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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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The 3 Guitarists I Wish I Checked Out As A Jazz Beginner

There is a downside to how we teach Jazz now, on one hand, it is very efficient and helps internalize important skills, but on the other hand, it is often very focused not taught using real music and teaching how others played which helps you understand the music in a broader way and also teach you other important things at the same time. There are a few guitarists that I was not really aware of while I was learning and didn’t discover until much later, but I think they could really have taught me some useful things and made learning Jazz easier. The 3 guitarists are sort of split into periods: one that is mostly before Bebop, one that is in the creation, and one that plays Bebop. I’ll talk about how one of them in a way is a bit like Van Halen 😁

#1 The Father of Bebop?

When I started out playing Jazz guitar, I was still studying Mathematics at the University of Århus. I was actually pretty lucky to get some pretty solid recommendations from my classical guitar teacher Morten Skott. This meant that I was not only listening to Charlie Parker who I had just discovered, but also had cheap compilation cd’s with Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. And even though I am talking about people that I didn’t really check out in this video, then I did actually learn some Charlie Christian solos by ear from that compilation cd, the problem with that was that while I could figure out some of his phrases and a few entire solos, at least I hope I got it right since I don’t really remember what I checked out, then I had no idea what the songs were or how to play them, and my theory was not good enough to tell me anything, so they were just solos and phrases I could play not even really knowing what key I was in.

My favorite from that album was Seven Come Eleven which is a really typical swing riff composition.

The main theme is:

So very rhythmic, repetitive, and only a few notes.

PLAY

I probably liked this because it was easier to understand and made more sense to me than some of the other tracks which had really interesting phrases with shifting dim runs like “Good Enough To Keep” Which has phrases like:

Of course, that is not really THAT complicated, but it was very far away from Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Rage Against The Machine which is where I was coming from.

The Solo from Seven Come Eleven is a great example of what I later felt I had missed:

As I already showed you then there are more complicated and dense phrases in Charlie Christian solos, but I really think that this lighter more sparse playing is something that really helps you get the rhythms to sound right, also later when you start playing longer bop lines.

All this stuff where it is just a few or even one note that is interesting because of the rhythm

And this is really just one area of the neck and strong basic Ab or Ab7 vocabulary to learn.

You can get so much from checking this out; I have also often used it with students.

The People who came after Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian was a huge influence on all of Jazz guitar, and when I listen to him now then I really hear how Barney Kessel was influenced by him, I believe they also met at one point, but I am not sure if that is true.

Let’s check out another guitarist that is criminally overlooked!

#2 Sideman of A Giant

I guess sometimes when you work with really famous artists as a sideman you end up standing in the shadow of them and not getting noticed. I think that sort of happened to Oscar Moore who is probably best known as “the guitarist of Nat King Cole” maybe a bit like George Martin being the 5th Beatle, but that is hard to say.

The Nat King Cole Trio stuff with Oscar Moore is from the mid-40s until the beginning of the 50s and since Nat King Cole was both an amazing musician and a commercial success, then a lot of the songs are short takes with a single or a half chorus of solo for the guitar.

This makes them fairly easy to learn, and Oscar Moore solos always have a lot of solid lines, but also some interesting phrasing. Check out this solo from Sweet Lorraine:

I sometimes feel that these shorter solos are really more similar to a solo that you might find in a pop or rock song, which I guess the song also was when it was released in 1940-something.

There are some solid simple melodies in this, and actually a fair amount of blues,

but also some stuff that is really a lot more about effects and surprising sounds. In this case by being very intervallic,

He also used long slides, bends, tremolo picking, and stuff like that to have different sounds.

That part of it pretty much disappeared when Jazz became more serious with Bebop and was supposed to be real art. Here it almost reminds me of stuff you might hear in a Van Halen or Steve Vai solo, where the sound is sometimes as important as the notes.

It’s more about sounds than about a longer melody, and since I am anyway making this a hottake then maybe Ellington’s saxophone player, Johnny Hodges also is an example of someone using phrasing and effects like that.

Keep in mind that I am not really saying anything about whether this is good or bad music, I am just showing you an aspect of their playing where they are similar. You can get rid of your anger in the comment section if it offends you that Johnny Hodges and Van Halen are similar.

In the case of Oscar Moore, it sort of makes some of his material more modern, and less Bebop because Bebop is much more about flow, and some of his phrases are intervallic and sort of the opposite of flowing, probably also because he wanted to not sound like the melody that had just been sung.

I felt that I learned a lot from how Oscar Moore mixes the different things in these short solos and Nat King Cole is fantastic both as a piano player and a vocalist! Another thing worth mentioning is that if you check out later Oscar Moore stuff then you really hear him develop with the times and start playing altered scale and more Bebop-influenced lines, similar to the next guitarist.

#3 The Shortcut To Bebop

This solo actually always makes me happy. Grant Green is probably the one of the 3 that I ended up spending the most time with, mainly because I have given his solos to a lot of students for them to learn Bebop vocabulary, and that is also how I heard this solo the first time, and how I discovered the standards album that he made. For guitarists then there probably is no better place to learn Bebop than Grant Green, his lines are absolutely incredibly melodic and his vocabulary is solid Bebop, and I am saying that while I still don’t like his tone on this album, but you can complain about that in the comments, first, check this out:

Within these 8 bars you have so many great things!

3 variations of  using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord: Ebmaj7 over Cm7:

Bdim over G7:

and on Aø over F7:

A great pivot arpeggio with some chromaticism on Bbmaj7:

A line cliche turned into a bebop lick in the 2nd line with some really nice phrasing embellishments:

 

 

The King Of Bebop Guitar

And this is in 8-bars, and there are several places like this in the solo. The greatest thing about this is that he manages to make Bebop lines playable on guitar and still makes great music. If you want to develop that side of your playing then he is where you need to go next.  Especially how he mastered adding pivot arpeggios and large intervals to his playing and in that way not sounding like he is just running up and down scales, there are techniques for this that you can start using. 4 of the most common variations are all in the solo that I talk about in this video and that can really breathe new life into your Bop vocabulary and give you some fresh melodic ideas. The solo is on another standard: You Stepped Out Of A Dream

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

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I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

You Are Practicing Arpeggios Wrong

Everyone on the internet and every guitar teacher you ever met probably told you to practice arpeggios.

But I remember spending hours practicing arpeggios and not really being able to do anything with them. Being able to play them doesn’t mean that you get them to sound great in my solos. It feels like you might be wasting your time

Luckily that isn’t too difficult to fix, and I’ll show you 7 ways you can turn any arpeggio into a solid Jazz line!  It is not super difficult, and really more about how you think about the arpeggios.

You can build all of this around a single exercise, because when you are starting out with Jazz then there is a right and a wrong way to practice arpeggios, and I would also suggest that you skip inversions for now but I will explain that later.

In Jazz, you mostly use arpeggios that are one octave, so it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to spend a lot of time practicing complete positions, instead,  you will be more efficient practicing them in a scale position as diatonic arpeggios.

That is the way you will hear them used the most in Jazz solos, and it is also a way to connect them to the scale and the other notes that they work together with, it covers a lot of stuff you will need along the way. I learned this exercise from Barry Harris and that is one of the most practical things to get right in the beginning.

Diatonic Arpeggios:

The focus is on turning these arpeggios into music, and I will show you how you add phrasing, notes, and rhythm to them because that is how they become Jazz lines, but first let’s keep it really simple and just improvise with the arpeggio because that will teach you some other important things as well.

#1 Arpeggios Are Enough If You Do It Right

Let’s say you want to solo over a II V I in C major, so Dm7 G7 to Cmaj7.

You need those arpeggios to play a solo over the progression, and luckily you already practiced them in the exercise.

It is a II V I, so in C major, we need the arpeggio from the 2nd note of the scale: Dm7, then from the 5th that is a G7 and then you can do this Cmaj7.

Connect that to the music and practice that on the II V I:

The first thing to do is to practice soloing with this, just try to come up with some lines, use rhythm and maybe compose or play rubato, notice how I am really careful in getting from one chord to the next.

And then after some time, you develop better rhythmical ideas and melodies and you can start making lines like this:

This is great for nailing the changes and developing some solid rhythms in your playing, but let’s open up the arpeggio with a few extra notes, that’s where it starts to get really fun!

#2 The First Thing To Add

The exercise I gave you connects the arpeggios and the scale, so if we look at a Cmaj7 arpeggio:

You can add scale notes to the mix in between the notes in the arpeggio.

That could give you a line like this.

Which turns into a lick like this:

Or a descending version like this:

Super easy! Barely an inconvenience. It is mostly about seeing the notes around the arpeggio and using them to move to a note in the arpeggio.

In these two lines that is how I think about the notes: something around the arpeggio.

Let’s add some notes that are a bit more exciting!

#3 The Jazz Thing To Add

I am talking about adding chromatic passing notes since you already have the diatonic notes from the scale.

You can do a LOT of things with chromatic passing notes, and there are systems that help with that, but for now, essentially you can do whatever you want as long as you resolve it to a chord tone. That is what I am doing in this example, check this out:

and just mixing chromatic and diatonic notes with the arpeggio can already give you this:

Of course, when you practice this then work on composing lines and find things that you like the sound of. One thing that can make them sound more like Jazz is by having the high note of the phrase on an off-beat like you heard the B in the last example on the 1&.

There is a way to make it easier to do that in your Jazz lines, that is the next level, but keep in mind that you can actually go through this video and just pick one of the topics to explore, write some lines, and work on getting that into your playing. It doesn’t have to be in this order.

#4 Going Around The Chord Tones

Instead of adding a single note here and there then you can also add small melodies that move to a chord tone from above and below, these are called enclosures. Let me show you these and then we can add some rhythm to the arpeggios.

A simple example of an enclosure could be a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below which for Cmaj7 could be something like this:

Remember that you are still seeing the Cmaj7 in the scale as well, and now you can create something like this, and try to compare how far this is from just playing the arpeggio:

And it is incredibly simple to create solid vocabulary here is one with an enclosure around the root and around the 5th:

With these enclosures:

#5 The Mighty Triplet

There is one way of playing arpeggios that is pretty much instant Bebop. When you hear it I am sure you will recognize it:

So I am playing the arpeggio as an 8th-note triplet and I am adding a leading note before the arpeggio. Now check out how this sounds when you add a few enclosures:

Or this example which is one of George Benson’s favorite licks that he probably learned from Charlie Parker:

I said that inversions are not so useful for Jazz lines, let me show you what you can do instead, and then I’ll show you some phrasing tricks.

#6 The Melodic Inversion

Similar to the triplet, then this is really a great technique for making your lines sound better, and not be too predictable. I mentioned in the beginning of the video that Inversions are not that useful for Jazz, this is mostly from observing vocabulary of Bop and a lot of later stuff, where inversions are not that common in lines when it comes to 7th chord arpeggios. Triads are a different story, there are Triads inversions all over the place.

Instead, this is a much nicer option: The Pivot arpeggio.

What I am doing here is taking the arpeggio:

But I play the root and then move the rest an octave down, so you still get the same order of notes but the last part is moved down an octave:

Using this and a bit of chromatic magic will give you a great line like this with the pivot arpeggio:

And you can of course use this on the higher octave as well and throw in an enclosure:

 

But one thing is changing the melody and the rhythm. You can also tweak how you play the notes on the instrument, the phrasing.

#7 It’s The Phrasing

Let’s start by sliding into a note, here it is the top note in the phrase:

You can add a slide later as well:

Another useful tool for phrasing is adding trills like this one:

Which sounds great like this:

Adding Chromatic Notes With Barry Harris’ system

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But there is a lot more in there than you might think!

Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

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