Jazz Phrasing – The 3 Simple Things That Will Make You Sound Better

I am sure you know this feeling: You are playing the right notes, the arpeggios, chromatic passing notes but it still doesn’t sound like Jazz even when you play a lick you transcribed from one of your favorite jazz guitarists.

The 3 things I am covering in this video and especially how they tie together with the last exercise are things you need to develop if you want to learn to sound like Jazz when you improvise.

Take Control of the Note

When I am giving feedback to the students in my course “The Jazz Guitar Roadmap” then this is one of the most common things that I have to point out, but It is also a thing that you can easily fix and very quickly makes you sound a lot better, and almost nobody talks about this.

Jazz is about rhythm and what most people don’t think about is that when you solo, then each note has two points of rhythm, and they are both important.

What I mean is that a note is placed somewhere in the bar, that is the first rhythm but the other part of the rhythm is also going to make or break how it sounds: Where does it end? How long is that note?

When you are playing a Jazz solo then this is especially important at the end of the phrase, and most guitar players have a very bad habit: You ALWAYS end on long notes. Mainly because you spent a lot of time practicing playing legato and having a beautiful sustain, and once you can then you don’t think about it. And that sounds like this:

And if you compare that to this:

Then I am sure you can hear the difference.

And this is really easy to fix:

  • Take a song that you know really well and start soloing keeping it simple and easy 
  • Focus on not letting notes ring at the end of the phrase and tighten it up.

Of course, there are many times that you want to let a note ring at the end of a phrase, but you should train yourself to hear the phrase and whether it should be a long note or a short note, it should be a choice, not just the habit of letting notes ring.

Practicing like this will break the bad habit!

There is also another way of getting this skill into your playing but I will return to that later in the video.

This Is Why It Is Called Bebop

“It is impossible to play rhythms like that when I have to think about the arpeggios and chromatic notes!”

This is a response that I have gotten quite often from students, in real lessons, and online. And it is true that when you are using a lot of energy to come up with the line you want to play then it is very difficult to also worry about the rhythm. But you can develop that skill if you approach it in the right way, and it is both not that difficult and something that really will improve how your solos sound.

What I am talking about here is ending phrases on the offbeat, which is in fact where we got the name Bebop.

Naturally, you are probably more inclined to end a phrase on a heavy beat, so this often takes some training, but you can work on it. Another similar part of phrasing is a little more complicated, but I will also give you some really good exercises for that right after this.

3 Exercises To Help You Play “Bebop”

There are a 3 different ways you can work on ending phrases like this:

#1 Start with a simple song or progression that you know very well, maybe a blues or an easy standard. Then practice playing short phrases that end on the offbeat. Keep it simple and short so that you can focus on the rhythm

#2 Learn some Bebop Themes and try to take over rhythms from them. You can turn most Bop themes into great exercises for rhythm in this way and they are anyway very useful to check out for a lot of other reasons.

Let’s take the beginning of Au Privave as an example

And you can take that and use it as a motif in a solo like this:


#3 Take a lick that is a short and clear example and work on making variations on that, like this Wes Lick:

Now, Wes is great for this because he often plays shorter phrases and is very motivic and has excellent taste in rhythm.

You can move this around on a Blues as well, and like the other exercises, this will teach you how to hear the right type of phrases and in that way, it will begin to become a part of how you play.

The Secret To Great 8th Note Lines

Before I got into Jazz, I remember one night when I was a kid, going from channel to channel on the TV and ending up watching some random Jazz guitar concert on TV, and it sounded like endless rows of 8th notes weaving through the song

I have no idea what or who I was watching that time, but I found it fascinating that anybody wanted to play like that and I was also really aware that they really wanted it to be like that. But there is a lot more to a great jazz solo than just playing long 8th note lines.

Not all 8th notes are created equal, and not all melodies are created to be great Jazz lines.

One of the most difficult things to learn in Jazz is to learn to phrase 8th-note lines and especially learn to improvise lines that allow you to get the right rhythms in there by accenting some of the notes. My old teacher, Eef Albers, used to refer to it as making the lines dance.

So how do you learn this?

There is one rule which isn’t really a rule it is more of a guideline, and you can use that to find candidates for some of those accents.

A note can get an accent if it is:

  • Not on the beat and,
  • Higher than the next note in the line

So you want to learn to make melodies that have high notes on the offbeat.

A consequence of the guideline is also that if you play a descending line then you can pretty much choose whatever note you want to and give that an accent.

Before you start turning your solos into real-time sudoku solving then you could also just ease into it by going through some simple exercises that help you hear phrases like that and then start making variations on those keeping in mind how they need to be phrased.

You can use these exercises as blueprints and try to make different versions and fit them on other chords, especially the last one which is also a must-know melodic technique for playing Bebop.

Exercise 1 – This is a basic arpeggio melody. I am using the arpeggio from the 3rd, Em7, but it will work for the Cmaj7 arpeggio too. This way of playing the arpeggio gives you a natural accent on the 1&

Exercise 2 – Here I am is using a descending C major triad and then adding a scale note above the 5th to get a note that you can accent


The Triad from the 3rd can also be played so that it creates a nice accent on the 2& like this:

And of course, a lesson on Jazz and Bebop phrasing would not be complete without an example of octave-displacement:

This honeysuckle rose or octave-displaced Cmaj7 arpeggio in this exercise gives you a great accent and change of direction on the 2& which makes the line much more interesting as a melody.

What You Should Really Learn From The Masters

The thing that you must develop to improve your phrasing is to hear the right melodies that can be phrased in the right way. Now, besides these exercises then a great way to really dive into that is to learn solos by ear, and that is simply because when you work on learning a solo then you really listen intensely to the phrases and you start absorbing not only the lines but also the phrasing and timing, so working on that is also a great way to improve your phrasing.

The Bebop Secret

The most important thing to take away from this is that the phrasing is depending on the melody, and you need to learn to play the right type of melodies in your solos if you want to play with better phrasing. Bebop is one of the clearest examples of this and if you want to play better bebop melodies and really nail that beautiful Jazz phrasing then check out this video on the Bebop Secret which will teach you how to use octave displacement in your solos in many different ways that all work great for your phrasing.

Bebop Magic – One Of The Best And Most Difficult Things About Jazz

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