Tag Archives: jazz for beginners

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

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

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

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

The Most Basic Arpeggio

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

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

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

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

Rhythm and Phrasing

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

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

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

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

Or like this:

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

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

There Are More Notes!

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

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

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

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

The BEST arpeggio Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

Chromatic Notes – Outside The Scale Are NICE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Arpeggios On Every Chord?

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

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

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

I am using this Bø arpeggio:

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

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

It gives you a lot of great sounds.

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

One of the Best Things Barry Harris Taught Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Source Of Amazing Bebop Techniques!

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

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

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5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

Learning to play Jazz is a huge challenge, and when I started out then I spent a lot of time working out some solos by ear which taught me a lot of things, and also a lot of things I didn’t realize I was learning. In this video, I am going to recommend some good solos if you want to get started learning solos by ear, some I checked out myself in the beginning and some that I have use often with students, and along the way, I am going to talk about what you learn and give you some tips about how to learn from by ear.

The most efficient way to learn what is probably a lot of the most important things in Jazz is to learn solos by ear, what we often call transcribing even though you might not really want to write them down, but I will talk about that later. Among other things this is something that helps you improve: Swing, Timing, Phrasing, Dynamics, Shape, Contrast, Build up, Technique, Fretboard Knowledge.

This is pretty difficult to get started with, and getting sensible suggestions that help you get started with this is something that there are nowhere near enough recommendations for. I will go over some more tips later in the video, but If you are new to Jazz then don’t start by transcribing Charlie Parker on Donna Lee or John Coltrane on Countdown, find some short and easy examples and build your skills so that you give yourself the best possible chance to develop this ability. Otherwise, you are just going to get frustrated and fail

The Conga Conundrum

The first solo is one that I did not check out when I was learning Jazz, in fact, I somehow missed Kenny Burrell almost completely for some reason and didn’t discover him until much later, but this is the opening track from a truly iconic jazz guitar album: Midnight Blue. A weird side-step here, but In the early 60s everybody had to add conga’s to their jazz albums. You can hear that with Pat Martino but also with Wes (El hombre and Cotton Tail)

I wish somebody could explain to me why they did that?

Kenny Burrell – Chitlins Con Carne

This is one of the first solos that I give to my students, mainly because it is just a medium 12-bar blues in C, not even a Jazz Blues because there is no II V. Kenny Burrell is mostly just using C minor pentatonic and you can play it mostly in the Box 1 pentatonic position. The lines are great, so you learn how he is using a lot of interesting techniques, melodies, and phrasing.

On the recording, Kenny Burrell is comping himself, with the C7#9 but to make it easier in the beginning then I usually tell students to leave out the chords, just to make it simpler. In a way, the fact that Kenny Burrell plays the chords really helps make the whole thing easier to learn, because it is keeping the phrases compact, and with a clear beginning and end, divided by the chords.

This solo is very easy, and I tend to use it to help people get started transcribing and really get used to how it is to learn a solo by ear more than trying to teach phrasing and vocabulary, but of course, you do learn a lot of other things while checking out the solo. Starting to get used to learning by ear will help you pick up a lot of things so much faster, so that is extremely important and useful and that is important enough to see learning this solo by ear as an independent goal.

I’ll talk more about some of the things you want to do when you are transcribing solos later in the video.

Let’s take another example which was one of the very first solos I ever learned played by no other than the father of Jazz Guitar!

Charlie Christian – Grand Slam

Sometimes you learn a solo just because you are curious about what is being played and why it sounds like Jazz. That was the main reason I checked out Charlie Christian’s Grand Slam solo. At that point, I had an idea about what it meant to solo over changes but I hadn’t figured out enough examples to really know what to do and how it worked.

This 30-second 2-chorus blues solo by Charlie Christian is a great study in especially rhythm. Charlie Christians playing here is bebop-related, but the lines are as much swing language as they are bop, and they are great clear examples of that. Often having rhythms like this in your playing is really overlooked, but it will really boost how you sound if you work on it.

This was on one of the first Jazz CDs that I ever bought and I sat down and learned this solo in a day to figure out what was going on. At the time I was tuning my Strat down a half step and not being familiar with Jazz found the key of F for a blues a very odd choice (and I was in fact playing it in F# of course), I have since become more used to playing Blues in F, maybe even more so than in E…

Two other guitarists, that I checked out a lot, both talk about Charlie Christian as their main influence: Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall. Jim Hall even credits the Grand Slam solo as the reason for him getting into playing Jazz.

Grant Green – Cool Blues

Another solo that I picked up along the way as a teacher was Grant Green’s solo on Cool Blues. Grant Green is a great resource for learning Bebop on guitar and most of my students have had his solos as homework.

This solo is on Green’s “Born To Be Blue Album” and it is full of the typical strong Bebop Grant Green language that is so useful to check out and also very playable on the guitar. I imagine he got it straight from Parker, but I actually don’t know. This is a practical solo because the tempo is relaxed and the solo is not that long.

A bonus to this recording is that Grant takes an extra solo before the last theme, so if you are in the zone you can check that out as well.

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Tips for Transcribing solos

There is a right and a wrong way to go about learning a solo by ear, and here are a few things you want to pay attention to and try to get right when you are learning a solo.

Listen To The Solo (And Then Listen To It Another 10 times)

This can not be understated, the more you listen to the solo the easier it will be for you to learn to play it, and trust me, you will probably save time if you first just listen to the solo a lot, and I mean REALLY a lot! In fact, just listen until you can sing it.

Know The Song

Solos in Jazz are generally on a form, and if you know the chords where they are in the song then you are going to have a much easier time learning the solo and hearing what is being played, simply because you know what that part of the song sounds like, for example, if you are transcribing a solo on Just Friends and knows that it goes from Bbmaj7 to Bbm6 then it is easier to figure out what is going on.

Learn Phrases Not Single Notes

If you want to remember what you are learning then it is important that you start thinking of the solo in phrases and learn it phrase by phrase. That way it is going to make more sense and be a lot easier to get into your system. It is similar to how you don’t try to learn a language word for word, but really try to learn to say something.

Don’t Write It Down, Focus On Playing The Solo

I think it is often overlooked what is most useful in learning a solo, because I don’t think it is the exact phrases or notes. It is much more about the way the phrase sits on the groove in this performance or the exact phrasing and subtle things like that don’t make into a transcription, so you are better of learning it by ear and memorizing it like that instead of writing it out and then playing what is on the page, which is really more of a reading exercise that leaves a lot of information behind.

Wes Montgomery – Four On Six

Four on Six is probably the most famous Wes song, and the first recording off “The Incredible Jazz Guitar” album is a great solo to check out for some of the things that you definitely want to learn from Wes:

Melodic and short phrases, motivic development, Call-response, rhythm. It is all in there.

For this solo you can also leave out the octave and chord parts as they are more difficult, just learning the first few single-note choruses will already teach you a ton of great stuff.

Learning Wes solos taught me a lot about phrasing and being melodic but still swinging, and the clarity in his melodic ideas are worthwhile checking out for anybody who wants to play Jazz. I ended up having a year in my study where I was always learning Wes solos and got through most of Smokin’ at The Half Note and a lot of other songs as well.

If you want to check out some of my videos on Wes solos then there is a playlist in the video description: Videos analyzing Wes Montgomery solos

George Benson

I have always loved how George Benson could make pretty much anything sound like fantastic Jazz phrases, and this solo on “The Borgia Stick, off The George Benson Cook Book” is no exception. This was also one of the first solos that I say down and obsessed about when I was just starting out, and I am still a bit surprised that I managed to figure out the chords in there.

This solo is great if you are not that at home in Jazz Harmony. The lines are surprisingly simple and most are really just A minor pentatonic stuff, but learning to play them and add all the beautiful rhythms and grace notes in this Benson solo is going to be great for your playing. His use of intervals and chords is also amazing and still fairly simple.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there are many many solos to check out, and these 5 are just the tip of the iceberg. If you have great suggestions for Jazz guitar solos to learn then leave a comment, maybe we can make an even longer list of recommendations to help learn Jazz..

A few others that I spent time on, in the beginning, deserve a mention as well:

Jim Hall on Stella By Starlight, in fact, that whole first Jim Hall Album is a masterclass in swinging rhythms and motivic development, but the Stella solo is fairly easy to check out.

Another Stella solo is by Ulf Wakenius. This is fairly unknown, and it is off a Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen album called “To A Brother” and Ulf Wakenius is playing a lot simpler than what I am used to from him, but both this solo and the one on Alone Together are great and really helped me out in the first few months when I had trouble telling what was the theme and what was the solo.

Another thing that you should not underestimate is the wealth of great solos that are on YouTube and not on any albums. A Solo that I always found to be a great example of Bensons playing is this really simple 1-chorus solo on Take The A-train from some obscure television show in the 70s. Lots of Blues but only great phrases! There are some hidden gems out there!

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