Bebop IS Modern Jazz
I hate Bebop scales, in fact, I never liked that approach to soloing because it always took away the part of the Bebop sound that I love the most, and this was even years before I knew what that was. Bebop is important, because Bebop IS the foundation for pretty much all modern Jazz, just like Christian McBride says:
“Let’s make something very clear.
Be-bop language is still modern-day language.”
For learning Bebop, There are important skills which are about Melody and flow and they are much more important for the sound than just what scale or which arpeggio to play, so I want to show you how that works so that you can start digging into that beautiful Bebop sound! I am a bit curious how many comments I am going to get from people who hate Bebop, but I am sure that more people love it!
Charlie Parker Is The Mozart Of Jazz
Charlie Parker’s solos completely blew my mind when I was just getting into Jazz. It was especially the Jazz Blues solos that I connected with, like this one on KC Blues. In those solos, some of the phrases were very similar to the Blues I already knew from Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But there were these other melodies that sounded great but were completely different, and not at all about Blues. They made me incredibly curious, and I needed to figure out how they worked because they sounded great. And that is how I ended up getting into Jazz and finally getting a degree at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.
What’s Wrong With Bebop Scales?
The thing that Bebop scales really miss for me is that the emphasis is on playing scales so if you have a G7 bebop scale then that is often something like this:
And there you have the chord tones on the beat and the stepwise melody which really connects with and spells out the chord:
But the lines you get with this are really boring:
And you don’t hear the things that, I think, make Bebop lines sound great like this:
That is not really in there with the Bop scales and music is about more than having chord tones on every downbeat.
To me, this relates to something that we are still learning to teach, Pat Metheny talks about it in the Rick Beato interview:
And, what Metheny says here is also one of the reasons that Barry Harris is so great at teaching Bebop: He teaches melody as well as harmony. Even if he doesn’t seem to have names for everything, then, as you will see, he does have strong concepts that catch this and help you develop your skills with Bebop melodies. This will come up again and again in this video!
Melody is About Direction
To me, this is about learning to hear and play lines that are not stuck on the heavy beats.
So you don’t change direction on beats 1 and 3 all the time:
This is about the rhythm in the melody, and you want to also change direction on the off-beats because that makes it lighter and a lot more interesting,
Check out how I am essentially playing the same notes but changing direction on the 2& and 4&:
But, of course, this is not something you can think about when you are playing, at least I can’t. Instead, you need another approach to get it into your playing, and you want to work on this because it is such an important part of the sound.
This video is really about my favorite trick with Bebop melodies, and I will get to that, but I think it is better to start with a simple approach: Triads and Enclosures.
Back to Triads
I am using this on a G7, so take this G major triad:
With the triad, it is easy to add chromatic enclosures around each note using a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below, so for G:
Which gives you this exercise:
This is not yet super exciting, but check this out:
Here, you have a line that isn’t just moving in one direction all the time and still makes sense with the chords,
there is a secret ingredient that I will get to, but keep in mind how far it is from this:
The secret is that when I have a melody moving down, so I start on G and go down the G7 arpeggio to F and then I want to go to D, but instead of going directly to D, I add the enclosure around the D, But, and this is pretty important: If the melody is moving down, then try to play the enclosure moving up, so in this case I skip down to C# and go back up to E before landing on D. So it jumps around more, but the whole thing still makes sense and has a natural flow.
It is very important to keep in mind that this is not a strict rule and the “only way” you can use enclosures, but you want to train yourself to hear melodies like this because they are more alive and they sound a lot less predictable and boring. Most of us need to work a bit to get them into our ears and our playing, but once you know that it works then you do start to hear them all over the place. A common one with Joe Pass is this one which I transposed to C major:
The reason why I remember this one was that I used to always mess it up when I had to play this solo out of his “Jazz guitar style” book.
You can take any triad and easily figure out the enclosures but don’t forget to start working on composing lines that use this so that you learn to hear how they sound. I often call them flipped enclosures because they move against the melodic direction, I am not sure if there is another name out there.
Let’s try to move to the first Barry Harris Concept which sort of works the same, but just has a lot more notes.
Pivot Arpeggios are a super strong Bebop trick and really help you get that sound across. I don’t think I ever heard Barry talk about why pivot arpeggios sound good, but he does teach them and use them a lot, both in his teaching and if you transcribe his solos. It’s actually pretty simple:
In the previous example, I was using an enclosure to change the direction of the melody:
But now I want to use an arpeggio to do that. If you start with the basic Cmaj7 arpeggio:
You turn it into a pivot arpeggio by playing the first note and then moving the remaining 3 notes down an octave:
This is a great way to get your lines to move around in a more interesting way, just listen to Grant Green, he does this ALL the time!
Here’s a phrase from the end of the bridge on I’ll Remember April:
And to translate this back to the G7 I started with: Let’s use the arpeggio on the 7th of the chord which is Fmaj7
and then you have a line that skips around but is still solid:
In this example, I am using another Barry Harris trick that is really powerful, but again you want to just start writing lines with pivot arpeggios and get used to how they sound to get it into your ears and into you playing.
What you might have noticed is in the 2nd half of the bar. Here, the melody is really just moving down, but then it goes back up to the D on beat 4.
That is actually another way to get a beautiful interval skip in there without sounding angular and unnatural. This is a Barry Harris half-step, and coming out of Barry Harris’ Chromatic scale.
Barry Harris Chromatic scale
I get that it may sound strange that I refer to the note D as a half step between C and B in the C major scale,
but that is actually how Barry’s chromatic scale works, and that is an amazingly powerful tool for some really fantastic Bebop phrasing:
You take the C major scale:
Barry came up with a way of adding a half step or chromatic note between all the notes in the scale, but you need a trick along the way.
Whenever there is a half-step available then you use that:
But when you move from E to F, or B to C where there is no half-step then you can use the scale note above the target, which would be G before F:
Continuing like this you end up with:
But it works if you play it descending as well:
There is an amazing extension to this which I will get to, but just the basic scale is already a great way to create some beautiful flowing bop lines. Here I am using it on a G7 with the half-step between E and F, and C and B:
So you have the G between F and E, and, then chromatic passing notes and again skipping up to D between C and B.
Super-charged Barry Harris
When Barry showed us this in the masterclass at the conservatory in the Hague, then he had us play the exercise but then he said something that I didn’t really understand at the time but which is incredibly powerful for making some super Bebop lines:
“Any note can be a half-step.”
Why is this great? That works because you can use other notes that give you other interval skips and they can still sound great and keep the flow!
Let’s take the beginning of the previous example:
I am using the G as the half-step
but A works as well:
And the lower A with a huge interval skip sounds amazing:
And then you can do stuff like this using enclosures and chromatic scale together:
And remember that this was to not get stuck playing solos like this
But, it actually gets even more crazy because there is actually another level to this one as well.
Chromatic Boosted Half-step
Now you have a way to add the interval skip as a Barry Harris’s half-step but you can actually add a chromatic leading note to your half-step as well, and I know it sounds a bit weird. But you go from this
and then the low A that we are using as a half-step can also get a chromatic leading note!
So with the chromatic boosted half-step, which is clearly not a great name for this, then you can create a line like this:
Grant Is The Greatest
Maybe the most important part of getting this into your playing is that you start recognizing it in the solos of the people you listen to, and one of the best places to start with this is Grant Green because his solos are super-inspiring clear examples of this and they are not too fast to follow.
One solo that covers all the examples in this video is his solo on “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” which I break down in this video so that you can hear all of this in action, and get started using it yourself.
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