Tag Archives: call and response jazz guitar

The 5 Mistakes You Make Soloing Over Static Chords

Are you just playing notes or are you playing a solo and making music?

Often when solos are on one chord then it becomes painfully clear when a guitarist doesn’t know how to make that sound like music, but let me show you some ways to fix that.

Mistake #1 – Not Listening To The Most Important Guitarist

Let’s start with the worst mistake! Those solos where it is just a bunch of notes strung together, and even if the notes aren’t wrong then this still doesn’t make any sense. It sounds like nervously talking all the time but not saying anything.  (B-roll nervous talking, George or Woody Allen)

One thing you do want to notice in this video is that none of these fixes are about what scales/arpeggios or techniques you use, it is what you do with them, and you can do this equally well with a pentatonic scales or a  Messiaen mode.

The solution is a maybe bit surprising: But there is one guitarist that you have to listen to if you want to solve this problem, that is the only way to fix this! Let me show you.

You want to avoid playing solos that are just unrelated streams of notes, stuff that has no story, and where it is almost random licks after each other.

The goal is to make it into a piece of music, in fact, to tell a story with your solo.

You can compare this to actually telling a story: If your story is an endless stream of words with no breaks and no sentences the the first thing you want to do is to start speaking in sentences. We are not computers, It is easier to process information in chunks.

The way you start doing that is to introduce breaks between your phrases so they have room to breathe. This means that when you play something you need to stop and listen to what you just played. And as you might have realized that the guitarist you have to listen to, is yourself because that is the only way you can make your solo into a story. In the beginning, you can start by playing very short phrases, just to get used to it, so don’t be afraid to play 3 or 4-note phrases like these:

Some of the important skills later in this video are easier to develop if you play short phrases, so that is only going to be helpful.

Once you start to think in phrases and listen to what you are playing, then you can also start to make decisions about what you want to play next, and that is the only way you will be able to connect the phrases and develop your solo, like a story instead of just rambling random licks one after the other.

Mistake #2 – Who Is The Main Character In Your Solo?

If we stick to the idea of a solo being a story, then it can be very useful to have phrases that tie the entire solo together. Imagine watching Harry Potter, but in this version, there is no main character, so we keep shifting from person to person,  First Harry Potter is the main character then it’s all about Snape, before it is about Filch, and then Dobby  In that Movie the underlying plot is gone, and it would probably wouldn’t be a great movie to watch. You want to try to also have phrases that are the main character and that develop in your solo. Maybe not for te whole solo but sections of it. Those phrases are the transforming main character just like Harry Potter goes from being a boy living under a staircase to becoming a wizard.


What I am describing here is motivic development, because you can stick to a motif as a main character for a bit and then create a longer story by developing that, but you do need to get a few things right with your motif.

Don’t just repeat a melody, that is the same as just looping a scene in the movie. It’s tricky to get to work.

It needs to develop , otherwise, it gets boring, so practice making variations of the phrase, take away notes, add notes, switch from long to short notes and so on

And again, notice, how I am not using any special scales or sounds, it is about the melodies you play, not about which scale you are using.

But you do want to be aware that you need to make it recognizable. If you vary it too much then the effect is completely gone and nobody will hear how the solo phrases fit together.

Some great examples of motifs and motivic development that you probably already know are Beethoven

Those are great to start hearing motivic development being used in a very clear way, but you also want to listen for it in Jazz, and luckily almost any Jazz soloist will do, but Wes Montgomery is amazing at using motivic development and repeating phrases in his solos, both on changes and on more static chords EXAMPLE? , but once you start listening then you can hear that it is everywhere!

The first step in learning this is really to start to recognize it in the music you listen to, so start by listening.

There is another very important part of motivic development that people leave out..

Mistake #3 – Is Rhythm Important?

The most under-used tool to make solos interesting is probably rhythm. Rhythm can be a creative element that you can use in many ways:

  1. Play in the groove or over it
  2. Create contrast between phrases using different subdivisions
  3. Rhythmic displacement is also one of the best ways to develop motifs,

Phrase in the groove

Phrase over the groove

Subdivision for Motivic Development

Rhythmic Displacement is also a great way to develop motifs

in fact, for motivic development, it is one of the most powerful things to work with, and also something that you hear used in famous songs like fascinating rhythm:

An easy way to use this is to take a group of notes that don’t fit in the meter, so for 4/4 you can use 6,5 or 3 note groupings, and repeat them to create a motif that is shifting on top of the meter and in that way it becomes a more interesting phrase.

Mistake #4 – The Other Connection

There is another way to connect phrases than thinking of motivic development, and this is also a great way to get used to listening to yourself, I am, of course, talking about: Call-Response.

The concept here is to play a phrase and then think of what might be a good answer to that phrase.  My favorite example of this is the opening of Mozart’s  “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”

But you can try this out rubato as well

When you work on this then try to have a contrast between the different phrases. Play a more legato slow-moving phrase and then answer it with a faster more distinct phrase, or change the register between high and low.

Mistake #5 – Is It Boring?

When you solo on a single chord you can’t rely on the harmony of a song or chord progression to give your solo a form, a beginning, and an end, which is a lot easier when you are soloing on a song form. What becomes especially difficult is often that after some time then the notes become bland and it all sounds the same.

One way to surprise the listener can then be to find ways to use the notes in the scale that are the most exciting. I am using a m7 chord groove in this video so here notes the 9th and especially the 13th are good:

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But you can also create tension by leaving the harmony or changing it to creates dissonance.  Going outside the harmony and then resolving that dissonance creates development in your solo. One fairly easy way to do that is to shift out of the harmony by moving a half step:

and here I am just changing chords from Am7 to Abm7 in the middle of the line, in fact I do that twice,  and that give me a section of the phrase that is very dissonant which then resolves back into the Am7 chord. This is often referred toas Side-slipping, because you are taking a step outside and then move back home. You can do a lot of things with other chords, I have a video on that for m7 chords that I’ll link to in the description. Another approach that you can use is to re-interpret the chord and move to a sound that in the context is more dissonant and therefore more interesting. Like using A diminished over the Am7, even if that doesn’t really fit the chord.

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You want to start developing these skills, and once you do then you will quickly start to hear the improvement, especially if you also spend some time listening to soloists and hear how they are using call-response, motivic development, but there are other great phrasing techniques that you want to develop especially if you are getting into Jazz, and in this video I cover how you can learn some great lessons from the playing of Wes Montgomery and George Benson that will make you sound a lot better, on static chords but also on more moving harmony.

Why They Sound Better Than You Every Time!

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