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!
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