How To Sound Like Jazz – It Is All Phrasing

You want to learn Jazz, and everybody is saying: Learn Bebop scales and altered chords, upper-structure triad pairs. All these fancy things, and you can do great things with that, but in the end, it is not that which makes it sound like jazz. It is the phrasing, it is how you play it.

In this video, I am going to go over some examples of fairly simple things that do sound like Jazz and talk about how you start sounding like that what to work and what to practice.

Jazz Phrasing – What To Listen For

To give you an idea about what I mean here are a few very simple II V I licks in C major, just using the notes of the scale, no chromaticism or alterations everything is just in C.

Then I am going to analyze that and give you two great ways to work on improving your phrasing.

What is important is to start hearing about a line like this is that the notes are note played with the same volume or intensity. Jazz lines are not just a row of notes that are either on or off like this PLAY same note equal dynamic

If I played the line like without accents and dynamics it would sound boring and not like Jazz at all.

So I add some accents to the line. In this line, I have accents on the 1, 2& and on the 2& in bar 2. This is shown below:

The first note naturally gets an accent, but within the line then the interesting accents that make it sound like Jazz are on a note that is off the beat and higher than the following note.

Notice how I am using legato to give one-note and accent and make the following softer, this is a very common way to use legato for phrasing.

Accent on a note that is off the beat and higher than the following note.

Here we have accents on 1&, 3& and 2& in bar 2 as shown here below:

Again I am just using the scale and the diatonic arpeggios, so it is clearly more about how you play the lines and how the melodies are constructed than what notes you are playing.

The Dorian #4 Bebop scale will not automatically make you sound like Bebop.

How To Learn Jazz Phrasing

Now you have an idea about what is happening and how to get what you play to sound better.

But if you really want to sound better then you need to get this way of playing into your system so that it becomes automatic, something that is a little more difficult.

There are two exercises that you can work on that will really help this the first one is a great way to learn some repertoire as well. I also have a WebStore lesson dedicated to this that you can check out here: Jazz-Blues – 4 Easy Jazz Phrasing Etudes

One way to really dig into phrasing is to learn bebop themes and really try to analyze them and figure out how to phrase them. This way of working is a bit technical or theoretical and you need to work on it for some time and with a few tunes to get it to work in your playing., but it can be a great way to start hearing better phrasing and you can also reference different recordings of the bebop theme to get a sense of how people phrase the lines.

An analysis of Charlie Parkers Au Privave is shown here below with possible accent notes circled:

Of course, playing along with a recording and really nailing the phrasing is also a great exercise.

It could open up a completely new way to hear the melodies.


The other way to work on this is by learning solos by ear. For me, this was the most important takeaway from transcribing and still is. If you learn a solo and can play along with the recording then you really start hearing the phrasing and it is going to be a lot easier to get that sound out into your playing.

Learning solos by ear can seem really difficult compared to the previous exercise, but the advantage over working from a piece of written out music is that you have to listen a lot to a recording, really try to hear how it sounds and then reproduce that so the process is much closer to how you hopefully will end up using the phrasing and therefore it is much more effective as a way of learning.

Even if this was the only thing you would learn from learning a solo by ear and playing it with the recording, then phrasing is so important that it is more than enough reason to start doing this. I think that is obvious from the first part of this video.

What solos have you checked out by ear, do you have recommendations for good easy solos to learn? Maybe especially because of the phrasing. Leave a comment on this video!

A really important part of improving your phrasing is to hear what you sound like and see how it matches what you want to sound like. The only real way to do this is to record yourself. This is a great tool for learning and especially self-teaching. If you want some solid tips and advice on how to work with this then check out this video on that topic.

I have other videos on phrasing and how to interpret jazz lines like these. I find myself much more hearing drums when I am hearing how a line is supposed to sound.

Practicing Jazz Phrasing with Easy Etudes

Jazz-Blues – 4 Easy Jazz Phrasing Etudes

Other Lessons on Phrasing

Jazz Phrasing – This is what you want to know

Bebop Soloing – The Licks You Need To Check Out

Jazz & Bebop Phrasing – C Blues

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