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Blog Posts by Jens

Make Sure You Learn These 3 Things First – Jazz Guitar

Learning Jazz guitar is overwhelming and chaotic when you are starting out. There are 1000s of things to learn, and the most difficult part is not practicing and playing, it is figuring out what to work.

I have taught Jazz for almost 20 years, and there are 3 basic things you need to focus on in the beginning to ensure you stay motivated and don’t overcomplicate Jazz.

I’ll begin with some soloing stuff, then some chords, and finally the third skill that most students and teachers should pay more attention to because it is both important and practical, plus you hear it in almost any Jazz solo.

#1 Avoid The Scale Madness

Jazz has the reputation of being a style of music that requires 100s of scales. That is not true, and teachers who make you start there are not helping you learn to play. You want to keep it simple and work towards connecting to the music, not just scale practice, and this is something that you have a method for.

I am pretty sure you know which scale to start with, but It may still disappoint some that the pentatonic scale isn’t enough. The sound that you think of when you think of a Jazz lick is not what you get from the pentatonic scale. That sounds like this:

Compared to a Bebop-inspired line, there are just some things that are not there in the pentatonic scale:

So, how do you start working towards that sound?

You want to start with the Major Scale. In the end, you can play most Jazz music using just 3 scales, but the Major scale is the most important one. There are many songs that you can work on just by knowing that, but you need to make sure to learn the right exercises connected to the major scale.

Since I mentioned that you only need 3 scales, Let me explain that: I am talking about Major, Harmonic, and Melodic minor. I have another video about that,

but if you are not yet playing jazz songs, then that is not what you should focus on. It’s a lot of theory. This video will be much more practical and useful right now.

Major Scale

Harmonic Minor

Melodic Minor

Learn The Right Things The Fast Way

Now you are probably wondering how to practice the major scale. I’ll show you quickly how to build this up but you will need to do the work yourself, to get it into your fingers and into you ears.

The basic chord type in Jazz is a 7th chord, and you want to connect the major scale to the 7th chord,

and you do that by learning the 7th chord arpeggios in the scale, which is also called the diatonic 7th chords.

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This is also why I often refer to that exercise as the most important scale exercise in Jazz. The main reason for not playing arpeggios as separate positions is that you don’t need that when you are soloing.

Most Jazz licks only use 1-octave arpeggios, and you don’t play the arpeggio by itself. It is usually placed in line with other notes from the scale, so you might as well practice it like that.

Luckily, you can ease into it with a step-wise set of exercises. The first step is easy:

#1 Play the scale:

Instead of going directly to the 7th chord arpeggios then you can start with the interval that the arpeggios are constructed from:

#2 The Diatonic 3rds

Like the next exercise, these are useful for you to become more flexible with the scale, and you need these intervals in your solos anyway. If you stack two diatonic 3rd intervals, you get a triad, another structure you want in your ears and fingers since it is incredibly useful for soloing. Now, it also makes sense to name the triads in the exercise, which I did, as you can see in this example:

#3 Diatonic Triads

Like this, you are gradually building your technique and getting this into your ears to make it easy to play the next exercise,

which you get when you add another 3rd interval to the triads: The Diatonic 7th chord arpeggios.

#4 Diatonic 7th Chords

This exercise helps you with several important things:

You have arpeggios for all the chords in the song so that you can play solos that really nail the changes, but what is just as powerful is that you can also learn to use several different arpeggios over a chord and, in that way, have many options for great lines over every chord, check out how much you can do with that in this short example:

Once you can play the diatonic arpeggios as an exercise, go through a song and play the arpeggio of each chord.

You also want to develop vocabulary by making licks with arpeggios and, of course, checking out how other people are using these arpeggios, something I’ll return to later.

But of course, it is not all soloing. If you want to solo over chords, you also need to be able to play the chords so that you know how they sound!

#2 The Jazz Harmony Foundation

Jazz beginners waste a lot of time learning different voicings and lots of inversions without being able to play songs or do anything with all that material. Sadly, this is a very common problem. You should start with jazz chords, which is similar to how you start with scales and arpeggios. The songs you play are in a key, and most of the chords in the song are just the diatonic chords of the scale. That is where you want to begin.

Instead of starting with complicated chords with lots of extensions then, it is 1000x better to start with a foundation that you can later add more color to and focus on chords you can easily use to play songs and hear the harmony.

The chords you want to start with are the Shell-voicings. Easy, Complete, and flexible 3-note voicings for 7th chords. Usually, a 7th 4 has four notes, but in this case, the shell voicings leave out the 5th of the chord.

Shell-voicings have two variations.

One with the root on the 6th string, then 7th and 3rd, and one with the root on the 5th string, where you have 3rd and then 7th. The chord tones are on the middle string set, and the roots are on the lower string set, which is very useful, as you will see in a few seconds.

With the shell-voicings you also want to learn these in the scale. That way, you learn a group of chords that also work together in songs, which helps you play music. For C major, you have these diatonic chords:

And you want to check these out with the root on the 6th string as well, here I start on the 4th note of the scale, so with an Fmaj7, but I am still playing the diatonic chords of C major:

With these two sets of chords then, things get easier to play because they fit together so a II V I in C major could be played as:

and also like this:

And you, of course, also want to use these to play through chord progressions to get the song’s sound into your ears. To give you an idea about how to do that, here’s a bit of the Ellington/Strayhorn classic Satin Doll:

I have another video that goes over that process, which you can check out:

Later you can start to expand on the chords by adding notes, melody and turning them into rootless voicings. I have another video that goes over that process, which you can check out, I’ll link to it in the description. But first, I think, you want to check out this skill which is often left out but is essential to develop, because it is at the very core of the Jazz sound.

#3 The Jazz Flow

If you start learning Jazz, you will quickly hear someone tell you that Bach sounds like Bebop, and there is a reason.

When you listen to a Jazz solo like the Charlie Parker solo I showed earlier, you can see how the lines move towards strong chord tones on the downbeat,

giving the solo direction and a lot of forward-moving energy because the melody is always pushing ahead. This is probably one of the things you like about Jazz if you think about it.

This type of flow is also found in Bach’s fairly dense melodies, which is why those two are connected so often.

But if you are starting out and learning how to play the right notes over each chord, then you are probably not thinking about how the solo flows and are more focused on finding and playing the right notes on each chord. That means that a solo on a Blues In F sounds something like this:

I am making it worse than it actually is, but I am sure you get the idea. What is missing is that you start using the notes of the chord you are on to get to the next chord, similar to what Charlie Parker (or anybody else you check out) does. I’ll give you a great resource for this in a bit. It should sound more like this:

I will show you a simple method to incorporate this into your solos, but you should also listen to a lot of solos and maybe consider playing some good Jazz etudes like the exercises in the Joe Pass Guitar Style book. That is a great way to hear this in action. The description includes a link to the book and the video I made about it.

Let’s check out how to practice towards a real Jazz flow!

Fixing Your Jazz Blues Flow

This is not magic, and it is very much something you can learn. You need to take the notes on one chord and make a melody with them that points to a note in the next chord,

often referred to as the target note.

This makes your solo sound great because it has a natural flow where the melodies lock in with the chords. It make sense, it is not random notes over chords, because they are going somewhere. Your solo also puts the chord tones on the strong beats in the rhythm so that the harmony is very clear, and you can hear chords change and what chords are in there even without any backing.

  1. Natural Flow
  2. Logical Melodies
  3. Clear Harmony

A simple example to get started would be something like this: If you are practicing to improvise over the F blues, then a basic version of this is to take the arpeggios of F7 and Bb7:

The easiest note to make the chord sound clear is the 3rd, so you want to start by using the 3rd of Bb7, D, as a target note.

Now try to make a melody with the F7 arpeggio that ends on the D, like this:

E

When you play like this, there is a connection between the two chords. It doesn’t sound like different notes on different chords; it sounds like a melody, and you can clearly hear the chord change.

Of course, you want to explore different ways to play lines like this, even with a simple set of notes like the 4 chord tones of each chord:

But of course, it is difficult to make interesting solos if you are limited to only using 1-octave arpeggios. For this to work, you must add other things to make your solo sound more interesting. You can work on using the same building blocks and melodic techniques that Charlie Parker or Joe Pass use in their playing. Jazz is a rich language and you can get very creative with the melodies in your solos, that is a next logical step after starting to work on these 3 skills, and I talk about that in this video which will give you a great foundation for developing your lines and make your solos sound like Jazz! Check it out!

Learn Jazz Make Music!

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

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Why Patterns Are Always Better Than Licks – Parker’s Strategy

I love Charlie Parker’s playing. To me, he really IS the Mozart of Jazz, and phrases like this clearly demonstrate that:

But while a phrase like this is mind-blowing, then, you can’t use it in a solo. It is too long and complicated, it will ruin the flow and sound unnatural, and you don’t want your solo to sound like copy/paste blocks from famous artists. I’ll show you what a Pattern is, why Patterns are much more useful than licks, and why you want to turn your licks into patterns.

For this to work, you need to be familiar with the basic chords and scales, so for a II V I in C major, you need to know the arpeggios like this:

Basic information like these chord tones is essential. You’ll see along the way!

A Pat Martino Example

A LOT is going on in the Charlie Parker example, so it is probably better to start with something a little simpler and return to Parker later. Check out this short Pat Martino phrase from How Insensitive:

This is on a Dm chord, and you have a Dm chord in the II V I as well. In this case, I want you to focus on this part of the phrase:

Explainer:

See how It starts on the 3rd, F, and then adds a 3-note enclosure that moves to the root, D.

It probably makes sense to move it up an octave and close to where I played the arpeggios:

As you will see, this is already useful, but it is still not a pattern. The reason that you are checking out Jazz Licks in the first place is probably because your solo lines sound something like this:

Your lines sound like this because you know the scale and the arpeggio but are limited in how you can make melodies with these tools. The short Pat Martino phrase can already improve that:

.

The G7 part still needs some work, though; that will come. Notice that I am using the same phrase on the Cmaj7.

That bar starts with the 3rd, followed by the enclosure leading to the root, and then continues with the arpeggio.

What Is A Pattern?

Let’s figure out what a pattern is, and turn the Pat Martino phrase into a pattern. Then you’ll see how it will help you sound better. I’ll first give you an example but then also give you another way to think about Patterns rather than just short phrases.

Right now, the Pat Martino Phrase moves from the 3rd chord down to the root and adds an enclosure to the root.

But you could take the same idea and use two other chord tones. For example, you can start on the

and it also works from the 7th of the chord:

With these, you can apply it to other chords, and you have a much more flexible piece of vocabulary that you can use to create lines that sound great without sounding like a Pat Martino clone. In the next example, I use the pattern on all the chords, but the one on the G7 is a bit cheeky because I use it to target the third of Cmaj7.

It seems like this is “just” making variations of a phrase, but you can also think of patterns as a way of playing some notes, which can be incredibly powerful for arpeggios.

Important Patterns For Arpeggios

Let’s fix a common problem: you might not be there yet, but you will be soon. At some point, you will get tired of always playing arpeggios like this:

`Arpeggios are always the same 8th note run, and it is difficult to make them interesting and fresh, but if you think of arpeggio as a set of notes that you can play in different patterns, then you could take the Cmaj7 arpeggio from the previous example and play it with a triplet and a leading note, that is what I usually call the “Bebop arpeggio”, like this:

But you can also use the 8th note triplet differently to get a pattern that can be very useful for moving from one chord to the next, You’ll see in a bit.

And finally, you have the arpeggio the way it is played in the Parker example at the beginning of the video, which is what Barry Harris called a pivot arpeggio. It is a simple recipe: Play the root and then move the rest down an octave

to get a beautiful very melodic interval skip:

Treating these as patterns that you can apply to any arpeggio means that you can now start making lines like this next example, but, of course, start by working on them one at a time, not all at once, if you are new to them.

Here you see an example of how the 2nd bebop arpeggio can help move from Dm7 to G7, and you can hear how the pivot arpeggio breaks up the line beautifully.

What Is Great About Patterns?

Why is this approach so great? I think it is easy to see that these patterns are much more flexible and easier to use in a sole than the longer licks, like the Charlie Parker example at the beginning of the video, but there is another advantage that I think is just as important.

Now, you can see that the Parker example is constructed from four short phrases, and you can use all of them as patterns. One of them is the pivot arpeggio, and the other two are enclosures. If you look at Parker’s licks like this, you will see that they are almost always constructed of building blocks like this.

A short side-note: This clearly shows how enclosures are essential to Parker or any Bop-inspired solo. Sometimes I see people dismissing them as less useful, but they are everywhere and everyone uses them, so they are worth the effort to work on! Just hang in there, it will pay off, and you get to play phrases like this:

The other advantage is that you can approach this one variation at a time and not as a huge system of rules or a sea of different options, which is often a much more efficient and practical approach to adding new things to your vocabulary.

Internalizing A Pattern

Let me show you how I would work on getting a Pattern from the Parker lick into my playing. I think this diatonic enclosure is a great option because it is a simple but strong melody:

And then you construct a phrase around that using things you already know. Here I am leading into it with a scale run and using the enclosure to get to a Bø arpeggio over the G7:

You can also go to another phrase on the G7, like this pivot arpeggio. For this one, I leave the first part unchanged.

But you want to figure out more ways to lead into it, like this: Notice that I am using a G7 line that I play quite often. Of course, you only know if you have watched other videos of mine.

The point is that you put it together with the things you play and add that pattern or melody to your playing. Then, you can take another one or a variation of this one that you like.

This process gets easier the more you work on it. And vocabulary-based practice is a bit underrated, in my opinion.

Building A Vocabulary

But if you want this to work, you need to be able to recognize what is going on in the lines. That means being familiar with some of the common melodic techniques used in Jazz, such as arpeggios, chromaticism, and enclosures. I cover that in this video, which will give you a strong foundation for building more solid lines and getting more out of the solos and phrases you analyze.

Check it out!

Learn Jazz, Make Music.

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

 

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

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5 Jazz Chord Techniques You’ll Use Every Day!

You will sound 100 times better if you focus on what you can do with the chords you already know, instead of trying to memorize complete books of chord shapes and learn complicated music theory for substitutions.  I’ll show how it works you using 3 basic Jazz chords, because surprisingly, Less is More when it comes to Jazz chords

This Approach and way of thinking about chords really resonated with me, even before I started playing Jazz I’ll tell that story later in the video. First, let’s make your Jazz chords come to life.

How The Chords Should NOT Sound

We’ll start with these chords, and the way I play them now is exactly how you don’t want to sound when you are comping: Long boring chords with no rhythm or any other kind of life.

I am sure you can hear that this is not what we consider comping, but that is easy to fix.

#1 Bending Chords?

“bending strings is not that common, which weirdly is sometimes a controversial statement.” flames – appear low on the screen during

In Jazz, bending strings is not that common, which is sometimes a controversial statement. But the technique mostly used instead of bending is sliding, and while it is difficult to bend a chord, sliding into chords is easy and sounds amazing! You can immediately make the 3 chords sound a lot better by adding a bit of rhythm and sliding into the chords here and there:

You might have noticed that I am only sliding from below,

but you can slide down from above as well, I do that on the G7 in this example:

But this is using the entire voicing, and as is often the case, limitation and simplifying things can open up many possibilities. Let’s check that out.

#2 The Natural Split

You are still working with these 3 chords

Notice that these chords are complete chords in the sense that they have the root of the chord as the lowest note(show).

A very natural split for the music is separating the bass note from the chord and in that way have 3 versions of each chord: Complete bass, chord

And this is a huge part of how the guitar plays chords in a lot of styles. Check out how it is used in this samba groove:

And, of course, you can use this in Jazz comping as well, in fact it is a great way to comp in a duo setting if you want to be clear with the bass movement but still have the freedom to interact with the soloist or keep things clear when you are comping a bass solo. Often, this gets a bit overlooked because too many guitarists want to play chords and walking bass, but in many places, this will serve the music a lot better because it is so much more flexible, and interaction is a huge part of Jazz.

There is another way to split these chords, and it is practical for getting more out of them in terms of melody. In a way, this is cheating a little bit, but I’ll explain how that works.

#3 The Simplest Melodic Split

You are still using the same chords, but we can add another variation by leaving out the top note. This means that you now have two melody notes for each chord,

which is much more powerful than you might think:

You can easily use this on the progression, but remember that you should still think of it as just playing one chord with some variations, which is why I am still putting in the diagram for the original chord, as you will see:

Check out how much you can do adding slides and the bass split as well gives you this:

Flexible Chords Outside Jazz

I didn’t really think about it then, but before I started playing Jazz, I was always checking out people who had a much more open way of playing chords, changing things, adding variations and fills. As you will see later, I do things in comping that may not be as common in Jazz and probably came from these 3. The biggest influence was Jimi Hendrix, who is of course, famous for exactly that kind of chord playing:

But I also checked out Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was clearly also very Hendrix-influenced,

A less obvious choice I always found very creative with chords is the British guitarist John Squire in the Stone Roses band.

At the time, I thought they were all improvising most of it, but now that I, thanks t the internet, have heard several different recordings of the same songs, I know they were not, certainly not in the same way we think of improvising in Jazz comping. But it was a lot more open and embellished than just repeating a riff or playing the chords in the same pattern all the time. In hindsight, I also think that was why Jazz, and especially comping, felt so great once I discovered that music. It was very close to what I was already trying to do,  and that is also what I am showing you how to do in this video, using the basic 3 chords, so let’s take that further.

#4 Stay In Your Lane

Before we get into some tricks with the harmony that also work well with these chords, let’s first expand the melodic options a bit further and add a technique that I think is a bit overlooked when it comes to comping.

The first thing to do is to play the chords as rootless voicings like this:

And when you do that, then it is a lot easier to add a few melody notes, and notice that I am just using notes that are easy to add around the chord because it has to be practical and flexible

so we can focus on what the soloist is doing and play interesting rhythms.

There are three levels to how you can use this. The first level is to harmonize a melody with block chords:

Obviously, this sounds great, but you can also let the chords move more independently under a melody, a bit more like the left-hand voicings of a piano player. That is the 2nd level

These examples demonstrate what is possible, but that also means that they are a bit busy compared to what you want to do most of the time when competing.

The final level you can add to this is often used in a lot of styles of music, but it is not as common in jazz comping, in a way that is a pity because you can get a lot of great melodies and you are already playing the chord, plus that it adds a bit of counterpoint to your chord playing. Check it out:

EXPLAINER Example 14 – 2 cameras + audio

Here I am arpeggiating two chords. On the G7, it is this which then organically leads into this Cmaj7 chord, and that is also the first arpeggiated ending in a 3-note voicing.

When you see all these options, you probably understand why I recommend checking out playing rootless chords in so many videos. It really opens the whole thing up in a completely new way!

Remember that you can go to my website and get the PDF of these examples if you want to check them out later. Let’s add some more chromatic options to the chords!

#5 Neighborhood Chords

Chromatic passing chords are often associated with complicated and heavy theory, and it is possible to put on your theory hat to analyze everything. But that is not what you want to do while you are comping and then it is a lot easier to think more visually on the guitar. Finally,  something that is easier on guitar than on piano.

There are two things you need to think of when using chromatic passing chords:

  1. It has to make sense as a melody
  2. And you want to see one shape move into the next. So that you don’t need to think of voice-leading, we’re not computers

Here’s a great example of what you can do with a basic chromatic melody on Dm7, which is also very easy to play. Notice that I am just thinking of the Dm7(9) and not really wasting energy on thinking about the C#m chord that leads into it. It is enough to just think about the target note, so just keep it simple.

Expanding to the other chords can give you great sounds like this:

In this example, you can hear how arpeggiating makes the Cmaj7 on the 4& easier to play, and it still stays in the background.

That sort of makes it better than adding fills, which often take up more space and get in the way.

I really like using these short chromatic melodies as repeating riffs on a blues. For a blues in G, you could do something like this:

Now that you start thinking like this, you can develop what really matters: the music. In all of these later examples, you are playing rootless chords, but this is still just coming from those basic 3 chords that you started with, and there are other exercises that you can use to really develop your comping and your rhythms. This video goes over some exercises that are great for that, and help you open up voicings and rhythms and figure out how to put that all together. That’s the next step you want to explore, see check that out, and I’ll see you in that video!

Learn Jazz Make Music.

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

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7 Excuses That Stop You From Learning Jazz Guitar

I am sure you watch great Jazz guitarists and listen to all the great music, and of course, you also want to play like that, enjoy improvising over songs, and use those beautiful chords. But you need to practice to learn that, and Jazz guitar isn’t easy.

To help you enjoy the journey of learning Jazz, I want to show you 7 common excuses that can block your progress by destroying your motivation. I have certainly run into a few myself, but I’ll get to that, too.

#1 I’m Too Old to Learn

“I am too old to learn this.”  I come across this in two different variations, and both are not going to get you anywhere, but the second one is often the biggest problem. The first variation is just giving up. I will see comments saying: “I don’t want to practice, I am too old to learn new things.” Of course, it is true that it gets more difficult to learn as we get older, but the brain does keep learning our whole life, and the biggest factor is not being in the habit of learning. But you can build habits, and if you dream about playing Jazz, you can learn at any age.

Remember that you will learn faster as you spend time on it. I have seen this many times, both in my Roadmap course and on Patreon. What is much more important is that you find a way to learn that you enjoy. When it comes to music, it is about the journey, not the destination. I still practice, and I still have fun learning new things little by little each day. I am sure I would not practice if I did not enjoy it.

The other variation is the “I am too old to learn, so I don’t want to play solos and just want to play chords and chord melody.” The problem is that you skip things you need when playing chords and chord melodies. A huge part of learning Jazz is about training your ears for the right type of melodies and the right type of phrasing and rhythm, and that is 1000x easier to learn when you are playing one note at a time and not 4 or 5-note chords,

so refusing to learn soloing, scales, or melodies will slow you down. I have said it before, but Joe Pass did not start by learning what he is playing on his solo albums.

So find a balanced practice routine and enjoy learning Jazz, no matter your age. as I will talk about later, Talent is also not the biggest factor, which I think is a good thing.

#2 I Don’t Have Enough Time

The one thing that none of us have enough of is time. With work, studying, or family, it can be hard to find time to practice guitar, and often that means giving up or not starting at all, but maybe that is more about planning and expectations, plus that you often forget one of the most important practice activities!

  1. Practical Sessions
  2. Enjoy Practicing
  3. Realistic Goals

When planning your practice, try to pay attention to these 3 things: Practical Session Length. You will get frustrated if you start by trying to block several hours every day to practice simply because it is unrealistic, and even if you find the time, you don’t have the energy and focus to practice for that long. You are just setting yourself up to fail. Aiming for shorter practice sessions, like 15 or 20 minutes, is much more efficient. If it is short, it is easier to fit in, and if you practice longer, that feels like a victory, instead of always practicing less than you were hoping to and getting frustrated.

The other thing you want to make a priority is that you enjoy practicing, so mix things you like to work on with things you need to work on and make the practice time something that you look forward to doing. Realistic goals are also important with this, so watch out that you don’t expect to be the next Wes Montgomery after practicing daily for 3 weeks your goals should focus more on things you want to improve in your playing, not comparing yourself with someone who defined the genre and had decades of experience.

A bonus tip here: this underrated practice activity is easier to fit in and doesn’t require you to actually play the guitar: Listening to Jazz. Don’t underestimate how much you will learn by listening to Jazz while traveling to work, walking the dog, cooking, working out, or whatever you do. Listen to Jazz!

#3 I Don’t Have the Right Equipment

Jazz is often connected to certain guitars and amps, and I have been exposed to that myself in a few ways. When I did my audition at the conservatory in the Hague, I was told that I was accepted, that I was really playing Jazz, but I still had a lot to learn, and that they would help me get a loan to get a real Jazz guitar since I was playing a strat. That was nonsense, in fact, one of my teachers at that school, Eef Albers also played a strat. There is no “real Jazz guitar,” and you can easily play Jazz on any guitar you want. Listen to Ed Bickert using a Tele or Joe Pass on his Jaguar, Jazzmaster, or whatever guitar that was. If you want to play Jazz, then go for it! Think about the music, You can worry about gear later. If you want to see just how little it matters then I’ll link to a video in the description that compares my guitars, nobody can tell the difference…

The other way around is, of course, also possible: you start learning Jazz because you want a new guitar, but then that is not an excuse.

Let me know what you think and if I missed something that you hear used as an excuse.

#4 Jazz Guitar Is Too Complicated

 

“Jazz is too complicated!” It’s funny because Jazz is not as complicated as most people think, and the fact that it seems complicated is also a part of what makes it interesting for many guitarists. But I think a huge part of the problem is how Jazz is often taught with a lot of information upfront and then a long road to put that into music.

I often compare music to a language, and you don’t learn a language by first memorizing a dictionary. That is outdated teaching from the 1970s or even bad teaching.

You can learn Jazz without a million scales and start with real music. It is about learning to make it sound like Jazz. That is what I cover in my Jazz Guitar roadmap without using hypochondrian b6 scales or retrophonic arpeggio pairs, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

The basic concept that works best for most things in music is to start with an overview and add detail along the way, not the other way around.

And that is possible with most things in Jazz.

#5 I Can’t Afford Lessons

“I can’t afford lessons.” This is not as big of a problem as it used to be. Of course, If you can take real in-person lessons, then that is the most efficient way to learn. You have someone help you learn the right things in order and give you feedback on how you are doing. But if you can’t do that, then you are in luck. Compare this to when I started playing jazz over 25 years ago because now you have lots of options with free online material that you can use. It is not as efficient as lessons that are tailor-made for you, but you can still get a lot further and there are options like courses that are a lot cheaper than one-on-one lessons that you can upgrade to once you feel that is worth it.

Just get started and learn some songs!

#6 I’m Not Talented Enough

I think Talent is overrated. I am not saying it doesn’t exist or can’t be an advantage, but when you are learning Jazz, thinking about your own talent or lack of talent is just not very useful. When I worked at a young talent department what I saw was that the most important talent the students could have was the ability to work and study, almost to the point of talent working against some students. That is also what I remember from my time studying: The students who practiced and worked improved. Effort was worth more than talent.

When it comes to learning then if you think you have no talent and that you need to be talented that means that the only thing you can do is to give up, surely it’s a lot better to just focus on getting better and not wonder about some magic gift you may or may not have. You also want to remember that playing music has many sides, and nobody has a talent for all of them. Ironically, if you think you are talented, that can also work against you, for example, no matter how much of a legend you think you are. You will be told that even if you bring your amp to the jam session, we will only hear you play Cm pentatonic over the entire form of Blue Bossa once before you are asked to sit down again. Thinking you are talented can stop you from learning and realizing what you need to learn.

So don’t worry about that! Just have fun, keep playing, and keep learning.

I am curious what you think. Sometimes, I get angry comments when I point out that talent rarely helps you learn, so feel free. I am at least sure that my biggest talent is that I know how to work.

#7 I Don’t Know Where to Start

“I Don’t Know Where To Start?” I talked a bit about this earlier, and it is very important that you don’t drown yourself in technical exercise and theory but instead find some simple songs and focus on learning enough to play those even making it a bit simpler because you can add detail along the way.

But you do need to check out some scales and arpeggios—just don’t make it too complicated. There is a practical and efficient way to do this, and it also fits with how you want to use them in solos. I talk about that in this video, which is essential for understanding how arpeggios and scales fit together. It also gives you an approach to improvising and starting to play solos that sound like Jazz.

Check it out:

The Most Important Scale For Jazz

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3 Important Skills You Need To Work On Every Day

It is complicated to figure out what to practice, there are so many options and you have to watch out that you don’t just waste your time by moving from topic to topic without getting anywhere. But if you split your practice into these 3 essential skills, it is easier to get the balance right and make sure that you are getting something out of your practice.

This is especially important if you are teaching yourself and trying to find the right material online, because going down the wrong path and spending years on scales or chord inversions without putting them to use is a death sentence to your progress.

#1 Technique

With all 3 core skills, I’ll show you different ways to practice and develop them. This is important because you want to make your practice something you enjoy, if it is fun it helps you stay motivated. It is as important to keep going as it is to work on the right things. The 1st rule is that you need to develop and maintain your technique.

The Classic Practice Session

This one you know: Practice scales and exercises, of course, you do this with a metronome. This is not the only thing you want to practice, but it is a valid and efficient way to work on technique. For me, it is always important to make sure you keep this open-ended in some way. What I mean with that is that you want to change things up so that you keep playing new things not just stuff that you can play without thinking about it, and make sure that you don’t play exercises that you can’t turn into music.

Working like this, it is easy to focus on specific things you want to improve in your playing. It is also easy to measure progress with speed and accuracy, and you can design your own exercises, but it can get boring and you can “just run” the exercise in an unfocused brainless way. Another thing that can be a challenge is to get lost in permutations and being unable to insert what you are practicing into music.

This might seem like I am telling you that you should not practice like this, and I am not saying that at all. I practice exercises and it works very well for a lot of people, but you do need to evaluate if it is working for you, and it can be a good idea to change things up with one of the other approaches in this video, like this next one.

The Classical Practice Session

If you learn to play an instrument following the classical tradition you will often be exposed to a vast repertoire of music written to help you develop technical skills. I am talking about Etudes, when I had classical guitar lessons back in the 14th century, then I played lots of Carcassi, Vila Lobos, and Tarrega etudes.

In Jazz, there is almost a tradition for doing the same kind of thing in two ways. You have Bach and Kreutzer etudes, which can be a lot of fun. Of course, you can also treat a Bebop theme like Donna Lee as an Etude or write your own.

And the most common one is learning solos by ear and playing them along with the recording, something I enjoy doing quite a lot. This is probably the strongest etude tradition in Jazz, and learning solos you are also working on ear-training, another core skill that will come up again.

One thing that makes etudes great is that it is music, at least if it is good enough, and you are combining a lot of different things when learning it, so it is not focused on a single thing. Of course, that can also be a problem because it becomes harder to isolate something and get it into your own solos. On the other hand, if you make it a habit to make your own etudes then you are working on writing music and developing other skills. It is also a great opportunity to borrow from other styles and get inspired, like Bach, Kreutzer or I’ve talked about Steve Morse and John Petrucci exercises. Etudes only have a few examples, so as opposed to drowning in scale exercises you can end up with not getting enough, or the right, variations out of an etude.

But there is another strategy as well that involves vocabulary and repertoire. Let’s look at that.

Vocabulary On A Song

A different approach is to take the exercises or the topic that you want to work on and then apply it to a song. There are several ways to do this. If you are familiar with Barry Harris then you have probably seen how he practices scales around a song and also turns other things into exercises on top of songs, eventually turning it into an etude.

This can be a very useful way to develop your technique while also linking it to music, but probably works the best if you are also practicing scales and arpeggios at the same time.

My friend Pritesh Walia also works with vocabulary on songs as his main approach to practicing. What he does is to take a line and then explore how he can first move it through the progression to make it fit the song, and then gradually transition into soloing using that vocabulary through the song.

What is great about working like this is that you are really connecting your practice to the songs you want to play, but it can be difficult do this without also practicing exercises, and you also do need some theory and analysis skills to work through both Pritesh and Barry’s strategies.

#2 Ear-Training

The 2nd rule for your practice routine is that you always want to develop your ears. We need to constantly improve the connection between what we hear inside with what comes out on the instrument. That is one of the main parts of improvising solos.

I have other videos where I talk about some of the illusions that this leads to with people hoping to ignore learning songs, technique and a lot of other things because they believe that they hear melodies inside that are as brilliant as Charlie Parker. That is not how it works, it is all connected and you need to develop your ears alongside your other skills, and those skills will help you develop your ears and develop what you hear. People with perfect pitch can’t magically play amazing solos or perform music without being able to play the instrument or know the style.

There’s an APP now!

For me, sight singing was probably the strongest way to help me develop my ears in the beginning since it is a good way to hear something internally and then turn that into sound.

 

That is still useful to work on and you can rely on your sense of tonality to help you train it. The other way I’d suggest working on ear training would be apps that train your ability to hear notes and chords in a tonal context, because most Jazz music is tonal. Functional ear-trainer is a great free app to work with.

But I would not only work on ear-training like this, and the next bit might contain a few hot takes.

Not just exercises

Ear-training should not be like theory, it should be connected to the music you want to play. Just like it can be a problem to connect technical exercises to your actual playing then the ear-training should also connect to how you play.

There are 3 ways you should be using your ears when you practice:

  1. Repertoire, Learning Songs by ear. We need to get used to how chords and melody is actually being played in Jazz, and those habits are a huge part of the ear-training and something no app will teach you.
  2. Solos, learning solos by ear: because that is how you will learn to hear melodies and lines but also how you will learn to hear how they are phrased and how they sit in the groove, again something that isn’t in any apps.
  3. Hearing the harmony and the groove inside with no reference. Practicing with a metronome and no reference teaches you to hear the harmony inside, it teaches you to feel the form, and much more deeply connect with the music compared to putting on iReal and leaning on that.

Let me know what you think and how you practice!

Evaluate Your Practice

There is a massive mistake that most of us are making with practice, and it is fairly easy to fix, but I am also curious if you are planning to change something in your practice because of this video, so leave a comment on that! And of course, also if you think I missed something in this video!

It is important that you evaluate your progress and your playing, and one thing you absolutely have to do for that is to record yourself playing. You can’t tell how it sounds while you are playing, you need to only be listening. I use my phone for this and just make a video because that is super easy., it takes a bit of getting used to but it will boost your progress to get into that habit! That is also what I encourage students to do in my course “The Jazz Guitar Roadmap”,

and if they post videos in the community they also get the benefit of getting feedback from me. My ears are more experienced and I can help them figure out what to improve and I notice things they don’t.

If you want to learn how to play Jazz there is one thing that should be at the center of your practice, and it is shocking how often it isn’t

#3 Making Music

Would you expect to become good at tennis if you are only doing warm-ups, or become an amazing chef by only reading cookbooks. I don’t think you would.

That is why you should NEVER have a practice routine that is only exercises and theoretical activities. If you want to play Jazz then you should practice playing Jazz. I remember hearing a Scofield interview where he talked about how he practices and his wife would remark that he wasn’t really practicing he was just sitting there playing songs with a metronome.

But obviously, that is what works.

Why is this so important? The two other core skills are isolated, they are focused on specific parts of your playing but not about your playing as a whole. Being able to play Jazz means that you have to get all the skills to work together, your timing, technique, phrasing, creativity, and ears should all work together when you solo, but the only way to learn to do that is to play songs, play real music and put them to use. The looping II V I’s or single chords don’t teach you to tell a story in a solo or deal with a form. That is why you need real songs!

But what should you practice? A lot of this is just about playing the song, so put on a metronome, play the melody, and start soloing. And don’ forget, the same is true for comping so you also want to work on playing through songs comping and spending time practicing comping. As Peter Bernstein says:

That is how you develop some real strategies and get to the next level with what you can do with chords.

The Strategy

When you are learning songs then start with the melody, then learn the chords and when you  have that down then start soloing. That way you are building a foundation to lean on when you start improvising. If you have never gone through a song before and really learned it then the Roadmap is my take on how to help you through that process while teaching you how to make lines that really sound like Jazz. I have worked with more than 4000 students by now and it is a lot of fun to see people grow as they move through it.

But, of course, you also want to develop your comping and learn how to take the chord symbols and turn them into music that is where it gets really fun and starts to open up so that you are creating music not just trying to keep up with a list of chords. I talk about how to level up your skills with chords and comping in this video. It covers 3 exercises that you want to explore and that can develop your skills both with rhythm and chords! Check it out!

Learn Jazz Make Music

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

 

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Fretboard Navigation – Stop Wasting Time On The Wrong Exercises 😲

I get comments on like this very often:

There are 1000s of lessons online that talk about learning the fretboard, but you only get exercises that are not in position or in all positions, and there is a huge problem with that advice, because that alone will NEVER get you there!

Instead, you need to get more practical and strategic than just mindless exercises or a theoretical way to think about the notes. I will show you a method in this video. And it doesn’t include that very famous Mick Goodrick exercise

that I don’t think works for this at all.

What Is Moving Freely Around The Neck?

Let’s start with a look at the harsh reality so that you don’t have too many illusions of 10-second fixes and hacks. All the exercises that you probably already saw in other lessons are not necessarily bad, the problem is that they don’t really get you there. Let me explain, and then I’ll show you some things that are easier to play when you are not “stuck” in a position.

I suspect you will recognize most of this next list, but never thought about why. If you want to be free to move around the neck and improvise then you need to:

  1. Be able to improvise in any position, because being free all over the neck also means being free anywhere on the neck, I’ll return to this in a bit.
  2. You want to be able to shift position freely, and in the real world that means moving from one place that you know really well to another place that you know really well: Often these are scale positions, again something I’ll expand on later
  3. You want to have a way to organize the notes in a way that makes sense for the music that you want to play. For some styles of music this is pentatonic scales,
  4. for other styles it can be other scales or even just chord tones.

B-roll (for above list)

  1. Improvising a line that moves around and then improvising in one place on the neck
  2. close-up of playing a line and then moving to a neighbor position
  3. Guitar Neck with Pentatonic scales fading in (write pentatonic) then major scales, then arpeggios

The list:

  1. Freely over the neck = Freely anywhere on the neck
  2. See notes around the place you are playing
  3. Know what notes you need to play

This next part probably feels like I am just telling you that you are already doing the right things, and I suspect that you are, just not all of them: You should spend time practicing scales in positions, whether it is pentatonic or major scales or something else, that really depends on what you want to play.

You can also see why it makes sense to practice scale positions next to each other in a key (b-roll) Because that helps you see the different areas that you have available when you play, and help you have an overview of what positions are next to each other since that stays the same in other keys.

This next part is probably tied more to Jazz than to Blues or rock, but it describes how you think of the fretboard when you play Jazz. The reason I am starting with a scale and then using that as the basic framework is that it is a practical way for me to have a hierarchy of the notes I use in a solo, and a way to understand all the notes:

Illustration: Pyramid: Chromatic, Scale, Chord Tones/Pentatonic/other arp ADD EXAMPLES FOR EACH SOUND OVER A Cmaj7 chord

For a Cmaj7 I will see the C major scale as the available “inside” notes, then the chord tones as the “important” or “foundational” notes

C Major Scale

Cmaj7 Arpeggio

but in the scale I could also focus on another subset of the scale like an Am7 arpeggio

Am7 Arpeggio

or a pentatonic scale that works over Cmaj7 like Em pentatonic

Em Pentatonic

and have this lick:
In that way, I have levels of how it relates to the chord and the music. The notes that are not in the scale are then chromatic notes and they are great to  put to use as well.

This shows you why it is nice to practice arpeggios in a scale and how to think about the notes when you are improvising,

but it is all very locked in a position, and on the guitar some things are a lot easier to play of you are not stuck in a position.

Positions Makes Some Things Difficult

This is maybe not how most people explain this, but I am sure you’ll agree that one good reason to play things out of position or along the neck is that it becomes easier to play that way.

Here’s a pentatonic pattern that sounds great and dreamy over an Fmaj7:

And that is a lot easier to play because it is a motivic melody using this way of playing a pentatonic scale across the neck in a repeating pattern:

A similar example is using several triads in a line. Moving along a set of strings makes both phrasing and technique a lot simpler:

And this is built around playing triads on the middle string set:

So exercises like these two are useful for certain types of melodies. Remember that we play exercises to be able to play music, not the other way around, but if you want to play lines like those then you also know what to practice. Let’s look at a way to develop freedom on the fretboard in a more step-by-step manner.

The Fretboard Process – Practical Knowledge

First you want to  build knowledge and make sure it is what you really need when playing. Luckily that process is a bit like earning interest on an investment,

which makes it a lot less overwhelming once you start.  After that I’ll show you how to practice moving around the neck.

If you play songs where you are used to dealing with several chords and scales, then you probably already know that it is a problem if you have one spot where you are forced to move somewhere else.

Clearly, if the goal is to improvise solos, then that needs to be a part of the process, exercises are not enough.

Start with a song you know and choose an easy position for that song. The important thing is to make sure you know EVERYTHING in that position for the entire song. Once that all feels easy and you can play solos that sound like music then you want to expand that, and here you want add a position next to the one you already have.

Mainly because you then have more places to go when you solo without having to skip around. This is  where the interest on investment parallel comes into play: The more positions you add the easier this process will be, and you will benefit from what you already learned in the positions you already checked out making it easier and easier.

But this is mostly about using positions to get an overview that works when you play, and you need to develop some other skills as well.

An Exercise That Doesn’t Work (for this)

Some exercises are not as useful for developing the ability to move around the neck as you might think. I already hinted at this in the beginning, and Mick Goodricks Unitar exercise where you solo on a single string is one of them.  To me, it is a limitation exercise that can be good for a lot of things but it is not really that practical for learning to move freely around the neck because the neck has two dimensions and we rarely play things on just one string,

in fact more than 90% of the building blocks that make up your vocabulary use more than one string. I guess this is similar to how you don’t only want to develop your ears hearing intervals on an app and also want to get used to hear things in real music.

The Exercises That Do Work (for me)

I would suggest a different approach for this, and the good thing is that you can start working on this while learning positions without having the whole neck covered. There are three variations you want to explore.

Let’s say you are working on Ladybird and have two positions covered:

This (play) and this (play)

 

You want to get better at moving from one to the other

so start with just the Cmaj7 chord and come up with lines that move from one position to the next. Like this where I am connecting two arpeggios across positions:

Or a descending line that uses a bit of chromaticism to go from one position to the next.

You can explore this on a part of the song or on the entire song just to get used to connecting vocabulary like arpeggios and other short phrases across positions, and you especially want to pay attention if something is easier to play like that, and example could be this way of playing arpeggios in a repeating 2-string pattern:

From this, you can start to do the same in time while trying to keep playing lines that move from one position to the other:

B-roll example solo ladybird back and forth

And as you become more and more comfortable in several positions you can expand this to moving all across the neck while soloing like I am doing on this F Blues

If you want to become better at moving around the neck freely when you solo then that is what you should practice: soloing while moving around the neck. It is similar to how you don’t learn to play great Jazz solos by only practicing scale exercises. There are skills involved that require you actually to practice playing solos.

Practical Exercises For Chords and Comping

This is also true for chords, you don’t get anywhere just practicing inversions and chord voicings, instead, you can check out this video where I cover some of the essential exercises that help you develop the real skills that you need for comping, and luckily these exercises are also a lot more fun and musical than inversions! Check it out!

Learn Jazz Make Music.

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

 

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The 5 Mistakes Beginners Make Learning Jazz Chords

The best thing about Jazz Guitar is probably the chords! The feeling of taking a progression and then turning it into beautiful music with melody and all these interesting colors and fills.

But when you start learning Jazz chords, there are a few things that work against you and slow down that process, so that maybe you never really get there even though you dream about sounding like Joe Pass and Ted Greene.

Let me show you what to watch out for and how to fix it, there might be a few hard-to-swallow pills in there, so sorry about that….

#1 Diagrams Become A Limitation

These first mistakes are bad but get worse as we move through the list. One of the things that I get asked to add most often and that many students like to use is chord diagrams.

At first glance, diagrams make a lot of sense because it is easy to look at a chord diagram and then see how to put down your fingers in your mind. That also often fits with the first way we learned chords on the guitar like a basic C major chord:

 

In the beginning that was a C major chord, and you knew what it was but had no idea what notes were in there or even why it was a C major chord.

That is also the problem you run into when working with diagrams, you don’t learn what notes are in the chord, and there is another very bad side-effect to this that I will return to later.

Luckily, you can fix this by actually learning what notes are in the chords and making sure to understand how the chord is constructed.

Then it isn’t a mystery where the 9th is on this Cmaj7 chord

 

or why this is a Cmaj7     and so is this,    even though they are very different-looking chord diagrams.

In the long run, it really pays off to not be superficial, something that comes up quite a few times in this video and I will also talk about how you should practice, not only the mistakes.

Inversions Are Sometimes A Waste Of Time

Not all inversions are created equal some of them are not important enough to spend a lot of time on, especially not in the beginning. A few months ago I was giving an online masterclass on OpenStudio,

and afterward in the Q&A which was cohosted by Adam Maness,  one of the students asked about working on Drop3 voicing inversions and playing songs and progressions only using that. I said that I had done that with Drop2 but not with Drop3 voicings but it occurred to me that maybe Piano players did that differently so I asked Adam if he had ever worked like that. Turns out that this is also not common on piano.

Why do I tell you that story? It is very common for me to see students both on Patreon or in the Roadmap course talk about how they are working on learning all inversions of a set of chords,

and often that also means that they are not working on using those inversions, just working on the exercises, and that is not useful at all. This is true for drop3 voicings but also for drop2: some are more versatile and useful than others, and you don’t want to waste too much time on less common inversions when you could instead focus on getting better at playing music with the practical ones.

Instead of focusing on inversions as a way to learn chords then there is a much more practical approach and I have a video on that approach which I will link to in the video description, but maybe first check out this next tip because that is also an important part of that puzzle.

Think Scales Not Chords

Think Scales, Not chords! This is probably one of students’ biggest roadblocks when trying to learn to play chords in Jazz: The Curse of the Static Grips.

For most Jazz one of the essential parts of harmony and chords is that it is about how they move, and that means that you don’t really just look at a chord symbol and then translate that to a specific grip.

Instead, it would be best if you learned to see the chord symbol in the context of the song and then understand all the options you have available and use that as a way to create a flow through the harmony with melody and rhythm.

For me, this means that I often don’t really think of chords in terms of specific extensions, instead I use the sound of the chord in the song, and I think of the entire scale, from that I can add and leave out extensions to create the sound that I want to play at that moment.

Check out this short example and how I am playing lots of different extensions,

and try to imagine just how complicated the chord symbol would need to be when it is in fact just a blues in C.

So as you can see here it is just a basic Blues in C but if you have to think about each chord I play as a separate thing with different extensions instead of thinking of it as a C7 with a melody then you need an overview of 3-4 times as many chords,

and you still don’t notice the melody which is really what makes it all work.

So don’t think chords, think scales, and hear melodies in and over the harmony! Zoom out a bit!

I have a feeling you can guess what the last two mistakes are because they are the two things that make Jazz into a style of music!

Chords Are Nothing Without This

  1. Strong Rhythm and Vocabulary
  2. Think of it like a melody

I think you will agree that In Jazz, the rhythm is more important than the chord, so it is a bit ironic that we spend so much time on extensions and voice-leading. When you are playing chords, the rhythm is what makes your comping sound melodic, makes it sound like music, that glues the whole thing together. Two things that are very important about this:

The first one is obvious, but the second one is maybe even more important when you are learning. First, You want to have strong rhythm and a good vocabulary of rhythms, so make sure to also practice chords with rhythm and in time, not just exercises with long chords and not just listening to the harmony and the extensions, even if it sounds incredible!

Second, Think of the rhythm as a melody. The reason this is important is that you can easily end up knowing a lot of rhythms but you are not able to put them together in a way that sounds good or even makes any sense. Thinking of the shorter rhythms as part of phrases in a melody and using melodic techniques like Call-response and Motivic development is the way to get that to work for you and will make learning rhythm 100x easier. I’ll link to a video on important rhythms and how to think like this in the video description.

Let’s move on to what I think is the worst mistake when it comes to learning chords!

The Place Where The Chords Go: Music!

B-roll: exercises

This is the most important part of working on Jazz chords, and I say this in a lot of videos, but I still have to say it as feedback and in comments all the time: If you only practice exercises, so voicings and inversions and never practice playing music then you are NOT learning anything. It really is that simple. I’ll outline how you start working on playing songs in a bit, but I want to make this clear first, because it is very important!  It is fine if you do a lot of exercises but if you never play music then it is a dead end. We don’t put on an album to hear Bill Evans or Joe Pass play drop2 inversions, we put it on to hear them make music, and there are so many things that you don’t work on if you are not working on that.

A step-by-step guide to start practicing a song could be something like this:

  1. Take the lead sheet and go through the song so that you can find a way to play the chords, just one way for now, it can expand later.
  2. Put on a metronome and play through the song just play long notes, get used to the sound of the chords.
  3. Add some rhythm to it and play it some more!
  4. Once this is comfortable and doesn’t feel like hard work then you can start adding variations or other chord voicings here and there.
  5. Keep doing this so that you know the song and find out where you have room to do stuff plus what you can do in those spots.

Building a Rhythm Vocabulary

Let me know what you think, and also if there is something I should have mentioned that I didn’t We all want to get better at this, and there is so many great things to explore about Jazz chords!

I always found it very difficult to find good methods, exercises and frameworks for learning comping rhythms, and there is not a lot of material that is really good out there. The things that worked the best for me and really helped me put together the pieces and develop my comping are what I cover in this video which uses really simple building blocks but also solid techniques for combining them. Check it out, because in some ways we are approaching rhythm the wrong way.

Learn Jazz Make Music

Jazz Chords – The 7 Comping Rhythms That Really Matter

 

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It Is The Sound That Is Important! – Altered Scale

Altered Scale Is A Sound

Like most students, you probably find it difficult to learn using the altered scale because it seems too theoretical and complicated, but if you don’t start with that and instead think of it as a way to go from phrases that sound like this

To also have the option to play this beautiful sound:

Then that is a much better starting point, and THAT is how you want to learn it: As a sound, in fact, many things get easier if you approach them like that as you will see in this video.

The Problem With Theory

The way to learn something is to analyze it, understand it, and internalize it. For many things in life that is a great approach. If you are trying to learn to use Excel or cooking following recipes, but starting with music theory and turning that into music is often not very efficient.

If I say that it is a dominant with a b5, b13, b9 and #9 then that is probably not really helping you make music with the scale, and the same would be the case if I said the notes so Bb and F over D7. Telling you that D altered is the same scale as Eb melodic minor also doesn’t really give you an idea about how it sounds or how to play something with it, but I will fix that in a bit and show you examples of Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass using altered scale.

Listen To The Chords

The problem is that it is not music when you describe it as numbers or letters, so instead of analyzing it then first find some examples to listen to so that you have an idea about what it sounds like, and for that to work it is better to have some context to the altered dominant, not just playing a dominant isolated, that is never how it is used. Let’s start with the chords:

Altered dominants are mostly used with dominants that resolve, so for the D7 it is a D7 that resolves to a G chord. Which is great news because you can then use it in a II V I and use the II and the I chord to add some context to how it sounds.

A D7 altered chord can be a dominant with a b13 and a b9 so it sounds like this:

You probably want to compare that to the same progression with this chord that does not have the altered extensions:

The thing you want to listen for is that there is less movement going on from chord to chord. I’ll get back to that in a bit, but notice that more notes are staying the same going from chord to chord.

Another example that you want to hear could be a D7 with a b5 and a #9, and here I am also moving a few of the voices in the chord:

`

You want to try and play the chords and listen to them, maybe move them into songs you know to hear that, which may mean transposing them to another key. Just use the chords and listen to how it sounds,

because that will tell you more than know that it is a b9,b13 chord.

Play Altered Lines

But you also want to figure out how this works in a solo, and I’ll start by showing you how to play the scale and how to play some simple but clear lines and then you can use that to start to get it into your ears and give yourself a place to start with using this sound in your own solos.

Let’s start with this way of playing the D altered scale:

And again putting it into the context of a II V I really helps hearing how it sounds:

`

It is also useful to compare this to a similar II V I without the altered dominant:

Notice how the altered scale is a sound, and see if you can hear how this example sounds similar to other altered dominant lick:

What Is The Point Of Altered Dominants?

Now that you hear how the altered dominant sounds in a chord progression and also how it sounds compared to the regular dominant then the purpose of altered dominants is easier to understand:

They are there to add tension which in this case is coming from having notes that resolve in half-steps up or down when the chord moves from D7 to Gmaj7.

The altered dominant is a way to create outside tension on the song, and a tension that is easy to resolve using the strongest harmonic connection we have: dominant to tonic.

But how do you solo over it, and what do you play if it says D7alt?

Give Me The Scale Already!

As you already saw then the scale can be played like this:

And since the point of the scale is to resolve to Gmaj7 then you can create licks that move around but also has a direction towards a note on the Gmaj7:

One exercise that can be great to begin to  get the sound into your ears is again leaning more on the chords:

Listen to how each note in the altered scale resolves moving from to the tonic chord. I’ll go over it quickly but maybe try to play it yourself and really listen to it:

Let’s figure out how to make some licks, and talk a bit about why it is often enough to write alt on a dominant chord.

This Is How To Make Licks

If you spend all your time practicing scales, you are doing it wrong! So while it is worth it to figure out how the different notes of D altered resolve then you are better off relying on the fact that the scale is also Eb melodic minor,

and if you have practiced that and checked out the diatonic arpeggios and triads. Then you can use that for D altered as well, it is already in your fingers, and I’ll show you an example of Joe Pass thinking like that as well.

For Melodic minor you have these diatonic chords: EbmMaj7 Fm7 Gbmaj7(#5) Ab7 Bb7 Cø Dø

If you want to play solos using the altered scale then you don’t want to just run up and down the scale and If you are exploring the altered scale then you probably know how to make lines using arpeggios, but in the scale there is no D7 arpeggio, and if you try then Dø sounds pretty weak and difficult to get to sound good.

You can use most of the arpeggios but there are two that are easier to start with because they immediately connect with the D7.

If you look at the D7 chord I played earlier in the video:

Then the top part of that chord is a Cø and that is a diatonic chord in Eb melodic minor

so that is a great place to start already arpeggio up scale down works:

The reason this arpeggio works is that it contains both a C and an F# + some core altered notes like the b9 and the b13.

The other arpeggio you can use that also contains C and F# is Ab7:

The Cø arpeggio is usually easier to get to work and from there you get used to the sound and can start exploring other arpeggios. But it is as important to keep checking out licks and analyze those to get ideas.

How Wes Montgomery & Joe Pass Use Altered

Besides the arpeggios, there are a few other very common devices that really nail the altered sound, and some of them are only four notes. Wes demonstrates one in his solo on Yesterdays, even if he plays it an octave lower than what is most commonly used:

It is A7 altered so the scale is Bb melodic minor and I see this as build around a Bbm triad.

If you play it an octave higher which is also a very common way to use it, then you can also see how it is almost build around an A7 chord voicing

And I see that as build around this voicing

The most common 4-note phrase that Joe Pass uses really a lot is in this example. It is really just a minor triad with an extra note:

And these licks also show you that connection to the melodic minor scale, and a few bars later Joe Pass makes that really clear with this D7alt lick in the turnaround which is just n Ebm triad:

Why is D7alt enough?

I get asked about D7alt quite a lot. Surprisingly it is probably the most honest way to write a chord symbol.

When you come across a place where the altered scale is used then the chord mentioned is written as D7alt which means a D7 chord from the altered scale, but it is not very specific because you can have any combination of b9, #9, b5, and b13 in there.

Of course that is not very specific, so you can’t read D7alt and then immediately turn that into a grip, but it is closer to how we play Jazz. Most of the time we don’t think extensions and alterations

but more of the basic chord and then whatever added notes that make sense in how the chords are played.

So if you see Am7 D7alt Gmaj7 then you could play

But you can also play the dominant like this:

But in the end that is how I treat most chords, on a Gmaj7 I may play a 9 or a 13th, or maybe play a maj6 chord instead, the chord symbols are constantly interpreted, and that is what gives me the room to add melody and color to the music like this:

And you must start thinking about chords like that so that you are not stuck with grips that you can’t turn into music. Jazz harmony is so much more fun once you start to unlock that approach and work with categories. This is very close to how Joe Pass thinks about chords and I talk about it in this video which will help you get rid of that grip-limitation and help you be free when playing the chords. It will change how you play.

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

 

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7 Reasons The Major Triad Is The Most Important Arpeggio

Triads are often underrated! You try to get away from using triads because they are too simple and boring. It becomes about playing the hippest extension and the most glorious superimposed arpeggio. But often the triad, and especially the major triad is a way to get those notes to make sense. If you solo only focusing on what extensions you are playing without thinking about making it melodic, you will not sound great, and triads can help you fix that!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlvGcAyZApI&list=PLWYuNvZPqqcE0QeoNCmZmAA6vswRXCr4s&index=1

Let’s check out how to use triads to create Bebop lines, Some Jazz Blues, and play melodic upper structures even a bit of outside symmetrical stuff. It is really the entire spectrum!

How well do you know your triads?

I am not 100% sure I practiced triads in positions, that is anyway not how I use them. Most of the time it makes a lot more sense to practice things in a context, so for me, what mostly worked was practicing triads in scales, and you will see why that connection is very important later:

and the same thing along the neck is useful, but remember to see those shapes on the neck as well to be able to think of the triad as one thing AND as 3 separate notes.

but it can also be useful to practice them in chord progressions like inversions of a IV V I cadence:

there are many more exercises you can do, and if you have a great suggestion then let us know in the comments!

#1 Bebop Triads!

There are two very important things you need to be aware of when it comes to triads:

  1. Major Triads are incredibly strong melodies, and so are the inversions.
  2. Because they are strong they also work when they are the foundation of a line that includes other notes.

You will see plenty of examples of both, but because it is an important skill to be able to take a triad, and add a few notes to turn it into a great jazz lick, then that is the place to start. Later in the video the examples of outside use often work better using the pure triad melodies, so that is coming up as well.

I’ll get to some famous examples of this in a bit. But check out how much you can do with a simple C major triad:

Try to play it descending

and just adding notes from the scale you can start to create lines that are based on the C major triad but have much more of a Bebop flow:

Doing this you immediately see why you want to practice triads in the context of a scale, you need those notes as well when you are soloing. And if you go all Jazz, and add chromatic enclosures and passing notes to the triad then you get beautiful Bebop vocabulary:

The method is pretty simple: You have the triad and then you add either a diatonic or chromatic melody that targets a note in the triad, the possibilities are almost endless. Here’s another one

And even though there are all these extra notes it is still working because the basic structure is that major triad. Here’s a very famous example of this from Charlie Parker’s solo on Billie’s Bounce. He is using an F major triad with a few leading notes:

I’ll get to a George Benson example in a bit.

#2 The Most Basic Upper-Structure

Major triad upper structures: Let’s start with a chord. Here’s an Am7:

If you leave out the bass note then you get a C major triad:

Of course, this is true for any 7th chord: If you take away the root you have a triad, but in this case, I will focus on the m7 chord where you get a major triad.

I’ll show you how to use this in a solo, but you also want to keep in mind that if you have a C major triad as a rootless Am7

then you immediately have 3 great Am7 voicings:

But there are some great solo ideas from this as well!

Check out this George Benson lick, which is, oddly enough, also from a solo on Billie’s Bounce

And if you want to explore this then you can of course add chromatic and diatonic phrases to the triad to give it a bit more Bebop flavour like this II V lick:

But the Major triad is also the core part of A LOT if not most Jazz Blues Licks.

#3 Triad Jazz Blues Rules!

A great recipe for a Jazz Blues lick is a major triad plus a few grace notes played as slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs it is by far the easiest way to create some amazing Jazz Blues!

This is all coming from the major triad with a few grace notes and an enclosure, so sliding into notes:

and using this enclosure of the 3rd of the chord

#4 The Triad has 3 Melodies

You may have heard me talk about how inversions of 7th-chord arpeggios are not used in Jazz solos very often, which is sometimes a hot take.. But luckily that is not the case for triads there all the inversions are great!

For the C major triad you have these 3 inversions:

And these work for solos as well. Like this Blues lick using the 2nd inversion:

Or a II V using the 1st inversion C major triad for the Am7 chord, following what I just covered about upper structures:

So you can also explore that if you are looking for new things to play!

#5 An Introduction to Altered Dominants

The altered scale can be a mysterious and difficult sound to get into, and it can be good to start with some chords so that you can hear what the sound is. For a II V I in C major with a G7 altered you could play:

And triads can be a great introduction to creating solo lines over an altered dominant. In this case, the triad from the b5: Db major is a great option.

Check out this this line with an F major triad on Dm7 and the Db major triad on G7alt:

And all that is happening on the G7alt is the Db major triad and a scale run in G altered which is the same set of notes as Ab melodic minor. The advantage is that you have the Db triad to make it a melody and not just running up and down a scale that is more theory than music. Here’s another example:

Notice how I am not mixing in so many notes with the triad here, because that happens in the next section as well, which is about using the triads as shifting colors on a dominant chord.

#6 The Diminished Triad Flow

The altered scale is one of two scale sounds that are difficult to get to work when you are beginning with Jazz, and the other one is using the diminished scale over dominants, sometimes referred to as half-whole diminished.

Luckily Major triads can solve all your problems!

For a G7 then the diminished scale you would play is this:

G Ab Bb B Db D E F G

And using these triads will give you much more interesting solos compared to running up and down the scale which is such a boring sound:

The chords that sound like this scale are G7 with a b9, a 13th and maybe a b5. It’s a complicated but also really beautiful.

Mixing up two triads like E and Bb major gives you some very beautiful lines, and it is really just about finding playable melodies using the triad inversions, like this:

And because the scale is symmetrical then you can move the G7 line around in minor 3rds and get other useable licks, like this one a minor 3rd higher which mixes G and Db major triads:

Now you let’s check out a great way to shift outside over a maj7 or a m7 chord!

#7 Outside Symmetry

On the dominant chords you can use the major triads in minor 3rd distance, but if you want a similar trick for maj7 chords then look at major triads in major 3rd distance. For Cmaj7 then you get these 3 triads:

C major: C E G

E major: E G# B

Ab major: Ab (G#) C Eb

And if you put these 3 together then you get a symmetrical 6-note scale: the Augmented scale, but the best lines for that are using the triads, check out the sound, it is a bit spacy but also quite beautiful:

And, of course, you can also put the 3 triads together in a descending melody:

`

And as a bonus: since C major is an upper-structure of Am7 you can also use these 3 triads on Am7 chords, even if the scale doesn’t have an A:

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Would Start Here

With any arpeggio based-lick you create and learn to play it is not only knowing the arpeggio, it is much more important what you can do with the arpeggio, and it doesn’t matter if it is a triad or a 7th chord or anything else. You want to develop the skills that help you turn the arpeggios into great lines. That is also the only way to get the things in this video to sound great and those skills give you tons of options. I talk about developing skills like that in this video starting from the very beginning but also focusing on the most important things to get right! Check it out!

Learn Jazz, Make Music

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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Jazz Chords – The 7 Comping Rhythms That Really Matter

Even if you are like “Guitar George” and know all the chords, that won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have some solid rhythms to use while playing chords behind a soloist. Let’s make sure that is not what is holding you back!

Here are 7 comping rhythms that will make you sound a lot better when you are playing chords, some of them can get even you in trouble, but if you use them the right way they are amazing. I’ll also go over some other essential things to consider playing chords!

Rhythm #1 – Charleston

The Charleston rhythm: It’s quite magical if you think about it, it is a two-note rhythm with a clear downbeat and syncopation.

This is probably the rhythm that most lessons start with, and it is a solid foundation. Here’s a bit of  Take the A-train using that rhythm:

And as you can hear, this already sounds full and clear enough so that you can easily solo on it. A bonus is that  The Charleston Rhythm becomes a great exercise in anticipating chords as well if you play a song with several chords per bar, because you play the 2nd chord on the 2&.

You can hear this in another Strayhorn classic, Satin Doll:

What really matters is not the short rhythms, it is how you put them together, let’s first get some more rhythms to work with.

The Chords You Should Start With

The chords I am using to demonstrate these rhythms are shell-voicings which are simple and easy to play 3-note versions of the 7th chords that you can use to get the harmony across and later also can use as a foundation to expand on and add more color and extensions.

I have videos on that part of it and I’ll link to them in the description of this video. In the end,

this is more about the rhythm than the chords, and I think this entire video applies to other instruments as well, not just guitar. What do you think?

B-roll: Split screen:; Illustration with 1-bar Charleston and arrows to blurred 1-bar patterns

The Charleston rhythm is very clear and strong, but you want more rhythms to put together in your comping and not just play the same thing all the time, and you can add a lot more energy to the Charleston by making a very simple change!

Rhythm #2 – Shifted Charleston

First, we had a very grounded and clear Charleston rhythm

But check out what happens when I shift the rhythm an 8th-note. You can hear much more energy pushing the music forward.

Like this, it is great for intros, really helping us get to the beginning of the melody.

 

The Real Power: Combinations

One thing that so many jazz beginners don’t get right when they are starting out is that rhythm is really melody, and you need to think of these smaller comping patterns as words, and if you want to say something then you need to put the words together in a sentence and maybe even put the sentences together into a story.

Already with these two patterns you can put it together and create something that sounds really solid, like these first 4 bars of A-train:

Let’s do another transformation of the Charleston and play it upside down to really give it forward motion, and hen I will tell you a bit more about how to practice these rhythms.

Rhythm #3 Mirrored Charleston

The first Charleston was a downbeat followed by a more interesting offbeat on 2&, but what if we mirror that in the barline to get a note on 3& that really drives us to the 1 in the next bar?

It almost sounds like the kind of rhythm you would have in a stop-chorus:

Using this rhythm as a repeated riff is maybe not amazing, but check out how it works together with another rhythm, especially on the repeat:

Rhythm #4 – Longer Words

Let’s add two new things: A Longer rhythm and a repeated note. Here it is on A-train:

And this one also sounds amazing on a more dense progression like Satin Doll:

These are all still fairly safe, but later there are a few where you need to be a little more careful. First let’s talk about how to get the most out of these short patterns.

Building Your Rhythm Vocabulary

This might sound a bit like a paradox. The first thing you want to do is of course to learn to play the rhythms, either using a single chord.

or the examples I have given you here in the video, You can download a PDF on my website.

But as soon as you start getting familiar with them then you also want to spend time making variations and inventing your own rhythms so that they start to open up a bit. It has to become a natural flow and something you can improvise with. Just explore adding or leaving out notes to get new ideas

Rhythm #5 Just Like Red Garland

This rhythm is a great way to make it lighter, move forward, and emphasize the swing. And you do this without getting in the way of the soloist, which is of course also very important. It is also a nice exercise in being precise and anticipating the chord:

And it combines very well with other rhythms like this intro:

Rhythm #6 – A Few More Notes

Let’s add some more double-notes, because that’s a great sound, and a very clear way to get the groove and the swing across.  After that, we can get to that one tricky rhythm. check out this 2 bar pattern:

See if you can spot how you can look at the 2 bars as both being variations of the Charleston rhythm, thinking like that can give you a lot of useful options to explore!

And check out how great that sounds on Satin Doll:

Rhythm #7 Anticipate Getting Fired

This is one of those rhythms that you don’t use all the time, but even if you don’t throw it in at random,  it is very important that you are able to play it and not get lost if it comes along, and it is not at all uncommon!

Bringing It All Together

If you put in the right place it sounds great! Working on rhythms and voicings is important when you develop your comping, but to really make it work, some other exercises bring that together and helps you get there a lot faster! You want to check out this video to get started with those exercises.

Learn Jazz Make Music.

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

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