Tag Archives: beginner jazz guitar

7 Excuses That Stop You From Learning Jazz Guitar

I am sure you watch great Jazz guitarists and listen to all the great music, and of course, you also want to play like that, enjoy improvising over songs, and use those beautiful chords. But you need to practice to learn that, and Jazz guitar isn’t easy.

To help you enjoy the journey of learning Jazz, I want to show you 7 common excuses that can block your progress by destroying your motivation. I have certainly run into a few myself, but I’ll get to that, too.

#1 I’m Too Old to Learn

“I am too old to learn this.”  I come across this in two different variations, and both are not going to get you anywhere, but the second one is often the biggest problem. The first variation is just giving up. I will see comments saying: “I don’t want to practice, I am too old to learn new things.” Of course, it is true that it gets more difficult to learn as we get older, but the brain does keep learning our whole life, and the biggest factor is not being in the habit of learning. But you can build habits, and if you dream about playing Jazz, you can learn at any age.

Remember that you will learn faster as you spend time on it. I have seen this many times, both in my Roadmap course and on Patreon. What is much more important is that you find a way to learn that you enjoy. When it comes to music, it is about the journey, not the destination. I still practice, and I still have fun learning new things little by little each day. I am sure I would not practice if I did not enjoy it.

The other variation is the “I am too old to learn, so I don’t want to play solos and just want to play chords and chord melody.” The problem is that you skip things you need when playing chords and chord melodies. A huge part of learning Jazz is about training your ears for the right type of melodies and the right type of phrasing and rhythm, and that is 1000x easier to learn when you are playing one note at a time and not 4 or 5-note chords,

so refusing to learn soloing, scales, or melodies will slow you down. I have said it before, but Joe Pass did not start by learning what he is playing on his solo albums.

So find a balanced practice routine and enjoy learning Jazz, no matter your age. as I will talk about later, Talent is also not the biggest factor, which I think is a good thing.

#2 I Don’t Have Enough Time

The one thing that none of us have enough of is time. With work, studying, or family, it can be hard to find time to practice guitar, and often that means giving up or not starting at all, but maybe that is more about planning and expectations, plus that you often forget one of the most important practice activities!

  1. Practical Sessions
  2. Enjoy Practicing
  3. Realistic Goals

When planning your practice, try to pay attention to these 3 things: Practical Session Length. You will get frustrated if you start by trying to block several hours every day to practice simply because it is unrealistic, and even if you find the time, you don’t have the energy and focus to practice for that long. You are just setting yourself up to fail. Aiming for shorter practice sessions, like 15 or 20 minutes, is much more efficient. If it is short, it is easier to fit in, and if you practice longer, that feels like a victory, instead of always practicing less than you were hoping to and getting frustrated.

The other thing you want to make a priority is that you enjoy practicing, so mix things you like to work on with things you need to work on and make the practice time something that you look forward to doing. Realistic goals are also important with this, so watch out that you don’t expect to be the next Wes Montgomery after practicing daily for 3 weeks your goals should focus more on things you want to improve in your playing, not comparing yourself with someone who defined the genre and had decades of experience.

A bonus tip here: this underrated practice activity is easier to fit in and doesn’t require you to actually play the guitar: Listening to Jazz. Don’t underestimate how much you will learn by listening to Jazz while traveling to work, walking the dog, cooking, working out, or whatever you do. Listen to Jazz!

#3 I Don’t Have the Right Equipment

Jazz is often connected to certain guitars and amps, and I have been exposed to that myself in a few ways. When I did my audition at the conservatory in the Hague, I was told that I was accepted, that I was really playing Jazz, but I still had a lot to learn, and that they would help me get a loan to get a real Jazz guitar since I was playing a strat. That was nonsense, in fact, one of my teachers at that school, Eef Albers also played a strat. There is no “real Jazz guitar,” and you can easily play Jazz on any guitar you want. Listen to Ed Bickert using a Tele or Joe Pass on his Jaguar, Jazzmaster, or whatever guitar that was. If you want to play Jazz, then go for it! Think about the music, You can worry about gear later. If you want to see just how little it matters then I’ll link to a video in the description that compares my guitars, nobody can tell the difference…

The other way around is, of course, also possible: you start learning Jazz because you want a new guitar, but then that is not an excuse.

Let me know what you think and if I missed something that you hear used as an excuse.

#4 Jazz Guitar Is Too Complicated

 

“Jazz is too complicated!” It’s funny because Jazz is not as complicated as most people think, and the fact that it seems complicated is also a part of what makes it interesting for many guitarists. But I think a huge part of the problem is how Jazz is often taught with a lot of information upfront and then a long road to put that into music.

I often compare music to a language, and you don’t learn a language by first memorizing a dictionary. That is outdated teaching from the 1970s or even bad teaching.

You can learn Jazz without a million scales and start with real music. It is about learning to make it sound like Jazz. That is what I cover in my Jazz Guitar roadmap without using hypochondrian b6 scales or retrophonic arpeggio pairs, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

The basic concept that works best for most things in music is to start with an overview and add detail along the way, not the other way around.

And that is possible with most things in Jazz.

#5 I Can’t Afford Lessons

“I can’t afford lessons.” This is not as big of a problem as it used to be. Of course, If you can take real in-person lessons, then that is the most efficient way to learn. You have someone help you learn the right things in order and give you feedback on how you are doing. But if you can’t do that, then you are in luck. Compare this to when I started playing jazz over 25 years ago because now you have lots of options with free online material that you can use. It is not as efficient as lessons that are tailor-made for you, but you can still get a lot further and there are options like courses that are a lot cheaper than one-on-one lessons that you can upgrade to once you feel that is worth it.

Just get started and learn some songs!

#6 I’m Not Talented Enough

I think Talent is overrated. I am not saying it doesn’t exist or can’t be an advantage, but when you are learning Jazz, thinking about your own talent or lack of talent is just not very useful. When I worked at a young talent department what I saw was that the most important talent the students could have was the ability to work and study, almost to the point of talent working against some students. That is also what I remember from my time studying: The students who practiced and worked improved. Effort was worth more than talent.

When it comes to learning then if you think you have no talent and that you need to be talented that means that the only thing you can do is to give up, surely it’s a lot better to just focus on getting better and not wonder about some magic gift you may or may not have. You also want to remember that playing music has many sides, and nobody has a talent for all of them. Ironically, if you think you are talented, that can also work against you, for example, no matter how much of a legend you think you are. You will be told that even if you bring your amp to the jam session, we will only hear you play Cm pentatonic over the entire form of Blue Bossa once before you are asked to sit down again. Thinking you are talented can stop you from learning and realizing what you need to learn.

So don’t worry about that! Just have fun, keep playing, and keep learning.

I am curious what you think. Sometimes, I get angry comments when I point out that talent rarely helps you learn, so feel free. I am at least sure that my biggest talent is that I know how to work.

#7 I Don’t Know Where to Start

“I Don’t Know Where To Start?” I talked a bit about this earlier, and it is very important that you don’t drown yourself in technical exercise and theory but instead find some simple songs and focus on learning enough to play those even making it a bit simpler because you can add detail along the way.

But you do need to check out some scales and arpeggios—just don’t make it too complicated. There is a practical and efficient way to do this, and it also fits with how you want to use them in solos. I talk about that in this video, which is essential for understanding how arpeggios and scales fit together. It also gives you an approach to improvising and starting to play solos that sound like Jazz.

Check it out:

The Most Important Scale For Jazz

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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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One Of The Best Lessons I Ever Had (Jazz Beginner)

This concept really changed the game for me, which was pretty lucky because some of the early Jazz guitar lessons I had were not that great. My teacher was a good jazz guitarist but he only gave me licks and didn’t show use them or make them into something, except for this one lesson which made a massive difference.

You have to imagine that at the time I was practicing the licks, scales, and arpeggios and trying to make my way through simple songs, but failing pretty badly because there was no real connection between what I was practicing and how I was supposed to use it. It was probably only because I am a pretty stubborn person that I didn’t quit.

There is a good chance that you also know how it feels to practice the dry stuff like exercises, scales, and arpeggios but you can’t put it together and turn that into playing solos that sound right.

A Great lesson!

This was one of the first times that I had a lesson where I was shown how to create a line following a recipe.

We were playing a blues in C, I was making a terrible mess of it and could barely follow the form because I was too busy thinking about the chords. When he was soloing, then he played a phrase in bar 6 after coming back to C7 from F#dim, and that caught my attention so I asked him what that was.

He told me, I am by the way translating this from Danish (and memory since it is more than 25 years ago) that it was a “chromatic phrase” leading into an arpeggio. Then he showed me the arpeggio, and how he had a 4-note phrase leading into it:

I’ll show how this is just the beginning of a way to help you develop your phrasing, and make more interesting melodies because it is more powerful than you think. My teacher then showed me how you can use the same chromatic phrase for other notes in the arpeggio like the root:

and the 7th:

What he described as a “chromatic phrase” is what usually is referred to as a chromatic enclosure, so a short melody using chromatic passing notes

that moves to a target note from above and below, and as you will see or hear, direction is incredibly important.

This concept is simple like instant noodles that most students eat when they don’t have any money, just add water and you have food, well.. “food” It is a 2-ingredient recipe for Jazz licks which in itself is a great thing if you are new to Jazz.

But maybe you are now wondering what is the big deal?

I will show you how the enclosures help you deal with a part of Jazz phrasing that most beginners really struggle with, but the first more obvious part of it is that it is flexible. It will work with other arpeggios as well, so you can create a lot of lines like this. Here’s a version with a Cmaj7:

`

And we have more options when it comes to the chromatic enclosures. Another good one could be this which is also 4 notes and is sometimes referred to as a double chromatic enclosure. You can probably see why

So as you noticed, it moves to the target note in half-steps from two directions:

Until now the chromatic enclosures have been using 4-notes, which makes them easy to use as building blocks, but there are also 2 and 3-note enclosures that are very useful and as you will see, the 2-note enclosures are very powerful and flexible.

The Beginner’s Problem With Phrasing

But first, let’s talk about one of the main reasons that beginners find it difficult to play solos that sound like Jazz.

There are a few levels of beginner solos where you might find yourself. Maybe you are only improvising with the arpeggio:

You can also add the scale notes, and keep in mind that these examples are not wrong, they are just also not great:

And if you are a bit further then you are adding chromatic passing notes, but as you can hear that also doesn’t really fix this:

I am overstating it a bit in these examples, but what is missing is that the notes don’t have interesting accents, the lines are heavy and the accents are on the downbeat.

And that is because what makes the Jazz lines work and have interesting rhythms is these accents, and they should be where the melody changes direction on an offbeat, and if you look at the first lick then you have two of those, try to listen:

Here you have a change of direction on 1& and on 3& in the arpeggio,

so the line has more energy and isn’t stuck on the heavy beats in the same way as the previous examples. Starting to get this into your playing and being able to hear phrases that move like that will make you sound 100x better. Of course, you can’t think about where in the bar you change direction while you are soloing, which is why these are so great. I’ll talk more about this later.

It is not Enclosures or Passing notes

A short side-note before we add some more flexible enclosures and some Barry Harris tricks: Keep in mind that what I am saying here is not that you shouldn’t use passing notes, the passing notes are a part of it, and the enclosures are the next level melodies that you build using passing notes. Even if the enclosures are a little more effort to play then they are also adding something important to your solo.

Something that you want to get into your playing, and If you start checking out solos then you probably won’t find a Jazz musician that doesn’t use enclosures of some kind. Sometimes when I talk about enclosures I get the comment that they don’t work and how passing notes are better, and, I think that is missing the point, you just want to be patient and keep practicing until you can use them. They will add something to your playing and they are a part of Bebop, especially this next type!

Keeping It Simple Makes It Powerful

I showed you 2 of the more “complicated” 4-note enclosures, but I didn’t explain how they are constructed which is also useful for some of the later exercises and if you want to make your own enclosures.

Usually, I try to look at enclosures as a mix of chromatic notes and diatonic notes in the scale, so the first enclosure would be chromatic below, diatonic above, chromatic above, and chromatic below.

and The way I used the 2nd enclosure you get diatonic above chromatic above, diatonic below chromatic below. I am sure you can see how this analysis is an interpretation, you could in some cases see the 1st note of example 1 as a diatonic note (example 6). This way of looking at the lick becomes very practical when you combine enclosures with the Barry Harris chromatic scale. I’ll show you later in the video because that is very powerful!

Check out how we can use this analysis to create a simple but very useful 2-note enclosure:

I’ll apply this to a triad because it is used like that very often in larger chunks just listen to Joe Pass or Barry Harris if you want an example of that, but these enclosures are EVERYWHERE and do so many amazing things, I’ll show you some examples.

For a C major triad:

You use a “diatonic above, chromatic below” for each note:

And since it is pretty easy then try to turn around the enclosure so it is “chromatic below, diatonic above” as well:

And, with these and another enclosure then you have a line like this:

And to give you an idea about how powerful this is: you don’t get something as complex or surprising just using passing notes.

Here’s an example with a few chords so you can hear how Bebop this actually sounds:

I think you can tell just how useful these are, and as I said if you look at solos they are everywhere. But this is not about having to think “I need to change direction” while you are playing a line, that’s too complicated. What you want to do is work on coming up with lines using these enclosures so that you hear melodies with that built into them, and that will automatically help you get that sound in there, it’s almost like a bonus.

Let’s add some Barry Harris to the mix and see how that opens things up!

Using Barry Harris For Variations

Let me first explain how this works and then how you can use it. Barry Harris Chromatic scale is a way to add half steps between all notes in a scale. The basic concept is that you either use a chromatic note if there is a whole step between two notes,

or you use the scale note above if there isn’t.

If I apply this to the C major scale then there are two places where I need to use a scale note above: between E and F  and B and C.

So in the key of C major then the Barry Harris chromatic scale would be:

The great thing is that now you can use Barry’s Chromatic scale as a way of moving around an enclosure in the scale,  and in that way get some other enclosures or other melodic ideas:

Let’s take this one which will give you some great variations:

It already sounds great as a Cmaj7 lick like this:

Just to understand the enclosure:

The target note is B and the phrase starts two diatonic notes above moving down with a passing note and then a half step below the target.

Let’s take it down the scale, keep in mind that I always just use a chromatic note from below, that always works, and it doesn’t need any special treatment. Check out how we get a lot of different phrases:

Target note: B

Target note: A

Target note: G

Target note: F

Target note: E

Target note: D

Target note: C

This gives you other phrases that all work and that you can use in lines, for example, this Dm7 lick using the D as a target note:

or mixing the version that has A as a target note with another Barry Harris concept, a Pivot arpeggio:

Barry Leads The Way To Great Phrasing!

Working through the material like this can give you a lot of useful phrases, and Barry’s system is fantastic for this and it does a ton of other stuff that will make your solos sound so much better and help you get rid of uninspired scale runs and overused licks, so check out this video to dive into that!

Why Barry Harris’ Approach Is So Much Better Than Bebop Scales!

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The 3 Guitarists I Wish I Checked Out As A Jazz Beginner

There is a downside to how we teach Jazz now, on one hand, it is very efficient and helps internalize important skills, but on the other hand, it is often very focused not taught using real music and teaching how others played which helps you understand the music in a broader way and also teach you other important things at the same time. There are a few guitarists that I was not really aware of while I was learning and didn’t discover until much later, but I think they could really have taught me some useful things and made learning Jazz easier. The 3 guitarists are sort of split into periods: one that is mostly before Bebop, one that is in the creation, and one that plays Bebop. I’ll talk about how one of them in a way is a bit like Van Halen 😁

#1 The Father of Bebop?

When I started out playing Jazz guitar, I was still studying Mathematics at the University of Århus. I was actually pretty lucky to get some pretty solid recommendations from my classical guitar teacher Morten Skott. This meant that I was not only listening to Charlie Parker who I had just discovered, but also had cheap compilation cd’s with Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. And even though I am talking about people that I didn’t really check out in this video, then I did actually learn some Charlie Christian solos by ear from that compilation cd, the problem with that was that while I could figure out some of his phrases and a few entire solos, at least I hope I got it right since I don’t really remember what I checked out, then I had no idea what the songs were or how to play them, and my theory was not good enough to tell me anything, so they were just solos and phrases I could play not even really knowing what key I was in.

My favorite from that album was Seven Come Eleven which is a really typical swing riff composition.

The main theme is:

So very rhythmic, repetitive, and only a few notes.

PLAY

I probably liked this because it was easier to understand and made more sense to me than some of the other tracks which had really interesting phrases with shifting dim runs like “Good Enough To Keep” Which has phrases like:

Of course, that is not really THAT complicated, but it was very far away from Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Rage Against The Machine which is where I was coming from.

The Solo from Seven Come Eleven is a great example of what I later felt I had missed:

As I already showed you then there are more complicated and dense phrases in Charlie Christian solos, but I really think that this lighter more sparse playing is something that really helps you get the rhythms to sound right, also later when you start playing longer bop lines.

All this stuff where it is just a few or even one note that is interesting because of the rhythm

And this is really just one area of the neck and strong basic Ab or Ab7 vocabulary to learn.

You can get so much from checking this out; I have also often used it with students.

The People who came after Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian was a huge influence on all of Jazz guitar, and when I listen to him now then I really hear how Barney Kessel was influenced by him, I believe they also met at one point, but I am not sure if that is true.

Let’s check out another guitarist that is criminally overlooked!

#2 Sideman of A Giant

I guess sometimes when you work with really famous artists as a sideman you end up standing in the shadow of them and not getting noticed. I think that sort of happened to Oscar Moore who is probably best known as “the guitarist of Nat King Cole” maybe a bit like George Martin being the 5th Beatle, but that is hard to say.

The Nat King Cole Trio stuff with Oscar Moore is from the mid-40s until the beginning of the 50s and since Nat King Cole was both an amazing musician and a commercial success, then a lot of the songs are short takes with a single or a half chorus of solo for the guitar.

This makes them fairly easy to learn, and Oscar Moore solos always have a lot of solid lines, but also some interesting phrasing. Check out this solo from Sweet Lorraine:

I sometimes feel that these shorter solos are really more similar to a solo that you might find in a pop or rock song, which I guess the song also was when it was released in 1940-something.

There are some solid simple melodies in this, and actually a fair amount of blues,

but also some stuff that is really a lot more about effects and surprising sounds. In this case by being very intervallic,

He also used long slides, bends, tremolo picking, and stuff like that to have different sounds.

That part of it pretty much disappeared when Jazz became more serious with Bebop and was supposed to be real art. Here it almost reminds me of stuff you might hear in a Van Halen or Steve Vai solo, where the sound is sometimes as important as the notes.

It’s more about sounds than about a longer melody, and since I am anyway making this a hottake then maybe Ellington’s saxophone player, Johnny Hodges also is an example of someone using phrasing and effects like that.

Keep in mind that I am not really saying anything about whether this is good or bad music, I am just showing you an aspect of their playing where they are similar. You can get rid of your anger in the comment section if it offends you that Johnny Hodges and Van Halen are similar.

In the case of Oscar Moore, it sort of makes some of his material more modern, and less Bebop because Bebop is much more about flow, and some of his phrases are intervallic and sort of the opposite of flowing, probably also because he wanted to not sound like the melody that had just been sung.

I felt that I learned a lot from how Oscar Moore mixes the different things in these short solos and Nat King Cole is fantastic both as a piano player and a vocalist! Another thing worth mentioning is that if you check out later Oscar Moore stuff then you really hear him develop with the times and start playing altered scale and more Bebop-influenced lines, similar to the next guitarist.

#3 The Shortcut To Bebop

This solo actually always makes me happy. Grant Green is probably the one of the 3 that I ended up spending the most time with, mainly because I have given his solos to a lot of students for them to learn Bebop vocabulary, and that is also how I heard this solo the first time, and how I discovered the standards album that he made. For guitarists then there probably is no better place to learn Bebop than Grant Green, his lines are absolutely incredibly melodic and his vocabulary is solid Bebop, and I am saying that while I still don’t like his tone on this album, but you can complain about that in the comments, first, check this out:

Within these 8 bars you have so many great things!

3 variations of  using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord: Ebmaj7 over Cm7:

Bdim over G7:

and on Aø over F7:

A great pivot arpeggio with some chromaticism on Bbmaj7:

A line cliche turned into a bebop lick in the 2nd line with some really nice phrasing embellishments:

 

 

The King Of Bebop Guitar

And this is in 8-bars, and there are several places like this in the solo. The greatest thing about this is that he manages to make Bebop lines playable on guitar and still makes great music. If you want to develop that side of your playing then he is where you need to go next.  Especially how he mastered adding pivot arpeggios and large intervals to his playing and in that way not sounding like he is just running up and down scales, there are techniques for this that you can start using. 4 of the most common variations are all in the solo that I talk about in this video and that can really breathe new life into your Bop vocabulary and give you some fresh melodic ideas. The solo is on another standard: You Stepped Out Of A Dream

I Wish I Had Checked Out This Guy! His Solos Are Jazz 101 On Guitar

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I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

You Are Practicing Arpeggios Wrong

Everyone on the internet and every guitar teacher you ever met probably told you to practice arpeggios.

But I remember spending hours practicing arpeggios and not really being able to do anything with them. Being able to play them doesn’t mean that you get them to sound great in my solos. It feels like you might be wasting your time

Luckily that isn’t too difficult to fix, and I’ll show you 7 ways you can turn any arpeggio into a solid Jazz line!  It is not super difficult, and really more about how you think about the arpeggios.

You can build all of this around a single exercise, because when you are starting out with Jazz then there is a right and a wrong way to practice arpeggios, and I would also suggest that you skip inversions for now but I will explain that later.

In Jazz, you mostly use arpeggios that are one octave, so it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to spend a lot of time practicing complete positions, instead,  you will be more efficient practicing them in a scale position as diatonic arpeggios.

That is the way you will hear them used the most in Jazz solos, and it is also a way to connect them to the scale and the other notes that they work together with, it covers a lot of stuff you will need along the way. I learned this exercise from Barry Harris and that is one of the most practical things to get right in the beginning.

Diatonic Arpeggios:

The focus is on turning these arpeggios into music, and I will show you how you add phrasing, notes, and rhythm to them because that is how they become Jazz lines, but first let’s keep it really simple and just improvise with the arpeggio because that will teach you some other important things as well.

#1 Arpeggios Are Enough If You Do It Right

Let’s say you want to solo over a II V I in C major, so Dm7 G7 to Cmaj7.

You need those arpeggios to play a solo over the progression, and luckily you already practiced them in the exercise.

It is a II V I, so in C major, we need the arpeggio from the 2nd note of the scale: Dm7, then from the 5th that is a G7 and then you can do this Cmaj7.

Connect that to the music and practice that on the II V I:

The first thing to do is to practice soloing with this, just try to come up with some lines, use rhythm and maybe compose or play rubato, notice how I am really careful in getting from one chord to the next.

And then after some time, you develop better rhythmical ideas and melodies and you can start making lines like this:

This is great for nailing the changes and developing some solid rhythms in your playing, but let’s open up the arpeggio with a few extra notes, that’s where it starts to get really fun!

#2 The First Thing To Add

The exercise I gave you connects the arpeggios and the scale, so if we look at a Cmaj7 arpeggio:

You can add scale notes to the mix in between the notes in the arpeggio.

That could give you a line like this.

Which turns into a lick like this:

Or a descending version like this:

Super easy! Barely an inconvenience. It is mostly about seeing the notes around the arpeggio and using them to move to a note in the arpeggio.

In these two lines that is how I think about the notes: something around the arpeggio.

Let’s add some notes that are a bit more exciting!

#3 The Jazz Thing To Add

I am talking about adding chromatic passing notes since you already have the diatonic notes from the scale.

You can do a LOT of things with chromatic passing notes, and there are systems that help with that, but for now, essentially you can do whatever you want as long as you resolve it to a chord tone. That is what I am doing in this example, check this out:

and just mixing chromatic and diatonic notes with the arpeggio can already give you this:

Of course, when you practice this then work on composing lines and find things that you like the sound of. One thing that can make them sound more like Jazz is by having the high note of the phrase on an off-beat like you heard the B in the last example on the 1&.

There is a way to make it easier to do that in your Jazz lines, that is the next level, but keep in mind that you can actually go through this video and just pick one of the topics to explore, write some lines, and work on getting that into your playing. It doesn’t have to be in this order.

#4 Going Around The Chord Tones

Instead of adding a single note here and there then you can also add small melodies that move to a chord tone from above and below, these are called enclosures. Let me show you these and then we can add some rhythm to the arpeggios.

A simple example of an enclosure could be a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below which for Cmaj7 could be something like this:

Remember that you are still seeing the Cmaj7 in the scale as well, and now you can create something like this, and try to compare how far this is from just playing the arpeggio:

And it is incredibly simple to create solid vocabulary here is one with an enclosure around the root and around the 5th:

With these enclosures:

#5 The Mighty Triplet

There is one way of playing arpeggios that is pretty much instant Bebop. When you hear it I am sure you will recognize it:

So I am playing the arpeggio as an 8th-note triplet and I am adding a leading note before the arpeggio. Now check out how this sounds when you add a few enclosures:

Or this example which is one of George Benson’s favorite licks that he probably learned from Charlie Parker:

I said that inversions are not so useful for Jazz lines, let me show you what you can do instead, and then I’ll show you some phrasing tricks.

#6 The Melodic Inversion

Similar to the triplet, then this is really a great technique for making your lines sound better, and not be too predictable. I mentioned in the beginning of the video that Inversions are not that useful for Jazz, this is mostly from observing vocabulary of Bop and a lot of later stuff, where inversions are not that common in lines when it comes to 7th chord arpeggios. Triads are a different story, there are Triads inversions all over the place.

Instead, this is a much nicer option: The Pivot arpeggio.

What I am doing here is taking the arpeggio:

But I play the root and then move the rest an octave down, so you still get the same order of notes but the last part is moved down an octave:

Using this and a bit of chromatic magic will give you a great line like this with the pivot arpeggio:

And you can of course use this on the higher octave as well and throw in an enclosure:

 

But one thing is changing the melody and the rhythm. You can also tweak how you play the notes on the instrument, the phrasing.

#7 It’s The Phrasing

Let’s start by sliding into a note, here it is the top note in the phrase:

You can add a slide later as well:

Another useful tool for phrasing is adding trills like this one:

Which sounds great like this:

Adding Chromatic Notes With Barry Harris’ system

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But there is a lot more in there than you might think!

Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

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5 Concepts Jazz Guitar Beginners Must Understand To Learn Faster

I think you should learn from my mistakes, so in this video I am going to go over 5 things that really slowed me down in learning Jazz, and that I now help students overcome so that they don’t get stuck along the way. When I look at how my students are progressing then it is easy to see that they get there a lot easier and a lot faster, and I am sure I would have too, so you want to get this right.

#1 Exercises Are Not Music

A lot of us come to Jazz when we already play the instrument and have experience with other styles of music, and since Jazz comes across as being difficult or complex (rocket science/music theory meme) then we often choose to be “a good student” and try to do all the exercises and put in the work. I really didn’t get this right in the beginning and spent way too much time thinking about what scale to play over which  chord, and end up using it on a progression that was completely abstract to me, something that didn’t have a melody, that wasn’t a song, but this is something you can fix. (abstract progression + me thinking? like a II V I that turns into an equation?)

You already know that just playing a scale or an arpeggio is not a solo phrase. The same goes for chords, you are not learning to comp by just learning a lot of inversions.

Learning Jazz is learning a musical language, and that you can’t learn with exercises just like you won’t learn Spanish by just reading a dictionary (Que)

If You want to learn how to improvise the you have to also actually improvise. And it is more than just the notes, you also need to know how to play phrases that sit right in the groove, and express something that fits with the music, know the song and know where you are in the song.

This:

Will never magically lead to this: Bebop line.

I think that is pretty obvious. And it means that you also need to learn some songs and some real music that you can play, because an arpeggio or any other exercise is not useful until you make it a part of the music, and you need to develop that skill as well.

None of this will work if you just do exercises and actually the worst plan I have ever heard from students, and I have heard it quite often, is “Before I start improvising I first I need to learn” and then insert:

#1 All scales in all keys or positions

#2 All Arpeggios in all keys

#3 All Chords in all inversions

That NEVER works.

The Most Important Song To Learn.

I think you could say that the most important song to learn is the first song that you REALLY learn.

When I started out then I wasn’t told to really learn songs so that I could easily play them by heart and use them to develop my improvisation skills, and that really slows you down. That is also why my course is a step-by-step guide teaching you that first song and so that you learn how to make music while you are improvising solos. Besides learning songs and soloing over them then there is one overlooked approach that is also incredibly useful…

#2 This Is How To Practice Improvisation

I am amazed at how rare it is to see this method is suggested for people who want to improve their vocabulary and learn how to play better Jazz lines with better phrasing, and speaking of phrasing I have a few quick fixes later in the video for that as well.

As a student, you are always told to practice slowly, and that is not any different for learning to improvise Jazz solos, but the problem that we all run into is that songs are not played that slow, and you can’t slow them down and still get it to make sense, so how do you practice improvisation slowly?

The answer to that is composition, which is essentially also how Barry Harris taught his masterclasses: composing bebop solos. If it is a good enough method for him then it is probably also an ok exercise for you. Let me demonstrate this with a practical example, and just to be clear, I still do this when I want to improve my solo lines, which is most days in the week.

Let’s say that I want to get better at using this chromatic enclosure:

For now I want to use it on a Cmaj7 chord, you can use it on a lot of things, but let’s start there. In the beginning, you just want to hear what it sounds like when you put it into lines.

Obviously, you can combine it with a Cmaj7:

So this is already fine, but let’s add a tail to it to make it a phrase:

Maybe it works with a descending Cmaj7 arpeggio

Of course, you need to spend some time experimenting and exploring how this all works, but that process really gets the sound of the enclosure into your ears and you find ways of creating playable lines that you can work on getting into your own playing.

This works really well in combination with solos you have learned by ear if you take your favorite phrases and try to make your own version of them. Sometimes it can be useful to write down what you come up with, but you don’t always have to. I think the biggest benefit is the process, not the licks you end up with, simply because you learn how to fit things together and they will come out in your solos.

It also really makes sense to watch Barry Harris teach and think of it as how to practice composing lines. You will learn a lot more and get a lot more options from that.

When learning Jazz then there are things that are more important than what notes you play in a solo I’ll get to that, but first let’s look at how you figure out how good (or bad) you are.

#3 How Do You Give Yourself Useful Feedback

One thing that I have to tell students all the time is that they can’t play a solo and at the same time tell how they are doing. And you can take my word for it, I record myself playing for a living and I have made ALL the mistakes that you can make while playing by now. (I have made a huge mistake)

If you want to know how YOU sound (and trust me, you do) then you have to record yourself playing and listen back!

This is incredibly useful for anyone trying to learn, but it is especially important if you are trying to teach yourself Jazz guitar. To make it more effective then there are a few things that you can keep in mind so that you don’t get distracted by your own brain when you listen, because listening to yourself can be a bit weird and difficult. (b-roll: me + headphones and me soloing)

#1 Record yourself often!

You get used to this, so the first few times it is weird and you get stressed out by all sorts of things, but that goes away with time.

#2 Decide what you are working on and listen for that.

This is simple: If you are working on phrasing or rhythm then don’t get lost in which arpeggios you use on altered dominants. Focus on what you are working on.

#3 Don’t Listen Right Away

Often when you just played something then you still remember what it felt like when you played it and you are not really listening but just reliving how it felt which is not helping you at all.

And it is when you start recording yourself that you probably discover the next thing you need to pay attention to, but I have a few quick fixes!

#4 Not The Notes You Play

This is often considered very difficult and vague, but it really doesn’t have to be. I am of course, talking about Jazz phrasing.

You may already have run into this, and I certainly remember when I felt like I was hitting a wall with phrasing: I know all the scales and arpeggios but my solos and what I play doesn’t sound the right way.

When I was starting out learning Jazz then the first problem I was confronted with was that I could not follow the chords and play a lot of wrong notes. It isn’t strange that I then focused on learning to play “the right” notes, but my focus on that came at a cost: I was not listening to how the phrases sounded nearly as much as what notes I was playing. So it really makes sense to become more aware of this early on.

There are a few ways to work on this, and some of them are really easy:

#1 End on a short note

I say this at least 3 times a week in the Roadmap community when I give feedback. Bebop is called Bebop because that is how the typical solo phrase ends, and that means it is a short note, Bebop On Guitar it is very difficult to play long notes so we learn that and make that the habit, but you need to take control of the notes and only play long notes when it makes sense.

#2 Play solos with fewer notes

The easiest way to develop phrasing and rhythm is to take away the other variables so that you have to focus on them. It can be super useful to voice-lead one or two notes through a song and then spend some time practicing soloing where you have to only use those notes. That will help you get more creative with, phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.

#3 Learn Solos By Ear

If you want to “hear” better phrases then learn some solid phrases by ear. Often the easier solos to learn like Charlie Christian and Grant Green are also great for learning to hear good phrasing and creative rhythms, and the next topic will help you get a lot more out of what you learn by ear and what you come up with when composing lines.

#5 So Little Theory, So Much Benefit

You have to stop being afraid of the holes, and you also have to remember to wonder. When you are starting out learning Jazz then it is easy to try to learn a crazy amount of theory, but what you really want to learn is actually pretty simple, and if you know that then it will teach you the rest, plus that you can learn it in a much more natural way.

When I learned Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love, the first songs I learned, then I couldn’t analyze them. But I still learned to play them, even if I only understood some of what was going on and played some wrong notes here and there. That was one of the things I did right.

Start with really knowing your basic scales, and just start with major. Then make sure that you also know the diatonic chords. Then you can start to recognize things in the songs you play like if you take There Will Never Be Another You.

First, you just look at what the key is and what makes sense just using that (fill that in one by one)

Then maybe you learn what a secondary dominant or a secondary II V is and then there are less gaps, and actually only a few more tricks to learn.

And that is also the best way to learn theory: Have it describe the music that you are already playing!

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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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Which Jazz Skills Do You Need To Play a (GREAT) Solo? (beginner To Advanced)

I always dreamt about getting to that point where you are free to improvise a great jazz solo over a chord progression. You know what I mean: You can play the things that you want, the notes are right there and the lines sound great. You are just making music.

That freedom is coming out of having specific skills in place for the solo, and that is what I want to talk about in this video so if you want to move beyond thinking a lot and being locked down by the progression then check out this video.

Level #1 Play The Chords, The Key, Scales, and the Arpeggios

This first level is just some very basic technique that you want to have covered, it is the foundation for all the other things, so it has to be pretty solid, and it is important that have this covered.

#1 Play The Chords

You want to be able to play the chords so that you can hear what the progression sounds like.

In this case, I am using a basic turnaround in C: Cmaj7, A7(b9), Dm7, G7(b9)

#2 Understand What Is Going On

You also want to be aware of the key it is in and the scales.

In this case, Cmaj7 and Dm7 are found in the C major scale, A7 is a secondary dominant resolving to Dm7 so you use D harmonic minor on that. G7(b9) is borrowed from the key of C minor so that also takes C harmonic minor.

As you can see, you do want to have some understanding of what is going on in the progression to help you play better solos. That is going to make it easier to find something to play and later it will help you find more options and give you more interesting things to experiment with and get into your playing.

#3 The Melodic Version Of The Chords

You also want to be able to play the arpeggios of the chords so that you are able to play the chord tones in time through the progression, simply because those are the notes you need when you start soloing and if you can’t find them like that then soloing with them is going to very difficult. Next, you want to start turning this raw material into a solo, but first, let’s just talk about one thing to keep in mind if you are new to improvising over Jazz progressions, so you don’t crash your progress by practicing the wrong way.

Don’t Drown in Exercises

A very common mistake when trying to learn to improvise over chord changes is to think that you first need to know all the scales and arpeggios in all positions. Of course, you want to be able to do that eventually, but you are better off not drowning yourself in exercises and also give priority to actually using the material you practice. Making music is what you want to be good at, that is the goal, so if you are new to some of the material then try to figure out how to play all arpeggios and scales in one position so that you can make music with that.

Level #2 Spell Out The Changes And Give It A Flow

Once you have the foundation of scales, arpeggios and know what the progression sounds like then you can start working on soloing and also really nailing the changes.

One of the best ways to work on playing solos is to practice writing them, so it can be really useful, for example, to take the arpeggio and the scale and then try to write some line that you can use in your solo. The advantage here is that when you are working on writing lines then you are improvising over the chord progression, but you have time to make sure that it sounds good and you can improve the lines you come up with. In that way, you can start building your vocabulary and your ability to play stronger solo lines.

Here I am actually writing out the lines, and that can be a good exercise, but you don’t always need to do that.

When it comes really connecting the solo to the chords under it then the first approach I would suggest you use is target notes, so that you choose specific clear notes that really connect to the chord and then place those at the beginning of the bar so that it is obvious that the chord changes.

I am not going to cover this in too much detail, but there is a link to a video in the description where I discuss this solid strategy for playing chord changes in a solo.

Level #3 What About The Rhythm?

There are many things you can check out with rhythm, and a lot of them are complicated and often students underestimate how demanding they are technically.

But you don’t have to make it that complicated, in fact, the best thing to do is to make it simpler!

Instead of adding fast runs and subdivisions or difficult polyrhythms then the place to start is probably to make it easier to focus on the rhythm and become more creative.

If you limit the notes you use then you will force yourself to make the rhythms interesting. In this example, I am using only 2 notes per chord, and that is forcing me to think differently which I can then try to take with me when I start soloing without that restriction.

Other things that I have found very useful were learning some of the easier themes that had great rhythms like Bernie’s Tune or Lady Bird. This coupled with listening for rhythm and maybe even transcribing some solos, is really what you want to work on.

Practicing Things In The Right Order

What you may be realizing with this video is that in the end, you start to mix up the order that you work on it. It is not first the scales and arpeggios and then the rhythm, or then soloing it is back and forth and these skills you can zoom in on and develop further again and again.

In what order would you work with these levels? let me know in the comments.

The next two levels I would suggest that you save for a little bit later, but maybe you don’t think so.

Level #4 Make Your Solo A Story!

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Now you know how to play the changes and the lines make sense, but everything is still a bit “something on this chord and then something else on this chord” If you listen to great soloists then you can hear them really have a longer story going in the solo, and there are ways to work on that and skills you can develop.

Turning Phrases Into Stories

The first thing that I would try to work on is developing the melodies you play and in that way use what you just played to come up with the next thing to play. One way to think about that is motivic development where you take the phrase you play and then try to repeat it, but change it a little. That way it sounds both new and familiar to the listener.

Like this way of moving a melody from Cmaj7 to A7

You can practice this by just playing a short melody on the first chord, stop, and then from what you played, try to make a line that works on the next chord. In that way, there is a clear connection and a sense of development in your solo. First, practice that rubato, and then later you can work on it in time.

Turning Phrases Into A Conversation

A variation of this way of thinking is to think about your solo as phrases that are a part of a conversation, so using call-response to create melodies. You probably know about this from Blues.

Something like this:

first a statement and then as an answer to the ascending phrase, a descending phrase. And you can keep this type of conversation going through the entire progression.

For me, this is where you really start to make music. This is what I aim for and what I want to feel able to do when I practice pieces. Trying to come up with a way to tell a story on top of the song is such an essential part of making music, and you hear this with so many great players from Parker to Getz to Pat Metheny.

Let’s have a look at how you can start creating completely different sounds by starting to not only improvise notes on chord progression but also improvise with the chord progression!

Level #5 Improvise With The Chords

Until now the way you improvised was by figuring out what to play over the chord progression, but actually, that is not really how it works in Jazz.

You are allowed to change the chords! (Dramatic pause, WHAAAT!)

This chord progression is really just a way to go from C and then back to C, and you are pretty free to take another way there. As long as you can find a logical way to get back home.

You may be thinking that this is only for weird modern incomprehensible Jazz, but actually, you can find examples of this all the way back in history to Charlie Parker, and it is just one more thing to make music with.

You can experiment with this, by just changing one or two chords. An example would be to use altered dominants that don’t really belong in there, but this is so common that we don’t think of it as a reharmonization, even though it is most of the time.

For this progression, a simple example could be to use a lot of parallel chromatic movement.

Or you can choose some unexpected chord sounds:

And of course, creating suspensions when the listener expects a resolution like the final G7 to C is a great effect:

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What Really Makes Your Jazz Solo Sound A Lot Better

Sometimes everything you play sounds the same and it is uninspired and predictable. There are only so many arpeggios and scales, so chasing after that is not the answer. Instead, you want to become better at making the lines interesting. You want to use stronger melodies and develop your melodic skills.

In this video, I am going to show you a few different ways to look at your solo lines and give you an easy way to add some new melodic ideas to your playing. I am not happy to admit it, but these strategies took me years to figure out but you can just check out this video.

The Jazz Turnaround

I am going to use a basic Jazz turnaround in C major, Cmaj7 – A7(b9) – Dm7 – G7(b9), It is not that important what the progression is, but here you can easily hear how powerful this is and how it will improve your playing.

The first melodic approach is to add a lot of forward motion to the lines and then later I will show you some other very strong strategies to also start using.

The Strongest Type Of Connected Melody

This example is, what I would consider, a basic strong Jazz line with a natural flow, I’ll show you an example with a more interesting rhythm in a bit. The concept here is that you create lines that are moving to the target note on the next chord which really makes the chords clear and makes the melody flow in a natural way.

In this example, the C and D on Cmaj7 are taking us to the C# on the A7. In a similar way, the G G# A has a strong pull towards the final A, the 5th of Dm7. In this type of progression, you can really see the melodies as 4-note patterns ending on beat 1 or beat 3 (highlight)

Like this, the lines are a bit dense and fill up the bar, but if you open up the rhythm with the same strategy then it still works:

Now you have a more syncopated and interesting rhythm, but the target notes are still “contact-points” with the harmony. (highlight target notes in the example)

In this example, The C# on A7 is now anticipated and placed on 2& instead of 3, and the melodies in the 2nd bar are leaving more space and use more offbeats.

This is of course, great but not enough on its own. Let’s have a look at lines that use what is probably the strongest and most used approach to creating longer melodic phrases that really tell stories

Melodic Voice-leading

The technique I am talking about is, of course, motivic development. The foundation of a lot of storytelling in music. This is the reason that when you hear this the Imperial March in a Star Wars movie, then you already know who is coming down the ramp. He has a motif that is repeated and used whenever he appears. And this is something you want to use in your solos to tie the whole thing together.

A very clear example of motifs, without suggesting that Barney Kessel is like Darth Vader would be this part of his solo on Satin Doll.

First the large motif that is repeated and then the shorter motif that is repeated and then developed to end the phrase.

The way Kessel moves the motifs is by following the harmony and voice-leading the melody, just making slight variations to the rhythm.

Making you own motivic licks

Working on doing this through changes is a very useful exercise. For the Turnaround that could give you something like this:

Here the melodies are voice-leading very closely until the G7. That is a little freer to not be too predictable and also round off the phrase in a more natural way.

Whenever you work on stuff like this then try to make it into music.

A similar way to do this but then being a bit freer with the melodic direction could be something like this:

The concept here is to move down Coltrane Patterns through the progression, C major, Bbm, Am, Abm and there is a clear connection between each group because it is moving down similar melodies in a stepwise manner.

Of course, you can do the same thing with a simple two-note motif and in that way have room to make the rhythm more interesting. Moving motifs with rhythm are perhaps the technique that is the most powerful in Jazz solos. Just listen to Keith Jarrett or John Scofield.

There are other variations of motivic development that also are great ways to tie things together, let’s check one more out.

Sticky Notes

A pedal point is a static note that remains part of the melody or harmony through the progression. In the previous example, I was using a G since that is a note that works well through this progression which is in C major. The G is placed at the beginning of each phrase with a little bit of variation in the rhythm.

Again it pays off to explore melodies like this but with more accent on the rhythm. Something like this:

Some Great Tricks Using Direction Of Melody

This was something that took me a long time to figure out, and I don’t think I ever heard anybody talk about it in a lesson: You don’t want to have lines that always move in the same direction it becomes predictable and that makes the whole thing boring. So let’s take a look at a few ways to change that up. This example is moving to the target notes, but it is always changing direction on the heavy beats and that makes it a little too heavy, especially if you do this all the time.

All The Way Up!

It can be really cool and also create some tension and excitement to play a line that moves in the same direction throughout the progression like this:

And especially with the ascending lines, you get the effect of “melodic tension” which is a really cool way to change things up. But you can get the same effect moving down as well:

All The Way Down!

But the real trick is of course to change direction more often and have more surprising skips in your lines. You can do this with cascading lines with a more energetic rhythm like this:

Impressive Arpeggios

Melodic Triads

But a lot of it is also about adding some larger intervals into the lines and there are two ways that are easy to do that and still have melodic lines. The first one is to use some sort of pattern with arpeggios and let the arpeggio pull it all together:

And here as well you can open up the rhythm to add some nice syncopation to the mix:

The Bebop Way

Another fantastic way to get some larger intervals into your lines is this Bebop trick that they actually sort of stole from Bach: Octave displacement. This gives you lines like this:

Here you have octave displacement on the Em7 arpeggio over Cmaj7 and with the Fmaj7 arpeggio that I am playing over the Dm7 chord.

If you removed the octave displacement or reverse engineered the line then you could get something like this:

This sounds fine, but the movement in the previous example is more surprising and exciting.

If you want to explore more examples of what you can do with octave displacement then check out this lesson:

Bebop Magic – One Of The Best And Most Difficult Things About Jazz

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