Category Archives: Lesson

Make Your Jazz Chords Sound Amazing (for normal people)

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

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

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

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

An Easy Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Difficult Cliches

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

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

Partly Voiceover Ex6 end of sentence back to talking head

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

A Turnaround of many tricks

This is the turnaround:

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


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

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

Or an Abmaj7:

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

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

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

The Diminished Dilemma

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

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

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

Some Beautiful Huge Chords

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


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

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

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

Comping With Pentatonics, Tricks, And Intervals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 Reasons You Will Regret Not Working On Chord Soloing

Once I started getting interested in Jazz and Jazz guitar then it didn’t take long until I heard some of the first chord solos especially Wes Montgomery and shortly after Joe Pass, and That was pretty mind-blowing coming from Pearl Jam and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The idea of soloing with chords like that was completely new to me, and that seemed both unbelievably difficult and also the coolest thing I had ever heard, so of course, I had to figure this out!

Besides being a great sound that you can use in your solos then there are actually a few other things that you can really take up a few levels if you start working on playing chord solos, and as you will see, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

How Not To Start!

#1 Too Simple and hard to use

#2 Too Difficult and hard to use




The #1 Mistake that I see students make when they start with chord solos is not being practical and starting with harmonized scales that are technically much more difficult to use, requires more theory, and is in general much more information.


That is not the place to start. I didn’t try to take that exact approach but, but I also made a mess out of it!

You want to keep it practical and simple, If you are new to improvising and want to learn what you can play over a m7 chord then you don’t start with “A love Supreme”

and I will give you a much more practical strategy in this video.

In the beginning, I didn’t have a choice, I had a few CDs but there were no transcriptions, so I was limited to whatever I could figure out by ear, which was a pretty steep limitation. I managed to figure out a few Wes things here and there and The George Bensons solos on the Borgia Stick which have some chord solo parts. But this wasn’t really getting me anywhere for two reasons:

it was either too simple to help me create my own solos or too difficult to play and therefore impossible to use.

I was mostly listening to Wes, and when Wes plays chord solos then he is really block-harmonizing a lot, so he will in fact play different chord voicings under each melody note which makes it demanding to play, and also requires you to have quite a few things figured out about chords and theory.

From Wes’ solo on “The Thumb”

Joe Pass And A Winning Strategy

But that changed later once I started having lessons after having moved from Århus to Copenhagen.

One of my teachers at the time, Morten Kargaard, gave me a photocopy of a chord solo from Joe Pass’ chord solo book.

Learning that solo was a LOT of work, which quite a few of my students also can tell you, but while working on it then I started to see some things in the Joe Pass solo that were a lot easier to move into my own playing, because phrases were often a static chord under a moving melody, so visually you would see the chord and then use the notes available to create a chord solo phrase.

This was a huge breakthrough and quickly gave me something I could move over to my own playing. Let me show you how easy this is to work with and then also how it will help your single-note soloing.

A 3-minute Chord Solo method

Let’s take a II V In G major, so Am7 D7 Gmaj7.

Here’s an Am7 chord to start with:

and you can use these 4 notes as different melodies over that:

For D7 then let’s use this D7alt:

and then these 4 notes for melody options:

For Gmaj7 then this is a great Gmaj7(9)

And you have these 4 notes:

Now you have the chords next to each other and melodies that are close to each other as well, so turning that into a solo phrase is not that difficult:

Or another variation like this one:

And this is a lot easier to start with instead of being stuck with having to put different chords under each note in the melody that you want to improvise, which of course you can start working on later, but it can also help you get another dimension into your single-note solos as well.

Wes Montgomery And The Power Of Limitation

Before I moved to The Netherlands to study I lived in Copenhagen and I was lucky to sometimes get to play with musicians that were a lot further than I was. While jamming with a piano player he gave me some advice that I, unfortunately, couldn’t put to use right away, but it later turned out to be very useful!

When you are working on chord solos in the way that I just showed you for the II V I in G major then you can’t play dense bebop lines like you usually do:

But that limitation is actually really useful because, you don’t want to play dense lines all the time, you also want to play more sparse melodies with more emphasis on rhythm. The kind of phrases you hear Wes use very often, like his solo on Four On Six:

Technically you can’t really play harmonized bebop lines in chord solos and therefore the lines are more simple, but you can still make some solid chord solo lines and that is actually helping you get into exactly those types of “Wes” melodies. That was also the observation the piano player made when we were jamming: “your solos lack rhythm but you actually play much more interesting stuff when you play chord solos, so you need to get that into your solos as well”. At that time, I couldn’t really implement that, but a few years later that realization really helped me develop that type of phrasing in my playing because I was already used to hearing those phrases in my chord solos.  And this is really about taking phrases like this one:

And realize that it works without the chords as well:

Let’s look at another thing that working on this type of chord soloing really helps you develop.

Making Jazz Chords Into Music

The biggest challenge when it comes to comping is to go from chord symbols to music. Because a row of letters is, of course, not really music.

One of the strongest ways to get your chords to work together is melody, so if you can go further than just playing the chords like a robot and start to add some rhythm and melody to how you play them then you are really getting somewhere.

You want to turn it into phrases, repeat motifs and make it a story

That would be something like this:

But really this is just playing “lazy” or “sparse” chord solo phrases, so approaching comping like this will give you material from your chord solos and also help you develop new chord solo material as you are comping the song.

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The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

Sometimes you get a little bit tired of playing chord progressions that all sound like this:

And you want to hear some other less predictable chords, and actually, there are a lot of options for that which are already built into the key and let you play something like this.

What I am using here is borrowing some chords from a category called minor subdominant chords,  which is a large group of chords that really can sound incredible in a chord progression!

The Chords That Didn’t Make Sense

When I was beginning to learn standards then I didn’t know how to analyze them, so in the isolated Danish mountains while I was practicing endlessly I was just trying to remember the chords, not understanding what was going on. My knowledge of harmony was limited to realizing what key something was in and maybe figuring out that something was a II V I of some sort.

But I still often ran into other progressions that sounded great, but where I didn’t really understand why, and a lot of the chords that I liked the most later turned out to be minor subdominant chords, they were often the part of the song that I was really drawn to but that I couldn’t figure out.

Tonal Harmony in (almost) 1 minute

The music that I am going to explore in this video is in a key, it is not random chords next to each other which is important to realize.

If you take the key of C major then the foundation is based on the C major scale

And the basic diatonic chords that you create in that key if you stack 3rds would give you these 7 chords:

The way I look at these chords they are split into 3 groups: Tonic chords, Dominant chords and Subdominant chords.

The groups are made so that the chords in the group can often replace each other in a progression, contain many of the same notes, and therefore also sound similar.

Usually, you call this the function of the chord, so in C major, Em7 has a tonic function, and G 7 has a dominant function.

Notice that the function of a chord is also about the chord progression, so it is not just about the notes in the chord. That is also why you can find examples of Am7 being a subdominant chord in C major as well as other places where it is tonic,

The Great Tonal Trick

When a song is in a major key then the great thing about that is that you have all the diatonic chords that I just showed you but you can also use the chords from the minor key with the same root, so in C major you can also use the chords from C minor.

Cut in: – I can, for some reason, never remember what is parallel and what is relatively minor, so I think about it like this, sorry…

This is not entirely coming from scales and is essentially more about voice-leading, but starting with a scale is a great way to get some things to work with, and then you can expand on that to get to some of the great sounds, but I will get to that later in the video.

For C natural minor:

You have these chords:

And in fact, most of these can work as a minor subdominant: Dø, Fm7, Abmaj7, and Bb7 will all be great minor subdominant chords. Let’s hear them in action also to get a better understanding of how they are used in the songs.

#1 Dø

The Dø chord is the easiest to put to use in a II V I, so that you in fact have an entire dark-sounding minor cadence that then beautifully resolves to a bright major sound, similar to Cole Porter’s I love you

#2 Fm7

The Fm7 chord is more often used as a way of getting from a subdominant chord to a tonic chord, so not as a part of a II V I. Often you will in fact see it as an Fm6 or FmMaj7, but I will get to that in a bit. Here it is moving coming from Dm7:

#3 Abmaj7

The bVImaj7 is a beautiful sound and is actually used in quite a few different ways. It can be used like the Fm7 chord:

But it can also be used in a cadence instead of a II chord, which is how it is used in Cole Porter’s Night and Day:

#4 Bb7

One of the minor subdominant chords that is a little less obvious is the bVII, also called the backdoor dominant. You often hear that used as a transition from subdominant back to the tonic:

But it is also sometimes appearing as an extra movement at the end of a section:

Now you have some basic examples so I can show you some more advanced chords before getting to the one that doesn’t fit at all,

A minor (subdominant) misunderstanding

But first, let’s just go over one of the questions that I get most often when I am analyzing something involving these chords which is something like

“why is Abmaj7 a minor subdominant? It is not even a minor chord?”

What you want to know here is that it is called minor not because it is a minor chord, but because it is coming from the minor key. The reason that it is subdominant is that it doesn’t contain a B, so the leading note in the key, and it WILL resolve to a tonic chord, so it isn’t dominant and it isn’t tonic and therefore it is subdominant.

As I already mentioned with the Am7 chord, then you can’t really boil function down to just what notes have to be in the chord.

What I am talking about in this video, is also sometimes referred to as modal interchange, but that concept is, as far as I know, a lot wider, where this is much more specific to the key and more of a description of the type of harmony you come across in Jazz standards.

The next thing to look at is how the chords often are given extensions so that they work better with the major key which gives you some really beautiful chords, and then that chord that doesn’t really fit into the system but sounds beautiful.

Make It Closer to The Key

Some of the other very common minor subdominant chords are a little different in terms of how they are colored, and those are in fact more common.

As I mentioned earlier then the minor subdominants are more a result of voice-leading than of chords from a scale, and in fact, it is mostly about one note that is moving, in C major that would be A moving down to Ab to G, which if you start with an F chord gives you:


The 6th note in the scale is one of the most important parts of the subdominant sound, and when you alter that you create minor subdominants.

The most common minor subdominant, and maybe the one that it all points back to in Jazz, is probably a IVm6 chord, so in C major that would be

The Fm6 is a nice sound in C major because it is closer to the key than the Fm7 that also has an Eb which is not in the C major scale.

The Fm6 also allows for having an E in the melody so there is more melodic freedom over it when it appears in a C major context. The most common scale used for this chord is F melodic minor.

You can also see, or rather hear, how Fm6 and Bb7 are interchangeable,

and that also explains why the backdoor dominant is a Lydian dominant, so it has a #11 as an extension.

There is one more subdominant chord to cover, also one that is fairly common, but first let’s look at going beyond the subdominant function.

Minor Dominant – What Is That Anyway?

This video is of course about the minor subdominant chords, but you want to be aware that you come across dominants that are borrowed from minor all the time as well.

The minor scale where the dominant function lives is harmonic minor, which is probably also why it is called that.

And here you have two chords with a dominant function: G7, which becomes a G7(b9,b13) and Bdim

Both of these are useful to have as chords you can use like this basic II V I with a G7(b9)

and this neat way of adding a dominant to get a different transition from a backdoor dominant to the tonic

A Beautiful chord that doesn’t fit

The chord that doesn’t really seem to fit and which is often seen as some sort of tritone substitute is the Neapolitan subdominant.

The way to understand it is really just to think of it as a IVm triad, so in C major that is an F minor triad, with an added 6th but in this case, it is a b6 since that is a stronger leading note to take us down to the root, C. And In Jazz, we turn that into a Dbmaj7 chord and have progressions like this:

The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

In this case, the chord isn’t found in C minor, but as you can see it is just a result of voice-leading. Keep in mind that chords is any way just a very crude way to understand voice-leading, something I have talked about before: making things into vertical chord symbols doesn’t always help you understand what is going on.


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The Best Advice I Ever Had For Playing Fast Tempos

Playing fast tempos is always a huge challenge on guitar!

Technique is probably the first thing that hits you as impossible to master, but maybe that is not even the biggest problem, and you can get a lot out of changing how you think to get better at up-tempo playing.

I managed to run into probably every possible problem when I took a deep dive into getting better at playing faster and improving my technique, which is sort of how this started.

How I Practiced To Improve My Technique

When I was in the 4th year of my conservatory study, I decided that I really wanted to get better at playing faster tempos and faster lines, and I set up a practice routine to help me do that.

My inspiration for this approach was maybe less than obvious since it was inspired by a video clip that a student of mine had shared with me.

Essentially what John Petrucci was doing was to take a simple exercise and then speed it up from very slow —  to as fast as you can, and that process I took to my own exercises and repeated every day while slowly getting a bit faster. The way I did it was to take scale positions, but you can also start by working on smaller fragments and then expand that into longer exercises. It wasn’t only scales, I also worked on speeding up other exercises in the scales like intervals, triads, and diatonic arpeggios, because that is the stuff I want to play. Since I was focused on alternate picking, I was also practicing some Steve Morse-inspired exercises which I really enjoyed. I have some old videos with those.

The most important part of this is to be precise when you play slow so that your technique does not fall apart when you start speeding it up, something I still have to remind myself of all the time, and frequently get confronted with when I record myself improvising.

This really helped me develop my alternate picking and after some time I could play a lot of stuff pretty fast, but also I quickly started to realize that other problems were starting to turn up and that I needed to address those to play better up-tempo solos.

Getting The Practice Tempo Right

One thing that I discovered once I was able to play the exercises fast was that it did not immediately translate to being able to play solos, I didn’t want to only play scale runs when I was playing uptempo and there were other skills I also needed to develop.

I needed to start developing more vocabulary that was useable in higher tempos, which means more efficient and often more 8th note based so that I wouldn’t have triplet or 16th note passages in the middle that I could not play fast.

This reminded me of something one of my teachers in Denmark, Bjarne Roupe had taught me about not playing too slow: If you want to get better at playing fast and develop your ability to go through the changes then you should practice in a medium-tempo where you can easily play the lines and still have some freedom, but you should not play so slow that you start doing double time or triples, instead, you want to be disciplined and keep in mind that you need to be able to play this faster while you are practicing to become freer and develop more vocabulary

On a side note, the lesson where he gave me this advice was when I brought in Moments Notice. Because my combo teacher at the time had decided that since we could almost make it through a medium-tempo Just Friends then this Coltrane song was a logical next step.

Finding the right medium practice tempo and then working on playing like that is a great way to develop your playing, and it also enables you to sometimes try to practice soloing on a song similar to how I was practicing technique, so gradually speeding things up.

If you start working on this then I can also very much recommend learning to play towards target notes which will help you manage another thing that is incredibly important for faster tempos.

You also need to deal with the issue of getting stressed by the tempo.

Think Slow

One thing that can get very stressful in higher tempos is the tempo itself. You start playing the song but it seems like you are in hyperspace and there are 250 chords every second.

Coupled with that you are trying to feel the beat and stomping your foot 250 times per minute for the entire 12 minutes of the song and your foot is getting tired, in fact, your leg feels like it is going to fall off.

Instead of doing this, you need to start feeling the tempo slower. This is also what I heard from a lot of teachers like Barry Harris or my guitar teacher at the conservatory Eef Albers.

Depending on what you find easier then it makes sense to start feeling either half or even a quarter of the tempo, so just the half notes or even just feel a bar as a beat. That way you make sure that you don’t have to spend energy on counting or tapping your foot. At tempos like this then the beat becomes a subdivision and you want to feel it like that as well, also because it makes you a lot more flexible in terms of playing quarter note triplets or just floating on top of the groove without getting lost.

It is fairly easy to realize that it is less effort. If you hear all the beats it is this: (play all 4) compared to hearing it like this (play on 1)   (8 bars of Cherokee)

And you can start doing this by just listening to fast pieces and try to feel them in 1 or in half. This way you don’t get stressed by the tempo itself, but of course, you want to not get stressed by the changes as well.

Think Ahead

It is important that you are thinking about where the music is going and that you are ahead of where it is now so that you are not falling behind, you don’t really have time to think about what scale or arpeggio to play on the chord that is happening now, then you will be too late.

This means that you need to really know the song, and you need to be aware of what the next chord will be.

If you want to test that then just put on giant steps and try to say the chords as they are played

When I do that then I need to think about the chords in that tempo, and that is just too fast, it needs to be already in your system so that you can improvise over it and you probably do that playing chunks that you can connect, which is also clear how Coltrane’s solo on this works.

Whether putting together phrases like this is actually improvising is sometimes up for discussion, I remember seeing a Twitter thread from Ethan Iverson about this a few weeks ago. If you are on Twitter you should consider following him, because he posts some really interesting observations here and there!

If you are used to playing towards target notes then that is a huge help here because you are naturally training to think about the next chord, and you are less likely to get stuck with a chord where you have to think about what to play. As I said In this tempo that is – always – too – late.

A Strange side effect

While I was getting better and better at playing lines with alternate picking, I started to notice that I was not really happy with how my phrasing sounded. Everything was clear and articulated, but it was lacking some dynamics within the lines. I missed hearing some notes pop out of the lines. It took quite some time to figure this out.

I was also checking out a lot of Wes Montgomery and Scofield solos at the time, and I started to notice that they both used a lot of legato in their playing. This was not only to be able to play faster phrases, even if that was also a part of the reason, it was also something that was a part of the phrasing, so a part of how their lines sounded. I wanted to get more of that into my playing, and I realized that I needed to focus less on only using alternate picking all the time, and instead try to find a different way of executing the phrasing I wanted, mixing in especially legato techniques. The way I have mostly approached this has been about listening to how I hear a phrase and then try to play it with a technique that gives me that sound.

for example, If you listen to this phrase:

and compare it to this

Ex legato

you can hear that even if I make the G very soft with alternate picking then it is a different sound compared to playing it with a pull-off because the difference is not only volume, it is also the attack and the quality of the tone, and a bonus is that playing the phrase using the pull-off makes it a LOT easier for your right hand.

This combination of phrasing and technique can be a bit of a puzzle, but it is both effective and, for me, sounds much closer to what I want it to sound like

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Pentatonic Chords are Magic! Amazing New Way To Use The Scale!

This way of turning the pentatonic scale into chords is surprisingly easy and already built into the way we play the scale, so if you can find a pentatonic scale that fits a chord then you have a great way to create some beautiful chord runs with a lot of movement and some really nice colors.

Let me show you how it works, and then explain and expand on how you can start using this great sound:

This is a fill to fit a Cmaj7

and the pentatonic scale used is this Em pentatonic scale, I’ll go over choosing scales in a bit:

Here, I am turning the pentatonic scale into chords by playing 3 notes at a time. In the previous example, I used these 4 chords:

Why Does It Work?

So I am really just thinking of them as playing notes in the scale at the same time, I am not thinking 4 different chords. The combined sound of all of them is what works and they fit together perfectly because they are in the scale.

Of course, you can do this for the entire position, and you can also use the same chords but change how you play them:

The way this works is about moving around in one position, but as you will see, you can also add some nice melodic tricks and start moving along the neck as well.

Finding Pentatonic Scales For Cmaj7

But first, let’s look a bit at finding pentatonic scales for a maj7 chord, later I will also show you some other chords and a great pentatonic scale that fits on a m6 or mMaj7 chord. The construction is a bit weird, but it sounds amazing, actually, I am going against my own rules in the name of it.

When you are looking for pentatonic scales it is not super complicated.

A Cmaj7 chord is either the I chord or the IV chord in a major scale.

If Cmaj7 is the one chord in C major then you have 3 possible minor pentatonic scales:

C major: C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C

Am: A C D E G A

Dm: D F G A C D

Em: E G A B D E

In this case, the Dm pentatonic is not really going to sound like a Cmaj7 mainly because of the F. But both Am and Em work really well. If you look at the notes of Am pentatonic, that is really just a C6/9 chord: C E G A D,

but since this way of using the scales is about adding color then the Em pentatonic is a little bit better because you also have the B, the major 7th so it is a little richer, and we want it to be as rich as possible!

The same type of analysis works if Cmaj7 is the 4th degree, here the scale would be G major and the available pentatonic scales would be Em, Am and Bm. Em and Am I already talked about but in this case the Bm is interesting because it has the two important notes for the chord: E and B, 3rd and 7th and then you have the 9th, the 13th, and the #11.

So this is can also be a very useful scale for the chord giving you a sort of open floating lydian sound:

The Secret To This Approach


One thing that it is important that you realize with this approach is that playing these pentatonic chord runs is like arpeggiating a chord. If you arpeggiate a chord then you have to hear a few notes before you can hear what chord it is.

This works the same, so not all the 3-note pentatonic chords are complete versions of for example a Cmaj7, but the entire run will sound like a Cmaj7.

If you look at the 2nd chord it is A D and G so it lacks the E and the B but those notes are in the surrounding chords so the whole thing still works.

In fact, this is similar to how you use quartal voicings, where you move around a voicing and sometimes it is not a complete chord, like this II V I in C major where the chords on beat 2 and 3 are not really complete Dm7 or G7alt voicings, but the entire thing still works.

In the end, just come up with something that sounds cool and it will probably work. Let’s try it out on an m7 chord and explore moving out of positions which can make things a lot easier sometimes.

Pentatonic Chords for a m7 chord

If you look at the 3 pentatonic scales in C major and compare them to a Dm7 chord, then it makes sense that the scale that will work the best is the Dm pentatonic since that is the only one that has both a 3rd and the 7th, so F and C.

Instead of playing in position then you can also move along the neck, and turn that into some beautiful moving harmony that is often also easier to play.

The basic Dm pentatonic voicings could be this:

And you can easily turn that into a beautiful II V I  and notice how I use the Em pentatonic scale as a short extra fill on the Cmaj7. It doesn’t always have to be large runs all the time, it can also be a small detail.

Now you can cover a lot of ground already, so I guess it would be nice to find a nice scale for a m6 or a mMaj7 chord, so let’s try that.

The Minor Pentatonic b1-scale

I actually hate the name I gave this scale, but it is by far the easiest way to construct it, so that is why I am sticking with it, even if it annoys every pedantic theoretically correct principle in my brain!

The scale I want to use is a scale that fits over a minor chord with a maj 6th and a maj7th which is really the sound of melodic minor.

For Cmaj7 you have Em pentatonic: E G A B D (3 5 6 7 9) with all the nice colors and extensions.

If only we had a minor version of that… Oh wait:

Em Pentatonic b1 : Eb G A B D

So here I am essentially just taking the Em pentatonic scale and changing E to Eb, hence the b1 pentatonic scale.

A better name for this scale is G major b6 pentatonic, which I believe I took from Rick Beato, but I am not 100% sure.

If you want some pentatonic chord magic on an Am6 chord then you use the C#m pentatonic but change the C# to a C, which gives you E major b6 pentatonic.

And now you can create 3 note voicings like this:

And then you can create some nice chord runs for an Am6 or AmMaj7 chord, it is really an amazing sound, and after that, you probably know what I am going to do next.

Altered Dominants And Counter-Movement

Now that you have a great pentatonic scale for a melodic minor sound then the next thing to do is (of course?) to put that to use on an altered dominant!

This is going to be a few steps, but it is worthwhile!

Let’s take G7alt:

G altered is Ab melodic minor.

The Pentatonic scale for Ab melodic minor is Cm with the C turned into a B (or Cb)

So this scale:


And then you have these chords:

And now you can create an all-pentatonic chord run that works great as an intro but is maybe a bit busy for comping. You also want to notice the counter-movement in the  Dm7 voicings.

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Why Chord Substitutions Are Holding You Back!

To me, this is one of those things that can really open up how you work with chords and help you create some beautiful-sounding progressions without having to rely on systems and rules.

It also touches on one of the things I don’t like about a modal approach to harmony, but I will try not to rant too much about that in this video. Instead, I am going to show you a way to think about the chords that will free you from just using substitutions and will help you create some beautiful harmony that really flows through the piece.

This is closely related to the type of thinking behind the Coleman Hawkins quote: “I don’t play chords, I play movements” which is often associated with Barry Harris even though that is also not the approach that I will focus on in this video.

Like most others then I was introduced to chord substitutions pretty early in my study. This was when I was still living in Copenhagen and spent most of my time playing Jazz standards in the street when I wasn’t in school trying to get better at guitar.

I was just beginning to figure out how to harmonize melodies and turn them into chord melody arrangements but still only relying on the basic harmony (B-roll – Looking in the real book, pointing, and then trying to play a difficult chord looking baffled)

For this, I am going to start with a few basic substitutions and then we are going to expand that into something much more powerful and creative.

Chord Substitutions 101 – Tritone Subs

The first chord substitution you learn is usually the tritone substitution, which I sometimes get the impression is taught because theory teachers don’t know what to talk about in the lessons.

A tritone substitution is exchanging a dominant for the dominant a tritone away because the two chords share the same core notes: 3rd and 7th.

So in a II V I in C major EXAMPLE  the G7 is replaced with Db7. To give you this nice progression:

And you can see how the same tritone is in the two dominant chords which is why it is possible to switch them.

The best way to understand stuff like this is usually to hear it used in a song.

The basic version:


and with a tritone sub:


And this demonstrates two things: Tritone substitution(or any other chord substitution) doesn’t really make any sense if you don’t understand how it works with the chords around it. You are making the substitution to get the progression to sound different,  and you need to hear it in the context to really get what is going on, otherwise, you are in this case, just playing an E7 (b-roll: E7!) and  E7 sounds differently in a Blues in E compared to A Jazz ballad in Eb

The other thing you want to notice is that Tritone substitution usually works better when the dominant resolves, so a tritone substitute of a backdoor dominant is probably not going to sound fantastic.

Chord Substitution 102 – Major and Minor + Tritone 2.0

There are probably 3 more chord substitutions that are very common and that you want to know when you are at the stage of just swapping out chords and not really trying to think in harmony as a movement, which we will get to later.

#1 Tritone Dom instead of a II V in minor.

The first one is if you have a minor II V I like for example What Is This Thing Called Love

and you then replace the m7b5 chord with a tritone substitute resolving to the V, so in this case, Db7 moving down to C7:

The next two are about messing with how the ear expects to hear either major or minor in a II V I and then you do the opposite.

#2 a m7 instead of a IIø

If the ear expects to hear a dark-sounding m7(b5) chord EXample and instead you play a much brighter sounding chord that is a m7 with a 9th and or an 11th then that is a really nice surprise. Example

A good example could be Beautiful love. The first few bars usually sound like this:

And you can get a much brighter sound by using an Em7(11) like this:

This is pretty common and also something you can use in a solo, and there are actually even a few spots where Parker does this.

#3 a m7(b5) instead of a m7 chord

The other way around is also really nice! If you have a II V I in a song

and then make it darker by playing:

Beyond Chord Substitution

Jazz Harmony space B-roll (chord symbols flying in space?)

I guess it is sort of ironic that I started out the video by teaching chord substitutions when I actually don’t want you to think like that, so let’s go beyond that, first a bit further and then into Uncharted Jazz Harmony Space  (B-roll)

When you can only think in terms of chord substitutions then you can switch one chord out for another chord, but it actually becomes a lot better if you start to learn to work with entire progressions and come up with other ways of harmonizing that section of the melody.

This was something I first started to get into when I was studying at the conservatory and had lessons with Peter Nieuwerf and Eric Gieben who showed me some exciting ways to work much more freely with harmony, and as you will see, some of these don’t make any sense if you think of them as of chord substitutions.

Let me show you an example, that sort of goes against one of the things that makes reharmonization most effective. I am going to assume that you know what Blue Moon sounds like so that you can hear how these chords are different, and then I am going to explain what is going on.

You can hear how this still works, and still has a flow but also how far away you can go on a very simple turnaround. And actually, you can approach it in a much more open way but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The first thing I changed was turning the Am7 chord into a C#dim.

That is just a secondary dim chord and not something special.  In Bar 3, there is a lot more happening, because here the long G in the melody was original on Cmaj7 Am7, but now it is harmonized with Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7 leading into the Dm7 G7,

and Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7 are not exactly substitutions of Cmaj7 Am7, you could at most call them suspensions but since they don’t resolve back to C then that is also not really a description of what is going on.

The best way to see it is probably just to see it as something that

A/ sounds good with the melody

B/ fits in the key and the chord progression

Here they work because they are both minor subdominant chords in C major and of course sound great under the G in the melody.

In Bar 5 The Cmaj7 Am7 is turned into Bb7(#11) A7.

Again Bb7 is not really a substitution for Cmaj7 or related to Cmaj7. Instead, it is an example of choosing harmony that focuses on a different aspect of the turnaround: The chord that was there: Cmaj7 is just a tonic chord and it is a resolution when you land there, but the song keeps on moving, and the Bb7 only makes sense here because it keeps on moving to A7 and in that way is both a bit surprising but makes sense as the music continues. So you can look at the turnaround and think:

A- It is a tonic chord and then it moves on


B- It is a progression that needs to resolve in 2 bars.

And here I am using Bb7 because that works with the melody and really helps push towards the resolution in bar 7. In this last turnaround, I also changed the Dm7 to a D7, but that is just because I think that sounds a little better than the m7 chord with the melody.

So the big difference here is that I am much more free to use whatever chords I can get to work with the melody and the chord progression, not just looking at a chord and then thinking what chord fits instead of this.

This can give you A LOT of freedom, but before I get into that then let’s look at a way to set up a reharmonization so that it really stands out.

The Easiest Way To Make It Work

Timing is incredibly important for reharmonization and chord substitution. When you are playing a song and changing the harmony then what you are really working with is a way to go against the listener’s expectation. That is also what you hear in the Blue Moon example where I first play a turnaround in C to establish the song and then I start to change the chords.

If you start with changing the chords then there is less of an expectation and nothing for the listener to be surprised by:

And of course, that is possible but it is not nearly as strong. If you start listening for how people use reharmonziations then this is more common than you think, try to listen to Gilad Hekselman’s recording I Should Care where the 2nd half of the ABAC form starts with an F#ø Fm6 Em7 A7 because that is a new way to color the melody when it repeats in the 2nd half of the form.  This is by the way a very common reharmonization used on a ton of songs, but let’s get into some more uncommon progressions and different sounds.

Everything Is Allowed!

Until now, I was just showing you some things that were changing a chord here and there and creating some beautiful sounds, but you can also just leave out most of the chords and completely re-imagine the chord progression, using “atonal” ideas and Giant Steps.

To have a place to start check out the first few bars of You Don’t Know What Love Is:

Let’s say that you played that as the first A and now you can change things up in the 2nd A:

Here I am starting with a different chord that is essentially the same Fm6 with a Bb in the Bas and then I sculpt the rest of the chord progression around an ascending bass line ending with Gbmaj7 instead of Db7, but this would really work well moving on to Gø that would follow it.

This next example is borrowing some ideas from Coltrane’s Giant Steps circle:

Giant Steps don’t really exist in minor, and actually, you don’t want to be tied down by some sort of system when doing this, so I am being very liberal with how I incorporate the chords, and I still want to play the song.

The idea I use is to start on Fm6 and then through E7alt go to Amaj7 which is pretty far away from Fm, and to move on to Db major and finally take another route to end on Bmaj7(#11) instead of Db7.

You can probably tell how this is really more about using the Coltrane cycle as a source of inspiration and not at all a system, but like this, the melody is still intact and you get something different.

A great place to put this to use is to work on chord melody:

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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Stop Being Lazy With Your Triads (Jazz Guitar Secrets)

Triads are only 3 notes but you can use them in so many ways for both comping and solos.

If someone asked me what 3 things are most important to learn for your solos, Triads would be on that list!

Often people hear triads and just think about campfire chords and country music, but I am going to show you how much you can use triads when it comes to Jazz.

Let’s start with some chords:

#1 Triads Are Great Jazz Chords

On-screen: chord progression arrow written out chords(fancy)

Playing Jazz Chords is about taking a chord progression and turning it into exciting and beautiful harmony that fits the song, therefore you want to have flexible chords, and here, triads are a fantastic option.

Let’s say you have this

That’s Dm7, G7 and Cmaj7.

For all of these chords then if you take away the root you get a triad:

Dm7 becomes, F major, G7 becomes Bdim and Cmaj7, E minor

And the 3 note voicings are a lot easier to play, and you can do stuff like this:

But before we get into using triads for soloing, you can actually take this a step further, with something that I think is often overlooked:

#2 Open Triads Are Amazing Chords!

The basic triads that you just saw can do a lot of great things, but don’t forget to also check out the open triads which are also easy to play but gives you a different sound.

The method is pretty simple:

The Open triad version of an F major triad gives you these 3 inversions:

And using these on a II V I sounds beautiful and is a really nice, but more unusual way to use 3-note chords

And you can do this on the other inversions as well

and since it is only 3 notes you can also easily add some extra things to embellish the progression:

But it is not all comping, and triads are solid for soloing as well!

#3 Getting Free From Scale Melodies

One of the most boring types of melodies is to just play scales in your solos:

Example 4

And both triads and arpeggios are great ways to fix this, so you want to practice your scales in diatonic triads:

and like this, you have a connection between the scale and the triads,

so using the same triads I used with the chords: F major, Bdim, and Em then you can create lines like this:


But you don’t want to forget to also check this out in other scales than the major scale. Diatonic triads in Melodic minor are incredibly useful as well, and there is actually a nice trick to using them that I’ll show you.

Here are the triads for Ab melodic minor which is what you use for G7 altered.

With this you don’t have to only play altered licks like this:

Instead, you can use a B augmented and an F dim triad,

and actually, also make a line that fits over some other chords as well:

The beauty of melodic minor is that if you move up the altered lick a half-step then you have a great lick for an Am6 chord:

So knowing your diatonic triads in other scales will give you a lot of different sounds and melodies.

#4 This is REALLY knowing your triads

Now you have the diatonic triads that you can use but you are actually still missing something. Listen to Wes, just using a Dm triad on a Dm chord:

Here Wes is using the 2nd inversion of the Dm triad.

And you want to start practicing both 1st and 2nd inversions of the triads as well, not only as exercises like this

But also in make some lines, mainly just because they are incredibly strong melodies that you can use for a lot of nice things. Here is an example using the same Dm 2nd inversion triad on a II V I in C major:

Let’s look at another way to work on creative melodies with triads.

#5 Getting Melodic

Triads are amazingly strong melodies, but you want to take advantage of the fact that they are only 3 notes and therefore also very flexible and easy to do things with.

So instead of just playing up and down the triad all the time like this

Then you also want to be able to turn them into something like this:

In this line the triads are played in different patterns for the F major (partly voiceover slow version), B diminished, and Em triads. Still just using those basic choices. that I showed you at the beginning

And it really pays off to work on taking some of these patterns through the diatonic triads in exercises to get them into your ear and into your fingers. Here is an exercise using the melody I used on the B dim triad:

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You don’t NEED a Guitar amp!

I stopped using real amps 12 years ago and, I never looked back, It works really well, and I am far from the only Jazz guitarist to do so.

For me, actually, the biggest advantage to not using an amp is really not what I expected,but it turned out to make a huge difference and solve a problem I had been trying to fix for years.

No amp, No Nothing.

As you can hear Joe got tired of bringing an amp and then decided to just use a DI, and I think you can sort of tell from his sound here, but he does sound really good in this concert.

For me, it was not about carrying an amp.

This was in 1994, and to be honest, I wasn’t that surprised that Joe didn’t always use an amp, and his very clean tone is also easier to get without a guitar amp in my experience.

I was more surprised that John Mclaughlin didn’t use amps either:

My Issues with Real Amps

At the end of my study at the conservatory, I was getting started playing gigs, both concerts and cafe gigs.

Most jazz club gigs and cafe gigs are played with the backline of the band, so we just bring our amps and there is no PA needed since the place is not that big and the people are not that loud. The advantage to this is that you get fairly good at dialing in your amp so that it

A – works in the band and B – sounds good in the room. And it does make you a bit flexible and used to react to the acoustics of the room.

The thing to remember is that you dial in a tone with your ears, not with your eyes.

At the time, I was playing my ES175

through either my Fender twin amp or my Polytone, sometimes adding an LXP-1 lexicon reverb that I had bought and used on eBay.

I was pretty happy with how this sounded, occasionally if I had to play loud the ES175 would have some issues with feedback, but that wasn’t that often.

The situation where this fell apart was when someone had to get my sound into a PA, usually at festivals and sometimes at bigger clubs. The problem is that I would have one sound coming out of my amp which was a lot of mids and a little treble, but between my rig and the PA there was a microphone, usually a Shure sm57,  and a sound engineer that probably loved Toto or something else from the 80s where the guitar sounds like the tone RJ is nailing here:

And that is pretty far from how you want your ES175 to sound and also not what you expect when what is coming out of your amp was completely different!

This was getting increasingly frustrating, but most of the time we just played through our own backline where it didn’t matter. While I was playing gigs I was also developing my sound and my taste which led to looking for another guitar and my first encounter with a modeler which didn’t really work out.

A Failed Experiment?

While I was trying to figure out how I wanted to sound, and how to get that sound I realized that I wanted to try a semi-hollow guitar with humbuckers instead of the ES175.

The idea was to have more of a mid-focused tone and the lack of sustain with the 175 felt very limiting sometimes for some of the things I wanted to play. I also realized from listening to Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Monder, and Pat Metheny that I wanted to explore using both delay and reverb together,  two effects that I still consider a very important part of my sound.  The delay pedal that I had seen much use was the line 6 DL4, and I already had the 2nd hand Lexicon reverb.

It was however sometimes an issue that the reverb was not that practical and felt like it could easily get damaged, being a rack unit. I was right out of school so I did not have a lot of money, and when I noticed that I might be able to get a multi-effect like the Line6PodXT for only 150 euro more than the delay,

and the PodXT had the Line6 Delay built into it, then that was certainly worth exploring. Essentially, I only needed to check if the reverb was ok.

In general, the effects in the PodXT were surprisingly good, especially the reverb and delay. Since it was also a modeler then I did experiment a bit with using the amp simulation in there, but when I used that live then it felt compressed and didn’t sound and feel anywhere nearly as good my real amps, so that was quickly turned off. In the meantime, I had also bought a 2nd hand Epiphone Sheraton and my rig at that point was the guitar into the Pod into either the twin or the polytone, and mostly the polytone because it was not as heavy or big as the Twin.

When I was doing really small gigs then it was using a very small AER compact60 which has an ok sound and an ok digital reverb but mostly is great because you can bring it on a bike.

But of course, with this setup, I was still having the problem of a random sound guy putting random mics in front of the amp and doing strange things with the EQ. This was especially at the smaller jazz festivals which I played really a lot of, but actually also if I was playing pop gigs with my strat. It didn’t really have anything to do with the gear, but it was still a problem for the sound.

Before I throw all sound engineers under the bus then let me just say that course there are great guys out there and I have worked with quite a few that are really good both for live sound and recording albums,  but this was very often an issue, and I really wanted to get rid of it. Surprisingly, going to a better modeler setup did exactly that 90% of the time, just not in the way you would expect.

Getting Rid of the Amps

After using the PodXT together with the amps for some time then I was looking for a way to update the rig, the twin sounded great but only if I could play loud and it is 43 kgs which is 95 pounds. I was considering getting two smaller tube amps and starting to build a pedal board,  but I was again confronted with how expensive that would be, and then I had a few experiences with recording albums with the twin that really changed things.

Recording Jazz music is essentially a live recording, and always a bit nerve-wracking, I always found it stressful but also very exciting.

When I showed up to recording sessions I often ended up working with recording engineers who wanted to decide how I set up my amp (B-roll: turning up treble and bass, turning down mids), and also put a mic in front of my guitar, and telling me to under no circumstances use any kind of effects. This of course resulted in me having to play on the recordings with a tone that I didn’t like and that was completely different from how I sounded live which felt very strange, not only for me. I might want a sound close to something like this (Kurt) or this (Wes) but when I listened to the recording, I always felt it sound like this (banjo)

Of course, a huge part of the problem was communication, and I did not know anything about EQ and compression, so I could not really explain what I wanted different but I did take part in some mixing sessions where I spent a long time getting rid of the acoustic mic in front of my guitar and trying to get a better EQ and a type of compression that did not make my pick attack louder, something I always really hated.

After this series of recordings in 2010, it was clear to me that I needed to find a way to get more control of how I sounded on albums as well, and it felt like it would be nice to have a different process. Until then I was just showing up and got a Shure sm57 placed in front of the amp that was set up in a way I didn’t like, usually also with a mic in front of my guitar, and that just didn’t work!

At the time, I had a student who had told me how he found the PodXT horrible and disliked everything digital, except for one thing: The Fractal Audio AxeFX. I had never heard about Fractal Audio so I started checking online what I could find and there were quite a few YouTube videos on AxeFX. Most of them on how to get a Metal tone with a rectifier and a tube screamer, or how to sound like Pink Floyd, but I also came across the forum and decided to go to an AxeFX meeting her in the Netherlands. The AxeFX was only available if you ordered it from Germany so you could not go to a store to try one, and I also didn’t know anybody who had one. The meeting was sort of an odd experience walking around among a lot of people who already had an AxeFX, but I did get to try one and dial in a twin tone quickly with the help of one of the guys there, and I really like the result

Even though it was pretty expensive I decided that this was worth trying, and the investment was cheaper than getting tube amps and good effect pedals.

Needless to say, I really liked the AxeFX which is also why I am now on the 3rd generation of Fractal Audio products, both effects and amps in there sound really good and it does everything I need it to, plus that, I actually prefer the control of the sound and the volume when I play live.

I am not going to get into how I set it up in this video.

The Amp Is NOT the Problem

I have already talked about how the problem with my setup with the amp was not the gear, it was what happened afterward. In a way, that should not change when I went to the fractal stuff, but what I have found when playing live in pretty much all situations is that if you give a sound engineer xlr cables instead of having them set up a mic in front of an amp like they usually do, then that is enough of a pattern interrupt so that they don’t just do whatever they usually do and instead listen to what is there and think about how it sounds. To be honest, I did not expect it to solve the problem, but it really did, and doing recordings were similar though there sometimes I still get discussions and I get asked to record through whatever amp they have in the studio. Usually, we can then do both and see what works better. That will also depend on who is making the record. Recording directly to later re-amp has also become much more common even though I don’t think we ever did that. For me, the biggest difference when I am recording is that I can record with a sound that feels like my sound and not an electrified dry recording of a banjo.

An Ironic Development

You probably know my sound from YouTube, and I had already stopped using amps when I started making YouTube videos, but for this, the Fractal was absolutely perfect. It is incredibly easy to record at home and I even did the first few years without having an audio interface, just using the line in on my PC. That was even how I recorded some extra things like double-tracked stuff or added extra tracks for albums that I was playing on.

Lately, I have had fun messing around with delay and reverb plugins trying to learn some tricks from Warren over at Produce like a Pro, and that has meant that often I am now recording some of the solo guitar things without any reverb and delay because I like to have the freedom to mess around that later, which is of course also why I was told to turn off effects in the studio. But lately, that has become sort of sonic playground for me messing around with a few of my favorite delay and reverb plugins, and just something I have fun doing.

For me, it is pretty clear that I can get the sound that I want using a modeler, I doubt if it is really about the brand at most and that there are far more advantages than disadvantages to that, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like amps, you need to find the solution that works for you. I still have my twin and my polytone even if I don’t use them very often. Who knows, maybe I will check out other options along the way as well,. It is fun to build a pedalboard and maybe get another tube amp probably one that’s a little smaller. It is also about finding things that inspire you and that are fun to mess around with.

Let me know what you think and what you use in the comments!


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

If you are trying to learn Jazz and especially the first time you are looking at how to learn a Jazz standard, then you probably know how it is to look at a piece of sheet music and then feel that the chords are flying by in an impossible tempo.

I started thinking about this because a few weeks ago I was playing a gig with a saxophone player that I know for a long time, and we were talking about what songs to play.  It was a gig in a cafe and we were just playing standards. One of the songs he suggested was Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”

Sophisticated Lady is a song that I first learned very early on when I was still living in Copenhagen and actually I never played it since. When I was talking to the saxophone player then we could both remember looking at that song for the first time and thinking what the “hell is going on and why are the SO many chords in this?!”

And that is of course how many jazz standards will come across,  with a lot of chords that are hard to remember and even harder to improvise over.

But there is a way to make that easier, both to solo over and to remember, and the way I do this also shows why I lean so heavily on functional harmony and just how powerful a concept that actually is, but also want to talk about Pat Martino’s and Barry Harris’ systems for this which can get a bit strange but are also often very practical as well.

Learning a Jazz Standard By Heart

There was one thing that really slowed me down when I was learning songs in the beginning.

The first time I set out to really start learning a Jazz standard, then I spent two months alone in a house learning Stella By Starlight and There’s no Greater Love. Just recording a simple chorus of the chords, practicing the melody, and improvising on them every day. I kept going until I could get a simple solo to sort of make sense over them, I could hear where I was and knew the chords by heart.

The problem is that I learned everything one chord at a time. I was not thinking in groups of chords that follow each other, or groups of chords that sound similar. Chunking the chords together will make it a lot easier to learn a song because you can reduce it to a few building blocks and you know how those blocks sound, so remembering and internalizing it becomes a lot easier.

Music is a language, so I will use that comparison to help you see just how powerful this is, but first you need to clean up the chords a bit.

Don’t get distracted by extensions

A problem that I get many questions about is ho to think extensions, and whether you can use a C7(13) instead of a C7(9) and so on. And that is not really how you want to think about chords if you play Jazz. A chord is a lot of options and what notes you play, or extensions you add are more about what you want and what is going on around you in the band and in the song.

It is not thinking “now I want to play a C7(13)” Because that is not really a music thing it is a symbol that you can maybe turn into music, but you need to know how and often that means ignoring the extensions.

In the beginning, you are probably learning songs from a lead sheet like in a real book, and first you really just want to get rid of the extensions,

because what is important is the type of chord and the context, so just focus on the basic 7th chord, forget about 9ths and 11ths. You want to understand that from the other chords around it and the melody not a chord symbol, after all, a piece of music is not a row of letters in iReal.

Of course, you don’t have to literally change the sheet music, just how you think about it. Now we can get to work!

A song is a sentence


It is difficult to memorize and make sense of long rows of letters,

but if you start grouping the letters into words then you are attaching meaning to them and that is a lot easier to remember.

And this, of course, also works for Jazz songs, so if you can sum up 32 bar song as a bunch of smaller progressions then you have to remember a lot less, and if you are used to improvising over those smaller progressions then soloing on the song is also going to be a lot simpler.

But there are actually quite a few more advantages!

The Basic Vocabulary and where to get it

For this to work then you need to get used to thinking and recognizing the words or building blocks in the chord progressions, and you use the songs you know and the songs you are learning to spot chord sequences that you see more often. Essentially this is also why it is beneficial to analyze chord progressions.

Some of the common things you certainly want to start recognizing are things like:

Of course, the II V I as you see here in Perdido, and take the A-train

I VI II V turnaround in Rhythm Changes or Blue Moon

The V of V which you also want to notice very often is placed in certain parts of the form, so at the end of the first half as it is here in There Will Never Be or at the end of the bridge as you see in Satin Doll

The same can be said about the II V to IV, it is also very often placed in the bridge or positioned so the IV chord is at the beginning of the 2nd 8 bars of the form what you see in There Will Never Be Another You. – There Will Never Be and Satin Doll

Another useful block is IV IVm I progression which is also very common and something you want to recognize. Here it is in There Will Never Be Another You and you also have it in All The Things You Are.

The next thing will make it even more clear why you want to learn this from songs, and then we need to get into the Barry Harris and Pat Martino thing.

Hear the Harmony

A problem when you look at a lead sheet for the first time, or even just the chords in iReal, is that it is hard to have any idea about how those chords sound, but if you are used to thinking in turnarounds, II V Is, V of V etc then you are actually working towards being able to hear the harmony just from looking at the chart, and that is incredibly useful and makes it a lot easier to play a song for the first time.

It is similar to how you probably find it really easy to play a song if you are told it is a blues, something that you just already are very familiar with the sound of.

But for that to happen the words or building blocks should not be only theoretical things, they need to be something that you know the sound of, and that is the easiest to achieve by recognizing them in the songs you know really well. At the same time then you can probably also see how this will help you pick up songs faster by ear since you can rely on hearing groups of chords and not each chord in the song, and there is a good chance you are already doing this with things like turnarounds.

Chord Progressions Are All The Same (sometimes)

A danger with trying to learn building blocks is that you get stuck on the details, which is similar to getting stuck with the extensions that I talked about earlier. With stuff like this it makes the most sense to focus on how chord progressions are similar more than how they are different.

So it is a turnaround if it resembles that and all of these progressions are essentially the same thing, but maybe for this song or this arrangement one of them fits better than the others, but it is more important to also realize that it is a turnaround.

Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 A7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 D7 G7

E7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 Ebdim Dm7 G7

Bb7 A7 Dm7 G7

The reason why I consider these the same is that they will often be interchangeable and will work in the same way in a song. If you want to take this into the language analogy then these would be synonyms, words with essentially the same meaning, give or take a nuance.

You can expand this to other things as well like IV IVm I progressions which are essentially subdominant – minor subdominant to tonic.

Fmaj7 Fm6 Cmaj7

Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7

Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7

F#ø Fm6 Cmaj7

And here a big part of why that is important to know is that these progressions sound similar, and have the same important notes and voice-leading, which means that you can approach soloing over them in very similar ways.

The Opposite Methods

One thing that is often very practical when looking at chord progressions that you want to solo over is to reduce the amount of chords in there, and this is where Pat Martino and Barry Harris sort of have opposite approaches.

The reason that you can leave chords out is that a lot of chords are really just embellishments and can be ignored without the solo losing the connection to the song, and it is easier to play strong melodies if you are not tied down by having to spell out a lot of changes.

A very useful example of this is the A part of Rhythm changes where there are a lot of chords but you can really reduce it to just one chord per bar.

The reduced version of the chords still contains the basic movement of the song and this will work great for solos.

As I mentioned, both Pat Martino and Barry Harris have systems for this, and they are both very simple rules.

For Pat Martino, everything is a II chord, so a II V becomes just a II chord.

Barry Harris goes the other way and throws away the II chord and says it is all V

Both of these can be useful, I think it really depends on the song. I think that Barry Harris’ approach gives you more natural chord progression when you have thrown away all the II chords, where Pat Martino becomes a bit strange giving you a Blues in F that looks like this:

At the same time, for guitar players connecting everything to minor seems to make it easier, maybe because we are all stuck in the minor pentatonic box 1 for eternity?

But to be fair then applying Barry’s rule to a song like I Should Care or Wes’ Four on Six also becomes a bit strange, so maybe you want to be aware of both systems and be flexible enough to use the one that works the best for you in whatever song you are playing. At least, that is what I have taken away from that. In music, context is everything.

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Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But, you have to watch out that you get it to where it becomes really amazing because there is A LOT more in there that goes far beyond chromatic notes and deep into some amazing Bebop phrasing, and you DON’T want to miss that.

The Basic Exercise

What makes this a beautiful strategy is probably that it is actually incredibly simple but also very complete, let me show you what I mean.

If you take a C major scale:

The goal is to add a chromatic note between all the notes in the scale, and for the most part, that is super easy, barely an inconvenience, but there are a few “trouble spots”.

Between C & D, and D & E you can just add a chromatic note:

But between theE and The F it is a bit more tricky

Here you can take the scale note above F, G as shown above:

From F to G, G to A, A to B, it is easy:and

again since there is no room between B and C

So you can add the B D C:

Giving you this exercise:

And you can do exactly the same going down, adding a scale note whenever there isn’t a natural chromatic leading note.

This already sounds great, and a lot more interesting than just moving in half steps, but there is a lot more to get from this, especially with those exception spots.

It works for any scale!

You should also realize that this system will work with any scale so if you take A harmonic minor that could give you this:

The Advantage – Modular Bebop

“But what is so great about a bunch of chromatic notes?”

The first advantage is having a way to insert chromatic notes before every note in a scale. This is incredibly powerful because that means that you can come up with a short lick and move it around the scale and it will work for a lot of chords.

Check out this line with 2 half-steps and an arpeggio:

And now that you have this chromatic scale, it is possible to move the line to other chords and still keep the rhythm the same.

This is the original:

on Dm7 you get:

And for Em7:

Of course, you can take this through the entire scale, but you can hear how these all work.

And notice that the Em7 line also sounds great over a Cmaj7 so you are developing solid material for several chords working like this.

Rhythm = Phrasing!

The important thing here is that Barry’s chromatic scale keeps the rhythm intact when you move around phrases, because that means that it stays solid vocabulary, if it works on one chord it will work on the others as well, but this is just the basic system, and I see quite a few students get stuck with just using only this small part of is, which is actually a pity since it can create so many other beautiful things, even chords.

Taking It Up A Level

Until now the phrases have been pretty simple, but they work well and are easy to create:

And often the emphasis is on using Barry’s chromatic scale to create lines where chord tones are on the downbeat and chromatic notes or half-steps are on the offbeat, in fact, similar to the thinking in Bebop scales, just a lot more open so that you don’t only play scale melodies all the time.

You probably know I am not a huge fan of Bebop scales.

This example isn’t wrong, but you don’t want to stop here, if you listen to Bebop lines then they are not only changing direction on the heavy beat like this one does.

Parker did it like this

A typical Bebop Line like this Parker Lick changes direction in less predictable places and that is a huge part of why it sounds good: It is more surprising and exciting.

There are different ways to describe what is going on in a lick like this, but this exercise actually can help you get more of that sound in there.

On a side note, You also want to notice that Parker doesn’t mind having a leading note on the downbeat at the beginning of the phrase, that is NOT a rule!

And whenever I say that there are people in the comments who start complaining that I say that it IS a rule. It will be interesting if they now stopped the video to start typing angrily and didn’t see this part.

It’s All About That Exception

The secret weapon you have for making stronger melodies is primarily the exceptions in the exercise, which are an incredible tool, and much more powerful than you might think!

You might wonder “why is this useful?”, but it is actually difficult to get the melodies to have a natural flow and still move around in a surprising way without sounding like a scientific experiment, and in the Barry Harris Chromatic Scale that is already there, and you can get the melody to skip around without having to do any extra work.

Take this super simple melody

You can add a half step between the B and the A:

But if you add the half step between the C and the B then you need to skip up to a higher scale note and you get a much nicer melody:

And of course, you can use this together with other half-steps and get:

There is a lot more available! I will get to the crazy chords later, but let’s first create some really great Bop lines.

The Hidden Bonus

Whenever Barry talks about this exercise in the masterclasses, he also talks about how any note can be a half-step, and I want to show you how you can use that as a method for creating some really great bop lines.

And It is easy to get to work, but also has an odd side-effect. If you start with a basic descending line like this:

Then the version you already know sounds great like this:

But you can also turn it into an amazing melody with a large 6th interval by using the 3rd as a half step, so skipping down to a lower E.

And you can of course also just choose to add the leading note below the target:

While I don’t think that chromatic leading notes have to be on an offbeat then 99% of the time these types of lines sound better if the “half step” is not on a downbeat, but you can work around that by adding a leading note to the low-leading note:

And working on this, coming up with licks where you insert these melodic skips into your solos will really make your lines go up a few levels on the scale of Bebop goodness.

Going Too Far

These first examples were all based around the “exception” spots in the lines but maybe it also works in other places.

If you start with this:

and usually, you would just add a half-step between E and D

But here taking a lower chord tone also sound great:

And again adding leading notes to the leading note and a few other half steps you have a great line like this:

Which is a line that you can move around in the scale and turn into a Dm7-G7 lick and create this II V I:

I will go over some more examples on how to write lines using Barry’s Chromatic scale in this week’s Patreon video, but maybe that is anyway a topic for another video. Let me know in the comments

Going WAY Too Far

One thing that I remember from the 1st year I went to the piano classes in the Hague was how Barry talked about harmonizing this chromatic scale. He had gotten this idea from one of the piano players in the Hague, Erik Doelman, who sadly passed away a few years ago.

At the time, I took that exercise and tried to move it to guitar with drop2 voicings, and it was pretty much unplayable, but again, the idea is simple and you can sometimes find some nice things in there with some VERY dissonant chords.

Essentially you take a chord voicing and then just move each note through Barry’s chromatic scale.

For a Cmaj7 that looks and sounds like this:

I suspect that I did the same thing but started with a C6 voicing which complicates it a bit more, but as I said I don’t remember.

And this is a great exercise for your fretboard overview, exploring this exercise and you can find some pretty crazy chord sounds that can be fun to throw in there as passing chords.

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