In a lot of lessons on playing Jazz then chord progressions are reduced to scales and then that is the only way you try to understand what is being played. Obviously, that is important but you can learn so much more than this very basic understanding of what is happening, which is really just scratching the surface of the music and not really helping you make your own lines, which is probably why you are studying the licks in the first place.
Even before I was playing Jazz, I was always more interested in trying to figure out how to make my own version of whatever lick or solo I came across. That is the real goal of checking it out.
So let’s say you have something like this:
Probably the things that you actually find great about the lick is not only going to be which notes are used or the scales for each chord.
If that was the case then you could just scramble the notes around, but that will mostly turn it into complete nonsense
I remember having problems with lines that I learned and could not turn into something of my own, I could only play THAT version of it and not get it to work in a different way, and that was really annoying. One of the first ones was this Parker Octave displacement line:
EXTRA example 1
And it was impossible to move it around and get it to work and I got licks that didn’t resolve right and just didn’t sound good.
Extra example 2+3 (voice-over)
And I could not figure out what I was missing but something was certainly missing….
A Jazz lick is a melody, sometimes we forget that, maybe because we zoom in too much on the chord or the notes. Melodies are not just individual notes next to each other, they are a long story, and very often they have building blocks. This is true for Jazz melodies like “In The Mood” which is built on a 1st inversion major triad:
But this is also the case with songs like the Jazz Standard “All Of Me” which also uses a 1st inversion major triad, and in fact, continues with a root position triad as the next phrase.
Instead of just looking at the individual notes that are played in a solo then it can be really useful to recognize which structures are played, and how they sound similar to Charlie Parker loves to use the m7b5 arpeggio from the 3rd of a dominant chord. This can give you shorter melodies and sounds that you can use in your own playing. It can also help you find new melodies in another way which I’ll show you in a bit, let’s first just look at another example and start with identifying some harmonic structures:
Here we have on Gm7, Dm7, Bb major triad,
For the C7alt: Ab major and Db minor triads
And finally an Am7 arpeggio for the Fmaj7
But there are also other melodies that you want to recognize besides arpeggios and triads. You don’t have rules or the exact names for them, but that is not that important, since it is more important that you have a way to identify what you want to play. Whether you call something a Honeysuckle Rose arpeggio, a pivot arpeggio or octave displacement is not going to make a big difference for what you play.
This example uses a few different melody types that are very common in Jazz.
When you analyze lines then start with the things you can easily recognize. Here that would be the arpeggios
Bbmaj7 on Gm7 and an Emaj7(#5) on the C7
A few of the new types of melodies
Before the Bbmaj7 you have an enclosure of the Bb.
The phrase after the arpeggio on C7alt is a scale melody with a chromatic passing note and
on the Fmaj7 you have a scale run from A down to F with an inserted chord tone.
But this is still about what is being played and not why it sounds good. Let’s have a look at how you might describe the melody that you are playing, something that I think we don’t spend nearly enough time on in Jazz and Jazz education
One thing is that you can make melodies and use arpeggios then you still need to connect the melody across the chords for it to be a great line. There has to be a bigger picture or larger story to what you are playing, so let’s look at that.
This isn’t taught very often, and I think we still miss the tools to describe it, but it is beginning to show up in education. Let’s start with some examples using techniques that you probably already know and then a few that are more, sort of my own way of describing melody.
This is a clear example of a basic motif that is moved from chord to chord using voice-leading. This is a great way to tie together, and as you can see, it doesn’t have to be obvious.
Another way to play a motivic melody is to use the same type of melodies:
Here the skipping arpeggio melody is continued through the line creating melodic tension as well as harmonic tension. This is then resolved on the Fmaj7.
You can also use shifting phrases as a type of motivic development:
Here the arpeggio melody on the Gm7 is shifted to an Ebm7 melody on the C7alt and in that way, there is a motif that is developed.
The other well-known type of Melodic development is call-response, which sounds something like this:
Here you have an ascending call on the Gm7 with a descending response on C7.
But call-response can also be seen as a sort of melodic tension and release so in a simplified way, and you can think of melodic or rhythmic tension which then resolves on the next chord.
This example is creating tension by having arpeggios and large intervals on Gm7 and then resolving that tension with more stepwise motion on the C7alt. Rhythm can be a way to work with this as well:
Here you have the syncopation on Gm7 creating tension that resolves on the C7, and this is what ties the two melodies together.
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