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5 Theory Tricks That Will Save You Years Of Practice

Music Theory can seem very scary for a Jazz beginner, and you will come across people insisting it is bad for your creativity, but in reality, it is a great help when it comes to learning Jazz, and it helps speed up the learning process.

Imagine a guitarist who doesn’t know theory. He’s stuck, and can’t turn the licks he learns into new vocabulary, he doesn’t have a way to learn and organize the notes on the fretboard

and he can’t use the songs he knows to learn more songs easily, Learning Jazz becomes very difficult like that.

So there are a LOT of advantages to learning just a bit of basic theory. Let me show you how much you can unlock with very basic stuff!

Thinking in Keys

You can compare thinking in keys to learning about cars.

If you think of words like Battery, air filter, and wheels, then the word itself is not saying a lot, but if you think of them as parts of a car you have a much better idea about what they are and what they do. Adding context helps you understand!

Looking at a song and thinking in terms of key is the same, it helps you understand what the chords are and how they sound because they are never just a letter with some numbers. Dm7 is one thing in Bb major and something else in C major, and it will sound different,

just like the battery in your car is probably different from your mobile phone’s, the context helps you understand.

The first time you want to learn a song like a Jazz Standard then you probably want to end up sounding like this:

But in reality, you are looking at the lead-sheet and it seems like there are 1000s of incomprehensible chords and the whole thing is impossible to understand.

The most essential part of getting over this is to stop thinking of each chord as an isolated thing, and use that the song is in a key, where you know the diatonic chords in the scale because that is a huge part of knowing the key and also something you can easily practice for both major and minor scales.

If you look at the song knowing what key it is in, you can immediately recognize the chords that are in the key and diatonic to the scale (highlight those chords) which already will help you deal with most of the song.

But you also realize that chord progressions have direction and move to a resolution, and this helps you understand what is going on and makes it easier to solo over the song.

As you get more experienced it will also help you deal with the chords that are in the key and have a function but are not in the scale something that becomes unnecessarily confusing and complicated if you start looking at them as not connected to the key when your ear tells you that they are.

This was understanding a whole song, but the next trick is just as useful and also leads to a very helpful Barry Harris concept.

Chunks of Chords

Imagine that you have to read a page in a book, but instead of reading the words and sentences then you spell each word on the page. I am sure you can imagine how slow that process is, and how it is also getting in the way of understanding what is written on that page. The same is true for chords. You don’t want to get stuck trying to learn songs by memorizing long rows of abstract letters and numbers when it is much faster to read the chord progression as chunks in the same way you read words.

The most basic building blocks you want to start with are the major and minor II V I, and recognizing different types of turnarounds is the next place to go.

You probably want to start by ignoring extensions and just get used to reading chords as the basic type of chord that they are, so G7(9,13) is just G7, Dm7(11) is just a Dm7 and Cmaj7(9) is just Cmaj7.

The extensions are not that important in this case, and you will anyway be interpreting the chord symbols and ignoring them most of the time.

This is about turning the chords from a long row of symbols into a few progressions that

  1. Makes it easier to remember and
  2. Are building blocks you already know the sound of.

Most standards will end up being just 7-8 progressions once you can think like this and also understand the form and how it repeats which is quite different from remembering a row of 30+ chord symbols.

And you can use this to make soloing a lot easier as well, which is also what Barry Harris teaches.

Not Thinking ALL The Chords

Once you start thinking in groups of chords then you can also open up how you improvise over them. Simplifying the chords is a great way to not get overwhelmed and to make it easier to improvise more melodic solos. Later in the video, I’ll talk about simplifying chords in a different but equally powerful way, but let’s start with Barry Harris.

The main way that Barry Harris reduces chord progressions is by taking away the II chord in a II V I.

For a song that means that you would think this which makes it a lot fewer chords and soloing over it will still make sense.

Another very practical way to re-interpret a common chord progression that you will see with Barry Harris is to reduce a turnaround to a I and a V chord. The previous concept explains taking away the II chord and that also makes the dominant in the 2nd half of bar 1 easy to ignore, since it is anyway on a weak part of the bar.

As an example, check out how this gives you a much easier way to approach rhythm changes just using V chords and tonic chords instead of 2 chords per bar you get a much simpler progression that is a lot easier to solo over.

Later in the video, I will show you another way of chunking together chords that is even more powerful and will help you use chords and vocabulary across a lot of chord progressions. It’s a bit like a boosted Barry Harris approach.

The Power of Diatonic 3rds

The most efficient thing you can do is probably to practice something once and then be able to use it in a LOT of places, and diatonic 3rd relationships help you do exactly that! It really is one of the most powerful things to work with both for chords and for soloing!

I am sure you have heard me talk about how chords a constructed by stacking 3rds in a scale, first creating diatonic 3rds, then the triads and finally the diatonic 7th chords.

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If we start with a C major scale and a Cmaj7 chord then you have these notes:

But for comping, you can also use the chord that is a diatonic 3rd above C: Em7 which essentially gives you a Cmaj7(9)

Another option is the chord that is a diatonic 3rd below: Am7 which gives you a C6,

so if the song says Cmaj7 then you have 3 times as many voicings to choose from.

Check out how it sounds, and a bonus chromatic trick with this II V I in C:

but also like this:

And, the next one goes to the Em7 but then moves voices to transition to the Am7!

This doesn’t work for every chord in every chord progression, but it is well worth exploring, and if you are practicing diatonic arpeggios (which you should be doing, since it is the most important scale exercise in Jazz)

then it is also useful for solos because just like the voicings you have 3 arpeggios you can use over a Cmaj7.

Cmaj7:

Em7:

And Am7:

As you can hear it is incredibly powerful, and it is all over famous Bebop solos from people like Parker, George Benson, and Joe Pass.

You should check out how they work with this if you get the chance.

Functions: Putting Chords On A Shopping List

A lot of these concepts are about how you look at chords and harmony as part of a car, or as words in a text. As you can tell, different ways of thinking makes soloing or comping easier, and this last one is in many ways the most powerful one.

You want to understand and hear chords in categories, similar to how you might order a shopping list. If you go shopping then you make a list with the items you need grouped in categories by what is close to each other, and maybe even the order of where it is in the store: Vegetables, Bread, Dairy, meat etc.

Categorizing chords like this by how they sound and how they behave in the song can be a massive time saver! There is a good chance that you already do this a bit with diminished chords recognizing that in

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 you can also consider that the same chord progression as Cmaj7 A7 Dm7, and therefore you can solo using the same vocabulary.

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But this goes a lot further and is something you can use to make it easier to solo over and play similar chord progressions. You want to start grouping in functions which is grouping them as chords that sound similar and work in the same way.

Let me show you an example with subdominant and tonic chords:

Here you have Subdominant, Minor subdominant resolving to tonic

And that is also what you have here:

Here Dm7 and Fmaj7 are interchangeable and both work as subdominant,

and even if Bb7 and Dbmaj7 don’t contain exactly the same notes they sound very similar in the context and are both minor subdominant chords. You can even easily create vocabulary that works on both progressions:

To me, the biggest advantage is that the chords sound similar and it helps me hear what is going on and what to play over the progressions, especially going from song to song, and the important part is probably more about how the notes move through the progression, but is is also a very good way to group your vocabulary together because you don’t need very different vocabulary for Dm7 and Fmaj7 in C major and while you may need to adjust what you play over Bb7 and Dbmaj7 a bit then it will be very similar and other options like Bb7, Dø and Fm6 are completely interchangeable and you can use exactly the same lines.

The main categories you want to think of are tonic, subdominant and dominant. And then there are common subcategories like minor subdominants and #IV subdominants.

I am showing this with chords in these groups, but keep in mind that chords have different functions depending on what is happening around them, I’ll show you an example in a bit, so be careful with just thinking from an overview like this.

Functions go a bit further than Barry’s shortcut, and tie into understanding chords in the context they are in. In a II V I like Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 then the II chord often makes sense as a part of the dominant that is resolving to I, but if it is II bVII I, so Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7 then it is a subdominant moving to the tonic using a minor subdominant as a sort of transition. Chords are a part of something they are not just defined by what notes are in there.

So start figuring out when a chord is a subdominant and figure out what minor subdominants are in the key like Abmaj7, Fm6, Bb7 and Dbmaj7 are in C major and also how they sound. You probably also want to explore some #IV subdominant chords, there are a lot of dim chords in there. t is a way to think about the chords that connect a lot better with the music and your ears, it really fits how it sounds a lot better.

How To Level Up Your Comping

Of course when you are working on chords then you also need to be able to get them to sound good when you comp, and there are some great exercises that will help you do that which you can check out in this video so that you can level up your chord playing and comping. Check it out! Learn Jazz Make Music

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

 

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12 Things NOT to Do When Starting Jazz Guitar (By a Jazz Guitarist)

As a Jazz guitarist and teacher then let me help you avoid a few things that a LOT of Jazz beginners get wrong and waste a lot of time on! You might be making one of them right now, and there are certainly a few mistakes I have made myself as well, but I’ll tell you about it along the way.

#1 Music Theory Is Not Music

I know that Jazz is complicated, and it can be fun to learn music theory and read about all the different options and things to study that you have available in books or online lessons, but that is a very superficial way to learn things. With theory, you should aim to learn the other way around.

What does that mean? That means you are better off learning songs and solos and then using those to recognize theory in the music you already know.

That is 100x stronger and a lot more efficient, if you have a song with a Lydian dominant or a IVm chord then you immediately know what that sounds like,

but if you just read about it then it is just some abstract concept.

Another problem similar to this that I ran into was that I had lessons in theory which covered way too much without any real connection with music, and when it was connected to music I was told that everyone in Jazz played rhythm changes wrong.

Just start with the music and then learn theory later…

#2 Don’t Start By Buying A New Guitar

Here’s an easy one, which I luckily don’t see that often, but if you think you might want to play Jazz and then don’t start with getting a “jazz guitar” Most of the time people can’t tell which type of guitar it is and you can easily start with another type of guitar.  I did the first 4 years of playing Jazz and getting into the conservatory on my SRV strat, even if I did put flat-wound 13s on it 😁

And I didn’t get my first “real” Jazz guitar until I was 1 year into the education.

#3 Don’t Pretend You Like Jazz

Don’t pretend to like Jazz just because you think it makes you look sophisticated and high-level. There is probably a good and a bad way to go about this. if you play another genre and you want to explore Jazz to get some new influences that is of course fine, but watch out that you don’t sign up for checking out a year of jazz classes with music that you can’t stand listening to ”

and if you don’t like Jazz, there are many other genres you can listen to and get inspired by. In general, you will get more inspired by stuff that you like.

Next one is way to common…

#4 Not Straight To iReal (please….)

This is what not to do: Decide to learn a song, but you don’t learn the melody or learn to play the chords. Instead, you go straight to iReal and try to solo over the chord changes.

This is a very typical beginner mistake, and it is the best way to not learn songs and get very frustrated by your own mistakes and lose the form all the time because you don’t hear the melody in the back of your mind.

And I am certainly speaking from experience here. The first Jazz Standard I tried to learn was Green Dolphin Street, and for a few weeks, I was getting nowhere, using an Aebersold backing track. In hindsight, it is obvious that since I never listened to a recording of it, didn’t know the melody or understood the chords then that was bound to fail, which I also did gloriously!

I have a video where I tell that story that I’ll link to in the description.

#5 Don’t Start With Chord Melody

You probably don’t want to start with chord melody, in fact, maybe you don’t want to start with chords at all, because if you zoom out a bit then melody is more important than harmony. But in any case, it is probably not useful to start with Jazz trying to play an arrangement of a song that is way too complicated for you to hear, understand, or play. Especially if you can’t make your way through a medium-swing Blues in Bb. Playing a solo chord melody requires you to use the skills with feel and timing that you get from playing that Bb Blues and technically chord melody arrangements are often very difficult, and you don’t improve your phrasing and feel by trying to remember chords and straining your fingers.

You learn that somewhere else, and rhythm and feel are important things in Jazz. Joe Pass didn’t start by learning something as difficult as one of his own chord melody versions off virtuoso.

#6 Don’t Forget The Blues

Since I mentioned Blues, Don’t forget about the Blues, Jazz can become too academic and technical, it is not all about scales and extensions and there are things that sound amazing and don’t fit a 100% in the boxes and categories that we think of as Harmony and Music theory. Blues is probably the most important of those. You can play Blues with conviction on pretty much anything and because it is Blues then it sounds fine even though it clashes with all the chords. Using Blues and checking out Blues will help you have more sounds in your playing so that you are not always sounding like a machine interpreting the harmony,

so it will help you have more variation in your playing.

I have certainly had periods of only focusing on spelling out the harmony, and usually checking out solos and listening to great jazz artists is what has pulled me out of that. They always have that connection in there, that should tell you something.

#7 Books With Chords

Another mistake that especially beginners make is with chord books. I get that it is fun to play chords, but you can’t really do anything with them if you are just looking at a book with some diagrams without also trying to put them to use in songs. Learning empty information without also learning how to put it to use in music is very inefficient, and this may be a hot take, but I have to admit that I think that even some of the Ted Greene books fall into this category,

so if you want to study that then make sure to also know some standards by heart so that you can put it to use.

#8 Spectator Learning?

I was hinting at this in the beginning, learning Jazz but only spending time looking at YouTube videos and online lessons, without putting it to use. This is not going to get you anywhere, not even if they are my videos,

You will need to also sit down and practice some music. If you want some help with that and a longer learning path, then enroll in my course and join the community to get some feedback and the chance to learn together with others.

You can request an invitation here: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

#9 Not Having A Metronome?

When I was just getting started playing Jazz then I was playing something in a lesson, I don’t remember what it was, it was probably playing a song with my teacher. He stopped me and asked me if I owned a metronome, and if I did, then why I didn’t use it.

You also don’t have perfect time, so use a Metronome, and don’t use backing tracks all the time. Make sure that YOU feel the time, that YOU can groove, and that YOU can hear the harmony, don’t lean on a recording or an app too much. That is why everyone is ALWAYS telling you to use a metronome!

Some of the grooviest people I know, like Charlie Hunter,

are always practicing with a metronome! That really should tell you something.

#10 Start With Simple Chords

Many of us get interested in Jazz because we come across beautiful chords with lots of extensions and colors, but don’t only focus on learning difficult chords with lots of extensions. They are much more difficult to use, I guess that is also why Barry Harris is often talking about not liking big chords. Instead, focus on simple chords that you can play songs and turn into music. We’re talking Shell-voicings, Drop2, Drop3. Don’t think so much about Allan Holdsworth, and more Freddie Green.

There’s nothing wrong with Holdsworth, he is a favorite of mine but not the place you start if you want to have voicings for “All of Me” for your new Jazz combo.

#11 First Scales & Arpeggios

Maybe this is the equivalent of the chord books? At least it is very similar: First insisting on learning scales, arpeggios and other technical things before you learn any music is not going to be useful. You also want to get started with the music, and you don’t need to know everything in all positions and all keys before you start learning songs. Probably nobody did!

#12 Jazz Is A Language

Don’t Forget That Jazz is a Language and you need to learn to speak it so play with the right type of vocabulary and the right phrasing. One of the easiest ways to learn that is to learn solos by ear and play along with them to get that into your system. But i can be difficult to learn solos by ear, and you want to take something that is not too difficult so that you don’t give up in the middle and just get frustrated. If you want some suggestions for very easy solos but also great solos to start with, then check out this video, where I go over some easy solos by Amazing Jazz guitarists, probably stuff you anyway want to learn! Check it out!

5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

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10 Simple Jazz Chord Tricks That Will Make You A Better Player In 2024

Don’t Be Boring!

You don’t want to sound boring! Sometimes the obvious thing to play is a II V I, maybe you are playing an intro for a song setting it up when performing solo, or maybe jamming with a vocalist. But You still want to make the chords interesting and surprising to the listener without sounding weird or random.

In this video, I will show you 10 simple ways to interpret a II V I that will help you add passing chords, play fills, and suspensions, so that you can add some interesting sounds to this important and common progression, the stuff that makes it a lot more fun to play and helps you be a lot more creative with the harmony.

#1 Make It Move Around More

Let’s start with some solid extra chords before moving into fills and more advanced stuff, like dim chords.

The great thing about the II V I is that it has direction and it is giving us the sound of the key.

The II V I progression is named after the scale degrees, so in C major it is Dm7 G7 to Cmaj7, and the point is to have a progression that moves forward to the resolution on the I chord, which is then also the tonic of the key in this case.

The problem is that this also makes it predictable, but a little detour is often enough to freshen it up.

A simple one is to add an A7 as a new sound and in that way delay the G7 a bit:

When I play this I add a lot of movement and the melody to the chords, which is what I would usually do if I was playing an intro to a ballad, but don’t think this doesn’t work with more basic chord voicings as well.

The A7 is a secondary dominant, I have a video talking about that which I will link to in the description. The next option is a more advanced take on this concept:

#2 A Bluesy Detour

A Tritone substitution is a version of a dominant that resolves down a half step, and check out how great that sounds in this example with the Ab7 moving down to the G7

The Ab7 and G7 almost sound a bit bluesy with the Eb and the Bb notes in the melody, the is because both of those notes are also a part of the Cm pentatonic scale.

Instead of adding chords, you can also change the sound of the chords in the II V I, so let’s move to some variations of the II chord Dm7, after that, I’ll show you some beautiful tricks for fills.

#3 The’s not the II chord?

The Dø is a II chord that is borrowed from C minor, but that also makes it nice and dark plus that the resolution to the Cmaj7 becomes even more bright and clear. And I think that point is often overlooked: What is important is how these chords sound in the context, an F major triad is maybe boring in C major but at the same time exotic in A major.

Let’s try another borrowed chord. This one I usually refer to as the most beautiful chord in C major.

#4 The Most Beautiful Chord In C Major

Maj7 chords are always great to use as reharmonizations because we hear them as already resolved, similar to how the Cmaj7 sounds in the II V I, it wants to sound like a I chord, but when they are not resolved and a part of a moving progression then that is a little bit confusing and in that way, a great sound. Here’s my favorite example of that:

I have another video that covers the theory behind minor subdominant chords that you can explore, but first, check out this other multi-functional maj7 chord!

#5 Italians Have Good Taste In Chords

As you all know, then Italian harmony is almost as good as Italian food. The next chord is often referred to as the Neapolitan subdominant, and it can be used in many ways, here I am inserting it as a minor subdominant instead of the dominant chord:

But you can also use it as a suspension instead of the tonic chord so that the listener expects the I chord and gets a different but beautiful chord, again using the maj7 trick:

And, this is, of course, also the type of progression that sounds great if you play it with 3-note Shell-voicings

Let’s get to some chord fills and then later I’ll throw in a nice diminished chord as well.

#6 The Coolest Chord Fills!

The best scale in the world for chord tricks is probably not what you think… it’s the pentatonic scale, at least for guitar, nothing beats that! Simply because it is so practical, let me show you some of the things you can do.

It is easier to start with the II chord.

If you play Dm7 here

Then it is not a stretch to see that this Dm pentatonic scale fits that chord well

And you can play some stuff that is easy but sounds surprisingly complicated with that! Just play the pentatonic scale 3-strings at the time, in that position. Something like this:

I am doing that in this next example and then something  similar that sounds even more difficult on the Cmaj7, and that is easy too:

The trick on the Cmaj7 is almost the same. I am using Em Pentatonic, and the reason why that sounds good is pretty simple if you look at the notes of Cmaj7: C E G B and the notes of Em pentatonic: E G A B D then they have a lot of notes in common and the notes that are in Em pentatonic that are not in Cmaj7 are a 9th, D, and a 13th, A, both notes that sound great over the chord.

Since I am playing CMaj7 here:

Then this position of Em pentatonic is practical:

and of course, you can play that scale as 3-note chords as well:

But I play them in this pattern which is essentially still the same simple chords, just arpeggiated in a more interesting way:

I’ll put this to use in later examples as well, let’s look at some beautiful diatonic passing chords!

#7 Country Chords?

Often Jazz musicians make fun of pop music as being just I IV V chords all the time, but in this case, it is actually nice to turn the II V I into more of a IV V I progression. This one is incredibly simple and works on pretty much any II V I.

There’s a slightly more complicated but equally nice version of this that borrows some sounds as well.

#8 Walking into Minor

In this one I also use the pentatonic scale fills on the Cmaj7

But you don’t always need to change the chords, you can also just change a note in the chord and have a melody in there.

#9 Stairway To Heaven

A classic progression that you don’t usually associate with a II V I progression is this line-cliche. Again a progression that is fairly easy to fit into a song and that you can pretty much throw in everywhere. It is beautiful how this chromatic melody just spells out the II V movement.

The next one is a great sound, but also a little more complicated to throw in at random.

#10 Diminishing Returns

People keep telling me in the comments that this chord doesn’t exist. Luckily it doesn’t care and it still sounds great! Diminished suspensions are a great way to have a chord progression make a surprising twist

The suspension will only work if the melody fits with the dim chord, mostly it will be a 7th, but the root or the 6th can work as well.

Fix Your Thinking About Chords

Making Jazz harmony sound great is not about knowing 1000s of chord grips. It is about knowing some grips really well, and being able to get them to flow in the music and be creative with them. There are exercises that are essential for developing your comping and chord skills and also getting stuff like this into your playing, and that is what I talk about in this video which will help you level up your skills with chords and also teach you to think about voicings in the right way, so you get rid of all the isolated grips that are impossible to remember.

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

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The Ultimate Jazz Chord Guide – 12 Most Important Voicing Types

What you can do with Jazz Chords is pretty incredible! I am sure you already know that if you click on this video. I am going to give you an overview of 12 practical and important types of chords that you will come across if you start exploring Jazz guitar.

I am going to start with the ones that make the most sense as a beginner, but also add something that I often think is left out in teaching and understanding Jazz chords is that I will show how they fit together, because if you check out how Jazz chords are used then it is rarely just one type of chord used all the time, we mix it up quite a lot and often that is what makes it sound so great. Having that connection in there also makes it a lot easier to have an overview and remember all the chords.

#1 Shell-Voicings

These simple 3-note chords are the best place to start because they are easy to play, easy to hear, they cover all of the basic harmony, and as you will see they are also an amazing foundation to build a lot of other chords with.

The basic harmony in Jazz is built around 7th chords which is 4-part harmony, but you can get there using 3 notes instead of 4.

You want to look at the shell-voicings like this: Root on the 5th or 6th string and basic chord tones on the 2 middle strings. The note that is left out is the 5th.

So for a Cmaj7 chord you have C E G and B in the chord, we leave out the 5th, G, and then you can play the C either on the 5th string giving you this chord

Or on the 6th string giving you this chord:

Most Important Exercises For Chords

There are two ways that you want to explore chords if you are trying to get them into your playing:

Take them through a scale, so for the shell voicings that might be this:

And you also want to play some chord progressions to hear what they sound like in music.

Most of the chord voicings in this video will come from adding notes to the shell voicings or taking away notes,

as you will see, they are surprisingly important to know! I am also a bit surprised that there are quite a few types of chords that are very common, but you don’t have a good name for them, we’ll get to those a lot quicker than you think and feel free to suggest a name in the comments.

#2 Drop-3 voicings

Shell-voicings are a great example of how you can get things done with fewer notes and a bit of context, but as we all know then the Swedish Guitar Wizard says:

“How can Less Be More? More is More” – Yngwie Malmsteen

So let’s start adding some notes to the shell voicings and since “More is More”

The Shell-voicing with the root on the 6th string can have the 5th added like this:

So now you have a way to play all four notes again, and we call this a drop3 voicing because of how it is constructed. I’ll explain the Drop-something concept a bit later.

It is pretty clear how the Shell-voicings and drop3 voicings fit well together because you can treat them as just shell voicings with added notes, and that makes it possible to play short riffs mixing the two:

And of course, it is also useful to take these through a scale. Here’s an F major scale:

With the way Shell voicings are constructed then inversions don’t make sense, but it is more common with Drop3 voicings. For the Fmaj7 that would be:

But, it still is not something you want to spend too much time on. The root position version is by far the one that is used the most. With later voicings like Drop2, the inversions are much more useful.

This was only adding a note to one of the shell-voicing types, let’s look at what happens when you do the same with the other one, which starts adding extensions. That is also what will give you a way to play some smooth progressions using the drop3 which wouldn’t really work right now.

#3 Shell-Derived

The same process with a 5th string shell-voicing would give you this Cmaj7(9):

Because this adds a diatonic 9th to the chord then taking it through the scale does not yield only voicings that you are likely to use:

As I mentioned then there is not a common name for this chord construction, so I made one up for this video. If you have a better suggestion you can always leave a comment.

Together with the drop3, you can add more color to the chords because “more is more”

#4 Drop2 with a bass note

It’s maybe a bit odd to introduce these before I go over Drop2 but I think it makes more sense in linking the chords and how you use them.

You started with a shell-voicing, then added a note to the drop3 and you can even add one more note to create a Drop2. This is probably easier to demonstrate with a G7 chord:

The advantage here is that you really just learn a Shell-voicing

and then add notes to expand your options in terms of what melodies are available:

If you move these through the scale then you get something like this, but they are a bit difficult to play:

These are very practical for chord melody playing, even if some of them are a bit tricky to play.

To get to the Drop2 chords and some other very practical voicings it is useful to look at the smallest possible jazz voicings.

#5 2-Note Shells

Adding notes make things a bit more complicated both in terms of technique and having an overview of what notes are played, so this will make things easier!

When you play in a band then most of the time somebody else is taking care of the bass line, and that means that you don’t have to play that and it might sound better to get out of their way.

Going back to the shell-voicings then that is pretty easy:

For the 5thstring root:

And for the 6th string root:

With these chords you can easily play progressions and you are not very likely to clash with the soloist and get in the bass players way.

You can take these through the scale as well, but maybe you can also just think of the shell-voicing with the root

#6 Triads

If you take the drop2 voicings and remove the root:

Then you are left with a triad. You can see it if you write out the notes as well. Cmaj7 without a C is an Em triad, Dm7 without the D is an F major triad and G7 without a G is a B diminished triad

The biggest advantage here is that you can use this with the inversions as well.

The basic II V I could be:

 

And you can turn that into 2 more II V I progressions using the inversions of these triads, but maybe one of them is a bit mysterious:

The one for the G7(9) is in this case an F major b5 triad,

which sometimes causes a bit of discussion, and you have one more inversion:

The biggest advantage with the triads is that they become something else and are both very flexible and easy to work with for comping and chord solos. They also immediately connect to the next type of voicing:

#7 Drop2

Again you can lean on adding more notes to the shell-voicing and then end up with a Drop2, so the concept stays the same as when there was a bass note:

What Are “Drop Voicings”?

But maybe it is probably also useful to cover what the Drop concept means in voicings, even if that is not something you ever use when you are playing, that is a very common misunderstanding.

It isn’t super complicated. If you look at a root position G7 then you have

Constructing a drop2 is taking the 2nd highest note, D, and moving that down an octave. With a more practical way of playing the notes you have this voicing G7 drop2:

And, in the same way, if you take the 3rd highest note, B, and move that down an octave you have G7 drop3:

Knowing this is nice, but to get anything out of it in your playing then you need the voicings in your fingers and your ears. Just knowing is not knowing, because we don’t have time to think about constructing chords while we play. I think most people who use them never think about constructing them, they just learn the voicings.

With Drop2 it is useful to check out how they move through the key:

and also check out the inversions:

And the inversions make it easy to play chord progressions with smooth movement from chord to chord, like this turnaround:

Drop2 chords are incredibly flexible with what extensions and voicings you can put together, so they are worth the effort to study and way to big to cover in this video, because there are other sounds to explore, and now we can let go of starting with the shell-voicings.

#8 3-part Quartal Voicings

The way you usually construct chords, as you have seen earlier in the video, is usually by stacking 3rds in the scale, so from the G you create a G major triad by adding the B and the D on top

But you could also stack 4th intervals from G, giving you this 3-note chord of G C F:

With quartal voicings it becomes a bit more open, you don’t always have one chord that spells out the sound of the chord but rely on a few to get the sound across. That is also why I did not give this chord a name.

But it is still useful to take the chords through the scale and get some voicings to work with:

And you can put these to use on a II V I like this:

#9 Spread Triads

The construction of Drop2 chords where you move one of the notes down an octave also works very well for triads and can give you some nice open sounds.

If you have an F major triad like this:

And you have inversions for this as well:

You can put this to use on a II V I like this, and notice how beautiful they sound:

Again this works with the inversions as well, and what is great about them is that you can move the voices in beautiful melodies:

Let’s look at some beautiful voicings that are the opposite of open

#10 Cluster-like

It’s difficult to describe these chords with one construction since there are a few similar and common examples. The important part is the minor 2nd interval, and as you will see it is less important to have a complete voicing all the time.

One you want to explore using is, maybe surprisingly, the inversion of the shell-voicings. For Fmaj7 that will be:

And the shell-voicing that leaves out the 3rd and uses the 5th is also a good candidate:

You can use that for a II V I like this, combining it with Cmaj7:

There are more options for this that you can explore, but that is for another video, there are 2 more types of chords that should be mentioned here:

#11 4-Part Quartal Harmony

Similar to the 3-part Quartal harmony you also have 4-part quartal voicings which can sound great, even if they are a bit trickier to fit into progressions.

First, you can check out the chords through the scale, but again I have not given the voicings names, since that is a bit more open with this type of harmony:

You can put them to use on a II V I with an altered dominant like this:

Let’s look at another beautiful type of drop voicing that have sort of a Holdsworth sound to them.

#12 Drop2&4

You already know about the drop2 and drop3 voicings, but a more open version which is also sounds a bit like a colorful version of the spread triads, is Drop2&4.

You can create those by starting with a Cmaj7

which needs to move the 2nd and 4th highest note down an octave, so C and G.

The drop2 version of this chord would be:

and then moving the C down you have:

Taking this through the scale will give you these beautiful chords:

And you can use them as upper-structures as well giving you Fmaj7, Fø and Em7 as a beautiful II V I with an altered dominant:

But what about my favorite chord?

Is there a voicing type that I didn’t cover that happens to be your favorite? Maybe you use a lot of power chords? then let me know in the comments. I know Gilad Hekselman uses drop2&3 quite a lot but, it is as far as I know not that common.

When it comes to playing chords then there are other important things to work on than which voicing to play. You also need to be able to get the rhythms, the phrasing, and the progressions to make sense, and if you want to develop that side of your playing then the exercises in this video will help you level up your skills., and I know that because that is what I practice

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

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Jazz Beginners: 7 Habits That Keep You Stuck Forever!

There are a few habits that you need to quit if you don’t want to be stuck as a jazz beginner forever. Some of them might be a bit hard to give up, one of them will probably offend a few you, but it is worth it to get this right.

Let me know which one you think is most important or if I forgot to mention one!

#1 Thinking in Scales

Let’s start with some practical music theory, that helps you play better,  because this is a very common problem that you can do a lot about with very little effort. I certainly remember this part of learning Jazz from when I was just getting started.

It is pointless to try to translate chord progressions or songs to scales! So just Stop doing that! Simply because that is not actually helping you play better, it just isn’t useful information, and It will only help you to sound like you are practicing scales on top of the song:

You need to change how you think about what notes to play.  When you improvise Jazz then you are using scales that have 7 (or more) notes which means you can add a lot of color, but it also means that you need to be able to choose the right notes and be aware of what notes you are playing,

which is maybe different from what you are used to with the pentatonic scale. But you actually want it to be the same as the pentatonic scale, you don’t want to think about it when you are playing.

Let’s say you have a Dm7 chord and that is the II chord in C major,

you want to have different priorities for the notes in the scale. You want to be aware that the Dm7 chord tones are stronger or closer to the chord.

Having that overview makes it easier to play something that nails the sound of the chord, but you want to go a step further than just having that overview of the notes:

When you improvise over a chord then you are not starting from scratch every time, so you want to have a vocabulary of flexible licks that you can use in your solo and put together in different ways, so for the Dm7 you might know that you can use an Fmaj7 arpeggio

and that a certain chromatic phrases sounds great:

And if you put these two together you get:

The important thing here is that you have blocks of melody that you can hear and not theoretical notes that you have to think in your head while playing.

And that knowledge should be flexible so that you can create new things with the building blocks, not just play the same licks every time.

Practice your scales and arpeggios,  but make sure to also learn vocabulary using them so that you have some melodies that go with it, which is probably how you played a solo in the Pentatonic scale. You need something that is music not just theory and technique. Later I will also show you how you can fix the way you think about chords and chord progressions, because that can also be very inefficient!

#2 A 4-bar Loop is NOT a song

I guess Ed Sheeran and Daft Punk might disagree with me on this, but a 4-bar loop is not really a song, and if you want to learn Jazz then you also need to learn Jazz songs, and jazz songs are rarely just 4-bar loops. Learning songs is going to get difficult if you are only practicing looped II V I progressions or a static maj7 chord or something like that.

It is the kind of thing that can be beneficial to do for a period, but you probably don’t ever want to only be doing that for more than a few days. Learning songs, learning real music is much too important, and you don’t go to a Jam session to play an II V I in Eb for 20 minutes. You go there to play songs, so that is what you need to learn!

Of course, The first song can be very difficult to get through but if you pick an easy one then it is far from impossible, and you can check out my Roadmap course if you want a step-by-step guide to take you through that process, learning to solo on a standard.

The Roadmap: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

I have fun helping students in the community with feedback as they solo with the material on a Jazz standard and build their skills, it has become a great place to hang out.

#3 Chords Are NOT Islands

If you are trying to learn songs then it can be difficult to remember all the chords in there. Most Jazz standards are 32 bars,

so that is probably more than 32 chords you need to remember. The thing is that you should not be thinking about each chord at all because that is making it a LOT more difficult! Instead, you want to chunk the chords together.

If you know how to do that then you don’t need to remember as many chords. It is like learning to read the words in a sentence instead of trying to memorize all the letters in there. Improvising should also be more about playing through groups of chords.

For this, You want to learn to recognize these harmonic building blocks in the chord progressions, just start with II V I’s and turnarounds but make sure to learn more,

because that will make it 1000x easier to learn chord progressions by heart, and it also makes it easier to hear a chord progression because hearing a Dm7 out of context(example)  is not as easy as hearing a turnaround (example). The building blocks make it closer to something you can hear, relating it to a bass melody or how other songs sound.

Remember to let me know in the comments which habit is most important for you, or if there is one I forgot to include.

#4 Working On The Wrong Exercises

A way to transition smoothly from 3rds to triads to 7th chords  (or each of those exercises)

When I went from playing Blues and Rock to playing Jazz, then one of the transitions that was difficult to get used to was learning to improvise with 7-note scales like the major scale instead of pentatonic scales.

For me, it took some time before I figured out how to learn the scales and what to practice, especially when it comes to Jazz. I started with major scale exercises that might be useful for getting a bit more flexible with the scale in a technical sense, but they didn’t help me play Jazz. But you don’t need to do that, instead, you can focus on practicing the things that you need for Jazz solos. You don’t want to play 4-note sequences in a Jazz solo (Yngwie?)

You are better off focusing on diatonic triads and arpeggios, and also how to add chromatic leading notes to that, because that is what the jazz licks are made of. The way I always tell students to build this is by starting with the diatonic 3rds as a stepping stone

to diatonic triads

and then the 7th chords which are the main structure of most Jazz music.

When you work on these exercises then you are practicing things that you need when you solo and you make it easier to play lines like this:

So stop practicing things that you don’t need when you solo because that is probably a waste of time!

#5 Only Exercises

This is horrible about beginning Jazz and at the same time also one of the greatest things about Jazz:  There are so many possibilities and so many interesting and wonderful things to check out but you also have to watch out that you don’t get stuck just scratching the surface of a lot of stuff without really putting things to use.

If you are only practicing exercises and exploring new material without also playing music and putting the things you practice to use then you probably won’t learn what you are exploring and you also won’t get any better at playing Jazz which was the real goal to begin with. Don’t get stuck with only doing exercises! This is again an essential part of how I have constructed the roadmap, only a few exercises and then a practical way to turn them into music and help you get started playing solos!

Maybe this one is not a bad habit and more of a missing good habit, but if you are not listening to Jazz, you probably won’t ever learn to play Jazz. It is always a bit surprising that I have to say this at all, because why would you want to learn to play Jazz if you don’t listen to it?

I was talking to Adam Levy, who you may or may not know, he has been a guest on the channel quite a few times and has his own YouTube channel.

He mentioned some practice advice that he had received from Joe Diorio in a masterclass: Your practice sessions should always be 50% listening to music! If Joe Diorio recommends something then that is something you should consider, given how incredible and influential a musician he was.  But, you could also argue that this means that if you are driving and listening to Jazz then you are also practicing and you could be practicing while cooking or doing the dishes. Don’t underestimate how much you learn just by listening to a few albums of great music!

#7 Backingtrack Addiction

There is always a hot take in these videos…

One of the most important parts of learning a song and being able to improvise over it is being able to hear the harmony inside and being able to feel the time without leaning on the rest of the band and relying on them to carry you through it. The easiest way to get to that point is to practice with a minimal reference so that if you mess up the time or the chords then you immediately become aware of it. And of course, being aware of this and fixing it when you’re practicing is a lot better than messing up when you are playing with other people. One of my teachers pointed this out to me when I was studying, and I had never thought about it like that but Backing tracks are just always too easy. When it comes to practicing to play music and learning songs then you need to think about backing tracks as the chocolate cake of your practice routine, something that you enjoy at the end but which makes a terrible meal if you were to make it the only thing you eat.

Cut away the backing track and just play with a click. Start by playing the melody and the chords and then once you have the song in your ears you can start soloing. If you don’t believe me then just test it try starting with a metronome when you learn a song and once you can do that then you move to a backing track and notice how easy that is. Then try to do it the other way around, so start with the backing track, and then go to the metronome.  You will know what I talking about.

I know this is not what most people want to hear, but that does not make it any less true, and you can always leave some angry comments if that makes you feel better. Nobody who does the test I just sketched out will do that though, I am sure!

Bonus: What To Practice and How To Make It Into Music

An extra tip, related to practicing scales and how to do this right: In the beginning, it is very difficult to take the exercises and then turn them into music, into the flexible building blocks I mentioned. You need to add important ingredients like Rhythm, Phrasing, and Melody, but how do you do that? There is a way to build that skill, and you can get started with the method in this video where I even throw in some nice chromatic tricks as well that will make things flow and sound like your favorite Jazz guitarist!

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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

When you think about Jazz Chord Exercises then it is probably about learning new chords, but it is more important is that you have exercises that help you use those chords and get them to sound great. That is what these 3 exercises will help you do. The first one is also, by far, the most fun way to practice chords, and the other two will help you use the chords better and add some better rhythms to your comping. In all 3 exercises, you can see how it pays off to work on simple things not making it more complicated.

The Exercise Nobody Does!

If you are nerdy enough with Jazz chords, like I am,  then maybe you can enjoy just listening to interesting chord voicings,

but of course, there is more to it than just the notes, even if they do sound beautiful.

The last few weeks I sort of re-discovered this exercise. As you may know, I was in Taiwan to play at the Taichung Jazz Festival with Nick Javier.

I had an amazing time there, but since it is quite far away then I had to deal with some jetlag when I got back which had me waking up at 3:00 in the morning since that is 10:00 am in Taiwan. While I was re-adjusting, I realized that I really liked getting up before everyone else and then spending some time practicing and getting started before sending the kids to school, one of the exercises I started to do in my routine was to take a song and practice comping it with the metronome on 2&4

There are many reasons to practice like this! The most important one is that it is fun and you are giving yourself a chance to be creative with the chords and the harmony of the song. I’ll show you how you might get started in a bit.

When I work on this then I am working on timing, and rhythm but also how all the chords should sound as a piece of music together and it is a great way to start getting new chords or concepts into your playing.

Working on:

  • Timing
  • Rhythm
  • Making The Chords Music
  • Adding New Material

And, of course, if you want to be good at comping then you should practice comping. Nobody ever spent all their time doing pushups and running to win Tennis tournaments, and if you do then you might get frustrated in the match.

So while practicing chord inversions and diatonic chords is useful then that should not be the only thing you are doing, also just because when you are doing that then it doesn’t matter if you screw up stuff.

Getting Started: Turn The Chords Into Music

If you have never practiced like this then here are a few steps to get you started and also a few simple tricks that immediately will level up how you sound!

Start with a song or chord progression that you know really well, for example, a 12-bar Blues like this one in C.

The first level:  is to just play the song, so turn on your metronome and just lay down the basic chords, don’t use complicated rhythms or voicings but if you can then get the groove across with a simple Charleston rhythm or something like that:

as you can tell I am mostly just using Shell-voicings.

A few easy ways to get this to move a bit more and sound more interesting is to use chromatic passing chords, simply try to use a chord a fret above or under to approach the next chord:

But you can also use this to create some movement on a chord, which sounds amazing on a blues like this:

From here you can start to expand and see if you get new ideas for rhythms or melodies, and if it doesn’t work then you can try it again in the next chords without the soloist wanting to fire you

When you use your chords like this then you might find this next approach to thinking about chords useful, and better than what you are doing now!

A Better Way To Think About Chords And Chord Voicings

You are not thinking about your chord voicings in a way that helps you use them. I am guilty of this as well in my videos: The way that we teach chords and think about chords are in separate categories like Shell-voicings, drop2, upper-structure triads, and stuff like that.

This means that we end up practicing diatonic chords or inversions only using one type of chord, but that doesn’t fit with what you do when you play music at all, so you want to change that!

Chords Across not along the neck

The important thing to remember is that when you are comping then you don’t have to think about a C7 as “Eø Drop2 inversion with the 7th as the last note and a 11th instead of a 3rd” That is much much too complicated, does anybody think like that?

This is more a question of exploring and then using what you discover but it is a great more practical way to connect chords and level up your comping.

Try this out: Most of us navigate the neck by thinking of the root of the chord and finding that on the two lowest strings E and A,

so if you are looking for a C7 then you have a shell voicing here

and here

Notice how adding the G on the B string makes it a Drop3 voicing,

and you also have the C7(13) Drop3 within reach

You can add one more string, and then you are playing Drop2 voicing with a bass note,

and there are variations of this as well:

And it is very practical to sometimes leave out the root to first get this 2-note Shell:

and add notes to have triad voicings

and drop 2 voicings as a part of what is available

Mixing Full and Rootless Voicings

When you think of C7 then you should see all these options and not just be stuck with a single grip.

That way you can add moving voices, melody, and rhythm to your comping and you don’t have to think about inversions that move to another place on the neck where you might not know the next chord. Thinking like this you are still connecting back to the chords you know and you are expanding what you can play without getting lost on the neck.

A great way to use this to open up how you comp or how you use this in chord melody is first to state the basic Shell

or an easy variation of this to be more free before changing to the next chord. For the blues that could give you something like this:

Music is Like A Language

Playing more interesting rhythms in your comping is also not necessarily about learning a lot of short rhythms, in fact zooming out and focusing on a few rhythms is probably the easiest way to improve on that.

And this is a lot easier than you might think. If you start thinking in call-response then a very easy but also very natural way to play something that really makes sense is to repeat a rhythm and then finish the sentence with something different as a conclusion:

When you are playing the same thing several times as a riff then you are giving the soloist something predictable to play against and you are giving the rest of the band something to interact with.

Then you can practice doing that on a song but coming up with different conclusions, so that you train yourself to hear how the different rhythms work together.

Maybe the next 4 bars could have this in the 4th bar

Like this, you are using the rhythms you know to come up with more. And you get a more natural flow if you work with this as a type of call response.

You can also do that every other bar:

This is almost always true; If you try to learn things in the context where you want to use them, then it is both easier and you learn it a lot faster because you can throw away a lot of useless theoretical rhythms or arpeggios inversions or whatever might waste your time.

Just Play Simple Chords!

One guitarist who understood how important it was to make things simple was Joe Pass, and while his playing was sometimes amazingly complex then his approach to Jazz chords was all about simplicity, and that is really the way you want to do this. You can check that out in this video, where it is about both the chords and the progressions being made easier to handle, and he certainly has a point!

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

 

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7 Skills Jazz Beginners Don’t Spend Enough Time On

One of the biggest mistakes Jazz Beginners make is to practice a lot but not develop the skills that really will get them further, in fact, a lot of practice is just wasting time and building bad habits. In this video, I want to go over 7 skills that will help you beome a better Jazz guitarist, some of these skills you might be working on already, but you can use the video to check if something is missing.

#1 How Long Should A Note Be?

I actually think this one is easier to fix than most of the other skills in this video, and I am sure that if I had recordings of myself from when I was starting out, then I definitely did not have this skill and was very much guilty of too many long notes!

If you ask classical musicians who don’t play guitar about their “nickname” for guitar they will probably tell you “staccato festival” meaning that the instrument has absolutely no sustain (which is sort of true compared to a trumpet or violin).

But in this case, it is the other way around. For Jazz

I am sure you can hear that the long notes sound a bit strange, and check out how short notes are much better at conveying the rhythm and connecting with the groove, and this is, of course, very important for Jazz.

This problem comes up very often with students in the roadmap,

(probably this is not a good shot of the roadmap, the other one later on in the video shows the prices… you know better if and which shot to use…)

but they do hear it and fix it quite fast. The first step is usually to work on just ending phrases on a short note, and sometimes getting used to hearing melodies that end on an off-beat also helps.

Of course, you want to play long notes sometimes as well, the important thing is that you are in control and that you choose, it should not be a habit.

Let’s move on to an online comment that really annoys me.

#2 Jazz Is Not A Looping II V I

I should probably watch out if this doesn’t turn into a rant about what learning music is really about.

Jazz is a style of music, and it has a repertoire, and part of learning to play that style is to learn to play the songs in the repertoire,

so if you want to learn Jazz then you need to start working on how to learn songs and trust me, you want to know a lot of songs!

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Bernstein:

and you haven’t really learned anything until it is something you can use when you are playing real music.

All the Barry Harris solo masterclasses were about writing lines on songs, they were not about exercises, but about making music!

So you need to work on being able to learn songs, both from sheet music and by ear, just learn a lot of songs so that music theory describes music you already play and hear.
That way, you have music with diminished suspensions or altered chords,

and then theory isn’t theory, it is music.

This brings me to the type of comment that always irritates me: Every now and again I will get asked if I can give some suggestion on how to sound more modern, dark, or something like that on a II V I, and already in the question it becomes clear that the person asking is not learning any songs, just playing this loop of a II V I. A loop of a II V I is not a song, A song is a story, it has development, and twists and surprises, a loop is static. So keep in mind that if you were playing an entire song and not a static 4-bar loop it might not get boring as quickly.

But enough complaining, for at least a bit….

#3 Learning The Language

This is possibly a hot take or at least a delicate topic sometimes, but I think you can argue that Jazz has a certain language in the melodies we improvise, in terms of rhythm, flow, phrasing, and to some degree also what melodies are used. This is probably true for most styles of music, we can all hear when something is a blues lick, and if you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to check out vocabulary so that you get the sound into your playing. This can be checking out licks, and exercises

or what is probably the fastest way to improve: Learning solos by ear, something I have talked about often in videos.

So if you want to sound like Jazz then get good at learning Jazz vocabulary so that you know how it feels to play that, and how it is supposed to sound. A bonus, if you play along with solos that you have learned by ear is that you also improve your phrasing, timing, and swing feel which is also a part of the language.

#4 Make The Machine Swing!

Since I am on the topic of timing, swing-feel, and hearing the groove and the harmony, then that is all stuff that you want to improve, and another skill that will help you develop this is practicing with a metronome,

vastly underrated and a lot more fun than you think once you get used to it.

For Jazz, this is about playing with the metronome on 2 & 4, and learning to play songs and soloing like that will help boost your ability to:

  1. Keep time and feel time
  2. Hear the harmony internally
  3. Play in the groove

The concept is, of course, that you play and stay in time, keep the form, and lay down the groove. The difference between a metronome and a backing track is that it is much more difficult to play with a metronome, but if it swings then it is you. When you play with a backing track then if it swings it might be the backing track. If you look at how famous jazz guitarists practice then it is always a metronome, there are almost no exceptions. If you want to get started practicing with the metronome on 2&4 then I have a video for a few years ago on that topic,

You can check that out here: Practicing with the metronome on 2&4

#5 Putting Chords To Use

What I said about soloing is just as important for chords, so instead of just playing tons of inversions or other exercises on II V I progressions, you also need to work on putting those chord voicings to work on songs, and trust me, that will help you develop so much in terms of voice-leading, adding melodies and colors to your chords and all the other stuff that, like me, you probably love about Jazz and Jazz chords.

You can start rubato and explore the harmony and then later move it into time. Rhythm is also important here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

#6 Make Your Own Licks!

A problem that I have also encountered myself often when trying to internalize new material, like for example a new way of playing an arpeggio or a chromatic phrase is that I know how to play it, but it doesn’t really work when I use it in a solo, and that is because an important step is missing between practicing something as a technical exercise and turning it into great lines in a solo. Again, also something that I help students with in the Roadmap frequently.

The missing step is composing lines or even entire solos. It is completely unrealistic that you can just immediately get every exercise you do to work in a solo, but composing is improvising slowly and with a way to go back and fix the lines so that they sound better and that you can figure out how the new thing should fit in there. This is a very effective way to introduce new material into your vocabulary, keep in mind that composing solos is also what Barry Harris’ solo masterclasses are built on,

so they probably also will work fine as a part of your practice.

#7 Chords Should Be Phrases Too

The worst way to think about the chords of a song is as a chord symbol with some extensions, simply because that is not music. What you want to work on is opening up those chord symbols so that you can improvise and connect the whole thing, you want to turn the chords into music.

For many jazz beginners, comping rhythms are a mystery and something that is very difficult to improve on, but that is probably because the problem is often not the rhythms, it is how you think about comping.

I am curious, so please leave a comment and let me know when you last practiced comping a song with the metronome on 2&4. Because if you start working with your comping like that and start thinking in phrases then it becomes so much easier to develop rhythms and sounds.

When you comp on a song then you can start thinking in call-response, and riffs and become more free, get the song to sound good, and don’t get stuck thinking about which rhythm or which extension to play.

Use Joe Pass’ Approach

To be able to play chords in phrases and get through songs then you don’t want to get stuck with too complicated chords that are not flexible, and Joe Pass has a really solid approach for building a chord vocabulary that I talk about in this video:

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

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

An Amazing Nerdy Chord Exercise

This exercise is probably one of the best ways to really explore and discover beautiful Jazz harmony and chord voicings, and it is one of my favorite things to do but I don’t really work on it that often. There are a few weird things about this way of practicing:

  • It is amazing for learning harmony and voicings
  • It is also incredible for developing your fretboard overview
  • If you do it while comping in a band you should be fired, at least I would probably fire you.

I think I picked up this way of working from going to the Barry Harris piano workshops even before I started studying in the Hague, and it is also really fun to do with others if you are hanging out and playing songs to get dig into what is possible, some of the most beautiful details and tricks.

This is going to get a bit nerdy with chords, but I think you’ll find that it is worth it.

Why The Basic Exercises Are Not Enough

There is a problem with the way we practice and look at chords. Mainly because too much of it is about reducing things to exercises(Diatonic chords) and systems with inversions

Exercises like that are not useless but similar to practicing scales and arpeggios it is removed from the music, and you have to keep in mind that playing a bunch of inversions or exercises doesn’t mean that you can magically make the chords of a song sound amazing.

And often we don’t get much further than just using stuff on a II V I progression (II V I with drop2) which is fine, but there is a lot more happening in Jazz harmony than just II V I progressions, so that is nowhere near enough.

This exercise is more about taking what you already know and then exploring what you can do with that, and also just opening up what a chord is without being too restricted by theory and chord symbols.

Learning Is Easier When You Are Not Alone

In a way, I got the exercise or this way of working from the Barry Harris workshops. Going to the Barry Harris workshops in the Hague exposed me to two things that changed my musical and my real life. At the time I was living in Copenhagen and went there for the workshop at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.

Of course, one of the things that changed everything was how and what Barry taught us which I have talked about many times, but the other aspect was probably just as important, I just never thought about it like that until I started working on this video, and I will return to why that might be something you want to keep in mind.

This was not about the large classes teaching how to make lines, but more about all the piano workshops in the evening which were much smaller and in smaller rooms (with a lot of people smoking because that was still a thing back then). In those workshops the topic was mostly specific songs and how to harmonize them, what to do with the chords and it was not a lecture or a lesson but much more an exchange of ideas and showing how you play something. The first year, I was there I could not follow a lot of what was going on because I did not know the theory and most of the songs, but the attitude of exchanging ideas and exploring the songs was inspiring and also made me realize that I needed to be in a place with more people who were exploring Jazz, and I had probably found the perfect place to for that.

Not Everything is A Chord!

We want to dig into the harmony and find some great ways to connect the chords, so let’s focus on a song that is not just a bunch of II V’s like “It Could Happen To You”.

Later I will understand why this way of working should get you thrown out of the band.

For the first 5 bars you could play these chords, maybe let’s start with shell voicings

Just to have a little bit more to work with maybe let’s use Drop2 voicings, and pay attention to how these chords are very much connected in a flow:

Like this, the basic chords are already flowing, but instead of just playing them in time and leaving it at that, you can also go over it rubato and find some stuff that

1- sounds amazing and 2- is easy to play in this chord progression.

The first chord change going from Ebmaj7 to Edim.

An easy way to add a bit of inner voice movement is to move from maj7 to 6 and then to the dim chord, you can look at it as a chromatic enclosure in the middle of the chord:

Of course, you can do a lot of other stuff and that is exactly what you want to explore, you use more voices to move to the Edim.

This one doesn’t work here probably because I am hearing the Bb in the melody in the back of my mind,

but maybe in some other song, it sounds great?

Beautiful Wrong Notes

As you see, I am not naming the passing chord,

and that is because I don’t think making it an independent chord makes sense, it is just voice-leading and more horizontal movement than a chord symbol. Here’s a way that you can use wrong notes to add a bit of counter-movement and a suspension going from Edim to Fm7

I am sure you would agree that, usually, Ab is a less-than-fantastic note on an E dim chord, but as you hear then it works really well here, and what I am doing is just moving the two top voices, one up and one down

and using notes from the scale that fits this dim chord: F harmonic minor.

Of course, you can also do great things with adding chords and using substitutions, but this way of really getting into the song opens up a lot of options, and if you are starting with a different chord then you might find very different but still practical sounds:

From A Static Voicing To Moving Music!

So you can do a lot with the chords and not have to try to name everything with chord symbols that have to make sense or follow some rule.

And, what you are doing and developing is your fretboard overview by seeing the voicing in the scale on the fretboard

and then using that to create movement and connect to the next chord

And, you could use a simpler version of this on the F#dim while also adding a little melody on the Fm7:

You’re Fired

Obviously, you don’t want to get fired, but I am sure that if you work enough on stuff like this then you can learn to do some of it in real-time while you are playing, but to work towards that, then isolating a section of the song out and exploring what you can come up with will help you discover some great new things. The reason why I say that this exercise will get you fired is that I have seen both guitar players and piano players be very busy with the chords like this and in doing so, completely fail in being a part of the music. This is for practice, and NOT something you want to distract you when you are playing with other people, and working through stuff like this is still fun.

What you really need to work on this is having a good overview of the chords, not thinking in static grips but instead having a more flexible way of understanding chords, and you can check out how to develop that in this video:

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

 

 

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Can I Write More Interesting Pop Chord Progressions With Triads?

You can easily make a lot of interesting and surprising, short chord progressions that still have a beautiful natural flow, so I don’t think there is a reason why most pop music is recycling the same chords over and over.

Instead of trying to make pop songs “better” with lots of sus4 and maj7 chords, which rarely works that well anyway then I thought it would be more interesting to see what is possible to do with simple chords like triads because that is actually pretty mind-blowing what you can get away with and it\s a lot of fun

When I started playing guitar then I was always trying to make new music, mainly because I got bored with just practicing my classical guitar homework, so once I learned to play chords I was always messing around with what chords would go together. In the beginning, this was completely random, and most of it sounded horrible, but learning how you have I IV, and V chords in a key, how relative minor fits in and gives you a few more options made it easier to put chords together.  But then I ended up with another problem because the chord progressions all sounded similar and with the random chords I sometimes had some really nice progressions that worked even if I had no clue why.

It is some of those progressions I want to explore in this video, just using basic 3 or 4-chord progressions and just using triads, I’ll explain why along the way.

Let’s start with making a variation on the most cliché pop progression:

The tools you can use here is really just knowing the key a bit better, because there are a ton of options with that and later also adding some inversions.

You probably know the diatonic chords already, so for C major:

I’ll get to why I am using these spread triads later.

One thing you can do is to borrow some chords from C minor, because they often will work as well, so you can pick one of these chords:

 

___in the video here you compare the two scale__

For this first example, you can keep the same chords but just change them a bit like this:

And even just using Gm and Fm then that really changes the sound a lot. The Gm has a sort of Coldplay sound to me, they do that quite a lot:

The way to explore this is probably just to experiment, because you can get chords to work together without thinking about any types of rules.

For example you can do something like this where the first half is in major and then second part is in minor:

Coming from Jazz then what I always liked about exploring these triads progressions is that you can really dig into the basic strong harmony and how you can get to move, and also how moving notes around can create progressions that sound strong, but maybe don’t move like the very common progressions that we already know, so you can find new connections.

One thing that will makes that easier is to use inversions, so you can learn those. For a C major triad you have these inversions:

and for an Am chord you have:

You will see me use different ways of playing them as well, so C can also be C and Am can also be played as Am:

That is really just about what works better moving to the next chord.

The Power Inversions

So now if you have a chord progression like the previous one:

Then you can create a different type of bassline with a few inversions:

Where the step-wise movement is a nice way to connect the chords, you can also make one  that moves up to Eb which is also borrowed from C minor:

So as you can hear there are a lot of stuff to explore and create beautiful progressions with.

Why I use Spread Triads

You probably noticed that I am building all of this around these spread or open-voiced triads which are really just triads where one note is moved an octave.

You can look at this (C spread) and see it as a C root position where the 2nd note is moved up an octave or as a 2nd inversion where the middle note is dropped down an octave (C 2nd inv -> C spread)

For exploring harmony like this then I use them because when you have a 3-note voicing and it is opened up then it is easier to move the voices one at the time, for example if you have

Explainer:

Am then you can move the 2 outer voices down and the middle voice up to get this type of sound Am G#dim Am which is a sort of dominant sound.

Another advantage is that it is often easy to play the chord and add a bit of melody on top or just use the top-notes a s melody notes.

Adding Melody to the chords

Let’s try another one, and in this one I am being even more free with chord choices and just taking a chord that works because it resolves nicely.

Here the D/F# is really just there to resolve to the Ddim chord which resolves really smoothly down to the C chord with E in the bass.

And once you have a progression like this then you can just try to make simple melodies that move on top, mostly just step-wise.

The Power of Extra Dominant Chords

Another way to get some more chords in there is to add dominants to the progression, so if I want to move from C to Am then I can add an E in between because the E is the dominant of the Am, and that actually can give you some really nice sounds if you add inversions into the mix:

And if play it slowly, C E/B you can see how the E stays on top and the rest moves which makes it so much better. Here I am adding the Gm as a sort weird dominant for C, and I really love that sound, I guess there is some folk sound to that? Like a lot of Scandinavian folk music will have melodies that use a minor chord on the V

instead of the more classical-sounding G major:

So as you can tell, then I am not really treating this as rules that you have to follow. I change stuff around all the time and just experiment. The things I have covered until now are about giving you options to explore, and then I am using triads because that makes it easier to experiment when you are creating your own progressions. It is probably more about experimenting and then if it sounds good you can try to figure out what it is.

In general, you need to understand Jazz harmony it will make everything easier when it comes to soloing over chords or making your own progressions. So check out this video on how to understand Jazz chords and also some of the tricks that Pat Martino and Barry Harris use, it will help you get a lot further and open your mind to a lot of new ideas.

 

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This is Missing In Your Comping and Nobody Is Teaching It

When it comes to comping then you have lots of books and online lessons on learning chord voicings, and voice-leading, but when it comes to turning that into something that really works then there is really not a lot of advice available.

But there is actually a place to get some inspiration and strategies for developing your comping, which is what I want to show you here.

Probably a lot of you are now thinking that this is about rhythms, and that is sort of true but it is actually more than that, and I am 99% sure that  your solos will also benefit from looking at things from this perspective, because there are things in this that can really open up your playing in other ways as well.

A Blues with some Basic Ingredients

For this lesson, I am going to use a simple C blues as an example, and since this is not about using incredibly fancy chord voicings, the most chromatic voice-leading tricks or the hippest extensions then I am going to just use two different melody notes for each chord. Extensions and voicings are nice too, but that is not the focus right now and they will just become distractions that take away from what you should focus on, and I think you will see why.

The chords are kept pretty minimal but it is still more than enough to make some good music.

I will show you 3 types of exercises so that you can actually get your chords to sound like comping, and maybe open up how you think about phrasing and rhythm in general.

#1 Longer Phrases

When you focus on voicings and voice-leading then it is about either what notes you put together or how you get to the next chord in the song.

Of course, both of these things are important, but you can also see that when you focus on that then you are zoomed in and at most looking one bar ahead, and you are almost never playing a song with two bars, there is a whole form.

I don’t know about you, but the people in the rhythm section that I usually admire the most are actually the drummers. That is where the groove and the interaction are both clearly present and where the dynamics of the song are being created. A part of that is probably also that the musician that I really have to connect with when I am comping is the drummer, and for a drummer it is not about voice-leading or extensions, so how do they practice?

Rhythm is melody!

Where most guitar examples are one or two bar rhythms then drummers tend to do exercises that are over longer parts of the song, and working on something that is a combination of different patterns. An exercise might look like this:

Very often then the entire groove is not written out so it is assumed that the ride cymbal is being played, here the highhat is included, but what you want to focus on here is the snare drum rhythm, the rest is not important, you essentially want to read it as if it looks like this:

And this rhythm you can use as a comping pattern on guitar.

If you apply it to the first 4 bars of the Blues then you get:

The big advantage here is that you are starting to hear the rhythm as a melody, and phrases that are not just on a single chord but are a part of a longer sentence with a repeated part and a conclusion.

So phrases that contain smaller parts which fit together. That sounds like something that could be useful for other things than comping?

Thinking in 4 and 8-bar phrases

A side-note to this is that it makes a lot of sense to work on thinking of bar 4 as a conclusion, as the end of the sentence. That is also how our sense of form works, we feel things in groups of 4 or 8 bars and the more you play like that the better you feel that which will later eventually make you a lot stronger and more free.

There is an interview with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter where they talk about how they feel the 12-bar blues as groups of bars together so that a Blues chorus is essentially a 3/4 bar. If you start feeling the form like that then you get a lot of freedom to do stuff in between which of course also describes how they often played.

Of course you want to take a 4-bar pattern like this and go through the whole blues form as well, but let’s move on to how you level this up to get some great comping rhythms going!

The method and exercises that I am showing you here was not how I learned to comp, but I sort of wish it was, because it would have made it a lot easier, and I have seen this work really well for my students. The way I learned was by being around great drummers and having the good fortune to be told about how comping worked as an interaction between drums and guitar, or drums and piano. What I am showing you here will help you listen to yourself to play something that makes sense and tells a story but it will also help you play natural phrases that a drummer can work with so that if you listen to each other then you can also connect and make music together.

#2 Making Your Own Phrases

You can of course start checking out Jazz Drumming lessons on comping to find more patterns like this, that is a great thing to do, and please leave a comment if you have some good resources like books or online lessons, but you can also start creating your own by taking the rhythms you already know, or listening to drummers that are great at this like Philly Joe Jones or Jimmy Cobb and take phrases from them and combine that with what you already know.

The important thing is that you take a step back and worry less about what extensions moving from the 9th to the b13, and instead try to play some strong melodic rhythms, some phrases that last 4 or 8 bars and make sense like that. Often listening to big band can be very useful for this, because you have the right types of simple melodies and strong rhythms in there.

If you start with the previous example but then change it up then you can get something like this for the next 4 bars of the blues, with the same format of a repeating figure and a phrase to end it all:

 

But you can also introduce more variation, for example going back to the original motif like now also changing or developing one of the repeats:

And really what you are doing making these is developing your ability to hear rhythms that make sense, and also listen to whether the rhythms you put together make sense as a melody for you.

How Wes Uses This In Solos

Another thing is that this can really open up is your soloing: Maybe take a listen to your solos and ask yourself how often they have phrases that last 4 bars with a beginning, a middle and an end? Maybe taking some time to think like this and incorporating that into your solos could be useful as well, there could be a video in that, et me know! The king of this is Wes! If you listen to how Wes improvises then you can certainly hear repeating patterns and motivic development.

Green = Call – Red = Response

You Can’t Practice Comping

Very often when I do a video on comping then I get a comment that tells me that comping is about interaction and therefore you can’t practice it. In my experience, that is not true, and the next exercise is actually about interacting but you are playing alone. Besides that, then there are so many skills involved with comping that you have plenty to work on even without interacting with a soloist and a rhythm section. Simply because you need to Play the chords, keep time, make sure that what you end up with makes sense and has the right colors, and the easier that is and the more freedom you have and it will be the easier to listen to what is going on around you. You also don’t only practice soling with a band, but there you have to interact as well, I hope you do at least…

#3 Call-response

Until now it has been about written exercises and composing, but you can also start to incorporate  improvisation so that you can work on hearing the rhythms in real time and get it to fit together while creating phrases, and this exercise can also be incredibly powerful for solos, but I will show you that in a bit.

An easy way to do that is to start with the layout from the written exercise, and in fact this is also about interacting because you play the written part and then treat that as a call which you then respond to with the next phrase which is your response. A chart using the first one-bar rhythm would look like this:

and with that you can pick a comfortable tempo and then start to fill in the empty bars and see what you come up with. You listen and then you play what fits with that.

If you get stuck then you can also stop and try to explore it out of time

As I said then this is also a very useful exercise if you are working on getting your solo phrases to go from licks next to each other and become more of a coherent story.

A simple version of that could be something like this where I repeat a first phrase and then develop material that is a response:

And your solos can also really improve from working on this:

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