Tag Archives: jazz guitar chords

3 Reasons You Will Regret Not Working On Chord Soloing

Once I started getting interested in Jazz and Jazz guitar then it didn’t take long until I heard some of the first chord solos especially Wes Montgomery and shortly after Joe Pass, and That was pretty mind-blowing coming from Pearl Jam and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The idea of soloing with chords like that was completely new to me, and that seemed both unbelievably difficult and also the coolest thing I had ever heard, so of course, I had to figure this out!

Besides being a great sound that you can use in your solos then there are actually a few other things that you can really take up a few levels if you start working on playing chord solos, and as you will see, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

How Not To Start!

#1 Too Simple and hard to use

#2 Too Difficult and hard to use

 

 

 

The #1 Mistake that I see students make when they start with chord solos is not being practical and starting with harmonized scales that are technically much more difficult to use, requires more theory, and is in general much more information.

 

That is not the place to start. I didn’t try to take that exact approach but, but I also made a mess out of it!

You want to keep it practical and simple, If you are new to improvising and want to learn what you can play over a m7 chord then you don’t start with “A love Supreme”

and I will give you a much more practical strategy in this video.

In the beginning, I didn’t have a choice, I had a few CDs but there were no transcriptions, so I was limited to whatever I could figure out by ear, which was a pretty steep limitation. I managed to figure out a few Wes things here and there and The George Bensons solos on the Borgia Stick which have some chord solo parts. But this wasn’t really getting me anywhere for two reasons:

it was either too simple to help me create my own solos or too difficult to play and therefore impossible to use.

I was mostly listening to Wes, and when Wes plays chord solos then he is really block-harmonizing a lot, so he will in fact play different chord voicings under each melody note which makes it demanding to play, and also requires you to have quite a few things figured out about chords and theory.

From Wes’ solo on “The Thumb”

Joe Pass And A Winning Strategy

But that changed later once I started having lessons after having moved from Århus to Copenhagen.

One of my teachers at the time, Morten Kargaard, gave me a photocopy of a chord solo from Joe Pass’ chord solo book.

Learning that solo was a LOT of work, which quite a few of my students also can tell you, but while working on it then I started to see some things in the Joe Pass solo that were a lot easier to move into my own playing, because phrases were often a static chord under a moving melody, so visually you would see the chord and then use the notes available to create a chord solo phrase.

This was a huge breakthrough and quickly gave me something I could move over to my own playing. Let me show you how easy this is to work with and then also how it will help your single-note soloing.

A 3-minute Chord Solo method

Let’s take a II V In G major, so Am7 D7 Gmaj7.

Here’s an Am7 chord to start with:

and you can use these 4 notes as different melodies over that:

For D7 then let’s use this D7alt:

and then these 4 notes for melody options:

For Gmaj7 then this is a great Gmaj7(9)

And you have these 4 notes:

Now you have the chords next to each other and melodies that are close to each other as well, so turning that into a solo phrase is not that difficult:

Or another variation like this one:

And this is a lot easier to start with instead of being stuck with having to put different chords under each note in the melody that you want to improvise, which of course you can start working on later, but it can also help you get another dimension into your single-note solos as well.

Wes Montgomery And The Power Of Limitation

Before I moved to The Netherlands to study I lived in Copenhagen and I was lucky to sometimes get to play with musicians that were a lot further than I was. While jamming with a piano player he gave me some advice that I, unfortunately, couldn’t put to use right away, but it later turned out to be very useful!

When you are working on chord solos in the way that I just showed you for the II V I in G major then you can’t play dense bebop lines like you usually do:

But that limitation is actually really useful because, you don’t want to play dense lines all the time, you also want to play more sparse melodies with more emphasis on rhythm. The kind of phrases you hear Wes use very often, like his solo on Four On Six:

Technically you can’t really play harmonized bebop lines in chord solos and therefore the lines are more simple, but you can still make some solid chord solo lines and that is actually helping you get into exactly those types of “Wes” melodies. That was also the observation the piano player made when we were jamming: “your solos lack rhythm but you actually play much more interesting stuff when you play chord solos, so you need to get that into your solos as well”. At that time, I couldn’t really implement that, but a few years later that realization really helped me develop that type of phrasing in my playing because I was already used to hearing those phrases in my chord solos.  And this is really about taking phrases like this one:

And realize that it works without the chords as well:

Let’s look at another thing that working on this type of chord soloing really helps you develop.

Making Jazz Chords Into Music

The biggest challenge when it comes to comping is to go from chord symbols to music. Because a row of letters is, of course, not really music.

One of the strongest ways to get your chords to work together is melody, so if you can go further than just playing the chords like a robot and start to add some rhythm and melody to how you play them then you are really getting somewhere.

You want to turn it into phrases, repeat motifs and make it a story

That would be something like this:

But really this is just playing “lazy” or “sparse” chord solo phrases, so approaching comping like this will give you material from your chord solos and also help you develop new chord solo material as you are comping the song.

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How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

If you are trying to learn Jazz and especially the first time you are looking at how to learn a Jazz standard, then you probably know how it is to look at a piece of sheet music and then feel that the chords are flying by in an impossible tempo.

I started thinking about this because a few weeks ago I was playing a gig with a saxophone player that I know for a long time, and we were talking about what songs to play.  It was a gig in a cafe and we were just playing standards. One of the songs he suggested was Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”

Sophisticated Lady is a song that I first learned very early on when I was still living in Copenhagen and actually I never played it since. When I was talking to the saxophone player then we could both remember looking at that song for the first time and thinking what the “hell is going on and why are the SO many chords in this?!”

And that is of course how many jazz standards will come across,  with a lot of chords that are hard to remember and even harder to improvise over.

But there is a way to make that easier, both to solo over and to remember, and the way I do this also shows why I lean so heavily on functional harmony and just how powerful a concept that actually is, but also want to talk about Pat Martino’s and Barry Harris’ systems for this which can get a bit strange but are also often very practical as well.

Learning a Jazz Standard By Heart

There was one thing that really slowed me down when I was learning songs in the beginning.

The first time I set out to really start learning a Jazz standard, then I spent two months alone in a house learning Stella By Starlight and There’s no Greater Love. Just recording a simple chorus of the chords, practicing the melody, and improvising on them every day. I kept going until I could get a simple solo to sort of make sense over them, I could hear where I was and knew the chords by heart.

The problem is that I learned everything one chord at a time. I was not thinking in groups of chords that follow each other, or groups of chords that sound similar. Chunking the chords together will make it a lot easier to learn a song because you can reduce it to a few building blocks and you know how those blocks sound, so remembering and internalizing it becomes a lot easier.

Music is a language, so I will use that comparison to help you see just how powerful this is, but first you need to clean up the chords a bit.

Don’t get distracted by extensions

A problem that I get many questions about is ho to think extensions, and whether you can use a C7(13) instead of a C7(9) and so on. And that is not really how you want to think about chords if you play Jazz. A chord is a lot of options and what notes you play, or extensions you add are more about what you want and what is going on around you in the band and in the song.

It is not thinking “now I want to play a C7(13)” Because that is not really a music thing it is a symbol that you can maybe turn into music, but you need to know how and often that means ignoring the extensions.

In the beginning, you are probably learning songs from a lead sheet like in a real book, and first you really just want to get rid of the extensions,

because what is important is the type of chord and the context, so just focus on the basic 7th chord, forget about 9ths and 11ths. You want to understand that from the other chords around it and the melody not a chord symbol, after all, a piece of music is not a row of letters in iReal.

Of course, you don’t have to literally change the sheet music, just how you think about it. Now we can get to work!

A song is a sentence

 

It is difficult to memorize and make sense of long rows of letters,

but if you start grouping the letters into words then you are attaching meaning to them and that is a lot easier to remember.

And this, of course, also works for Jazz songs, so if you can sum up 32 bar song as a bunch of smaller progressions then you have to remember a lot less, and if you are used to improvising over those smaller progressions then soloing on the song is also going to be a lot simpler.

But there are actually quite a few more advantages!

The Basic Vocabulary and where to get it

For this to work then you need to get used to thinking and recognizing the words or building blocks in the chord progressions, and you use the songs you know and the songs you are learning to spot chord sequences that you see more often. Essentially this is also why it is beneficial to analyze chord progressions.

Some of the common things you certainly want to start recognizing are things like:

Of course, the II V I as you see here in Perdido, and take the A-train

I VI II V turnaround in Rhythm Changes or Blue Moon

The V of V which you also want to notice very often is placed in certain parts of the form, so at the end of the first half as it is here in There Will Never Be or at the end of the bridge as you see in Satin Doll

The same can be said about the II V to IV, it is also very often placed in the bridge or positioned so the IV chord is at the beginning of the 2nd 8 bars of the form what you see in There Will Never Be Another You. – There Will Never Be and Satin Doll

Another useful block is IV IVm I progression which is also very common and something you want to recognize. Here it is in There Will Never Be Another You and you also have it in All The Things You Are.

The next thing will make it even more clear why you want to learn this from songs, and then we need to get into the Barry Harris and Pat Martino thing.

Hear the Harmony

A problem when you look at a lead sheet for the first time, or even just the chords in iReal, is that it is hard to have any idea about how those chords sound, but if you are used to thinking in turnarounds, II V Is, V of V etc then you are actually working towards being able to hear the harmony just from looking at the chart, and that is incredibly useful and makes it a lot easier to play a song for the first time.

It is similar to how you probably find it really easy to play a song if you are told it is a blues, something that you just already are very familiar with the sound of.

But for that to happen the words or building blocks should not be only theoretical things, they need to be something that you know the sound of, and that is the easiest to achieve by recognizing them in the songs you know really well. At the same time then you can probably also see how this will help you pick up songs faster by ear since you can rely on hearing groups of chords and not each chord in the song, and there is a good chance you are already doing this with things like turnarounds.

Chord Progressions Are All The Same (sometimes)

A danger with trying to learn building blocks is that you get stuck on the details, which is similar to getting stuck with the extensions that I talked about earlier. With stuff like this it makes the most sense to focus on how chord progressions are similar more than how they are different.

So it is a turnaround if it resembles that and all of these progressions are essentially the same thing, but maybe for this song or this arrangement one of them fits better than the others, but it is more important to also realize that it is a turnaround.

Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 A7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 D7 G7

E7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 Ebdim Dm7 G7

Bb7 A7 Dm7 G7

The reason why I consider these the same is that they will often be interchangeable and will work in the same way in a song. If you want to take this into the language analogy then these would be synonyms, words with essentially the same meaning, give or take a nuance.

You can expand this to other things as well like IV IVm I progressions which are essentially subdominant – minor subdominant to tonic.

Fmaj7 Fm6 Cmaj7

Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7

Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7

F#ø Fm6 Cmaj7

And here a big part of why that is important to know is that these progressions sound similar, and have the same important notes and voice-leading, which means that you can approach soloing over them in very similar ways.

The Opposite Methods

One thing that is often very practical when looking at chord progressions that you want to solo over is to reduce the amount of chords in there, and this is where Pat Martino and Barry Harris sort of have opposite approaches.

The reason that you can leave chords out is that a lot of chords are really just embellishments and can be ignored without the solo losing the connection to the song, and it is easier to play strong melodies if you are not tied down by having to spell out a lot of changes.

A very useful example of this is the A part of Rhythm changes where there are a lot of chords but you can really reduce it to just one chord per bar.

The reduced version of the chords still contains the basic movement of the song and this will work great for solos.

As I mentioned, both Pat Martino and Barry Harris have systems for this, and they are both very simple rules.

For Pat Martino, everything is a II chord, so a II V becomes just a II chord.

Barry Harris goes the other way and throws away the II chord and says it is all V

Both of these can be useful, I think it really depends on the song. I think that Barry Harris’ approach gives you more natural chord progression when you have thrown away all the II chords, where Pat Martino becomes a bit strange giving you a Blues in F that looks like this:

At the same time, for guitar players connecting everything to minor seems to make it easier, maybe because we are all stuck in the minor pentatonic box 1 for eternity?

But to be fair then applying Barry’s rule to a song like I Should Care or Wes’ Four on Six also becomes a bit strange, so maybe you want to be aware of both systems and be flexible enough to use the one that works the best for you in whatever song you are playing. At least, that is what I have taken away from that. In music, context is everything.

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The 5 Skills That Make You Great At Comping

The most fun part of playing Jazz is playing with others and in the band shape the music together while you are playing. And when you are comping, that is a huge part of what you are doing, but a lot of the most important things about comping are not taught in lessons online and not in books on chords. So that is what I want to talk about in this video: Things that I learned, mostly from the people I played with or the people that hired me, and I have also found some great stories from some amazing musicians that explain it.

#1 Play The Chords

Even if it is not only about the chords, then you still need to be able to play the chords and get the harmony across, or the last thing you will hear on the gig is “Your Fired”

For any song you play, you need to know the voicings for all the chords

and have a basic understanding of what extensions are available in that song.

But it is incredibly important to remember what the overall goal is: Play the harmony in a way that fits with the music, so in this case the rest of the band.

This is what you need to focus on: build a practical and flexible chord vocabulary instead of learning complicated chords as grips that are sometimes difficult to play and that you can’t do anything with.

You want to try to not get stuck with a static chord, and focus on learning the voicings so that they are things you can improvise with. If you want a vocabulary of chords that helps you turn the symbols into music then this is the way. (b-roll)

It isn’t complicated: If you have a Bb7,

throw away the root. reduce it to the core.

Sit down and learn the other options and think of them as a small scale you can use on top of that chord

#2 Make It Into Music

If you approach chords and songs like this then the next skill gets a lot easier. Check out how Nir Felder Explains it, because he really nails it!

It is very often that I have students telling me how they are practicing chord inversions, but it is very rare that they talk about practicing comping.

And there IS a way to work towards playing music and not just feeding chords to a soloist.

When you practice, you need to play the song and make the music your priority. You are not just a robot interpreting a page in iReal.

So spend some time practicing comping a song and make that feel and sound good. You need to go beyond just playing a II V I or practicing voicings, and instead, also work towards playing entire songs.  There you can try to make melodies in your comping that work, take riffs through the progression, and make them into music.

#3 Communicate With The Band

Most comping lessons talk about how you should listen to the soloist, but actually, something else is at least as important if not more important.

Because, when you are comping then you need to get what you play to work together with the rest of the band, and think together with the rhythm section, especially the drummer.

Lewis Nash talks about it in this clip:

When you comp then you shape the music in that conversation with the drummer. I was lucky that I got the chance to play with some drummers that explained this to me early on and it is a bit strange that this is not talked about more also because it really makes playing together so much more fun.

With the rhythm section, you chose to be:

Repetitive:

Play sustained chords:

Busy:

Sparse:

loud, or soft and that is a huge part of how the music sounds. Of course, you are also listening to the soloist and the bass player, but most of this happens when you lock in with the drummer,  and I really think that is the backbone of any great rhythm section.

The way to start working on this is really with listening, I especially like the Wynton Kelly trio with Miles

or with Wes

for this, there are many great examples, and in my opinion, most of the good ones are piano, not guitar, which may be a painful truth…

Another tip is also to start checking out how drummers teach comping because I think we could really learn something from that, maybe that could be another video in fact. Let me know in the comments.

#4 Don’t Get in the Way

When I was still just getting started with Jazz then one of the first people that I really liked for the way he could comp was Russel Malone. I heard him playing behind Diana Krall and used a lot of that to figure out how to play behind singers. I also got to hear that trio live with Diana Krall, Ben Wolfe, and Russel Malone and at that concert, Russel took the solos so far out but still managed to bring us back home safely. That concert really blew my mind with harmonic things that sounded great but where I also had no idea what it was.

One of the things that is almost always a problem when you learn to comp is that you overplay. You practice all these things and then when you are in the band you want to use everything at once, and it ends up ruining the whole thing.

Comping is really like a conversation, you don’t open up a conversation by for example listing 25 Amazing and unknown facts about sheep.

This is also about getting that connection with the rest of the band that I already talked about, so it can be good to first focus on locking in with the drummer and the soloist. You can do that by leaving room with longer chords or more sparse comping in the beginning. That will give the freedom to take the music in a direction, and you can try to hear where they want to go.

#5 When To Push/ When To Support

Another aspect of comping is communicating with the soloist and figuring out when to push with more things happening in terms of density, rhythm, or harmony and when to lay back and supply a foundation for the soloist. When I have been playing as a sideman then I was often surprised by how this was very different from soloist to soloist. Some are really looking for ideas and communication and others just want something to play over without any interference. And this is really about trying to feel if the soloist is comfortable or not, it is a bit vague, but you do want to be aware.

As a soloist, I have had experiences playing a gig and when you start going to other places and reharmonizing the song then the piano player will very clearly spell out the original changes as if you are playing something wrong, or you take a solo and after playing one altered dominant then all the maj7 chords are maj#5 and the dominants are 13b9 chords because somebody practiced upper-structure triads that morning.

It is difficult to get this right but it is very important to be aware of, especially if you want to get called for another gig, and again it is something that I mostly picked up talking to people I played with and asking what they think, but you have to look out with that as well because you get great advice but sometimes you get presented with myths about how it works by someone who doesn’t know how it works or just can’t explain it.

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10 Levels of Turnarounds – Unlock Amazing Jazz Chord Progressions

Jazz harmony is a huge topic, and learning to understand and analyze chord progressions can seem like an impossible task, but if you understand a few of the techniques involved you can both create beautiful chord progressions and have an easier time figuring out how to solo over them, and you can see these techniques in action on a very simple progression that you already know.

Level 1 – The Basic Turnaround

For this video, I will use this turnaround and show you how you can create some nice surprising sounds using that.

What is important to understand with the basic turnaround is that it is just an embellished version of a I V progression, which you might know if you have followed some Barry Harris videos.

The first thing to add is to turn the V into a II V which is really just a glorified version of a G7sus4 to G7

Then to add some extra movement then Am is added to have a little variation in the bar with the I chord.

This is the basic progression, now you can start making variations to it. Along the way you also want to realize that I don’t really think in substitutions that much, simply because that is not a very useful way to use or understand harmony.

Level 2 – A Secondary Dominant

The first variation that you want to add to the progression is a secondary dominant. In this case, a way to get the progression to flow a bit more towards the Dm7 chord:

 

The turnaround is in the key of C major, and the A7 is not the dominant in that key, that is G7. Like this, you are using the A7 to create a pull towards the Dm7 and add movement to the chord progression. When the A7 appears like this then it is described as a secondary dominant, so a dominant resolving to something else than the tonic of the key. Since the A7 is resolving to Dm7 then you can treat it as an A7 in D minor and the logical scale choice is then D harmonic minor making it an A7(b9b13)

Written out Dm harmonic highlighting A7(b9b13) – D E F G A Bb C# D E F G A Bb C# D E F

You could also use the same principle to have a D7 resolving to G7.

Can you see why the D7 is not a D7(b9b13)?

Level 3 – The “Easy” Diminished Chord

You can also take the secondary dominant and turn it into the “easy” diminished chord:

Here the A7(b9) is turned into a diminished chord. Also sometimes referred to as a secondary dominant diminished. This is really just an A7(b9) with a C# in the bass, and you will solo on it using the same material that you use on the A7 chord, so D harmonic minor.

On-screen comparison of A7(b9) and C#dim: A C# E G Bb – C# E G Bb

The reason for using the diminished chord is usually just to have a different type of bass melody.

Later in the video, you will also see an example of the “difficult” diminished chord which is a great example of where thinking substitutions is going to make things more difficult.

Level 4 – Doesn’t Have To Be THE tonic chord

Of course, you can also start on a different chord than the Cmaj7, other chords in the key have a tonic function and the III chord is a beautiful option that also highlights that the progression is still moving not standing still:

You also want to notice that it sounds great to use a G7 that is borrowed from minor, so a G7(b9b13). The b9 and b13 become chromatic leading notes that help pull stronger towards the resolution to Cmaj7.

Let’s have a look at the difficult diminished chord.

Level 5 – The “Difficult” Diminished Chord

The basic progression was Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7, and then you can add more momentum by playing an A7 or a C#dim chord in the second half of the first bar.

I already mentioned that this was not a substitution, what does that mean?

When you talk about substitutions then it is about taking one chord and replacing it with a related chord, but there is not really a connection between Am7 and A7(b9) in this progression, It makes more sense to just view that progression as a different route when moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7 and that is also what you have in this example:

The star of this example is the Ebdim chord. This diminished chord is an altered subdominant chord that resolves back to the more regular subdominant chord Dm7. I have some older videos on this type of diminished chord if you want to dig deeper into that. I often come across people trying to turn these dim chords into dominants that don’t resolve, personally, I don’t think that really helps me hear how the progression moves so I like this analysis a lot better.

Since it is a subdominant chord then it is usually written as derived from the IV in the scale, and in this case the #IVdim.

Let’s get rid of the tonic chord so that it doesn’t even sound like a turnaround in C.

Level 6 – Where Did The Tonic Chord Go?

As you can see then quite a few things have happened compared to the I VI II V that we started with.

There are two main things happening here: The first is extending how much is borrowed from C minor, so now you have the entire II V coming out of C minor, but probably the most curious one is the first chord which until now was reserved for a tonic chord like Cmaj7 or Em7, but now it is a secondary dominant, namely E7 resolving to another secondary dominant: A7 and then the minor II V before resolving to Cmaj7. The E7 is a secondary dominant that would resolve to Am in the key so you would use A harmonic minor when soloing over it and it has a b9 and a b13.

Choosing this as a turnaround is a way to emphasize movement, so it is not so important to have the tonic clear, but instead, it is important to keep the song going for example at the end of an A-part going to the next A-part. You will see an even more radical version of this later in the video.

Level 7 – Altered Dominants & Tritone Substitution

I have of course talked a bit about why substitutions aren’t the best way to approach harmony, but this example has two clear examples of just substituting chords with similar functions.

Here you have the secondary dominant in bar 1, A7, being substituted with an Eb7, which is the dominant that shares the same tritone interval as the core notes: C# and G

The other substitution is using an altered dominant for the G7 which is a sound that is a bit further away than borrowing from minor, and actually also related to tritone substitutions. It is a great sound to create a lot of tension and movement toward the resolution to the I chord.

Level 8 – My Favorite Turnaround

This turnaround variation is a great way to incorporate Minor subdominants and Coltrane changes into a turnaround

Here you have the first 3 chords as being straight out of a Coltrane cycle in C: Cmaj7 Eb7 Abmaj7  B7 Emaj7 G7 Cmaj7

Another way to look at this, and probably the reason why it sounds so great is that it involves a beautiful minor subdominant chord: Abmaj7

The first two chords are similar to the previous example and sound similar to what we pretty much expect in a turnaround, but the Eb7 resolves as a V chord and not a tritone substitution which takes us to Abmaj7,  a nice but still satisfying detour.

Using the Db7, the tritone substitute of the G7 makes it easier to move from the Abmaj7 back to Cmaj7.

This turnaround is often referred to as a Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but not everybody agrees on what that is, so it is a good idea to check. In emergencies, the Blues always works 🙂

Level 9 – Chromatic Passing Chords

Let’s step it up and add some chromatic chords. This one probably came from the diminished chord progression that I talked about earlier, just stepping out of the key and approaching the Dm7 from a half-step above:

Here you have the Ebm7 that just quickly jumps out of the key to slide back in on the Dm7. You will quite often hear people like Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and Keith Jarret reharmonize dim chords to parallel minor chords and even Parker does it sometimes so it may be coming from that. Again calling it a substitution for a dim chord is really a stretch though.

Level 10 – What?!

Having a turnaround where the first chord is not at all what you expect is great, and this example uses a chord that does that, but still really works in with the progression.

When the ear expects a Cmaj7 and gets a Bb7 then that still is acceptable because the Bb7 moves on to an A7 and then continues in the turnaround. The Bb7 is there as a tritone substitute for the E7, the secondary dominant for A7.

I don’t think this one is that common, but it does sound really great so you should give it a try in a Jazz standard as a reharmonization.

Put It To Use In Chord Melody

You can create amazing things by taking songs and adding chords to them while also exploring different sounds and options with the chord progression. If you want to explore how to make your own chord melodies then check out this video.

It is a great way to build your knowledge and skills with jazz chords and in the process get started making some beautiful Chord Melody arrangements.

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

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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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3 Reasons Wes Montgomery Is Amazing And Worth Checking Out

Wes Montgomery is the father of modern Jazz guitar, but it was not because he played with his thumb or used octaves. This video explores what is truly amazing about his playing.

Discovering Wes

There are not that many recordings that made such a huge impact on me that I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard them the first time, but it is amazing when you have that experience. My classical guitar teacher, Morten Skott, had suggested that if I wanted to learn Jazz then I should listen to Wes Montgomery, so I went from that lesson down to the record store and bought a Verve compilation on my way home.

The first tracks didn’t really resonate with me, and especially the string orchestra and big band were not what I expected. I was used to Parker playing with small groups and Scofield playing trio or quartet.

I guess it was the blues that really made the difference for me when I got to the last track on the album, the thumb. My way into Jazz was really coming through blues, I had the same thing with Parker where I completely got, KC Blues, Now’s The Time, and Au Privave but a piece like Donna Lee that I had heard of as being very famous just sounded random and chaotic to me.

The Thumb, is Wes playing in a trio with Ron Carter and Grady Tate, and the track is a masterclass in phrasing and Jazz tradition. Wes makes the trio sound like a big band and really relies as much on swing and blues tradition as he does on bebop harmony, again not unlike Charlie Parker.

It Is Not Playing Octaves With Your Thumb

To me, the essential lessons you learn from Wes are not about playing with your thumb, using octaves, or playing chord solos. Those are really great techniques, but they are just techniques. I think there are much more important things to learn and get into your own playing than focusing on those.

Now, If that offends you then feel free to relieve your anger in the comments, down below.

These discussions with only playing Wes line with your thumb and Django only used two fingers. To me, it doesn’t really make sense, but I guess for hardcore Django fans there is only one way to go…

At the same time if you listen to people like Robin, Christiaan and Mikko then I think have all fingers seems work too.

For the rest, you will probably agree with everything else I say in this video and I have one influence on Wes that I think is seriously overlooked, but I’ll get back to that later.

#1 Not Afraid To Keep It Simple

One of the things that Wes does really well is to make every note count, and he doesn’t rely on using many notes very often.

You can see examples of this in how Wes often uses quarter note with a single note, like this phrase from Four On Six:

and it is common when he plays octaves like this example from the thumb:

In this example from the Thumb, he is actually ignoring the changes and just playing the root for almost 4 bars which is also not that common in Jazz.

You also want to notice that he might be playing one note and only play quarter notes, but he is still playing with dynamics adding an accent to 2 and 4 to lock in with the groove.

#2 The Power Of Short Phrases

Compared to a lot of other great improvisers then Wes plays a lot of short phrases, especially if you compare him to a lot of other Bebop and Hardbop guitarists, but that is also one thing that he uses to make his solos so incredibly melodic and often also incredibly groovy.

Wes will play short melodic ideas and he is a master at tying them together in very creative ways:

In this example, he starts out with call-response between a lower and a higher melody.

Then this is turned into a descending arpeggio motif that he takes through the shifting II V’s

And you can easily hear how the shorter phrases are connected to each other and develop tying the entire segment together as a complete piece of music. Again not playing more notes than needed.

Side-note: If you know your Wes solos, then you will probably notice that I am using fragments from both the Incredible Jazz Guitar version and the Smokin’ at the half note version. This last one was from Smokin at the half note.

Another example of how he employs Call response is from the other recording of four on six:

Here you have a very clear call with octaves and then the response with the arpeggio melody.

Again the idea is that we recognize one part and hear the other part change

The most important aspect of this is that it ties the whole solo together, he is not just playing from one note to the next. He is playing phrases that are related to each other, and often this ties together longer periods like 8 or 16 bars.

I think this is a huge part of what Pat Metheny describes as “melodic clarity” when he talks about how Wes influenced him in the interview on Alex Skolnick’s podcast “Moods and Modes”. If you haven’t heard that then go check it out, it is certainly worth listening to, both for Pat being an amazing musician, but also for Alex’s really useful perspective and explanations that tie together the whole thing.

#3 Repetition Legitimizes

Another thing that is closely related to the short phrases that Wes also really takes advantage of very often is using riffs. In the Thumb he repeats a two-note figure that really comes across as a part of a big band shout chorus:

Example 5

Essentially he plays the same melody with the same rhythm and only changes things to fit the chord progression.

The use of quarter note rhythms and drop2 voicings also really helps to bring the big band vibe.

The Secret to Wes’ Phrasing?

There is one influence on Wes that is rarely mentioned but is clearly very important.

This example is almost a direct quote of the shout chorus riff in Count Basie’s Splanky, and usually we talk about Wes being inspired by Charlie Christian, and you can hear Parker licks in his playing quite often, but you have to remember that he was also growing in a period where popular music was Big Band Swing, and those types of melodies and that type of phrasing is not getting the credit it deserves for being a part of his playing.

Splanky is off the legendary Count Basie album Atomic Basie, and if you want to improve your phrasing and learn to think in shorter riff like phrases in your solos then learning a few of those melodies and playing them along with this amazing big band is probably not the worst idea in the world.

Another example of a similar big band inspired riff is found in his solo on Nica’s Dream, again using rhythm and drop2 voicings to make it really stand out:

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From Basic Jazz Chords To Beautiful Comping

You probably already know how beautiful Jazz chords can sound and how great Jazz players just seem to flow through the progression getting it to sound amazing.

But when you learn Jazz chords then you are stuck looking at chord progressions and trying to read diagrams, and it has very little to do with actually making music!

In this video, I am going to help you past that, starting with simple chords, and then show you how you can turn them into beautiful harmony with fills, rhythms, and interesting sounds. so you sound a lot better.

Level 1 – Basic Chords With Extensions

Let’s start with this set of chords for a II V I. You probably already know these:

Notice that I am playing chords with extensions, so there’s a 9th on the Dm7 which becomes a 13th on the G7. Extensions are a big part of the sound of Jazz chords, but there are some other things that you also need to get right so we need to change the chords a little!

Level 2 – Something To Work With: Rootless Voicings

As you saw in the intro then I am not playing the complete voicing all the time, and you want to learn to use voicings that leave out the root:

When you are playing Jazz chords on the guitar then there are two important reasons to not play the root:

  1. Get out of the way of the bass player so he or she is happy
  2. Free up a finger and can start to create great variations and fills

Playing the Dm7 voicing like this:

Means that you can figure out how to add or change notes and really just play something like this:

This is a very important part of learning Jazz chords, that you don’t get stuck with static grips, you want to see a voicing as something you can change, move the melody, add and leave out notes.

Also because that is a lot easier to remember than 1 million different chord grips.

Quick side note: As you will see, I am not using substitutions in this video because that is not nearly as powerful a tool or skill as the other things that I will cover, and it is much more important to learn to be creative with the chord progression that is already there.

Level 3 – Get The Rhythm Right

You already know that rhythm is one of the most important parts of Jazz, but when it comes to getting comping to sound good then something else is much more overlooked: The length of the chord!

What really makes the difference with the rhythms is how long you play notes, and so many rhythms sound so much better if you use short notes.

You want to use rhythms like these:

There are two things you want to learn to do:

#1 – Anticipation

Anticipating the 1: Try to get learn to play the chord on the 4& and anticipate the harmony in the next bar as I am doing on the G7.

Maybe:

You can do that by just playing through the progression and playing on the off beats an exercise like this:

#2 Length of the Chords

You also want to be aware of whether you are playing long or short notes in your comping. There is a big difference between

And:

Nothing is as important in Jazz as rhythm! Let me know if you agree in the comments, or if you think something else is more important, then tell me what that is!

Level 4 – Making It Into Music

Now you have the chords and you can play better rhythms with both long and short notes. The next thing you want to focus on is to not just play separate and isolated chords, but really turn the whole thing into music, and give it a flow.

Level 4 example

What you want to work on is trying to play the chords, but also have something in there that makes it sound like each bar is a part of a larger story, not just isolated things next to each other.

In this case, you can hear how the melody on the G7 is a variation of the motif on the Dm7 chord. Ant that is one way to connect them. I made a video on Patreon with examples of different ways to do this, maybe that is something I should also make a YT video about? Let me know in the comments.

Next, Let’s look at a secret weapon that you can use that sounds amazing and really levels up your comping in a very subtle way.

Level 5 – The Inside Job

This is a hidden gem when it comes to playing chords, but it is such a great thing to also add in there every now and again.

Here you can see how there are things happening inside the chords, so moving the inner-voices. Here it is going from Dm7 to G7 and also moving the 7th down to the 6th of Cmaj7.

The way you start exploring this is by finding melodies and ways to move voices on the chords:

On guitar, this is about being practical and finding the places where it is possible and still playable. In this example, you see inner-voice movement on the G7 and a variation on the Cmaj7.

But it does sound great and is worth exploring to add a bit more polyphony to the music.

 

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Jazz Beginner – 5 Myths That Waste Your Time

There are a lot of things that you need to learn as a beginner with jazz guitar, but sometimes you come across a myth that promises to be a magic solution for all your problems, and I think we should talk about a few of those because they can make you waste a lot of time and you end up working on wrong things while ignoring important skills.

In fact, a lot of these are about trying to avoid learning something that is actually very useful.

I Don’t Need To Learn Songs If I Can Hear Everything

One of the worst things to use instead of a rehearsal is this sentence: “don’t worry, you’ll hear it” And it was also this sentence that began what was probably one of the most stressful moments in my life.

I was subbing for my teacher in a band that was playing a jazz festival, it was a quartet with horn, guitar, bass, and drums. We didn’t rehearse, and just before starting Body and Soul, the band-leader told me that he wanted to do the verse in a duo with me before the theme. I told him that I didn’t know the verse so that would be a terrible idea, and his answer was “don’t worry, you’ll hear it”

What followed felt like the longest 2-3 hours of my life while I was completely clueless and trying to harmonize what he was playing in front of a hall full of people. Of course, In reality, It was probably less than a minute. There are times where you can get away with winging something like this, but with this melody, that is practically impossible. You can really hear the changes and modulations from just hearing that melody. Needless to say, I felt extremely bad messing this up in a band with people I did not know.

But, sometimes you don’t have a chance and not even the greatest ear would be able to tell what is going on. I took comfort in a story pianist Jim McNeely told us when he was a guest conductor in the conservatory big band. He was touring with Sonny Stitt and they had agreed that Stitt could not just begin songs without asking the band if they knew it, for obvious reasons. But one night Stitt just started a song, and McNeely didn’t know it, so he looked at the bass player, who also didn’t know it. And after playing for a while the only thing he knew was that the first chord was Eb and the last chord was Eb. This happens to everybody, and you can’t do everything by ear.

Sometimes I hear students saying:

“I want to practice ear training so that I can instantly hear all songs”.

I guess this seems easier, you just do ear training and play everything by ear.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here, you should train your ears as much as possible, but that comment is really just coming from ignorance or at least inexperience, because what is one of the best ways to train your ears? Learn a lot of songs by ear, and use the songs you know to teach you the songs you are learning, by ear. So really, combing this with theory is only going to help you even more. If you know that the song is in C major then you can probably hear that the chord before that C major is a G7. It helps to have an idea about what you might expect and also whether it sounds like what you expect.

And what will you do if you have to play a song that you don’t know and you have to play the chords? Imagine that with One Note Samba. If you don’t know it then the first 8 bars could be all tonic or a ton of other things.

Of course, sometimes you will have to do some songs by ear that you don’t know, not in the horror scenario that I described and it is useful to be able to do that, but it isn’t something you need to do very often, and your solos are a lot better if you already know that song, so that option is just always what you want to go for.

Theory Well Ruin Your Creativity

“Wes Montgomery didn’t know theory so why should I”

It is probably true that a lot of, especially early great artists, didn’t know a lot of theory, but that doesn’t mean that the best and most efficient way to learn to play Jazz is to not understand what is going on. In fact, a lot of things get a lot easier if you know a little theory.

Let me give you an example:

If you transcribe a great lick like this

Example 1a then that works great on a tonic chord, but if you can see the blocks that it contains then you can also make a G7 version of it

and you can even make a version with a dominant triad for a Gm7 like this:

I am sure you can see how that is useful, and this is just a single example of using very basic theory. The theory will help you learn and understand a lot of things a lot faster, and while it does not help you with everything then there is no real reason to avoid it.

I Want To REALLY Improvise, Not Play Licks Or Arpeggios

“I Want To REALLY Improvise, Not Play Licks Or Arpeggios Like Everybody Else!”

I come across comments like this at least once every week. Usually, the thought behind it is that You don’t want to sound like other people, so you won’t play or practice things that they play.

I sort of get the idea, but a few things to keep in mind here. First, how restricted are you by studying arpeggios?

You can get a D7 arpeggio to sound like this: Mozart Eine Kleine Nacht Musik

and you can also get it to sound like this:

So learning a D7 arpeggio is not really going to limit your style or how much you sound like you.

And secondly, the same goes for studying solos and licks, if you want to write a great book then it might be a good idea to read some books to figure out how. Just learning the alphabet is not going to cut it.

You Need To Know All Scales And Arpeggios To Play Jazz

“I Am Going To Spend Two Years Learning All The Scales And All The Arpeggios And THEN I Am Going To Learn To Play Jazz”

This is another comment that I see quite often, some even go even further and say that you first need to learn music theory and voice-leading before you even try to play Jazz.

Again there is nothing wrong with learning scales, arpeggios, harmony, and theory. It is useful for playing Jazz, but it is not where it starts, they are just skills and not really the music.

When I sat down to learn solos by ear or struggled for weeks to learn the first few standards then I was not first learning to play all diatonic arpeggios of melodic minor in all keys. That came a lot later. And the same goes for all the students I have ever taught, there is no reason to first spend years learning abstract exercises before you start playing music. It is like suggesting that you need a PH.D in grammar before you try to write a story.

I Just Need To Play What I Hear

“If I Just Learn To Play What I Hear, Then I Can Play Great Solos And I Don’t Need To Practice Licks Or Check Out Solos”

While you do want to learn to hear Jazz melodies that you can play, and you want to work on having a connection from your ear to your instrument, then don’t think that this skill is a shortcut that means that you don’t need to learn to actually hear those melodies. That is a part of it as well and it takes some work to get them in there. Usually, statements like this are because you probably don’t know what it means to hear something and then play it.

Hal Galper talks about it in one of his masterclasses:

And you need to teach yourself to hear the things you play.

Get the PDF and GuitarPro on Patreon:

You can get the PDF and GuitarPro files on Patreon here:    

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