The Reason Your Jazz Guitar Licks Suck and How you fix it!

Your jazz licks have all the right arpeggios and chord tones, target notes etc. And they still don’t sound like great bop lines! The Problem is probably with the jazz phrasing.  In this video I am going to give you a basic understanding of some of the jazz phrasing that can lift your solos to the next level.

I am also going to give you a way to write licks which you can phrase better and take a few bars from a George Benson solo to demonstrate how he gets it right!

The Good, The Bad and the Bebop!

In the example below I have written out two examples of jazz lines over a Turnaround in C major.

They both contain right notes and the melodies are moving from chord to chord in a logical way, but the second one sits better in the groove and is easier to phrase in a nice way.

The difference is where the target notes and the notes where the line changes direction are placed. In the first example this is all the time on the heavy beats (so beats 1 and 3). This is shown with the circle.

In the second line these notes are placed mostly on an off-beat and that makes it possible to give them an accent and add some more life to the line.

I guess the difference is that bebop lines need the syncopated lines that have high notes and turning points on off-beats because that makes it come alive and add some small dynamic surprises for the listener. 

Composing lines with better phrasing

It does sound a little strange I know, but actually we can work on making lines that are easier to phrase in a right way. 

The trick is to find a way to create lines where we have a high note on an off-beat.

If we take the two heavy beats in the bar, 1 and 3, then there are two types of off-beats we can have: The one before a heavy beat: 2& and 4& and the one after a heavy beat: 1& and 3&.

Before a heavy beat

In example 3 I am using the Dm7 G7 progression to demonstrate 4 different ways to have a high note (and therefore an accent) before beat 3.

After a heavy beat

The 3 different examples below show how you can add an accent on 1& by making that note a local high note.

It is worth noting that the descending line actually also makes the 1& a note you can accent, so that option is also often a good way to add an accent. You will also see this in the George Benson solo.

Examples of Jazz Licks with accents

To show you some examples of lines that have melodies that you can add accents to I have written to II V I lines in C major.

The first example starts with an accent on the 2&. This is achieved with an Fmaj7 arpeggio similar the 2nd bar in Example 3. The rest of the bar does not contain anything that gets an accent. 

In the G7 bar the first accent is on the 1& where the D is a high note. There is another accent on the 3& where the B can get an accent.

The 2nd example is using the same arpeggio on the Dm7 to get an accent on the 2&, but this time the arpeggio is played in an inversion to add a large 6th interval skip on the 1& 

The ascending arpeggios are also used to get accents on the 2& and 4& on the G7alt. Here it is first a G augmented triad and the 2nd one is an Fm7(b5) arpeggio.

Other ways to lget better at phrasing

Learning from composing and analyzing is only one way of the ways to internalize these things. Of course it will help you recognize and hear where accents are and understand the phrasing examples you hear on a conscious level.

Another way to work on this is to listen and imitate examples of good phrasing, this can be copying records or learning to play transcriptions.

Why George Benson has great phrasing

As an example of somebody with good phrasing here is 4 bars from a George Benson solo. These 4 bars are an excerpt from his (really fantastic!) solo on Billies Bounce. I transcribed it and will go over where the accents are.

The excerpt starts on the II V to Gm7, which in Billie’s bounce is Am7 D7(b9). The first part is a sweep of a triad which does not contain any accents, mostly because this technique does not really allow you to add an accent.

The line on the D7 moving to Gm7 does have an accent. The Sweep of the C major triad comes out on an F#. From here it skips up to a D and descends step-wise to Bb. This means that it is possible to add an accent on the 4&(C) which George does. 

On the Gm7 the A on the 2& get’s an accent., and for the rest there is no accents in the Gm7 line. Ont the C7 the G on the 1& is a high note which then gets an accent. It is followed by a dramatic skip (dramatic in a beautiful way…) and the line is ended with a bop cliche that ends on an D on the 3& that also naturally get’s an accent.

On the F7 D7 there are not notes on the off beat and therefore no accents. 

The Gm7 C7 line at the end of the chorus actually has accents on all off beats in the bar, which is of course possible, in this case it is also part of a blues phrase that somewhat asks for it.

How do you go about improving your phrasing?

When you are working on phrasing I would suggest that you combine all the approaches I discussed in this lesson. It is important to listen and analyze solos to get the sound of the phrasing into your ear. At the same time you can reinforce this process with composing and exploring what lines you can come up with that has notes that you can give an accent.

Finally it is also really good to have some solos that you really copy and play along with the record to really get into how the guitarist is phrasing.

Good luck with it!

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Take this approach further with more examples

If you want to explore the concepts discussed in this lesson further with some exercises and examles you can check out this lesson in my WebStore:

Jazz & Bebop Phrasing – C Blues

Get the PDF!

You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

The reason your jazz licks suck!

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