a new chord, that is easy to hear and you are playing it right when the chord changes.

The strongest note for this is the 3rd: B, so if you play something on the Dm7 that flows to that B on G7 then it is easy to hear the change and it makes sense as a melody:

So to play the changes and have a solo line that makes sense then you can practice playing something on Dm7 that naturally flows to that B on G7 and then continue your melody from there.

And all of this is the same for the Cmaj7, so here you can practice playing towards the 3rd: E.

This is a good place to start, and the 1-octave arpeggios are something you will see in a lot of solos, but it is useful to also explore the entire position for the arpeggios which opens up for some more options with the melodies as well.

Expanding The Arpeggios

You probably know these already, now the Dm7 is this:

and G7 can expand to this:

and finally the Cmaj7:

Of course, the notes are still the same 4-notes we just have more of them on the fretboard., and for each chord, you will have

This means that now you can make lines like this:

Melodic Tricks and Exercises

There are some really simple things that you can add to your lines and get better at using that will make your lines a lot more interesting.

Some of them are used in this example:

Here I am repeating a pattern on the Dm7 which is a great way to build melodies. If you think about it then a lot of melodies are repeated figures that are either moved through the changes or think of Autumn Leaves which is one motif that is moving down the scale.

Or simple repeated like Broadway:

One way to work on this with arpeggios is to practice patterns like groups of 4 notes or skipping patterns:

And then work on using that in your playing by composing line with them.

Another thing that you want to work on is playing melodies that end or start on off beats.

In this example, you can see how the first part of this phrase ends on the 1& and then starts again on the 3&

Get the PDF and GuitarPro on Patreon:

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Jazz Chords – You Can Make It Simple And Unlock Amazing Sounds

A few years ago I was teaching a student and in the lesson, we were talking about Jazz Blues comping. He was frustrated with his own playing and said that he could not get it to sound right. Explaining that he wanted it to sound like my comping, but that I was using way too many chords and playing very complicated stuff.

To me, that was a bit surprising, because I was trying to demonstrate comping by keeping it simple and while we talked about it I started to realize that you could look at what I was playing as being a simple approach, but it could seem very feel complicated approach, and what really needed to change was the way you think about it.

Getting The Learning Process Right

When you are learning something new then the information can seem overwhelming but often this is also because you don’t have a way to organize what you are learning, and that means that you have to remember a lot of isolated bits of information when really this is about seeing how the pieces fit together as a whole. When it comes to Jazz Chords then, with a bit of practice, you can lean back and play and think about how it sounds instead of trying to figure out how to add a chromatic passing chord to the II chord of the secondary dominant that is added before going to II, because you are really just sliding into a chord.

So, in this video, I want to teach you that same lesson using a basic Jazz Blues, and also show you how to keep it simple and get it to sound right. I also want to show you how crazy it gets if you over-analyze because I think that is both funny and a good demonstration of how NOT to try to use music theory, something that so many get very wrong and that really gets in the way.

Start With Easy Chords

The first thing I told the student to do was to take a Blues in C and then dial all the chords back to 3rd and 7th. I had already taught him the basic shell-voicings and actually also some more complicated chords. That will give you this:

You ALWAYS want to be able to take the chords back to their most simple form and then build it up from there, as you will see this incredibly powerful.

This was close to how I was demonstrating comping the blues, but I was embellishing it a bit with some passing chords, doing things like this:

Here I am about using some approach chords and sliding into the chord, nothing that I consider too complicated. In my head, I am mostly thinking about the basic version of the chords:

But you can (over) analyze this and then it becomes this:

But that is certainly not what I am thinking, that seems way too complicated, and I think that is important to be aware of that because I am really just moving up or down a half-step and then back to the main chord. When I play I am using that to create some movement while still playing the chords in a way that you can hear the song and the harmony. You have to remember that the goal is to play the song and make that interesting in some way.

Nobody thinks complicated stuff when they play, by the time you play then it is a sound, it is something you are familiar with and it is certainly not you solving mathematical equations while trying to comp a blues. Nobody has time for that.

The Real Bonus

In this case, I am just using the 2-note chords, so I move around a bit more, and you want to explore doing that a bit, but the biggest bonus from simplifying and tying everything you play to a simple voicing is something like this, where I still just tie it all back to those original 2-note voicings:

What you see here is that I am still thinking from the basic 2-note chords, but I am using other melody notes not just moving the entire chord around.

So I showed the student how the C7 can be expanded into this:

and for the F7 you have this:

And the trick is just to think of it like a scale version of the chord, material that you can use to improvise while comping.

So a phrase like this:

Is not me thinking all these chords:

Because if you are comping and making music with the chords then it is more compact and efficient to think of it as this chord with this melody added

Because that way you can improvise with it and you are not drowning yourself with information and different chords when there is really only one chord in the song. (show C blues)

There are not 15 different chords at that point in the song, it is just a C7 or an F7.

This is also why I very often just write the basic chord quality no matter what extensions are in the chord, because That is the important information, and if I was comping the song then I am very likely to play something else in the next chorus.

How You Work Practice This

For this to work you need to have your basic shell-voicings and or 2-note voicings down and be able to play them through the song, then you want to sit down and go through the chords exploring some options for melody notes.

Keep it practical: So easy to play and easy to use, don’t worry about skipping some notes, you don’t need to play entire scales like this.

Work a bit on making melodies with each chord and then start using it while comping in a comfortable tempo.

You can even ease into it by only adding a few melody notes in the beginning, 2 or 3 options are already a lot for comping.

Let’s take a look at how to develop some melodies and what to listen for.

Where It Gets Really Great!

Like this, you have a lot of melody notes that fit on the chord, and you can probably hear the harmony in them, so if you want to get better at playing phrases with them then you can take one of the chords and then first just come up with a melody

and then add the chord under it:

Since this is comping and not a chord solo then it pays off to hold back a bit and not play too busy melodies.

Try to think about the rhythm, make sure to use repeated notes since that is a great way to lock in with the groove and even though you have a lot of options then it is good to remember that in comping less is more.

Another thing that works well for comping is to repeat things, when you do that in a solo then it is referred to as motivic development, but in comping that is often called a riff, and having a repeated pattern is also a solid way to glue the whole song together and it is often very nice for the soloist to play on a very stable background like that.

Wes and I Are Checking Out The Same Things

I often imagine some big band phrases that will get you on the right track. Recently I discovered that Wes also did this if you listen to his “shout chorus” on the blues “The Thumb”

And Wes learned this from playing and listening to big bands, so checking out some Count Basie to get some ideas on how to play great rhythms and melodies is not the worst idea ever.

All The Pieces Together

With more melodies notes you can still add all the tricks of sliding into the chord to add some chromatic movement and in that way get something that sounds like this:

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3 Music Theory Exercises That Actually Help You Play Better

The worst thing that you can have when it comes to music theory is that you have your music theory knowledge over here and then you have the music that you play over here, and the two are not really connected.

Music theory is there to describe what you hear, and what you play:

It is NOT:

  1. A set of rules for what notes are allowed in your solo
  2. A formula for melodies or chord progressions
  3. Something you think about when you are playing

But as you will see in this video, then it is incredibly powerful to have some very basic theory that you know really well and that fits with the music and the songs that you play. With that approach, then learning music theory is easier and it is much more useful, even though you don’t think about it when you solo.

The Most Important Theory Knowledge

Maybe the biggest question about this is not the knowledge itself, but how you want to think about it or visualize it. You’ll see what I mean along the way.

When you are improvising then you are playing over chords that are in a scale, so you want to have a solid overview of that information and see how the notes of the chord connect with the scale.

For that to be easy, then you want to be used to thinking about scales and diatonic chords knowing what goes where and contains which notes.

As an exercise, It can actually make a lot of sense to also work on this away from the instrument and treat it a bit more as a puzzle, but, of course, you eventually also want to have it down on the instrument if it is going to be useful for you.

It really pays off to just try to go over how to construct chords in a scale and be aware of what types of chords are wherein the scale that you use.

Here I am writing it out as letters, but it works equally well using music notation, which is how I probably learned in theory classes.

While I know how to play these things and how they sound, then I am not sure I really think this on the guitar as tabs or diagrams, but that may be different for you, and I am a bit curious about that so let me know in the comments.

In Music, there are no wrong notes, but some are closer to home than others, and often it is more useful to understand things by knowing how they work in the context.

Pineapple is great, but should it be on a pizza?

For soloing, you can think of it as layers of notes almost like a pyramid:

, and here it also makes sense to see it as highlights on a diagram of the neck:

And working on this is about getting that overview that will open up how you understand things you transcribe or even what you are playing.

Spending time writing out the scale, constructing the chords, and learning the diatonic harmony is very useful. Start with major scales but move on to harmonic and melodic minor as well, since you will need these scales when you are playing Jazz. But if you want to connect more information than just knowing the chords and the scale, let’s take a look at that.

Triads That Go Together And More

When you solo over a chord then you have the arpeggio of the chord and you have the scale that sort of sits around that arpeggio, but there are actually more ways you should be looking at notes that work over the chord and explore other melodies that you can use than just the scale and the arpeggio.

If you start with a very simple observation then you have the four notes of the chord, if we take Cmaj7: C E G B, but you can also view that chord as two triads: C E G and E G B. So for a Cmaj7 chord then the C major triad works and so does the Em triad.

If you take that a bit further then you can look at a Cmaj7(9)

Again this is probably easier to work with writing it out in some form, and you want to keep track of what the notes are against the root of the chord which in the end is actually a description of how it sounds when you use it.

The goal of exploring this is to get used to taking a group of notes and be able to see what they are against a chord, so that you have more options for your solos, and you want to also explore how to use this in solos.

When you improvise and make melodies then you don’t think in single notes, you group them together and hear melodies that are described in different ways, similar to how you hear the theme of “in the mood” as a 1st inversion triad.

So as you develop your vocabulary then you add more options in terms of triads, arpeggios, and other groups of notes that fit over a chord.

And the better you get at this the deeper you can dig into it and add quartal arpeggios and superimposed pentatonics to your lines and get them to work in your solos.

Connect It To The Music

Until now the way that you work on using music theory was based on you practicing exercises like diatonic triads and arpeggios and then figuring out how to use those, but you also want to explore the music you are trying to learn from, both solos and the songs themselves.

Let’s start with the songs:

A simple exercise is to look at what notes are in the melody relative to the chord. This is useful for developing your chord melody skills because it makes it easier to put chords under the melody.

And if you start analyzing Jazz standards you will see that they often have the same notes in the melody over specific chords, for example, #IV diminished chords or reharmonizations of them will have the 7th of the scale in the melody.

As you can see in “I Remember You”, “Someday My Prince Will Come”, “All The Things You Are”. Which also makes it easier to hear and recognize changes by ear.

Solos and Vocabulary

Of course, analyzing solos that you have transcribed is also incredibly useful, that is where you start to take apart vocabulary and improve your own lines. The place where you start to unlock how the melodies work and turn that into a flexible part of your playing.

This is an incredibly powerful tool. Let’s take this simple Pat Martino Lick use that to easily create 3 more licks on other chords.

The Pat Martino line from Lazy bird sounds like this:

Essentially this is a melody using a Cmaj7 arpeggio and a chromatic run.

Now that you know what is being played then you can see that it also fits over a Cmaj7 chord for example the beginning of Yardbird Suite:

But you can go a lot further, because If this works on Cmaj7 and is using a Cmaj7 arpeggio, then you can also try and move the arpeggio up to the 3rd of the chord and use the same construction:

C D E F G A B C D → C D E F G A B C D

You just need to apply a little Barry Harris magic to the chromatic part of the lick, and then you get this:

Another way to get more out of the lick is to move it to another chord. The original is using the arpeggio from the 3rd of Am7, so you can do the same with a G7 where the arpeggio from the 3rd is a Bø and that gives you this:

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Get Scale Practice Right And It Will Boost Your Playing

Scale practice sounds, dry and boring and more than anything else about moving your fingers on the instrument in a way that is anything but music, but when you practice exercises like scale exercises then the purpose is to make it easier for you to play the things you want to play in your solos. It is really that simple, and keeping that in mind will help you come up with a lot of exercises that are much more efficient in making you play better.

Let’s take a look at what exercises you should be working on, but also how you should play them and think about them which is probably different from what you expect.

The Basics

With any scale you want to practice then you of course want to start with the most basic exercise of playing the scale. You can practice scales in many ways, in a position:

on a single string:

or across the entire neck.

To begin with, it makes a lot of sense to stick with positions, especially if you want to play songs with chord progressions that require different scales.

Just learning to play the scale, what notes are in there, and how it looks on the fretboard in that position. The important thing is just to not just stop there, because that is not enough and you can come up with more exercises that you want to get into your playing.

How To Play It What notes Seeing It On The Fretboard

What Are You Trying To Learn?

But when you solo then you are not just running up and down the scale, that sounds boring. You want to be able to create lines like this excerpt from Wes Montgomerys solo on Satin Doll:

And in this solo, there are a lot of 7th chord arpeggios and triads.

So it only makes sense that if you want to use those in your solos then you should also practice them in your scales. That is also why I made a video on “The Most Important Scale Exercise in Jazz” which is on practicing diatonic 7th chords arpeggios.

The reason that this is so important is that the basic chords you improvise over are 7th chords and this exercise is how you connect the scale to the harmony of the song.

First, you want to learn the basic arpeggios, and later in the video, I will show you some ways that you can expand the exercises so that it becomes almost small licks you can use in your solos.

This exercise can be a little tricky to play if you never tried it before, but there is a really useful hack to help you into it.

Each 7th chord is a stack of 3rds in the scale:

The C major scale is : C D E F G A B C

If you stack 3rds from C you get: C E G B

but instead of playing the entire 7th chord arpeggio then you can ease into it by first practicing the 3rds:

The 3rds are a good exercise for flexibility in your playing, and for the rest very much a technical exercise. The Diatonic triads are useful in solos and something that you anyway want to explore.

And then continue to the triads:

This also shows you why the 3rd interval is so incredibly important as a scale exercise, it helps you connect the scale to harmony.

 

How is it used: The Next Level!

As you saw both in the first Wes solo and can see in most bop-solos then the arpeggios and triads are played in specific ways in the solo, and you might as well incorporate that into how you practice the arpeggios through the scale.

In that way, you are just turning a scale exercise into a flexible lick that you can insert directly into your solo.

The most important version of this is probably using the 8th note triplet with a leading note:

This exercise is helping you vary the rhythm in your solo and teaches you how to use chromatic passing notes in your solos, and it is all over Bebop solos!

Another great way to use triplets is to use them to resolve the top note in the arpeggio like this:

This way of using the arpeggio lends itself really well to help resolve the top note for example in a II V like this:

A triad version of this exercise is also great and a shortcut to some Wes licks.

You start with this basic exercise

Taking this through the scale also becomes a great phrasing exercise

and this is also what you might recognize from this lick that Wes uses in his 4 on 6 solo from The Incredible Jazz Guitar Album:

Making Exercises From Licks

In general, it can be very useful to experiment with using fragments of licks that you transcribe as scale exercises, and in that way, both play them better and hear them move through the scale.

This can become this exercise:

You may be thinking that this is very complicated to keep track of what notes and arpeggios you have to take through the scale, but that is probably not how you want to approach it.

What Is Practicing The Right Way?

When you are practicing exercises like this then you can’t rely on analyzing everything, that is a separate skill and something you need to build in other ways. Instead, you should look at the exercise as a short predictable melody that you take through the scale and try to hear your way through it.

Again starting with this may seem difficult, but if you start with 3rd intervals and triads then you can get used to how it works and you will find that it is not as difficult as you might think.

With exercises like these then it really pays off to worry more about precision and clean execution than speed. This is simply because if you can easily play them cleanly at a slower tempo then speeding them up will become easier. You will probably also realize that if you speed it up before having control then you are going to have to go back and fix things later, and at that time you may also have developed some bad habits.

The Source Of Your Exercises

As I mentioned earlier then it is useful to take fragments from the solos of the people you transcribe and listen to. An amazing resource for this that you can get a lot of inspiration from is this Joe Pass book which has some rock-solid bebop lines that you want to have in your vocabulary and that can give you thousands of ideas for new exercises and lines to work on.

Is This Jazz Guitar Method Fantastic and Terrible At The Same Time

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10 Levels of Turnarounds – Unlock Amazing Jazz Chord Progressions

Jazz harmony is a huge topic, and learning to understand and analyze chord progressions can seem like an impossible task, but if you understand a few of the techniques involved you can both create beautiful chord progressions and have an easier time figuring out how to solo over them, and you can see these techniques in action on a very simple progression that you already know.

Level 1 – The Basic Turnaround

For this video, I will use this turnaround and show you how you can create some nice surprising sounds using that.

What is important to understand with the basic turnaround is that it is just an embellished version of a I V progression, which you might know if you have followed some Barry Harris videos.

The first thing to add is to turn the V into a II V which is really just a glorified version of a G7sus4 to G7

Then to add some extra movement then Am is added to have a little variation in the bar with the I chord.

This is the basic progression, now you can start making variations to it. Along the way you also want to realize that I don’t really think in substitutions that much, simply because that is not a very useful way to use or understand harmony.

Level 2 – A Secondary Dominant

The first variation that you want to add to the progression is a secondary dominant. In this case, a way to get the progression to flow a bit more towards the Dm7 chord:

 

The turnaround is in the key of C major, and the A7 is not the dominant in that key, that is G7. Like this, you are using the A7 to create a pull towards the Dm7 and add movement to the chord progression. When the A7 appears like this then it is described as a secondary dominant, so a dominant resolving to something else than the tonic of the key. Since the A7 is resolving to Dm7 then you can treat it as an A7 in D minor and the logical scale choice is then D harmonic minor making it an A7(b9b13)

Written out Dm harmonic highlighting A7(b9b13) – D E F G A Bb C# D E F G A Bb C# D E F

You could also use the same principle to have a D7 resolving to G7.

Can you see why the D7 is not a D7(b9b13)?

Level 3 – The “Easy” Diminished Chord

You can also take the secondary dominant and turn it into the “easy” diminished chord:

Here the A7(b9) is turned into a diminished chord. Also sometimes referred to as a secondary dominant diminished. This is really just an A7(b9) with a C# in the bass, and you will solo on it using the same material that you use on the A7 chord, so D harmonic minor.

On-screen comparison of A7(b9) and C#dim: A C# E G Bb – C# E G Bb

The reason for using the diminished chord is usually just to have a different type of bass melody.

Later in the video, you will also see an example of the “difficult” diminished chord which is a great example of where thinking substitutions is going to make things more difficult.

Level 4 – Doesn’t Have To Be THE tonic chord

Of course, you can also start on a different chord than the Cmaj7, other chords in the key have a tonic function and the III chord is a beautiful option that also highlights that the progression is still moving not standing still:

You also want to notice that it sounds great to use a G7 that is borrowed from minor, so a G7(b9b13). The b9 and b13 become chromatic leading notes that help pull stronger towards the resolution to Cmaj7.

Let’s have a look at the difficult diminished chord.

Level 5 – The “Difficult” Diminished Chord

The basic progression was Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7, and then you can add more momentum by playing an A7 or a C#dim chord in the second half of the first bar.

I already mentioned that this was not a substitution, what does that mean?

When you talk about substitutions then it is about taking one chord and replacing it with a related chord, but there is not really a connection between Am7 and A7(b9) in this progression, It makes more sense to just view that progression as a different route when moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7 and that is also what you have in this example:

The star of this example is the Ebdim chord. This diminished chord is an altered subdominant chord that resolves back to the more regular subdominant chord Dm7. I have some older videos on this type of diminished chord if you want to dig deeper into that. I often come across people trying to turn these dim chords into dominants that don’t resolve, personally, I don’t think that really helps me hear how the progression moves so I like this analysis a lot better.

Since it is a subdominant chord then it is usually written as derived from the IV in the scale, and in this case the #IVdim.

Let’s get rid of the tonic chord so that it doesn’t even sound like a turnaround in C.

Level 6 – Where Did The Tonic Chord Go?

As you can see then quite a few things have happened compared to the I VI II V that we started with.

There are two main things happening here: The first is extending how much is borrowed from C minor, so now you have the entire II V coming out of C minor, but probably the most curious one is the first chord which until now was reserved for a tonic chord like Cmaj7 or Em7, but now it is a secondary dominant, namely E7 resolving to another secondary dominant: A7 and then the minor II V before resolving to Cmaj7. The E7 is a secondary dominant that would resolve to Am in the key so you would use A harmonic minor when soloing over it and it has a b9 and a b13.

Choosing this as a turnaround is a way to emphasize movement, so it is not so important to have the tonic clear, but instead, it is important to keep the song going for example at the end of an A-part going to the next A-part. You will see an even more radical version of this later in the video.

Level 7 – Altered Dominants & Tritone Substitution

I have of course talked a bit about why substitutions aren’t the best way to approach harmony, but this example has two clear examples of just substituting chords with similar functions.

Here you have the secondary dominant in bar 1, A7, being substituted with an Eb7, which is the dominant that shares the same tritone interval as the core notes: C# and G

The other substitution is using an altered dominant for the G7 which is a sound that is a bit further away than borrowing from minor, and actually also related to tritone substitutions. It is a great sound to create a lot of tension and movement toward the resolution to the I chord.

Level 8 – My Favorite Turnaround

This turnaround variation is a great way to incorporate Minor subdominants and Coltrane changes into a turnaround

Here you have the first 3 chords as being straight out of a Coltrane cycle in C: Cmaj7 Eb7 Abmaj7  B7 Emaj7 G7 Cmaj7

Another way to look at this, and probably the reason why it sounds so great is that it involves a beautiful minor subdominant chord: Abmaj7

The first two chords are similar to the previous example and sound similar to what we pretty much expect in a turnaround, but the Eb7 resolves as a V chord and not a tritone substitution which takes us to Abmaj7,  a nice but still satisfying detour.

Using the Db7, the tritone substitute of the G7 makes it easier to move from the Abmaj7 back to Cmaj7.

This turnaround is often referred to as a Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but not everybody agrees on what that is, so it is a good idea to check. In emergencies, the Blues always works 🙂

Level 9 – Chromatic Passing Chords

Let’s step it up and add some chromatic chords. This one probably came from the diminished chord progression that I talked about earlier, just stepping out of the key and approaching the Dm7 from a half-step above:

Here you have the Ebm7 that just quickly jumps out of the key to slide back in on the Dm7. You will quite often hear people like Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and Keith Jarret reharmonize dim chords to parallel minor chords and even Parker does it sometimes so it may be coming from that. Again calling it a substitution for a dim chord is really a stretch though.

Level 10 – What?!

Having a turnaround where the first chord is not at all what you expect is great, and this example uses a chord that does that, but still really works in with the progression.

When the ear expects a Cmaj7 and gets a Bb7 then that still is acceptable because the Bb7 moves on to an A7 and then continues in the turnaround. The Bb7 is there as a tritone substitute for the E7, the secondary dominant for A7.

I don’t think this one is that common, but it does sound really great so you should give it a try in a Jazz standard as a reharmonization.

Put It To Use In Chord Melody

You can create amazing things by taking songs and adding chords to them while also exploring different sounds and options with the chord progression. If you want to explore how to make your own chord melodies then check out this video.

It is a great way to build your knowledge and skills with jazz chords and in the process get started making some beautiful Chord Melody arrangements.

An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

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How to Make Jazz Chords Sound Great For Any Progression

I am sure you have looked at a chart with jazz chords and asked yourself, why do they play a m7(11) chord or how come that is a (b9b13) dominant? And if you ask, you get an answer which is very often a scale, like altered dominant or diminished scale, so no information that tells you that much about the choice of chord.

How do you get to that point where you can take a basic chord progression and then turn it into a piece of music with a flow of beautiful harmony? You hear it all the time but if you look at transcriptions then you are probably left wondering why is that m7(11) or how come that is dominant with a b13, and if you try to play that then it doesn’t fit together.

Instead of solving difficult music theory equations then you need to work on something else, let’s look at that process.

Get The Basic Harmony Down

For this I am going to use the beginning of All The Things You Are As An Example and built it up from the foundation.

The first thing you want to do is to just get the basic chords into your system, into your ears, and you can add a bit of rhythm to it. In the end, that is anyway more important than the notes:

I am keeping the chords sort of close to each other so it doesn’t sound like a huge jump moving from one chord to the next.

These are all pretty basic chords, and you probably know them already, so we want to start doing more to them in terms of adding color and also making the voicings fit together and tell a story.

Advanced Harmony: The First Step

Next, you want to turn them into rootless voicings. That way the voicings become a lot more flexible and you have more room to change things around, add notes and play melodies.

Melody Is More Important Than Harmony

As you will see, the secret to getting comping to sound great is not knowing the most difficult exotic voicings, it is about being able to make music with them, and already with these 3-note voicings that actually becomes a lot easier.

The big difference here is that it is not about thinking vertical chords, it is about tying the whole thing together with melody making how you play the chords into something that is a musical statement and not a bunch of notes next to another bunch of notes, because that is not how music works.

So you can practice making simple step-wise melodies like this and use different voicings to get it to work

And with this then you can hear other colors in the chords, but the whole thing works because the chords connect with a melody.

Practicing playing through chord progressions and making these simple stepwise top-note melodies is one of the best ways to explore harmony and make it into something practical that you can use because you are working on a song

I am sure you also recognize these chords as rootless versions of chords you already know:

First, you want to open up how you use the melody, and then we can go over some more advanced approaches to make the way you play chords more interesting.

Let The Melody Lead It

If you start thinking of the way you play chords as a slow chord solo or chord melody and not worry too much about extensions then it is easier to get the whole thing to sound good and you will anyway start finding the extensions but you can get them into your playing much more naturally.

For the first Fm7 chord it is already reduced to the Ab major triad, and you can add a lot of sounds and easily play melodies by just grabbing the notes around it that work with the chord, so more chord tones, and common extensions. In fact, you can just try stuff out and see what your ear tells you and then figure out what it is later.

and you can do the same for the Bbm7:

And don’t think about the Fm7 or Bbm7 variations as separate chords, you should think of them as stuff you can use when you want to use the basic Fm7 or Bbm7 voicing.

So if it says Fm7 Bbm7 you can play melodies like this:

or maybe even hint at another song:

This is about connecting material and making it flexible not about learning a bunch of chords that you can’t put together.

With this approach and an extra trick that I will get to, you can already do something like this:

You want to notice that I am using the techniques that I just covered and then there are two places where I add some extra chord voicings:

On the Eb7 the first chord is this triad voicing which is a very smooth transition coming from the Bbm7, and on the Abmaj7 I am also adding this shell voicing to transition to Dbmaj7.

So once you start to explore different ways of playing the basic chord then it is also a good idea to be aware of the chords around it, because It is all about finding practical ways to play the chords.

You also want to notice that the melodies are there to sit behind a soloist so you mostly use step-wise movement and try not to steal the attention from the soloist, unless you want to get fired, then you can just bring out your spiciest reharmonizations, and you might be gone before the 2nd set.

Start Using MORE Chords

The next steps are not nearly as important for how well you play the chords, they are more like icing on the cake where you can add some extra chords to take you to the next chord

 

In this example the chords that are added are written out as secondary tritone substitutions, so to go from Fm7 to Bbm7 I add a B7, and an E7 is helping the transition to Eb7.

This is a great thing to mess around with, but you do need to watch out that it doesn’t start clashing too much with whoever you are playing behind.

Another way you can add passing chords is using chromatic chords like this:

Here you have Am7 as an approach to Bbm7, and Amaj7 taking you to Abmaj7.

Often just thinking in chromatic passing chords on the guitar is a lot easier because it can be done visually and you don’t have to overthink what is going on.

Move The Other Voices

You can also take the chords and not only use the melody but build it with more layers which can open up for some amazing things, but it does come at a cost

The feel of this type of playing works better if you are a little less active rhythmically and it works better with sustained chords which makes it a little less useful for getting the groove across, but it is a great sound for the beginning of a song or with a soloist that leaves a lot of space.

The Fm7 moves the lowest voice down to the Ab on the Bbm7 and I am also introducing an Eb7 altered that is resolved to a single Eb on the Abmaj7. Under the sustained Eb there is room to move the chords a bit and this concept is also used on both Dbmaj7 and Cmaj7.

An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

It is incredibly important that you work with jazz chords on a song and get better at putting them together as music. Another way to work on this skill is to also work on making chord melody arrangements of songs, so taking a melody and turning it into a harmonized piece that you can play as a solo guitar piece. If you check out this video then you can see how this will teach you a lot not only about harmony but also about melody, and open up how you think about Jazz chords and how you use them in your playing!

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Bebop Without Scales And Why You Need This Skill

Bebop, but then without Scales.

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

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

George Benson Gets It!

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

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

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

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

This is put together around the basic Gm triad:

Amazing Lines With A Boring Exercise

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

Let’s take a Dm triad:

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

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

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

The Trick To Make Better Melodies

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

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

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

 

Solving The 3 Problems with Scale Soloing

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

A Single Chromatic Note And A Bonus

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Getting The Rhythm Right

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

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

Instead, this works a bit better:

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

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

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

Learn Some New Building Blocks

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

My 7 Best Jazz Licks with Only Four Notes

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