Tag Archives: beginner jazz guitar lesson

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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