Tag Archives: How to learn jazz

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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Why Barry Harris’ Approach Is So Much Better Than Bebop Scales!

Bebop IS Modern Jazz

I hate Bebop scales, in fact, I never liked that approach to soloing because it always took away the part of the Bebop sound that I love the most, and this was even years before I knew what that was. Bebop is important, because Bebop IS the foundation for pretty much all modern Jazz, just like Christian McBride says:

“Let’s make something very clear.

Be-bop language is still modern-day language.”

For learning Bebop, There are important skills which are about Melody and flow and they are much more important for the sound than just what scale or which arpeggio to play, so I want to show you how that works so that you can start digging into that beautiful Bebop sound! I am a bit curious how many comments I am going to get from people who hate Bebop, but I am sure that more people love it!

Charlie Parker Is The Mozart Of Jazz

Charlie Parker’s solos completely blew my mind when I was just getting into Jazz. It was especially the Jazz Blues solos that I connected with, like this one on KC Blues.  In those solos, some of the phrases were very similar to the Blues I already knew from Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But there were these other melodies that sounded great but were completely different, and not at all about Blues. They made me incredibly curious, and I needed to figure out how they worked because they sounded great. And that is how I ended up getting into Jazz and finally getting a degree at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.

What’s Wrong With Bebop Scales?

The thing that Bebop scales really miss for me is that the emphasis is on playing scales so if you have a G7 bebop scale then that is often something like this:

And there you have the chord tones on the beat and the stepwise melody which really connects with and spells out the chord:

But the lines you get with this are really boring:

And you don’t hear the things that, I think, make Bebop lines sound great like this:

That is not really in there with the Bop scales and music is about more than having chord tones on every downbeat.

To me, this relates to something that we are still learning to teach, Pat Metheny talks about it in the Rick Beato interview:

And, what Metheny says here is also one of the reasons that Barry Harris is so great at teaching Bebop: He teaches melody as well as harmony. Even if he doesn’t seem to have names for everything, then, as you will see, he does have strong concepts that catch this and help you develop your skills with Bebop melodies. This will come up again and again in this video!

Melody is About Direction

To me, this is about learning to hear and play lines that are not stuck on the heavy beats.

So you don’t change direction on beats 1 and 3 all the time:

This is about the rhythm in the melody, and you want to also change direction on the off-beats because that makes it lighter and a lot more interesting,

Check out how I am essentially playing the same notes but changing direction on the 2& and 4&:

But, of course, this is not something you can think about when you are playing, at least I can’t. Instead, you need another approach to get it into your playing, and you want to work on this because it is such an important part of the sound.

This video is really about my favorite trick with Bebop melodies, and I will get to that, but I think it is better to start with a simple approach: Triads and Enclosures.

Back to Triads

I am using this on a G7, so take this G major triad:

With the triad, it is easy to add chromatic enclosures around each note using a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below, so for G:

Which gives you this exercise:

This is not yet super exciting, but check this out:

Here, you have a line that isn’t just moving in one direction all the time and still makes sense with the chords,

there is a secret ingredient that I will get to, but keep in mind how far it is from this:

The secret is that when I have a melody moving down, so I start on G and go down the G7 arpeggio to F and then I want to go to D, but instead of going directly to D, I add the enclosure around the D, But, and this is pretty important: If the melody is moving down, then try to play the enclosure moving up, so in this case I skip down to C# and go back up to E before landing on D. So it jumps around more, but the whole thing still makes sense and has a natural flow.

It is very important to keep in mind that this is not a strict rule and the “only way” you can use enclosures, but you want to train yourself to hear melodies like this because they are more alive and they sound a lot less predictable and boring. Most of us need to work a bit to get them into our ears and our playing, but once you know that it works then you do start to hear them all over the place. A common one with Joe Pass is this one which I transposed to C major:

The reason why I remember this one was that I used to always mess it up when I had to play this solo out of his “Jazz guitar style” book.

You can take any triad and easily figure out the enclosures but don’t forget to start working on composing lines that use this so that you learn to hear how they sound. I often call them flipped enclosures because they move against the melodic direction, I am not sure if there is another name out there.

Let’s try to move to the first Barry Harris Concept which sort of works the same, but just has a lot more notes.

Barry Pivots

Pivot Arpeggios are a super strong Bebop trick and really help you get that sound across. I don’t think I ever heard Barry talk about why pivot arpeggios sound good, but he does teach them and use them a lot, both in his teaching and if you transcribe his solos. It’s actually pretty simple:

In the previous example, I was using an enclosure to change the direction of the melody:

But now I want to use an arpeggio to do that. If you start with the basic Cmaj7 arpeggio:

You turn it into a pivot arpeggio by playing the first note and then moving the remaining 3 notes down an octave:

This is a great way to get your lines to move around in a more interesting way, just listen to Grant Green, he does this ALL the time!
Here’s a phrase from the end of the bridge on I’ll Remember April:

And to translate this back to the G7 I started with: Let’s use the arpeggio on the 7th of the chord which is Fmaj7

and then you have a line that skips around but is still solid:

In this example, I am using another Barry Harris trick that is really powerful, but again you want to just start writing lines with pivot arpeggios and get used to how they sound to get it into your ears and into you playing.

What you might have noticed is in the 2nd half of the bar. Here, the melody is really just moving down, but then it goes back up to the D on beat 4.

That is actually another way to get a beautiful interval skip in there without sounding angular and unnatural. This is a Barry Harris half-step, and coming out of Barry Harris’ Chromatic scale.

Barry Harris Chromatic scale

I get that it may sound strange that I refer to the note D as a half step between C and B in the C major scale,

but that is actually how Barry’s chromatic scale works, and that is an amazingly powerful tool for some really fantastic Bebop phrasing:

You take the C major scale:

Barry came up with a way of adding a half step or chromatic note between all the notes in the scale, but you need a trick along the way.

Whenever there is a half-step available then you use that:

But when you move from E to F, or B to C where there is no half-step then you can use the scale note above the target, which would be G before F:

Continuing like this you end up with:

But it works if you play it descending as well:

There is an amazing extension to this which I will get to, but just the basic scale is already a great way to create some beautiful flowing bop lines. Here I am using it on a G7 with the half-step between E and F, and C and B:

So you have the G between F and E, and, then chromatic passing notes and again skipping up to D between C and B.

Super-charged Barry Harris

When Barry showed us this in the masterclass at the conservatory in the Hague, then he had us play the exercise but then he said something that I didn’t really understand at the time but which is incredibly powerful for  making some super Bebop lines:

“Any note can be a half-step.”

Why is this great? That works because you can use other notes that give you other interval skips and they can still sound great and keep the flow!

Let’s take the beginning of the previous example:

I am using the G as the half-step

but A works as well:

And the lower A with a huge interval skip sounds amazing:

And then you can do stuff like this using enclosures and chromatic scale together:

And remember that this was to not get stuck  playing solos like this

But, it actually gets even more crazy because there is actually another level to this one as well.

Chromatic Boosted Half-step

Now you have a way to add the interval skip as a Barry Harris’s half-step but you can actually add a chromatic leading note to your half-step as well, and I know it sounds a bit weird. But you go from this

and then the low A that we are using as a half-step can also get a chromatic leading note!

So with the chromatic boosted half-step,  which is clearly not a great name for this, then you can create a line like this:

Grant Is The Greatest

Maybe the most important part of getting this into your playing is that you start recognizing it in the solos of the people you listen to, and one of the best places to start with this is Grant Green because his solos are super-inspiring clear examples of this and they are not too fast to follow.

One solo that covers all the examples in this video is his solo on “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” which I break down in this video so that you can hear all of this in action, and get started using it yourself.

I Wish I Had Checked Out This Guy! His Solos Are Jazz 101 On Guitar

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How To Practice Jazz – Advice From Bill Evans

It is always interesting to check out how the people we look up to learned and practice to achieve the skills that we admire. Bill Evans is both a fantastic jazz musician and also a very interesting example of this because he is also very analytical and philosophical.

In this video, I am taking a look at some quotes from him on practicing and learning. How he sees himself and his perspectives and priorities with learning and practicing.

Content:

0:00 Intro – Learning from the people we admire

0:24 Bill Evans – Perspectives and Practice Priorities

0:42 “Knowing The Problem is 90% of solving it”

0:55 How this ties in with having lessons

1:55 The right piece of information at the right time!

2:24 “1 Tune for 24 hours or 24 tunes for an hour”

2:48 When Do you know a Song?

3:30 Besides learning songs: Make it A Part of your system

3:55 “I Don’t Consider Myself Talented”

4:45 Explore and stay motivated

5:36 “Don’t take their motivation away”

6:06 Keep improving and developing

6:57 The Essence of Jazz – Being Personal

8:04 Is there only room for Copycats?

8:12 Do you have a great quote on Practicing or Learning?

8:20 Like the video? Check out My Patreon Page!

Check out some more material on Bill Evans!

My Other Video On Bill Evans: Bill Evans – How To Get Your Rhythms To The Next Level

The Complete Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zufMaufJZo

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

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Vlog: How I got into jazz guitar & Why I make videos – Jens Larsen

In this video, I will tell the story about how I got started playing jazz guitar and also about what I am trying to achieve with the videos I make (besides having fun talking about Jazz Music and Jazz Guitar..)

Hope you find it useful! It felt like I owed you guys an explanation as to why I make all these videos! I think that a big part of how to learn jazz is learning songs and I in part take that from my own journey! I also talk about starting late since I didn’t get into jazz at an early age.