You need many skills if you want to play Jazz, and some of them can be hard to find good exercises for, or even realize that you need to work on them. In this video, I am going to go over 3 Easy exercises that will help you play better solos and develop skills that are difficult to fix by just practicing scales, arpeggios, or chords.
#1 Playing Changes – A Little Easier
Hope you are having a great day playing some Jazz! This video should help you develop your melodies, your rhythm and your phrasing.
This is something you get hit by very hard the first few times you try to improvise over a jazz standard. I know I certainly did, thinking that it must be impossible to follow the chords that move so fast! When you try to play a solo, chords are flying at you left and right and it seems like you have to be a math genius or a computer to figure out what to play and where to play it.
But improvising over chord changes is a part of Jazz and you want to be able to not only follow the chords but also play melodies that make sense.
This first exercise makes that a lot easier, and mastering this and the next exercise will already make you sound really good when you solo.
Let’s use a bit of the Standard How High The Moon:
The chords are:
The Trick is to do the “calculations” beforehand because eventually, you can get by without having to solve crazy equations whenever you see a chord progression, that is mostly a matter of experience. If you practice like this then you build that skill and it becomes something you can quite easily get into your playing (B-roll on top: complex equation overlay on How High The Moon)
I am not going to cover how you find chord tones, diatonic arpeggios and how to analyze chord progressions in this video. I want to focus on how you practice soloing, but if you want to dig into that then check out the playlist I link to in the description with videos that help you get started with that:
Of course, you want to play something on the chord progression that makes sense and has a natural flow. The best way to do that is to play phrases that begin on one chord and end on the chord change.
So in the song, when you move from Gmaj7 to Gm7 then the chords sound like this:
So you play towards a very clear note in the next chord often a chord tone, and you can hear how it gives you a natural-sounding melody and also makes the change of chord very clear.
With How High The Moon:
Essentially this is two bars of G major, the key of the piece followed by a II V I in F major.
The simple thing you can do is to target the 3rd of the chord, but you should also check how well the 5th might work because that is a very strong melodic note, the 7th is for solos often not a very strong target note. If you play like this then that could give you:
So when you want to develop this skill then take the chord progression and
1 – Find target notes (especially 3rd and 5th)
2 – Make sure Target Notes are in the same area of the neck
3 – Practice playing short phrases to hit each target note
To develop this keep it simple, in one position and one target note at a time. If you develop a skill like this you can expand on it later.
You also want to give yourself time to think ahead, so just stop on the target note and think about making a melody to the next target note. Later you can open this up and become much freer and also not only play to target notes on beats one and three.
This approach is one of the best ways to develop a natural flow when you improvise over changes and learning to think ahead is incredibly important for so many things in Music, not just playing solos over chord changes.
Working like this you can end up with some very heavy phrasing that doesn’t really sound like Jazz which is why you want to check out the next exercise.
#2 The Most Important Part Of Jazz
The most important ingredient in Jazz is rhythm, but it can be difficult to develop mainly because you forget it when you focus on the chord changes and that can really ruin how you sound.
In general, a great way to develop a skill is to reduce your freedom with other things so that you are forced to focus on training and developing that skill.
When it comes to rhythm, then a very useful exercise is to limit your note choice so that you only have two notes and have to focus on being creative with rhythm to get what you play to work, and if you try this exercise then you will probably be surprised how much you can learn. Let’s check out an example and then talk about what you need to focus on to really develop your rhythm.
You Stepped Out Of A Dream
When you set up this exercise for yourself:
1 – Try to choose notes that are mostly chord tones and close to each other across chords so that you have an easier time connecting.
2 – Explore how to use a lot of off-beats especially ending phrases on an off-beat
(this is the sound of bebop phrasing and will help your solos sound 10x better)
3 – Try to play melodies with quarter notes
You always focus on learning to play 8th note lines and forget how great it can sound to play quarter-note rhythms
#3 Passing Notes – Grown Up Jazz Licks
When you can already play a solo over the harmony and you are beginning to use some more interesting rhythms
Maybe cut in: “I mean that you are working on exercise one and two from this video…”
Then you can start working on making the melodies more surprising and more complicated, and you do that by playing a lot of wrong notes and then resolving them to some right notes.
Obviously, this is a HUGE topic, but an easy way to get started is to do two really simple things:
1 Add a chromatic note before the start of a phrase like an arpeggio
2 Add a chromatic note between two notes in the scale.
And if you if put that to use over Ladybird then that sounds like this:
In the beginning, you want to resolve to chord tones and have the resolution on the beat, as you see here where:
The first Cmaj7 bar starts with adding a chromatic passing note between D and C, and later between A and G
on the Fm7 I am adding a chromatic leading note before the Fm7 and making the arpeggio an 8th note triplet which is a great Bebop sound.
The Bb7 has a passing note between the C and the Bb, and transitions back to the Cmaj7 by moving up from the 5 to the G on Cmaj7
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