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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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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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One Of The Best Lessons I Ever Had (Jazz Beginner)

This concept really changed the game for me, which was pretty lucky because some of the early Jazz guitar lessons I had were not that great. My teacher was a good jazz guitarist but he only gave me licks and didn’t show use them or make them into something, except for this one lesson which made a massive difference.

You have to imagine that at the time I was practicing the licks, scales, and arpeggios and trying to make my way through simple songs, but failing pretty badly because there was no real connection between what I was practicing and how I was supposed to use it. It was probably only because I am a pretty stubborn person that I didn’t quit.

There is a good chance that you also know how it feels to practice the dry stuff like exercises, scales, and arpeggios but you can’t put it together and turn that into playing solos that sound right.

A Great lesson!

This was one of the first times that I had a lesson where I was shown how to create a line following a recipe.

We were playing a blues in C, I was making a terrible mess of it and could barely follow the form because I was too busy thinking about the chords. When he was soloing, then he played a phrase in bar 6 after coming back to C7 from F#dim, and that caught my attention so I asked him what that was.

He told me, I am by the way translating this from Danish (and memory since it is more than 25 years ago) that it was a “chromatic phrase” leading into an arpeggio. Then he showed me the arpeggio, and how he had a 4-note phrase leading into it:

I’ll show how this is just the beginning of a way to help you develop your phrasing, and make more interesting melodies because it is more powerful than you think. My teacher then showed me how you can use the same chromatic phrase for other notes in the arpeggio like the root:

and the 7th:

What he described as a “chromatic phrase” is what usually is referred to as a chromatic enclosure, so a short melody using chromatic passing notes

that moves to a target note from above and below, and as you will see or hear, direction is incredibly important.

This concept is simple like instant noodles that most students eat when they don’t have any money, just add water and you have food, well.. “food” It is a 2-ingredient recipe for Jazz licks which in itself is a great thing if you are new to Jazz.

But maybe you are now wondering what is the big deal?

I will show you how the enclosures help you deal with a part of Jazz phrasing that most beginners really struggle with, but the first more obvious part of it is that it is flexible. It will work with other arpeggios as well, so you can create a lot of lines like this. Here’s a version with a Cmaj7:

`

And we have more options when it comes to the chromatic enclosures. Another good one could be this which is also 4 notes and is sometimes referred to as a double chromatic enclosure. You can probably see why

So as you noticed, it moves to the target note in half-steps from two directions:

Until now the chromatic enclosures have been using 4-notes, which makes them easy to use as building blocks, but there are also 2 and 3-note enclosures that are very useful and as you will see, the 2-note enclosures are very powerful and flexible.

The Beginner’s Problem With Phrasing

But first, let’s talk about one of the main reasons that beginners find it difficult to play solos that sound like Jazz.

There are a few levels of beginner solos where you might find yourself. Maybe you are only improvising with the arpeggio:

You can also add the scale notes, and keep in mind that these examples are not wrong, they are just also not great:

And if you are a bit further then you are adding chromatic passing notes, but as you can hear that also doesn’t really fix this:

I am overstating it a bit in these examples, but what is missing is that the notes don’t have interesting accents, the lines are heavy and the accents are on the downbeat.

And that is because what makes the Jazz lines work and have interesting rhythms is these accents, and they should be where the melody changes direction on an offbeat, and if you look at the first lick then you have two of those, try to listen:

Here you have a change of direction on 1& and on 3& in the arpeggio,

so the line has more energy and isn’t stuck on the heavy beats in the same way as the previous examples. Starting to get this into your playing and being able to hear phrases that move like that will make you sound 100x better. Of course, you can’t think about where in the bar you change direction while you are soloing, which is why these are so great. I’ll talk more about this later.

It is not Enclosures or Passing notes

A short side-note before we add some more flexible enclosures and some Barry Harris tricks: Keep in mind that what I am saying here is not that you shouldn’t use passing notes, the passing notes are a part of it, and the enclosures are the next level melodies that you build using passing notes. Even if the enclosures are a little more effort to play then they are also adding something important to your solo.

Something that you want to get into your playing, and If you start checking out solos then you probably won’t find a Jazz musician that doesn’t use enclosures of some kind. Sometimes when I talk about enclosures I get the comment that they don’t work and how passing notes are better, and, I think that is missing the point, you just want to be patient and keep practicing until you can use them. They will add something to your playing and they are a part of Bebop, especially this next type!

Keeping It Simple Makes It Powerful

I showed you 2 of the more “complicated” 4-note enclosures, but I didn’t explain how they are constructed which is also useful for some of the later exercises and if you want to make your own enclosures.

Usually, I try to look at enclosures as a mix of chromatic notes and diatonic notes in the scale, so the first enclosure would be chromatic below, diatonic above, chromatic above, and chromatic below.

and The way I used the 2nd enclosure you get diatonic above chromatic above, diatonic below chromatic below. I am sure you can see how this analysis is an interpretation, you could in some cases see the 1st note of example 1 as a diatonic note (example 6). This way of looking at the lick becomes very practical when you combine enclosures with the Barry Harris chromatic scale. I’ll show you later in the video because that is very powerful!

Check out how we can use this analysis to create a simple but very useful 2-note enclosure:

I’ll apply this to a triad because it is used like that very often in larger chunks just listen to Joe Pass or Barry Harris if you want an example of that, but these enclosures are EVERYWHERE and do so many amazing things, I’ll show you some examples.

For a C major triad:

You use a “diatonic above, chromatic below” for each note:

And since it is pretty easy then try to turn around the enclosure so it is “chromatic below, diatonic above” as well:

And, with these and another enclosure then you have a line like this:

And to give you an idea about how powerful this is: you don’t get something as complex or surprising just using passing notes.

Here’s an example with a few chords so you can hear how Bebop this actually sounds:

I think you can tell just how useful these are, and as I said if you look at solos they are everywhere. But this is not about having to think “I need to change direction” while you are playing a line, that’s too complicated. What you want to do is work on coming up with lines using these enclosures so that you hear melodies with that built into them, and that will automatically help you get that sound in there, it’s almost like a bonus.

Let’s add some Barry Harris to the mix and see how that opens things up!

Using Barry Harris For Variations

Let me first explain how this works and then how you can use it. Barry Harris Chromatic scale is a way to add half steps between all notes in a scale. The basic concept is that you either use a chromatic note if there is a whole step between two notes,

or you use the scale note above if there isn’t.

If I apply this to the C major scale then there are two places where I need to use a scale note above: between E and F  and B and C.

So in the key of C major then the Barry Harris chromatic scale would be:

The great thing is that now you can use Barry’s Chromatic scale as a way of moving around an enclosure in the scale,  and in that way get some other enclosures or other melodic ideas:

Let’s take this one which will give you some great variations:

It already sounds great as a Cmaj7 lick like this:

Just to understand the enclosure:

The target note is B and the phrase starts two diatonic notes above moving down with a passing note and then a half step below the target.

Let’s take it down the scale, keep in mind that I always just use a chromatic note from below, that always works, and it doesn’t need any special treatment. Check out how we get a lot of different phrases:

Target note: B

Target note: A

Target note: G

Target note: F

Target note: E

Target note: D

Target note: C

This gives you other phrases that all work and that you can use in lines, for example, this Dm7 lick using the D as a target note:

or mixing the version that has A as a target note with another Barry Harris concept, a Pivot arpeggio:

Barry Leads The Way To Great Phrasing!

Working through the material like this can give you a lot of useful phrases, and Barry’s system is fantastic for this and it does a ton of other stuff that will make your solos sound so much better and help you get rid of uninspired scale runs and overused licks, so check out this video to dive into that!

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

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