Making Jazz lines sound bluesy

For most people diving into jazz improvisation the focus is first on harmony and note choices, and much less on how you phrase the melodies you make. Since blues is a part of the roots of jazz and is used very frequently by jazz players it is a good place to start to add some variation in phrasing.

In this lesson I am going to go over how you can use some techniques and melodic ideas to give basic jazz lines a more bluesy flavour.


Jazz Guitars and phrasing

Since I am approaching this from a jazz point of view I chose to use techniques and concepts that are easy to execute with heavier strings, since that is standard on most jazz guitars. That means that I am not concerning myself with vibrato or bending, but trying to go over the sort blues of phrasing you’d come across in a George Benson or Kenny Burrell solo.

The approach I will go over here is a good way to further what I already covered in many of the lessons on improvising with arpeggios like this one:  How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios. This approach should help you get another sound out of the same lines by applying fairly basic phrasing ideas.

The progression I am using for this lesson is this II V I in C major:

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 1

Since I really wanted to demonstrate how powerful phrasing is as a tool I chose to make lines only using arpeggios. The arpeggios I am using on the progression are found in example 2:

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 2

Notice that I decided to keep the arpeggios in the same position and in the same range, even though that means that the G7 does not have a low root. This is mostly because it is important to have all the material covering the same range and to keep the arpeggios compact and not too many notes.

Phrasing techniques

The three techniques I am going to cover in this lesson are all shown in example 3, one bar for each one.

The first idea is to create a dynamic difference with legato. Most of the time when we work onn legato we try to make the notes equal in volume, but since they naturally have a difference in volume you can also use that aspect to add dynamic contrasts within an improvised line. This is utilized in blues phrasing in this lesson but is a fairly standard part of jazz guitar phrasing in general.

The second idea is to slide up to a note. The sliding sound is probably a sort if substitute or emulation of bending (which is an emulation of bottleneck playing). In this case it is not important (or even really audible) where you slide from but just that the slide is easy to hear.

I often get remarks from students who think of the slides as chromatic leading notes. I don’t really consider them as such mostly because they are played as grace notes and you can’t really hear what pitch they are. This is shown in the second bar of example 3.

The third concept is more melodic than technical in nature since it is the use of repeated notes. Repeated notes are somewhat taboo in mainstream bop phrasing but since Blues is a style that often is centered around a smaller pool of notes it is much more common to repeat notes, and doing so in a jazz line can also be a wat to invoke a blues feeling. This is of course also depending on how you do it, One Note Samba does not sound like a blues…

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 3

Examples of Bluesified arpeggio lines

The examples I made are all using arpeggios and are examples of how you can make a very “jazzy” approach in note choice sound more bluesy.

The first example is starting off with the root on the Dm7. Blues phrases are mostly not really up in the extensions and are a bit more living near the basic triad of the chord. Something which you will see in the different examples. From there the line is utilizing both pull offs and slides before it via the 7th(C) oof Dm7 moves to G7.

The G7 line is fairly straight forward with only a slide to the 3rd on beat 1. On the C I also use the slide to the 3rd and add an extra two note tag to the line.

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 4

In the 2nd example I am using two very characteristic blues ideas on the Dm7: Both repeating notes and groups of three notes, in this case the 3 note group starts with a slide to the 5th(A) and then repeating the 7th(C). I blues you find groupings like this often but almost never used to create a polyrhythmic effect like anoter meter on top of the one being played.

The G7 line starts off with a triad bases pattern that is then moved up to the upperstructure of the G7.  The line finally resolves to the 3rd(E) of C maj7. On the tonic it continues with a melody descending down the arpeggio and adding a slide to the 7th(B).

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 5

The third example is using the pull offs on the Dm7 and then moving on to the 3rd(B) of G7 which is played with a slide. It continues on the G7 with a triplet rhythm that has a repeating note. This to me is really a typical blues phrase to my ears, The triplet is used to create melodic tension that is resolved to the 3rd(E) of C which is approachedd with a slide. On the Cmaj7 the line continues with a skip from the root to the 3rd. This 6th interval is also often something you would find in a blues phrase.

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 6

I hope you can use some of these ideas and strategies to work on your own phrasing skills and that it can help you create more variation in your solos by using a sound that you probably already have a feel for.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy

You can also check out my Bb blues solo lesson with a 4 chorus transcription + lesson:

Bb Jazz Blues Lesson 1

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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