Tag Archives: how to learn jazz guitar

12 Things NOT to Do When Starting Jazz Guitar (By a Jazz Guitarist)

As a Jazz guitarist and teacher then let me help you avoid a few things that a LOT of Jazz beginners get wrong and waste a lot of time on! You might be making one of them right now, and there are certainly a few mistakes I have made myself as well, but I’ll tell you about it along the way.

#1 Music Theory Is Not Music

I know that Jazz is complicated, and it can be fun to learn music theory and read about all the different options and things to study that you have available in books or online lessons, but that is a very superficial way to learn things. With theory, you should aim to learn the other way around.

What does that mean? That means you are better off learning songs and solos and then using those to recognize theory in the music you already know.

That is 100x stronger and a lot more efficient, if you have a song with a Lydian dominant or a IVm chord then you immediately know what that sounds like,

but if you just read about it then it is just some abstract concept.

Another problem similar to this that I ran into was that I had lessons in theory which covered way too much without any real connection with music, and when it was connected to music I was told that everyone in Jazz played rhythm changes wrong.

Just start with the music and then learn theory later…

#2 Don’t Start By Buying A New Guitar

Here’s an easy one, which I luckily don’t see that often, but if you think you might want to play Jazz and then don’t start with getting a “jazz guitar” Most of the time people can’t tell which type of guitar it is and you can easily start with another type of guitar.  I did the first 4 years of playing Jazz and getting into the conservatory on my SRV strat, even if I did put flat-wound 13s on it 😁

And I didn’t get my first “real” Jazz guitar until I was 1 year into the education.

#3 Don’t Pretend You Like Jazz

Don’t pretend to like Jazz just because you think it makes you look sophisticated and high-level. There is probably a good and a bad way to go about this. if you play another genre and you want to explore Jazz to get some new influences that is of course fine, but watch out that you don’t sign up for checking out a year of jazz classes with music that you can’t stand listening to ”

and if you don’t like Jazz, there are many other genres you can listen to and get inspired by. In general, you will get more inspired by stuff that you like.

Next one is way to common…

#4 Not Straight To iReal (please….)

This is what not to do: Decide to learn a song, but you don’t learn the melody or learn to play the chords. Instead, you go straight to iReal and try to solo over the chord changes.

This is a very typical beginner mistake, and it is the best way to not learn songs and get very frustrated by your own mistakes and lose the form all the time because you don’t hear the melody in the back of your mind.

And I am certainly speaking from experience here. The first Jazz Standard I tried to learn was Green Dolphin Street, and for a few weeks, I was getting nowhere, using an Aebersold backing track. In hindsight, it is obvious that since I never listened to a recording of it, didn’t know the melody or understood the chords then that was bound to fail, which I also did gloriously!

I have a video where I tell that story that I’ll link to in the description.

#5 Don’t Start With Chord Melody

You probably don’t want to start with chord melody, in fact, maybe you don’t want to start with chords at all, because if you zoom out a bit then melody is more important than harmony. But in any case, it is probably not useful to start with Jazz trying to play an arrangement of a song that is way too complicated for you to hear, understand, or play. Especially if you can’t make your way through a medium-swing Blues in Bb. Playing a solo chord melody requires you to use the skills with feel and timing that you get from playing that Bb Blues and technically chord melody arrangements are often very difficult, and you don’t improve your phrasing and feel by trying to remember chords and straining your fingers.

You learn that somewhere else, and rhythm and feel are important things in Jazz. Joe Pass didn’t start by learning something as difficult as one of his own chord melody versions off virtuoso.

#6 Don’t Forget The Blues

Since I mentioned Blues, Don’t forget about the Blues, Jazz can become too academic and technical, it is not all about scales and extensions and there are things that sound amazing and don’t fit a 100% in the boxes and categories that we think of as Harmony and Music theory. Blues is probably the most important of those. You can play Blues with conviction on pretty much anything and because it is Blues then it sounds fine even though it clashes with all the chords. Using Blues and checking out Blues will help you have more sounds in your playing so that you are not always sounding like a machine interpreting the harmony,

so it will help you have more variation in your playing.

I have certainly had periods of only focusing on spelling out the harmony, and usually checking out solos and listening to great jazz artists is what has pulled me out of that. They always have that connection in there, that should tell you something.

#7 Books With Chords

Another mistake that especially beginners make is with chord books. I get that it is fun to play chords, but you can’t really do anything with them if you are just looking at a book with some diagrams without also trying to put them to use in songs. Learning empty information without also learning how to put it to use in music is very inefficient, and this may be a hot take, but I have to admit that I think that even some of the Ted Greene books fall into this category,

so if you want to study that then make sure to also know some standards by heart so that you can put it to use.

#8 Spectator Learning?

I was hinting at this in the beginning, learning Jazz but only spending time looking at YouTube videos and online lessons, without putting it to use. This is not going to get you anywhere, not even if they are my videos,

You will need to also sit down and practice some music. If you want some help with that and a longer learning path, then enroll in my course and join the community to get some feedback and the chance to learn together with others.

You can request an invitation here: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

#9 Not Having A Metronome?

When I was just getting started playing Jazz then I was playing something in a lesson, I don’t remember what it was, it was probably playing a song with my teacher. He stopped me and asked me if I owned a metronome, and if I did, then why I didn’t use it.

You also don’t have perfect time, so use a Metronome, and don’t use backing tracks all the time. Make sure that YOU feel the time, that YOU can groove, and that YOU can hear the harmony, don’t lean on a recording or an app too much. That is why everyone is ALWAYS telling you to use a metronome!

Some of the grooviest people I know, like Charlie Hunter,

are always practicing with a metronome! That really should tell you something.

#10 Start With Simple Chords

Many of us get interested in Jazz because we come across beautiful chords with lots of extensions and colors, but don’t only focus on learning difficult chords with lots of extensions. They are much more difficult to use, I guess that is also why Barry Harris is often talking about not liking big chords. Instead, focus on simple chords that you can play songs and turn into music. We’re talking Shell-voicings, Drop2, Drop3. Don’t think so much about Allan Holdsworth, and more Freddie Green.

There’s nothing wrong with Holdsworth, he is a favorite of mine but not the place you start if you want to have voicings for “All of Me” for your new Jazz combo.

#11 First Scales & Arpeggios

Maybe this is the equivalent of the chord books? At least it is very similar: First insisting on learning scales, arpeggios and other technical things before you learn any music is not going to be useful. You also want to get started with the music, and you don’t need to know everything in all positions and all keys before you start learning songs. Probably nobody did!

#12 Jazz Is A Language

Don’t Forget That Jazz is a Language and you need to learn to speak it so play with the right type of vocabulary and the right phrasing. One of the easiest ways to learn that is to learn solos by ear and play along with them to get that into your system. But i can be difficult to learn solos by ear, and you want to take something that is not too difficult so that you don’t give up in the middle and just get frustrated. If you want some suggestions for very easy solos but also great solos to start with, then check out this video, where I go over some easy solos by Amazing Jazz guitarists, probably stuff you anyway want to learn! Check it out!

5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

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The Basic Music Theory You Need As A Jazz Beginner

Having the basics down in music theory is an incredibly powerful tool. If you are playing Jazz then interpreting chord symbols can be very difficult and if you have a solid basic overview of what notes are in there, you can find other ways to play the chord and add notes and fills to it, the things that make it a lot more fun to play!

That’s what I want to show you in this video because an overview like that is going to stop you from sounding like a Pat Metheny Clone, and instead of learning a single Jazz lick, you can figure out how it works and turn it into a recipe for 1000s of Jazz licks. There’s a chance you know a lot of this, but then you can use this as a checklist to see if you have it all under control!

The Most Important Scale For Jazz

The place to start is the scale that you need the most: The Major scale.

I assume you are already somewhat familiar with the but to keep it simple let’s use the C major scale:

The important thing to remember is that a major scale is constructed by a series of whole and half steps, and that recipe is:

On guitar you have a shortcut which is a physical solution where you are just moving a shape around,  that means that if you play a C major scale then you can turn that into an D major scale by just playing the same shape but start on the note D,

but that also means that you don’t really know what notes in there anymore, and when you play songs then it is very practical to know that the next chord is the IV chord in the key and that is THIS note in the scale, so here’s how you can start figuring out the notes in a scale.

I am going to show you this using D major as an example, but it works for any note can think of. It is just about using sharps and flats You need to remember or write down the row of intervals that make up the major scale:

For D major you can write out the notes from D to D . You can then go through the scale and make sure that the intervals fit and then correct that:

D to E is fine, but E to F is a half-step which should be a whole-step, so you turn the F into F#.

Now F# to G is a half-step so that is fine, G to A, and A to B are both whole steps

but B to C should be a whole-step as well

and again you turn the C into a C# to fix that and then you have D major

The next thing to do when you know what notes in the scale is to map that onto any scale position: just start on the root, play the scale, and say notes – in that way this is as much about connecting the things that you know on the neck, because that is where it is useful!

Dmajor:

That is the basic construction of the major scale, but what you need is to link this to chords because when you are playing a song then it looks like this:

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World

The Strongest Chord we have isn’t a Jazz chord which would be a chord with at least a 7th, The strongest chord only has 3 notes and it is, of course, the triad.

 

The basic construction of a triad is a stack of 3rds, so for C then

C major is 1 3 5 – C E G which is really just 1 3 and 5 out of the major scale:

 

C minor  would be 1 b3 5 C Eb G and the difference is the distance between the two first notes: C to E is a major 3rd

and C to Eb is a minor 3rd

Like this, you can also construct a diminished triad which is: 1 b3 b5 in C that would be C Eb Gb and you can create an augmented triad which is a major triad with an augmented 5th: C E G#

Those are the 4 basic triads, but you probably also want to know these 3:

Sus4 where the 3rd is replaced with the 4th:

Sus2 where the 3rd is replaced with the 2nd:

If you check then sus2 and sus4 are actually inversions of each other, so they are the same structure.

Another triad that is maybe less common in songs but very common in chord structures is major b5:

But right now, this is all just structures without any context, and while it is nice to know then the best way to know this is to place them in a scale.

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World, In The Scale

As I mentioned then chords are created by stacking 3rds, and actually that is easy to do in a scale so to construct the diatonic harmony and place the triads in a context . That tells you which triads go together.

Start with the C major scale:

and we can put 3rds on top using the notes in the scale to get first a row of diatonic 3rd intervals

and then these triads which is another useful row to remember, just like the intervals:

It is incredibly useful to know what triads go together, and as you will see later it is a huge help in finding more arpeggios you can use when improvising over a chord, which means more melodies that you can use in your solos

You can do this with any scale, and you should certainly know the triads of the major scale by heart, so this order:

It is also important to figure this out for Harmonic and Melodic minor which will give you examples of the other triads, you’ll see later.

Enough with the triads for now, let’s get to some Jazz chords!

The First Group of Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

In Jazz, we don’t work with triads as the basic chords so often, even though we still play triads in solos all the time.

The basic chord type is the 7th chord, but constructing the 7th chords is now super easy, barely an inconvienience: You just add another diatonic 3rd to the triads!

So these:

Become these:

Again the order of chord types is really useful to know, so for a major scale it is maj7, m7, m7, maj7, dom7th, m7, ø

And as you can see you there are 4 chord types in the scale:

The reason that I construct chords in scales is because that added context really tells you a lot about what is going on in the music:

If you take this lick:

As you can see that if over the over a G7 then you can use a Bø arpeggio which is the diatonic arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, so we are combining the knowledge of the chord with the diatonic harmony.

You can also see that the Em triad sounds great on Cmaj7, but that is just because an E minor triad, E G B, is a Cmaj7, C E G B without a C.

And the same thing applies to chords:

If you play II V I that sounds like this:

Here I am using an Fmaj7 chord, which is giving me the Dm7(9) sound:

and a Bø Chord for a G7(b9) before moving down to Cmaj7, so the diatonic chords become a part of how you learn things, and you cna use the same stuff for a lot of things, it is very efficient.

Of course, at some point you have done that so many times that you will just know what the notes of Dm7 is and that the arpeggio from the 3rd is Fmaj7, but being able to figure it out is a necessary step, and knowing it like this is, of course, a lot better than just having a diagram that you are moving around without knowing what is going on.

The Rest of The Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

As I said, there are more chord types than just the 4 I already covered.

To find some of those then let’s try to build chords in Harmonic minor, because that should give us some more. To keep it easy, A harmonic minor:

To get you more comfortable with the process then we can start with the triads

A B C D E F G# A

Then you have:

Am Bdim Caug Dm E F G#dim

And once you add a 7th to this then you get:

Notice that the G#dim has a diminished 7th from G# to F, that sometimes a bit confusing because it is the same interval as a 6th

And to immediately show you how useful this is, in the II V I in C I used the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, and you do the same here and use a G#dim over an E7 because it is almost the same notes and they are from the same scale:

and, that is an great way to play an E7(b9) resolving to Am,

Working on this is something that can really speed up your learning process, because if you start practicing diatonic triads or arpeggios while also being aware of what triad or arpeggio you are playing then you

  • Have a better overview of the harmony and the scale
  • See the shapes you need for soloing on the fretboard
  • Figure out what is being played in Jazz solos so you can get that into your own playing.

All stuff that makes it easier to learn and play Jazz, but it probably isn’t going to be useful if you don’t learn any songs that you can use it on. Learning songs become a lot easier if you understand the harmony, and I talk about that in this video covering how I use Functional harmony but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino have shortcuts that are opposite of each other, but it will all help you learn and remember songs. ! It doesn’t have to be difficult to learn songs. Check that out

If you start to figure this out for the different keys and practice diatonic arpeggios while also being aware of triad or arpeggio you are playing then you start to connect all of this and that will help you:

  • Know the scale and the diatonic harmony
  • See the shapes on the fretboard
  • Understand how the chords move

You can figure out what is being played in Jazz solos

And, all of these skills are important things that will speed up your learning process, but it probably isn’t  going to be very useful if you don’t learn songs and also learn to understand how the harmony works and that you can check out by watching this video which covers how I use functional harmony for that, but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino think about chords and make things easier! Learning and remembering jazz songs doesn’t have to be difficult!

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

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The Massive Misunderstanding About Modulations

The problem is that you probably don’t know what a key is, and it is a LOT more than you think!

If you look at the C major scale:

Then that is just the scale, the key of C major is so much more, and once you start to understand that then you are going to find it a lot easier to understand chord progressions, songs, and how to improvise over them and it will blow your mind with what you can do with chordsin the key of C major! I’ll show you along the way.

If I have to sum up what this video is about the it is:

Scale ≠ key

Let’s start with a chord progression that is in C major, but has quite a few chords that are not in the C major scale.

Diatonic Chords

An important part of the chords associated with a key are the diatonic chords of that the scale, so the chords you get, if you stack 3rds in the scale:

3rds

Triads

7th Chords

If you do that you have these chords:

The Progression

Here’s a chord progression that we can use to understand some of the chords that are in the key but not in the scale. In the example there are 3 categories of chords that are not diatonic to C major but are all common chords in songs in the key of C:

Immediately you can see that Cmaj7, Dm7, and Fmaj7 are all diatonic chords in C so they are easy to analyze. But there are a few left, I’ll start with the A7 and Eø chords, but first, let’s just talk about what a modulation is.

Modulations – It’s not just changing scales…

The first thing you need to realize is wrong is the rule that if you have to change the scale then you are also in another key. That is not how your ear experiences this, you can go back to the chord progression and listen if you can hear the C as root, and if that changes once you hear the A7.

So the key is more sticky than just diatonic chords, and it doesn’t modulate until it really establishes a different key, take a famous song like All The Things You Are, the first part is almost pretending to be in Fm and then turns out to be in Ab major:

But then you get a clear shift once it goes to G7 and resolves to Cmaj7 instead of the Cm7 that your ear expects:

First, just listen and notice at this point, it would not sound crazy if the songs stayed there and started to play a turnaround in C, to stay in that key.

So what is the difference between the G7 in All The Things and the A7 in my example progression:

The biggest difference is what you hear, you can hear that Ab is not the root anymore when it goes to Cmaj7 and stays there. But that also has to do with the fact that the Cmaj7 is on bar3 in 4 bar phrase so it is given a place in the form that is reserved for the “important” chords. Compared to A7 that is tucked away in the 2nd half of a bar.

Another difference is that the Cmaj7 is a tonic chord, where A7 is a dominant that might lead to another tonic chord but instead resolves back into the key when it goes to the II chord Dm7.

You can start by asking yourself these 3 things if you want to figure out if something is a modulation, and the first thing is indeed to use your ears and ask yourself if it sounds like one. Do I hear another root.

Is it a tonic chord, because if it is modulating then there has to be a root, and you also want to check if it is immediately moving back to the original key. That will help you recognize modulations.

Now you know why A7, Abmaj7, Eø and F#dim are not modulations, but what are they then?

Let’s start with the most common category:

Secondary Dominants and…

This is about what is probably one of the most important things about chord progressions, and your music is really boring if that is not in there: Forward motion!

If you listen to a piece of music then the chords should help you feel a story, they should create tension and resolution to keep it interesting, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to use Secondary dominants.

The strongest resolution we have in music is dominant to tonic:

But in the scale there is only one real dominant, and for C major that is G7.

Luckily the V I, or dominant resolution is so strong that we can add dominant chords for other chords as well, and these are called secondary dominants.

In the progression, the chords go from Cmaj7 to Dm7,

but to add some energy and push towards the Dm7. You can add an A7, and in this case that is the A7 shows up as belonging to the key of Dm because it resolves to Dm7:

Compared to just moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7., then there is clearly more happening, and this is just using a dominant resolution to have some energy towards Dm7. When you analyze these then you write a V but in a bracket to show that it is not the V of the key but a secondary dominant.

But there is another variation possible as well which is a bit later in the progression:

This is a variation of the secondary dominant, but instead of using the dominant, I am using the 7th degree of of the scale to resolve, so in C major that would be Bø Cmaj7,

and in if the chord it resolves to is a minor chord you would use a full diminished chord like this:

These work like the secondary dominants and are a little less common, but still in a lot of songs. You analyze them as secondary seventh: [VII]

Let’s move on to the chords that are probably the most beautiful, and then get to the category that people always try to argue doesn’t exist.

Minor in Major – The Most Beautiful Sound

The Grass is always greener on the other side, so when you are moving around in the major key it can sound really beautiful to have some chords that sound like they are from minor. This is mostly used with subdominant chords, but we do us it with the dominant as well sometimes.

In the example progression, I am using my favorite chord in the key of C major: Abmaj7, the bVImaj7.

Here it is used to create a more interesting transition back to Cmaj7 from Dm7, so it feels a bit like a major subdominant to a minor subdominant back to the tonic Like this:

“and of course I am playing it like this”:

And you can use most of the other beautiful options like a IVm chord:

A Backdoor dominant, which is really just an Fm6 with a funny bass note:

Or the Neapolitan Subdominant which sounds great but is a bit more complicated to explain:

S)

I have another video going into how these work and where they come from that you can check out, there’s a link in the description

Let’s talk about the one that people are always trying to argue doesn’t exist.

#IV – It IS a thing!

The #IV diminished chord! So many people want to tell you that it is really another chord that should resolve somewhere else, which already tells you that it is not a fantastic description. I’ll cover the most common one of those in a bit, but first let us look at what the #IVdim chord is:

The easiest way to understand it is probably to look at it as chord coming out of voice-leading, so if it resolves to Cmaj7 then you could look at it like this:

So really just a way to add a few chromatic leading notes when moving from F to C,

but looking at it like this also makes it clear that you are not modulating to another key, it is not related to another scale in any way. You should also notice that this voice-leading works really well backwards as well especially if you have a 6th on the F chord:

This is what this common progression is Cmaj7 Ebdim Dm7 really is

So that also demystifies that progression, I hope.

The #IV dim is also a great way to create suspensions:

and you will often find it reharmonized as a IIø V to III, especially In Jazz Standards this is often to harmonize a phrase where the 7th of the key is in the melody like “I Remember You”

The Thing It Isn’t

Why is that a common mistake? That isn’t a huge surprise, The first thing you learn is with diminished chords is probably about dominant diminished chords, something like

This is where you get used to blindly turn a dim chord into a dominant, and usually that conversion is where the root of the dim chord is the 3rd of the dominant, so for C#dim then the dominant with C# as a 3rd is A7, which makes sense since A7 is the dominant of Dm7.

But try to listen to the part of the progression that has the F#dim chord:

in this example you have an F#dim which would then translate to a D7(b9), but that doesn’t automatically make it a V of V, looking at it like that would be just looking at the notes and ignoring the other chords.

 

In the progression the F#dim does not resolve to G or G7, it resolves to a Cmaj7 chord, and notice how that still sounds like a resolution.

If you are in a major key, (we are in C major) then the V of V does not have a b9, try playing some songs with a V of V and listen to how a b9 sounds in that place, because that is not a common sound, I can right now only think of one song that has that, and that is to get a blues sound.

You also want to listen to how that dim chord or it’s inversion will resolve not only to the tonic chord, but also to other subdominants like Dm7 and Fm6.

So there are quite a few reasons why this is not just a V of V, and in fact, the diminished chord is not dominant at all, it is subdominant.

But I am sure people will still comment that it is a V of V also on this video…

Think Like The Pros

And this has to do with how you think about chords. Chords are more than notes, because the same chord can be many things depending on what context it is in. This is also a part of what makes Functional harmony such an incredibly powerful tool.

You can use that to not only understand the chord progression and make it simpler, it is also a great help in improvising over chords and knowing what notes to play.

To get into that approach and also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino approach harmony then check out this video which covers that and will make it easier to learn songs and solo over changes!

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

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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:

`

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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The 10 Jazz Guitarists That You Need To Know

Listen To Jazz!

Listening to jazz is an important part of learning jazz and also one of the things that can speed up that process. It’s essential to check out the right people. In this video, I’ll give you a list of some of the jazz guitarists that I think you really need to be familiar with. I’ll go over some of their famous albums and, if sometimes that’s not my favorite, I’ll talk about why and give you an alternative as well. Let’s hope that doesn’t offend anybody.

#1 The Underdog of Jazz Guitar

I’m going to start with somebody who I think is sometimes a little bit overlooked and underrated very often and then move on to one that I accidentally skipped the first time around, but I’ll get to that later. Jim Hall, I think, is actually sometimes a little bit overlooked, and that’s a pity because he is an amazing jazz guitarist and also somebody that I’m still transcribing to this day. You can learn so much from his inventive melodies and his fantastic iron-strong rhythm and timing.

The Jim Hall album that I recommend you check out is his debut album, simply titled Jazz Guitar.

It’s in a trio with bass, piano, and guitar. His playing on this is super solid, very traditional, but at the same time also kind of giving us hints at what’s to come because he really invented modern jazz guitar. A funny side note about his debut album is that it was, of course, released without drums, but then later, because of the success of people like Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery (who will appear later in the video), they actually overdubbed drums on it and re-released it later. Now I’ve never heard that version, that might be better, but I am kind of curious how that sounded.

Playing In Taiwan

As you can see, I’m in Taiwan. I’m performing at the Taichung Jazz Festival this Saturday with Nick Javier and his band,

and I thought it would be fun to try and shoot a video here, even if I’m shooting on location. So that’s not something I’m used to, I’m learning, and maybe the quality is not what you hope, but at least you get to see a little bit of some of the parks in Taiwan. And I thought this was a great place to shoot because I’m, of course, sitting next to a colleague, and he’s getting the attention that he deserves.

#2 The One I Didn’t Know About

With the internet, it’s becoming super easy, barely an inconvenience to check out any album or track. Look it up on Spotify or on YouTube and listen to it, and that wasn’t the case when I was starting out. I was really depending on the recommendations of my teachers and the people that I played with. Even then, if I knew who it was, I still had to find a physical copy, so a CD or an album to listen to, and that’s the reason why I didn’t really check out Grant Green in the beginning. Nobody talked about him, so I wasn’t aware that he existed, which is really a pity because he is a great place to start if you want to learn jazz.

 

If you listen to him, you will hear clear, playable, strong bebop executed in a way that you can actually fairly easily check it out on guitar and learn from it, something that we don’t have a ton of examples of. I’ve talked about in other videos how I don’t really like Grant Green’s tone on those earlier albums, so my favorite album is a little bit later in his career. It’s one of the Blue Note albums, it’s solid,

but that’s also with Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner. There’s just so much great music on that album, definitely worth checking out. If I were to recommend an earlier album, probably Grant’s First Stand is a good one.

It’s pretty early, it’s in ’61, I think, but that’s Grant Green in an organ trio. That’s really also an album with some fairly famous Grant Green solos that you want to check out, even if I think that the guitar tone has maybe a bit much pick attack and way too much spring reverb.

#3 I Wanted To Be Him When I Grow Up

Joe Pass is a huge influence on my playing. I really check out a lot of his stuff and also some of his books. I’ve made a video about his guitar-style book, which I think is a great method for learning jazz vocabulary.

But his most famous album is probably Virtuoso, which is a solo jazz guitar album.

And to be honest, that’s not my favorite album. I don’t actually like that album that much. I don’t listen a ton to solo jazz guitar. I tend to be much more focused on jazz where it’s about playing together in a group.

So my favorite Joe Pass album is Intercontinental,

which I think is a great example of his playing. I’m pretty sure they didn’t rehearse anything and they’re just going into the studio and recording some standards, but the result is amazing.

I have another video where I’m breaking down a jazz blues off that album and you definitely want to check out that album. It’s Joe Pass at his very best.

#4 The One I Ignored

The first time I heard Barney Kessel’s playing, I was actually everything but impressed, but that was just because I was listening to the wrong stuff. The albums that you want to check out from Barney Kessel are the Poll Winners albums. They’re actually sort of the first jazz guitar trio albums that are out there.

I think there are three of them and they’re with Shelly Mann, Ray Brown, and Barney Kessel. They’re amazing albums. It’s actually kind of hard to screw it up if you’re in that company, but that’s where you want to start if you want to hear some truly great Barney Kessel.

#5 The One I Studied

I didn’t think about this when I was preparing the video, but actually, I’m recommending really a lot of debut albums. And this is another one. When it comes to Pat Martino, the album that you definitely have to check out is El Hombre, his first album.

He’s also coming out of the organ trio tradition. The whole band is sort of built around an organ trio, but he’s adding a flute player. He’s also adding some percussion. So in that way, it’s not completely just organ trio, but that’s the basic sound. It’s an amazing album from, I think he’s 22 at the time.


You need to check it out.

#6 Check Out The Old Stuff

George Benson is probably the jazz guitar player that I think has the best phrasing. It is really amazing how good he sounds most of the time, even if maybe some of the later stuff where he’s like focusing more on being a vocalist than a guitar player is not really to my taste. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly fine. You should do whatever he wants. Those are just not gonna be my favorite albums.

So my favorite albums from him would probably be Cookbook,

which is really just a sort of a picture of where he came from, the organ trio and those groups playing in a quartet, which is like an organ trio with a saxophone player. That is an amazing album. Everybody is playing really solid solos. Another one that’s really great to check out that I also want to mention is Giblet Gravy,

where he’s actually playing with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Billy Cobham. That’s where the famous version of Billy’s Bounce is found, which I’ve talked about many, many times and also made an entire video on.

There Are More People To Check Out

For this video, then I kind of ended up just going with the classic guitar player. So really the people that are active in the ’50s, ’60s. And of course, there’s a lot happening on jazz guitar afterwards. And actually jazz guitar becomes really an important instrument from the ’70s on and maybe it’s not as much an important instrument in the ’60s. Let me know if you want another video where I talk about sort of more of the modern guys. So Schofield, Metheny, Rosenwinkel, Gilead Hickselman, Jonathan Kreisberg, all these guys. There are a ton of amazing guitar players out there.

#7 Skipped This One By Accident

Another guitar player that I wasn’t really checking out because nobody recommended that I listen to him and nobody told me that he existed is Kenny Burrell. And that’s really a pity because he’s of course also really an amazing jazz guitar player to check out. His most famous albums are probably the one with Coltrane and then also the Midnight Blue album.

Now, both of those are not my favorite albums. I’ve listened really a lot to this Jimmy Smith album

where he is actually just a sideman, but he’s of course featured really a lot and he’s playing on this is so amazing.

#8 The King Of Jazz Guitar

I think we can all agree that Wes Montgomery is the most important and the most influential jazz guitarist that we have. So it’s kind of difficult to sort of pick a favorite, but if I have to pick a favorite, my choice is actually pretty cliché because I’m gonna go with Smoking at the Half Note.

That’s the album with the Wynton Kelly Trio and with that combination Wes and Wynton Kelly Trio, it just can’t go wrong and it certainly doesn’t. It’s an amazing album. They all play great, but especially Wes is really playing some amazing solos and I’ve learned a ton from checking out a lot of solos of that album. If I was to recommend another album, then I think you can kind of check out a different side of Wes’s playing by listening to an album like Boss Guitar because there you hear him playing in an organ trio which is actually different.

It’s also a little bit earlier. Still an amazing album with a lot of great solos to check out.

One thing that I do want to point out is that to me, what makes Wes great is not that he’s playing with his thumb or that he’s playing a lot of octaves or chord solos. That’s technique. He’s great. He sounds amazing. It’s not about that, but I think what really makes his solo so amazing is the clarity of the music that’s in there. So he often plays simpler phrases, but he will then have that one phrase is followed by a phrase that is either a response or a development of what he just plays. And that really connects the whole thing. And that’s actually fairly rare with guitarists or with jazz musicians in general. And that is what makes Wes a genius to me.

#9 The 1st Secret Recommendation

Because I was depending on recommendations from my teachers and the people that I played with, not the internet, then there are a few guitarists that I listen to really a lot that are maybe not as famous, but there are some really great albums that I definitely think you want to check out. The first one I want to mention just shortly is Lorne Lofsky and his debut album, another debut album, which is It Could Happen to You.

That is such an amazing album. He’s always great, but that album is definitely worth checking out. And I’ve listened to that so much.

#10 Another Secret Recommendation

Another album that you want to listen to is a Victorious album that right now I can’t remember the name of, but I’ll put the cover on screen so you can check it out.

The way he plays here is so beautiful, especially that first standard, I Heard You Cry Last Night is such an amazing song the way he plays it. And it’s such a beautiful feel. You definitely want to check that out.

But besides listening to the music, then you of course also want to start to find solos that you can learn by ear. That’s the best way to really develop your phrasing, your swing feel and your timing. But you also have to make sure that you’re not starting with something that’s too difficult, that you’ll just break your neck or that you will get demotivated by. So to help you with that, check out this video, which goes over a few solos that are pretty easy to learn and not too long and definitely will help you develop your playing

5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

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II V I – Who Has The Best Approach For Jazz Beginners?

Your II V I Approach Is Wrong

Your approach to II V I progressions is probably wrong, and that is getting in the way of your solos sounding right.

A small part of this is what you play because it is much more about how you think about the chords.

There are different strategies for this which all work even if they don’t agree at all, I’ll cover my approach but also show you methods from Barry Harris, Pat Martino, and Joe Pass. Once I got my thinking on this right then things really started to fall into place and my solos really started to make a lot more sense, and then you can take it a LOT further than II V I progressions.

The first thing you want to get right, and I think this is true for all progressions, not just a II V I, is that if you want to solo over it then you should also be able to play the chords, that is how you hear the flow of the harmony and what your solos lines should sound like.

Essential II V I basics

Before we get into the approaches of different people then let’s look at what a II V I is. The progression is described as a II V I because it is in a key, and that key is the I chord. Let’s take C major, and look at what key and a II V I is:

Here you have the notes of a C major scale:

C D E F G A B C

and for each note in that scale you can build a 7th chord:

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø Cmaj7

with these chords, called the diatonic chords of C major), you usually assign Roman numerals so that you know which key you are in and what this chord is relative to the key.

Now you can pick out the II V I to be: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7,

and you  can play the chords,

maybe play them a few times to get the sound into your ears. You can use these voicings and then vary the rhythm a bit.

II V I licks – Essential Ingredients

Before we get into the different strategies you need to have the basics of Jazz solos down. In Jazz,  you mostly play melodies that are related to the chords, so your solo should consist of lines where you can hear the chords even if there is no one actually playing them. Try and listen to this, you probably hear the chord changes in there:

The easiest way to play solo lines like that is to use the same notes as the chords, so the arpeggios of those chords.

And since the whole progression is in one key, in this case, C major, then you want to think about those arpeggios as a part of the C major

scale, so this scale:

and then you have these simple 1-octave arpeggios:

And, of course, you want to practice playing licks with just those basic arpeggios, because they can sound great, something like this, remember to use rhythm as well:

But, as you heard in the beginning, they are in a key, so that scale can also be used to give you some more notes to add in there. Visually you think about the scale as the thing that holds the whole thing and You think of some notes being more important than others,

but you can use all of them, and notice how I don’t always use all the notes in the arpeggios, there is no rule that says that you have to do that.

But you want to make the melodies flow right too, just playing the right notes won’t cut it:

And this is about the one thing that is so incredibly important about the II V I.

It is One thing!

The problem with the previous example was not the notes, they are perfect and also in terms of following the chords. The problem is that they don’t connect and there is no connection between the melodies per chord.

But the II V I is not just 3 random chords next to each other, you can’t just change the order and get the same result, which is a part of the reason that I don’t like the modal description of Dorian, Mixolydian, Ionian. What makes this work is that there is a development and that the chords flow forward to the end on the I chord.

And, the easiest way to get that flow in there is to play lines that move to the next chord, and that is not as abstract or difficult as it might sound.

Target Notes – An Amazing Strategy!

If you want the solo line to flow from one chord to the next then the easiest strategy is simply to think of a note you want to hit and play a melody that ends on that, but you do want to have the right target note, I’ll get to that in a bit. Moving from Dm7 to G7 then B is a good target note, notice how especially the last part of the phrase aims for the B on beat 1

Being able to play phrases that connect chords like this is an essential skill, and also something you will see in solos all over Jazz. It is not the only thing to learn, but it is a great place to start.

When it comes to choosing target notes, then it makes sense to focus on the clear notes of the chords that really describe the color like the 3rd of the chord, and you make it easier for yourself by choosing a note that was not in the previous chords, like I took B which is the 3rd in G7 and not in Dm7.

In my approach, I am showing you how to spell out each chord in the II V I but there are other ways of negotiating this 3-chord building block, and I have my own take on those as well.

Barry Harris and Pat Martino Disagree on II Vs

This sometimes becomes a sensitive topic because you are inclined to follow one strategy and not like the rest, but I’ll talk about that in a bit as well.

There are 3 chords in a II V I, and no matter how you look at it, then the point of the progression is that something is moving and that there is a resolution. But how you choose to interpret the II V side of the progression is a lot more open.

You have Pat Martino, who likes to convert chords to m7 chords, as he talks about here with Giant Steps

The way he would approach the II V I it sort of becomes II I, so he will play lines over the II chords and not really think too much about the V chord. He talks about how this was something he learned from experience, and there are passages in Wes’s solos that suggest that he often thought in the same way, and that may well be where Martino got it since he was very influenced by Wes.

The advantage is that there are fewer chords, the disadvantage is that you are not playing V I which is probably the strongest part of what is happening, and the II chord is just a suspension of the V chord.

Barry Harris and Joe Pass do the opposite of this as you have probably heard in this clip:

So here the II chord is ignored and you focus on the V I resolution which, as I mentioned earlier, is the strongest movement in the II V I. Both Barry and Joe talk about this, where Joe is maybe a bit more practical in his explanation, and this is also something you will see in a lot of solos of Parker, so it is clear where it came from.

Again it is great to have fewer chords, but as I have also said quite often: there are no rules in music, so this rule also becomes a bit strange if you have a secondary dominant leading into the II chord, maybe like an A7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7. If you are only thinking about the G7 then you have to learn to play A7(b9) to G7 which is maybe not the most natural thing to do, and also not what is really there.

So my take on this, which will certainly be a hot take for some, is that the strongest of the two is probably Barry Harris. Still, in my experience then you want to be able to play all 3, simply because it will give you more options and also connect better with the music so that you hear the harmony. You play over what you hear without having to translate or ignore something in the music. But only focusing on one of the chords in the II V can also be a great way to get inspiration for melodies so it is incredibly useful to play Dm7 Cmaj7 like this:

Or just thinking G7 and creating lines like this:

If you can play all 3 chords then you can also easily choose to only play two of them, and with target notes, it is fairly easy to get from one chord to the next, that is one of the biggest strengths in that system.

Learn The Language

The melodies you play are probably more important than what chords you think, and you want to focus on that aspect of learning to play Jazz, so that your solos flow though the chords but also have the right feel and sound. This is not so much about finding the magic scale but more about what you do with the material that you have, and THAT is what makes people like George Benson or Wes so amazing. You need to develop your basics for Jazz lines so that your solos sound better, and I cover some of the strongest concepts in this video.

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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The Diminished Chords – Why They Are Great!

There are 3 types of diminished chords that I use all the time. They are great for a lot of things and sound beautiful in chord progressions.

Two of them are in all the Jazz standards and really just a part of tonal harmony but the last one, which I learned from Barry Harris, even if it is not a part of his diminished scale system, is maybe not even really a diminished chord. Maybe it isn’t even a chord, but I play it all the time and it is a great trick even if it doesn’t have a theoretical explanation.

Easy Diminished Chord

The first one you want to know is the easy diminished chord, the one that is easy to hear and easy to explain: The Dominant diminished chord.

A funny side-note is that I always get comments from people insisting that ALL diminished chords are dominant, which, as you will see, I don’t agree with but you should think about it in any way that works for you.

The dominant diminished chord is really from the minor key, but we can use it in major as well.

If you look at the diatonic chords in C harmonic minor: CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim CmMaj7

And you can also see that it is in fact the arpeggio from the 3rd of a G7(b9): G B D F Ab

 

so the connection to G7 is pretty clear and it resolves like this:

And you can resolve it to major as well:

A few Dominant Diminished Trick

There are two chord progressions with this chord that you see fairly often and both sound great, one of them is used as a sort of plot twist in the harmony, which is very nice.

What might surprise you is that most of the time the dominant diminished chord is used for secondary dominants like this where it is really a great transition to the II Chord

So here it is working as an A7, the dominant of Dm7, and creates a nice chromatic bass line moving up to Dm7.

Bassline melody is really what diminished chords are all about!

A great way to use the dominant diminished is to pretend that it is just a boring old II V and then it suddenly goes somewhere else:

I need to talk about the extension on the dim chord here, but first, just check out how this is a II V in C that then suddenly takes a detour and resolves to Am7 via the dim chord. That is a great plot twist.

 

On the dim chord, I am using a b6 as an extension and this is an important note to know for dim chords.

In both examples, the diminished chord is a secondary dominant and they simply just take the  scale that you would use for the dominant, so if you resolve to Am then you would use A harmonic minor over the dim chord because it works as an E7:

 

And from that scale, the E is a great sounding extension and also the root of the dominant it is associated with: E7

The reason why I say that is important is mainly that the b6 is very common as a melody note on a diminished chord as you can see here

But let’s move on to the subdominant diminished which are actually the most common ones.

Subdominant Dim – It Is a Thing!

The dominant diminished is easy to understand because it is a diatonic chord in harmonic minor and closely related to the V chord, but then you have these chords that move in a different way:

This one moves down!

And this one doesn’t resolve like a dominant

Let’s start with the F6 to F#dim example. I’ll first go over the chords and then get into scale choices

Here you can see how the F#dim appears from altering two notes in the F6. You can also see that it still contains a C and not a B which is why it isn’t dominant in the key C, they don’t sound anything like a G7.

The oversimplified way of arriving at that it is a subdominant chord is just to ask 2 things:

1 Does it move to Cmaj7 as if it is resolving? Yes – so it isn’t tonic

2 Does it sound and resolve like a G7, which it doesn’t so it isn’t dominant

If it isn’t tonic and also not dominant then it is subdominant. This is a bit crude, but it it does fit.

Since it is subdominant then it makes sense to notate it as derived from the IV chord, so I usually write them as #IVdim chords. There are actually other #IV subdominant chords, but that is for another video.

But it also resolves down to a subdominant chord.

Groups of Subdominant Chords

Sometimes I just write #IVdim instead of subdominant diminished, it is a looong word and I am from Denmark which is a small country, we don’t have room for that stuff. In fact, I will often just write IV when I mean subdominant, so a backdoor dominant which is also a minor subdominant is referred to as a IVm chord. I usually make it clear in the videos, but it sometimes slips. I find it useful to have these groups of subdominant chords that are #IV, IV and IVm, but it is probably short hand and not too precise

Descending Subdominant Dim

Before the last type of dim chord then there is also the other variation of the subdominant diminished.

This is really just an inversion of the #IVdim,

it is Ebdim and the subdominant diminished but it is resolving to the Dm7,

so it is a subdominant resolving to a subdominant. In a way similar to how you have IV IVm I.

 

And this works great to have a chord that can transition to a II chord which is of course also how you see it used the most.

Scale Dilemmas

With the Dominant diminished then you have a scale that is found in and that is part of how we understand it which makes it a lot easier.

The subdominant diminished is a lot more vague, but if you look at it from a different perspective then you can construct a scale that fits the context of key and then realize that you already know that scale.

If you look at the F#dim and the C major scale then there are two ways to create a scale that works:

 

They both work and there is one note difference so it is really up to you. I tend to recommend the harmonic minor scale mostly because you need that anyway and you probably know it already.

No Diminished Scale

So why am I not using the diminished scale, since it is called a diminished chord? It is the same name!

In the end, you can use any scale you want it is more about how you do it than which scale it is. The chord progressions that I talk about in this video are all tonal, so they are in a key and that tells you something about how they sound, and which notes want to go where. And you don’t hear each chord as an isolated thing, you hear the whole progression or the whole song.

The diminished scale is atonal because it is symmetrical, it can resolve to lots of places and nothing sounds like the root. That is why it doesn’t really fit and is more of a special effect in the music.

The Mysterious Diminished Chord

As I already hinted at then the final diminished chord is maybe not really a chord, but that doesn’t mean that you can learn something important from it.

When I was in the piano class with Barry Harris that first year I went to the Hague then he told the piano players to play this exercise that I then transferred to guitar. And it is all over my comping and chord solos:

The exercise is moving the maj7th and the 9th down to the maj6th and the root in half steps,

and as you can probably see, then every time the middle chord is in fact a Bb diminished chord. (highlight dim chord – Paly example and stop on the dim chord!)

But maybe this is a place where looking at what is happening vertically and giving it a name as a chord, is actually not the best way to understand it. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to think of it as voices moving, because the diminished chord only appears as a side effect of some chromatic voice-leading. Probably also why it is not something you will find notated as a chord in a song, at least I can’t think of one that has that. Sometimes focusing too much on vertical harmony rather than how the notes flow is not good for making music and hearing what is going on.

That of course doesn’t mean that this isn’t a great sound, and the exercise sounds great in minor as well, which doesn’t give you a dim chord.

 

 

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The 5 Skills That Make You Great At Comping

The most fun part of playing Jazz is playing with others and in the band shape the music together while you are playing. And when you are comping, that is a huge part of what you are doing, but a lot of the most important things about comping are not taught in lessons online and not in books on chords. So that is what I want to talk about in this video: Things that I learned, mostly from the people I played with or the people that hired me, and I have also found some great stories from some amazing musicians that explain it.

#1 Play The Chords

Even if it is not only about the chords, then you still need to be able to play the chords and get the harmony across, or the last thing you will hear on the gig is “Your Fired”

For any song you play, you need to know the voicings for all the chords

and have a basic understanding of what extensions are available in that song.

But it is incredibly important to remember what the overall goal is: Play the harmony in a way that fits with the music, so in this case the rest of the band.

This is what you need to focus on: build a practical and flexible chord vocabulary instead of learning complicated chords as grips that are sometimes difficult to play and that you can’t do anything with.

You want to try to not get stuck with a static chord, and focus on learning the voicings so that they are things you can improvise with. If you want a vocabulary of chords that helps you turn the symbols into music then this is the way. (b-roll)

It isn’t complicated: If you have a Bb7,

throw away the root. reduce it to the core.

Sit down and learn the other options and think of them as a small scale you can use on top of that chord

#2 Make It Into Music

If you approach chords and songs like this then the next skill gets a lot easier. Check out how Nir Felder Explains it, because he really nails it!

It is very often that I have students telling me how they are practicing chord inversions, but it is very rare that they talk about practicing comping.

And there IS a way to work towards playing music and not just feeding chords to a soloist.

When you practice, you need to play the song and make the music your priority. You are not just a robot interpreting a page in iReal.

So spend some time practicing comping a song and make that feel and sound good. You need to go beyond just playing a II V I or practicing voicings, and instead, also work towards playing entire songs.  There you can try to make melodies in your comping that work, take riffs through the progression, and make them into music.

#3 Communicate With The Band

Most comping lessons talk about how you should listen to the soloist, but actually, something else is at least as important if not more important.

Because, when you are comping then you need to get what you play to work together with the rest of the band, and think together with the rhythm section, especially the drummer.

Lewis Nash talks about it in this clip:

When you comp then you shape the music in that conversation with the drummer. I was lucky that I got the chance to play with some drummers that explained this to me early on and it is a bit strange that this is not talked about more also because it really makes playing together so much more fun.

With the rhythm section, you chose to be:

Repetitive:

Play sustained chords:

Busy:

Sparse:

loud, or soft and that is a huge part of how the music sounds. Of course, you are also listening to the soloist and the bass player, but most of this happens when you lock in with the drummer,  and I really think that is the backbone of any great rhythm section.

The way to start working on this is really with listening, I especially like the Wynton Kelly trio with Miles

or with Wes

for this, there are many great examples, and in my opinion, most of the good ones are piano, not guitar, which may be a painful truth…

Another tip is also to start checking out how drummers teach comping because I think we could really learn something from that, maybe that could be another video in fact. Let me know in the comments.

#4 Don’t Get in the Way

When I was still just getting started with Jazz then one of the first people that I really liked for the way he could comp was Russel Malone. I heard him playing behind Diana Krall and used a lot of that to figure out how to play behind singers. I also got to hear that trio live with Diana Krall, Ben Wolfe, and Russel Malone and at that concert, Russel took the solos so far out but still managed to bring us back home safely. That concert really blew my mind with harmonic things that sounded great but where I also had no idea what it was.

One of the things that is almost always a problem when you learn to comp is that you overplay. You practice all these things and then when you are in the band you want to use everything at once, and it ends up ruining the whole thing.

Comping is really like a conversation, you don’t open up a conversation by for example listing 25 Amazing and unknown facts about sheep.

This is also about getting that connection with the rest of the band that I already talked about, so it can be good to first focus on locking in with the drummer and the soloist. You can do that by leaving room with longer chords or more sparse comping in the beginning. That will give the freedom to take the music in a direction, and you can try to hear where they want to go.

#5 When To Push/ When To Support

Another aspect of comping is communicating with the soloist and figuring out when to push with more things happening in terms of density, rhythm, or harmony and when to lay back and supply a foundation for the soloist. When I have been playing as a sideman then I was often surprised by how this was very different from soloist to soloist. Some are really looking for ideas and communication and others just want something to play over without any interference. And this is really about trying to feel if the soloist is comfortable or not, it is a bit vague, but you do want to be aware.

As a soloist, I have had experiences playing a gig and when you start going to other places and reharmonizing the song then the piano player will very clearly spell out the original changes as if you are playing something wrong, or you take a solo and after playing one altered dominant then all the maj7 chords are maj#5 and the dominants are 13b9 chords because somebody practiced upper-structure triads that morning.

It is difficult to get this right but it is very important to be aware of, especially if you want to get called for another gig, and again it is something that I mostly picked up talking to people I played with and asking what they think, but you have to look out with that as well because you get great advice but sometimes you get presented with myths about how it works by someone who doesn’t know how it works or just can’t explain it.

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3 Stupid Mistakes You Should Avoid When Learning A Jazz Standard

I had started really spending time practicing scales and arpeggios and even gotten them to where I could use that in my solos and could go beyond just playing pentatonic licks, but the first time I tried to learn a Jazz Standard, I failed completely, and was pretty much, doing Everything wrong.

A the time I had no idea what a Jazz Standard was, and if I had known that they were mostly songs written for musicals in the 30s and 40s then I would probably have run away screaming

My introduction to this was also a bit odd, and this is really the story about me being clueless and fumbling around in the dark while making every possible mistake., and hopefully helping you avoid that.

At the time I was still studying mathematics at the university, and I was hanging out with a bass player friend of mine that I knew from high school. I hadn’t seen him for a few years and we were jamming and improvising. Because we were improvising he told me about Jazz and played me some fusion albums.

I was not really impressed with the fusion stuff, it sounded like instrumental pop music with chorus on the whole album to me. The music I was listening to at the time was more blues-based and really not produced like the 80s fusion was. At the same time, I was still really curious to learn and to try to play Jazz because I wanted to become better at improvising. That part fascinated me because improvising was what I had the most fun doing when I was playing in rock bands, which I did next to studying at the university, and I was quite lucky that I played in bands where I had a lot of space to improvise like that (especially given how bad I probably was at it). I had been checking out some Satriani and Steve Vai, but when I realized that they were not improvising their solos then I lost all interest in their music and went looking for other stuff. It took a long time until I started to appreciate their playing, it is strange how pretty random things can influence our taste, I somehow also ignored that a lot of the rock bands that I listened to did not really improvise either.

Luckily Johan, the bass player, had an Aebersold album that I could borrow so that I could try to learn to play. If you don’t know what an Aebersold album is, then it is a book with sheet music for some songs and backing tracks for all those songs which is great to practice with if you know how to read and interpret a lead sheet.

 

At that time I had never listened to Jazz and the only Jazz song I had played was Mood Indigo where I had managed to teach myself a G7(b13) chord,

but I had absolutely no idea what to do with all the chords in that book, the most Jazzy song I had improvised on was probably T-bone Walker’s Stormy Monday which is still just a 12 bar-blues.

 

I started listening to the Aebersold cassette and the first song was Green Dolphin Street. Of course, I only had the backing track so I listened to the groove in the bass intro (which was a bit confusing) and especially the chords which sounded amazing with a lot of colors and it was moving around in ways I wasn’t used to which I found really interesting. I immediately set out to try and learn to improvise over that song.

Listening To The Song

If you want to learn a song then one of the first things you want to do is to listen to the song, that seems obvious. When I am working on a song then I usually check out several versions and also try to figure out what the “famous” versions of that song is.

But I was in the situation that I had ONLY the backing track album, and this was in 1994 without any Spotify, YouTube or iTunes then I had no idea how people played the song. Remember that I had no experience with listening to or playing Jazz, and the only source of music I had available was the library where it was hard to find specific songs if you did not know what album it was on or who had recorded it, which is really a pity because the Coltrane/Miles versions of this song would probably have been really cool to check out and would have made the whole thing a lot easier.

Learning the Melody

From the Aebersold book, I could spell my way through the melody, even though Eb was not exactly a key I felt familiar with. I might have had an advantage because I had been playing with my guitar tuned down a half step, just like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and I had had to sometimes play in fairly odd keys because of that when I was playing with other people, but reading the melody of the song was certainly a challenge and something that I could at most spell my way through. This meant that I did not spend a lot of time on it, since that was anyway not what I wanted to do, I wanted to improvise, I wanted to solo on it.

What I did not know was that, If you want to learn to improvise over a Jazz standard then one of the first things you want to learn is the melody. The two main reasons for this are:

#1 The Melody is what you use to hear the harmony

So you hear the melody note and from that note, you hear the rest of the chord that is around it,

that is much easier than hearing 4 beats of Cm7, just try…

#2 The Melody is what gives you the form

Instead of counting bars while you play you hear the melody as a guide through the form so you don’t get lost.

Not having the melody internalized made that VERY difficult, mainly I then had to count to keep track and the chord progression, which was anyway completely new to me. I had never heard of a II V I or a III VI II V anyway. I actually think that I could have gotten a lot further if I had learned the melody first and if someone had told me to do that, but nobody did, so I tried to count and keep track while I was improvising, which was a very poor strategy.

Modal Improvisation And Scales Sucks for Changes

What really drew me to Green Dolphin Street was probably that it had the A part with shifting maj7th chords that sounded both complex, surprising, and still pretty smooth or natural, and that was also what felt was the easiest to solo on, or rather possible to solo on.

That part of the song feels more “modal” and is not really a typical jazz progression. The 2nd 8 bars with the two II V I progressions with an altered dominant were impossible. I didn’t know what a II V I was, so I certainly had no vocabulary for that, and altered dominants were also pretty far out of my reach even if I knew what scale it was.

The way I had been taught to improvise at this point was to look at the chord progression and then figure out what scale to use and play something with that scale.

The skill of really spelling out changes was not something I was really aware of, and combining that skill with a chord progression so that your solo would flow through the changes was also not something I had heard of. Everything was per chord, and not about playing specific chord progressions. The other approach I knew was to have one scale that fitted the entire song and just use that, but I could not find a scale that had an Ebmaj7, a Gbmaj7, a Fmaj7, and an Emaj7 chord in there….

I could barely figure out what to play on the chords and had no idea how to tie together those melodies then 200 bpm is pretty fast! Those parts of the song were mostly just crash and burn, and often I would get completely lost trying to count and just play something.

This is really why you want to learn some vocabulary and also work on soloing over specific progressions like II V I and turnarounds, which will then give you much better tools to handle blocks of chords within songs, it isn’t just one scale per chord, and knowing the building blocks of turnarounds and cadences helps you hear what is going on. That way you are moving towards improvising more freely over the progression.

The Weird Paradox Of Difficult and Easy

The way I learned to improvise using chord scale relationships, is not that uncommon, and it is also sort of a logical next step if you deal with shorter progressions where you don’t have too many chords. Often that means that the first songs you are given by a teacher are modal, so different chords next to each other with no really harmonic connection. Songs like Cantaloupe Island or So What are typical examples.

This way of learning improvisation is useful because the songs are easier to play over, you don’t have to think about a million chords, scales, and arpeggios, but they do have a problem if you want to later play songs like Standards and Bebop Themes.

Jazz as a language was not developed by playing over a static chord for a long period of time. It was developed by improvising over Jazz standards which have faster-moving progressions, and a part of the language is how the solo incorporates those chords into the lines. You need to learn to think ahead and also to play a melody that spans several chords.

That is difficult if you are trained to think about everything one chord at a time and not have an overview of several chords in one phrase. In that way, the modal pieces don’t really help you get better at playing faster moving progressions since the chords don’t move in the same way as they do with Standards and you are not working on what connects the two chords.

At the same time, it can be really useful for a beginning improviser to work on a modal piece because it helps develop a sense of period (so feeling the bar, and the 4-bar periods) and a lot of modal progressions have really surprising chord changes that are easier to hear so that you don’t get lost when you play because you can easily hear what is going on.

This can be much more complicated with a Jazz standard. So there are pros and cons to learning modal pieces in the beginning that you might want to be aware of, but of course mainly if you aim to learn to also play Jazz standards.

My Aebersold backing track was clearly way too fast for me to play over it, and in this first attempt at learning a Jazz standard then I did not sit down and make my own slower and clearer backing track which is what I did later, just recording me playing the chords, but there is a funny side effect to practicing slowly when it comes to Jazz.

Practicing Slowly – The Wrong way

Any song that you play slowly enough becomes modal. You can easily try, just play a II V I but make each chord 4 or 8 bars long, and then you will hear how the forward motion of the progression disappears. This is also how The 2nd Miles Davis quintet made songs like Stella by Starlight and My Funny Valentine into modal pieces: slowing them down so that the function of the harmony disappears.

So when you want to practice slowly on a Jazz standard, then maybe it is not about taking the tempo too far down that will work against you because you can’t hear the flow of the harmony which is as important if you want to develop your jazz skills. Instead, you can slow other things down so that you internalize the harmony and learn to improvise over the chords. I have other videos on improvising with chord tones and in my course, I even reduce that as a starting point before gradually helping you develop your playing so that includes arpeggios, scales, chromatic phrases and octave displacement.

Another important aspect is to focus on the short chord progressions that are the building blocks of a Jazz standard progression. That is what makes it both easier to remember the chords and also what will make it easier to improvise over them because you have those shorter building blocks in your ears and in your fingers.

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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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