Tag Archives: guitar phrasing

Jazz Phrasing Techniques – How To Get A Better Jazz Flow

Jazz is a musical language, we talk about learning vocabulary and learning phrasing all the time. But I do see a lot of students only
practicing what notes to play and really missing out on how to learn to phrase so it sounds like jazz.

So let’s say that you can make a line like this one:

It sounds good, but it sounds a lot better if you play it like this:

That’s what I want to talk about in this lesson!

Listen for the phrasing and the techniques used

First I am going to give you some examples of the different techniques you can use and then I am going to go over how you can start using it in your own playing for arpeggios, jazz blues and making scale runs much more interesting.

In a way this is a video on legato technique, but it is really more about how you use it make better lines.

How does it make it sound better?

In the example below I am using a slide to move from the chromatic leading note to the root. This brings out the more interesting chromatic note that “doesn’t fit” and it makes the resolution more subtle.

At the end of the 1st bar you can see a 3 note grouping starting on G. The pull-off gives the G an accent which sits well in the groove. The next phrase is the same phrase that is move down a half step and executed in the same way. This shifts the 3-note group but also ties together the line across the two chords.

The trill on beat 3 of the 2nd bar is also a way to add movement in the 8th note line.

More rhythm, more phrasing!

The example here below uses some of the same techniques but is a lot less dense.

The G# leading note is sliding up to the A, again using the concept of bringing out the “interesting” chromatic note and not the resolution. This is also what happens at the end of the line going to G.

The pull-off in the triplet is here more functioning as a way to make the melody more playable.

How do you get this into your own playing

For you to start working with this type of phrasing and techniques you should start looking at the lines you make and spot how you can add to the phrasing.

Example 4a here below is a really basic Gm7:

This can be embellished with a leading note as shown in 4b which makes it sound a lot better:

Adding Dynamics to spice it up

Legato is a great way to add some dynamics and make a lick less monotonous.

Try playing this line:

Instead of playing this by picking each note and make it pretty even you can add a lot of life to it and get it to sound a lot better:

A key ingredient of Jazz Blues

Using grace notes and slides are really what makes Blues work in Jazz lines. Try to listen to these two ways of playing the same melody, first with and then with out the embellishing phrasing:

And without:

Leading notes to arpeggios

A great and easy way to add some interesting phrasing is to use leading notes. This works especially well with arpeggios as shown in the example below, where I am adding an F# in front of the Gm7 arpeggio.

Keep it practical

If you want to practice this then you could explore exercises like this one. Notice how I am using slides in some places and hammer-ons in others. It really just depends on what is easier to use in each case.

Making your scale runs more fun to play

Scale runs can quickly become boring. In this section you have two licks with scale runs and I will shouw you how to make add some more movement with simple embellishments.

Example 7 has a scale run in the 1st half of the bar. This is turned into a triplet rhythm with a slide and hammer on/pull-off. What really helps here is also that the direction now changes within the run so it is less predictable.

Example 8a and 8b use a similar approach for the first part of the bar. Here the scale run also introduces a larger interval from D up to the G on beat 3.

Build your own phrasing!

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The Reason Your Jazz Guitar Licks Suck and How you fix it!

Your jazz licks have all the right arpeggios and chord tones, target notes etc. And they still don’t sound like great bop lines! The Problem is probably with the jazz phrasing.  In this video I am going to give you a basic understanding of some of the jazz phrasing that can lift your solos to the next level.

I am also going to give you a way to write licks which you can phrase better and take a few bars from a George Benson solo to demonstrate how he gets it right!

The Good, The Bad and the Bebop!

In the example below I have written out two examples of jazz lines over a Turnaround in C major.

They both contain right notes and the melodies are moving from chord to chord in a logical way, but the second one sits better in the groove and is easier to phrase in a nice way.

The difference is where the target notes and the notes where the line changes direction are placed. In the first example this is all the time on the heavy beats (so beats 1 and 3). This is shown with the circle.

In the second line these notes are placed mostly on an off-beat and that makes it possible to give them an accent and add some more life to the line.

I guess the difference is that bebop lines need the syncopated lines that have high notes and turning points on off-beats because that makes it come alive and add some small dynamic surprises for the listener. 

Composing lines with better phrasing

It does sound a little strange I know, but actually we can work on making lines that are easier to phrase in a right way. 

The trick is to find a way to create lines where we have a high note on an off-beat.

If we take the two heavy beats in the bar, 1 and 3, then there are two types of off-beats we can have: The one before a heavy beat: 2& and 4& and the one after a heavy beat: 1& and 3&.

Before a heavy beat

In example 3 I am using the Dm7 G7 progression to demonstrate 4 different ways to have a high note (and therefore an accent) before beat 3.

After a heavy beat

The 3 different examples below show how you can add an accent on 1& by making that note a local high note.

It is worth noting that the descending line actually also makes the 1& a note you can accent, so that option is also often a good way to add an accent. You will also see this in the George Benson solo.

Examples of Jazz Licks with accents

To show you some examples of lines that have melodies that you can add accents to I have written to II V I lines in C major.

The first example starts with an accent on the 2&. This is achieved with an Fmaj7 arpeggio similar the 2nd bar in Example 3. The rest of the bar does not contain anything that gets an accent. 

In the G7 bar the first accent is on the 1& where the D is a high note. There is another accent on the 3& where the B can get an accent.

The 2nd example is using the same arpeggio on the Dm7 to get an accent on the 2&, but this time the arpeggio is played in an inversion to add a large 6th interval skip on the 1& 

The ascending arpeggios are also used to get accents on the 2& and 4& on the G7alt. Here it is first a G augmented triad and the 2nd one is an Fm7(b5) arpeggio.

Other ways to lget better at phrasing

Learning from composing and analyzing is only one way of the ways to internalize these things. Of course it will help you recognize and hear where accents are and understand the phrasing examples you hear on a conscious level.

Another way to work on this is to listen and imitate examples of good phrasing, this can be copying records or learning to play transcriptions.

Why George Benson has great phrasing

As an example of somebody with good phrasing here is 4 bars from a George Benson solo. These 4 bars are an excerpt from his (really fantastic!) solo on Billies Bounce. I transcribed it and will go over where the accents are.

The excerpt starts on the II V to Gm7, which in Billie’s bounce is Am7 D7(b9). The first part is a sweep of a triad which does not contain any accents, mostly because this technique does not really allow you to add an accent.

The line on the D7 moving to Gm7 does have an accent. The Sweep of the C major triad comes out on an F#. From here it skips up to a D and descends step-wise to Bb. This means that it is possible to add an accent on the 4&(C) which George does. 

On the Gm7 the A on the 2& get’s an accent., and for the rest there is no accents in the Gm7 line. Ont the C7 the G on the 1& is a high note which then gets an accent. It is followed by a dramatic skip (dramatic in a beautiful way…) and the line is ended with a bop cliche that ends on an D on the 3& that also naturally get’s an accent.

On the F7 D7 there are not notes on the off beat and therefore no accents. 

The Gm7 C7 line at the end of the chorus actually has accents on all off beats in the bar, which is of course possible, in this case it is also part of a blues phrase that somewhat asks for it.

How do you go about improving your phrasing?

When you are working on phrasing I would suggest that you combine all the approaches I discussed in this lesson. It is important to listen and analyze solos to get the sound of the phrasing into your ear. At the same time you can reinforce this process with composing and exploring what lines you can come up with that has notes that you can give an accent.

Finally it is also really good to have some solos that you really copy and play along with the record to really get into how the guitarist is phrasing.

Good luck with it!

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Take this approach further with more examples

If you want to explore the concepts discussed in this lesson further with some exercises and examles you can check out this lesson in my WebStore:

Jazz & Bebop Phrasing – C Blues

Get the PDF!

You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

The reason your jazz licks suck!

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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