Tag Archives: jazz guitar chords

Jazz Chord Secrets Every Jazz Beginner Should Learn

You know how this feels: You are playing a song and then the chords look like completely insane (Db7(b9,b13,no5)

and your brain is thinking (picture of hand knot on the fretboard), and that is just one chord, because they keep on coming all the time. But we can’t all be like BB King and just hire somebody to play chords while we say “I am horrible With Chords” And the main reason for that is that you will have a lot of fun playing chords and you can make great music with them, you just need to know how!

In this video, I am going over the 3 I’s as a way of dealing with chords and making it easier to deal with chord progressions,

 

hearing, understanding, and turning them into music. It should not be complicated to play music, so first you want to make the whole thing a bit simpler.

#1 Ignore

When you look at a chord like C7(#11,b9) then that is a lot of information, and you don’t want to spend too much energy on it while playing. Figuring out what those notes are, or trying to remember a grip that works like this C7(#11,b9) but is far away from the Gm7 I was playing or doesn’t really fit with where the music is or where it is going is not going to be useful. But you can actually also just ignore all of that and just play a C7, especially if you are a beginner, that is probably the best way to go, but you do need to play the right type of simple C7, as I will show you, and later in the video I’ll show you how to be much more strategic and flexible with the chords, and not a slave to some numbers and letters, because numbers and letters are not music.

This is about not getting stuck with thinking about each chord so to begin with then a m7 chord will work if it is just a m7 chord and a dominant works if you play it without extensions as well.

Start by just playing the simple harmony.

As Joe Pass says:

“you must think of the chords in their simplest form….”

In the beginning, if you just ignore all the extensions and alterations you can easily play the chords as shell voicings, and as you probably know, a shell voicing is a voicing consisting of root, 3rd and 7th,

so it doesn’t clash with any b9s, #11 or b13s that might also be in the music. For a II V I then you could have these chords:

But you can also reduce those to something like this:

Or the other position:

And using shell voicings you can clearly spell out the harmony:

And there is still a lot of room for adding rhythm to the music:

With chords like that, you can pretty much play any progression and get it to sound tight, you can be rhythmical and you hear how the chords move, so you still get the essential flow of the harmony. It is important that you remember that, in Jazz, the chords are not isolated islands. They are a part of a progression and you want to think of them as words, not get stuck spelling the letters, which is exactly where you get stuck if you think too much about the extensions of one chord and not on how the chords flow together.

Which is the next thing to learn.

#2 Interpret

When you read the chord and start to analyze the extensions and alterations, then you are thinking about something that isn’t music, it is numbers and letters, and in the moment it is not helping you play any better. I came across this interview with Joe Diorio where he talks about asking Wes about this, and Wes’ answer is so spot on:

“What do you think when you see Dm7 G7 Cmaj7? – It is a Sound!”

But how do you turn chords into sounds and what does that have to do with reading chord symbols? For most people, the easiest way to do that is by connecting chords to songs, so learning how they sound in one song and then using that to hear the chords in the next song,and you do that not by thinking of a single chord but by learning to recognize the building blocks that make up the song.

That’s also why there are 2 billion lessons on II V I tricks, it is the most common building block for Jazz songs, but far from the only one, and whenever you learn a song, it pays off to think about the building blocks in there!

Let me show you how this helps you deal with complicated chord symbols in a more musical way. Because, if you ignore the extensions and then look at what the chord is a part of, then you can treat it as a piece of music and use the vocabulary you already have.

Let’s say that the music you are reading says D7(b9b13)

If you only look at the chord then that is all the information you have, but if you ignore the extensions and zoom out a bit and see that it is part of a minor II V I: Aø D7 Gm6

then you have a way of playing it where you are worrying about playing a specific chord, but you are working on playing a passage in the music that has melody and rhythm, not numbers and symbols,

and that context will also tell you what extensions and alterations might be a part of the sound because instead of trying to calculate what the b13 of D is and how to play that, then you are playing a D7 resolving to Gm. Adding that context to a chord is much closer to a sound and also easier to hear.

The important thing here is that you start to look at songs as having chunks that are smaller chord progressions and recognize how they are similar and when something sounds similar,

it does take time to build a vocabulary of chord progressions and get them into your ear, but it is worth it! Then you know what you can do with the chord, what notes you can add, and which melodies might work. You need that because Jazz is about improvising, also when it comes to chords.

#3 Improvise

One of the great things about playing Jazz is that soloing and playing chords is really pretty much the same thing, you are taking the chords and improvising to turn them into music, but in one case you create a melody and in the other, you are creating a background for somebody else’s melody. So the point of playing chords is mostly to improvise and to connect the chords with voice-leading, rhythm, and melody. But one of the problems here is that a chord symbol is a static thing, and not really something you can improvise with., so instead of thinking of D7(b9b13) then thinking of it as D7 resolving to Gm is going to give you a lot more options that you can make melodies with and turn progression into a piece of music, and check out how this example uses a b13 but it isn’t there all the time

So you want to learn to see a chord symbol not as a single grip or a few grips, but instead, you zoom out a bit and see it as a lot of options that you can put together as a piece of music, and depending on the context, then if it says D7(b9) you don’t have to play the b9, and you can often add a b13 that will sound great because those two notes are both a part of the sound of that chord, whether they are written in the chord symbol or not.

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How To Make Jazz Chords Sound Amazing – 7 Recipes 😎

Jazz Chords Are Like Cake!

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

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

So the starting point is this progression:

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

#1 Borrowing From Minor and Not Always A Maj7

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

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

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

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

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

 

#2 Don’t Always Play A Dominant

 

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

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

#3 Dark And Light – Night And Day

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

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

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

And it it sounds great:

#4 Bright, Brighter And Brightest!

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

then moving to the Neapolitan subdominant Dbmaj7

before resolving to a beautiful Cmaj7 variation.

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

Here’s the entire progression:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#6 Maj7 chords pretending to be a II V

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

and bII maj7 chords.

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

#7 Altered Dominant Maj7

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

and then going up to this Bmaj7(b5)

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

Improvising With Chords And Harmony

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

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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The Most Important Thing To Learn From Wes Montgomery

Wes is Amazing!

Pretty much every Wes Montgomery solo is a lesson in phrasing, and they are all small works of art that contain lots of fantastic and creative ideas. But how does it work?

When you are improvising and finding your way through the changes using scales and arpeggios then you probably don’t manage that, and that could be because you are not focusing on the right things.

Let’s take a look at some Wes solos and see if you can figure out what to practice to develop that aspect in your playing. The essence of it is surprisingly simple.

I’ll focus mostly on examples from fairly simple songs which you might already play, so that should make it easier for you to take these concepts and apply them to your own playing as well, but the first one is a really fast song with not very many chords.

Never Overplaying!

Notice how this is not a lot of long 8th note lines but instead short phrases and often with a lot of repetition:

Here’s the first A section

So there are a few 8th note lines but it is much more sparse a lot more  space, he is really digging into that tritone interval to get the m7(13) sound out there.

Then he starts very simple and turns that into a repeated phrase:

So short phrases, in fact just a single note, that he repeats and develops. You should notice how he is pretty free and even if the phrases are not incredibly complicated then they are not placed very predictably in the form which makes them more interesting.

For a listener that is not a giant Jazz nerd, then that is much easier to relate to as a listener since it is not so dense and not an information overload. In this case, Wes sticks to this approach throughout the solo. If you compare this to how Pat Martino plays the song then that is of course a pretty massive contrast, and Pat’s approach to improvisation is very different from Wes even if he certainly also checked out a lot of Wes’s stuff

And before the comment section explodes, don’t get me wrong, Pat Martino’s take on impressions is amazing and I really like it, but it is a very different take on it. The thing you want to keep in mind is that while you are learning to make your way through a chord progression and play lines that flow through the harmony in a natural way, then you also want to work on playing simpler,  melodic things as well so that you have more options.

#1 Making It Music

Listen to yourself

Often when you are new to learning Jazz then what you are playing becomes a never-ending stream of notes, but that is not really a melody. If you start working on making shorter statements and leave more space between them then you have time to listen to what you just played and then use that to decide what the next phrase should sound like.

This is in many ways the first step in learning to play what you hear because you give yourself room to actively listen for what you should play.

Give Your Solo An Arc

Being able to play shorter phrases also gives you a larger dynamic range since not playing in a solo often creates tension. Wes uses this incredibly well at the beginning of his solo on “No Blues” just starting with fairly basic Blues phrases with lots of space in between.

Example 2 – No Blues – Chorus 1 – first 8-9 bars

Focus On Rhythm

Another thing that is easier when you are working with shorter phrases is creating variation in the rhythm, something that Wes very clearly uses to great effect. Check out how takes this straightforward triad phrase:

and moves it around the bar in the solo on Missile Blues, which is a Blues in G, almost a Parker Blues.

He is first moving it around the bar and then starts to develop it further to continue in the progression. It is incredibly creative!

So a lot of this is not only about playing short phrases but also connecting and developing them so that they make sense and create a story for the listener. There are two ways to work on this that Wes employs in pretty much all of his solos. These two core techniques for creating melodies are probably in all great solos, but Wes is really good at using them!

#2 Call-Response

Usually, we Call-response in music is a way to describe how two parts of an ensemble communicate, so for example how Muddy Waters has a conversation with the band answering each of his phrases:

But you can also use this way of thinking to connect phrases in a solo, often connected to some motivic development which I will also give you examples of later. Wes uses this very often. In this example, it serves as a way to deal with the repeating harmony in Satin Doll and lets him develop the phrases from bar to bar:

Here you can hear a clear call at the beginning, and then he turns around the melody to make that sound more like an answer then moves up the original phrase and plays a variation on that followed by a different answer.

Another way that Wes uses Call-Response in his phrases is to use either octaves or chords to have two layers. You can hear an example of this in The No Blues Solo where he uses different short blues phrases and then makes them call response with a single octave hit. Simple but effective!

This approach could be a good way to start because either on a Blues like this or with another song where you can easily add an octave hit every 2 or 4 bars. You can find quite a few examples of Wes doing this, in a recent video I covered one from The version of Four On Six off the incredible jazz guitar album (album cover maybe sheet music)

#3 Motivic Development

Call response is one of the major ways to connect phrases, but another equally important technique to develop, one that also depends on you being able to play solid short phrases or statements is Motivic Development, something that is often associated with classical and film music like Leit motifs

But it is a major part of how Wes works with melodies as well, even if he actually goes about it in a different way very often.

What makes Wes different

The first part of Motivic development is having a motif. And you have already heard a few examples of how Wes repeats phrases as he did in Impressions,  and here is another great example from Satin Doll:

What is different here is that Wes does have a motif, but he is actually not really using motivic development, and just repeating the melody, only changing it he needs to fit it to the chords.

This is probably better described as a riff than as motivic development. I suspect that he got this from listening to swing music which is more common. In later styles, like Bebop there is a lot less repetition and the focus in the music is on another type of energy. But he doesn’t keep it as a riff, and instead uses those first repetitions to set up our expectations Then he develops the motif before playing another phrase as an end to this chapter of the solo. Check it out!

This way of connecting phrases across complete sections of the song is a really strong way to have more of a story happening in the solo

and is also often everything that is missing for beginner players when they have just reached the skills needed to play a solo over chord changes without getting lost or playing a lot of wrong notes. It is important that you don’t get stuck zooming in on what happens on each chord and instead also hear what the entire solo sounds like.

The Exercises That You Need For This

If you want to develop this aspect of your playing then there are exercises that you can start working on and ways to think about the music that will help you develop that skill. But the first thing that you want to do is of course to start recognizing it in the music. It is ear-training just like learning licks by ear, you are just listening for a different structure. The other exercises that will help you get more flexible with both motivic development and call-response are more improvisation based and if you want to get started with that then check out this video that covers some thoughts on how you can start working with shorter phrases in a creative way. Just like Wes!

Why They Sound Better Than You Every Time!

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

The way you think about Jazz chords is most likely wrong, and that is because you have been taught to think about chords in the wrong way from probably the first guitar lesson you ever had.

When it comes to playing Jazz then you should take the advice of Joe Pass:

“You must think about the chords in the most simple possible form”   

As you will see, that way you will avoid a lot of problems. This is probably connected to what made you interested in Jazz chords  in the first place:

When I first started to learn about Jazz chords then I heard all these incredibly beautiful sustained chords with a lot of colors, and I loved how they sounded.

And that is how most of us start out thinking about chords: as separate grips and each with its own name that tells you exactly what extensions and alterations are used.

The problem with that is that it is impossible to remember all those different chords, and when you are playing Jazz then it is as important that you can get from one chord to the next, which doesn’t get easier if you have to fit together thousands of different chords

Instead,  you should work on a way to think of groups of chords, Which will make it easier to play music because:

#1 It’s Visual And Easy To Remember

#2 You can improvise and Connect Chords

#3 Makes it Simple To Add Chromatic Chords

And as you will see later in the video, it is also a direct and incredibly effective shortcut to playing Chord Solos, something that is quantum physics if you have to think about each chord separately! In fact, I will clear up 3 misunderstandings about Jazz chords along the way because there is a lot of bad information out there.

Making Jazz Chords Simple!

But we are not going to start with the chord solos and chromatic passing chords. Let’s start with this C7(13). It is a fairly common voicing, but what can you do with it?

First, you want to boil it down to a simple more flexible form, similar to what Joe Pass said, because that is something you can improvise with. Instead of using this 4-note chord voicing then maybe look at what is the core of it: The 3rd and 7th, which in this case are on the middle strings, are what you want to focus on.

These are the important notes that get the sound of the chord across. The fact that it is a C7 is more important than the 13th, that note is just an extension and one of many options. The bass-note you can leave to the bass player, that way you don’t get in the way of him or her and you have one more finger to do something interesting with the chord.

When it comes to remembering chords then we get very used to navigating chords using the 5th and 6th strings as reference points because that is where we play the root.  Now, what you want to make a habit, is to be able to play the chord and see it on the neck as a C7 with that root, but you are not playing it.

So if you played a II V I in F major then you think or visualize the root but just play the top part

As you can hear from the II V I example then you can reduce all chords like this, and for now, then you can keep the 3rd and 7th on the middle string set, because then you have room above for melody and extensions and below for bass notes, depending on what you need to play.

Now that you are getting rid of one Jazz chord misunderstanding and have a way to think about simple chords then you might as well kill another one and then we can get into a hack for chromatic passing chords so that they are incredibly simple! (voiceover?)

Adding Melody Not Extensions

In Music, and certainly, in Jazz, context is everything! And the idea that chords are these isolated and static things and not really a part of a piece of music is completely misguided, that is in fact the 2nd misunderstanding I want to clear up. Most of the time, Jazz is all about connecting those chords and making the transition beautiful and creative.

Instead of thinking of chords like that then you want to think of a chord as something much more flexible, almost like a scale where you play the sound of the chord but you can add notes if you want to and you should also think about it as something that has movement built into it, a Chord is not just a chord it is in a context.. Peter Bernstein says it nicely here:

 

The most important part of that movement is melody, but

adding the melody is not that difficult now that you already reduced the chord to two notes.

I’ll first show how to find notes that work and then talk a bit about how to create melodies.

It is a little bit like taking the chord

and the scale that goes with it, and then seeing what notes are available on the top strings that also fit with the sound of the chord.v

In this case, with the C7 you get all of these options:

And you can see a C7 not as a C7(13) or a C7(9) but as a place where you can play a melody using these notes, and notice how I just call all of them C7

Now, my point with writing C7 doesn’t mean that you should not know what the extensions are, it is just to make it clear that when you see C7 like this then you can use a C7(13) or a C7(9). It’s a little bit like most languages have words that contain letters that we don’t pronounce anymore but we do know how to spell it and use all the letters in writing.

You can do the same thing for Gm7 and Fmaj7 and add notes over the 3rd and 7th of those. Notice that I am leaving out the Bb over Fmaj7 because that doesn’t really work in that chord, but you probably already know that.

Making Chords Into Music

Now you can start working on making melodies. This example is possibly a bit busy, but it is also a bit to show you what is possible:

You can go over a progression like this one or a song and then explore how you can improvise melodies.

For now, this is for comping behind a soloist so make sure to:

#1 Play mostly stepwise melodies

#2 Don’t play too many notes and chords

#3 Make sure to once in a while clearly lay down a long chord on a heavy beat.

Misunderstanding #3: Never Play Chords On The Downbeat

The last one is the 3rd misunderstanding, and it is something that I sometimes see in comments online: “You should never play chords on the downbeat”

Which is of course pretty insane and not what you hear on any recording of any Jazz musician, you of course want to learn to play off beats but you are supporting the music and the soloist and that means that you once in a while need to lay down the groove with clarity and give the soloist something to work with. There is really no reason to be afraid of playing a clear chord on the one or on the three so that you are really connecting to the song. Your off-beats only make sense when they are in balance with your downbeats, it is like trying to cook but only use pepper and no salt.

Let’s move on to a visual hack for chromatic passing chords and get into some chord soloing!

Chromatic Chords – Melodic And Visual

With this approach then you can see how the chords are turned into a core set of notes and then a lot of notes that you are free to improvise with, and what you play is more about hearing a melody than thinking a lot of complicated chord formulas.

But Jazz melodies have chromatic notes as well,  and you can incorporate that very easily into your comping like this:

The simple way to look at chromatic passing notes in Jazz lines is that they are there as an outside tension that is resolved by moving up or down a half-step. Like this Ab between A and G:

If you have this melody over a C7 then the first chord is clearly a C7(13), and the last one will be a C7, and you can use the last one as a way to come up with a chord for the Ab because you just play the same chord and move the entire thing down a half step:

And in the same way, you could get another passing chord moving up from C to D with a C# leading note, here you have a B7 moving up to C7:

This is both easy to figure out and easy to play, since you just think of the resolution and use that, there is no need to think about the passing chord.

And that means that you can play something like this:

It Is Already A Chord Solo!

And improvising while you are comping in fact means that you are learning to play chord solos. You are already working on making phrases and melodies with the material so you just need to start using it as a solo and not as a way of comping.

Let’s say that instead of the II V I in F then it is a Blues in C. For the first 4 bars, you only need an F7 to play a solo statement, so  with a basic F7 like this

then you reduce it to these two notes

and a practical set of notes could be:

And with that, you can play something like this, and notice how I am repeating riffs on the C7 and also using call-response to tie together the melodies:

This very practical way of approaching Chord Solos is something you will also find great examples of in the playing of Joe Pass. If you check out this video you can see my breakdown of chord solo phrases and some amazing Jazz Blues from a true master!

This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

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How Joe Pass Makes Jazz Chords Simple & Easy

Joe Pass: “First of all, I’ll tell you, If I have a II V, Forget the II.”

So this isn’t exactly how I think chord progressions but I sort of agree with him, and as you will see, the way he breaks down a Jazz standard really is practical and makes it a lot easier to learn the song. I am sure you recognize how difficult it is when you are looking at a song and get completely lost in all the different chords and extensions and alterations which maybe isn’t really how you should think about it anyway.

As you probably already know then Joe Pass is one of my favorite Jazz guitarists. He was a walking library of Jazz standards, he knew all the songs, and I have been told that most of the virtuoso sessions were just the producer, Noman Granz, asking Joe Pass to play a song and then they just recorded that with no rehearsal, which is pretty mind-blowing. That is also why I thought it was exciting to come across this video where he describes how he thinks about chord progressions in songs.

II V is just V

Let’s first look at this II V thing in isolation and then branch out to how this all fits together in songs and how it works with some other chords.

The basic concept is if you have a II V then you can just use the V chord. Joe Pass explains it like this:

“Why are you playing the II what is it? like”

“If you play the V, that got the II!”

“here’s a scale for the V, It’s a G7”


“here’s a scale for the II
it’s the same scale different notes”

The idea of ignoring the II chord and just seeing the whole thing as a V chord is certainly not unique to Joe Pass, I would mostly associate it with how Barry Harris teaches and it is a part of Bebop since it is also fairly easy to spot in Charlie Parker solos. here’s an example from Blues For Alice where he is playing the C# on beat 1 of the Em7 A7 bar, which means that he is not thinking Em7 there at all, just A7.

Pros and Cons of Reducing Chord Progressions

There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to this approach.  The obvious advantage is that there are less chords, for example if you look at Confirmation:

where there are suddenly a lot less chords to remember.

Becomes:

Another advantage with reducing II V’s is that the strongest movement in a II V I is the resolution from V to I, and that is still there, so you keep the essence of what is going on, which means that the reduced progression will often still make sense as a chord progression.

Joe Pass demonstrates that they are the same by pointing out that the notes in the scales are the same,  one explanation that I got from a teacher a long time ago was that the II chord is really just a suspension of the V chord, so Dm7 is just a G7sus4 that got out of hand and turned into a m7 chord.

Bebop: More Chords! (but also less chords)

Ironically, Bebop is probably the period in Jazz where it became normal to turn V chords and (a lot of other chords) into II V progressions when harmonizing standards, but that probably also has to do with how Bebop is very much about moving harmony, and if you have a II V I then there is more movement than just the V I.

At the same, they probably thought about a lot of those “extra chords” as embellishments and extra sounds and not than really a description of the actual harmony of the song. An good example of this could be the first two bars of  “Have You Met Miss Jones”:

Fmaj7 Bb7 Am7 D7 Gm7 – Fmaj7 F#dim Gm7

Where the 1st example has a nice flow and a lot of movement and the 2nd one is what is really happening in the harmony of the song, so to speak.

Here you might often solo on the 2nd progression while the comping plays the first.

But you are free to do what ever you want, and it is also nice to sometimes just nail all those changes, even if the comping doesn’t.

Shoot a version without “even if the comping doesn’t”?

Joe Pass: Just 3 Chords!

Joe Pass reduces the progression to essentially 3 chord types:

“I mean a major minor or dominant you must
look at chord changes
really in the simplest form way you can”

And that works really well for reducing the amount of chords in a progression and often will also make it easier to understand how the harmony is flowing, but not always, and maybe tying your understanding to specific chords is not explaining how to improvise or even comp over the song. Making things very simple also sometimes means leaving out useful information, and while your ears and the melody of the song often will help with that,  it can get a bit confusing. And while you think of the simple chords then you still play all the chords when you are comping, so you do need to know what they are.

But it does really resonate with me that you want to keep the chords simple, also in terms of extensions and interpretations of them, which is also why I very often don’t write extensions on the chords at all even though I might be playing that in chord voicing. There is a lot of freedom in how you interpret a chord, and it doesn’t make sense to force a certain sound on it. Instead you want to understand the chord in the context of the song (and the context or band you are playing in) and use that to decide what colors should be added. Extensions can become a distraction from what is actually happening in the song.

Stella is a good example here, and Joe Pass actually reduces this in that video, where the way he interprets the last way back to Bb is what really resonated with me. Here are the most common set of changes:

“You know like if I play Stella By Starlight in the key of Bb the first chord is A7
the second chord is F7
the third chord is B flat seventh
next chord is Eb next chord is Eb minor, Bb”

I’ll get to how Ab7 is Ebm in a bit, but let’s first look at the different dominants.

F7 is clearly the dominant in the key, which is Bb major, and you just hear that sound with a 9th and 13th in the song, even if the original arrangement has a b13 if I remember correctly.

This makes a ton of sense and reducing Cm7 F7 to F7 also works really well, but if you look at the A7 at the beginning of the song then that is not A7 as you would find it in D major. There are a few things that give that away: The II chord in this case is an Eø, and there is a Bb in the melody over the A7. So that chord is more like an A7 in Dm with a b9 and a b13. You should probably not treat the F7 and the A7 the same if you start soloing, and you in general you will quickly come across different types of dominant chords that you want to be able to handle.

In fact, the A7 or Eø A7 is a reharmonization and the chord is originally a diminished chord, what I usually describe as a #IV diminished,

but as you may or may not know I tend to reduce chord progressions to functions rather than chords because that also tells me how I have to play the chords or solo over the progression, the one thing that is clearly not included when you just throw away the II chord.

Barry Harris Approach

WIth that type of dominant sound, Barry Harris has another explanation with the exercise that tells you to play down the “C7 scale to the 3rd of A”

Essentially that scale is D harmonic minor which is the scale that gives you an A7 with a b9 and a b13.

It is a very neat way to introduce the sound of the progression and also get the right extensions in there without having to start talking about harmonic minor and making things complicated.

I guess the downside to thinking in functions is that you need to add other names or another level to how you think about the chord progression and that may be difficult to learn compared to just throwing away a chord. Joe Pass clearly came at this in a very practical way where I also learned from theory lessons when I was studying.

Reviewing Other Peoples Teaching

Just a side-note on this video, I actually get quite a lot of requests to talk about other peoples teaching,  and usually I say no to making a video explaining a video that Rick Beato,  or somebody else made, simply because it seems a bit weird to explain other peoples teaching. In this case, I decided to still do a video because I think it is really interesting to hear how Joe Pass thinks about chords and you can actually find a lot in this 1 to 2-minute segment of a very long video.

IVm and Backdoor Dominants

The other thing that really resonated with me , and actually is the reason I decided to make this video, is how Joe Pass described this section:

“3rd chord is Bb7 next chord
is Eb next chord is Eb minor Bb”

So he clearly hears the Ab7 as a minor subdominant since that dominant is then turned into a IV minor chord, rather than keeping it as a dominant, which to me also suggests that his ears probably think in functions as well.

A lot of the most beautiful harmony in Jazz standards is about minor subdominant chords in major. That small group of chords can do magical things, and it is very useful to realize that they belong together and that you can often mess around with changing one out for the other.

In this case, the song is in Bb major, so the IV chord is Eb and the IVm chord will be Ebm, as Joe plays in the video.

The different chords you then have available as common minor subdominant options would be:

Ebm6, EbmMaj7, Ebm7, Ab7, Gbmaj7, Bmaj7 and Cø.

The important notes for the sound are probably that the chord contains the Gb which is the minor 3rd of Ebm and that it does not contain an A, because that would make it a dominant chord.

Learning some Cole Porter songs will help you get acquainted with most of them, he also uses them really a lot.

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The Mistake Everyone Makes Learning Jazz Guitar

A problem that comes up all the time with my students and Patreon supporters, and certainly also something remember from learning myself is that after a LOT of practice then you find yourself at a point where you know the scales and arpeggios, and you understand how that fits with the progression, but your solos still sound horrible!

But if focusing on playing the right notes is a mistake, then how do you fix this?

Clearly, something is missing,  and you don’t want to only focus on the dry theory stuff, so in this video you can take a closer look at what great players like Barry Harris and Charlie Parker are doing, because then you can get started working on making it sound right, because some it is not about the notes.

#1 Bebop Energy

Good Jazz lines have a certain energy, this really comes from Bebop where there is a LOT of forward motion

Take a lick like this Barry Harris Line from his solo on  “I’ll Remember April”:

It is pretty easy to hear that he is really playing from one chord to the next and has lines that move to a target note in the next chord.

In this case, I took an example where the targets are placed conveniently clear on the heavy beats of the bar. But you can open that up later.

This is from Live in Tokyo album which is really worth checking out. His playing is fantastic on this.

What you want to avoid is that your melodies have a lot of notes but are not going anywhere.

This is not a fantastic bebop line:

It doesn’t work because there is no direction, it is just moving back and forth and not really locking in with the flow of the chords.

You want to be able to make lines that move forward. You want to feel that the melody is going to hit the target note on the next chord.  Your solo lines should feel like they are saying: “we’re on a mission from god” (Blues Brothers)

What do you need: If we take Barry’s II V I lick as an example then you can see that he is hitting chord tones on the heavy beat, and that is an easy way to get started.  (Bring up his example with high lights)

The other thing that you need to get used to is knowing where the melody is ending and play towards that note.

Let’s say that you have a quick II V in C major and these target notes:

Now you want to make lines that go towards that note.

Dm7 to G7: You can run down the scale, super easy, barely an inconvenience!

To change things up a bit on the G7, we have 3 notes to get to  Cmaj7 and you can do that by playing a Dm triad that naturally resolves down to the G on Cmaj7.

Then you have:

If you start practicing making lines that do this, then you will start to get more of that Bebop energy or momentum into your solos. Think of where you want to go, and play a line that gets you there.

#2 Notes With More Bebop Energy

The first thing to work on is  something that I sort of skipped over the Barry Harris example. Notice how he uses chromatic notes to get more tension and in that way pull the melody forward. (Example with highlights?)

This can really help with the energy, and is a key part of the sound, I’ll show you more concepts like this later in the video.

Again it is something you probably want to mostly think of as moving to a specific note, and usually, that will also be a note in the chord at that point.

Check out how this Charlie Parker Lick from his solo on Cherokee is really pushing through to the resolution and has some great chromatic phrases as well:

It mostly makes sense to split these in two types: Single approach notes like these

The other type is a longer chromatic melody usually approaching the target note from above and below, which are called chromatic enclosures.

Adding this to your playing is really about learning to add chromatic notes and learning some chromatic enclosures that you then start to add to your lines, and the target notes for the chromatic phrases are often the chord tones that you would use as target notes in the line anyway.

An example of how you can do this with an enclosure on the Dm7 and two passing notes on the G7 sounds like this:

How Do You Practice Making Better Lines?

As you can tell by now, then I am showing you the concepts that are being used by Parker and Barry Harris. But how do you get those into your playing? If you want to play better lines or if you want to add a specific type of phrase into your playing, then you should work on writing lines.

This is not something that I made up, if you study Parker’s solos then he clearly has phrases that he uses a lot, and the Barry Harris masterclasses are really mostly about him showing the students how he composes solo phrases while breaking down the concepts he uses.

How it sounds

How you want it to sound

What is playable

And that is what you should do. If you want to become better at using F major triads over a Dm7 chord then write 50 II V I licks in C major that uses that triad. Then you cover the 3 most important parts of getting that into your playing: how it sounds and getting it into your ears, how you want it to sound, and what is playable. That way you can get it into your playing. You don’t need to always write it down, but it can be a good idea, especially if you want to figure out why something sounds good, or maybe if it sounds bad. I’ll show you how I do this later in the video.

#3 Arpeggio Motion

Now you have a better idea about how to create lines that move forward, but there are other ways to make your solo lines more alive, and they are actually easy to start using.

One way is to play arpeggios as triplets to add short rapid phrases to lines that are for the rest mostly 8th notes, this is really just about changing up the flow and create variation

Check out this Joe Pass line that does that in two ways:

Joe Pass is playing the arpeggios as 8th-note triplets, and here you have a Bbmaj7 arpeggio with a leading note, which leads nicely into an enclosure,

and later also an Am7 arpeggio that he plays as a triplet and use to target the note F.

 

Both techniques are very common ways to use triplets and can be applied to all chords. They are a great way to change up the flow and get to a target note. You also see Barry Harris using this in the example on the Gmaj7 chord, both using Bm7 and Gmaj7 arpeggios.

Practice playing your scales in diatonic arpeggios using these two recipes and then start using that in your solos.

But there is also another great device in this example that can help you break up the 8th note flow, especially if you have too many scale runs in your solos.

#4 Trills

If you listen to the first part of the line then in the 2nd bar, Joe Pass plays a trill

which breaks up what is going on and stops it from just being a scale run, without it then you have this:

Joe Pass love using these, also often several after each, these are the kind of thing that you want to add to solos in the places where they are easy to play, simply because they are pretty fast and usually sounds the best if you can execute them with legato technique.

Barry uses them as well:

Here you have the trill leading into the root of F7, and this example illustrates another really powerful technique that I will get to in a bit as well, and I can use that to show how I compose lines to get something into my playing.

#5 Twist and Shout!

What I am talking about here is the first arpeggio in the line which is a pivot arpeggio, something that can really solve a lot of problems if your solo lines are very predictable and tend to just run up and down scales and arpeggios.

In this case it is an Ebmaj7 arpeggio over a Cm7 chord, so using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord.

The pivot arpeggio is constructed by taking an arpeggio:

You play the root and then move down the rest of the arpeggio an octave to get this much more interesting melody with a large interval skip: 

And don’t underestimate how powerful it is to have a way to make large intervals melodic, because they can sound really unnatural in a line.

How You Improve Your Vocabulary

When you want to get better at using something like a pivot arpeggio then try to keep it simple when you are composing lines.

One Phrase (or arpeggio in this case)

One Chord to apply it to

One  Way of playing it

You can so easily get lost in possible options, and it is not going to be nearly as useful if you do so.

If I use the Ebmaj7 pivot arpeggio and try to make a line that takes me from Cm7 to F7.

Try to get to A, as a target note on F7:

You could also target the high A by combining it with a Cm7 arpeggio

Maybe adding a trill to get to the F7

Or a chromatic enclosure:

The point is to play the pivot arpeggio and then see how you can put it together with the other stuff you know and turn that into a phrase that you like, essentially that is what Barry was doing in his soloing masterclasses by constructing great solos on songs. From there you can gradually start using it when you solo.

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3 Ways To Fix Your Chord Progressions To Be More Interesting & Beautiful

I always loved that Jazz Harmony is full of amazing chord progressions that have a natural flow but still contain some surprising sounds that make them interesting to listen to.

But how do you write chord progressions like that? Because most likely you’ll see 100s of lessons on II V I’s and while that is an important progression, you also want to be able to play other things.

I  was always messing around with writing music and putting chords together also before I was playing Jazz, probably because I couldn’t really play a lot of stuff so I experimented and improvised together things.

The problem I kept having there was that I didn’t really know what chords would fit together, not beyond the  I IV and V chords in the key, and even that I didn’t really get, so it would be more about luck and a lot of messing around before I created chord progressions that I liked.

Most of that is about having a better foundation and it is pretty amazing how far that will take you in terms of finding a lot more chords, and a lot more interesting sounds, that work together.  I could probably also have used some sort of strategy to help me put stuff together, but I was just trying things out at random.

Let’s look at finding some interesting chords and then  talk about how to fit them together!

The Basic Chords

I am going to start with a few basic things and then expand that REALLY a lot.

The basic process works for ANY scale and knowing this is useful in so many ways!  If you start with the a major key, like C major then you have one chord for each note in the scale:

You build the chords by stacking 3rds so for C major

Adding an other 3rd gives you the triads:

 

and then add another note a 3rd above to get the 7th chords:

This is pretty basic and it is going to get a lot more colorful, but you can already do great things with this! If you have a basic progression going from Cmaj7

to G7 then you can use the other chords to walk there in steps down the scale:

Or you can walk up; Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7

Or if you are moving from Cmaj7 to Fmaj7 then maybe add an Em7 as a step up to the Fmaj7

 

Let’s use this to make it a bit more interesting!

#1 Beautiful Borrowed Chords

The upside to not knowing anything and improvising is that you have not idea what won’t fit and you probably don’t mind so everything is worth a try, the downside is that most of the chords don’t sound that great. The key of the music you creating or playing is a very powerful tool when it comes to creating chord progressions. In this case, the best place to start is to add the chords from the minor key, so C minor, then I can show you a secret subdominant trick and a fun way to create some wrong chords to make everything weird.

For C minor, you have these chords:

These are much more fun to add to our C major chord progression because they fit in there but they clearly also sound different.

Especially the chords you can use as minor subdominants in major are great, in this case: Dø, Fm7, Abmaj7, Bb7:

So if I am going from Cmaj7 to Fmaj7, I can add the Em7 to get to Fmaj7 and use the Abmaj7 to go back:

And this works with pretty much all the minor subdominants, for example  Bb7:

And I am using the minor subdominant chord as a surprising sound that isn’t really dissonant but still resolves back to the tonic chord.

But you can also use them to get to the dominant like this:

Making Chord Progressions

Now that you have a few more chords to use then we can talk a bit more about how to put chords together. And this is useful if you are making your own songs, but it is also important if you are making your own chord melody arrangements and want to add a more personal color to them, or make your own intros or outros.

There are 2 ways that you can put chords together easiily, but keep in mind that they are not rules, if you play something else and it sounds good then that is fine as well, in fact I will show you some examples of that as well later.

#1 Circle of 5ths

Chords like to move in 4ths and 5ths, take a song like Autumn Leaves.

Cm7 F7 Bbmaj7 Ebmaj7 Aø D7 Gm6, everything is moving in 5ths or 4ths depending on if you see it as moving up or down.

That is also how I started with the basic chords going from Cmaj7 to G7 or Cmaj7 to Fmaj7.

#2 Step-wise

The other approach is to move the chords in steps. You already saw examples of this, but here is another one which is really a stepwise variation of a II V I:

And the other option is to use stepwise motion as a sort of leading note. so just a single step before the next chord:

And like this you can create some great progressions putting chords together that will flow!

The next type of chord, before I start breaking the rules, is really a bit overlooked, which is useful because then we can sound different from everybody else.

#2 The Secret Subdominant

You already know about the diatonic chords, and some of the minor subdominants, but you also have the #IV subdominants, where the most common ones are the #IVdim and the #IVm7(b5)

And these are amazing ways to get some other sounds into the progression, just more variation together with the subdominant and minor subdominant chords.

The classic example is this one:

But can also work with it in a progression from Am7 to Cmaj7 like this

You can see that here I am turning the Em7 into an inversion to get step-wise movement, this is another thing you can also do to get your chord progression to flow better, explore making some of them inversions so the bass becomes stepwise movement.

The other one is a diminished chord that you probably know from a chord progression like this:

But it is also amazing as a suspension like this:

#3 Disguised Chords That Sound Amazing!

It can also be great to sometimes be less obvious. Check out this progression, and see if you can recognize the chords:

So it is starting on  Cmaj7 and ending there as well. The 2nd chord is a G triad with a B in the bass, so an inversion to make a stepwise bass melody, and the Am7 is also fairly easy to recognize.

The chord with Ab in the bass is a little less clear, but in fact that is an Fm6 with Ab in the bass, which makes a lot more sense than trying to call it an Ab6(b5) the fact that it is an Fm chord also makes it clear why it resolves so nicely to Cmaj7, and it is a beautful variation instead going to an Fm chord or using Abmaj7, because you sometimes want to search for a less common sound.

Working with stepwise movement and inversions is a very powerful tool that you also will come across in Jazz Standards, maybe check out the beginning of” Like Someone In Love” as an example.

But a much more exciting and less typical idea is to make the chord progression more vague by changing the bass note, so that you don’t have a too obvious connection, check out how this sounds:

What is happening here is that I am taking a G7alt (play) and then using a b9 so the Ab as a bass note which creates this Abm6. The voice-leading still makes sense but the bass movement isn’t as obvious, which might be exactly what you want.

You can make a turnaround much more interesting by turning a G7altered into an Fm7(b5) which will eliminate most of the 1 6 2 5 sound. But you do need to couple it with an Em7 to justify the bass being F:

The Best Strategy for Creating Chord Progressions

As you saw already from the beginning of this video then I tend to start with a few chords and then find a way from chord to chord adding more harmony. This is an incredibly strong principle, but you need to be able to reduce chord progressions to the basic chords to tap inot that freedom. Using functional harmony like that is an incredibly powerful tool, and you can check out how to use it and also some approaches from Barry Harrys and Pat Martino in this video:

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

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3 Goals That Block Your Progress Learning Jazz Guitar

Like me, you probably played guitar for some time before you became interested in learning Jazz. In a way that should make it easier to learn since you can already play and know a lot of things, but often that experience can also be what gets in the way of learning.

The advantage to learning Jazz when you are already used to learning guitar is that you can recognize a lot of the skills you need and come up with exercises to develop those skills, but that is actually also often where it starts to go wrong.

Consistent Practice = Massive Boost

One of the first times I encountered this was when I had just figured out how valuable it was to be consistent, and especially being consistent with practicing technique. This was before I decided to pursue guitar as a profession, and I was jamming with one of the bands I was in next to studying mathematics and computer science at the university.

Since I had just started practicing scales and arpeggios then the boost that gave my ability to improvise was pretty massive, but of course, going from zero to something is a huge difference.

Starting to be able to find notes on the neck and play the notes of the chord was giving me all these options and pretty much everything sounded new and exciting so this seemed like the way to go.

My goal in this was of course to get a better overview of the Fretboard so that I knew where to find arpeggios of the chords and how to play the scales I wanted to use.

There is nothing wrong with the goal in itself, you DO want to have an overview of all the arpeggios, scales, and so on but what often happens is that it starts to overshadow learning to play, and that gets very tricky very fast.

Myth #1 – Fretboard Overview

“I first want to learn all my scales and arpeggios in all keys and all over the neck, and THEN I want to start improvising”

Then you are probably setting yourself up to fail, simply because when it comes to learning Jazz, or any other kind of music, then knowing where the notes are doesn’t mean that you magically know how to play the right melodies, use the right phrasing or how to put those phrases together in a solo, if you think about it then it is sort of obvious. Joe Pass would not be great in Van Halen,

and Eddy Van Halen would not sound amazing doing chord melody.

The other skills required for that style of music have to be there as well, and they are much harder to learn because there are no scale exercises or arpeggios that will teach you that. That is about playing music, not exercises.

And this was also close to how I felt after a year of trying to play Jazz. I had practiced technique and was able to play a lot of it over most of the neck, but  I wasn’t really told to learn something that made what I played to sound like Jazz, there was no vocabulary it was more scales and arpeggios, but not with a way to get it to sound right, not how to play it. At this point, I had finished University and had decided that I needed to figure this Jazz thing out and maybe do that for a living. I wanted to be able to improvise in that style and play those types of melodies that I heard especially with Charlie Parker. I listened to other things like Scofield and Metheny as well, but I could tell that they were playing different things, and the Parker stuff was what really fascinated me.

The way I started to solve this was not the easiest way, and also not how I teach this, which I will get to. As I kept listening and trying to figure some Parker stuff out by ear while mostly failing pretty badly then I started to look for solos that were closer to Parker and easier to figure out. I ended up with some Ulf Wakenius solos and finally Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends which really helped a lot. I was also listening to Wes, but the stuff I had was more of the commercial stuff so it was mostly octaves and chords all the time. in the late 90s, you were stuck with CDs and no internet which, in hindsight, was a pretty limiting factor. Once I moved to Copenhagen then I also started to have lessons with teachers who gave me a lot of vocabulary to learn,  jazz licks and easy example solos to play so that I started to get the language into my ears and also into my fingers. THAT made a huge difference and really helped me sound a lot better.

What should you do instead

In my opinion, it makes a lot more sense to have a more balanced approach to your practice so that you are not only developing some of the skills you need. Only working on technique and fretboard overview without actually learning to play music is almost like making a decision to only work on your alternate picking technique without ever learning anything that is really music, and it is not so that you have to learn all positions and variations in all keys of everything to play music. You CAN start working on songs and developing those skills almost immediately, which is also how I teach in my online course and how I have taught 100s of students.

The recipe is not rocket science:

Find an easy song where you need a few scales, learn the chords, learn the melody

Figure out what the key is and a place to play all of that in the same area of the neck,

Start playing music.

If you can couple this with learning some vocabulary then you are working on taking the things you practice to the place where you can make it into music, and you can expand your fretboard knowledge along the way.

In the end, you did not start exploring Jazz to learn to play scales or find notes on the neck, you want to use that to make music and that part of it is just as important as practicing scales if not more important. I can promise you that Wes and George Benson did not only practice scales, they probably spent more time playing music

And you see the same type of problem with chords, but luckily people like Ted Greene did understand this.

Myth #2 – Chords

“I can’t start learning songs, I first need to learn all my Drop2 and Drop3 chord inversions”

The idea that the more chord voicings you know, the better you are at comping, is something that I come across very often online. And that is definitely not true, it is almost so that those two things have nothing to do with each other. Let me show you:

When is comping good? It has to:

  1. Fit the music – so the right type of sound for the song and how the band is playing
  2. Make the Groove and the Harmony Clear – So you need to state where the time is and what the chords is (as much as is needed in the band)
  3. Be a part of the music – What you play should be a story, it has dynamics, development and makes sense beyond being a robot playing a chord with some extensions.

And these skills don’t really depend that much on knowing all your drop2 or drop3 inversions. Again, it is not so that you will not benefit from learning inversions, but at the same time, you won’t learn to make music by just playing a bunch of inversions. You need to take the time to learn to make them into music, and often that process is approached in a different way, which moves across voicings and you will end up thinking more about melody and rhythm than about the chord.

I mentioned Ted Greene earlier in the video, and I think that is a good example of material that is trying to teach not only some chords to play, but also how they fit together and become music, simply because he teaches the chords in the context of a progression so that it is not empty knowledge.

The more I teach harmony and comping then I also start to think that maybe it is very important to learn to understand chord symbols as options and think of groups of chord voicings instead of learning separate chords, especially since we use them together all the time.

Learning the connection between the voicings is as important as learning the voicing. I doubt if Joe Pass spent most of his time learning inversions, I am pretty sure he spent more time learning songs.

At one point, I had some lessons with a guitarist who insisted that I also buy his books on chord voicings, which were in fact just books with all drop2 chords, first maj7 then m7  then dom7th, and then the same for drop3 and drop2&4. The books didn’t contain any examples of how the material could be used, it was just a lot of diagrams. I did practice that a bit, but as I was practicing then it occurred to me that it was better to just make the inversions myself because then they were easier to remember and I knew the chords a lot better.

On guitar it is fairly simple to make inversions along the neck for any chord: Let’s take this Cm7 chord. First, you find all the notes in the chord and then you order them in pitch:

C G Bb Eb – order in pitch would just be C Eb G Bb. Now you just look at the chord and see that

C goes to Eb

G goes to Bb

Bb goes to C

Eb goes to G

And then you can keep on going moving each note in the chord. And essentially this works for any chord,

but sometimes the inversions are pretty unplayable

What should you do instead

Again, I think you want to learn to comp on songs, so take an easy song and try to play the chords just using basic shell voicings. Pent Up House is a nice and simple song.

From there you can develop your options by finding notes that work on top of the chord, so that you can play melodies and create something that flows from chord to chord.

Like this, you can start developing your ability to improvise while also playing the chords, learn how to repeat rhythms, and have melodies across a chord progression.

It is about turning chord symbols into music, not turning them into diagrams of chords.

Myth 3 – Pentatonic Scales

“I don’t want to learn music theory and scales, I want to play Jazz just using Pentatonics.”

I guess this is the most guitar-specific example in this video, and it is actually very common that I get that statement followed by the a question of what video to watch first.

There are two ways that this falls apart, the first one is a bit more subtle for beginners. For most people then the sound of Jazz is not pentatonic, there are pentatonic things in there here and there, but if people think about jazz solos then usually it is about arpeggios, chromaticism and more dense lines, and that is not really what you get from a pentatonic scales. Even if I don’t really like Bebop scales, then it says a lot that they are created by adding notes to 7-note scale, not taking them away.

See if you can hear it:

A Bebop phrase on an Am7 chord sounds like this:

And an Am7 phrase using Am pentatonic scale sounds like this:

What you maybe can hear, is that If you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to use the melodies and structures that fit in that style because they are a part of the sound, just like you don’t try to learn to play Blues using the chromatic scale and not learning the pentatonic scale.

The other part of where this gets very difficult is that you need to be able to figure out which pentatonic scale goes where.

it is fairly common to superimpose pentatonic scales in Jazz, that is how they are mostly used, and the way you do that is by figuring out if a pentatonic scale works over a chord and if it gives you the notes that you want to use there. Then you can improvise using the “pentatonic sounding” melodies over the chord.

If you want to do this then you need to have a fairly good overview of what pentatonic scales are found in the scale that fits the chord, so you do need some theory.

Let’s say that you are improvising over Cmaj7(#11) and you want to use pentatonic scales.

If you want to find a pentatonic scale that works then you need to be able to find a scale that has the important chord tones which would be E and B, the 3rd and the 7th and you probably also want the #11 in there, the F#.

Instead of just trying to construct something at random with those notes in there, then you can also look at the scale where the chord is found and what pentatonic scales are in there.

They all can work over a Cmaj7 chord, there are no strange notes in there:

But only one of those scales has the F#: Bm pentatonic and luckily that has the E and the B as well, so that works.

Figuring all of this out does take a fair amount of theory, and it is actually very useful to be able to easily figure out what a set of notes like a pentatonic scale,  triad, or arpeggio will give you against a chord since you can get a lot of options from that both with what notes to play and what types of melodies you can make.

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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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