Tag Archives: ear training guitar

3 Important Skills You Need To Work On Every Day

It is complicated to figure out what to practice, there are so many options and you have to watch out that you don’t just waste your time by moving from topic to topic without getting anywhere. But if you split your practice into these 3 essential skills, it is easier to get the balance right and make sure that you are getting something out of your practice.

This is especially important if you are teaching yourself and trying to find the right material online, because going down the wrong path and spending years on scales or chord inversions without putting them to use is a death sentence to your progress.

#1 Technique

With all 3 core skills, I’ll show you different ways to practice and develop them. This is important because you want to make your practice something you enjoy, if it is fun it helps you stay motivated. It is as important to keep going as it is to work on the right things. The 1st rule is that you need to develop and maintain your technique.

The Classic Practice Session

This one you know: Practice scales and exercises, of course, you do this with a metronome. This is not the only thing you want to practice, but it is a valid and efficient way to work on technique. For me, it is always important to make sure you keep this open-ended in some way. What I mean with that is that you want to change things up so that you keep playing new things not just stuff that you can play without thinking about it, and make sure that you don’t play exercises that you can’t turn into music.

Working like this, it is easy to focus on specific things you want to improve in your playing. It is also easy to measure progress with speed and accuracy, and you can design your own exercises, but it can get boring and you can “just run” the exercise in an unfocused brainless way. Another thing that can be a challenge is to get lost in permutations and being unable to insert what you are practicing into music.

This might seem like I am telling you that you should not practice like this, and I am not saying that at all. I practice exercises and it works very well for a lot of people, but you do need to evaluate if it is working for you, and it can be a good idea to change things up with one of the other approaches in this video, like this next one.

The Classical Practice Session

If you learn to play an instrument following the classical tradition you will often be exposed to a vast repertoire of music written to help you develop technical skills. I am talking about Etudes, when I had classical guitar lessons back in the 14th century, then I played lots of Carcassi, Vila Lobos, and Tarrega etudes.

In Jazz, there is almost a tradition for doing the same kind of thing in two ways. You have Bach and Kreutzer etudes, which can be a lot of fun. Of course, you can also treat a Bebop theme like Donna Lee as an Etude or write your own.

And the most common one is learning solos by ear and playing them along with the recording, something I enjoy doing quite a lot. This is probably the strongest etude tradition in Jazz, and learning solos you are also working on ear-training, another core skill that will come up again.

One thing that makes etudes great is that it is music, at least if it is good enough, and you are combining a lot of different things when learning it, so it is not focused on a single thing. Of course, that can also be a problem because it becomes harder to isolate something and get it into your own solos. On the other hand, if you make it a habit to make your own etudes then you are working on writing music and developing other skills. It is also a great opportunity to borrow from other styles and get inspired, like Bach, Kreutzer or I’ve talked about Steve Morse and John Petrucci exercises. Etudes only have a few examples, so as opposed to drowning in scale exercises you can end up with not getting enough, or the right, variations out of an etude.

But there is another strategy as well that involves vocabulary and repertoire. Let’s look at that.

Vocabulary On A Song

A different approach is to take the exercises or the topic that you want to work on and then apply it to a song. There are several ways to do this. If you are familiar with Barry Harris then you have probably seen how he practices scales around a song and also turns other things into exercises on top of songs, eventually turning it into an etude.

This can be a very useful way to develop your technique while also linking it to music, but probably works the best if you are also practicing scales and arpeggios at the same time.

My friend Pritesh Walia also works with vocabulary on songs as his main approach to practicing. What he does is to take a line and then explore how he can first move it through the progression to make it fit the song, and then gradually transition into soloing using that vocabulary through the song.

What is great about working like this is that you are really connecting your practice to the songs you want to play, but it can be difficult do this without also practicing exercises, and you also do need some theory and analysis skills to work through both Pritesh and Barry’s strategies.

#2 Ear-Training

The 2nd rule for your practice routine is that you always want to develop your ears. We need to constantly improve the connection between what we hear inside with what comes out on the instrument. That is one of the main parts of improvising solos.

I have other videos where I talk about some of the illusions that this leads to with people hoping to ignore learning songs, technique and a lot of other things because they believe that they hear melodies inside that are as brilliant as Charlie Parker. That is not how it works, it is all connected and you need to develop your ears alongside your other skills, and those skills will help you develop your ears and develop what you hear. People with perfect pitch can’t magically play amazing solos or perform music without being able to play the instrument or know the style.

There’s an APP now!

For me, sight singing was probably the strongest way to help me develop my ears in the beginning since it is a good way to hear something internally and then turn that into sound.

 

That is still useful to work on and you can rely on your sense of tonality to help you train it. The other way I’d suggest working on ear training would be apps that train your ability to hear notes and chords in a tonal context, because most Jazz music is tonal. Functional ear-trainer is a great free app to work with.

But I would not only work on ear-training like this, and the next bit might contain a few hot takes.

Not just exercises

Ear-training should not be like theory, it should be connected to the music you want to play. Just like it can be a problem to connect technical exercises to your actual playing then the ear-training should also connect to how you play.

There are 3 ways you should be using your ears when you practice:

  1. Repertoire, Learning Songs by ear. We need to get used to how chords and melody is actually being played in Jazz, and those habits are a huge part of the ear-training and something no app will teach you.
  2. Solos, learning solos by ear: because that is how you will learn to hear melodies and lines but also how you will learn to hear how they are phrased and how they sit in the groove, again something that isn’t in any apps.
  3. Hearing the harmony and the groove inside with no reference. Practicing with a metronome and no reference teaches you to hear the harmony inside, it teaches you to feel the form, and much more deeply connect with the music compared to putting on iReal and leaning on that.

Let me know what you think and how you practice!

Evaluate Your Practice

There is a massive mistake that most of us are making with practice, and it is fairly easy to fix, but I am also curious if you are planning to change something in your practice because of this video, so leave a comment on that! And of course, also if you think I missed something in this video!

It is important that you evaluate your progress and your playing, and one thing you absolutely have to do for that is to record yourself playing. You can’t tell how it sounds while you are playing, you need to only be listening. I use my phone for this and just make a video because that is super easy., it takes a bit of getting used to but it will boost your progress to get into that habit! That is also what I encourage students to do in my course “The Jazz Guitar Roadmap”,

and if they post videos in the community they also get the benefit of getting feedback from me. My ears are more experienced and I can help them figure out what to improve and I notice things they don’t.

If you want to learn how to play Jazz there is one thing that should be at the center of your practice, and it is shocking how often it isn’t

#3 Making Music

Would you expect to become good at tennis if you are only doing warm-ups, or become an amazing chef by only reading cookbooks. I don’t think you would.

That is why you should NEVER have a practice routine that is only exercises and theoretical activities. If you want to play Jazz then you should practice playing Jazz. I remember hearing a Scofield interview where he talked about how he practices and his wife would remark that he wasn’t really practicing he was just sitting there playing songs with a metronome.

But obviously, that is what works.

Why is this so important? The two other core skills are isolated, they are focused on specific parts of your playing but not about your playing as a whole. Being able to play Jazz means that you have to get all the skills to work together, your timing, technique, phrasing, creativity, and ears should all work together when you solo, but the only way to learn to do that is to play songs, play real music and put them to use. The looping II V I’s or single chords don’t teach you to tell a story in a solo or deal with a form. That is why you need real songs!

But what should you practice? A lot of this is just about playing the song, so put on a metronome, play the melody, and start soloing. And don’ forget, the same is true for comping so you also want to work on playing through songs comping and spending time practicing comping. As Peter Bernstein says:

That is how you develop some real strategies and get to the next level with what you can do with chords.

The Strategy

When you are learning songs then start with the melody, then learn the chords and when you  have that down then start soloing. That way you are building a foundation to lean on when you start improvising. If you have never gone through a song before and really learned it then the Roadmap is my take on how to help you through that process while teaching you how to make lines that really sound like Jazz. I have worked with more than 4000 students by now and it is a lot of fun to see people grow as they move through it.

But, of course, you also want to develop your comping and learn how to take the chord symbols and turn them into music that is where it gets really fun and starts to open up so that you are creating music not just trying to keep up with a list of chords. I talk about how to level up your skills with chords and comping in this video. It covers 3 exercises that you want to explore and that can develop your skills both with rhythm and chords! Check it out!

Learn Jazz Make Music

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

 

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Is Reading Music Important For Learning For Jazz?

Joe Pass couldn’t read music

Wes Montgomery didn’t know music theory

Guthrie Govan never used a metronome

John Abercrombie didn’t transcribe other people’s solos

Barry Harris never studied modes

So if I want to be better than Joe Pass, Wes, Guthrie, John Abercrombie, and Barry Harris then I should:

Not read any music, learn theory, never use a metronome, and not learn other people’s solos or study modes!

Be Careful With Advice From Anecdotes

As you can probably hear then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use an anecdote or a myth as a way of planning your practice and figuring out if something is useful for you.

Simply because the fact that someone else didn’t do something doesn’t mean that not doing that will be useful for you.

You are a completely different person, probably in a different time and with different resources available.

99% of the time I hear these statements used to either make someone sound like a “magic” talent or as an excuse for not practicing something that requires work.

Making artists “magic” is fine if you want to, but thinking like that also means that you are already giving up on learning to play like them or that you think you are magic as well. It doesn’t strike me as a fantastic strategy.

The same goes with using this as an excuse, if Wes Montgomery can’t read music then I don’t have to. but keep in mind that you are NOT Wes or Joe Pass. And Joe Pass not being able to read music does not mean that he was sitting looking at YouTube and commenting “got tabs?” or looking up chords in books with diagrams.

He learned things by ear which is something he trained his whole life.

What you really want to evaluate is whether learning to read music or any other skill, is going to be useful for you. It is not really about Wes or Joe Pass. It is about what you need to learn and what helps you the most.

The argument I will make for why you can benefit from learning to read music is probably different from what you normally hear, but I also think that it is much more powerful.

It Is SOOO Difficult!

I started with classical guitar, so everything was reading music for the first 4 or 5 years, but there was one aspect of it that I was not taught that is incredibly useful.  At the same time, I was reading all the music I was playing so it was never something that it felt like I had to work on that much since that was just how you played guitar.

Reading is often taught as a very mechanical process,  and the problem that guitar players usually have is that you can’t just point at a note in the sheet music and then say that is THIS note on the guitar, similar to a piano. On a guitar, you can play the same C in many places on the guitar, but maybe the focus for learning how to read music could be different. Maybe it should not be as much about how you play what is on the page but more about how it sounds.

I think it is much more useful to look at the page and then be able to hear what that sounds like, because if you know what it sounds like then you can also find a way to play it. This might sound even more difficult, but for a lot of music that is not as difficult as you might think. Reading music then becomes a part of ear training, and approaching it like that is probably one of the best ways to learn that will also help you with a lot of other things in your playing.

The way you do that is by learning to hear music based on the key it is in which you might discover is easier than you think, mainly because you probably already hear music in that way.

 

Let me quickly show you what I mean and then also translate that to the guitar.

Let’s say that we are in the key of C.

So you hear this as the root: C (play cadence)

This is the note that we hold on to and use to hear the rest of the notes.

With sheet music!

And if you hear C major then you can also hear the other notes, like you can hear a C major triad or notes from the C major scale.

Obviously, this will be something you partly already have and something you want to train and develop, but if you can read in a key like this, then if you have to play something almost only becomes a matter of knowing the scale of the key and then using that to play what is on the page.

Because that means that you can look at this:

And then you actually hear this:

MAY ALL THIS SECTION SHOULD BE REVISITED>>>Example with audio

And that is a very efficient way to learn music or internalize music, and the way music notation is made then it is a much bigger help than you think when it comes to this. This is really overlooked, and one of the worst examples of this is the Omnibook where everything is written out in C with accidentals, probably one of the things that annoys me the most in any Jazz education book.

If you want to have an impression about how that can work then try reading a song that you know in a key that you know.

Example Frere Jacques

You also need to be able to translate a written rhythm to something you can hear, so that a rhythm becomes something you can look at and then know the sound of. I am not going to get into that right now.

But hopefully, you can see how knowing the scale and being able to hear the notes in the scale will help you. There is another equally important thing to learn that is a little style-dependent, but which also makes things a lot easier.

First I think we need to discuss something else….

NOT Sight-reading

“but can you sight-read the black page backward on an Ab trombone”

I talked about this in a video a few years ago, and for some reason, people think that sight-reading is the same as being able to read music, which for the most part it probably isn’t, and I think it is useful to make the distinction between the two.

Just like anything else you have to play then you need to practice to play it. If you need to learn 40 pop pieces for a gig or if you need to learn the originals in a band, then you practice those songs. Sometimes you get the material as an audio recording and sometimes it is written out.

On a side note: It is NEVER written out in tabs, NEVER.

The goal is the same: You need to end up playing it convincingly on the gig, and if that means practicing what is on a page to get it to the point where you can easily play it and get it to sound right. In my experience, it is better to be good at preparing and really nailing your part compared to being good at sight-reading it mostly just because practicing towards really playing it to the best of your ability is just a better strategy than trying to be really good at surviving your way through it.

And it is a different process if you are working on reading music and trying to turn that into a solid performance with good phrasing and timing, instead of trying to become good at just superficially playing through songs you have never seen before. Approaching it like that is the same as trying to learn to solo by improvising with iReal and letting the app choose random songs without actually learning them, that is just way too superficial.

Chunks In My Music

Another useful connection when it comes to reading is that you want to learn to see the notes in a melody as a group of notes rather than reading everything one note at a time.

I guess that is about being able to recognize patterns in a written-out piece of music, but also linking how you probably think about what you play, how you analyze, and how you read.

Just like reading a text, t is much more efficient to read words compared to trying to spell everything. I think that is pretty obvious, and the better you get at recognizing the building blocks in the music when you read, the easier it will get. From a technical point of view, it also fits together very well if you read music in a key and you are able to play common building blocks like diatonic 7th chord arpeggios or triads. That is going to make the process of getting the notes off the paper and turning them into music A LOT easier.

What musical words you want to be able to recognize is of course style dependent, but for Bop-inspired Jazz then 7th chords, triads and inversions, chromatic enclosures, and octave displaced arpeggios are very useful. For other styles, you will have other words.

You Don’t Have To Learn To Read Music

Holdsworth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRJVhCLLCtw&t=1222s – 30:30

I don’t care if you want to learn to read, just to be completely honest. Lots of people have relied on using their ears instead of reading sheet music, as I was talking about in the beginning of the video.

In fact, I am not really that great at reading music myself, because it is not what I do the most, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t read. People always go to the extremes with this. You can either sight-read anything or you don’t know where the middle C is, there is nothing in between. There is a Holdsworth clinic somewhere where you see him get really annoyed that people think he is completely clueless with reading which he is obviously not.

But do keep in mind that knocking being able to read music and suggesting that tabs and diagrams are as useful is, in my opinion, just not true. You already saw how the notation ties in with how we hear and play music. Tabs and diagrams can never do that, and I am sure that you agree that these skills are essential to playing music and you can use reading as a way of improving them if you do approach it the right way.

 

Let me know in the comments what you think?

At the same time, I would not put reading at the top of the list if you want to learn Jazz. It is useful, also for communicating with other musicians and analyzing what is going on in the music, but learning solos by ear and playing music is more important. Spending a few minutes a day singing music and training your ability to hear a tonality is however not a waste of time, and maybe one of the most useful things you could do.

It Needs To Get Into Your Ear

“Just learn from the masters” is both the worst and the best advice you will get online. Learning solos by ear is a great way to both develop your ear, your phrasing and your vocabulary, but if you don’t get suggestions of places to start then learning a solo by ear can be almost impossible. If you have never learned to play a solo along with the album, then you are missing out, and it really doesn’t have to be that difficult! If you want some suggestions for easy but great solos to start with from Wes, Kenny Burrel, and George Benson, then check out this video!

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7 Guitar Skills That Pay Off Forever

Some skills are more difficult than just learning a new lick:

or a chord voicing,

and you want to keep working on and developing these skills because THEY will benefit your playing and progress forever. They are sort of the opposite of a quick win., but probably also a lot more important. In this video, I will go over 7 of those skills including one that I really suck at, but there is still hope. Some of these may also be unpopular opinions, but I am sure you guys will let me know in the comment section.

#1 Learning By Ear

When I started learning Jazz, I was told to learn songs by ear and transcribe solos pretty early on, and in hindsight, that was some of the best advice I ever had, even if it had a few funny side effects which I will get back to later.

Right now it is easy to get any information, everything is available as a PDF transcription and you can ask “got tabs for that” on any post on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, but learning by ear is incredibly important for how well you play guitar.

When you learn songs by ear then you reinforce the connection between what you hear in your brain and what comes out on the instrument and while this is a pretty obvious advantage for learning to improvise and compose music then that connection is just as crucial if you are playing composed music.

If you are just reading the notes then that is what we call “typing” and you are not really making music just making sounds from a piece of paper.

The odd side-effect that I had by learning songs by ear was that I wasn’t really jamming with other people at the time and just learned songs that I liked from the albums I listened to, and It turned out that “I Heard You Cried Last Night”, “This Is No Laughing Matter” and “She’s Funny That Way” was not really songs that I ever got to play with anyone.

If you are completely new to learning by ear then it can seem difficult to get started, but don’t be afraid to ease into it and go learn songs that you know but never played, and it really is perfectly fine to start with the riffs from Sunshine Of You Love or Seven Nation Army and build from there instead of giving up on a 10 Coltrane solo.

#2 Analyze Your Own Playing And Progress

In my experience, the biggest problem with self-teaching, and this is true for students of any level, is ear training. Not only being able to hear notes and chords but really being able to hear how something is supposed to sound when it comes to all of the important aspects of music.

Keep in mind that Stevie Ray Vaughan uses pentatonic scales, but so does a lot of African folk music and a ton of heavy metal, and they all sound pretty different!

So there is a lot more to music than what notes or scale is used because you need:

Rhythm

Phrasing

Melody

to all come together and none of those are described by a scale.

If you are teaching yourself then you need to train yourself to hear what is wrong and figure out a way to improve on that. I am sure you can see how this is difficult to get right.

The way you do that is by recording yourself because It is impossible to listen and catch it all while you are also playing. Then you start analyzing what and how you play so that you can figure out how to get better. and This is something that no YouTube video, blog post or podcast can do for you, but it is an essential part of learning, and it will help you improve your playing forever. The fact that giving yourself feedback is almost impossible is actually also why I have included a community in my course to give students feedback on their playing, in a way that is to let them borrow my ears, get some feedback and help focus their work while going through the course.

So record yourself and listen for what needs work and focus on improving that, and train your ears to hear good rhythm and good phrasing as well as notes and chords.

#3 Fretboard Knowledge

Building an overview of the fretboard so that you are free to move around like Joe Pass does here and play lines over any chord on any part of the neck is of course the goal,

but it is something that you want to build over time. In fact, I found that it works better to start with one place of the neck and make sure that you can make music there and then expand that.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I don’t think I have seen anyone really get a lot out of trying to work on fretboard knowledge without also using this in music. When I see students improve this aspect of their playing then it seems to be mostly by learning a song in one position and then gradually adding the surrounding positions to have an overview of that part of the neck.

The types of exercises that work beyond that seem to be exercises that help you find things in a context on the guitar, so playing diatonic triads or arpeggios across the neck or on a string set, but you need to pair it with using this material to really integrate it into how you already play and actually learn something.

#4 Knowing Music Theory

This is possibly a hot take when it comes to guitar skills, but in general, most people get a lot out of learning some theory so that they can understand the music that they play and what they are doing when they improvise. It really does tend to make them better musicians in the long run.

The trick with theory is that you need to get it away from being just theory for it to be useful, so if you want to understand harmony then you want to know songs that use that harmony, if you want to use the altered scale then know how solos sound that uses the altered scale.

For a lot of us, certainly, for me, it is pretty easy to learn the theory part, but it takes a lot more work to also connect it to your ear and in that way get it to the point where you can actually use it, but that is worth working on and can open of for amazing things in your playing.

#5 Reading Music

Not sure if this is another unpopular opinion, but reading music is really good for learning to play an instrument, and maybe the most important part of that is something that nobody ever talks about.

On guitar then most internet stuff will include tabs and diagrams which are ways of writing down what to play in a very direct and easy-digestible way. They do however leave a lot of information out and some of the advantages to reading sheet music that are not included in tabs and diagrams are:

The Rhythm, a bunch of numbers doesn’t give you the rhythm and that is at least 50% of the music most of the time.

How it sounds in the context and where the notes are going, the number describing the root of the key looks just like the number that is the most dissonant chromatic note over a chord.

Music Notation is more general so if you can read, then you have access to great music that is written for violin, saxophone, piano etc.

Most of this is obvious, but just to give you a superficial example of hearing things in the context, here are the tabs of a II V I lick. From looking at this then it is not immediately obvious that the V chord is going to be sounding out of the key, but if you add the sheet music you can see how suddenly there are a lot of notes in there that are not in the key so you expect those to sound further away.

In fact, if you train reading and especially singing from sheet music, then you are working on hearing what is written, and THAT helps you hear music and know what it is you hear, which is a great shortcut to playing what you hear.

Let’s talk about a skill that I do NOT master….

#6 Setting Up A Guitar

I actually tried to learn how to set up a guitar and become less dependent on others, but I ran into a problem that needed help solving.

The reason that I suck at this is that I am lucky and unlucky to be surrounded by people who are incredible at doing setups and I was always more interested in playing a guitar than setting it up. I actually bought my Yamaha SG1000 as a project to practice setting up guitars.

Most guitars are made of wood, which sort of means that they are still alive and change over time. So the instrument changes with temperature and humidity and you need to set them up so that they play well and stay in tune. This becomes especially relevant when you start traveling with a guitar.

With my SG1000 project, the problem that I ran into was that the bridge had bowed inwards over time and needed to be replaced, That was more than I could figure out myself, see the part of the video on self-teaching, so I just kept trying to get the guitar in tune, with the right action but kept running into problems because the bridge and the neck don’t curve the same way.

This is something that I do plan to pick up again though since it sucks to be stuck in a city in another country with a guitar that doesn’t play as easily as it did at home, maybe I will keep you up to date along the way on that.

#7 Playing With Other People

The only reason that I managed to start playing Jazz at 23 and get into a conservatory two years later is that I focused on playing with other people. I love making music with others, that is by far what I find the most important about making music and what I enjoy doing the most. Spending hours every day during the summer playing Jazz standards in the street really made that all come together and got me to the level I needed to get into music school.

Playing music with others often boosts progress massively when you are learning an instrument for 3 main reasons:

Motivation

Communication

Internalization

The skill you want to develop here is to be able to communicate, which really means that while you are playing, you need to be able to listen to the rest of the ensemble and decide if you want to follow or lead something in the music and know how to get that across while you are playing. If you just start playing and close your ears to what is happening around you then you will not be called again.

The reason that this will pay off forever is pretty simple, playing with other people is fun and incredibly motivating for you to keep practicing and explore new things, and if you want to be able to use what you practice then you need to internalize it so that you can play like that and still pay attention to the band. In the end, you can jam a standard with a band 100s of times more than what you can practice it, and that will make a huge difference to your development.

So try to work on becoming great to play with by being flexible when you play with others and listening to what they are doing, regardless of how your level of ear training is you will only hear something if your ears are open in the first place.

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