Tag Archives: Barry Harris

The Truth About Avoid Notes and Target Notes

There seems to be some confusion about what avoid notes and what target notes are when it comes to improvisation even mixing them up, so I thought it would be a good idea to show you which one is incredibly useful and which one really isn’t, because in a way, they are the opposite of each other.

When I was starting to learn Jazz, I was taught both along the way, and for me, one helped me build an essential skill for Jazz while the other one was something that I knew but it never really made any sense to me.

Avoid Avoid Notes

Usually, avoid notes are defined as the notes that create tension against the underlying chord. So the most common example would be playing an F over a Cmaj7

Here the F and the E and also the F and B clashes quite a bit.

But really any note that creates tension would be an avoid note.

It is probably clear that I don’t think in avoid-notes and thinking about avoid-notes is very useful. The reasons for this are quite simple when it comes to improving your playing. There are some essential things missing:

#1 It doesn’t tell you anything about what to play.

If you take the common example F as an avoid note over a Cmaj7 chord, then the only thing that tells you is to NOT play an F, which is not really useful information when you want to solo. You are much better off thinking about what you SHOULD play. You also don’t drive a car thinking about NOT hitting something.

#2 It doesn’t describe the music

If avoid notes make sense then surely nobody uses the avoid notes in their solos. But at the same time, I was given a ton of examples and transcribing solos and it doesn’t matter if it is Joe Pass, Charlie Parker, or Pat Martino. They all use avoid notes in their solos, even if they don’t often really sit on them. So that never made any sense to me. It was not only a rule that I couldn’t use to make music it also seemed like it wasn’t actually true.

Bad Teaching vs Good Teaching

To me, avoid notes is the same as teaching people not to use a hammer because that isn’t the right tool instead of teaching them how to use a screwdriver which would be the right tool when they are putting together something they bought at Ikea.

And it is really obvious that you benefit more from thinking about what to play instead of thinking about what not to play.

So focus on playing notes that sound good and making melodies that work with for example the arpeggio of a chord rather than thinking about not hitting a specific note in a scale. It is almost like telling you “don’t think about a pigeon.”

What Are Target Notes

The strange thing about target notes is that it isn’t really about the notes, it is about playing towards them. Anything can be a target note, that is really up to you.

You can even make an avoid note the target note, and sometimes that is a great thing to do…. 

I’ll show you that later in the lesson

In general, we often hear music as movement so there is a flow and there is a direction.

You can hear how this works with Bach:

Where the melody is moving forward and aiming for the target notes repeating a similar structure or motif to make it clear when you hit the target note on beat 1 of the bar.

And This is one of the things that really link Bebop and Bach: playing the movement and linking to the chord.

Take this Barry Harris lick, Where is clearly aiming for the 5th of Cm7 and uses the Bdim to really add momentum on the G7 that resolves to that Cm7 and in fact does the same to moving from Cm7 to F7 targeting the A.

So when you talk about target notes then you are talking about something that you can find in the music, which, as you may or may not know, is how I usually like to think about valid music theory: Something that describes the music that we play.

And it is also a way to develop your playing. Whatever target note you choose, you can sit down and practice to make lines that hit that target note, gradually moving from composing lines to improvising them and in that way internalizing the skill.

Examples of lines resolving to the 9th of Dm7: E.

This is important to be able to do. so let’s go over a basic example of how that works.

Practicing Target Notes

I’ll demonstrate this the way I learned to use target notes from my teacher, but actually, Hal Galper wrote a book on the topic that is worth checking out it is called Forward motion. I am just using the approach that I learned because that worked for me and has also worked very well for my students.

Target notes as a strategy works because you play melodies that are actually going somewhere. You are not just playing another note into the void (b-roll into the void) As you heard with Bach or the example from Barry or actually any other Bebop solo, there is an energy that drives it forward.

The first thing is to choose a target note, and if you are new to improvising over changes then you want to take notes that are very clear and easy to hear. This is just because that makes everything easier to learn and also helps you hear how the chords are moving, but as I already mentioned, you can really target any note you want to (which often ends up being any note you can hear anyway because otherwise you probably can’t make any lines that make sense).

For a II V I, the easiest place to start is just to use the 3rd of each chord: Clear notes that define the color of the chord:

So for a II V I in C major you have these chords:

And if you take the 3rd as a target note for each chord then you have these notes:

Now you can practice composing simple melodies that take you from one target note to the next:

And I am sure you can imagine that you have lots of options in terms of melodies for these target notes here’s another basic one:

If you start to be able to do this then You can also start to use the same target notes in other octaves, again because you build on what you can hear and use that to expand.

And then you can start opening up which notes you use, after the 3rd then the 5th is a great option, here I use that on the Cmaj7 chord:

And from here you can gradually start to learn to use other notes, see what you think works and give your ears time to get used to the sound. You can also gradually start to add things like other sounds on the dominant and extra chords. Having the direction in your lines will make a lot of things easier to get to work.

Target Avoid Notes

As I mentioned earlier, then you can take any note as a target note also a target note like the F over a Cmaj7. A basic way to do this could be this:

As you can hear then I treat the F as a suspension and resolve it to an E later in the bar. And that is simply just because the F sounds the way it does, and the most common way you will see the note in a melody would be like this, so a tension that is resolving later. Which is a great effect used in many melodies, and keep in mind that if you thought of it as an avoid note then you couldn’t do stuff like this.

Target Notes Are Not Everything

As you might have realized then there is a specific drive or type of sound to this type of melody, and that is a huge part of especially Bebop-inspired music, but it is not the only type of melody that you want to be able to play, so while this is a great way to get started playing over chord changes then it is not the only way you want to work on creating melodies. You want to also work on melodic techniques like Motivic development and Call-response. If you want to explore these techniques that are amazing for getting more of a story into your solos because phrases are more connected then check out this video that builds that up step-by-step.

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Overlooked Barry Harris Wisdom That Is Amazing Advice For Jazz

In the late 90s when I traveled from Copenhagen to The Hague to follow masterclasses with Barry Harris at the Royal conservatory I didn’t realize that I was going on a trip that would really change the rest of my life.

Going to that masterclass would change a lot about how I thought about music, and the trip would also make me move to another country to really go deep into the study of Jazz at the conservatory there. Of course, when you are in the middle of it you can’t know that while it is happening but it is fun to see how that works.

Barry Harris was of course an iconic Jazz teacher having taught everyone from Paul Chambers to John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, and his very complete approach to teaching Jazz has taught 1000s of people.

Some of the things I learned going to those masterclasses really changed a lot about how I was studying music and quite a few of those things are not what is mostly discussed when we talk about his teaching. That mostly stays with notes, scales, and chords. Those things are important of course, but if you take a step back and look at some of the overarching principles of how the lessons work then there are other things that are as important, and actually also relevant beyond Jazz as a style.

Practice Technique On Songs

Song with exercise moving around it (maybe sheet music showing arrows or analysis moving a phrase from one chord to the next)

A few bars with triplet arpeggios fading into licks (Often an exercise will naturally evolve into a lick just taking it through a song.)

The Masterclasses at the conservatory would often start with learning a song, so Barry would use a scale exercise to teach you the chord progression, even if most people usually knew the song already.

It would usually be starting with a basic scale exercise, just to make the chords clear and help you have a starting place for the lines that would be created later. Then it would gradually evolve bit by bit into a complete solo where you would learn some great vocabulary and melodic techniques along the way.

The advantage of linking scale practice to actual music is HUGE. Whatever you practice as an exercise is a lot closer to becoming a flexible part of your vocabulary if you immediately work on it on a song. Often an exercise will naturally evolve into a lick just taking it through a song.

Another way that this is also incredibly effective is in terms of taking a piece of vocabulary and then really exploring how to get the most out of it, and a lot of Barry Harris exercises and systems were really made to be able to do that easily, something that is not mentioned so often. When you move an exercise around a chord progression like that then you need skills for making it make sense on different chord types and really know what works and what doesn’t work on a chord.

And of course, Barry would keep it exciting by pushing the tempo up, sometimes even putting money on whether anyone could play it, oddly he never seemed to lose.

Write Licks And Write Solos

Strangely enough, the next exercise is pretty global. Most of the masterclasses I went to from Barry were centered around him teaching a song and writing a solo on that song.

In that way a masterclass would teach you:

  • The Song and The Chord Progressions
  • Vocabulary And How To Construct Lines
  • How To Deal With Smaller Progressions within the songs, something you can take to other songs

And that exercise is exactly what I think you should work on: Composing vocabulary on songs. For me, this was very useful for learning vocabulary and making it a flexible part of my playing, and using this as an exercise can easily be a big part of how you develop your vocabulary and explore how you can add new material to your solos.

Another place where writing material is useful is when you are dealing with a spot in a song that is difficult. Slowing it down and constructing lines, figuring out what really works, what fits together, and how to make it playable is the best way to go, and clearly also how Barry works his way through songs.

Write licks for the difficult part of the song:

Of course, you are probably not going to be able to write solos that are as good as what Barry seemed to produce in pretty much every class, but that doesn’t mean that composing lines won’t teach you something and help you get further, even if it is only by making you wonder why something doesn’t work.

  • The Song and The Chord Progressions
  • Vocabulary And Constructing Lines
  • How To Deal With Smaller Progressions within the songs

Turn Vocabulary Into Exercises

What all of these exercises have in common and what is one of the strongest aspects of this is that everything is about connecting every single note you practice to the solo you want to play and the songs you want to learn.

And actually, that is something that very often gets lost in planning practice and creating exercises.

It is not enough to play the exercises, you also need to link them to your repertoire and your vocabulary because you need to think about whether the exercises improve your playing.

For me, the shining example of this was the exercise of playing diatonic arpeggios with leading notes that I learned the first time I went to the Hague for the masterclasses, but there are a lot more examples in there. I covered a few of these in this video on scale exercises that are already Jazz licks, there is a link to that in the description.

Making your own exercises is a great way for you to develop your vocabulary and get better at constructing lines.

Very often these types of exercises are really just combinations of two or more exercises, for example, you can practice using Barry’s chromatic scale exercise:

and maybe you want to also work on being more flexible with your triads so you combine that with this exercise:

Together you get lines like this:

And that can be put to use like this:

This connection between what you want to play and the exercises you make for yourself is useful for being efficient, but it is also a lot more motivating and fun to work on things that you actually use in your playing.

If you want to explore some more examples of how you can work on this and see how Barry teaches that in one of his classes then check out this video where I show you how to construct scale exercises that are already Jazz vocabulary and actually use one of his examples as well.

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These Scale Exercises Are Immediately Great Jazz Licks

You want to use the things that you practice, so if your scale exercises are already solid vocabulary or solid licks then that is, of course, a lot easier. Practicing scales should not just be dry technical and boring. What you work on should really connect with what you want to play in your solos and be more than just moving your fingers. So let’s have a look at some great examples of exercises that are really just “Instant Bebop” vocabulary.

Practice Bebop Arpeggios, Not Just Chord Tones!

This is an important exercise! In my experience, the best way to practice arpeggios is as diatonic arpeggios in a scale like this.

That is of course, super useful but also in itself not that inspiring.

Let’s add two things that we love about Bebop and Jazz:

  1. Chromatic Notes to add tension and movement
  2. Interesting Rhythms to keep it grooving and alive

Let’s first work a bit with making the rhythm just a little bit more interesting.

One way to make the rhythm more energetic could be to play the arpeggio as an 8th note triplet like this:

This is something that immediately gives you licks like this:

and you can turn that into a scale exercise like this:

If you play this exercise then you can use this rhythm on all the chords and in a lot of different places, and it already starts to sound like music.

The Chromatic Leading Note

Another great way to use arpeggios that are “Instant Bebop” is combining the triplet with a chromatic leading note:

Of course, you want to work on this for all the arpeggios, so taking it through the scale gives you this:

And, besides sounding like Charlie Parker or George Benson out of the box, this means that you can make licks like this:

Here I am combining the Cmaj7 with some chromaticism, something that both Parker and Benson do all the time.

You can also put it to use on a G7:

There are a few things you want to learn from this example:

  1. The arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord is great (here it is Bø over G7)
  2. Leading notes can sound great on the downbeat like the Eb on beat 3
  3. Large intervals in a scale run sound great! (I’ll return to that later in the video)

And all you have to practice is playing the arpeggio as a triplet and add a chromatic leading note before the first note. Before we move on to a great Barry Harris Exercise then don’t forget that the descending arpeggio sounds great as well, a simple version without the leading note gives the 1st note of the arpeggio a nice accent like this:

Barry Harris Knows A Few Tricks!

The first exercise was something that I learned from Barry Harris when he was giving masterclasses at the conservatory in the Hague, this next exercise is also from those masterclasses. It is what Barry calls pivot arpeggios, and what often is also called octave displacement, but the way Barry shows the exercise really already makes it like practicing building blocks for great licks.

The concept is really simple: First, you play the arpeggio and end by going down one step in the scale.

The second part is the same melody, but now you move the phrase down an octave except for the first note.

Let’s translate this to the guitar, an easy place to play it would be F major like this:

I imagine you can already hear how this already just sounds like a short lick you are moving around, and actually, both the standard way of playing the arpeggio and the pivot version is great as a line.

here’s a II V I in F major:

And it is a solid option for an Fmaj7 line as well:

And as I mentioned, you can also use the “un-pivoted” version as a great way to frame or target a note with an arpeggio like I am targeting the 3rd of the Gm7 in this line:

And cleary Barry knows his stuff because the triplet version of this melody is also a great option:

Until now it has been about getting arpeggios to become amazing Bebop lines, but you can actually also work on this with simpler scale exercises.

Bebop Boost Your Scale Runs

This exercise is just playing the scale in diatonic 6th intervals, a really pretty sound in itself but not immediately an amazing Bebop line.

I guess this is the least obvious exercise, but as you will see it is incredibly useful!

The reason why it doesn’t sound like a lick is that you are playing so many of them next to each other, so you need to spread them out a bit and add them to something like a scale run.

And this is what I used in the previous examples like ex 3 and ex 4, the concept is pretty simple. If you have a scale melody then see if you can add an extra note when you are on a chord tone. In Example 14 that was on the root which adds an E. In example 3 it was the 3rd down to the 6th, and placing it at the end of the line makes it even more dramatic.

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The Most Effective Way To Improve Your Jazz Solos

A title like this is of course extreme, but I do really think that this way of working and improving your jazz solo is both underused and misunderstood, and that is a pity because it is very effective and in fact, it is also a part of The Jazz education tradition.

If you can practice in a way that makes you learn faster and sound better then what do you have to lose?

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Content: 

00:00 Intro

00:22 How To Really Learn A Lick

02:31 Composing Is About The Process!

04:32 Cornerstone of Barry Harris’ method

06:16 Hearing Strong Melodies

07:24 Analyze Licks with Your Ears

08:44 This Is Why You Should Study Bebop

09:03 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

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How to write Jazz Licks – What You Want to Know

One of the best ways to practice Jazz and to learn to play better solos is to work on writing jazz licks. When you are composing licks you are working on how you can use the material that you can practice and really figuring out how to get it to sound great in a solo.

This video takes you through working on this in steps or levels and talks about important techniques you can use to make what you write sound better.

In this video, I am going to break down 6 levels that you can work on writing licks and discuss:

  • How you get started writing jazz licks
  • What does it mean to have a lick that follows the changes
  • How do you incorporate Arpeggios and chromatic melodies
  • What makes it sound like Jazz
  • How to get more surprising melodies in there.

Content:

0:00 Intro

0:18 Writing Licks and Solos as a way of practicing

0:33 Scary White Papers with empty lines

0:48 Level 1 – The Scale and Connecting to the changes

2:11 Why it is good to keep it simple

2:41 Bebop Scales – it is a bit too systematic

3:11 Level 2 – Arpeggios of the chords 

4:17 Level 3 – Arpeggios as Frames for lines

6:00 Level 4 – Arpeggios from the 3rd and Chromaticism 

6:20 Arpeggios from the 3rd 

8:19 Different way to use chromaticism 

9:11 Level 5 – Octave Displacement 

9:20 Rhythm and Joe Pass etudes

10:21 Explaining Octave Displacement on an Arpeggio 

12:15 Level 6 – Suspending Chord Tones

12:37 Chromatic enclosure as a suspension 

14:46 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!

Barry Harris Scale Exercise on an F Blues

Here’s a Short video discussing the Barry Harris Scale Exercise. This way of playing the scales for the chords in a simple logical way through the form of a song is a great way to become familiar with the chord progression hear how the material sounds on the song.

For this video I am using an F blues because that is hopefully a progression you are already familiar with and I also talk about how the Barry Harris exercise relates to the chords of the progression.

I know my version here is a little simple compared to the version that Barry mostly uses but it will get you started with this and you have an idea about how it works and how you can easily incorporate it into your own playing.

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Passing Chords – The 3 Types You Need for Comping and Chord Solos

Passing chords are a great way to expand the sounds you have available in your comping and chord solos. As you will see in this lesson they are also making it easier to make you comping sound more melodic and musical. In this lesson I am going to discuss 3 types of passing chords and demonstrate how they can be used.

The Diatonic Passing chords

The easiest place to look for chords to use when harmonizing a melodic comping idea is of course to use the diatonic chords of the scale at that point in the song.

If you want to know more about Drop2 chords and other voicings then check out the Jazz Chords Study guide

This is what I am doing in example 1 here below. The example is on a II V I in G major, which is the chord progression that I will use for all the examples.

In the example the diatonic passing chords are used on the Am7 chord. The first part of melody consists of the notes C, D and E. On the Am7 I am harmonizing the melody with the chords Am, Bm7 and Am7. Using the neigboring chord when harmonizing notes is a very common and very useful way to use diatonic passing chords. In this example the Bm7 chord is used to harmonize the D and it voice-leads nicely up to the following Am7(9) voicing that harmonizes the E.

Different versions of Passing chords solutions for an Am7 melody

Of course there are several ways you can take diatonic passing chords. Below you’ll see examples using only Am7 voicings, a Bm7 and a G6 diatonic passing chords.

Diminished Passing chords

This approach to using passing chords is to harmonize melody notes with a dominant diminished chords. On the II chord, Am7, the dominant is E7 and the associated is a G#dim.

This example is also using a G# diminished chord to harmonize some notes on the Am7 chord. The notes that belong to the dominant in the scale are the prime candidates for using the diminished chord. In the example below I am using it to harmonize the D and B notes.

Practicing the Diminished passing chords

One way to work on practicing the this way of alternating a II chord with a diminished chord is to do the exercises here below.

You may recognize this exercise as the Barry Harris 6th diminished scale, which is build on exactly this idea of alternating tonic with a dominant chord.

Chromatic Passing Chords

Chromatic passing chords is a great way to especially harmonize chromatic passing notes in the melody. This means that having this in your vocabulary is going to make it possible to add chromaticism to your comping melodies. 

The example below shows how you can use chromatic passing chords on both the Am7 and the D7 chords.

On the Am7 the B, Bb, A melody is harmonized with Am(9), Bbm7 Am7 and in the same way the D,Eb,E melody on the D7 is harmonized with D7,Db7 and D7.

Notice that the voicie-leading is also chromatic, so the way to use this is to look at the note that the chromatic note is resolving to. The chord that is used to harmonize the resolution will also work well to harmonize the chromatic note. On the D7 it is clear that the Db7 is just shifting up a half step to become the D7. 

Sometimes you can also reverse this so that the chord moves one way and the melody another which can be a great effect, but that is for another lesson. You can always leave a comment on the YouTube video if you would like a video on this,

Expand you the possibilities with chords

Passing chords is a very powerful tool in comping and chord solos and of course also in chord melody arrangements. Checking out these techniques are really something that is applicable in so many areas of playing and will pay off on a lot of levels besides the direct use.

In-depth examples of Passing Chords

Drop 2 & Chromatic Passing Chords – Take The A-Train

 

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Jazz Guitar Q&A #1 – New series

New Q&A series! Check out my first Q&A video! It’s a bit long, but I do get around a lot of topics.

Some of the questions I answer are  “When/how did you start playing guitar?”, CAGED system, Barry Harris, Modes, Singable solo lines and more!

I hope you like it!

If you have any questions the leave a comment on the video or send me a PM on whatever social media you prefer!