Tag Archives: how to play jazz guitar

Jazz Chords – The 3 Rules That Make You Sound Pro!

I am incredibly lucky that I get to jam with great musicians, and one of the reasons for that is something that Jazz beginners miss: You need to be able to lay down great-sounding chords that feel comfortable to play over. If you can’t play chords and comp then nobody wants to play with you. Let me show you 3 rules that your comping needs to follow, and don’t worry none of them are about difficult complicated chords and with the 3 rules, you can start to play beautiful and swinging comp, and even though I am starting with really simple chords, you can go as far as you want with this, check it out!

Let’s take a simple medium Bb blues, with a focus on playing as if you are in a duo with a horn, a vocalist, or another guitarist which means that when you are comping then you are responsible for three of the main ingredients of the song:

The Tempo, The Groove, and The Harmony.

#1 Be Clear

You need to be clear! Make it easy to understand what you are playing, where the time is, and how the groove sounds.

If we start with Time and rhythm: There is a great Peter Bernstein quote: “Don’t Be Afraid of the one when you are comping” – What that means is you have to communicate the groove to both the soloist and the audience, so stay grounded and play a chord on beat 1 often. That’s what makes it comfortable for the soloist and easy to follow for the audience. Be Clear!

When it comes to notes then being clear is about working with simple chords with a bass note

Like this:

I am playing shell-voicings here, so these easy 3-note versions of the chords: Bb7 and Eb7, Fm7 Bb7.

A trick I am using for Getting the groove across is that I split the shell-voicing into two layers: bass and chord,

You’ll see later just how much you can open that up and how powerful that is! Here it is helping me get the swing feel in there. Like this:

Notice how having two layers already is a melody, similar to how a drumkit has a bassdrum and a snare drum for comping.

A mistake that I sometimes hear is when a student plays too many sustained chords. Long sustained chords make it hard to feel the groove, and that works better if you are playing with somebody else who is laying down the groove, so try to avoid this:

And aim more for this:

Let’s look at the next rule which is more about HOW you play before getting to what you can do with the chords:

Be Connected

Be connected! This topic often concerns something that seems scary to most students trying to learn comping.

As you know, some people have the reputation of being magic at comping behind soloists, think of Herbie Hancock behind Miles or Wayne Shorter, or somebody like Wynton Kelly behind Wes Montgomery, but what makes them magic?

A lot of it is about having the right balance between 3 things:

  1. What is going on in the music or song
  2. What is the soloist playing
  3. What can I do with the harmony and the rhythm

The first two are about the most important part of playing Jazz chords, which is not rhythm, extensions or voice-leading. The most important part of playing Jazz chords is listening, and knowing when to play. You need to listen to the entire band and to the soloist. You can make horrible mistakes with that, for example, make sure that you don’t play a million syncopated chords

if the feel is more relaxed and open and the rest of the band sounds like this:

Another pitfall, that I see in lessons where I am teaching comping is that it turns into being about ear training and being able to, on the spot, transcribe and analyze everything being played while you are also playing the chords. That is not really how it works, of course, you want to hear and catch as much as you can, but you should also keep in mind that if the soloist is really busy and playing a lot then you don’t have to do so much, and you can even stop playing for a bit, or at least pull back to make it very basic. What is also important to keep in mind is that even if you know exactly what is being played then you are much more likely to get in the way if you also play a lot.

So you want to be connected with the song and the soloist so that what you play fits the mood and the energy and is nice to play over. But you also want to be connected to what YOU are playing.

That connection needs to be there, and it is so important to work on getting it in there so that it doesn’t sound like we are starting a new song every 4 beats. There is a great fairly simple way to start working on this: You need to learn to listen to yourself and you need to learn to think in phrases!  The best way to work on this is to start with the rhythm, and I’ll show you some tricks with the chords in the next part of the video. An easy way to train this is to repeat stuff through a song, and you will find that a lot of soloists find that very nice to play over because it is predictable and easy to both play off and get ideas from and you can rely on it.

So spend some time just taking a riff or rhythm through the song and then slowly start to develop or vary it, but keep the longer story in there as well! Once you can do that you can always open it up.

Make sure to practice with a metronome that is the fastest way to get better time and really be able to lay down a groove! If your groove sounds good with a metronome then your groove sounds good. If your groove sounds good with a backing track then maybe the backing track sounds good. I’ve said it before. Now we need top open up the chords!

Be Creative

We all want to play big beautiful chord voicings because that’s probably what we love about jazz chords: all the colors and extensions,  but at the same time it is much more important to get the rhythm right and not get in the way of the soloists or the other band members when you’re comping. If you are playing with a drummer and your rhythms don’t match that will sound horrible. When it comes to chords then If you check, you would probably be amazed at how most people you admire play very basic and simple chords most of the time. The groove and clarity is the most important!

So a good place to start is to add some forward Motion with the help of some easy and basic passing chords. As you will see, There’s no difficult theory or complicated formulas needed, I am just playing something that’s a half step, or a fret,  away from the chord that I want to go to and using that to drive the progression forward with some nice sounding energy! Something like this.

So I am going to the Eb7 from above and approaching the Bb7 from below, simple stuff just sliding the chord in place.

And of course, you can also use that if you just want to change things up while you’re on the same chord for a longer time.

Earlier in the video I showed you how to split the chord in two parts so that you have a bass note and a chord, but check out how you can take that up a few levels because that goes really really far and you can do all sorts of things!

You can probably tell that this is the same principle:  First playing the complete chord, maybe a simple version, to set up and be clear about where we are in the song. But after that then I don’t play the root anymore and instead, I am free to play a chord fill in between.

As you can see then I’m using all these other kind of voicings that are kind of coming out of the shell-voicing but also some drop2 and some triads. You can really do a lot with this and it’s a great way to create some fills. It is also great for adding some blues flavor to the whole thing.  Like this:

Getting Back To The Blues

I am essentially using the same as what I would do in a solo, so grace notes for the 3rd and making it short and simple prases that stay around the triad with the melody.

And once you clearly establish the chord, then you don’t have to play complete simple voicings on every 1 of every bar, that can be much more open, even completely rootless if that fits. I didn’t do anything with the bass yet, so let’s do that!

Bass!

Thinking like this you can also turn it around and then say well I want to have more movement in the bass and add either small parts of bass movement or walking bass like this:

or go to a complete section where you’re playing walking bass all the time, really adding that quarter-note drive which moves the whole thing forward and sounds great!

Once you start to add other chord voicings and complete chord solo fills then you also need to have a way to think about the chords that tie all those different voicings together. I go over a simple system for that important process in another video, and it is a lot easier than you might think and also sort of coming from how Joe Pass approaches chords. Check it out!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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5 Theory Tricks That Will Save You Years Of Practice

Music Theory can seem very scary for a Jazz beginner, and you will come across people insisting it is bad for your creativity, but in reality, it is a great help when it comes to learning Jazz, and it helps speed up the learning process.

Imagine a guitarist who doesn’t know theory. He’s stuck, and can’t turn the licks he learns into new vocabulary, he doesn’t have a way to learn and organize the notes on the fretboard

and he can’t use the songs he knows to learn more songs easily, Learning Jazz becomes very difficult like that.

So there are a LOT of advantages to learning just a bit of basic theory. Let me show you how much you can unlock with very basic stuff!

Thinking in Keys

You can compare thinking in keys to learning about cars.

If you think of words like Battery, air filter, and wheels, then the word itself is not saying a lot, but if you think of them as parts of a car you have a much better idea about what they are and what they do. Adding context helps you understand!

Looking at a song and thinking in terms of key is the same, it helps you understand what the chords are and how they sound because they are never just a letter with some numbers. Dm7 is one thing in Bb major and something else in C major, and it will sound different,

just like the battery in your car is probably different from your mobile phone’s, the context helps you understand.

The first time you want to learn a song like a Jazz Standard then you probably want to end up sounding like this:

But in reality, you are looking at the lead-sheet and it seems like there are 1000s of incomprehensible chords and the whole thing is impossible to understand.

The most essential part of getting over this is to stop thinking of each chord as an isolated thing, and use that the song is in a key, where you know the diatonic chords in the scale because that is a huge part of knowing the key and also something you can easily practice for both major and minor scales.

If you look at the song knowing what key it is in, you can immediately recognize the chords that are in the key and diatonic to the scale (highlight those chords) which already will help you deal with most of the song.

But you also realize that chord progressions have direction and move to a resolution, and this helps you understand what is going on and makes it easier to solo over the song.

As you get more experienced it will also help you deal with the chords that are in the key and have a function but are not in the scale something that becomes unnecessarily confusing and complicated if you start looking at them as not connected to the key when your ear tells you that they are.

This was understanding a whole song, but the next trick is just as useful and also leads to a very helpful Barry Harris concept.

Chunks of Chords

Imagine that you have to read a page in a book, but instead of reading the words and sentences then you spell each word on the page. I am sure you can imagine how slow that process is, and how it is also getting in the way of understanding what is written on that page. The same is true for chords. You don’t want to get stuck trying to learn songs by memorizing long rows of abstract letters and numbers when it is much faster to read the chord progression as chunks in the same way you read words.

The most basic building blocks you want to start with are the major and minor II V I, and recognizing different types of turnarounds is the next place to go.

You probably want to start by ignoring extensions and just get used to reading chords as the basic type of chord that they are, so G7(9,13) is just G7, Dm7(11) is just a Dm7 and Cmaj7(9) is just Cmaj7.

The extensions are not that important in this case, and you will anyway be interpreting the chord symbols and ignoring them most of the time.

This is about turning the chords from a long row of symbols into a few progressions that

  1. Makes it easier to remember and
  2. Are building blocks you already know the sound of.

Most standards will end up being just 7-8 progressions once you can think like this and also understand the form and how it repeats which is quite different from remembering a row of 30+ chord symbols.

And you can use this to make soloing a lot easier as well, which is also what Barry Harris teaches.

Not Thinking ALL The Chords

Once you start thinking in groups of chords then you can also open up how you improvise over them. Simplifying the chords is a great way to not get overwhelmed and to make it easier to improvise more melodic solos. Later in the video, I’ll talk about simplifying chords in a different but equally powerful way, but let’s start with Barry Harris.

The main way that Barry Harris reduces chord progressions is by taking away the II chord in a II V I.

For a song that means that you would think this which makes it a lot fewer chords and soloing over it will still make sense.

Another very practical way to re-interpret a common chord progression that you will see with Barry Harris is to reduce a turnaround to a I and a V chord. The previous concept explains taking away the II chord and that also makes the dominant in the 2nd half of bar 1 easy to ignore, since it is anyway on a weak part of the bar.

As an example, check out how this gives you a much easier way to approach rhythm changes just using V chords and tonic chords instead of 2 chords per bar you get a much simpler progression that is a lot easier to solo over.

Later in the video, I will show you another way of chunking together chords that is even more powerful and will help you use chords and vocabulary across a lot of chord progressions. It’s a bit like a boosted Barry Harris approach.

The Power of Diatonic 3rds

The most efficient thing you can do is probably to practice something once and then be able to use it in a LOT of places, and diatonic 3rd relationships help you do exactly that! It really is one of the most powerful things to work with both for chords and for soloing!

I am sure you have heard me talk about how chords a constructed by stacking 3rds in a scale, first creating diatonic 3rds, then the triads and finally the diatonic 7th chords.

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If we start with a C major scale and a Cmaj7 chord then you have these notes:

But for comping, you can also use the chord that is a diatonic 3rd above C: Em7 which essentially gives you a Cmaj7(9)

Another option is the chord that is a diatonic 3rd below: Am7 which gives you a C6,

so if the song says Cmaj7 then you have 3 times as many voicings to choose from.

Check out how it sounds, and a bonus chromatic trick with this II V I in C:

but also like this:

And, the next one goes to the Em7 but then moves voices to transition to the Am7!

This doesn’t work for every chord in every chord progression, but it is well worth exploring, and if you are practicing diatonic arpeggios (which you should be doing, since it is the most important scale exercise in Jazz)

then it is also useful for solos because just like the voicings you have 3 arpeggios you can use over a Cmaj7.

Cmaj7:

Em7:

And Am7:

As you can hear it is incredibly powerful, and it is all over famous Bebop solos from people like Parker, George Benson, and Joe Pass.

You should check out how they work with this if you get the chance.

Functions: Putting Chords On A Shopping List

A lot of these concepts are about how you look at chords and harmony as part of a car, or as words in a text. As you can tell, different ways of thinking makes soloing or comping easier, and this last one is in many ways the most powerful one.

You want to understand and hear chords in categories, similar to how you might order a shopping list. If you go shopping then you make a list with the items you need grouped in categories by what is close to each other, and maybe even the order of where it is in the store: Vegetables, Bread, Dairy, meat etc.

Categorizing chords like this by how they sound and how they behave in the song can be a massive time saver! There is a good chance that you already do this a bit with diminished chords recognizing that in

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 you can also consider that the same chord progression as Cmaj7 A7 Dm7, and therefore you can solo using the same vocabulary.

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But this goes a lot further and is something you can use to make it easier to solo over and play similar chord progressions. You want to start grouping in functions which is grouping them as chords that sound similar and work in the same way.

Let me show you an example with subdominant and tonic chords:

Here you have Subdominant, Minor subdominant resolving to tonic

And that is also what you have here:

Here Dm7 and Fmaj7 are interchangeable and both work as subdominant,

and even if Bb7 and Dbmaj7 don’t contain exactly the same notes they sound very similar in the context and are both minor subdominant chords. You can even easily create vocabulary that works on both progressions:

To me, the biggest advantage is that the chords sound similar and it helps me hear what is going on and what to play over the progressions, especially going from song to song, and the important part is probably more about how the notes move through the progression, but is is also a very good way to group your vocabulary together because you don’t need very different vocabulary for Dm7 and Fmaj7 in C major and while you may need to adjust what you play over Bb7 and Dbmaj7 a bit then it will be very similar and other options like Bb7, Dø and Fm6 are completely interchangeable and you can use exactly the same lines.

The main categories you want to think of are tonic, subdominant and dominant. And then there are common subcategories like minor subdominants and #IV subdominants.

I am showing this with chords in these groups, but keep in mind that chords have different functions depending on what is happening around them, I’ll show you an example in a bit, so be careful with just thinking from an overview like this.

Functions go a bit further than Barry’s shortcut, and tie into understanding chords in the context they are in. In a II V I like Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 then the II chord often makes sense as a part of the dominant that is resolving to I, but if it is II bVII I, so Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7 then it is a subdominant moving to the tonic using a minor subdominant as a sort of transition. Chords are a part of something they are not just defined by what notes are in there.

So start figuring out when a chord is a subdominant and figure out what minor subdominants are in the key like Abmaj7, Fm6, Bb7 and Dbmaj7 are in C major and also how they sound. You probably also want to explore some #IV subdominant chords, there are a lot of dim chords in there. t is a way to think about the chords that connect a lot better with the music and your ears, it really fits how it sounds a lot better.

How To Level Up Your Comping

Of course when you are working on chords then you also need to be able to get them to sound good when you comp, and there are some great exercises that will help you do that which you can check out in this video so that you can level up your chord playing and comping. Check it out! Learn Jazz Make Music

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

 

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Jazz Beginners: Grant Green Is The Most Important Guitarist To Check Out!

The Most Difficult Skill To Learn

You want to sound like Jazz. That’s the goal! You want to be able to take a song, solo over it, and play stuff that sounds right, with good phrasing and good timing. And That, is the most difficult thing about learning Jazz is not the technical things like scales and arpeggios, hitting the changes.

One of the best places to get started with this is to start learning solos by ear, and I think you should start with Grant Green solos. You might wonder why Grant Green

That is because His solos will teach you:

  • Amazing Bebop Phrasing and Vocabulary on the guitar (so it is easier to play)
  • Great Jazz Blues (In A few different variations)
  • Fairly simple with Friendly tempos

Because if you are learning solos by ear then don’t go straight to Allan Holdsworth.

I’ll show you some great Jazz Blues examples from Grant Green and in the process show you solos to check out that are fairly easy to start with.

Let’s start with a great Jazz Blues line from his solo on Solid which is both my favorite Grant Green album and a great Bb Blues:

You can hear how strong the phrasing is and how he is just sitting so nicely in the groove. The line is simple, it’s just triad stuff, major pentatonic with that 6th, the G,

in there and sliding into the 3rd:

Notice how he also has a lot of dynamics in the lines the low G at the end of the example is almost not there.

From Blues To Bop

You can probably tell that this is far from impossible to learn, and alsoa lot of fun to play! That’s the blues side of things, but there’s also some Bebop stuff to check out. Here are some triplet arpeggios, pivot arpeggios and trills:

I don’t know why, but that last phrase ending with a maj7th arpeggio that dips to the 6th and back to the maj7th reminds me of Peter Bernstein. I need to figure out why that is. This and the next example shows how Grant Green uses different sounds to keep the solo interesting.

First we get all this Bebop: You have a descending Fm7 triplet arpeggio,

some phrasing with a slide into G then an Abmaj7 pivot arpeggio,

something he uses VERY often, and which is also a great Bebop sound. And on the Eb7 you have the maj7th arpeggio from the 7th: Dbmaj7.

This is exactly the type of line and the type of vocabulary building blocks that you want to have in your fingers and in your ears as a part of your playing.

Changing Things Up

But to change things up then Grant Green really shifts to another gear, going back to some Blues phrasing:

Notice that he just really sticks to simple Bb lines and isn’t playing material that is based on the F7 chord that’s in the song.

Digging into the Blues as a contrast to the longer Bebop phrase. That is also a huge part of what makes him such a great example.

I am focusing on Jazz Blues because Grant Green is amazing at this, but there are many other things you can learn as well, as you will see.

My hot take on Grant Green’s tone not being great on all albums also makes this a good example because here he sounds quite different from some of the later examples, that might also be why this album is my favorite, though having Joe Henderson on Sax also doesn’t hurt!

Mixing Major and Minor Blues

One of the greatest parts of the Jazz Blues sound is when you mix major and minor blues and get some of that blues sound but also has some of the expensive extensions in there. That is what happens here in this simple but strong example. Later I’ll go over an example that really leans on the minor blues scale. Check out how he is using a short 3 or 4-note motif and just sitting on the root, but using that to connect the whole thing and turn it more than just running the chords. In the 4th bar goes to minor pentatonic to create a bit of tension to drive the Bb7 sound home before the progression moves to Eb7.

Often when you start to play Jazz then you only want to spell out the changes, play lines and add chromatic notes and arpeggios. That is important, but it is good to remember that all the guys we look up to also sometimes plays something really simple. It is about balance.

Grant Green – A Tale Of Two Tones

I’ll show you more examples of this Jazz Blues Mix later.

This example is from Cool Blues, another Bb Blues, and here you can also hear an example with a much thinner tone luckily not so much spring reverb as he has on the Standards album. I suspect that it is a combination of which amp settings and then which guitar he uses, possibly also what the recording engineer decided to do. In these earlier recordings like Cool Blues he is playing his ES330 which has p90s and he showed George Benson that he always sets his amp by turning down treble and bass completely and turning up the mids. I believe he was using a Fender Super Reverb. I do wonder if he wasn’t playing an amp without a mid control, I think most amps didn’t have that in 60s, but I am not sure. The tone is in any case fairly thin even compared to how he sounds in the first example from Solid, which I prefer. I tend to think it is about him not using a p90 from then on, but again I am, not sure. Let me know what you think, I know it is an unpopular opinion that I am not a fan of his early tone…

Check out how minor blues is also nice for Jazz:

Raw Minor Blues

Here’s another example from the album Grantstand which came out in 1961. When I was checking out what year this was from, because it sounded like an early album I noticed something quite mind-blowing: Grant Green Recorded 8 Albums as a leader in 1961!

That is pretty insane! And he was a sideman on 15-16 other albums.

Pretty impressive!

Check out how he starts his solo with some REAL minor blues:

This is all Box 1 Bb minor blues,

the only thing that doesn’t make it something Stevie Ray Vaughan or Clapton could have played is that he isn’t using any bends here. He stays with this sound and elegantly transitions into a solid Bebop line that I think also illustrates something that often is analyzed wrong on m7 chords, especially from this period.

It’s Not Melodic Minor

Check out how he is really just sliding into that B to go the G7 (play) and it is not just scale or arpeggio there is immediately a trill in there as well.

That Cm7 line really shines, it is simply a beautiful Bebop melody with that skip and the enclosure! (PLAY) Often you will hear people analyze that as Grant Green playing Melodic minor on Cm7, because there is no Bb in there but you do have a B.

That isn’t really what is happening, it is just an enclosure of the root with a chromatic leading note.

But as I have said in other videos: If you are trying to analyze and understand a lick or a melody then the answer is probably not a scale. That is just what notes are used and a random set of notes from the scale won’t sound that great. There is always more going on.

Let’s check out some motivic stuff with rhythm and maybe a line George Benson stole from him.

Melody and Rhythm

George Benson plays this exact turnaround in his Billie’s Bounce solo,

right t the spot where the studio lost power and the tempo gets warbly. I don’t know what you think, but I think it is a nod of gratitude to Grant Green.

Check out this pickup from his solo on Blues For Willarene:

 

I just wanted to include that. This Blues is from Grant’s First Stand which is another of his albums recorded in 61.

The main reason I am including this is this next phrase:

So again mixing the Major and minor blues sound setting up a motif (play) then he changes it a bit, mostly by moving it so the rhythm is more on offbeats.

then the next version uses a higher note and morphs into this motif which is all on one string, and he works with that going to Eb7 and back.

Another Intro To Jazz Blues: Joe Pass

The way Grant Green works with the rhythm in developing this motif is phenomenal! You can learn so much from playing these solos! Another solo that both defines great Jazz Blues and taught me a lot is the track “Joe’s Blues” from the album “Intercontinental” Check it out!

It is by far my favorite Joe Pass album to listen to and that Blues is incredible!

This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

 

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5 Things That Ruin ALL Jazz Beginner Solos

The Roadblock

This is such a common roadblock when you are just getting started with Jazz:

You are practicing scales and arpeggios, but getting that to sound right in a solo is very difficult, and the only help you can find is adding more complicated and weird things which doesn’t really solve the problem and just gives you more scales and arpeggios to practice.

Avoid Scale Solos

Most of the time, The problem is that your solos sound too much like you are just running up and down scales, which is maybe “correct” but also pretty boring and predictable

B-roll: list over “I will show you some simple…” Arpeggios, Interval Skips, Rhythm, Phrasing”

As you can hear, everything is moving stepwise and nothing is really happening. To fix this you need to get better at using scales and arpeggios more creatively. I will show you some simple strategies for that in this video, without throwing scales, chromatic passing chords, and super-imposed pentatonics at you. (Tony Stark eye roll)

#1 Arpeggios Can Be Nice (but use them the right way)

The first thing to add is arpeggios, since the previous example didn’t have any arpeggios, and they already help to break up lines that are only scale movement, but you want to use them in the right way.

A “rule” that I see quite often online for Jazz is arpeggio up, scale down.

That is very similar to a counterpoint rule for melodic tension which says that a leap in one direction is resolved by motion in the opposite direction. (show example with arrows or lines) That counterpoint rule is a good one for a stable melody, but later I’ll show you some examples where great Jazz lines break some of the counterpoint rules.

Arpeggio up/scale down is pretty easy to play, just watch out that it isn’t the only thing you do with arpeggios. Here I am using it going from Dm7 to G7:

But you can also change things up by inserting a descending arpeggio and treat it as a “break” from a scale run. You play the arpeggio and then go back up to the note below the note you started on. Here I am using that over the Dm7 chord and using another useful trick: the arpeggio from the 3r, in this case that’s an Fmaj7 arpeggio. Just to quickly explain that. If you look at the notes of Dm7 and Fmaj7 you can see that 3 of the notes are the same and the only difference is the E which is a 9th against Dm7, which sounds great.

You can do this with most chords, and it just means that you have several arpeggios available for any chord you solo over.

You may have noticed that I sometimes have other ways of not playing scale runs in the last two examples, I’ll get to those later as well. Another way to use an arpeggio is to play it as a triplet which is a great way to change up the flow with rhythm. In this example you also want to notice how I am using the descending arpeggio melody that I just showed you but now with the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, Bø:

#2 Simple, Flexible and Incredibly Powerful

Before we get to the very simple melodic technique that breaks the counterpoint rule then I want to show you what I used at the beginning of the 2nd example to create this:

and a sneaky variation of it is also what I am using in the 3rd example going from Dm7 to G7

One of the most important parts of the sound of good Bop-inspired Jazz lines, is that they have surprising twists and turns but they also have direction, and that is what I am using here: Enclosures, which is an incredibly deep topic, and something that helps you create great lines on scale melodies, arpeggios and triads!

On the Dm7 line, I start on the A and then instead of moving directly down to F which would be the next note in the arpeggio there are two notes placed around the F, E under it, and G above it. PLAY and what makes it even more powerful is that the enclosure moves up from E to G while the melody is moving from A down to F, so it has both the forward motion and a surprising change of direction.

The easiest way to work on this is to use 2-note chromatic enclosures on the arpeggio, because they are the most flexible and the easiest to play. The concept is simple: a diatonic note above the chord tone and a chromatic note below, so for a Dm7 arpeggio, E above & C# below, resolving to D. G above and E below, resolving to F and so on.

The entire exercise is this:

and you can play it descending as well:

And just using this on the arpeggio gives you solid lines that are anything but boring. Here I am using the enclosure around F and D on Dm7 and also around the B on G7

Let’s have a look at how Bebop breaks some counterpoint rules, and then start talking about how you get this information into your playing because that may not be obvious.

#3 Breaking The Counterpoint Rules

In many ways then Bebop and Jazz lines are closely related to the language of Bach, and the rule that I mentioned about resolving a leap in one direction by moving in the opposite direction does sound quite natural and fits a lot of Jazz lines. Think of the Ellington ending:

But the interval of a minor 6th is not allowed so it is, in that way, breaking the rules, and that descending minor 6th is a great sound for Jazz lines.

Jazz also doesn’t have a problem with parallel 5ths and a few other things but counterpoint was also created for polyphonic vocal music so that isn’t that surprising.

The descending 6th interval can be used as an incredible sound! A simple version of it is to insert it between the half-steps in the scale, in C major that would be between the C and the B, where you can place an E and between the F and the E where it is an A.

And these interval skips are great for Bebop and used all over the place! There are more options but for this I’ll stick with these two. Check out how I first use the interval skip and then two enclosures on Dm7 following that up with the descending arpeggio technique on G7:

The Practice Strategy

By now, you should be wondering how you internalize material like this. You probably noticed that I am not really giving you specific licks it is more like recipes for melodies that you can move around and use to create your own licks.

You could look at getting this into your playing as a 3-step process where the 2nd one is probably often left out, and the reason you won’t get it into your playing:

#1 Exercises

First, you need to take care of any exercises like practicing the scales, be able to play the arpeggios or enclosures

#2 Compose/internalize

Start composing lines with the topic you are working on, so take a single thing and start making lines.

You want to be able to play the lines you come up with in time, but the biggest focus should be on making a lot of lines. That is where you learn something and where you start to hear the melodies that you want to get into your playing.

Keep it simple and don’t try to do only new things because you want to connect the new things to what you already play so that it becomes a flexible and active part of your vocabulary, not something you have to think about.

#3 Put It To Practice

Take a song you know very well and start soloing while you focus on using the new melodic technique or piece of vocabulary that you want to get into your playing.

Most of the time, students underestimate the benefit of writing tons of licks and exploring the material in that way, so pay attention to that while you practice and be a little patient. Keep in mind that Barry Harris taught Bebop by writing licks and explaining the lines. Composing licks can also be great for developing your rhythm and your phrasing, let’s look at that.

#4 The Curse Of Heavy Beats

Keeping up with the changes is very difficult in the beginning, and often we try to hit target notes on beat one whenever the chords change to make it clear to ourselves that we are following the harmony. This is an important skill, but it is not really great for your rhythm so here are two things you should try to work on that helps lighten it up:

#1 don’t stop on beat 1

When you end the line, in this case that makes most sense on the Cmaj7, in the II V I, then continue into the bar and try to end on an offbeat like I do here, and see if you can spot all the other stuff from this video that I use:

This example actually uses the next thing when going from Dm7 to G7:

#2 Resolve on 4&

Try to resolve to the chord on 4& to anticipate the chord change,

again adding forward motion and energy to the line. This is something where it makes sense to spend time composing lines to get it into your ears and into your playing. And in the example, notice how the enclosure is used to help the transition from Dm7 to G7

#5 Technique for Dynamics

The Phrasing is where the music is, and when it comes to phrasing in Jazz then one of the most important parts is the dynamics in the line, and you can use technique to make that easier. This is probably also why so many Jazz guitarists mix a lot of different techniques when they play: It is the most efficient way to get the right phrasing.

For the dynamics then two techniques are great to incorporate: slides and legato.

Here’s an example without any phrasing:

and here it is with some added phrasing techniques, and notice that I tend to use techniques so that I pick a note on the offbeat and make that louder than the note that follows on a downbeat:

I am sure you can hear the difference. When you start working on this then try to find some simple licks where you have a high note on an off-beat, like this way of playing a Dm7 arpeggio:

Or using a pull-off from an offbeat in a descending scale run like this which also makes it easier to play for your right hand:

The Biggest Mistakes Learning Jazz

One of the most difficult moments I ever experienced on a stage in front of an audience is tied to a myth, something that people sometimes will say but that isn’t true. It is easy to waste practice time on stuff like that and you can better focus on actually learning how to play and building the skills you need. I tell the story of that failure on stage and some of the other concepts that you should not waste your time on in this video! Check it out!

Jazz Beginner – 5 Myths That Waste Your Time

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Challenge: Who Has The Most EPIC Jazz Chords (with Rotem Sivan)

Intros and Vamps With Beautiful Jazz Chords

At NAMM, amidst the clamor of the event, we retreated to my hotel room for a candid discussion on jazz chord hacks. Rotem and I, two musicians passionate about jazz harmony, shared impromptu insights into crafting captivating introductions and vamps for vocalists and instrumentalists alike.

 

Jazz Chord Hack #1 – The Altered Maj7

Starting with a simple 2-5 progression – Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 – we explored elevating it into something more captivating. Jens introduced the concept of altering dominants, replacing the standard G7 with an altered chord featuring a flat 13 and sharp 9. This unexpected twist injected fresh color into the progression, setting up a delightful resolution to Cmaj7.

Jazz Chord Hack #2 – Tritone Magic

We delved into the realm of tritone substitution, where the G7 chord was replaced by its tritone counterpart, Db7. This substitution added tension and intrigue, creating a captivating harmonic journey within the 2-5 framework.

Jazz Chord Hack #3 – Harmonic Multiverse

Expanding beyond traditional harmonic pathways, we discussed the idea of exploring parallel movement and chromaticism. Jens demonstrated how starting from a subdominant chord, such as Fmaj7, and descending chromatically to Cmaj7, can yield captivating harmonic motion and unexpected tonal colors.

Jazz Chord Hack #4 – Journey With Jazz Chords

We emphasized the importance of maintaining a melodic throughline amidst harmonic experimentation. By embracing tension and release dynamics, we crafted harmonic journeys that engaged listeners emotionally and intellectually. Rotem used this to extend the progression

Jazz Chord Hack #5 – Wandering Into Minor

Venturing into the realm of minor subdominants, we explored the rich harmonic possibilities inherent in minor chords. Jens showcased how incorporating minor subdominants into a progression can infuse it with lush, evocative colors, expanding the harmonic palette.

Jazz Chord Hack #6 – Tonal Detours

Building upon the concept of harmonic exploration, we discussed the idea of taking tonal detours within a progression. By introducing unexpected chord substitutions and extensions, Rotem created harmonic landscapes that surprised and delighted the listener.

Jazz Chord Hack #7 – Suspense Is Important

We highlighted the importance of suspense in crafting engaging harmonic progressions. By strategically deploying chords with altered tensions and unresolved dissonances, we kept listeners on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating each resolution.

Jazz Chord Hack #8 – Shifting Colors Around

Rotem introduced the concept of shifting chord colors within a progression, demonstrating how altering a single note can dramatically transform the harmonic landscape. By experimenting with voicings and extensions, we discovered new avenues for harmonic expression.

Jazz Chord Hack #9 – Uncommon Chords

Exploring the use of uncommon chord voicings and extensions, we pushed the boundaries of traditional harmony. First with a Dm7(13) for the II chord:

By incorporating chords like major 7#9#11, we discovered unique sonic textures that added depth and complexity to our progressions.

Jazz Chord Hack #10 – Space Voice-leading

In our final exploration, we discussed the concept of space voice-leading, where subtle chromatic movements create harmonic tension and release. By allowing chords to breathe and evolve gradually, we crafted progressions that felt organic and compelling.

 

In conclusion, our journey through these jazz chord hacks revealed the endless possibilities inherent in harmonic exploration. By embracing tension, color, and emotion, we discovered new ways to captivate listeners and elevate our musical storytelling. We invite fellow musicians to explore these concepts further and share their own insights into the art of jazz harmony.

 

Chord Melody – 5 Beautiful Methods You Want To Know

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The Ultimate Jazz Chord Guide – 12 Most Important Voicing Types

What you can do with Jazz Chords is pretty incredible! I am sure you already know that if you click on this video. I am going to give you an overview of 12 practical and important types of chords that you will come across if you start exploring Jazz guitar.

I am going to start with the ones that make the most sense as a beginner, but also add something that I often think is left out in teaching and understanding Jazz chords is that I will show how they fit together, because if you check out how Jazz chords are used then it is rarely just one type of chord used all the time, we mix it up quite a lot and often that is what makes it sound so great. Having that connection in there also makes it a lot easier to have an overview and remember all the chords.

#1 Shell-Voicings

These simple 3-note chords are the best place to start because they are easy to play, easy to hear, they cover all of the basic harmony, and as you will see they are also an amazing foundation to build a lot of other chords with.

The basic harmony in Jazz is built around 7th chords which is 4-part harmony, but you can get there using 3 notes instead of 4.

You want to look at the shell-voicings like this: Root on the 5th or 6th string and basic chord tones on the 2 middle strings. The note that is left out is the 5th.

So for a Cmaj7 chord you have C E G and B in the chord, we leave out the 5th, G, and then you can play the C either on the 5th string giving you this chord

Or on the 6th string giving you this chord:

Most Important Exercises For Chords

There are two ways that you want to explore chords if you are trying to get them into your playing:

Take them through a scale, so for the shell voicings that might be this:

And you also want to play some chord progressions to hear what they sound like in music.

Most of the chord voicings in this video will come from adding notes to the shell voicings or taking away notes,

as you will see, they are surprisingly important to know! I am also a bit surprised that there are quite a few types of chords that are very common, but you don’t have a good name for them, we’ll get to those a lot quicker than you think and feel free to suggest a name in the comments.

#2 Drop-3 voicings

Shell-voicings are a great example of how you can get things done with fewer notes and a bit of context, but as we all know then the Swedish Guitar Wizard says:

“How can Less Be More? More is More” – Yngwie Malmsteen

So let’s start adding some notes to the shell voicings and since “More is More”

The Shell-voicing with the root on the 6th string can have the 5th added like this:

So now you have a way to play all four notes again, and we call this a drop3 voicing because of how it is constructed. I’ll explain the Drop-something concept a bit later.

It is pretty clear how the Shell-voicings and drop3 voicings fit well together because you can treat them as just shell voicings with added notes, and that makes it possible to play short riffs mixing the two:

And of course, it is also useful to take these through a scale. Here’s an F major scale:

With the way Shell voicings are constructed then inversions don’t make sense, but it is more common with Drop3 voicings. For the Fmaj7 that would be:

But, it still is not something you want to spend too much time on. The root position version is by far the one that is used the most. With later voicings like Drop2, the inversions are much more useful.

This was only adding a note to one of the shell-voicing types, let’s look at what happens when you do the same with the other one, which starts adding extensions. That is also what will give you a way to play some smooth progressions using the drop3 which wouldn’t really work right now.

#3 Shell-Derived

The same process with a 5th string shell-voicing would give you this Cmaj7(9):

Because this adds a diatonic 9th to the chord then taking it through the scale does not yield only voicings that you are likely to use:

As I mentioned then there is not a common name for this chord construction, so I made one up for this video. If you have a better suggestion you can always leave a comment.

Together with the drop3, you can add more color to the chords because “more is more”

#4 Drop2 with a bass note

It’s maybe a bit odd to introduce these before I go over Drop2 but I think it makes more sense in linking the chords and how you use them.

You started with a shell-voicing, then added a note to the drop3 and you can even add one more note to create a Drop2. This is probably easier to demonstrate with a G7 chord:

The advantage here is that you really just learn a Shell-voicing

and then add notes to expand your options in terms of what melodies are available:

If you move these through the scale then you get something like this, but they are a bit difficult to play:

These are very practical for chord melody playing, even if some of them are a bit tricky to play.

To get to the Drop2 chords and some other very practical voicings it is useful to look at the smallest possible jazz voicings.

#5 2-Note Shells

Adding notes make things a bit more complicated both in terms of technique and having an overview of what notes are played, so this will make things easier!

When you play in a band then most of the time somebody else is taking care of the bass line, and that means that you don’t have to play that and it might sound better to get out of their way.

Going back to the shell-voicings then that is pretty easy:

For the 5thstring root:

And for the 6th string root:

With these chords you can easily play progressions and you are not very likely to clash with the soloist and get in the bass players way.

You can take these through the scale as well, but maybe you can also just think of the shell-voicing with the root

#6 Triads

If you take the drop2 voicings and remove the root:

Then you are left with a triad. You can see it if you write out the notes as well. Cmaj7 without a C is an Em triad, Dm7 without the D is an F major triad and G7 without a G is a B diminished triad

The biggest advantage here is that you can use this with the inversions as well.

The basic II V I could be:

 

And you can turn that into 2 more II V I progressions using the inversions of these triads, but maybe one of them is a bit mysterious:

The one for the G7(9) is in this case an F major b5 triad,

which sometimes causes a bit of discussion, and you have one more inversion:

The biggest advantage with the triads is that they become something else and are both very flexible and easy to work with for comping and chord solos. They also immediately connect to the next type of voicing:

#7 Drop2

Again you can lean on adding more notes to the shell-voicing and then end up with a Drop2, so the concept stays the same as when there was a bass note:

What Are “Drop Voicings”?

But maybe it is probably also useful to cover what the Drop concept means in voicings, even if that is not something you ever use when you are playing, that is a very common misunderstanding.

It isn’t super complicated. If you look at a root position G7 then you have

Constructing a drop2 is taking the 2nd highest note, D, and moving that down an octave. With a more practical way of playing the notes you have this voicing G7 drop2:

And, in the same way, if you take the 3rd highest note, B, and move that down an octave you have G7 drop3:

Knowing this is nice, but to get anything out of it in your playing then you need the voicings in your fingers and your ears. Just knowing is not knowing, because we don’t have time to think about constructing chords while we play. I think most people who use them never think about constructing them, they just learn the voicings.

With Drop2 it is useful to check out how they move through the key:

and also check out the inversions:

And the inversions make it easy to play chord progressions with smooth movement from chord to chord, like this turnaround:

Drop2 chords are incredibly flexible with what extensions and voicings you can put together, so they are worth the effort to study and way to big to cover in this video, because there are other sounds to explore, and now we can let go of starting with the shell-voicings.

#8 3-part Quartal Voicings

The way you usually construct chords, as you have seen earlier in the video, is usually by stacking 3rds in the scale, so from the G you create a G major triad by adding the B and the D on top

But you could also stack 4th intervals from G, giving you this 3-note chord of G C F:

With quartal voicings it becomes a bit more open, you don’t always have one chord that spells out the sound of the chord but rely on a few to get the sound across. That is also why I did not give this chord a name.

But it is still useful to take the chords through the scale and get some voicings to work with:

And you can put these to use on a II V I like this:

#9 Spread Triads

The construction of Drop2 chords where you move one of the notes down an octave also works very well for triads and can give you some nice open sounds.

If you have an F major triad like this:

And you have inversions for this as well:

You can put this to use on a II V I like this, and notice how beautiful they sound:

Again this works with the inversions as well, and what is great about them is that you can move the voices in beautiful melodies:

Let’s look at some beautiful voicings that are the opposite of open

#10 Cluster-like

It’s difficult to describe these chords with one construction since there are a few similar and common examples. The important part is the minor 2nd interval, and as you will see it is less important to have a complete voicing all the time.

One you want to explore using is, maybe surprisingly, the inversion of the shell-voicings. For Fmaj7 that will be:

And the shell-voicing that leaves out the 3rd and uses the 5th is also a good candidate:

You can use that for a II V I like this, combining it with Cmaj7:

There are more options for this that you can explore, but that is for another video, there are 2 more types of chords that should be mentioned here:

#11 4-Part Quartal Harmony

Similar to the 3-part Quartal harmony you also have 4-part quartal voicings which can sound great, even if they are a bit trickier to fit into progressions.

First, you can check out the chords through the scale, but again I have not given the voicings names, since that is a bit more open with this type of harmony:

You can put them to use on a II V I with an altered dominant like this:

Let’s look at another beautiful type of drop voicing that have sort of a Holdsworth sound to them.

#12 Drop2&4

You already know about the drop2 and drop3 voicings, but a more open version which is also sounds a bit like a colorful version of the spread triads, is Drop2&4.

You can create those by starting with a Cmaj7

which needs to move the 2nd and 4th highest note down an octave, so C and G.

The drop2 version of this chord would be:

and then moving the C down you have:

Taking this through the scale will give you these beautiful chords:

And you can use them as upper-structures as well giving you Fmaj7, Fø and Em7 as a beautiful II V I with an altered dominant:

But what about my favorite chord?

Is there a voicing type that I didn’t cover that happens to be your favorite? Maybe you use a lot of power chords? then let me know in the comments. I know Gilad Hekselman uses drop2&3 quite a lot but, it is as far as I know not that common.

When it comes to playing chords then there are other important things to work on than which voicing to play. You also need to be able to get the rhythms, the phrasing, and the progressions to make sense, and if you want to develop that side of your playing then the exercises in this video will help you level up your skills., and I know that because that is what I practice

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

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Your First 5 Jazz Licks (Beginner’s Guide To Arpeggios)

Everywhere you look a Jazz teacher is telling you that you should practice arpeggios if you want to play Jazz, but it is just as important that you know how to turn that arpeggio into music, into something you can play that also sounds like Jazz.

In this video, I’ll show you why you should not start with full arpeggio positions, not focus on arpeggio inversions (and give you something better instead).

I’ll also give you a way to find more arpeggios for the same chord, turn them into Jazz licks with a few phrasing and rhythm tricks, and of course The BEST arpeggio Exercise.

The Most Basic Arpeggio

Let’s start with a very simple arpeggio, here’s a basic one-octave G7. I’ll explain why I start here in a bit.

And so you have an idea about the sound, you can hear it as fitting with this G7 chord, just to have a picture of the harmony

You often find discussions online about whether it is better if you start with scales vs arpeggios or chord tones.

In reality, if you look at solos then it is clearly a combination of both, so you want to know your arpeggios and you want to understand that they are a set of notes in the context of a scale, they fit together and it is not one or the other, as you will see.

Rhythm and Phrasing

This is about building your vocabulary, and especially developing your rhythms in that vocabulary!

Think of the 4-note arpeggio  as a scale and start improvising just using those while using short rhythms and some phrasing like sliding into a note, in this case the 3rd:

Or using a pull-off to create more interesting dynamics in the line, here between F and D. This is the first type of Jazz lick: Arpeggio and rhythm

And when you try to make your own licks like this one, then start with a short 3 or 4-note phrase

Or like this:

Once you have that then compose a line, listen to what you can come up with as a follow-up and try somethings out to end with something like this:

Composing licks is where you get much more free to play melodies and also where you can start developing better rhythmical ideas. Limitation can be a great way to level up your playing, but now we need to add some more notes to the mix!

There Are More Notes!

As I mentioned, Chords and Arpeggios don’t exist in a vacuum, you can mix in the other notes in the scale and that is a great way to get better lines and be able to create a more natural-sounding flow in your solo.

It really is just about putting in some notes from the scale between the arpeggio notes, here’s a very simple one, and notice that you don’t have to start on beat 1 all the time:

And you can of course still add some phrasing to these more dense lines, which gives you the second type of Jazz Lick: Mixing Scale and arpeggio

Once you start working on the arpeggios like this then you can clearly create and play a lot more great lines with arpeggios because you can add in scale notes.

The BEST arpeggio Exercise

Before I show you some ways to add chromatic notes to your vocabulary then first, let’s quickly cover how you should practice the arpeggios. You already heard how useful it is to add the scale notes to the arpeggio when you are soloing, so it actually makes sense to focus on that connection when you are practicing.

In this case, the G7 is in the scale of C major, and you can turn all the diatonic chords in a scale into an arpeggio exercise which then links those arpeggios to the scale and as you will see later also gives you some more options with arpeggios that you can use over a chord, and you already practiced them!

For every note in the scale, you can stack 3rds in and in that way, create a 7th chord on each note of the scale.

If you play this for the C major scale then you get this exercise:

Once this becomes easy then you want to explore ways to add chromatic notes and rhythm to these arpeggios, but first, try to explore that in lines!

Chromatic Notes – Outside The Scale Are NICE!

There are many ways to add chromatic passing notes to your solos. First, check out this example, and then I’ll show you how you can turn that into some strategies and exercises you use yourself:

You have two kinds of chromatic approaches here, both are important to know.

First a leading note for the 3rd in the first chord run.

It can be useful to try this out as an exercise adding a note a half step under each chord tone like this:

The other approach is in the middle with two notes surrounding the 5th of G: D.

This is referred to as a chromatic enclosure. A chromatic enclosure is a short melody that moves to a target note,

in this case, it is sort coming from the previous exercise but combining it with a scale note above the chord tone.

YOu can see that in this exercise where there are enclosures before all the notes in the arpeggio:

And if you have the feeling that your solos are just running up and down scales and arpeggios then enclosures can fix that very effectively which gives you the 3rd type of Jazz Lick adding chromaticism:

It almost doesn’t sound like a G7 arpeggio anymore, but maybe that is also the point?  We a re just getting started, because there are more arpeggios you can use over a G7 chord, it isn’t only the G7 arpeggio.

More Arpeggios On Every Chord?

This way of thinking works for all chords, so you want to think of this as a system. Because it is really powerful!

The way it is constructed is by stacking 3rds, and if you add another 3rd on top then you have a G7(9) chord(play), but if you take away the G then notice that it is a Bø arpeggio (play)

And, this works over the G7 as well so you can use this to make lines as well, and of course, also use chromatic notes and phrasing.

I am using this Bø arpeggio:

And that can give you the 4th type of Jazz Lick with the arpeggio from the 3rd:

And keep in mind that this is why you can use an Em7 arpeggio over a Cmaj7 chord and an Fmaj7 arpeggio over a Dm7 chord.

It gives you a lot of great sounds.

I mentioned that you can use something else instead of inversions, and this is one of the best Bebop tricks in the book!

One of the Best Things Barry Harris Taught Me!

Beginner Jazz licks can sound too much like just running up and down scales and arpeggios in a mechanical way, and here is a great way to fix that which I learned from Barry Harris.

Usually, we play the arpeggio starting on the root and then up the arpeggio.

But you can also play the root and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave, it’s a more interesting melody and you are still just playing the arpeggio:

In this case, it makes more sense to play this arpeggio an octave higher,

and notice how you are for the most part just playing the arpeggio the same way we started the video,  now you are just changing the 1st note:

This is what Barry Harris called a pivot arpeggio, and again this is something that works for all arpeggios, and you can create some really great lines with it,  so the 5th type of Jazz lick is a Pivot Arpeggio Bebo Lick and notice the grace note on the low note as well:  :

The Source Of Amazing Bebop Techniques!

Barry Harris’ pivot arpeggios are a great way to level up your Jazz lines, and you can take this even further by exploring Barry’s approach to adding chromatic notes to your lines often referred to as Barry’s chromatic scale which is a great approach to make chromatic phrases very melodic! You can check out my video on that here, and also learn why Bebop scales are usually a complete waste of time!

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

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Jazz Beginners: 7 Habits That Keep You Stuck Forever!

There are a few habits that you need to quit if you don’t want to be stuck as a jazz beginner forever. Some of them might be a bit hard to give up, one of them will probably offend a few you, but it is worth it to get this right.

Let me know which one you think is most important or if I forgot to mention one!

#1 Thinking in Scales

Let’s start with some practical music theory, that helps you play better,  because this is a very common problem that you can do a lot about with very little effort. I certainly remember this part of learning Jazz from when I was just getting started.

It is pointless to try to translate chord progressions or songs to scales! So just Stop doing that! Simply because that is not actually helping you play better, it just isn’t useful information, and It will only help you to sound like you are practicing scales on top of the song:

You need to change how you think about what notes to play.  When you improvise Jazz then you are using scales that have 7 (or more) notes which means you can add a lot of color, but it also means that you need to be able to choose the right notes and be aware of what notes you are playing,

which is maybe different from what you are used to with the pentatonic scale. But you actually want it to be the same as the pentatonic scale, you don’t want to think about it when you are playing.

Let’s say you have a Dm7 chord and that is the II chord in C major,

you want to have different priorities for the notes in the scale. You want to be aware that the Dm7 chord tones are stronger or closer to the chord.

Having that overview makes it easier to play something that nails the sound of the chord, but you want to go a step further than just having that overview of the notes:

When you improvise over a chord then you are not starting from scratch every time, so you want to have a vocabulary of flexible licks that you can use in your solo and put together in different ways, so for the Dm7 you might know that you can use an Fmaj7 arpeggio

and that a certain chromatic phrases sounds great:

And if you put these two together you get:

The important thing here is that you have blocks of melody that you can hear and not theoretical notes that you have to think in your head while playing.

And that knowledge should be flexible so that you can create new things with the building blocks, not just play the same licks every time.

Practice your scales and arpeggios,  but make sure to also learn vocabulary using them so that you have some melodies that go with it, which is probably how you played a solo in the Pentatonic scale. You need something that is music not just theory and technique. Later I will also show you how you can fix the way you think about chords and chord progressions, because that can also be very inefficient!

#2 A 4-bar Loop is NOT a song

I guess Ed Sheeran and Daft Punk might disagree with me on this, but a 4-bar loop is not really a song, and if you want to learn Jazz then you also need to learn Jazz songs, and jazz songs are rarely just 4-bar loops. Learning songs is going to get difficult if you are only practicing looped II V I progressions or a static maj7 chord or something like that.

It is the kind of thing that can be beneficial to do for a period, but you probably don’t ever want to only be doing that for more than a few days. Learning songs, learning real music is much too important, and you don’t go to a Jam session to play an II V I in Eb for 20 minutes. You go there to play songs, so that is what you need to learn!

Of course, The first song can be very difficult to get through but if you pick an easy one then it is far from impossible, and you can check out my Roadmap course if you want a step-by-step guide to take you through that process, learning to solo on a standard.

The Roadmap: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

I have fun helping students in the community with feedback as they solo with the material on a Jazz standard and build their skills, it has become a great place to hang out.

#3 Chords Are NOT Islands

If you are trying to learn songs then it can be difficult to remember all the chords in there. Most Jazz standards are 32 bars,

so that is probably more than 32 chords you need to remember. The thing is that you should not be thinking about each chord at all because that is making it a LOT more difficult! Instead, you want to chunk the chords together.

If you know how to do that then you don’t need to remember as many chords. It is like learning to read the words in a sentence instead of trying to memorize all the letters in there. Improvising should also be more about playing through groups of chords.

For this, You want to learn to recognize these harmonic building blocks in the chord progressions, just start with II V I’s and turnarounds but make sure to learn more,

because that will make it 1000x easier to learn chord progressions by heart, and it also makes it easier to hear a chord progression because hearing a Dm7 out of context(example)  is not as easy as hearing a turnaround (example). The building blocks make it closer to something you can hear, relating it to a bass melody or how other songs sound.

Remember to let me know in the comments which habit is most important for you, or if there is one I forgot to include.

#4 Working On The Wrong Exercises

A way to transition smoothly from 3rds to triads to 7th chords  (or each of those exercises)

When I went from playing Blues and Rock to playing Jazz, then one of the transitions that was difficult to get used to was learning to improvise with 7-note scales like the major scale instead of pentatonic scales.

For me, it took some time before I figured out how to learn the scales and what to practice, especially when it comes to Jazz. I started with major scale exercises that might be useful for getting a bit more flexible with the scale in a technical sense, but they didn’t help me play Jazz. But you don’t need to do that, instead, you can focus on practicing the things that you need for Jazz solos. You don’t want to play 4-note sequences in a Jazz solo (Yngwie?)

You are better off focusing on diatonic triads and arpeggios, and also how to add chromatic leading notes to that, because that is what the jazz licks are made of. The way I always tell students to build this is by starting with the diatonic 3rds as a stepping stone

to diatonic triads

and then the 7th chords which are the main structure of most Jazz music.

When you work on these exercises then you are practicing things that you need when you solo and you make it easier to play lines like this:

So stop practicing things that you don’t need when you solo because that is probably a waste of time!

#5 Only Exercises

This is horrible about beginning Jazz and at the same time also one of the greatest things about Jazz:  There are so many possibilities and so many interesting and wonderful things to check out but you also have to watch out that you don’t get stuck just scratching the surface of a lot of stuff without really putting things to use.

If you are only practicing exercises and exploring new material without also playing music and putting the things you practice to use then you probably won’t learn what you are exploring and you also won’t get any better at playing Jazz which was the real goal to begin with. Don’t get stuck with only doing exercises! This is again an essential part of how I have constructed the roadmap, only a few exercises and then a practical way to turn them into music and help you get started playing solos!

Maybe this one is not a bad habit and more of a missing good habit, but if you are not listening to Jazz, you probably won’t ever learn to play Jazz. It is always a bit surprising that I have to say this at all, because why would you want to learn to play Jazz if you don’t listen to it?

I was talking to Adam Levy, who you may or may not know, he has been a guest on the channel quite a few times and has his own YouTube channel.

He mentioned some practice advice that he had received from Joe Diorio in a masterclass: Your practice sessions should always be 50% listening to music! If Joe Diorio recommends something then that is something you should consider, given how incredible and influential a musician he was.  But, you could also argue that this means that if you are driving and listening to Jazz then you are also practicing and you could be practicing while cooking or doing the dishes. Don’t underestimate how much you learn just by listening to a few albums of great music!

#7 Backingtrack Addiction

There is always a hot take in these videos…

One of the most important parts of learning a song and being able to improvise over it is being able to hear the harmony inside and being able to feel the time without leaning on the rest of the band and relying on them to carry you through it. The easiest way to get to that point is to practice with a minimal reference so that if you mess up the time or the chords then you immediately become aware of it. And of course, being aware of this and fixing it when you’re practicing is a lot better than messing up when you are playing with other people. One of my teachers pointed this out to me when I was studying, and I had never thought about it like that but Backing tracks are just always too easy. When it comes to practicing to play music and learning songs then you need to think about backing tracks as the chocolate cake of your practice routine, something that you enjoy at the end but which makes a terrible meal if you were to make it the only thing you eat.

Cut away the backing track and just play with a click. Start by playing the melody and the chords and then once you have the song in your ears you can start soloing. If you don’t believe me then just test it try starting with a metronome when you learn a song and once you can do that then you move to a backing track and notice how easy that is. Then try to do it the other way around, so start with the backing track, and then go to the metronome.  You will know what I talking about.

I know this is not what most people want to hear, but that does not make it any less true, and you can always leave some angry comments if that makes you feel better. Nobody who does the test I just sketched out will do that though, I am sure!

Bonus: What To Practice and How To Make It Into Music

An extra tip, related to practicing scales and how to do this right: In the beginning, it is very difficult to take the exercises and then turn them into music, into the flexible building blocks I mentioned. You need to add important ingredients like Rhythm, Phrasing, and Melody, but how do you do that? There is a way to build that skill, and you can get started with the method in this video where I even throw in some nice chromatic tricks as well that will make things flow and sound like your favorite Jazz guitarist!

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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

When you think about Jazz Chord Exercises then it is probably about learning new chords, but it is more important is that you have exercises that help you use those chords and get them to sound great. That is what these 3 exercises will help you do. The first one is also, by far, the most fun way to practice chords, and the other two will help you use the chords better and add some better rhythms to your comping. In all 3 exercises, you can see how it pays off to work on simple things not making it more complicated.

The Exercise Nobody Does!

If you are nerdy enough with Jazz chords, like I am,  then maybe you can enjoy just listening to interesting chord voicings,

but of course, there is more to it than just the notes, even if they do sound beautiful.

The last few weeks I sort of re-discovered this exercise. As you may know, I was in Taiwan to play at the Taichung Jazz Festival with Nick Javier.

I had an amazing time there, but since it is quite far away then I had to deal with some jetlag when I got back which had me waking up at 3:00 in the morning since that is 10:00 am in Taiwan. While I was re-adjusting, I realized that I really liked getting up before everyone else and then spending some time practicing and getting started before sending the kids to school, one of the exercises I started to do in my routine was to take a song and practice comping it with the metronome on 2&4

There are many reasons to practice like this! The most important one is that it is fun and you are giving yourself a chance to be creative with the chords and the harmony of the song. I’ll show you how you might get started in a bit.

When I work on this then I am working on timing, and rhythm but also how all the chords should sound as a piece of music together and it is a great way to start getting new chords or concepts into your playing.

Working on:

  • Timing
  • Rhythm
  • Making The Chords Music
  • Adding New Material

And, of course, if you want to be good at comping then you should practice comping. Nobody ever spent all their time doing pushups and running to win Tennis tournaments, and if you do then you might get frustrated in the match.

So while practicing chord inversions and diatonic chords is useful then that should not be the only thing you are doing, also just because when you are doing that then it doesn’t matter if you screw up stuff.

Getting Started: Turn The Chords Into Music

If you have never practiced like this then here are a few steps to get you started and also a few simple tricks that immediately will level up how you sound!

Start with a song or chord progression that you know really well, for example, a 12-bar Blues like this one in C.

The first level:  is to just play the song, so turn on your metronome and just lay down the basic chords, don’t use complicated rhythms or voicings but if you can then get the groove across with a simple Charleston rhythm or something like that:

as you can tell I am mostly just using Shell-voicings.

A few easy ways to get this to move a bit more and sound more interesting is to use chromatic passing chords, simply try to use a chord a fret above or under to approach the next chord:

But you can also use this to create some movement on a chord, which sounds amazing on a blues like this:

From here you can start to expand and see if you get new ideas for rhythms or melodies, and if it doesn’t work then you can try it again in the next chords without the soloist wanting to fire you

When you use your chords like this then you might find this next approach to thinking about chords useful, and better than what you are doing now!

A Better Way To Think About Chords And Chord Voicings

You are not thinking about your chord voicings in a way that helps you use them. I am guilty of this as well in my videos: The way that we teach chords and think about chords are in separate categories like Shell-voicings, drop2, upper-structure triads, and stuff like that.

This means that we end up practicing diatonic chords or inversions only using one type of chord, but that doesn’t fit with what you do when you play music at all, so you want to change that!

Chords Across not along the neck

The important thing to remember is that when you are comping then you don’t have to think about a C7 as “Eø Drop2 inversion with the 7th as the last note and a 11th instead of a 3rd” That is much much too complicated, does anybody think like that?

This is more a question of exploring and then using what you discover but it is a great more practical way to connect chords and level up your comping.

Try this out: Most of us navigate the neck by thinking of the root of the chord and finding that on the two lowest strings E and A,

so if you are looking for a C7 then you have a shell voicing here

and here

Notice how adding the G on the B string makes it a Drop3 voicing,

and you also have the C7(13) Drop3 within reach

You can add one more string, and then you are playing Drop2 voicing with a bass note,

and there are variations of this as well:

And it is very practical to sometimes leave out the root to first get this 2-note Shell:

and add notes to have triad voicings

and drop 2 voicings as a part of what is available

Mixing Full and Rootless Voicings

When you think of C7 then you should see all these options and not just be stuck with a single grip.

That way you can add moving voices, melody, and rhythm to your comping and you don’t have to think about inversions that move to another place on the neck where you might not know the next chord. Thinking like this you are still connecting back to the chords you know and you are expanding what you can play without getting lost on the neck.

A great way to use this to open up how you comp or how you use this in chord melody is first to state the basic Shell

or an easy variation of this to be more free before changing to the next chord. For the blues that could give you something like this:

Music is Like A Language

Playing more interesting rhythms in your comping is also not necessarily about learning a lot of short rhythms, in fact zooming out and focusing on a few rhythms is probably the easiest way to improve on that.

And this is a lot easier than you might think. If you start thinking in call-response then a very easy but also very natural way to play something that really makes sense is to repeat a rhythm and then finish the sentence with something different as a conclusion:

When you are playing the same thing several times as a riff then you are giving the soloist something predictable to play against and you are giving the rest of the band something to interact with.

Then you can practice doing that on a song but coming up with different conclusions, so that you train yourself to hear how the different rhythms work together.

Maybe the next 4 bars could have this in the 4th bar

Like this, you are using the rhythms you know to come up with more. And you get a more natural flow if you work with this as a type of call response.

You can also do that every other bar:

This is almost always true; If you try to learn things in the context where you want to use them, then it is both easier and you learn it a lot faster because you can throw away a lot of useless theoretical rhythms or arpeggios inversions or whatever might waste your time.

Just Play Simple Chords!

One guitarist who understood how important it was to make things simple was Joe Pass, and while his playing was sometimes amazingly complex then his approach to Jazz chords was all about simplicity, and that is really the way you want to do this. You can check that out in this video, where it is about both the chords and the progressions being made easier to handle, and he certainly has a point!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

 

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7 Skills Jazz Beginners Don’t Spend Enough Time On

One of the biggest mistakes Jazz Beginners make is to practice a lot but not develop the skills that really will get them further, in fact, a lot of practice is just wasting time and building bad habits. In this video, I want to go over 7 skills that will help you beome a better Jazz guitarist, some of these skills you might be working on already, but you can use the video to check if something is missing.

#1 How Long Should A Note Be?

I actually think this one is easier to fix than most of the other skills in this video, and I am sure that if I had recordings of myself from when I was starting out, then I definitely did not have this skill and was very much guilty of too many long notes!

If you ask classical musicians who don’t play guitar about their “nickname” for guitar they will probably tell you “staccato festival” meaning that the instrument has absolutely no sustain (which is sort of true compared to a trumpet or violin).

But in this case, it is the other way around. For Jazz

I am sure you can hear that the long notes sound a bit strange, and check out how short notes are much better at conveying the rhythm and connecting with the groove, and this is, of course, very important for Jazz.

This problem comes up very often with students in the roadmap,

(probably this is not a good shot of the roadmap, the other one later on in the video shows the prices… you know better if and which shot to use…)

but they do hear it and fix it quite fast. The first step is usually to work on just ending phrases on a short note, and sometimes getting used to hearing melodies that end on an off-beat also helps.

Of course, you want to play long notes sometimes as well, the important thing is that you are in control and that you choose, it should not be a habit.

Let’s move on to an online comment that really annoys me.

#2 Jazz Is Not A Looping II V I

I should probably watch out if this doesn’t turn into a rant about what learning music is really about.

Jazz is a style of music, and it has a repertoire, and part of learning to play that style is to learn to play the songs in the repertoire,

so if you want to learn Jazz then you need to start working on how to learn songs and trust me, you want to know a lot of songs!

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Bernstein:

and you haven’t really learned anything until it is something you can use when you are playing real music.

All the Barry Harris solo masterclasses were about writing lines on songs, they were not about exercises, but about making music!

So you need to work on being able to learn songs, both from sheet music and by ear, just learn a lot of songs so that music theory describes music you already play and hear.
That way, you have music with diminished suspensions or altered chords,

and then theory isn’t theory, it is music.

This brings me to the type of comment that always irritates me: Every now and again I will get asked if I can give some suggestion on how to sound more modern, dark, or something like that on a II V I, and already in the question it becomes clear that the person asking is not learning any songs, just playing this loop of a II V I. A loop of a II V I is not a song, A song is a story, it has development, and twists and surprises, a loop is static. So keep in mind that if you were playing an entire song and not a static 4-bar loop it might not get boring as quickly.

But enough complaining, for at least a bit….

#3 Learning The Language

This is possibly a hot take or at least a delicate topic sometimes, but I think you can argue that Jazz has a certain language in the melodies we improvise, in terms of rhythm, flow, phrasing, and to some degree also what melodies are used. This is probably true for most styles of music, we can all hear when something is a blues lick, and if you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to check out vocabulary so that you get the sound into your playing. This can be checking out licks, and exercises

or what is probably the fastest way to improve: Learning solos by ear, something I have talked about often in videos.

So if you want to sound like Jazz then get good at learning Jazz vocabulary so that you know how it feels to play that, and how it is supposed to sound. A bonus, if you play along with solos that you have learned by ear is that you also improve your phrasing, timing, and swing feel which is also a part of the language.

#4 Make The Machine Swing!

Since I am on the topic of timing, swing-feel, and hearing the groove and the harmony, then that is all stuff that you want to improve, and another skill that will help you develop this is practicing with a metronome,

vastly underrated and a lot more fun than you think once you get used to it.

For Jazz, this is about playing with the metronome on 2 & 4, and learning to play songs and soloing like that will help boost your ability to:

  1. Keep time and feel time
  2. Hear the harmony internally
  3. Play in the groove

The concept is, of course, that you play and stay in time, keep the form, and lay down the groove. The difference between a metronome and a backing track is that it is much more difficult to play with a metronome, but if it swings then it is you. When you play with a backing track then if it swings it might be the backing track. If you look at how famous jazz guitarists practice then it is always a metronome, there are almost no exceptions. If you want to get started practicing with the metronome on 2&4 then I have a video for a few years ago on that topic,

You can check that out here: Practicing with the metronome on 2&4

#5 Putting Chords To Use

What I said about soloing is just as important for chords, so instead of just playing tons of inversions or other exercises on II V I progressions, you also need to work on putting those chord voicings to work on songs, and trust me, that will help you develop so much in terms of voice-leading, adding melodies and colors to your chords and all the other stuff that, like me, you probably love about Jazz and Jazz chords.

You can start rubato and explore the harmony and then later move it into time. Rhythm is also important here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

#6 Make Your Own Licks!

A problem that I have also encountered myself often when trying to internalize new material, like for example a new way of playing an arpeggio or a chromatic phrase is that I know how to play it, but it doesn’t really work when I use it in a solo, and that is because an important step is missing between practicing something as a technical exercise and turning it into great lines in a solo. Again, also something that I help students with in the Roadmap frequently.

The missing step is composing lines or even entire solos. It is completely unrealistic that you can just immediately get every exercise you do to work in a solo, but composing is improvising slowly and with a way to go back and fix the lines so that they sound better and that you can figure out how the new thing should fit in there. This is a very effective way to introduce new material into your vocabulary, keep in mind that composing solos is also what Barry Harris’ solo masterclasses are built on,

so they probably also will work fine as a part of your practice.

#7 Chords Should Be Phrases Too

The worst way to think about the chords of a song is as a chord symbol with some extensions, simply because that is not music. What you want to work on is opening up those chord symbols so that you can improvise and connect the whole thing, you want to turn the chords into music.

For many jazz beginners, comping rhythms are a mystery and something that is very difficult to improve on, but that is probably because the problem is often not the rhythms, it is how you think about comping.

I am curious, so please leave a comment and let me know when you last practiced comping a song with the metronome on 2&4. Because if you start working with your comping like that and start thinking in phrases then it becomes so much easier to develop rhythms and sounds.

When you comp on a song then you can start thinking in call-response, and riffs and become more free, get the song to sound good, and don’t get stuck thinking about which rhythm or which extension to play.

Use Joe Pass’ Approach

To be able to play chords in phrases and get through songs then you don’t want to get stuck with too complicated chords that are not flexible, and Joe Pass has a really solid approach for building a chord vocabulary that I talk about in this video:

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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