Tag Archives: beginner jazz guitar lesson

Jazz Beginners: 7 Habits That Keep You Stuck Forever!

There are a few habits that you need to quit if you don’t want to be stuck as a jazz beginner forever. Some of them might be a bit hard to give up, one of them will probably offend a few you, but it is worth it to get this right.

Let me know which one you think is most important or if I forgot to mention one!

#1 Thinking in Scales

Let’s start with some practical music theory, that helps you play better,  because this is a very common problem that you can do a lot about with very little effort. I certainly remember this part of learning Jazz from when I was just getting started.

It is pointless to try to translate chord progressions or songs to scales! So just Stop doing that! Simply because that is not actually helping you play better, it just isn’t useful information, and It will only help you to sound like you are practicing scales on top of the song:

You need to change how you think about what notes to play.  When you improvise Jazz then you are using scales that have 7 (or more) notes which means you can add a lot of color, but it also means that you need to be able to choose the right notes and be aware of what notes you are playing,

which is maybe different from what you are used to with the pentatonic scale. But you actually want it to be the same as the pentatonic scale, you don’t want to think about it when you are playing.

Let’s say you have a Dm7 chord and that is the II chord in C major,

you want to have different priorities for the notes in the scale. You want to be aware that the Dm7 chord tones are stronger or closer to the chord.

Having that overview makes it easier to play something that nails the sound of the chord, but you want to go a step further than just having that overview of the notes:

When you improvise over a chord then you are not starting from scratch every time, so you want to have a vocabulary of flexible licks that you can use in your solo and put together in different ways, so for the Dm7 you might know that you can use an Fmaj7 arpeggio

and that a certain chromatic phrases sounds great:

And if you put these two together you get:

The important thing here is that you have blocks of melody that you can hear and not theoretical notes that you have to think in your head while playing.

And that knowledge should be flexible so that you can create new things with the building blocks, not just play the same licks every time.

Practice your scales and arpeggios,  but make sure to also learn vocabulary using them so that you have some melodies that go with it, which is probably how you played a solo in the Pentatonic scale. You need something that is music not just theory and technique. Later I will also show you how you can fix the way you think about chords and chord progressions, because that can also be very inefficient!

#2 A 4-bar Loop is NOT a song

I guess Ed Sheeran and Daft Punk might disagree with me on this, but a 4-bar loop is not really a song, and if you want to learn Jazz then you also need to learn Jazz songs, and jazz songs are rarely just 4-bar loops. Learning songs is going to get difficult if you are only practicing looped II V I progressions or a static maj7 chord or something like that.

It is the kind of thing that can be beneficial to do for a period, but you probably don’t ever want to only be doing that for more than a few days. Learning songs, learning real music is much too important, and you don’t go to a Jam session to play an II V I in Eb for 20 minutes. You go there to play songs, so that is what you need to learn!

Of course, The first song can be very difficult to get through but if you pick an easy one then it is far from impossible, and you can check out my Roadmap course if you want a step-by-step guide to take you through that process, learning to solo on a standard.

The Roadmap: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

I have fun helping students in the community with feedback as they solo with the material on a Jazz standard and build their skills, it has become a great place to hang out.

#3 Chords Are NOT Islands

If you are trying to learn songs then it can be difficult to remember all the chords in there. Most Jazz standards are 32 bars,

so that is probably more than 32 chords you need to remember. The thing is that you should not be thinking about each chord at all because that is making it a LOT more difficult! Instead, you want to chunk the chords together.

If you know how to do that then you don’t need to remember as many chords. It is like learning to read the words in a sentence instead of trying to memorize all the letters in there. Improvising should also be more about playing through groups of chords.

For this, You want to learn to recognize these harmonic building blocks in the chord progressions, just start with II V I’s and turnarounds but make sure to learn more,

because that will make it 1000x easier to learn chord progressions by heart, and it also makes it easier to hear a chord progression because hearing a Dm7 out of context(example)  is not as easy as hearing a turnaround (example). The building blocks make it closer to something you can hear, relating it to a bass melody or how other songs sound.

Remember to let me know in the comments which habit is most important for you, or if there is one I forgot to include.

#4 Working On The Wrong Exercises

A way to transition smoothly from 3rds to triads to 7th chords  (or each of those exercises)

When I went from playing Blues and Rock to playing Jazz, then one of the transitions that was difficult to get used to was learning to improvise with 7-note scales like the major scale instead of pentatonic scales.

For me, it took some time before I figured out how to learn the scales and what to practice, especially when it comes to Jazz. I started with major scale exercises that might be useful for getting a bit more flexible with the scale in a technical sense, but they didn’t help me play Jazz. But you don’t need to do that, instead, you can focus on practicing the things that you need for Jazz solos. You don’t want to play 4-note sequences in a Jazz solo (Yngwie?)

You are better off focusing on diatonic triads and arpeggios, and also how to add chromatic leading notes to that, because that is what the jazz licks are made of. The way I always tell students to build this is by starting with the diatonic 3rds as a stepping stone

to diatonic triads

and then the 7th chords which are the main structure of most Jazz music.

When you work on these exercises then you are practicing things that you need when you solo and you make it easier to play lines like this:

So stop practicing things that you don’t need when you solo because that is probably a waste of time!

#5 Only Exercises

This is horrible about beginning Jazz and at the same time also one of the greatest things about Jazz:  There are so many possibilities and so many interesting and wonderful things to check out but you also have to watch out that you don’t get stuck just scratching the surface of a lot of stuff without really putting things to use.

If you are only practicing exercises and exploring new material without also playing music and putting the things you practice to use then you probably won’t learn what you are exploring and you also won’t get any better at playing Jazz which was the real goal to begin with. Don’t get stuck with only doing exercises! This is again an essential part of how I have constructed the roadmap, only a few exercises and then a practical way to turn them into music and help you get started playing solos!

Maybe this one is not a bad habit and more of a missing good habit, but if you are not listening to Jazz, you probably won’t ever learn to play Jazz. It is always a bit surprising that I have to say this at all, because why would you want to learn to play Jazz if you don’t listen to it?

I was talking to Adam Levy, who you may or may not know, he has been a guest on the channel quite a few times and has his own YouTube channel.

He mentioned some practice advice that he had received from Joe Diorio in a masterclass: Your practice sessions should always be 50% listening to music! If Joe Diorio recommends something then that is something you should consider, given how incredible and influential a musician he was.  But, you could also argue that this means that if you are driving and listening to Jazz then you are also practicing and you could be practicing while cooking or doing the dishes. Don’t underestimate how much you learn just by listening to a few albums of great music!

#7 Backingtrack Addiction

There is always a hot take in these videos…

One of the most important parts of learning a song and being able to improvise over it is being able to hear the harmony inside and being able to feel the time without leaning on the rest of the band and relying on them to carry you through it. The easiest way to get to that point is to practice with a minimal reference so that if you mess up the time or the chords then you immediately become aware of it. And of course, being aware of this and fixing it when you’re practicing is a lot better than messing up when you are playing with other people. One of my teachers pointed this out to me when I was studying, and I had never thought about it like that but Backing tracks are just always too easy. When it comes to practicing to play music and learning songs then you need to think about backing tracks as the chocolate cake of your practice routine, something that you enjoy at the end but which makes a terrible meal if you were to make it the only thing you eat.

Cut away the backing track and just play with a click. Start by playing the melody and the chords and then once you have the song in your ears you can start soloing. If you don’t believe me then just test it try starting with a metronome when you learn a song and once you can do that then you move to a backing track and notice how easy that is. Then try to do it the other way around, so start with the backing track, and then go to the metronome.  You will know what I talking about.

I know this is not what most people want to hear, but that does not make it any less true, and you can always leave some angry comments if that makes you feel better. Nobody who does the test I just sketched out will do that though, I am sure!

Bonus: What To Practice and How To Make It Into Music

An extra tip, related to practicing scales and how to do this right: In the beginning, it is very difficult to take the exercises and then turn them into music, into the flexible building blocks I mentioned. You need to add important ingredients like Rhythm, Phrasing, and Melody, but how do you do that? There is a way to build that skill, and you can get started with the method in this video where I even throw in some nice chromatic tricks as well that will make things flow and sound like your favorite Jazz guitarist!

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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7 Skills Jazz Beginners Don’t Spend Enough Time On

One of the biggest mistakes Jazz Beginners make is to practice a lot but not develop the skills that really will get them further, in fact, a lot of practice is just wasting time and building bad habits. In this video, I want to go over 7 skills that will help you beome a better Jazz guitarist, some of these skills you might be working on already, but you can use the video to check if something is missing.

#1 How Long Should A Note Be?

I actually think this one is easier to fix than most of the other skills in this video, and I am sure that if I had recordings of myself from when I was starting out, then I definitely did not have this skill and was very much guilty of too many long notes!

If you ask classical musicians who don’t play guitar about their “nickname” for guitar they will probably tell you “staccato festival” meaning that the instrument has absolutely no sustain (which is sort of true compared to a trumpet or violin).

But in this case, it is the other way around. For Jazz

I am sure you can hear that the long notes sound a bit strange, and check out how short notes are much better at conveying the rhythm and connecting with the groove, and this is, of course, very important for Jazz.

This problem comes up very often with students in the roadmap,

(probably this is not a good shot of the roadmap, the other one later on in the video shows the prices… you know better if and which shot to use…)

but they do hear it and fix it quite fast. The first step is usually to work on just ending phrases on a short note, and sometimes getting used to hearing melodies that end on an off-beat also helps.

Of course, you want to play long notes sometimes as well, the important thing is that you are in control and that you choose, it should not be a habit.

Let’s move on to an online comment that really annoys me.

#2 Jazz Is Not A Looping II V I

I should probably watch out if this doesn’t turn into a rant about what learning music is really about.

Jazz is a style of music, and it has a repertoire, and part of learning to play that style is to learn to play the songs in the repertoire,

so if you want to learn Jazz then you need to start working on how to learn songs and trust me, you want to know a lot of songs!

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Bernstein:

and you haven’t really learned anything until it is something you can use when you are playing real music.

All the Barry Harris solo masterclasses were about writing lines on songs, they were not about exercises, but about making music!

So you need to work on being able to learn songs, both from sheet music and by ear, just learn a lot of songs so that music theory describes music you already play and hear.
That way, you have music with diminished suspensions or altered chords,

and then theory isn’t theory, it is music.

This brings me to the type of comment that always irritates me: Every now and again I will get asked if I can give some suggestion on how to sound more modern, dark, or something like that on a II V I, and already in the question it becomes clear that the person asking is not learning any songs, just playing this loop of a II V I. A loop of a II V I is not a song, A song is a story, it has development, and twists and surprises, a loop is static. So keep in mind that if you were playing an entire song and not a static 4-bar loop it might not get boring as quickly.

But enough complaining, for at least a bit….

#3 Learning The Language

This is possibly a hot take or at least a delicate topic sometimes, but I think you can argue that Jazz has a certain language in the melodies we improvise, in terms of rhythm, flow, phrasing, and to some degree also what melodies are used. This is probably true for most styles of music, we can all hear when something is a blues lick, and if you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to check out vocabulary so that you get the sound into your playing. This can be checking out licks, and exercises

or what is probably the fastest way to improve: Learning solos by ear, something I have talked about often in videos.

So if you want to sound like Jazz then get good at learning Jazz vocabulary so that you know how it feels to play that, and how it is supposed to sound. A bonus, if you play along with solos that you have learned by ear is that you also improve your phrasing, timing, and swing feel which is also a part of the language.

#4 Make The Machine Swing!

Since I am on the topic of timing, swing-feel, and hearing the groove and the harmony, then that is all stuff that you want to improve, and another skill that will help you develop this is practicing with a metronome,

vastly underrated and a lot more fun than you think once you get used to it.

For Jazz, this is about playing with the metronome on 2 & 4, and learning to play songs and soloing like that will help boost your ability to:

  1. Keep time and feel time
  2. Hear the harmony internally
  3. Play in the groove

The concept is, of course, that you play and stay in time, keep the form, and lay down the groove. The difference between a metronome and a backing track is that it is much more difficult to play with a metronome, but if it swings then it is you. When you play with a backing track then if it swings it might be the backing track. If you look at how famous jazz guitarists practice then it is always a metronome, there are almost no exceptions. If you want to get started practicing with the metronome on 2&4 then I have a video for a few years ago on that topic,

You can check that out here: Practicing with the metronome on 2&4

#5 Putting Chords To Use

What I said about soloing is just as important for chords, so instead of just playing tons of inversions or other exercises on II V I progressions, you also need to work on putting those chord voicings to work on songs, and trust me, that will help you develop so much in terms of voice-leading, adding melodies and colors to your chords and all the other stuff that, like me, you probably love about Jazz and Jazz chords.

You can start rubato and explore the harmony and then later move it into time. Rhythm is also important here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

#6 Make Your Own Licks!

A problem that I have also encountered myself often when trying to internalize new material, like for example a new way of playing an arpeggio or a chromatic phrase is that I know how to play it, but it doesn’t really work when I use it in a solo, and that is because an important step is missing between practicing something as a technical exercise and turning it into great lines in a solo. Again, also something that I help students with in the Roadmap frequently.

The missing step is composing lines or even entire solos. It is completely unrealistic that you can just immediately get every exercise you do to work in a solo, but composing is improvising slowly and with a way to go back and fix the lines so that they sound better and that you can figure out how the new thing should fit in there. This is a very effective way to introduce new material into your vocabulary, keep in mind that composing solos is also what Barry Harris’ solo masterclasses are built on,

so they probably also will work fine as a part of your practice.

#7 Chords Should Be Phrases Too

The worst way to think about the chords of a song is as a chord symbol with some extensions, simply because that is not music. What you want to work on is opening up those chord symbols so that you can improvise and connect the whole thing, you want to turn the chords into music.

For many jazz beginners, comping rhythms are a mystery and something that is very difficult to improve on, but that is probably because the problem is often not the rhythms, it is how you think about comping.

I am curious, so please leave a comment and let me know when you last practiced comping a song with the metronome on 2&4. Because if you start working with your comping like that and start thinking in phrases then it becomes so much easier to develop rhythms and sounds.

When you comp on a song then you can start thinking in call-response, and riffs and become more free, get the song to sound good, and don’t get stuck thinking about which rhythm or which extension to play.

Use Joe Pass’ Approach

To be able to play chords in phrases and get through songs then you don’t want to get stuck with too complicated chords that are not flexible, and Joe Pass has a really solid approach for building a chord vocabulary that I talk about in this video:

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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5 Things That Stop You From Learning Jazz

I often see comments from people who are completely blown away by how complicated and difficult Jazz seems to be. I can easily understand why it will come across like that, but instead of being overwhelmed by funny scales names, crazy chords, or scary rhythms then there is a more relaxed way to get started. As you will see, you can make things simple and easy to work with so that you can start building your skills and enjoy the journey without being scared of falling off a cliff while climbing the Jazz Guitar mountain.

Let’s get into the first problem:

A Million Scales

That is, of course, not true, in fact, if you just start with the major scale and just use that then you will get really far, you could also start with the pentatonic scale, but that is a little more complicated and I will talk about that in a bit. In my experience, the easiest thing to do is to start with the major scale. Along the way, you need more, scales but there are plenty of songs where you can get through them with a major scale in a few different keys, think of songs like Pent Up House, Take the A-train or So Danco Samba.

And don’t start with the “all keys and all positions” stuff, if you can play the scales you need for the song in one position and in the key that you need them, then you can start playing solos. Remember that this is the real goal of the whole thing. Pick up the rest along the way. Don’t waste your life practicing all permutations, positions, and inversions of things that you don’t know how to use.

Starting With Pentatonics

When it comes to starting with pentatonic scales then that is possible, there are songs that you can work through and get started learning just using pentatonic scales. Mostly those are more modern modal pieces, so songs like Herbie Hancocks Cantaloupe Island or Maiden Voyage, which is probably also why both of those are on the famous Jamey Aebersold beginners album Maiden Voyage.

One thing that you do want to keep in mind with starting with pentatonic is that probably what you think of when you think of a Jazz phrase is not pentatonic. All Jazz artists use pentatonic scales, but the phrases you think of when you think of Jazz are very likely more major scale and arpeggios maybe with some chromatic leading notes, and you don’t have that material with the pentatonic scale.

That doesn’t mean you can’t improvise over the songs, but you want to be aware that you might not get the sound you want. So keep in mind that if you “upgrade” your pentatonic scale with 2 extra notes then you have a major scale, that is far from impossible to learn.

When you start out playing Jazz, then you might need some help finding songs and scales, and here I could try to sell you my course because that actually teaches a song like this, but you can also just join the Facebook group and ask there. That is free, and there is a link in the description.

Impossible Theory

When I started out learning Jazz and learning the first Jazz Standards then I did not know a lot of theory, I knew a bit of chord/scale stuff so that I, for the most part, could figure out what to play on the different chords and then practice that. In fact, in one of the first lessons I had, my teacher told me to play #9, b9, and b13 over a dominant, which for quite some time was the only thing I could play on dominants and I could NEVER get that to sound good!

But I still managed to power through. Mostly by being very stubborn, and in the beginning, my approach was that if I could really not figure out what to play on a chord then I could play the melody or find a few good notes like the arpeggio, which gave me a way to survive, and still play the song. It sort of gave me space to figure it out later..

The Advantage of NOT having Internet

In a way, this is one place where I was maybe better off that there was no internet. I would need to try to find a book in the library or wait until I had access to a teacher before I could figure out a chord that didn’t make sense, and that made it easier to just fix the problem with a temporary solution and then wait until I could learn more. Now you can go on the internet and disappear down a rabbit hole spending hours or days googling German augmented 6th and Common tone diminished chords, and the worst part is that often one source says one thing and another will tell you the exact opposite.

So I guess my advice is to not be afraid to cut some corners or only have one or two notes that work on a chord in the beginning. It is about playing the song, that is the bigger picture and you can work on the details along the way without having to spend hours on understanding the analysis of the voice-leading of the original piano arrangement.

The music theory is there to help you play and understand what you are playing, and most of the time you can get really far with Major scales, basic diatonic chords, and a few secondary dominants. No need to make it more complicated than it is.

Complicated Chords

If you are sitting down to play and look at a piece of sheet music like a lead sheet or a big band part then it can seem insane how complicated and detailed the chords are.

And it seems like you have to use quantum physics to play through the chords of the song.

One thing that is important to remember is that in Jazz, chords are there to be interpreted, so if a composer or arranger writes something with 2 or 3 extensions and alterations then that does not always mean that you have to play that, that is just a description of what is happening in the music at that point.

So instead of worrying about all of that then you can also start with just playing the basic chord, which on guitar usually means playing the shell voicings with or even without the root. You start there and then you can add the rest later when you are comfortable reading and interpreting chord symbols like that.

No matter what level you are at this is a great exercise, and all the chords can be boiled down to more basic 4-note chords and you just ignore the rest and don’t play those for now.

And shell-voicings is where you want to start. If you want to see how powerful the shell-voicings are and how there are many ways you can use them to play Jazz Standards then check out this video, there is a link in the video description.

Jazz Songs: Somebody Spilled Alphabet Soup On My Sheet Music

This is of course closely related to the previous topics of theory and chords and how things might seem incredibly complicated, but also with songs there are places you can begin where it is not immediately Giant Steps played backward in 11/8.

There are a few things you can get right that will make it easier to learn songs in the beginning. And these are pretty much all things that I did not manage to get right when I started out, I will tell you about that in a bit.

  1. Pick a song that has a clear and not too long form: 32 bars AABA or ABAC maybe a 16 bar form, these are all common Jazz Standard forms.
  2. Make sure that you stick to things with mostly basic progressions like II V I and turnarounds, stuff you can recognize
  3. Take a song in an easy key so that you don’t worry about that
  4. For ear training, it is often easier to take songs that don’t modulate too much and are clear and easy to hear

The first two songs that I learned were Stella By Starlight and There Is No Greater Love. Both great songs, but if you hold them up against my points here then they far from ideal

If you want some better options then check out the video I did suggesting 10 Jazz Standards to begin with, I’ll link to it in the description. There are a lot of fairly easy standards so you might as well start there and not shoot yourself in the foot to begin with.

For the first songs, you don’t have to learn them by ear, but it really does pay off to get started with that pretty quickly begin with the melody, and then later you can add the bass and use those two things to help you figure out the chord.

Transcribing Solos

A key ingredient when you set out to learn solos by ear is probably just enthusiasm that hopefully turns into stubbornness. That was at least what it was like for me. The first things that I transcribed really just came from loving how Charlie Parker and John Scofield played and then being really curious as to what the HELL they were doing because I really liked it. Then a ton of banging my head against the wall followed while I tried to figure things out. I guess I was lucky that I mostly connected with the bluesy Parker things so there were songs and solos that I could figure out like the theme from Bluebird and the solo from Now’s The Time where he uses the same lick as in Billie’s Bounce, and I did not learn entire solos just the bits and pieces that I could figure out. The same goes for Scofield where I had heard All The Things You Are and I could (probably sort off) play the melody but when I listened to his version on Flat Out it took me somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds to be completely lost.

But similar to how I made horrible choices for songs then you can actually find some pretty easy solos that you can learn, and learning solos by ear is the most efficient way to learn phrasing and begin to hear the right type of melodies and rhythms. It will teach you so many things that you don’t want to rob yourself of that experience.

When you are trying to choose solos that you want to learn by ear then try to check most of these boxes for the solos you want to learn, just to keep it practical:

  1. Take A Short Solo
  2. Choose a solo on a song you know
  3. Be sure that it is not technically out of reach?
  4. Pick an artist that you really like
  5. Pick an artist that you have already listened to A LOT!

And in general, listening to a lot of Jazz music will really help you with a lot of these issues. Even if it is just by listening for a few hours every day in the background then that will pay off massively later, just by getting the music into your ears, a basic feel for the melodies and the rhythms that you don’t get if you only practice the music without actually listening to it.

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Jazz Beginner – 5 Myths That Waste Your Time

There are a lot of things that you need to learn as a beginner with jazz guitar, but sometimes you come across a myth that promises to be a magic solution for all your problems, and I think we should talk about a few of those because they can make you waste a lot of time and you end up working on wrong things while ignoring important skills.

In fact, a lot of these are about trying to avoid learning something that is actually very useful.

I Don’t Need To Learn Songs If I Can Hear Everything

One of the worst things to use instead of a rehearsal is this sentence: “don’t worry, you’ll hear it” And it was also this sentence that began what was probably one of the most stressful moments in my life.

I was subbing for my teacher in a band that was playing a jazz festival, it was a quartet with horn, guitar, bass, and drums. We didn’t rehearse, and just before starting Body and Soul, the band-leader told me that he wanted to do the verse in a duo with me before the theme. I told him that I didn’t know the verse so that would be a terrible idea, and his answer was “don’t worry, you’ll hear it”

What followed felt like the longest 2-3 hours of my life while I was completely clueless and trying to harmonize what he was playing in front of a hall full of people. Of course, In reality, It was probably less than a minute. There are times where you can get away with winging something like this, but with this melody, that is practically impossible. You can really hear the changes and modulations from just hearing that melody. Needless to say, I felt extremely bad messing this up in a band with people I did not know.

But, sometimes you don’t have a chance and not even the greatest ear would be able to tell what is going on. I took comfort in a story pianist Jim McNeely told us when he was a guest conductor in the conservatory big band. He was touring with Sonny Stitt and they had agreed that Stitt could not just begin songs without asking the band if they knew it, for obvious reasons. But one night Stitt just started a song, and McNeely didn’t know it, so he looked at the bass player, who also didn’t know it. And after playing for a while the only thing he knew was that the first chord was Eb and the last chord was Eb. This happens to everybody, and you can’t do everything by ear.

Sometimes I hear students saying:

“I want to practice ear training so that I can instantly hear all songs”.

I guess this seems easier, you just do ear training and play everything by ear.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here, you should train your ears as much as possible, but that comment is really just coming from ignorance or at least inexperience, because what is one of the best ways to train your ears? Learn a lot of songs by ear, and use the songs you know to teach you the songs you are learning, by ear. So really, combing this with theory is only going to help you even more. If you know that the song is in C major then you can probably hear that the chord before that C major is a G7. It helps to have an idea about what you might expect and also whether it sounds like what you expect.

And what will you do if you have to play a song that you don’t know and you have to play the chords? Imagine that with One Note Samba. If you don’t know it then the first 8 bars could be all tonic or a ton of other things.

Of course, sometimes you will have to do some songs by ear that you don’t know, not in the horror scenario that I described and it is useful to be able to do that, but it isn’t something you need to do very often, and your solos are a lot better if you already know that song, so that option is just always what you want to go for.

Theory Well Ruin Your Creativity

“Wes Montgomery didn’t know theory so why should I”

It is probably true that a lot of, especially early great artists, didn’t know a lot of theory, but that doesn’t mean that the best and most efficient way to learn to play Jazz is to not understand what is going on. In fact, a lot of things get a lot easier if you know a little theory.

Let me give you an example:

If you transcribe a great lick like this

Example 1a then that works great on a tonic chord, but if you can see the blocks that it contains then you can also make a G7 version of it

and you can even make a version with a dominant triad for a Gm7 like this:

I am sure you can see how that is useful, and this is just a single example of using very basic theory. The theory will help you learn and understand a lot of things a lot faster, and while it does not help you with everything then there is no real reason to avoid it.

I Want To REALLY Improvise, Not Play Licks Or Arpeggios

“I Want To REALLY Improvise, Not Play Licks Or Arpeggios Like Everybody Else!”

I come across comments like this at least once every week. Usually, the thought behind it is that You don’t want to sound like other people, so you won’t play or practice things that they play.

I sort of get the idea, but a few things to keep in mind here. First, how restricted are you by studying arpeggios?

You can get a D7 arpeggio to sound like this: Mozart Eine Kleine Nacht Musik

and you can also get it to sound like this:

So learning a D7 arpeggio is not really going to limit your style or how much you sound like you.

And secondly, the same goes for studying solos and licks, if you want to write a great book then it might be a good idea to read some books to figure out how. Just learning the alphabet is not going to cut it.

You Need To Know All Scales And Arpeggios To Play Jazz

“I Am Going To Spend Two Years Learning All The Scales And All The Arpeggios And THEN I Am Going To Learn To Play Jazz”

This is another comment that I see quite often, some even go even further and say that you first need to learn music theory and voice-leading before you even try to play Jazz.

Again there is nothing wrong with learning scales, arpeggios, harmony, and theory. It is useful for playing Jazz, but it is not where it starts, they are just skills and not really the music.

When I sat down to learn solos by ear or struggled for weeks to learn the first few standards then I was not first learning to play all diatonic arpeggios of melodic minor in all keys. That came a lot later. And the same goes for all the students I have ever taught, there is no reason to first spend years learning abstract exercises before you start playing music. It is like suggesting that you need a PH.D in grammar before you try to write a story.

I Just Need To Play What I Hear

“If I Just Learn To Play What I Hear, Then I Can Play Great Solos And I Don’t Need To Practice Licks Or Check Out Solos”

While you do want to learn to hear Jazz melodies that you can play, and you want to work on having a connection from your ear to your instrument, then don’t think that this skill is a shortcut that means that you don’t need to learn to actually hear those melodies. That is a part of it as well and it takes some work to get them in there. Usually, statements like this are because you probably don’t know what it means to hear something and then play it.

Hal Galper talks about it in one of his masterclasses:

And you need to teach yourself to hear the things you play.

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5 Easy Jazz Solo Exercises That You Want To Know

A huge part of playing Jazz solos is following the chord progression. Learning how to solo over chord changes can seem difficult, but there are very useful exercises to help you develop that skill, and this video will help you nail the changes so that you don’t end up failing to keep up with the chords but instead naturally flow through the progression.

The Turnaround And A Surprising First Exercise

The chord progression I am using in this lesson is a fairly basic turnaround in the key of C major, and I am going to keep it all in this area of the neck:

Example 1 – C major scale

The first solo exercise is actually not to solo at all, because for any chord progression you want to solo over there is one thing you have to be able to do that is not about soloing:

You need to be able to play the chords so that you have an idea about what the progression sounds like.

A clear and basic way to do this could be:

I am using very basic chord voicings for this, if you want some more on learning chord voicings like this then there is a link to a video on that in the description.

If you think about it then I am sure you understand why this is important, even if it is not the first thing you think about. This is also related to why you get told to learn the melody of any song you want to solo on: The Melody is the real gateway to hearing the chords.

Now you know what the chords sound like, so let’s turn them into something you can use in a solo, which is the topic of the next two exercises, and then some exercises on how to get it to sound great!

The Arpeggios

It is probably not a surprise that to follow the chord progression then the “melodic” version of the chords, the arpeggios is a very practical thing to learn.

You want to think about it as this: If the chord is a Cmaj7 then you hear those notes in the background, and if you play one of those notes then of course that fits with what is going on.

Of course, just knowing the arpeggio doesn’t mean that you can play great solos, but we will get to that later in the video.

First, let’s just play the basic arpeggios of the chords.

Exercise #2 – Play The Arpeggios

You can already start to solo with this material and play things like this:

Example 2 – Solo with Arpeggios

 

If the Arpeggios is the skeleton of the progression then the surrounding notes are the meat, so let’s add some meat to the solo with some Barry Harris exercises

 

Barry’s Scales

Exercise #3 – The Barry Harris Scale Exercise

When you play the scales like this you are still clearly getting the chord sound across because the chord tones are on the beat.

You may notice that I am using a different scale on the A7, because that is a secondary dominant resolving to a minor chord, Dm7 the II chord in the scale. I am not going to get into analyzing progressions too much here, but if you want to check out a video on secondary dominants, then there is a link in the video description.

The short description is that the secondary dominant takes the scale from the chord it resolves to, so in this case that is Dm harmonic to resolve to the Dm7, giving us an A7(b9)

These first exercises are things you can do on any song you study and get more material to use, let’s have a look at how you can use it.

Playing Towards Target Notes

Maybe the most important skill when it comes to learning to improvise is to be able to think ahead and not get stuck on the chord you are on. When you play then you always want to be playing towards the next chord, that is what keeps you from feeling you have to keep up with the chord changes.

So how do you do that?

This is a lot easier than you might think, you choose a note that you want to hit on the next chord and then you play towards that, this will do two things:

  1. Your melodies always have a direction and sound logical because of that
  2. You never feel like you have to keep up because you are always ahead of what is happening.

Choosing Target Notes

You can do a lot with choosing different target notes, but for now, I am going to focus on using notes that are not a note in the previous chord or and also a strong part of the color of the new chord.

The easy choice for a target note is to take the 3rd of the chord like this:

Example 4a

An example of a note that works really well as a color of the chord but that isn’t a core chord tone would be to use the b9 on the A7, so a Bb.

This note is very clearly not a part of Cmaj7 or Dm7 and in the key of C, the Bb is a sort of signal that you are moving to the subdominant area, in this case, the Dm7.

It can be a good idea to just play the target notes over the chords to hear how they sound.

Create a Flow In Your Solo

Now that you have the target notes then you can start practicing playing towards that note. So you are thinking about the target note and try to get to it in a natural way.

Exercise #4 – Soloing Playing Towards Target Notes

Remember that you can go back and check the examples again to hear what is going on and get used to how they sound. That is going to make it easier to learn them

You want to practice playing like this so that it starts to become easy and becomes a part of how you play, but already in this exercise you can hear how it really works to play from chord to chord and you don’t sound like “isolated licks” per bar.

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