Category Archives: Lesson

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!

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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The Cheapest Jazz Guitar On Amazon 🤔

The Cheapest Jazz Guitar On Amazon 🤔

In this video, I’m taking you on a ride as I unbox this budget Jazz axe, put it through its paces, and answer the burning question: can you actually play this thing and how does it sound?

Did you ever get shocked by he price tag of a decent jazz box? I know I did, so I decided to throw caution (and maybe a little common sense) to the wind. I grabbed the absolute cheapest jazz guitar I could find on Amazon – we’re talking around $270!

You can check out the guitar here: https://geni.us/Gear4Music

First Impressions: Cardboard Concerns and Not-So-Hateful Frets

The guitar showed up with the usual crew – a gig bag, some picks, a strap, a cable, and even a beginner’s guide, which is a nice touch.

But right off the bat, I wasn’t feeling confident about the packaging. Cardboard isn’t exactly Fort Knox for shipping a delicate instrument, but thankfully, the guitar seemed to survive the journey unscathed thanks to some extra plastic wrapping.

Taking a closer look, things were a bit of a mixed bag. The strings felt a little on the tight side, and the action – that’s the space between the strings and the fretboard – wasn’t perfect. Not unplayable by any means, but definitely not ideal. On the bright side, the frets were smooth enough and didn’t feel like they would declare war on my fingertips while I fumbled through those jazz chords.

Uh Oh, Did I Get a Dud?

Things got a little interesting when I started tuning the guitar. As I adjusted the knobs, the tone knob felt a little… loose. Like the pot, the part that controls the tone, might be busted. Now, I’m no luthier, but I also know better than to start operating on an instrument without a clue. So, quick disclaimer for you guys – don’t attempt any DIY guitar surgery unless you know what you’re doing!

Luckily, a simple twist by hand seemed to fix the wonky knob, but it definitely added a moment of concern.

The Sound Test: Cheap, But Not a Complete Letdown

The real test, of course, is in the sound. I plugged in the guitar and decided to play a short melody. But to get a good comparison, I also grabbed two of my higher-end guitars –

an Ibanez`

and a classic ES-175.

Let’s just say, the difference was clear as night and day. The cheap guitar sounded, well, cheap.

It was muddy and lacked the crispness of the other two guitars. It also had a noticeably lower volume output.

Wait, There’s a Silver Lining?

Here’s the surprising part. Despite the sound limitations, I was actually impressed by the guitar’s ability to capture a basic jazz tone. It wasn’t going to win any awards, but it definitely had that characteristic smooth, warm sound you associate with jazz guitar. More importantly, it was playable! I could absolutely use this guitar to practice those jazz progressions, and with a new set of strings, it might even hold its own at a casual jam session.

The Verdict: Budget Jazz Box, Beginner’s Blessing?

For the price tag, I have to say this little budget guitar offered surprising value for beginner jazz players like myself. Here’s the takeaway: it’s playable, it has a decent jazz tone (considering the price), and it even comes with a gig bag and some basic accessories. Sure, you might be tempted to upgrade the pickups later on for a better sound, but those upgrades could easily cost more than the guitar itself! In the end, I give this a thumbs up as a starter option for someone who wants to explore the world of jazz guitar without emptying their bank account.

Of course, the experiment doesn’t end here. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this particular guitar model in the comments. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some valuable tips or hidden gems shared by fellow budget jazz enthusiasts!

The Great $400 Guitar I Used On 5 albums

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Intros – The BEST place to explore Jazz Chords

As you know, It is a lot of fun to play Jazz chords and check out beautiful progressions, and the best place to put those chords to work is in intros for a songs! I am going to show you 7 common intro types with variations, but I will also show you some concepts that help you take them further and make them your own!

And, I’ll add some stories about how intros and beautiful harmony can get you in a lot of trouble with the singer! Let’s get nerdy with some harmony!

#1 Turnaround – It’s better than you think

The first one is the trusted old I VI II V, I am going to start by not using the VI from the key but use a secondary dominant instead because we want an intro to move forward and create energy that takes us to the song. Check out how I am relying on the top-note melody here.

As you probably noticed, the melody on top of the chords is what makes it work, and I use a motif to keep it moving along. I play the turnaround twice because a 4- or 8-bar intro feels more natural. 2 bars feel a little short, unless it’s a ballad.

Turnarounds are great intros, they set up the tonality, the time, and the mood, and as you will see, you can do a lot with them. They even work when you just use shell-voicings, like this next example where  I am also adding a passing chord. Passing chords can be simple: Just think about them as chords sliding to the target chord,

that is often easier than trying to explain them with a lot of complicated music theory, it’s about how it sounds in the end:

`

The trick is to make it surprising enough without getting too vague, I still screw that up when I make intros now and again, but I have to admit that I also like taking risks it comes with the territory.

Let me show you two ways to make the turnaround a little more catchy, I’ll add some passing chords and notice how the Cmaj7 in the 2nd turnaround is reharmonized with a chord that really wants to move on and resolve. After this, I’ll show you a beautiful suspension idea that works well with turnaround intros:

Let me start with the substitution warning: Explaining everything with substitutions is not very helpful. if you substitute chords then there is supposed to be a link between the two chords, and that is not always the case. Here, the Bb7 that I use in the place of a Cmaj7 is a good example,

It does not make sense to call Bb7 a substitution of a Cmaj7, it is just a different way of letting the harmony flow, and trying to force some sort of relationship between the two gets silly. In the first turnaround,

I am also adding the Bb7 as a passing chord.

That is also a good trick to know, moving from I to VI, that works very often and sounds beautiful!

Here’s a great trick: To avoid boring repeats you can resolve after one turnaround but then suspend the resolution and the tonic chord. That is an incredibly beautiful sound. I am using a bVI and a bII or Neapolitan minor subdominant in this example, but there are other options. These two chords are something you want to remember because they are practical for a lot of things:

I love that Cmaj7(13) sound! (EX) and also this way of arpeggiating chords with a sort of string skipped arpeggiation.

`

Minor subdominants are amazing and I will put them to use as a part of a modulation in a very surprising and elegant example later, but the bVI sound is already in the next example, and let’s just admit it, intros are just an excuse to mess around with some great sounding harmony!

#2 Creative Turnaround Reharmonization

You can also have turnarounds that start pretending to modulate. Here’s one that I love to use. It is sometimes referred to as the Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but people say that referring to the “all maj7” version,

which I find a lot less appealing. This one takes a trip to the bVI which is a beautiful very Giant Steps-sounding progression:

Check out this extended version of that concept leaning heavily on Giant steps combined with minor subdominant chords. This one moves around so much that I think it works better when combined with a more standard turnaround, otherwise, it gets a bit too vague, but of course, it is a lose still a nice way to show off your skills with harmony…

But instead of adding more chords then you can also create other vamps with fewer chords that you can repeat as an intro, let’s look at some common examples of that.

#3 Fewer Chords More Color

The named turnaround already suggests movement, and if you reduce what is going on then the turnarounds you have seen until now have really just been ways to embellish a I-V progression.

But instead of having a lot of movement and a lot of different chords then you can also use fewer chords, But here, the repeated I V gets too boring, you need to make sure that the chords are interesting enough.

An obvious option is using I and a tritone substitution of V, so in this case, Db7 instead of G7. Notice that I am approaching it as a riff or groove here:

I tend to think of these as setting up a groove until the melody begins, and I also mostly use them when the first part of the melody fits over that groove, like “I’ll Remember” or “Invitation”. Not using something that is a dominant resolution often works better and avoids becoming boring, so a good option is another minor subdominant: the backdoor dominant:

`

An option that is a bit more adventurous is using the Neapolitan subdominant:

Both of these are fairly common with bossanovas. But even using all this amazing harmony it quickly sounds very similar to how the song sounds, and maybe you want a different effect or sound, so that is where pedals become useful!

#4 Using Pedals in Jazz

The type of pedals that I am talking about is not the reverb, delay and overdrive kind, it is of course a pedal point. They are great for setting up tempo and tonality while also wanting the resolve which makes us want to hear the song begin. It is so strong that it really got me in trouble one time, I’ll get to that in a bit Check out this example:

Most of the time you use the dominant as a pedal note, and in this example, I was also using the dominant chord and a suspended version of that to create movement over the pedal.

`

But there are a few other great options to explore. You can shift the pedal point like this which I call the TV-game show pedal, which may be a term I invented:

Borrowing from Minor is also a great sound, and when you do then you can just stick to the sus chord which is then a pedal point of a Phrygian chord:

To me, the resolution to a maj7 chord when the whole thing sounded dark and minor is satisfying, I like using that one. On a cafe gig with a singer, while I was studying, I once managed to make a mess of a song by using a pedal point intro. It was a regular gig and it was pretty long so I felt confident trying something new. Without thinking too much about it I decided to set the song up with a pedal point on the Backdoor dominant, so Bb but then for a song in C. Without any preparation and that really didn’t work, so we ended up adding a 2nd intro which was a 4-bar turnaround so the singer could find the right key and get over the shock of the first chord.

There is another way to use a pedal that is also really useful, let’s look at that:

#5 The Other Pedal

This type of intro combines Turnarounds and Pedal points. You play the 5th as a pedal note and then play a turnaround over it. Best of both worlds! Here’s a basic example:

And there are not that many variations of this but you could do a Ladybird Turnaround version as well which has a nice dark sound. After this one, I’ll talk about a different type of progression that is sort of unique and very common as an intro and a reharmonization!

ex 14 (not in the video?)

Let me know what your favorite intro or progression is in the comments, maybe I can learn some new stuff!

Before we go to a different type of progression, then leave a comment if you know a type of intro that I didn’t talk about!

#6 The #IV subdominant intro

This is a great progression to know, it is almost a complete overview of all the chord categories of tonal harmony and it is great for intros and outros, but also reharmonizing standards. First try and listen:

So you have a #IVø, a IVm, then a III, a #IVdim inversion, a subdominant and then Dbmaj7 as another minor subdominant before getting to the Cmaj7. It sort of covers the whole spectrum except the dominant.

Sometimes you will also see a variation that is turning the chords into a chain of II V’s but when you do that then you can’t really put the root in the melody which is a big part of the original.

After this then I’ll show a great harmonic trick that works on most songs, sounds great but can get you fired.

#7 Use The Song (with a twist?)

One of the most common intros is to use the ending of the song, either the last 4 or 8 bars to set up the song. It’s very safe but you also immediately really set up everything and there is a way to make it very very surprising, in fact getting into the “you’re fired” surprising territory, but first the original

That’s a great way to set it up and you don’t have to be as clear with the melody as I am here, but check out how you can use a bVI to have a great modulation in the intro, though again one that I have had to explain to “surprised” soloists on gigs sometimes because it is difficult to hear if you don’t get a warning.

The concept is surprisingly simple: you play your intro using the song but in the key where the key you want to end in is the bVI, at the end you go to bVI and continue to the song.

Even if it does get you fired then it is a great sound, and as you can tell I enjoy going into details and trying out a lot of things with chords. It is a great way to explore and learn about harmony on the guitar. You want to learn what you can do with chords by adding interesting melodies, inner voices, and suspensions and that is what I talk about in this video which is a great exercise for digging deep into chords and harmony. Check it out! Learn Jazz, Make Music!

One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

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5 Lazy Ways To Make Your Jazz Solo Sound 10x Better (In 8 minutes)

Imagine if there were 5 short licks that you can already play that would make your solos sound 10x better!

If you are trying to sound more like Jazz when you solo then you have probably run into this problem:

You can play an arpeggio:

and you can play a scale:

and you can put it together to a lick that fits the chords but…

It doesn’t sound right, even though the notes are all “perfect” and “correct”, Now what? Let me show you!

#1 Make Your Arpeggios Swing!

This is about rhythm even with examples like this that are all 8th notes. And you need the right melody to get the right rhythm. It also turns out that another major part of it is surprisingly enough technique.

other cam:

I have to admit that I wish my teachers had given me stuff like this when I was starting, that could have made phrasing so much easier.

back:

The first lick I want you to use is the first half of the bar, which is just an Em7 arpeggio:

Lazy Lick #1

You can play any arpeggio like this, and it will always sound great! Here’s a G7 arpeggio with a resolution:

Or maybe a C6 arpeggio, it doesn’t really matter:

It’s just a way to play an arpeggio, it’s lazy and doesn’t take a lot of work. Notice that you use legato-technique, the pull-off, and this exact melody to get an accent on the 2nd note of the arpeggio which makes it pop and sound a lot better.

And that is part of getting your solos to sound like Jazz: You want to have high notes on offbeats that get an accent. In the beginning when you are just learning arpeggios and soloing then you end up sounding like this:

You can tell how that is kinda heavy, but adding this way of playing arpeggios to your solos can lighten that up.

Let’s use that on a complete II V I just to hear it in action. I am using it in two places but the last one is making a variation of the rhythm as well.

For me, a few clear examples like this and some guidance on how to phrase them plus maybe some Grant Green solos as homework could have done a LOT for my phrasing early on, but don’t get me wrong I am very grateful to my teachers for all the stuff I learned, but this one thing, that wasn’t really there….

Let’s go to another similar trick that is even easier to play!

#2 Make Your Arpeggios Swing More!

So it is about having that high-note on an off-beat which you then can give an accent. Here’s the 2nd lazy way to do that, it is super simple! I’m using an Fmaj7 arpeggio:

Lazy Lick #2

I am playing this one with legato as well, but you don’t have to. In a way, it is funny that this is about using that a pull-off is naturally softer than a picked note(play the pull off) so we pick the note on the offbeat and the technique makes the following note softer which makes the phrasing better.

For me, that is the opposite of what I try to achieve with legato playing , since I try to get everything as even as possible.

This lick is easy to use and gives your lines a nice natural flow, I am using the Fmaj7 over a Dm7 chord, so the arpeggio from the 3rd:

Let me explain the arpeggio from the 3rd with this chart, it is incredibly useful:

Notice that I am using a pull-off to give the chromatic note on the G7 an accent. This arpeggio building block is also great for moving from one chord to the next which makes it very easy to use in a lot of songs. Check out how the Bø arpeggio resolves to Cmaj7 in the next example and how I am using the Am7 arpeggio on the Dm7 chord to add dynamics in that bar:

Let me know how you feel about this, for me, just being aware of this already started to fix a lot of heavy phrasing in my playing, and made me able to hear it much more clearly when I am listening to solos which is maybe just as important! Lazy learning is just always a bonus! Let’s explore some triad tricks!

#3 Triads + Secret Ingredient

Start with a basic triad like this Dm triad:

Now let’s make that sound about 100x more like a Jazz lick:

And if you play that then this next part almost naturally falls out of your hands!

And here you have the same phrase sounding great with the C major triad on the Cmaj7 chord

The next phrase is really simple but also very effective!

#4 Scale and A Half-step

Lazy solutions are nice! We’re just trying to create a short phrase with a high note on ether 1& or 2&, so why not just use a scale melody? Maybe with a leading note just to spice it up a bit!

The accent is easy enough, and you can of course move this around to other chords, but maybe the Bø is a bit awkward:

It is pretty easy to make a line with this, I’m adding a triplet on the G7 just for a bit of variation as well:

And check out how this next one uses the F and C versions of this scale phrase (play) plus some of the previous 7th chord arpeggio tricks

First the Scale phrase from F, then the ascending Fmaj7 arpeggio which gives you the accent on 4& but also leads to the G7 phrase which is now starting on the 5th. On the resolution to Cmaj7 you have the scale phrase from C with added A to just round it off in a nice way.

Let’s take a look at an easy way to play “the most Bebop sounding arpeggio” which, of course, also has a nice phrasing accent in there!

#5 The Easy Pivot Arpeggio

You might know this from other videos that I have made, this melody:

is an Fmaj7 pivot arpeggio. It is a Bebop Superpower! The term pivot arpeggio is something that I learned from Barry Harris.

It doesn’t immediately look like an Fmaj7 arpeggio which would be:

But the concept is that you play the first note, the F and then you move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave which gives you:

And if you follow the counterpoint rules then after the ascending arpeggio part you want to continue with a descending stepwise motion, so in this case from E down to D. Which gives you that high note on 2& and an accent and it is also just a beautiful melody and great example of octave displacement:

Barry taught this exercise by playing both the normal arpeggio with that resolution and then the pivot through the scale:

But to keep it easy, or lazy, then just focus on the maj7 arpeggio which is both the one that is used the most and which is pretty easy to play if you do it like this on two strings. And this gives you some of the most melodic bebop lines:

But as you know then there are two maj7 chords in C major: Fmaj7 and Cmaj7 so you can also use the Cmaj7 pivot arpeggio on that chord. That could give you this much more syncopated example:

Study Barry Harris to Learn Bebop!

As you can tell, Barry Harris is a great place to level up your Bebop and not only learn scales and arpeggios but also learn how to turn that into beautiful vocabulary that you can use in your solos. One of the most powerful things that he teaches which has really transformed my playing and is also another shortcut for better phrasing is how he adds chromatic passing notes to phrases. I talk about that in this video and it is easily 100x better than Bebop scales, which I anyway really don’t like, I explain why in the video, check it out. Learn Jazz Make Music!

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

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How To Solo Over Chords – Think Like A Pro!

The “Random Phrases” Solo

A big part of why a solo sounds great is the flow. (example 1) But it can be difficult to get that right and very often you feel like you are trying the best you can but there is no flow at all and nothing fits together

The real problem is how you think about your soloing. To fix it, you need to go pretty far back, but once you do, you will not only become much better at making solos sound more natural over the chords, but you will also start to hear the chords better and hear how your favorite Jazz artists also think and hear phrases in the same way, I’ll show you!

A Better Way Of Thinking

I certainly remember finding myself in this situation: Whenever I was practicing at home, trying to play a solo I was so busy keeping up with each chord and figuring out what to play that I could not get anything to make sense. Especially when it came to songs with many chords, which is most Jazz songs.

That was also the question I took to my teacher in Copenhagen: “I know what notes fit, the arpeggios, and the scales but I can’t get it to make sense when I am improvising”, and luckily he had a way to fix that.

Improvising over changes is a bit like walking. – You never think about what you are doing when you walk. You think about where you want to go, not about moving your legs and lifting your feet, or how difficult it is to walk on stairs. – But keep in mind that walking is complicated and we are still trying to create machines that can walk and the best ones are so impressive that they go viral and get millions of views!

That is also how you want to approach your solo: think about where you want to go and get used to playing melodies that go there in a logical way.

Making Soloing Easier

Let’s start by making it a bit more practical, if you have watched my videos before you know that I often say that “in Music context is everything” and here, that is also what I was missing just thinking of each chord.

If you are soloing over chords then you want to play something that first that chord, so you are trying to find interesting melodies with whatever licks, scales, and arpeggios you know. That part all makes sense, and in a way, it only takes one note to fix this! The problem is that you are throwing away the context. It is not just an isolated Dm7, it is a Dm7 that continues to a G7, and when you solo over it then you need to play towards that G7.

I remember being in a Kurt Rosenwinkel masterclass when I was studying, and he talked about how he wanted to play better lines on m7b5 chords so he practiced improvising over a m7(b5) chord for 10 hours only to realize at the jam session the next day that the m7(b5) chord only came by for 1.5 second.

So if you don’t think about where you are going and just try to play something then it sounds like this:

But you want it to flow and sound more like this:

All it takes is that you decide on a note on the G7 that your Dm7 line should end on. You give your Dm7 line a direction by deciding where it needs to go.

This is what is called a target note, and it is an amazing way to create naturally flowing lines, how do you think Bach’s music works. Let’s boil it down to a simple exercise to start hearing it.

Making it REALLY Simple (one note)

To get started with this you want to reduce it to something very simple. Don’t start with a whole song, or 3 or 4 chords with all the chord tones, that way you are too busy trying to choose which note to target on each chord, it’s way too much!

Instead, take one chord change, let’s do Dm7 to G7 and one specific target note in a position that you already know. Let’s say this B (DIAGRAM) I(‘ll talk about choosing target notes in a bit)

So you have this scale which is C major: Diagram, and the two chords are Dm7 (arpeggio) and G7(arpeggio) but for now you only need to think of the G7 as this note.

and then start to practice composing lines on Dm7 that end on that B. Start simple, basic arpeggio or scale:

or something like

and gradually you start to hear how that flow works and you can go a lot further:

Later in the video, Ill break down longer examples like this. Already with these examples, you can hear how this has a natural sound and how it adds that sense of flow to your solos. Hearing the chord change and feeling the time is a huge part of what you want to get into your system, and to get that right then let’s talk a bit about how to choose target notes and I’ll show you some examples of famous soloists playing towards target notes.

What Are The GOOD notes?

The examples you heard until now were made to make it really simple and easy to hear, but in the end any note you can hear as a melody on the chord could be a target note. When it comes to choosing target notes then the recipe for a clear target note could be described as:

  1. A note that was not a chord tone in the previous chord, so in this example on G7 F is not the clearest target note because it is the 3rd of Dm7
  2. A note that is a defining part of the color of the chord. This is a bit vague, but for example, targeting a b9 or a b13 on a dominant will often be very clear in the context

`

You can return to this later. Let’s start with the easiest, most common, and clearest target notes: the 3rd of the chord.

For the II V I that would give you this:

And you can play a line like this hitting the target note on beat one of each bar:

As you can tell then they are clear and easy to hear.

Start To Hear It!

As I already mentioned, a great exercise, which is great for many other things in your playing, is composing lines. I’ll show you some places where you can get some inspiration, but make sure to spend some time composing simple lines that move to the next chord, in the beginning, make it short 4-note melodies taking you from Dm7 to G7 or something similar that is very common.

You can quickly start to use other target notes as well but start with the 3rds. It will help you start to hear those melodies and help you think ahead towards the next chord, both are incredibly important!

But to give you an example of another target note and one that is less clear, here’s an example going to the 5th of G7 which is, of course, the root of Dm7.

And notice how you don’t have to fill up the bars completely all the time as well:

I will get to how you can open up this approach in a bit, but first a few places where you hear this in action.

Pass & Parker’s On Target Too!

The person who is most famous for teaching this is probably Hal Galper, but it is all over Bebop, and if you have the Joe Pass guitar-style book that I also made a video on. That is a great place to hear this in action.

I am going to play this in a way that makes that clear but then it is not really in time:

I think you can hear what I mean even if I am messing up the time by playing it like this! Another place to check out is this part of Charlie Parkers solo on Au Privave where you can also hear the line go from target note to target note:

Don’t Be Square!

This method gives you strong and clear lines but since you always connect with the changes on beats 1 and 3 then it might get a bit boring, but there are ways to open that up as well, and here are a few examples, to make it easy I am sticking with the 3rd as a target note:

So here I am delaying the target note on the Dm7 and the Cmaj7 with chromatic enclosures.`

and I am anticipating the G7 by playing that target note on the 4& It is not set in stone that you have to hit the target note on beat 1 or beat 3, that is just the easiest place to start.

You can start working with these strategies to open up target notes and make it rhythmically more varied and there are more options than these. Making a specific place in the bar a rhythmical target note can be a great approach, so maybe practice hitting target notes on the 4&.

But the best place to start is closer to Bebop, and learning to use chromatic phrases for this. Passing notes and enclosures now also have a much more interesting function where they surprise the listener, and the one you need to check out for this is definitely Barry Harris, I talk about that in this video and his system is so much better than Bebop scales, which I find pretty useless, check it out! I talk about it in the video.

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

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Jazz Chords – The 3 Rules That Make You Sound Pro!

I am incredibly lucky that I get to jam with great musicians, and one of the reasons for that is something that Jazz beginners miss: You need to be able to lay down great-sounding chords that feel comfortable to play over. If you can’t play chords and comp then nobody wants to play with you. Let me show you 3 rules that your comping needs to follow, and don’t worry none of them are about difficult complicated chords and with the 3 rules, you can start to play beautiful and swinging comp, and even though I am starting with really simple chords, you can go as far as you want with this, check it out!

Let’s take a simple medium Bb blues, with a focus on playing as if you are in a duo with a horn, a vocalist, or another guitarist which means that when you are comping then you are responsible for three of the main ingredients of the song:

The Tempo, The Groove, and The Harmony.

#1 Be Clear

You need to be clear! Make it easy to understand what you are playing, where the time is, and how the groove sounds.

If we start with Time and rhythm: There is a great Peter Bernstein quote: “Don’t Be Afraid of the one when you are comping” – What that means is you have to communicate the groove to both the soloist and the audience, so stay grounded and play a chord on beat 1 often. That’s what makes it comfortable for the soloist and easy to follow for the audience. Be Clear!

When it comes to notes then being clear is about working with simple chords with a bass note

Like this:

I am playing shell-voicings here, so these easy 3-note versions of the chords: Bb7 and Eb7, Fm7 Bb7.

A trick I am using for Getting the groove across is that I split the shell-voicing into two layers: bass and chord,

You’ll see later just how much you can open that up and how powerful that is! Here it is helping me get the swing feel in there. Like this:

Notice how having two layers already is a melody, similar to how a drumkit has a bassdrum and a snare drum for comping.

A mistake that I sometimes hear is when a student plays too many sustained chords. Long sustained chords make it hard to feel the groove, and that works better if you are playing with somebody else who is laying down the groove, so try to avoid this:

And aim more for this:

Let’s look at the next rule which is more about HOW you play before getting to what you can do with the chords:

Be Connected

Be connected! This topic often concerns something that seems scary to most students trying to learn comping.

As you know, some people have the reputation of being magic at comping behind soloists, think of Herbie Hancock behind Miles or Wayne Shorter, or somebody like Wynton Kelly behind Wes Montgomery, but what makes them magic?

A lot of it is about having the right balance between 3 things:

  1. What is going on in the music or song
  2. What is the soloist playing
  3. What can I do with the harmony and the rhythm

The first two are about the most important part of playing Jazz chords, which is not rhythm, extensions or voice-leading. The most important part of playing Jazz chords is listening, and knowing when to play. You need to listen to the entire band and to the soloist. You can make horrible mistakes with that, for example, make sure that you don’t play a million syncopated chords

if the feel is more relaxed and open and the rest of the band sounds like this:

Another pitfall, that I see in lessons where I am teaching comping is that it turns into being about ear training and being able to, on the spot, transcribe and analyze everything being played while you are also playing the chords. That is not really how it works, of course, you want to hear and catch as much as you can, but you should also keep in mind that if the soloist is really busy and playing a lot then you don’t have to do so much, and you can even stop playing for a bit, or at least pull back to make it very basic. What is also important to keep in mind is that even if you know exactly what is being played then you are much more likely to get in the way if you also play a lot.

So you want to be connected with the song and the soloist so that what you play fits the mood and the energy and is nice to play over. But you also want to be connected to what YOU are playing.

That connection needs to be there, and it is so important to work on getting it in there so that it doesn’t sound like we are starting a new song every 4 beats. There is a great fairly simple way to start working on this: You need to learn to listen to yourself and you need to learn to think in phrases!  The best way to work on this is to start with the rhythm, and I’ll show you some tricks with the chords in the next part of the video. An easy way to train this is to repeat stuff through a song, and you will find that a lot of soloists find that very nice to play over because it is predictable and easy to both play off and get ideas from and you can rely on it.

So spend some time just taking a riff or rhythm through the song and then slowly start to develop or vary it, but keep the longer story in there as well! Once you can do that you can always open it up.

Make sure to practice with a metronome that is the fastest way to get better time and really be able to lay down a groove! If your groove sounds good with a metronome then your groove sounds good. If your groove sounds good with a backing track then maybe the backing track sounds good. I’ve said it before. Now we need top open up the chords!

Be Creative

We all want to play big beautiful chord voicings because that’s probably what we love about jazz chords: all the colors and extensions,  but at the same time it is much more important to get the rhythm right and not get in the way of the soloists or the other band members when you’re comping. If you are playing with a drummer and your rhythms don’t match that will sound horrible. When it comes to chords then If you check, you would probably be amazed at how most people you admire play very basic and simple chords most of the time. The groove and clarity is the most important!

So a good place to start is to add some forward Motion with the help of some easy and basic passing chords. As you will see, There’s no difficult theory or complicated formulas needed, I am just playing something that’s a half step, or a fret,  away from the chord that I want to go to and using that to drive the progression forward with some nice sounding energy! Something like this.

So I am going to the Eb7 from above and approaching the Bb7 from below, simple stuff just sliding the chord in place.

And of course, you can also use that if you just want to change things up while you’re on the same chord for a longer time.

Earlier in the video I showed you how to split the chord in two parts so that you have a bass note and a chord, but check out how you can take that up a few levels because that goes really really far and you can do all sorts of things!

You can probably tell that this is the same principle:  First playing the complete chord, maybe a simple version, to set up and be clear about where we are in the song. But after that then I don’t play the root anymore and instead, I am free to play a chord fill in between.

As you can see then I’m using all these other kind of voicings that are kind of coming out of the shell-voicing but also some drop2 and some triads. You can really do a lot with this and it’s a great way to create some fills. It is also great for adding some blues flavor to the whole thing.  Like this:

Getting Back To The Blues

I am essentially using the same as what I would do in a solo, so grace notes for the 3rd and making it short and simple prases that stay around the triad with the melody.

And once you clearly establish the chord, then you don’t have to play complete simple voicings on every 1 of every bar, that can be much more open, even completely rootless if that fits. I didn’t do anything with the bass yet, so let’s do that!

Bass!

Thinking like this you can also turn it around and then say well I want to have more movement in the bass and add either small parts of bass movement or walking bass like this:

or go to a complete section where you’re playing walking bass all the time, really adding that quarter-note drive which moves the whole thing forward and sounds great!

Once you start to add other chord voicings and complete chord solo fills then you also need to have a way to think about the chords that tie all those different voicings together. I go over a simple system for that important process in another video, and it is a lot easier than you might think and also sort of coming from how Joe Pass approaches chords. Check it out!

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

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