Tag Archives: chromatic notes guitar

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:

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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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Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But, you have to watch out that you get it to where it becomes really amazing because there is A LOT more in there that goes far beyond chromatic notes and deep into some amazing Bebop phrasing, and you DON’T want to miss that.

The Basic Exercise

What makes this a beautiful strategy is probably that it is actually incredibly simple but also very complete, let me show you what I mean.

If you take a C major scale:

The goal is to add a chromatic note between all the notes in the scale, and for the most part, that is super easy, barely an inconvenience, but there are a few “trouble spots”.

Between C & D, and D & E you can just add a chromatic note:

But between theE and The F it is a bit more tricky

Here you can take the scale note above F, G as shown above:

From F to G, G to A, A to B, it is easy:and

again since there is no room between B and C

So you can add the B D C:

Giving you this exercise:

And you can do exactly the same going down, adding a scale note whenever there isn’t a natural chromatic leading note.

This already sounds great, and a lot more interesting than just moving in half steps, but there is a lot more to get from this, especially with those exception spots.

It works for any scale!

You should also realize that this system will work with any scale so if you take A harmonic minor that could give you this:

The Advantage – Modular Bebop

“But what is so great about a bunch of chromatic notes?”

The first advantage is having a way to insert chromatic notes before every note in a scale. This is incredibly powerful because that means that you can come up with a short lick and move it around the scale and it will work for a lot of chords.

Check out this line with 2 half-steps and an arpeggio:

And now that you have this chromatic scale, it is possible to move the line to other chords and still keep the rhythm the same.

This is the original:

on Dm7 you get:

And for Em7:

Of course, you can take this through the entire scale, but you can hear how these all work.

And notice that the Em7 line also sounds great over a Cmaj7 so you are developing solid material for several chords working like this.

Rhythm = Phrasing!

The important thing here is that Barry’s chromatic scale keeps the rhythm intact when you move around phrases, because that means that it stays solid vocabulary, if it works on one chord it will work on the others as well, but this is just the basic system, and I see quite a few students get stuck with just using only this small part of is, which is actually a pity since it can create so many other beautiful things, even chords.

Taking It Up A Level

Until now the phrases have been pretty simple, but they work well and are easy to create:

And often the emphasis is on using Barry’s chromatic scale to create lines where chord tones are on the downbeat and chromatic notes or half-steps are on the offbeat, in fact, similar to the thinking in Bebop scales, just a lot more open so that you don’t only play scale melodies all the time.

You probably know I am not a huge fan of Bebop scales.

This example isn’t wrong, but you don’t want to stop here, if you listen to Bebop lines then they are not only changing direction on the heavy beat like this one does.

Parker did it like this

A typical Bebop Line like this Parker Lick changes direction in less predictable places and that is a huge part of why it sounds good: It is more surprising and exciting.

There are different ways to describe what is going on in a lick like this, but this exercise actually can help you get more of that sound in there.

On a side note, You also want to notice that Parker doesn’t mind having a leading note on the downbeat at the beginning of the phrase, that is NOT a rule!

And whenever I say that there are people in the comments who start complaining that I say that it IS a rule. It will be interesting if they now stopped the video to start typing angrily and didn’t see this part.

It’s All About That Exception

The secret weapon you have for making stronger melodies is primarily the exceptions in the exercise, which are an incredible tool, and much more powerful than you might think!

You might wonder “why is this useful?”, but it is actually difficult to get the melodies to have a natural flow and still move around in a surprising way without sounding like a scientific experiment, and in the Barry Harris Chromatic Scale that is already there, and you can get the melody to skip around without having to do any extra work.

Take this super simple melody

You can add a half step between the B and the A:

But if you add the half step between the C and the B then you need to skip up to a higher scale note and you get a much nicer melody:

And of course, you can use this together with other half-steps and get:

There is a lot more available! I will get to the crazy chords later, but let’s first create some really great Bop lines.

The Hidden Bonus

Whenever Barry talks about this exercise in the masterclasses, he also talks about how any note can be a half-step, and I want to show you how you can use that as a method for creating some really great bop lines.

And It is easy to get to work, but also has an odd side-effect. If you start with a basic descending line like this:

Then the version you already know sounds great like this:

But you can also turn it into an amazing melody with a large 6th interval by using the 3rd as a half step, so skipping down to a lower E.

And you can of course also just choose to add the leading note below the target:

While I don’t think that chromatic leading notes have to be on an offbeat then 99% of the time these types of lines sound better if the “half step” is not on a downbeat, but you can work around that by adding a leading note to the low-leading note:

And working on this, coming up with licks where you insert these melodic skips into your solos will really make your lines go up a few levels on the scale of Bebop goodness.

Going Too Far

These first examples were all based around the “exception” spots in the lines but maybe it also works in other places.

If you start with this:

and usually, you would just add a half-step between E and D

But here taking a lower chord tone also sound great:

And again adding leading notes to the leading note and a few other half steps you have a great line like this:

Which is a line that you can move around in the scale and turn into a Dm7-G7 lick and create this II V I:

I will go over some more examples on how to write lines using Barry’s Chromatic scale in this week’s Patreon video, but maybe that is anyway a topic for another video. Let me know in the comments

Going WAY Too Far

One thing that I remember from the 1st year I went to the piano classes in the Hague was how Barry talked about harmonizing this chromatic scale. He had gotten this idea from one of the piano players in the Hague, Erik Doelman, who sadly passed away a few years ago.

At the time, I took that exercise and tried to move it to guitar with drop2 voicings, and it was pretty much unplayable, but again, the idea is simple and you can sometimes find some nice things in there with some VERY dissonant chords.

Essentially you take a chord voicing and then just move each note through Barry’s chromatic scale.

For a Cmaj7 that looks and sounds like this:

I suspect that I did the same thing but started with a C6 voicing which complicates it a bit more, but as I said I don’t remember.

And this is a great exercise for your fretboard overview, exploring this exercise and you can find some pretty crazy chord sounds that can be fun to throw in there as passing chords.

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5 Easy Ways To Sound Like Bebop on a C7

The most important part of sounding like jazz, whether you play in that genre or in another, is probably to have some Bebop as a part of your playing.

This video is going to demonstrate 5 easy bebop licks on a C7 chord in a very position and quickly connect it to a scale and an arpeggio. I will go over how you can add some bebop flavour and chromatic phrases to your playing in this position.

Learning and adding to your vocabulary

Finding practical and playable solutions is essential if you want to learn something like the jazz language and this video should give you some easy to apply examples and ideas. This is also how I work and have worked with learning new material.

Keeping Bebop simple: Chord, Position, Licks

The examples I am going to cover are all found around this chord, which is C7 in the 8th fret:

which is closely related to this arpeggio.

And in that position you could think of this C7 or F major scale: 

I find that this is an area of the neck that is a good starting point if you want to add something new to your C7 vocabulary because it is very close to the chord and the Cm pentatonic scale so we have an overview already.

Chromatic Passing note idea 1

This first example is adding a chromatic note on the top E string. The melody is adding a note between the 9th and the root. From there it is a descending scale run ending with a C major triad.
Notice how the end of the phrase is no on the beat which is also typical for bop lines.

More Chromaticism and a bit of Blues

In this example I am using a longer chromatic run on the B string. On this string we already have 3 strong C7 notes: 5,13 and b7.After a short bluesy phrase with those the lick is descending from b7 to 5 in halfsteps again reconnecting with the chord by playing a descending C major triad at the end.

Pivot arpeggios and arpeggios from the 3rd

This example uses two really strong bebop concepts. First this way of using an arpeggio inversion where I am using Em7b5 in first inversion but starting with the high note and then skipping down. If you want to check out how George Benson uses this I have that in a video here.

The other example is adding a chromatic note between b7 and the root which is also extremely common.

Two note chromatic approach

Here the chromatic approach is two notes and inserted between F and E in the beginning of the lick. The rest of the line is using an Em7b5 arpeggio and ends on the root on the high e string. Again ending on the 1&

Encircling: Diatonic above, chromatic below

Encircling a chord tone with a chromatic note and a scale note is also a very common bebop melody. This example is first encircling the 5th(G) with A and F# before it continues with first the arpeggio from the 5th: Gm7 and then a C7 arpeggio.

A few closing Bebop remarks

Besides the devices I talked about in this video it is also important to remember that bebop lines are based on the chords your are playing over. This means that you want to use those chord tones as target notes and as start and ending points of your melodies when you are improvising.

If you want to explore more bebop and especially focus on the phrasing then I have this WebStore lesson with some exercises for that:

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5 easy ways to sound like bebop on a C7

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