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This Solo Exercise Changed Everything

“This was fixing two of the things that I wanted to improve in my playing, and I also discovered two new things that I could learn from it!” 

Some years ago I had a period where whenever I sat down to practice in my room, I felt stuck with my playing. I could improvise through the changes and make lines but it didn’t really sound the way I felt it should, it was just a lot of notes and something was missing.

I had started to realize that, while longer 8th note lines work pretty well in a higher tempo, they don’t sound nearly as interesting in a medium tempo and I had mostly been focusing on getting better 8th note lines by checking out Pat Martino and Joe Pass. When I was playing a slower tempo, I wanted a different sound. It felt like the 8th note lines lacked dynamics and it sound like too much thinking in a tempo when you want to hear more groove and rhythm.

When you are trying to improve something then most of the work you need to do is to really understand what needs to be fixed. There is a famous Einstein quote where he says that “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” And this certainly applies to Music as well. The better you understand what is wrong the easier it is to fix it. What I hadn’t realized at that point was that I actually had a solution right in front of me.

I wanted to get a better idea about what should change. I knew that I wanted to get better at playing phrases that were not Bebop lines. But I was stuck with only knowing what I did not want, and I needed to figure out what I did want because doesn’t make sense to practice not doing something, you need to practice doing something else that works. So I needed examples of what I wanted the phrases to sound like. Examples that I could emulate and get some inspiration from. This meant diving into my cd collection (this was before the internet and Spotify).

Here I ran into a problem, I was looking for people who played fewer notes, and still had that sound I wanted. And I realized that I did not really have a lot of music from people who play like that, it was much more Pass, Martino, and Metheny, and not as much Jim Hall, Barney Kessel, and Charlie Christian. In hindsight, that of course explains a lot….

I did have a lot of Wes and that came pretty close. On a lot of the albums that I really liked he was playing a lot more short statements. So I started to listen and learn solos from Wes, trying to find things I could make my own, but I also wanted exercises that were more open open-ended and could help me develop this. And there was one really solid exercise right in front of me.

I was teaching a lesson when I realized that I had an exercise that would help. We were working on improvising over a Jazz Blues with a student and building it up from soloing with chord tones.

For a beginner in Jazz then improvising with chord tones have a lot of advantages:

There are only a few notes

They all work great on the chord

It is pretty easy to make melodies with an arpeggio

You learn to hear the chords in your solo.

But While I was demonstrating to the student by improvising a solo, I realized that  this really connected to what I was trying to learn myself:

Because. when you have only 4 notes then you are not going to play a lot of notes simply because that doesn’t really sound great

If you are playing the arpeggio you are not going to get lost trying to add the material that you usually use with extensions, chromatic enclosures, etc

After I was done teaching that day, I immediately sat down to try this out. It was in many ways a perfect exercise, and I could work with it in a few different ways to really improve my playing like this. And this is an exercise that I find myself returning to fairly often.

Getting this exercise to develop your playing, especially when it comes to rhythm and phrasing can be seen as a 3 step process:

Step #1: The Raw Material

The first thing to do is to choose a song or progression, and then make sure you have all the arpeggios in one place like I am doing here with the first part of Days Of Wine And Roses.

Fmaj7

Eb7

Aøv

This is just to make sure that you have all the arpeggios in one place and to make it easier to go from one chord to the next without having to jump around the neck.

But you need to do more than just know where the notes are, they still need to become music.

Full position arpeggios

For this exercise, it is useful to have the full position of the arpeggio because that gives you more freedom to be melodic once you start improvising, and I am sure that you also already worked on this at some point, so now you get to use it!

Step #2: Refining It

I worked with this exercise in two ways. The first is to build vocabulary, so compose licks or improvise slowly:

So you can hear that I try to use small 2-3 note fragments and then either use them as a motif to go from one chord to the next, or use call response so that one phrase is a call(b-roll)and the next is a response(b-roll)

When you work like this you focus more on making melodies, seeing the connections, and how the notes move from one chord to the next. Because that will help you make much more interesting solos

There are easy ways to work with this. Take this motivic line on Fmaj7 Eb7

Here I am using that A and C can move up to Bb and Db and then I can make that into a nice repeated riff tying together these two chords.

But of course, this is mostly about the notes and becoming better at making sense with short 2 or 3-note phrases, so you need to work on the next step as well to get the final ingredient:

Step #3: The Finishing Touch

Now you can take a medium tempo and start to solo using just arpeggios. If you have the first two steps down then this becomes the place where you really start to develop your solos and integrate them into your playing.

And this is where the limitation part of the exercise really starts to pay off.

A limitation exercise is an exercise where you limit yourself to focus on improving something specific. With music, you do this all the time and it can be a great way to develop many skills. Think of exercises like a chromatic exercise where you play something really simple to focus on your right hand.

In this case, the limitation is that you play the song and improvise over it, but you only use the arpeggio or the chord tones.

The advantage is that you play fewer notes and you don’t have to think too much about the notes, so you can really focus on the rhythm and how you play those notes, making your solo more dynamic and more interesting when it comes to rhythm.

I guess, I had an extra bonus because I was doing this exercise for myself, but also using it with my students, so I could actually practice while I was teaching.

And this was fixing two of the things that I wanted to improve in my playing, and I also discovered two new things that I could learn from it! Playing shorter phrases and more statements than long lines was already getting better, but I also discovered two other things that I had never thought about with Jazz melodies and Bebop lines.

And this was fixing two of the things in my playing that I really wanted to improve by letting me play shorter phrases and use more interesting rhythms. But I also discovered two other things that I had never thought about with Jazz melodies and Bebop lines.

The Sacred Quarter-note

The first thing was about rhythm: When it comes to rhythms then often we think that everything has to be complicated, odd note groupings and syncopations

but one thing that I found to be incredibly effective and overlooked was phrasing using quarter notes.

Quarter notes are very useful and if you go back to people that are closer to the swing era like Charlie Christian and early Jim Hall, then you will hear a lot of quarter note rhythms as well.

The quarter notes often get to work as a resolution so that your off beats sound more interesting as a sort of tension. They are also just a great way to sound more grounded and connect to the groove and the tempo.

Less Notes More Times

The other thing that I discovered improvising like this was that when you improvise 8th note lines then you rarely repeat notes. Mainly because that doesn’t sound great in an 8th note line:

but if you are improvising with shorter phrases and trying to make melodies that are focused on rhythm and locking in with the groove then repeating notes is a great thing to do, actually also something you will hear Wes do as well.

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3 Important Exercises for Jazz Guitar Beginners To Get Started

You need many skills if you want to play Jazz, and some of them can be hard to find good exercises for, or even realize that you need to work on them. In this video, I am going to go over 3 Easy exercises that will help you play better solos and develop skills that are difficult to fix by just practicing scales, arpeggios, or chords.

#1 Playing Changes – A Little Easier

Hope you are having a great day playing some Jazz! This video should help you develop your melodies, your rhythm and your phrasing.

This is something you get hit by very hard the first few times you try to improvise over a jazz standard. I know I certainly did, thinking that it must be impossible to follow the chords that move so fast! When you try to play a solo, chords are flying at you left and right and it seems like you have to be a math genius or a computer to figure out what to play and where to play it.

But improvising over chord changes is a part of Jazz and you want to be able to not only follow the chords but also play melodies that make sense.

This first exercise makes that a lot easier, and mastering this and the next exercise will already make you sound really good when you solo.

Let’s use a bit of the Standard How High The Moon:

The chords are:

The Trick is to do the “calculations” beforehand because eventually, you can get by without having to solve crazy equations whenever you see a chord progression, that is mostly a matter of experience. If you practice like this then you build that skill and it becomes something you can quite easily get into your playing (B-roll on top: complex equation overlay on How High The Moon)

I am not going to cover how you find chord tones, diatonic arpeggios and how to analyze chord progressions in this video. I want to focus on how you practice soloing, but if you want to dig into that then check out the playlist I link to in the description with videos that help you get started with that:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWYuNvZPqqcHYOlEVg5uHPBy_AudysODz

Of course, you want to play something on the chord progression that makes sense and has a natural flow. The best way to do that is to play phrases that begin on one chord and end on the chord change.

So in the song, when you move from Gmaj7 to Gm7 then the chords sound like this:

and a clear line going from Gmaj7 to Gm7 could sound like this:

So you play towards a very clear note in the next chord often a chord tone, and you can hear how it gives you a natural-sounding melody and also makes the change of chord very clear.

With How High The Moon:

Essentially this is two bars of G major, the key of the piece followed by a II V I in F major.

The simple thing you can do is to target the 3rd of the chord, but you should also check how well the 5th might work because that is a very strong melodic note, the 7th is for solos often not a very strong target note. If you play like this then that could give you:

So when you want to develop this skill then take the chord progression and

1 – Find target notes (especially 3rd and 5th)

2 – Make sure Target Notes are in the same area of the neck

3 – Practice playing short phrases to hit each target note

To develop this keep it simple, in one position and one target note at a time. If you develop a skill like this you can expand on it later.

You also want to give yourself time to think ahead, so just stop on the target note and think about making a melody to the next target note. Later you can open this up and become much freer and also not only play to target notes on beats one and three.

This approach is one of the best ways to develop a natural flow when you improvise over changes and learning to think ahead is incredibly important for so many things in Music, not just playing solos over chord changes.

Working like this you can end up with some very heavy phrasing that doesn’t really sound like Jazz which is why you want to check out the next exercise.

#2 The Most Important Part Of Jazz

The most important ingredient in Jazz is rhythm, but it can be difficult to develop mainly because you forget it when you focus on the chord changes and that can really ruin how you sound.

In general, a great way to develop a skill is to reduce your freedom with other things so that you are forced to focus on training and developing that skill.

When it comes to rhythm, then a very useful exercise is to limit your note choice so that you only have two notes and have to focus on being creative with rhythm to get what you play to work, and if you try this exercise then you will probably be surprised how much you can learn. Let’s check out an example and then talk about what you need to focus on to really develop your rhythm.

You Stepped Out Of A Dream

When you set up this exercise for yourself:

1 – Try to choose notes that are mostly chord tones and close to each other across chords so that you have an easier time connecting.

2 – Explore how to use a lot of off-beats especially ending phrases on an off-beat

(this is the sound of bebop phrasing and will help your solos sound 10x better)

3 – Try to play melodies with quarter notes

You always focus on learning to play 8th note lines and forget how great it can sound to play quarter-note rhythms

#3 Passing Notes – Grown Up Jazz Licks

When you can already play a solo over the harmony and you are beginning to use some more interesting rhythms

Maybe cut in: “I mean that you are working on exercise one and two from this video…”

Then you can start working on making the melodies more surprising and more complicated, and you do that by playing a lot of wrong notes and then resolving them to some right notes.

Obviously, this is a HUGE topic, but an easy way to get started is to do two really simple things:

1 Add a chromatic note before the start of a phrase like an arpeggio

2 Add a chromatic note between two notes in the scale.

And if you if put that to use over Ladybird then that sounds like this:

In the beginning, you want to resolve to chord tones and have the resolution on the beat, as you see here where:

The first Cmaj7 bar starts with adding a chromatic passing note between D and C, and later between A and G

on the Fm7 I am adding a chromatic leading note before the Fm7 and making the arpeggio an 8th note triplet which is a great Bebop sound.

The Bb7 has a passing note between the C and the Bb, and transitions back to the Cmaj7 by moving up from the 5 to the G on Cmaj7

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25 Jazz Guitar Exercises – How To Improve Skills In A Musical Way

It is important that we practice and improve our technique, and often a good way to do this is to work on jazz guitar exercises like a phrase or musical fragment. In this video I am going to go over some technical topics you can work on and a few phrases to help you develop your technique.

The format of this lesson is different from what I normally do since it is a set of exercises to work on that will work as technical and musical exercises teaching you.

#1 Triads are great Jazz Chords

#2 Mix Triads with 3-part Quartal chords and sus4 triads

#3 Advanced 3-Part Jazz Chords

#4 Drop2 chords

#5 Drop2 chords with extensions

#6 Beautiful Inner-voice movement

#7 Must Know Drop2 voicings

#8 Medium-swing Bop Lines

#9 Chaining Arpeggios together

#10 Charlie Christian Inspired

#11 F7 Blues line #1

#12 F7 Blues line #2

#13 F7 Blues line #3

#14 Challenge your right-hand

#15 String Skips in arpeggios

#16 Quartal arpeggios

#17 Using Legato in lines

#18 Using Slides

#19 Legato in arpeggios

#20 8th note triplets in lines #1

#21 8th note triplets in lines #2

#22 8th note triplets in lines #3

#23 Sweeping Arpeggios #1

#24 Sweeping Arpeggios #2

#25 Sweeping Arpeggios #3

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