A difficult thing when you are starting Jazz is that the chords are flying left and right while you have to keep up and play a solo that fits with the chords and also doesn’t sound like you are playing something that is completely random.
In this video, I am going to show you how you can work to develop skills that help you play natural sounding solos that follow the changes, starting very simple and the expanding it gradually, and I will give you an example of how great Jazz players make amazing lines with these very basic tools because that is possible too.
Why Chord Tones and Not Scales?
The first problem that you can easily overcome is to stop thinking in scales and start thinking about chord tones, so the notes in each chord. This is to help you learn to play the changes and hear the chord progression and you can always add the scales back later, they fit around the chord tones anyway. Reducing a song to a bunch of scales is not really helping you play a solo over that chord progression, simply because it is too much information, and not clearly connecting you to the chords. Instead, you want to focus on the chord tones or arpeggios of each chord.
In Jazz, the basic chord type that makes up the chord progression is a 7th chord, so when I talk about chord tones, then I am talking about the root, 3rd, 7th, and 5th of the chord (on screen: Cmaj7 adding the interval under the notes)
When you work on improvising with chord tones then you are learning to:
- Improvise Melodies That Follow The Chord Progression
- Hear The Chord Progression, not just understand it
- Play Solos With Melodies That Make Sense and Sound Natural
Starting With A Scale?
The progression that I am using in this video is a II V I.
A II V I is a very common progression in Jazz that you need to master because they are all over the place!
When I am talking about a II V I then I am referring to scale degrees, so for C major then you have a chord on each note in the scale and we use the roman numerals to refer to those so in C major,
a II V I is Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Since these chords are in the key of C major, then it is really useful to still keep in the back of your mind that this scale is the backdrop
Let’s start with a really simple way of playing arpeggios, just using one octave, and then expand from there:
Right now all the arpeggios have each note once. You will see later in the video, how to open that up and make it more flexible. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t already start to make some really good lines with this, and that is of course the goal: To play solid melodic Jazz solos.
Making Solid Lines With Few Notes
Here you have a basic II V I lick, just using the chord tones.’
You want to know the arpeggios so well that you don’t end up just running up and down the arpeggio and always start on the root.
If you want to use the arpeggios to play melodies then you need to be free to move around and play them, not be stuck only playing up and down the arpeggio. Simply because this is not a really interesting melody, it is predictable both on each chord and from one chord to the next.
You want to practice making small melodies with an arpeggio to get your technique, your ears, and your imagination to open up. So for a Dm7, try to practice making small licks like these:
When you are working on this then you are starting to get used to improvising with them and what is often overlooked:
Composing lines is practicing improvisation slowly
So the more you do that and play those lines the more material you will have to play in your solos.
Nailing The Changes
The next thing to do is to start working on playing from one chord to the next and get it to sound like a melody not like two things next to each other.
If we start with going from Dm7 to G7.
This is sort of common sense: If you play a note on beat 1 of the G7 bar that is not in the Dm7 arpeggio then it is clear that you are now on a new chord, that is easy to hear and you are playing it right when the chord changes.
The strongest note for this is the 3rd: B, so if you play something on the Dm7 that flows to that B on G7 then it is easy to hear the change and it makes sense as a melody:
So to play the changes and have a solo line that makes sense then you can practice playing something on Dm7 that naturally flows to that B on G7 and then continue your melody from there.
And all of this is the same for the Cmaj7, so here you can practice playing towards the 3rd: E.
This is a good place to start, and the 1-octave arpeggios are something you will see in a lot of solos, but it is useful to also explore the entire position for the arpeggios which opens up for some more options with the melodies as well.
Expanding The Arpeggios
You probably know these already, now the Dm7 is this:
and G7 can expand to this:
and finally the Cmaj7:
Of course, the notes are still the same 4-notes we just have more of them on the fretboard., and for each chord, you will have
This means that now you can make lines like this:
Melodic Tricks and Exercises
There are some really simple things that you can add to your lines and get better at using that will make your lines a lot more interesting.
Some of them are used in this example:
Here I am repeating a pattern on the Dm7 which is a great way to build melodies. If you think about it then a lot of melodies are repeated figures that are either moved through the changes or think of Autumn Leaves which is one motif that is moving down the scale.
Or simple repeated like Broadway:
One way to work on this with arpeggios is to practice patterns like groups of 4 notes or skipping patterns:
And then work on using that in your playing by composing line with them.
Another thing that you want to work on is playing melodies that end or start on off beats.
In this example, you can see how the first part of this phrase ends on the 1& and then starts again on the 3&
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