Tag Archives: jazz chords guitar lesson

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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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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One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

An Amazing Nerdy Chord Exercise

This exercise is probably one of the best ways to really explore and discover beautiful Jazz harmony and chord voicings, and it is one of my favorite things to do but I don’t really work on it that often. There are a few weird things about this way of practicing:

  • It is amazing for learning harmony and voicings
  • It is also incredible for developing your fretboard overview
  • If you do it while comping in a band you should be fired, at least I would probably fire you.

I think I picked up this way of working from going to the Barry Harris piano workshops even before I started studying in the Hague, and it is also really fun to do with others if you are hanging out and playing songs to get dig into what is possible, some of the most beautiful details and tricks.

This is going to get a bit nerdy with chords, but I think you’ll find that it is worth it.

Why The Basic Exercises Are Not Enough

There is a problem with the way we practice and look at chords. Mainly because too much of it is about reducing things to exercises(Diatonic chords) and systems with inversions

Exercises like that are not useless but similar to practicing scales and arpeggios it is removed from the music, and you have to keep in mind that playing a bunch of inversions or exercises doesn’t mean that you can magically make the chords of a song sound amazing.

And often we don’t get much further than just using stuff on a II V I progression (II V I with drop2) which is fine, but there is a lot more happening in Jazz harmony than just II V I progressions, so that is nowhere near enough.

This exercise is more about taking what you already know and then exploring what you can do with that, and also just opening up what a chord is without being too restricted by theory and chord symbols.

Learning Is Easier When You Are Not Alone

In a way, I got the exercise or this way of working from the Barry Harris workshops. Going to the Barry Harris workshops in the Hague exposed me to two things that changed my musical and my real life. At the time I was living in Copenhagen and went there for the workshop at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.

Of course, one of the things that changed everything was how and what Barry taught us which I have talked about many times, but the other aspect was probably just as important, I just never thought about it like that until I started working on this video, and I will return to why that might be something you want to keep in mind.

This was not about the large classes teaching how to make lines, but more about all the piano workshops in the evening which were much smaller and in smaller rooms (with a lot of people smoking because that was still a thing back then). In those workshops the topic was mostly specific songs and how to harmonize them, what to do with the chords and it was not a lecture or a lesson but much more an exchange of ideas and showing how you play something. The first year, I was there I could not follow a lot of what was going on because I did not know the theory and most of the songs, but the attitude of exchanging ideas and exploring the songs was inspiring and also made me realize that I needed to be in a place with more people who were exploring Jazz, and I had probably found the perfect place to for that.

Not Everything is A Chord!

We want to dig into the harmony and find some great ways to connect the chords, so let’s focus on a song that is not just a bunch of II V’s like “It Could Happen To You”.

Later I will understand why this way of working should get you thrown out of the band.

For the first 5 bars you could play these chords, maybe let’s start with shell voicings

Just to have a little bit more to work with maybe let’s use Drop2 voicings, and pay attention to how these chords are very much connected in a flow:

Like this, the basic chords are already flowing, but instead of just playing them in time and leaving it at that, you can also go over it rubato and find some stuff that

1- sounds amazing and 2- is easy to play in this chord progression.

The first chord change going from Ebmaj7 to Edim.

An easy way to add a bit of inner voice movement is to move from maj7 to 6 and then to the dim chord, you can look at it as a chromatic enclosure in the middle of the chord:

Of course, you can do a lot of other stuff and that is exactly what you want to explore, you use more voices to move to the Edim.

This one doesn’t work here probably because I am hearing the Bb in the melody in the back of my mind,

but maybe in some other song, it sounds great?

Beautiful Wrong Notes

As you see, I am not naming the passing chord,

and that is because I don’t think making it an independent chord makes sense, it is just voice-leading and more horizontal movement than a chord symbol. Here’s a way that you can use wrong notes to add a bit of counter-movement and a suspension going from Edim to Fm7

I am sure you would agree that, usually, Ab is a less-than-fantastic note on an E dim chord, but as you hear then it works really well here, and what I am doing is just moving the two top voices, one up and one down

and using notes from the scale that fits this dim chord: F harmonic minor.

Of course, you can also do great things with adding chords and using substitutions, but this way of really getting into the song opens up a lot of options, and if you are starting with a different chord then you might find very different but still practical sounds:

From A Static Voicing To Moving Music!

So you can do a lot with the chords and not have to try to name everything with chord symbols that have to make sense or follow some rule.

And, what you are doing and developing is your fretboard overview by seeing the voicing in the scale on the fretboard

and then using that to create movement and connect to the next chord

And, you could use a simpler version of this on the F#dim while also adding a little melody on the Fm7:

You’re Fired

Obviously, you don’t want to get fired, but I am sure that if you work enough on stuff like this then you can learn to do some of it in real-time while you are playing, but to work towards that, then isolating a section of the song out and exploring what you can come up with will help you discover some great new things. The reason why I say that this exercise will get you fired is that I have seen both guitar players and piano players be very busy with the chords like this and in doing so, completely fail in being a part of the music. This is for practice, and NOT something you want to distract you when you are playing with other people, and working through stuff like this is still fun.

What you really need to work on this is having a good overview of the chords, not thinking in static grips but instead having a more flexible way of understanding chords, and you can check out how to develop that in this video:

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

 

 

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How To Make Jazz Chords Sound Amazing – 7 Recipes 😎

Jazz Chords Are Like Cake!

Beautiful Jazz Chords are chords like this: rich-sounding chords with lots of colors and extensions, they are the amazing pastry of harmony, and like cakes, it is not the only thing you need. But it is Nice, VERY NICE!

What makes a chord beautiful is in part the chord itself, but it is as much about the chord progression, so I am going to use a lot of rich and colorful chords but also show you how amazing they sound in some great chord progressions that work as II V I alternatives if you need to add a bit of variation to your chord playing.

So the starting point is this progression:

But as you will see then we can pretty much go anywhere starting here, and you can easily make your chords a LOT more interesting!

#1 Borrowing From Minor and Not Always A Maj7

The first thing you can try is to not play a normal II chord, but instead, use a half-diminished chord so in this case a Dø.

Another thing you want to notice is how I am not playing a maj7 chord for C, but instead going with a 6/9 chord.

You want to get used to mixing those up because they can pretty much always replace each other:

B-roll: C major diatonic + C minor diatonic chords (maybe highlight Dø?)

A theme you will see in a lot of these examples is that the progression is in C major, but I am using chords that are in C minor to change things up:

 

#2 Don’t Always Play A Dominant

 

The strongest pull in music is probably the dominant resolving to the tonic like G7 to C.

But it is then also a bit obvious and not so interesting, so in that respect, it is a pity that so many people try to explain all theory as V I resolutions, it makes it boring, and you can replace a V chord with a subdominant chord that is much tastier and mysterious with an Fm chord that has some nice colors added:

#3 Dark And Light – Night And Day

This next progression is using a bright chord for a minor subdominant, namely the bVI maj7th, but that then resolves via the dominant to an even brighter maj7 tonic. This is the main cadence in Cole Porter’s Night And Day,

and maybe the lyrics are actually fitting the harmony by starting in minor and ending in major?

For this one, I added a #11 to the tonic chord making it even more bright and shining,

And it it sounds great:

#4 Bright, Brighter And Brightest!

You can also choose to stick to only using maj7th chords and create a mysterious progression where it feels like every chord could be the resolution. Here I am starting on the IV chord, Fmaj7,

then moving to the Neapolitan subdominant Dbmaj7

before resolving to a beautiful Cmaj7 variation.

The Neapolitan subdominant is, in this case, a IVm triad, so Fm with a Db in the bass as a leading note down to Cmaj7, so it is still a minor subdominant and it always sounds fantastic.

Here’s the entire progression:

The next example will also add some pentatonic chord tricks on the Cmaj7 chord!

#5 How Is That Even A II V I?!

Before diving into the pentatonic passing chords, then I need to introduce another minor subdominant variation: The Backdoor dominant, in this case, Bb7 which is the bVII in C major, so this dominant chord is actually a subdominant chord in the context.

 

The next chord is a classic Jazz trick: The Tritone Substitution

This is a pretty simple idea: In C major, the dominant is G7, and a G7 chord actually shares a tritone with another dominant: Db7. So you can exchange one for the other and the basic flow of the harmony still works.

Check out the example then I’ll explain the pentatonic chords on Cmaj7.

Let me know which of these progressions or chords is your favorite in the comment section!

In this example, I am playing 3 chords on Cmaj7 (example) and if you take away the C that I sometimes add under it, then really this is just playing chords made from Em pentatonic:

This works because we need to hear a C in the bass and then notes that give us a maj7 sound, and Em pentatonic

Em pentatonic will give us a lot of nice colors against C:  E G A B D – 3 5 13 maj7 9 and the chords are pretty easy to play.

Here’s a different take on changing the chords with a progression pretending to be a II V

#6 Maj7 chords pretending to be a II V

This way of using maj7 chords can work as a nice suspension but here it also becomes a sort of motivic development with the chord progression that is really smooth combining the bVI

and bII maj7 chords.

There is another even more weird way to use maj7 chords, that I’ll show you after this one.

#7 Altered Dominant Maj7

In this next example, I am moving around maj7 chords, starting on the bVI so Abmaj7

and then going up to this Bmaj7(b5)

which is really like a Db7 with a B in the bass, so it is a disguised tritone substitute or altered dominant which then resolves beautifully to Cmaj7:

Improvising With Chords And Harmony

With a progression like this then you can also hear how you have a creative component to putting together chords both in how you voice-lead them and how you choose what chords to add to the progression. The best place to develop that is to use it in chord melody where you can color the chords and really add your own take to the melody. If you want to explore this way of playing then check out this video where I cover both the basic approach and some of the ways you can create variations of common progressions that actually fit the song.

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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How to Make Jazz Chords Sound Great For Any Progression

I am sure you have looked at a chart with jazz chords and asked yourself, why do they play a m7(11) chord or how come that is a (b9b13) dominant? And if you ask, you get an answer which is very often a scale, like altered dominant or diminished scale, so no information that tells you that much about the choice of chord.

How do you get to that point where you can take a basic chord progression and then turn it into a piece of music with a flow of beautiful harmony? You hear it all the time but if you look at transcriptions then you are probably left wondering why is that m7(11) or how come that is dominant with a b13, and if you try to play that then it doesn’t fit together.

Instead of solving difficult music theory equations then you need to work on something else, let’s look at that process.

Get The Basic Harmony Down

For this I am going to use the beginning of All The Things You Are As An Example and built it up from the foundation.

The first thing you want to do is to just get the basic chords into your system, into your ears, and you can add a bit of rhythm to it. In the end, that is anyway more important than the notes:

I am keeping the chords sort of close to each other so it doesn’t sound like a huge jump moving from one chord to the next.

These are all pretty basic chords, and you probably know them already, so we want to start doing more to them in terms of adding color and also making the voicings fit together and tell a story.

Advanced Harmony: The First Step

Next, you want to turn them into rootless voicings. That way the voicings become a lot more flexible and you have more room to change things around, add notes and play melodies.

Melody Is More Important Than Harmony

As you will see, the secret to getting comping to sound great is not knowing the most difficult exotic voicings, it is about being able to make music with them, and already with these 3-note voicings that actually becomes a lot easier.

The big difference here is that it is not about thinking vertical chords, it is about tying the whole thing together with melody making how you play the chords into something that is a musical statement and not a bunch of notes next to another bunch of notes, because that is not how music works.

So you can practice making simple step-wise melodies like this and use different voicings to get it to work

And with this then you can hear other colors in the chords, but the whole thing works because the chords connect with a melody.

Practicing playing through chord progressions and making these simple stepwise top-note melodies is one of the best ways to explore harmony and make it into something practical that you can use because you are working on a song

I am sure you also recognize these chords as rootless versions of chords you already know:

First, you want to open up how you use the melody, and then we can go over some more advanced approaches to make the way you play chords more interesting.

Let The Melody Lead It

If you start thinking of the way you play chords as a slow chord solo or chord melody and not worry too much about extensions then it is easier to get the whole thing to sound good and you will anyway start finding the extensions but you can get them into your playing much more naturally.

For the first Fm7 chord it is already reduced to the Ab major triad, and you can add a lot of sounds and easily play melodies by just grabbing the notes around it that work with the chord, so more chord tones, and common extensions. In fact, you can just try stuff out and see what your ear tells you and then figure out what it is later.

and you can do the same for the Bbm7:

And don’t think about the Fm7 or Bbm7 variations as separate chords, you should think of them as stuff you can use when you want to use the basic Fm7 or Bbm7 voicing.

So if it says Fm7 Bbm7 you can play melodies like this:

or maybe even hint at another song:

This is about connecting material and making it flexible not about learning a bunch of chords that you can’t put together.

With this approach and an extra trick that I will get to, you can already do something like this:

You want to notice that I am using the techniques that I just covered and then there are two places where I add some extra chord voicings:

On the Eb7 the first chord is this triad voicing which is a very smooth transition coming from the Bbm7, and on the Abmaj7 I am also adding this shell voicing to transition to Dbmaj7.

So once you start to explore different ways of playing the basic chord then it is also a good idea to be aware of the chords around it, because It is all about finding practical ways to play the chords.

You also want to notice that the melodies are there to sit behind a soloist so you mostly use step-wise movement and try not to steal the attention from the soloist, unless you want to get fired, then you can just bring out your spiciest reharmonizations, and you might be gone before the 2nd set.

Start Using MORE Chords

The next steps are not nearly as important for how well you play the chords, they are more like icing on the cake where you can add some extra chords to take you to the next chord

 

In this example the chords that are added are written out as secondary tritone substitutions, so to go from Fm7 to Bbm7 I add a B7, and an E7 is helping the transition to Eb7.

This is a great thing to mess around with, but you do need to watch out that it doesn’t start clashing too much with whoever you are playing behind.

Another way you can add passing chords is using chromatic chords like this:

Here you have Am7 as an approach to Bbm7, and Amaj7 taking you to Abmaj7.

Often just thinking in chromatic passing chords on the guitar is a lot easier because it can be done visually and you don’t have to overthink what is going on.

Move The Other Voices

You can also take the chords and not only use the melody but build it with more layers which can open up for some amazing things, but it does come at a cost

The feel of this type of playing works better if you are a little less active rhythmically and it works better with sustained chords which makes it a little less useful for getting the groove across, but it is a great sound for the beginning of a song or with a soloist that leaves a lot of space.

The Fm7 moves the lowest voice down to the Ab on the Bbm7 and I am also introducing an Eb7 altered that is resolved to a single Eb on the Abmaj7. Under the sustained Eb there is room to move the chords a bit and this concept is also used on both Dbmaj7 and Cmaj7.

An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

It is incredibly important that you work with jazz chords on a song and get better at putting them together as music. Another way to work on this skill is to also work on making chord melody arrangements of songs, so taking a melody and turning it into a harmonized piece that you can play as a solo guitar piece. If you check out this video then you can see how this will teach you a lot not only about harmony but also about melody, and open up how you think about Jazz chords and how you use them in your playing!

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An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

Jazz Chords can seem like these mysterious grips with difficult names.

They sound beautiful but you don’t really know what is going on, and even if you can play this chord then there are so many other things that you hear people do with it, and you want to learn that too!

Of course, you need to practice playing the voicings, but somehow just running up and down diatonic chords and inversions is not really helping you play like that, so you need to go beyond this:

And this:

You need to really dig into the chords and learn how to use them, and there is one thing you want to work on that can help you do that, and it will teach you a lot of other great things at the same time about Jazz, about Harmony, Theory, and the guitar.

Chord Melody – Making Music Is The Exercise

The exercise I am talking about is not one of those exercises where you sit down every day with a metronome and go through your scales. What you want to work on is:

putting the chords that you practice to use, and you want to put the theory you know to use and in that process learn to play a song as a beautiful chord melody arrangement

How do you get started with this?

A basic recipe for a chord melody arrangement is to learn your shell-voicings, and then take the song that you want to turn into a chord melody

and figure out how to play the melody on the two highest strings.

Put those two together by adding a chord under the notes that are on the 1 of the bar

or if there is no melody then just play the chord. This way it is pretty simple to make your own harmonized version of that song.

This already works and is not too difficult if you start with an easy song and not a bebop theme but you can take it a lot further and when you do that then you start to develop a lot of useful skills.

Make It Your Sound

 Already with this basic arrangement, you can start to tweak it and add in other chord voicings that you might like better. Essentially you can just experiment with adding other voicings instead of what you first had. You are just refining the first version and adding some more colors — as I am doing here with a different Fmaj7 or adding the 9th on the Eb7.

This is about looking at what note is in the melody and then just trying different options for the chord with that melody note. For example, you could use these variations for the first chord:

Optional voice-over: Melody on shell-voicing, drop2 voicing, adding a 13th to the chord, or adding a 9th to the chord by shifting it up a position.

And there are many options and interesting colors you can check out.

When you are working on this then you are getting a much better understanding of what notes are in the chords and how those chords actually sound in context, which is incredibly useful, also when you improvise You might come across a place where you only know one option, but that only means that you can explore how to create some variations of that chord and learn some new things in that way.

But as you are probably already realizing then you want to do more than just play a chord here and there, you want to also add some movement to the arrangement within the chords, to give it a flow, especially when the melody isn’t moving.

Fills & Creative Voice-Leading

In this next example, you will see how you can add some moving voices that help you get to the next chord, and there are also a few different fills that you can add to not just play the chord but also embellish it and make it more interesting:

A lot of this is about finding practical ways to move a voice so that it helps you get to the next chord or realizing that there is nothing happening in the melody so you have time to add an arpeggiated or more embellished version of the chord.

On the Eb7 I am also harmonizing each note of the melody to create a different sound, there are many options to explore and it is really just about trying things out and seeing what you like.

This is of course already giving you a ton of options that you can develop in your own arrangements, but you can go even further and start changing the song to make it surprising to the listener.

Getting Creative With The Chords

The most important thing to keep in mind when you reharmonize the song and change the chords is that you use that the listener expects to hear one thing and then you play something else. This sometimes means that it works better to introduce reharmonization as an embellishment when you have first played the “normal” changes.

But you can do a lot of fun things with this, let’s start simple:

Here the first chord basic Fmaj7 chord is turned into a more unstable and interesting Fmaj7(#5). The Aø chord is also embellished a bit with a 9th, and the D7 is played with diminished scale harmony again a different sound. These are pretty easy ways to reharmonize the song by just choosing other sounds for the chords than you might expect. On the Gm7 you can hear some added chords that work really well for keeping things moving along, so they are just there to add momentum to a long note in the melody.

A more radical version where the chords a used much more freely and just chosen to fit the melody and serve the bass movement with more or less random chords to make it fit the melody could be something like this:

Comping!

There are so many things to learn about chords and explore on the fretboard like this. The other important thing that you want to get started on for playing better Jazz is being able to turn chords into great sounding comping, and if you check out this video then you will see how that is maybe not as difficult as you might think, and what you need to pay attention to.

Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

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Jazz Chords And The Best Way To Think About Them

It is very important that you stop thinking in separate grips and start seeing how patterns are actually variations of the same chord.

You might wonder why that is important, but if you think about how you want to sound when you are playing chords.

Then you can hear that there is a lot happening, but the song only has one chord symbol.

And when you play like that you should NOT be thinking: C7 C7(13), C7, C7(9), C7(13)

Because that is way too complicated, you should just think C7!

So how do you do this?

Start Simple

You probably already know a lot of chords, but let’s start really simple and build it up.

Here is a C7 Shell voicing:

You probably also know this and also this C7 and this C7(13)

For this video, I will focus on comping in a band with a bass player so there is no need to play the root note, and then we have these 3 voicings:

This might seem like magic, but really I am just taking 3 chords that you already know, removing the bass note, and putting them next to each other.

The Great Thing About Using Only A Few Notes

Now we have 3 different ways to play C7 and we can use those 3 chords to make melodies:

And you want to think about these 3-note melodies as short blues phrases, that make it easier to come up with something. You can also think of it as a conversation, so using call-response:

To me, thinking of it as a blues helps make it easier to come up with rhythms which is, of course, pretty important for Jazz comping.

There are a few other things that really levels up your playing going from just playing chords to actually playing Jazz. I will show you but you first want to add some more of the voicings you already know to get a complete overview of everything that is available in this area of the neck. In the end, you can actually play melodies harmonized entirely with a C7.

Completing The Overview

I started with some basic shell and drop3 voicings and then reduced that to 2 and 3-note voicings, but you may also know some basic Drop2 voicings, and you want to connect those to the mix as well.

The basic candidate that you can get the rest from is this one:

And you can easily make variations of that either from what you already know about Drop2 voicings or just by adding notes that are close by on the neck.

That can give you a lot of options, but here is a set of practical ones:

So the basic C7, adding a 13th, adding a 9th as a melody note, and both 9 and 13 and finally a 13 voicing with the 3rd in the melody.

If you add this to the material that you already saw then there is an octave of material available from E to E:

This is way more notes that you need when you are comping unless it is never-ending C7 chord, but it is great to have an overview and to be able to play whatever you want.

Notice that I am skipping the F as a melody note. You can use it, but it would change the chord to a C7sus4 so I am just leaving it out for now.

Using all of this material then you can play something like this:

And these are all just a part of C7, you can take one of the chords out and look at it and say that’s a C7(13) or a C7(9), but they are all usable when the song says C7. You can create your own sound and tell your own story with the harmony.

Now we can add some tricks to the chords and get some Blues and some chromatic dissonance in there!

You Don’t Usually Do This With Chords

Legato is actually great for playing chords as well, even if it isn’t the first technique you think about with that. This goes for hammer on pull off and slide:

The thing you want to keep in mind is that you can often pick the notes, but you should take advantage of the different sound.

If I use legato then it just sounds different

There are a lot of nice things to be discovered with that!

The Blues Slur and the Chromatic Slide

The dominant chord, like the C7 you are working with here, is probably the one with the most options since you can easily add Blues to the sound, but you want to explore this for other chords as well.

If you combine it with some chromatic leading notes then you get something like this:

Here I am adding a complete passing chord by sliding into the C7 and also using legato to add a chromatic melody on top of the chord moving from the 13th down to the 5th.

It is also nice how the first part states the basic chord sound in a bluesy way and then the chromatic phrase follows that up.

Another bluesy example that you can also get to work on something that isn’t really a blues would be this legato move:

Here you have a hammer-on to approach the 3rd and that is a very typical blues melody which sounds great! The chromatic phrase that takes the 9th down to the root is also turned into a melody on top of the sustained chord which is another way of creating movement with the chords.

You can create so many beautiful things with this, let’s get that sus4 sound in there as well because of course that can work too:

Level Up Your Comping

As you can see, it is not only voicings and notes you have to learn.

There are other things that you want to focus on that are a little less obvious. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve them. If you want to dig deeper into this then you can check out this video that covers a lot of important topics. And you want to fix this because otherwise, you are going to get fired….

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How To Explore Jazz Chords – A Better Approach

I very often get asked: “How can I learn to remember all those chord shapes?” and the answer to that is maybe a little surprising.

There is one way that you should be learning and practicing chords that is really overlooked, and that is a pity because it is very efficient and a practical way to come up with some great sound chord ideas that you can actually use.

Inversions And What You Might Be Missing

Usually when you are starting with learning a type of Jazz chords like Drop2, then the first thing that you focused on is learning inversions of a chord like this Dm7:

Obviously, that is a good way to learn the voicings for a specific chord, and anyway a good exercise, but you also need to learn the inversions for the other chords

And then you would have to repeat that process for voicings when you add extensions or alterations. And in the meantime, you are not working on actually using the chords to make music. It is not put together and used for anything.

So instead of focusing too much on practicing tons of inversions where the chords are not in any type of context and you are not making music with them then there is another thing that is much more useful to explore.

That is what I will show you how to do in this video.

Finding The Music in the Chords

As you can see, I am using Drop2 voicings in this video, but really the same is true for all other types of chords whether they are drop3 or triad voicings.

If you went over the chords that I showed at the beginning of the video then you can put 3 voicings together and play a II V I like this:

And you could go over inversions of this as well, but I think there is something else that is more useful.

If you want to comp with these chords in a piece of music then that could be something like this.

 

So you want to add different melodies and rhythms, and as you can hear I am using a lot of different voicings, but it is really just coming from the 3 basic chords that I started with. So the next thing to do is to take one of those basic voicings and then try to open it up so you can comp like this with it.

And this is not about learning some other chord voicings that you put in instead, it is about knowing variations of these chords, it is about opening up the voicing so that you can create some interesting colors, melodies, and voice movement. When you practThat is what we all love about Jazz chords after all.

How To Remember All The Chord Shapes

If you are using chords to comp or play a chord solo then the most important thing is flexibility. And if you only practice chords as grips and inversions then you are not organizing the chords in a way that helps you make music with them.

So instead it is much more practical to not think about different chord voicings, and instead, just have a lot of variations of the same voicing.

It is a little bit like a Pizza, we just think of it as one thing, but you can have pizza’s with all sorts of toppings and we still think of it as a pizza and don’t have to remember them as separate meals.

Let me show you what I mean.

Voice over example 6

If you look at the Dm7 voicing I am using:

If you know the notes around this chord then you can make some variations of this voicing:

Example 6

And it is still really the same chord, it is just adding different colors to it. Similar to putting different things on top of your pizza.

*Cut-in: The big question now is what extension is the pine-apple on the Pizza, but maybe we can leave that discussion to the comment section

The big advantage is that I have all these voicings as variations on one thing, so I don’t have to practice all of them in inversions, I am checking them out in a place where I can use them, and if you were to try to work through all these in inversions then you would get some pretty difficult chords and maybe not get to making music.

So the answer to the question at the beginning of the video: “How can I learn to remember all those chord shapes?” Is that I don’t remember different chord shapes I just know a lot of variations of the same chord, and I practice them so that I can use them together instead of only working on them as separate things.

So I am using that if I can make a pizza with pepperoni then I can also make a Pizza Hawaii.

The next thing to work on is how you practice to think like that

Practicing and Exploring Towards Making Music

Let’s start with the Dm7 voicing and explore some options there around that.

If you want more voicings with different extensions or alterations then you need to understand the context of the chord.

For this video, you can just see the Dm7 as being a part of the C major key and the II chord in a II V I.

If you want to have different options then you need to know the scale around this voicing.

Of course, we only need the top part, but you want to know your scales anyway.

If you look at the first voicing in this example:

then the notes of the chord are put so that we have low to high

3rd – 7th – root – 5th

To make changes to the chord then you still want to keep the core notes in the chord, and those are the 3rd and 7th. The root and the 5th you can change around and replace with other notes you want to use.

So you can play the 9th(E) instead of the root, the 11th instead of the 5th, or both so you have a 9th and an 11th in the chord. You can also replace the 5th with a 13th.

Give Your Comping A Melody

The easiest way to make your comping sound good is to tie together the chords with melody. This is in part, voice-leading so that the transition from chord to chord is pretty smooth, but it is just as important that you think about the melody in the chords and also the rhythm in that melody to really make it a piece of music.

Here is an example of a II V I using the Dm7 voicings and this area to play chords.

The Dm7 you can probably recognize. The main thing to notice is that it is really about the top-note melody.

The G7alt voicings are really done in the same way as the Dm7, but I am using a G7 from the altered scale.

The Cmaj7 is also using the same concept, but for the tonic chords in a II V I you can actually choose between having a maj7 and a maj7 so I am using that as well to make the Cmaj7 into a C6/9.

So what you want to practice is more about exploring the melodies you can play with the chords and not only playing them but also making small phrases as I did here.

A thing that will really open up your comping is also to realize that you can leave out the top note for this set of voicings so that you can play a big chunk of a scale and use that as well in comping.

I do have some videos where I explore this type of thinking on Satin Doll, I will link to one in the description.

 

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Easy Way To Make Your Jazz Chords Sound More Interesting

Just playing Jazz chords isn’t enough to make it sound great. You have to know how to make it interesting and keep the song moving.

In this video, I am going to give you some really easy examples that you can make your chords sound a lot better, stuff that helps you sit in the groove and keep things moving, and it is a simple trick that is more visual than a lot of complicated music theory.

A Basic G7 Voicing

The basic technique that I am using in this video and develop into a lot of great ideas is extremely simple. For a G7(13) chord like this:

You can add a harmonized chromatic melody to this chord like this:

And the rootless version of this which is often a little more practical.

What is happening here is really just that I am playing a melody going down in half-steps and then the chord use the chord on the D, the last note in the melody as a way to harmonize the note leading to it. In that way everything just slips into place and it is also very easy to play.

And this works for other chords as well, not just dominant chords, let’s check that out.

Chromatic Passing Chords on a II V I

Here you can hear how it also works on the II Chord, and of course, you can also use it on a tonic chord like this:

Here I am using a Db6 to get from the Cmaj7 to the C6

Another Great Trick With Chromatic Chords

Now you have one way to harmonize chromatic passing notes, but there is another one that is also pretty easy and works just as well and even makes

In bar 3 I am playing a melody that moves down in half steps, but instead of harmonizing it with the chord a half step above then I shift the first G7(13) chord down a half step, and then the lower part of the chord moves up and the melody moves down

This means that you now have two ways to create some chromatic melodies with chords. Let’s try that out on a few chords.

Exploring More Melodies And Options

To give you a way to get this into your playing let’s go over how this works on a few chords.

If you want to move from this voicings to this voicing:

If you use these two options then you can start with a voicing like this (1st chord in example 6) and then there are two ways you can move the melody down in half-steps:

With the starting chord, you have two ways you can move down, you can use the target chord as we did in the beginning, and you can also start by shifting the first chord.

Here’s another version. If you go from then you have these two options: 7a then there are these two ways to do this:  

Putting this to use on a Jazz Standard

You can put this to use on a song like Ladybird like this. Try to see if you can analyze what is going on.

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Rootless Jazz Chords – This Is What You Want To Know

If you are getting into some of the rich sounding Jazz chords on the guitar and want to use that in your playing then one thing that can really add a lot more life and color to your chord playing is to start using rootless Jazz chords.

Playing Rootless Jazz chords in your chord melody, comping and chord soloing will give you 10x as many options and also really start to free you from thinking static grips and more work with playing progressions that flow into one another.

And it is pretty simple to get into…

Basic Example with Chords Already You Know

You probably already know these chords:

Making these chord voicings that you already know into rootless voicings is really simple:

Now you are probably asking what is the big deal? They are a little bit easier to play but for the rest it doesn’t really matter.

Advantages to Rootless Voicings

There are two advantages to using rootless voicings:

1 If you are in a band then you want to stay out of the way of the bass player, and constantly having the root in that register is often clashing with the bass player which is not so nice for you or the bass player.

2 You have a lot more freedom to improvise with the notes when you don’t have to play the root. I am going to give you a lot of examples of this in the video, but if we take the example from above then you could start working on changing the top note of the chords and get some really great sounding chord movements That’s what I am going to cover next.

Making Easy variations to the chords

In this example I am using other melody notes from the scale that are easy to add to the chord. The examples are all practical and pretty easy to play

But there is one note that is added in there which is the b9 which acts as a chromatic leading note in the G7 to the 5th of Cmaj7. This is another way to understand alterations on dominants.

And you can go a lot further than this by adding notes on the top string as well, which is now a lot easier:

And with this you can also start to make movement inside the chord and make the different voices move independently. That’s the next thing to explore

Voices not chord grips

Let’s try this with another set of chords that you probably already know:

This can be turned into this set of rootless voicings:

And a basic variation of this could be something like this:

Notice how I am again using a b13 as a chromatic leading note to go from E down to D on the Cmaj7.

Another thing to notice is that I am only playing the chord once and then moving the melody on top while the other notes are sustaining, this gives it more of a polyphonic or even orchestral sound.

And you can expand on this quite easily adding more movement in the voices, especially G7:

Chromatic inner-voices

The next thing to start experimenting with is adding chromatic movement in some of the lower voices not just moving the melody.

Here I am adding the melody C A# to lead to the B on G7 and a great chromatic movement from B to Bb to A moving the maj7th to the maj6th

Get a solid foundation in Rootless Jazz chords

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