Tag Archives: jazz guitar lesson

The Diminished Chords – Why They Are Great!

There are 3 types of diminished chords that I use all the time. They are great for a lot of things and sound beautiful in chord progressions.

Two of them are in all the Jazz standards and really just a part of tonal harmony but the last one, which I learned from Barry Harris, even if it is not a part of his diminished scale system, is maybe not even really a diminished chord. Maybe it isn’t even a chord, but I play it all the time and it is a great trick even if it doesn’t have a theoretical explanation.

Easy Diminished Chord

The first one you want to know is the easy diminished chord, the one that is easy to hear and easy to explain: The Dominant diminished chord.

A funny side-note is that I always get comments from people insisting that ALL diminished chords are dominant, which, as you will see, I don’t agree with but you should think about it in any way that works for you.

The dominant diminished chord is really from the minor key, but we can use it in major as well.

If you look at the diatonic chords in C harmonic minor: CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim CmMaj7

And you can also see that it is in fact the arpeggio from the 3rd of a G7(b9): G B D F Ab


so the connection to G7 is pretty clear and it resolves like this:

And you can resolve it to major as well:

A few Dominant Diminished Trick

There are two chord progressions with this chord that you see fairly often and both sound great, one of them is used as a sort of plot twist in the harmony, which is very nice.

What might surprise you is that most of the time the dominant diminished chord is used for secondary dominants like this where it is really a great transition to the II Chord

So here it is working as an A7, the dominant of Dm7, and creates a nice chromatic bass line moving up to Dm7.

Bassline melody is really what diminished chords are all about!

A great way to use the dominant diminished is to pretend that it is just a boring old II V and then it suddenly goes somewhere else:

I need to talk about the extension on the dim chord here, but first, just check out how this is a II V in C that then suddenly takes a detour and resolves to Am7 via the dim chord. That is a great plot twist.


On the dim chord, I am using a b6 as an extension and this is an important note to know for dim chords.

In both examples, the diminished chord is a secondary dominant and they simply just take the  scale that you would use for the dominant, so if you resolve to Am then you would use A harmonic minor over the dim chord because it works as an E7:


And from that scale, the E is a great sounding extension and also the root of the dominant it is associated with: E7

The reason why I say that is important is mainly that the b6 is very common as a melody note on a diminished chord as you can see here

But let’s move on to the subdominant diminished which are actually the most common ones.

Subdominant Dim – It Is a Thing!

The dominant diminished is easy to understand because it is a diatonic chord in harmonic minor and closely related to the V chord, but then you have these chords that move in a different way:

This one moves down!

And this one doesn’t resolve like a dominant

Let’s start with the F6 to F#dim example. I’ll first go over the chords and then get into scale choices

Here you can see how the F#dim appears from altering two notes in the F6. You can also see that it still contains a C and not a B which is why it isn’t dominant in the key C, they don’t sound anything like a G7.

The oversimplified way of arriving at that it is a subdominant chord is just to ask 2 things:

1 Does it move to Cmaj7 as if it is resolving? Yes – so it isn’t tonic

2 Does it sound and resolve like a G7, which it doesn’t so it isn’t dominant

If it isn’t tonic and also not dominant then it is subdominant. This is a bit crude, but it it does fit.

Since it is subdominant then it makes sense to notate it as derived from the IV chord, so I usually write them as #IVdim chords. There are actually other #IV subdominant chords, but that is for another video.

But it also resolves down to a subdominant chord.

Groups of Subdominant Chords

Sometimes I just write #IVdim instead of subdominant diminished, it is a looong word and I am from Denmark which is a small country, we don’t have room for that stuff. In fact, I will often just write IV when I mean subdominant, so a backdoor dominant which is also a minor subdominant is referred to as a IVm chord. I usually make it clear in the videos, but it sometimes slips. I find it useful to have these groups of subdominant chords that are #IV, IV and IVm, but it is probably short hand and not too precise

Descending Subdominant Dim

Before the last type of dim chord then there is also the other variation of the subdominant diminished.

This is really just an inversion of the #IVdim,

it is Ebdim and the subdominant diminished but it is resolving to the Dm7,

so it is a subdominant resolving to a subdominant. In a way similar to how you have IV IVm I.


And this works great to have a chord that can transition to a II chord which is of course also how you see it used the most.

Scale Dilemmas

With the Dominant diminished then you have a scale that is found in and that is part of how we understand it which makes it a lot easier.

The subdominant diminished is a lot more vague, but if you look at it from a different perspective then you can construct a scale that fits the context of key and then realize that you already know that scale.

If you look at the F#dim and the C major scale then there are two ways to create a scale that works:


They both work and there is one note difference so it is really up to you. I tend to recommend the harmonic minor scale mostly because you need that anyway and you probably know it already.

No Diminished Scale

So why am I not using the diminished scale, since it is called a diminished chord? It is the same name!

In the end, you can use any scale you want it is more about how you do it than which scale it is. The chord progressions that I talk about in this video are all tonal, so they are in a key and that tells you something about how they sound, and which notes want to go where. And you don’t hear each chord as an isolated thing, you hear the whole progression or the whole song.

The diminished scale is atonal because it is symmetrical, it can resolve to lots of places and nothing sounds like the root. That is why it doesn’t really fit and is more of a special effect in the music.

The Mysterious Diminished Chord

As I already hinted at then the final diminished chord is maybe not really a chord, but that doesn’t mean that you can learn something important from it.

When I was in the piano class with Barry Harris that first year I went to the Hague then he told the piano players to play this exercise that I then transferred to guitar. And it is all over my comping and chord solos:

The exercise is moving the maj7th and the 9th down to the maj6th and the root in half steps,

and as you can probably see, then every time the middle chord is in fact a Bb diminished chord. (highlight dim chord – Paly example and stop on the dim chord!)

But maybe this is a place where looking at what is happening vertically and giving it a name as a chord, is actually not the best way to understand it. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to think of it as voices moving, because the diminished chord only appears as a side effect of some chromatic voice-leading. Probably also why it is not something you will find notated as a chord in a song, at least I can’t think of one that has that. Sometimes focusing too much on vertical harmony rather than how the notes flow is not good for making music and hearing what is going on.

That of course doesn’t mean that this isn’t a great sound, and the exercise sounds great in minor as well, which doesn’t give you a dim chord.



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No Bending In Jazz, Please!

I guess this might be a hot take on the topic of bending in Jazz, but this is a really common question, and that was sort of surprising to me because I never really thought about it like that but I will try to explain that later.

I get a lot of comments about this ranging from “why is there no bending” or the more frustrated ones that are “Bending isn’t allowed” and of course my favorite which is to blame it on me. which is always fun.

But why isn’t bending a part of Jazz Guitar? And actually, I think there are quite a few reasons for this.

Is Bending Overrated?

Maybe sometimes string bending gets a bit overrated?  The main reason you would ask why Jazz doesn’t use string bending is usually that you come from playing genres where that is a common part of phrasing and playing. That would probably be Blues, Classic Rock, and Metal? In those genres bending has almost become synonymous with demonstrating good taste, emotion, and not over-playing in a solo. Usually, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd is the typical hero of this way of playing almost to the point of it almost becoming a joke.

Some of the comments I get on YouTube will explain to me that “bending is the BEST phrasing” and that is used to argue that Jazz is lacking emotion or expression, but maybe it is worthwhile to point out that there are a lot of genres of guitar music where bending is not a standard part of the phrasing. Unless you also want to write off Flamenco, Bluegrass, and Classical music as lacking emotion as well.

It is not that Jazz fans are really any better, you can easily find examples of Jazz used in the same way to dismiss chord progressions that don’t have extensions as boring which obviously is just as silly.

But, while you are learning Jazz then there is a reason why I often tell people to avoid to play in a way that makes it a lot less effective to play boomer bends as a way of phrasing.

There Are Jazz Players That Use Bending

Of course, there are Jazz Guitarists that DO use bends, let’s start with a modern example and then add some of the more classic guys!

John Scofield was one of the first Jazz guitarists I listened to a lot, and in many ways, he is also one of the people to use bending in phrases that are not just Blues phrases. You can hear it in this example where he is using quite a few bends in the theme of the Gershwin ballad “Someone To Watch Over Me”.

Scofield always had this a part of his sound. It is certainly a part of his style, but you can actually find examples of most Jazz players using bends, it is just not as big a part of their vocabulary and not something that happens every other phrase.

As I mentioned earlier then you most commonly hear this in Blues phrases, like this example with Barney Kessel –  BARNEY EXAMPLE  or here with Kenny Burrell – BARNEY EXAMPLE

Both are soloing on a Blues and using blues vocabulary which of course is a part of Jazz.

So it is in there and it always was, but it is not something you use all the time. I think there are 3 possible reasons why bending is not so common in Jazz.

#1 Jazz Melodies Are Different!

You want to keep in mind that string bending is primarily used in blues phrases, and it is not a technique you would use for the Bebop lines, let me show you what I mean:

In the Blues, bends are used more on sustained notes or when notes are repeated.

But Bebop vocabulary is not about long notes or repeated notes so the effect of bending is not as powerful. The point is that you want to clearly hear that gradual move in pitch. Another thing is that for Jazz lines, connecting and locking in with the groove is more important where Blues melodies often will float more freely on top of a very clear groove.

Example of floating Blues Lick?

Try to listen to this short phrase where you can hear that the melody uses more notes, has more direction and tension, and is a lot lighter with a more syncopated rhythm.

It is a completely different type of melody, and playing syncopated rhythms more freely floating just means that you lose what is nice about them being syncopated.

I don’t know if I need to mention this, but the difference between Jazz and Blues is not really about one being better than the other, this is just that they are different and what makes Jazz Jazz and Blues Blues.

It Is Bending Too Slow For Bebop?

If you were to try to add bends to an 8th note line then it is fairly clear that bending is not a very efficient way to produce a note compared to legato, slides, and the other techniques used in a phrase, and for Bebop then speed and efficiency is certainly a factor.

Maybe you can see that from the opening phrase of Donna Lee. You could choose to play the trill in the beginning of the melody with a bend:

But it is a lot of extra motion for the left hand so it is not very efficient to get to work in a Bebop line compared to a normal legato trill.

Another thing that is also worth mentioning is the guitars and I am sure they were certainly also a factor.

#2 The Guitars and Pickups

Evolution of sound: Acoustic, Jazz Guitar + Amp – Solidbody with effects – Guitar into Laptop

If you think of how Jazz guitar sits in the history and development of Jazz then it was mainly used from Bebop and on, and the instruments that were used at that point were archtop guitars with fairly heavy strings and some sort of early single coil pickup like a p90 or a Charlie Christian pickup.

This type of guitar sounds great but, similar to an acoustic guitar, does not have a lot of sustain, which again fights a bit against a technique like bending that works better if the note keeps ringing and doesn’t fade out before you have hit the pitch you want.

I think you can also sort of hear this in how T-bone walker, who also played a hollow body guitar, often repeats notes when bending almost like he tries to find a way to compensate for that.

Again, it makes sense to compare Jazz to Bluegrass where the acoustic guitars have a similar sound without a lot of sustain. In Bluegrass, the soloing style is also relying on more dense and active melodies weaving through the changes and not long notes with vibrato. The gear really does often shape the style of music, by now modern styles of guitar music really incorporates recording and studio effects as much as real gear like amps and effects to shape the sound. In a way, it is an evolution from acoustic to adding more and more ways to shape the basic sound.

There was another thing that we don’t talk about that much, but it most likely also played a fairly big role besides the guitar though.

#3 You Don’t Want Feedback

You might be thinking that even with a single coil pickup you can get more sustain, which is certainly true for a tele or a les paul with p90s where you can turn up the amp to get more compression and therefore also more sustain, but If you have ever played a hollow body with a p90 like this one, then you also know how much trouble you can get with feedback which can get completely out of control. In the 40s and 50s when the basic Jazz guitar style was evolved then most amps just had a volume knob and some sort of simple EQ. This limits how loud you can go with an instrument like that and if you want to play the amp so loud that it starts compressing and gives you more sustain then you are most likely going to be at a volume where you are spending more time trying to mute the strings and keeping the guitar in a direction away from the amp so it doesn’t go crazy with feedback.

I am curious about which reason you think was more important, maybe it is something I didn’t mention at all? You can let me know in the comments.

It Is Not Jazz, It is You!

A completely different reason for why it feels like bends are not allowed in Jazz has nothing to do with Jazz, because it could also be that you show up to a Jazz Jam session and want to play the blues licks you have in your fingers over the standards, which I imagine will not go down too well.

Before I start explaining why the way I teach Jazz sort of leads away from string bending there is something else that is maybe also worth understanding, especially if you were one of the people asking the question.

Does AC/DC Need Synthbass?

The first few times that I had students or people on the internet asking me about this then I was pretty surprised by the question, simply because it wasn’t something I had ever thought about. I guess that also has to do with how you approach the music.

When I got into Jazz then the main thing that drove it all was that I liked the music that I heard, and I was very curious about how to sound like that. That also means that I was not really concerned with what they didn’t do, only in figuring out what they were doing so that I could do that as well. If there was no tapping, bending, or delays then that didn’t matter. What interested me was how to sound like the music I heard. I especially remember this from hearing El Hombre, Pat Martino’s debut album.

The reason I mention this is because I suspect you will get that reaction more often, and it feels a bit like asking why there is no synth in AC/DC or BB king tapping licks. The music is fine as it is, and we can’t go back in time and change it.

Beginning Jazz Phrasing

When it comes to Jazz phrasing, and especially Bebop phrasing, then the fact that the vocabulary is about rhythm and syncopation also means that you start by letting people play shorter notes. That is also what you hear if you go back to the phrasing of swing which is the origin of Bebop.

Pat Martino playing the Benny Goodman piece, Seven come eleven is also an example of this. Phrases end are ending on an off-beat and the last note is short to make it clear that it is syncopated. Often when you come from especially Blues then it is less important to stop the notes and you let every note in the melody ring out. When you start playing Jazz then you need to learn to take control of the length of the note and really choose when to play long notes. Bending is just not that effective if you play a lot of fast short notes.

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The Basic Jazz Chords That You Can Expand into Amazing Sounds

Wouldn’t it be great if you had some Jazz Chords that are easy to play so that you can use them to play songs and progressions? Something that also works as a starting point for a lot of beautiful grooves like Bossanovas, and chords & Walking Bass.

You do actually have chords like that. They are called Shell-voicings and they are great for playing a lot of things, they can teach you about harmony and you can expand them to make it easier to learn some more complicated jazz sounds.

What is a Shell-voicing

Shell voicings are called this because they are 3-Note versions of 7th chords. A 7th chord is of course 4 notes, 1, 3rd, 5th and 7th and for the shell voicings we leave out the 5th:

And you can place them in a very clever way on the neck. For a Cmaj7 you have two versions:

C E B with the root note on the 5th string

and the one where you have the root note on the 6th string and flip around the 3rd and 7th: C B E:


Notice that this splits the strings so that the root note is on the 5th and 6th strings. The core sound of the chord, so 3rd and 7th are on the middle strings, and you have the top strings free so that you can later add extensions and alterations or use that for the melody in a chord melody arrangement.

You can probably hear this is going to go places.

Exercise #1 Play songs

How do you practice these? The first exercise is to just learn some easy and common chord progressions and then use those to start playing songs. Anything that you practice and don’t put to use in a song is probably a waste of time, and practicing finding chords for a Jazz standard is a great exercise for so many reasons, since it is music, fretboard knowledge, harmony and theory

The chords I am going to cover here are:

And actually, some of them are the same shell-voicing which is a bit strange but you’ll see how that works later (highlight m6 = dim and m7(b5) = m7)

Let’s start with a basic II V I which is sort of the core progression to know in Jazz. Just like the maj7 chord you have two versions, starting on the 5th string:

and starting on the 6th string:

Like this, you can already start playing songs like Satin Doll. If you don’t know it then maybe check out the Joe Pass version which is pretty amazing.

Playing The Chords of Satin Doll!

The song is mostly II V progressions, so first you get the II V in C major, which is repeated

then you get a II V in D major twice using the same way of playing the chords.

Next, you have a II V in G major and Gb major and it sounds better to stay in the same area of the neck so here you can use the other version, before resolving to Cmaj7.

Rhythm And Groove

Of course, there is more to it than just finding the chords and playing the right notes: We need some rhythm and groove in there as well,  but luckily shell-voicings naturally are split between the root note and the chord,


so you can add groove to it by splitting those two and create rhythms like this:

Exercise #2 diatonic chords

Besides playing songs then a great way to explore any chord voicing is to take it through a scale. In that way, you learn some of the other chords that goes with it and i’s a great way to find new voicings.

This exercise is useful for knowing your scales and your diatonic chords, which is very important, but there is one weird spot.

For the 5th string Shell-voicings you can move them through C major like this:

And you want to try this in different keys, the other string set, and also other scales like melodic and harmonic minor

What about the other chords?

With the Diatonic chords in major then we have maj7, m7,dom7th and also m7b5

But with the m7b5 you can see an example of how shell-voicings can sometimes be a bit unclear, because

Bø and Bm7 are the same shell-voicing and that is because the shell-voicings leave out the 5th of the chord, so you can tell if it is a perfect 5th or b5th. Luckily your ear will fill in the right notes from the context most of the time.

This happens with two other, even more, different chords as well:.check out the first part of the beautiful Bossanova: Corcovado, played with Shell voicings:

Here I am really just playing the same shell voicing moved down one fret when I go from

Am6 which is A, F# C

G#dim which is G# F B.

Here it is again the 5th of the chord that makes the difference. If you look at this with the chords both having the root A, then

Am6 is A C E F#

A dim is A C Eb F#

so if you play shell voicing, and leave out the 5th, then you are playing the same chord, but again the context will tell you and when you play Corcovado then it doesn’t sound like you go from Am6 to Abm6.

Now we have all the chords except one: The Maj6.

But that is really easy. If you can play a Cmaj7

and then find the maj7th and replace that with a 6th then you have this:

and the other version is this

As you will see in a bit then using the Cmaj7 and the C6 together works really well, but there is another great sound that I use shell-voicings for really a lot:

The Joe Pass Groove – Chords and Walking bass

Shell-voicings are great for playing chords and walking bass mainly because when you play 3-note chords with a bass note then it is a lot easier to play a solid walking bass line.

I can’t start explaining bass lines in this video, but I will link to a video that shows that in the video description. Before I get into adding extensions then I want to look at another important groove to check out.

Bossanova – Beautiful Rhythm


One of my favorite grooves that has become a huge part of Jazz is Bossanova and shell-voicings are great for this because you can play the chord and the bass note.

This works especially well when the bass note is on the 5th string, because you can go easily get to the other lower 5th on the 6th string, and if the root is on the 6th string then you just repeat that note.

This sounds great on a song like Girl From Ipanema:

Making The Harmony Interesting

As you have seen then until now, it has been about two of the string sets containing the chords and the bass, but there is also a lot to be done on the top strings.

When it comes to playing Jazz chords then it is important to keep it practical and playable, but for a lot of the shell-voicings it is pretty easy to add extensions and color, just by looking at what is close by on the next higher string.

So if you have a basic II V I like this.

then you can add a 9th to the Dm7, a b13 to the G7, and a 9th to the Cmaj7, just by checking what is available on the B string, and that will give you this:

This is of course something you can take a lot further, but it is actually also the way you get started making chord melody arrangements and you can check out this video if you want to explore the beautiful harmonizations that you can create by making your own chord melody arrangements.

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Is Reading Music Important For Learning For Jazz?

Joe Pass couldn’t read music

Wes Montgomery didn’t know music theory

Guthrie Govan never used a metronome

John Abercrombie didn’t transcribe other people’s solos

Barry Harris never studied modes

So if I want to be better than Joe Pass, Wes, Guthrie, John Abercrombie, and Barry Harris then I should:

Not read any music, learn theory, never use a metronome, and not learn other people’s solos or study modes!

Be Careful With Advice From Anecdotes

As you can probably hear then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use an anecdote or a myth as a way of planning your practice and figuring out if something is useful for you.

Simply because the fact that someone else didn’t do something doesn’t mean that not doing that will be useful for you.

You are a completely different person, probably in a different time and with different resources available.

99% of the time I hear these statements used to either make someone sound like a “magic” talent or as an excuse for not practicing something that requires work.

Making artists “magic” is fine if you want to, but thinking like that also means that you are already giving up on learning to play like them or that you think you are magic as well. It doesn’t strike me as a fantastic strategy.

The same goes with using this as an excuse, if Wes Montgomery can’t read music then I don’t have to. but keep in mind that you are NOT Wes or Joe Pass. And Joe Pass not being able to read music does not mean that he was sitting looking at YouTube and commenting “got tabs?” or looking up chords in books with diagrams.

He learned things by ear which is something he trained his whole life.

What you really want to evaluate is whether learning to read music or any other skill, is going to be useful for you. It is not really about Wes or Joe Pass. It is about what you need to learn and what helps you the most.

The argument I will make for why you can benefit from learning to read music is probably different from what you normally hear, but I also think that it is much more powerful.

It Is SOOO Difficult!

I started with classical guitar, so everything was reading music for the first 4 or 5 years, but there was one aspect of it that I was not taught that is incredibly useful.  At the same time, I was reading all the music I was playing so it was never something that it felt like I had to work on that much since that was just how you played guitar.

Reading is often taught as a very mechanical process,  and the problem that guitar players usually have is that you can’t just point at a note in the sheet music and then say that is THIS note on the guitar, similar to a piano. On a guitar, you can play the same C in many places on the guitar, but maybe the focus for learning how to read music could be different. Maybe it should not be as much about how you play what is on the page but more about how it sounds.

I think it is much more useful to look at the page and then be able to hear what that sounds like, because if you know what it sounds like then you can also find a way to play it. This might sound even more difficult, but for a lot of music that is not as difficult as you might think. Reading music then becomes a part of ear training, and approaching it like that is probably one of the best ways to learn that will also help you with a lot of other things in your playing.

The way you do that is by learning to hear music based on the key it is in which you might discover is easier than you think, mainly because you probably already hear music in that way.


Let me quickly show you what I mean and then also translate that to the guitar.

Let’s say that we are in the key of C.

So you hear this as the root: C (play cadence)

This is the note that we hold on to and use to hear the rest of the notes.

With sheet music!

And if you hear C major then you can also hear the other notes, like you can hear a C major triad or notes from the C major scale.

Obviously, this will be something you partly already have and something you want to train and develop, but if you can read in a key like this, then if you have to play something almost only becomes a matter of knowing the scale of the key and then using that to play what is on the page.

Because that means that you can look at this:

And then you actually hear this:


And that is a very efficient way to learn music or internalize music, and the way music notation is made then it is a much bigger help than you think when it comes to this. This is really overlooked, and one of the worst examples of this is the Omnibook where everything is written out in C with accidentals, probably one of the things that annoys me the most in any Jazz education book.

If you want to have an impression about how that can work then try reading a song that you know in a key that you know.

Example Frere Jacques

You also need to be able to translate a written rhythm to something you can hear, so that a rhythm becomes something you can look at and then know the sound of. I am not going to get into that right now.

But hopefully, you can see how knowing the scale and being able to hear the notes in the scale will help you. There is another equally important thing to learn that is a little style-dependent, but which also makes things a lot easier.

First I think we need to discuss something else….

NOT Sight-reading

“but can you sight-read the black page backward on an Ab trombone”

I talked about this in a video a few years ago, and for some reason, people think that sight-reading is the same as being able to read music, which for the most part it probably isn’t, and I think it is useful to make the distinction between the two.

Just like anything else you have to play then you need to practice to play it. If you need to learn 40 pop pieces for a gig or if you need to learn the originals in a band, then you practice those songs. Sometimes you get the material as an audio recording and sometimes it is written out.

On a side note: It is NEVER written out in tabs, NEVER.

The goal is the same: You need to end up playing it convincingly on the gig, and if that means practicing what is on a page to get it to the point where you can easily play it and get it to sound right. In my experience, it is better to be good at preparing and really nailing your part compared to being good at sight-reading it mostly just because practicing towards really playing it to the best of your ability is just a better strategy than trying to be really good at surviving your way through it.

And it is a different process if you are working on reading music and trying to turn that into a solid performance with good phrasing and timing, instead of trying to become good at just superficially playing through songs you have never seen before. Approaching it like that is the same as trying to learn to solo by improvising with iReal and letting the app choose random songs without actually learning them, that is just way too superficial.

Chunks In My Music

Another useful connection when it comes to reading is that you want to learn to see the notes in a melody as a group of notes rather than reading everything one note at a time.

I guess that is about being able to recognize patterns in a written-out piece of music, but also linking how you probably think about what you play, how you analyze, and how you read.

Just like reading a text, t is much more efficient to read words compared to trying to spell everything. I think that is pretty obvious, and the better you get at recognizing the building blocks in the music when you read, the easier it will get. From a technical point of view, it also fits together very well if you read music in a key and you are able to play common building blocks like diatonic 7th chord arpeggios or triads. That is going to make the process of getting the notes off the paper and turning them into music A LOT easier.

What musical words you want to be able to recognize is of course style dependent, but for Bop-inspired Jazz then 7th chords, triads and inversions, chromatic enclosures, and octave displaced arpeggios are very useful. For other styles, you will have other words.

You Don’t Have To Learn To Read Music

Holdsworth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRJVhCLLCtw&t=1222s – 30:30

I don’t care if you want to learn to read, just to be completely honest. Lots of people have relied on using their ears instead of reading sheet music, as I was talking about in the beginning of the video.

In fact, I am not really that great at reading music myself, because it is not what I do the most, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t read. People always go to the extremes with this. You can either sight-read anything or you don’t know where the middle C is, there is nothing in between. There is a Holdsworth clinic somewhere where you see him get really annoyed that people think he is completely clueless with reading which he is obviously not.

But do keep in mind that knocking being able to read music and suggesting that tabs and diagrams are as useful is, in my opinion, just not true. You already saw how the notation ties in with how we hear and play music. Tabs and diagrams can never do that, and I am sure that you agree that these skills are essential to playing music and you can use reading as a way of improving them if you do approach it the right way.


Let me know in the comments what you think?

At the same time, I would not put reading at the top of the list if you want to learn Jazz. It is useful, also for communicating with other musicians and analyzing what is going on in the music, but learning solos by ear and playing music is more important. Spending a few minutes a day singing music and training your ability to hear a tonality is however not a waste of time, and maybe one of the most useful things you could do.

It Needs To Get Into Your Ear

“Just learn from the masters” is both the worst and the best advice you will get online. Learning solos by ear is a great way to both develop your ear, your phrasing and your vocabulary, but if you don’t get suggestions of places to start then learning a solo by ear can be almost impossible. If you have never learned to play a solo along with the album, then you are missing out, and it really doesn’t have to be that difficult! If you want some suggestions for easy but great solos to start with from Wes, Kenny Burrel, and George Benson, then check out this video!

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Jazz Chords – Drop2 is a Powerful Tool

I always loved playing Jazz Chords, mostly because you don’t just play the chord. You can change it and add your own colors and movement to it.

One of the most flexible types of chords for this is Drop2 chords., and once I started working on playing Drop2 chords then it felt like I could tap into a lot of new sounds. It opened a new world for me with comping and harmony.

In this video, I focus on how you can use drop 2 voicings on a standard and give you some rules that you can use to open up how you play chords because it is that process of taking chord symbols and then turning them into beautiful music that I find amazing, but, I  will also briefly explain what a Drop2 voicing is and why that isn’t very important, but we’ll get to that later.

Let’s first just go over a basic set of chords for the song.

The Basic Chords And What To Play

The song is in C major, and the first chord is a Cmaj7 chord.

For now, I am just showing you what I am using in this video, if you want diagrams of all the inversions and string sets, then you can download those on my website, but right now, the important thing is what you can do with this type of chord. And then. In the long run, it can be great to explore the inversions as well.

Then you have a II V in Eb, Fm7 Bb,

It is practical to stay in the same area of the neck,

then it is Back to Cmaj7

Notice that I am really just playing the basic 4 note version of each chord, so the voicings just contain root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th:

Cmaj7: G C E B

Fm7: Ab Eb F C

Bb7: Ab D F Bb

Then you get a II V I in Ab major: Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7

Another thing that you should always try to do is to think about the chords in small groups, so II V in Eb and II V I in Ab. That is much more flexible and makes it easier to learn songs by heart because you don’t have to remember as many details. I am going to show you quite a few ways of thinking about chords that are like this and incredibly useful for being creative with chords.

Next, you have a II V in G: Am7 D7

And a II V I in C major: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

For the turnaround I am just re-using the chords I already covered and adding a Db7.

Why Drop2 doesn’t matter

I think one of the most common questions I get whenever I talk about Drop2  is why it is called that and how they are constructed. Let me quickly show you why that isn’t that relevant for playing them.

Drop2 voicings are called like that because you take the 2nd highest note (Cmaj7 root position) and then you take that down an octave.

and you can play this in a much nice way like this (Cmaj7 drop2)


If you are playing chords then you have to know them, we don’t have time to think about what note is moving up or down an octave, and if you want to use drop2 voicings you need to have them in your fingers and your ears. Even if you are practicing the inversions then you don’t really think about how it relates to a closed voicing, so it is good to know but not something you really use while playing.

Let’s start putting the chords to use, because THAT is important, and that is what makes them great!

Rule #1 – Cmaj7 is also C6 and Cmaj7(9)

For “a Chord symbol is something you can interpret as” A Chord Diagram in Stone? (download cave painting and put2 chord diagrams on it)

When you play chords in Jazz then you improvise with the harmony. A Chord symbol is something you can interpret, it isn’t a static grip.

So when you see Cmaj7 then you are free to play

Cmaj7, C6, Cmaj7(9), Cmaj7(13)

And some of the other rules I will cover are about how you change the chords and add some of the more colorful extensions.

Now You can easily turn two bars of Cmaj7 into something much more interesting even add a bit of chromatic magic:  (Cmaj7 and C6 with Bb passing note

When you have all these options then you can also tell why I often just write the basic chord and don’t really spend time on the extensions. That is up to whoever is playing the chords

Rule #2 – 9th Instead of Root And Some Chord Relationships

When it comes to adding extensions to a 7th chord then one of the first ones to add is probably a 9th. For voicings with 4 notes then you need to play the 9th instead of something else, and in this case, the root is the obvious choice because it is right next to the 9th and the bass player is anyway taking care of the root.

I’ll demonstrate this with two chords and show you a useful connection at the same time: The basic Cmaj7 and Fm7 are

B-roll: sheet music replacing the diagrams and tabs

And the Root for Cmaj7 is here, so making that a D is giving us this Cmaj7(9).

On the Fm7 the root is on the B string and replacing it with the 9th gives you this:

Getting Out Of The “Grip” Of The Chord

It might seem like you have to learn even more chords to also have a Cmaj(9) and an Fm7(9), but if you look at those chords then notice that one is an Em7 voicing and the other is an Abmaj7 voicing

This is because:

Cmaj7 – C E G B – replace the C with D – D E G B which is Em7


Fm7 – F Ab C Eb – replace F with G – G Ab C Eb which is Abmaj7

Personally, I don’t like thinking other chords than what I am hearing, so I don’t want to think of that as an Em7, and I have become used to thinking of it as something that is both a Cmaj7(9) and an Em7 depending on what I hear in the music. But maybe that is different for you. I find it confusing to have these extra steps in between and I don’t want to think about stuff. You probably want to figure out what works for you with this.

Here you can also move with passing notes and create some beautiful movement, in fact, it works great to move both the 9th to the root and the 7th to the 6th on a maj7 chord:

The next extension that you want to add to a chord is a 13th, so let’s go over that.

Rule #3 – 13th instead of 5th

The basic chords work the best if you keep the 3rd and the 7th in the chord. If you take the Bb7:

Example (+adding examples of Bb7(9) )

For now, the root is used to get the 9th in the chord, so the next note to work with is the 5th.

You can replace the 5th in the chord with the 13th. This works great on dominant chords:

And the same process for the Eb7 can transform that into an Eb7(9,13).

The basic chord, the 9, and then the 9 and the 13.

Example Eb7 Eb7(9) Eb7(9,13)

With this you can create more movement on the II V I in Ab major by also adding the 9th to the Bbm7:

There is also a rule that sounds amazing for minor chords, I’ll get to that in a bit.

Getting Caught In The Grip of Chords

B-roll: G major, campfire, different bar chord options

When you are first learning chords then you learn a grip and that is how that chords sound, later you realize that there might be more ways to play that chord, but for Jazz, I would take that a bit further.

As you can probably tell, then you should not be thinking of these chords as different isolated things, they are more like a group, of chords. A set of options that I can use to make music. This is not so different from how you think about a scale or an arpeggio when you improvise and choose notes to put together in a solo line.

B-roll: Text Cmaj7 in sheet music, zoom in, and add different diagrams around it while blurring out the other chords.

Rule #4 – 11th instead of 5th

As you saw earlier, then you can replace the 5th with a 13th, but sometimes it is more useful to replace it with an 11th, which is a way to get a #11 on a maj7 chord and also have a very useful sound for m7 chords.

If you take the Fm7(9) that you already learned earlier in the video

then the 5th is the C on the high E string, and you can replace that with the 11th of F: Bb like this:

Besides being a beautiful chord this also gives you the chance to create some contrary motion in a II V which is when some voices move up and others down when going from chord to chord:

And using this to create a maj7(#11) is also really simple

Here’s a Cmaj7 and the 5th, G, is the lowest note in the voicing, so that becomes an F#, the #11:

And combining this with the Fm7 Bb7 you can get some cool sounds like this:

Simple Melodies – The Most Important Rule

When you are playing chords behind a soloist then it is incredibly important that you don’t get in the way of the soloist.

One of the ways to make melodic comping that does not get in the way is to focus on stepwise movement in the melodies. This ties together chords very well, and luckily is also a lot easier to play than skipping around.

It can also be a powerful tool to use short melodies that repeat through the changes creating a riff that the soloist can play over:


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Jazz Chords – Easy To Advanced in 5 Levels

The most fun thing about Jazz chords and comping is that you can improvise with the chords and create your own sound in the song. But when you work on this then you need to get everything to work together:

Chords, Rhythm, and Melody!

That is what I want to show you in this video.

#1 Easy Jazz Chords To Great Jazz Chords

Let’s start with a basic set of chords that you can make a bit more interesting and then add some rhythm to. You probably know these already:

I already added some color to these chords, so the Dm7 has a 9th, and the G7 has a 13th, For now, the Cmaj7 is just a basic Cmaj7 chord

These already sound great and you can use them to play lots of songs, but we need them to be a bit more flexible, so let’s throw away the bass notes:

#2 Rhythm Is As Important

Now you have some more flexible chords to work with so the rhythm is the next thing to level up.

Here’s a solid riff you can use:

This demonstrates two important things  about comping rhythms:

First: Repeating rhythms is a very strong concept, it connects to the groove and is really comfortable for a soloist to play over, and actually it is a little bit overlooked for people wanting to play Jazz. It sounds amazing to just sit in the groove with the rest of the rhythm section

Second: When you think about rhythm then you want to think in longer periods, not just a single bar or even less. Here it is a 4-bar statement that is laying down the groove and then making a variation before the next 4-bar period starts. Comping is really about thinking like a drummer and playing the form, and in fact also locking in with the drummer when you play.

With some chords and more ideas about rhythm then you can add some melody to the progression, and you can do that in a few different ways.

#3 Melody and Fills (and more rhythm)

First. you want to just use melody in the chords and then later add fills in between the chords, and check out how this next example also uses another concept for the rhythm.

Let’s first look at the melodies. Here I am using the melodies that are the easiest to add to the chord, simply what I can reach on the top string which here is the B string:

So for Dm7 and for The G7 I have the same melody notes: – and for the Cmaj7 there are two:

The point here is that it should be easy to play, and you don’t need a ton of notes, in fact being too busy will probably just mean getting in the way.

The structure of the rhythm in this example is a mix of call-response and motivic development, so you have a call, then a response. Then I repeat the call and add a different response. When you listen to the rhythm, then try to really think of them as melodies because that is how you can make that a strong part of your playing, especially comping.

Before I start adding extra chords then let’s try adding some fills, so short melodies that are not played with the chords.

There are two ways you can use these:

#1 As melodies leading into or ending on a chord (slow b-roll)

#2 Or short melodies that just add something else in between chords (slow B-roll)

They sound like this:

The fills here have different functions in the music: The first one is a scale run, and really moving to the G7, where I am now using a 2-note version of that chord. The other is more used as a color or variation and is much more arpeggio based since it then sort of takes the place of playing a chord.

While fills often sound great they very easily get in the way of the soloist so you probably want to be a little careful with using them.

Why Don’t You Write G7(13)

I often get this question:

As you can see with fills and the melodies then the sound of the chord changes, sometimes there is a 9th sometimes there isn’t so it doesn’t really make too much sense to write extensions in sheet music unless you want to force the one playing the chords to use a specific sound. That is also why you mostly stick with symbols that demonstrate the basic version of the chord and then the rest is up to the taste and skills of the one playing chords.

Let’s look at a few ways you can change chords and add some extra chords to create a bit more movement.

#4 More Chords!

A great way to keep the chord progressions moving is to add some chords that have more tension and really pull towards a resolution.

This next example uses two ways of doing that.

You can add a chromatic passing chord. There are somewhat complicated theoretical explanations for this, but really it is just about looking at where you want to go and then take a chord that you can slide into that chord.

So if you want to go to this G7 then you can come from above like this: or you can slide up to the Cmaj7 like this.

Notice that I don’t put a name on the chords, and that is because that is not that important, they are just chords that you use to get to the main chord.

The other way that you can create tension is by altering dominants which makes them have more drive towards the resolution, like this:

And an example with chromatic passing chords and altered dominants sounds like this:

Two Ways To Think About Alterations

In this example, you see a G7(b13) on beat 4 of the 2nd bar, and here I am using the alteration as a way to play a chromatic leading note before resolving to the Cmaj7. When you do this then it doesn’t really influence the soloist to use a specific scale and force a different sound on the entire dominant, it’s really just a chromatic passing note. That’s one way to think of alterations on a dominant.

The other way you can use an altered dominant is to play it for an entire bar and really use that sound which also means that the soloist should also play a scale that fits with that. This is a different sound:

#5 Secret Melodies

Until now it has been about chords and the top-note melody, but there is another secret weapon, a beautiful way to add movement in your Jazz chords: Inner-voice movement.

Instead of having the top-note melody it can be nice to have simple melodies move inside the chord like this way of going from Dm7 to G7 with a chromatic enclosure inside the Dm7 chord:

And this also works incredibly well for a static Cmaj7 chord that otherwise can be a bit boring:

In context, that sounds like this:

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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.




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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5 Things That Stop You From Learning Jazz

I often see comments from people who are completely blown away by how complicated and difficult Jazz seems to be. I can easily understand why it will come across like that, but instead of being overwhelmed by funny scales names, crazy chords, or scary rhythms then there is a more relaxed way to get started. As you will see, you can make things simple and easy to work with so that you can start building your skills and enjoy the journey without being scared of falling off a cliff while climbing the Jazz Guitar mountain.

Let’s get into the first problem:

A Million Scales

That is, of course, not true, in fact, if you just start with the major scale and just use that then you will get really far, you could also start with the pentatonic scale, but that is a little more complicated and I will talk about that in a bit. In my experience, the easiest thing to do is to start with the major scale. Along the way, you need more, scales but there are plenty of songs where you can get through them with a major scale in a few different keys, think of songs like Pent Up House, Take the A-train or So Danco Samba.

And don’t start with the “all keys and all positions” stuff, if you can play the scales you need for the song in one position and in the key that you need them, then you can start playing solos. Remember that this is the real goal of the whole thing. Pick up the rest along the way. Don’t waste your life practicing all permutations, positions, and inversions of things that you don’t know how to use.

Starting With Pentatonics

When it comes to starting with pentatonic scales then that is possible, there are songs that you can work through and get started learning just using pentatonic scales. Mostly those are more modern modal pieces, so songs like Herbie Hancocks Cantaloupe Island or Maiden Voyage, which is probably also why both of those are on the famous Jamey Aebersold beginners album Maiden Voyage.

One thing that you do want to keep in mind with starting with pentatonic is that probably what you think of when you think of a Jazz phrase is not pentatonic. All Jazz artists use pentatonic scales, but the phrases you think of when you think of Jazz are very likely more major scale and arpeggios maybe with some chromatic leading notes, and you don’t have that material with the pentatonic scale.

That doesn’t mean you can’t improvise over the songs, but you want to be aware that you might not get the sound you want. So keep in mind that if you “upgrade” your pentatonic scale with 2 extra notes then you have a major scale, that is far from impossible to learn.

When you start out playing Jazz, then you might need some help finding songs and scales, and here I could try to sell you my course because that actually teaches a song like this, but you can also just join the Facebook group and ask there. That is free, and there is a link in the description.

Impossible Theory

When I started out learning Jazz and learning the first Jazz Standards then I did not know a lot of theory, I knew a bit of chord/scale stuff so that I, for the most part, could figure out what to play on the different chords and then practice that. In fact, in one of the first lessons I had, my teacher told me to play #9, b9, and b13 over a dominant, which for quite some time was the only thing I could play on dominants and I could NEVER get that to sound good!

But I still managed to power through. Mostly by being very stubborn, and in the beginning, my approach was that if I could really not figure out what to play on a chord then I could play the melody or find a few good notes like the arpeggio, which gave me a way to survive, and still play the song. It sort of gave me space to figure it out later..

The Advantage of NOT having Internet

In a way, this is one place where I was maybe better off that there was no internet. I would need to try to find a book in the library or wait until I had access to a teacher before I could figure out a chord that didn’t make sense, and that made it easier to just fix the problem with a temporary solution and then wait until I could learn more. Now you can go on the internet and disappear down a rabbit hole spending hours or days googling German augmented 6th and Common tone diminished chords, and the worst part is that often one source says one thing and another will tell you the exact opposite.

So I guess my advice is to not be afraid to cut some corners or only have one or two notes that work on a chord in the beginning. It is about playing the song, that is the bigger picture and you can work on the details along the way without having to spend hours on understanding the analysis of the voice-leading of the original piano arrangement.

The music theory is there to help you play and understand what you are playing, and most of the time you can get really far with Major scales, basic diatonic chords, and a few secondary dominants. No need to make it more complicated than it is.

Complicated Chords

If you are sitting down to play and look at a piece of sheet music like a lead sheet or a big band part then it can seem insane how complicated and detailed the chords are.

And it seems like you have to use quantum physics to play through the chords of the song.

One thing that is important to remember is that in Jazz, chords are there to be interpreted, so if a composer or arranger writes something with 2 or 3 extensions and alterations then that does not always mean that you have to play that, that is just a description of what is happening in the music at that point.

So instead of worrying about all of that then you can also start with just playing the basic chord, which on guitar usually means playing the shell voicings with or even without the root. You start there and then you can add the rest later when you are comfortable reading and interpreting chord symbols like that.

No matter what level you are at this is a great exercise, and all the chords can be boiled down to more basic 4-note chords and you just ignore the rest and don’t play those for now.

And shell-voicings is where you want to start. If you want to see how powerful the shell-voicings are and how there are many ways you can use them to play Jazz Standards then check out this video, there is a link in the video description.

Jazz Songs: Somebody Spilled Alphabet Soup On My Sheet Music

This is of course closely related to the previous topics of theory and chords and how things might seem incredibly complicated, but also with songs there are places you can begin where it is not immediately Giant Steps played backward in 11/8.

There are a few things you can get right that will make it easier to learn songs in the beginning. And these are pretty much all things that I did not manage to get right when I started out, I will tell you about that in a bit.

  1. Pick a song that has a clear and not too long form: 32 bars AABA or ABAC maybe a 16 bar form, these are all common Jazz Standard forms.
  2. Make sure that you stick to things with mostly basic progressions like II V I and turnarounds, stuff you can recognize
  3. Take a song in an easy key so that you don’t worry about that
  4. For ear training, it is often easier to take songs that don’t modulate too much and are clear and easy to hear

The first two songs that I learned were Stella By Starlight and There Is No Greater Love. Both great songs, but if you hold them up against my points here then they far from ideal

If you want some better options then check out the video I did suggesting 10 Jazz Standards to begin with, I’ll link to it in the description. There are a lot of fairly easy standards so you might as well start there and not shoot yourself in the foot to begin with.

For the first songs, you don’t have to learn them by ear, but it really does pay off to get started with that pretty quickly begin with the melody, and then later you can add the bass and use those two things to help you figure out the chord.

Transcribing Solos

A key ingredient when you set out to learn solos by ear is probably just enthusiasm that hopefully turns into stubbornness. That was at least what it was like for me. The first things that I transcribed really just came from loving how Charlie Parker and John Scofield played and then being really curious as to what the HELL they were doing because I really liked it. Then a ton of banging my head against the wall followed while I tried to figure things out. I guess I was lucky that I mostly connected with the bluesy Parker things so there were songs and solos that I could figure out like the theme from Bluebird and the solo from Now’s The Time where he uses the same lick as in Billie’s Bounce, and I did not learn entire solos just the bits and pieces that I could figure out. The same goes for Scofield where I had heard All The Things You Are and I could (probably sort off) play the melody but when I listened to his version on Flat Out it took me somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds to be completely lost.

But similar to how I made horrible choices for songs then you can actually find some pretty easy solos that you can learn, and learning solos by ear is the most efficient way to learn phrasing and begin to hear the right type of melodies and rhythms. It will teach you so many things that you don’t want to rob yourself of that experience.

When you are trying to choose solos that you want to learn by ear then try to check most of these boxes for the solos you want to learn, just to keep it practical:

  1. Take A Short Solo
  2. Choose a solo on a song you know
  3. Be sure that it is not technically out of reach?
  4. Pick an artist that you really like
  5. Pick an artist that you have already listened to A LOT!

And in general, listening to a lot of Jazz music will really help you with a lot of these issues. Even if it is just by listening for a few hours every day in the background then that will pay off massively later, just by getting the music into your ears, a basic feel for the melodies and the rhythms that you don’t get if you only practice the music without actually listening to it.

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7 Guitar Skills That Pay Off Forever

Some skills are more difficult than just learning a new lick:

or a chord voicing,

and you want to keep working on and developing these skills because THEY will benefit your playing and progress forever. They are sort of the opposite of a quick win., but probably also a lot more important. In this video, I will go over 7 of those skills including one that I really suck at, but there is still hope. Some of these may also be unpopular opinions, but I am sure you guys will let me know in the comment section.

#1 Learning By Ear

When I started learning Jazz, I was told to learn songs by ear and transcribe solos pretty early on, and in hindsight, that was some of the best advice I ever had, even if it had a few funny side effects which I will get back to later.

Right now it is easy to get any information, everything is available as a PDF transcription and you can ask “got tabs for that” on any post on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, but learning by ear is incredibly important for how well you play guitar.

When you learn songs by ear then you reinforce the connection between what you hear in your brain and what comes out on the instrument and while this is a pretty obvious advantage for learning to improvise and compose music then that connection is just as crucial if you are playing composed music.

If you are just reading the notes then that is what we call “typing” and you are not really making music just making sounds from a piece of paper.

The odd side-effect that I had by learning songs by ear was that I wasn’t really jamming with other people at the time and just learned songs that I liked from the albums I listened to, and It turned out that “I Heard You Cried Last Night”, “This Is No Laughing Matter” and “She’s Funny That Way” was not really songs that I ever got to play with anyone.

If you are completely new to learning by ear then it can seem difficult to get started, but don’t be afraid to ease into it and go learn songs that you know but never played, and it really is perfectly fine to start with the riffs from Sunshine Of You Love or Seven Nation Army and build from there instead of giving up on a 10 Coltrane solo.

#2 Analyze Your Own Playing And Progress

In my experience, the biggest problem with self-teaching, and this is true for students of any level, is ear training. Not only being able to hear notes and chords but really being able to hear how something is supposed to sound when it comes to all of the important aspects of music.

Keep in mind that Stevie Ray Vaughan uses pentatonic scales, but so does a lot of African folk music and a ton of heavy metal, and they all sound pretty different!

So there is a lot more to music than what notes or scale is used because you need:




to all come together and none of those are described by a scale.

If you are teaching yourself then you need to train yourself to hear what is wrong and figure out a way to improve on that. I am sure you can see how this is difficult to get right.

The way you do that is by recording yourself because It is impossible to listen and catch it all while you are also playing. Then you start analyzing what and how you play so that you can figure out how to get better. and This is something that no YouTube video, blog post or podcast can do for you, but it is an essential part of learning, and it will help you improve your playing forever. The fact that giving yourself feedback is almost impossible is actually also why I have included a community in my course to give students feedback on their playing, in a way that is to let them borrow my ears, get some feedback and help focus their work while going through the course.

So record yourself and listen for what needs work and focus on improving that, and train your ears to hear good rhythm and good phrasing as well as notes and chords.

#3 Fretboard Knowledge

Building an overview of the fretboard so that you are free to move around like Joe Pass does here and play lines over any chord on any part of the neck is of course the goal,

but it is something that you want to build over time. In fact, I found that it works better to start with one place of the neck and make sure that you can make music there and then expand that.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I don’t think I have seen anyone really get a lot out of trying to work on fretboard knowledge without also using this in music. When I see students improve this aspect of their playing then it seems to be mostly by learning a song in one position and then gradually adding the surrounding positions to have an overview of that part of the neck.

The types of exercises that work beyond that seem to be exercises that help you find things in a context on the guitar, so playing diatonic triads or arpeggios across the neck or on a string set, but you need to pair it with using this material to really integrate it into how you already play and actually learn something.

#4 Knowing Music Theory

This is possibly a hot take when it comes to guitar skills, but in general, most people get a lot out of learning some theory so that they can understand the music that they play and what they are doing when they improvise. It really does tend to make them better musicians in the long run.

The trick with theory is that you need to get it away from being just theory for it to be useful, so if you want to understand harmony then you want to know songs that use that harmony, if you want to use the altered scale then know how solos sound that uses the altered scale.

For a lot of us, certainly, for me, it is pretty easy to learn the theory part, but it takes a lot more work to also connect it to your ear and in that way get it to the point where you can actually use it, but that is worth working on and can open of for amazing things in your playing.

#5 Reading Music

Not sure if this is another unpopular opinion, but reading music is really good for learning to play an instrument, and maybe the most important part of that is something that nobody ever talks about.

On guitar then most internet stuff will include tabs and diagrams which are ways of writing down what to play in a very direct and easy-digestible way. They do however leave a lot of information out and some of the advantages to reading sheet music that are not included in tabs and diagrams are:

The Rhythm, a bunch of numbers doesn’t give you the rhythm and that is at least 50% of the music most of the time.

How it sounds in the context and where the notes are going, the number describing the root of the key looks just like the number that is the most dissonant chromatic note over a chord.

Music Notation is more general so if you can read, then you have access to great music that is written for violin, saxophone, piano etc.

Most of this is obvious, but just to give you a superficial example of hearing things in the context, here are the tabs of a II V I lick. From looking at this then it is not immediately obvious that the V chord is going to be sounding out of the key, but if you add the sheet music you can see how suddenly there are a lot of notes in there that are not in the key so you expect those to sound further away.

In fact, if you train reading and especially singing from sheet music, then you are working on hearing what is written, and THAT helps you hear music and know what it is you hear, which is a great shortcut to playing what you hear.

Let’s talk about a skill that I do NOT master….

#6 Setting Up A Guitar

I actually tried to learn how to set up a guitar and become less dependent on others, but I ran into a problem that needed help solving.

The reason that I suck at this is that I am lucky and unlucky to be surrounded by people who are incredible at doing setups and I was always more interested in playing a guitar than setting it up. I actually bought my Yamaha SG1000 as a project to practice setting up guitars.

Most guitars are made of wood, which sort of means that they are still alive and change over time. So the instrument changes with temperature and humidity and you need to set them up so that they play well and stay in tune. This becomes especially relevant when you start traveling with a guitar.

With my SG1000 project, the problem that I ran into was that the bridge had bowed inwards over time and needed to be replaced, That was more than I could figure out myself, see the part of the video on self-teaching, so I just kept trying to get the guitar in tune, with the right action but kept running into problems because the bridge and the neck don’t curve the same way.

This is something that I do plan to pick up again though since it sucks to be stuck in a city in another country with a guitar that doesn’t play as easily as it did at home, maybe I will keep you up to date along the way on that.

#7 Playing With Other People

The only reason that I managed to start playing Jazz at 23 and get into a conservatory two years later is that I focused on playing with other people. I love making music with others, that is by far what I find the most important about making music and what I enjoy doing the most. Spending hours every day during the summer playing Jazz standards in the street really made that all come together and got me to the level I needed to get into music school.

Playing music with others often boosts progress massively when you are learning an instrument for 3 main reasons:




The skill you want to develop here is to be able to communicate, which really means that while you are playing, you need to be able to listen to the rest of the ensemble and decide if you want to follow or lead something in the music and know how to get that across while you are playing. If you just start playing and close your ears to what is happening around you then you will not be called again.

The reason that this will pay off forever is pretty simple, playing with other people is fun and incredibly motivating for you to keep practicing and explore new things, and if you want to be able to use what you practice then you need to internalize it so that you can play like that and still pay attention to the band. In the end, you can jam a standard with a band 100s of times more than what you can practice it, and that will make a huge difference to your development.

So try to work on becoming great to play with by being flexible when you play with others and listening to what they are doing, regardless of how your level of ear training is you will only hear something if your ears are open in the first place.

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Jazz Chords – You Can Make It Simple And Unlock Amazing Sounds

A few years ago I was teaching a student and in the lesson, we were talking about Jazz Blues comping. He was frustrated with his own playing and said that he could not get it to sound right. Explaining that he wanted it to sound like my comping, but that I was using way too many chords and playing very complicated stuff.

To me, that was a bit surprising, because I was trying to demonstrate comping by keeping it simple and while we talked about it I started to realize that you could look at what I was playing as being a simple approach, but it could seem very feel complicated approach, and what really needed to change was the way you think about it.

Getting The Learning Process Right

When you are learning something new then the information can seem overwhelming but often this is also because you don’t have a way to organize what you are learning, and that means that you have to remember a lot of isolated bits of information when really this is about seeing how the pieces fit together as a whole. When it comes to Jazz Chords then, with a bit of practice, you can lean back and play and think about how it sounds instead of trying to figure out how to add a chromatic passing chord to the II chord of the secondary dominant that is added before going to II, because you are really just sliding into a chord.

So, in this video, I want to teach you that same lesson using a basic Jazz Blues, and also show you how to keep it simple and get it to sound right. I also want to show you how crazy it gets if you over-analyze because I think that is both funny and a good demonstration of how NOT to try to use music theory, something that so many get very wrong and that really gets in the way.

Start With Easy Chords

The first thing I told the student to do was to take a Blues in C and then dial all the chords back to 3rd and 7th. I had already taught him the basic shell-voicings and actually also some more complicated chords. That will give you this:

You ALWAYS want to be able to take the chords back to their most simple form and then build it up from there, as you will see this incredibly powerful.

This was close to how I was demonstrating comping the blues, but I was embellishing it a bit with some passing chords, doing things like this:

Here I am about using some approach chords and sliding into the chord, nothing that I consider too complicated. In my head, I am mostly thinking about the basic version of the chords:

But you can (over) analyze this and then it becomes this:

But that is certainly not what I am thinking, that seems way too complicated, and I think that is important to be aware of that because I am really just moving up or down a half-step and then back to the main chord. When I play I am using that to create some movement while still playing the chords in a way that you can hear the song and the harmony. You have to remember that the goal is to play the song and make that interesting in some way.

Nobody thinks complicated stuff when they play, by the time you play then it is a sound, it is something you are familiar with and it is certainly not you solving mathematical equations while trying to comp a blues. Nobody has time for that.

The Real Bonus

In this case, I am just using the 2-note chords, so I move around a bit more, and you want to explore doing that a bit, but the biggest bonus from simplifying and tying everything you play to a simple voicing is something like this, where I still just tie it all back to those original 2-note voicings:

What you see here is that I am still thinking from the basic 2-note chords, but I am using other melody notes not just moving the entire chord around.

So I showed the student how the C7 can be expanded into this:

and for the F7 you have this:

And the trick is just to think of it like a scale version of the chord, material that you can use to improvise while comping.

So a phrase like this:

Is not me thinking all these chords:

Because if you are comping and making music with the chords then it is more compact and efficient to think of it as this chord with this melody added

Because that way you can improvise with it and you are not drowning yourself with information and different chords when there is really only one chord in the song. (show C blues)

There are not 15 different chords at that point in the song, it is just a C7 or an F7.

This is also why I very often just write the basic chord quality no matter what extensions are in the chord, because That is the important information, and if I was comping the song then I am very likely to play something else in the next chorus.

How You Work Practice This

For this to work you need to have your basic shell-voicings and or 2-note voicings down and be able to play them through the song, then you want to sit down and go through the chords exploring some options for melody notes.

Keep it practical: So easy to play and easy to use, don’t worry about skipping some notes, you don’t need to play entire scales like this.

Work a bit on making melodies with each chord and then start using it while comping in a comfortable tempo.

You can even ease into it by only adding a few melody notes in the beginning, 2 or 3 options are already a lot for comping.

Let’s take a look at how to develop some melodies and what to listen for.

Where It Gets Really Great!

Like this, you have a lot of melody notes that fit on the chord, and you can probably hear the harmony in them, so if you want to get better at playing phrases with them then you can take one of the chords and then first just come up with a melody

and then add the chord under it:

Since this is comping and not a chord solo then it pays off to hold back a bit and not play too busy melodies.

Try to think about the rhythm, make sure to use repeated notes since that is a great way to lock in with the groove and even though you have a lot of options then it is good to remember that in comping less is more.

Another thing that works well for comping is to repeat things, when you do that in a solo then it is referred to as motivic development, but in comping that is often called a riff, and having a repeated pattern is also a solid way to glue the whole song together and it is often very nice for the soloist to play on a very stable background like that.

Wes and I Are Checking Out The Same Things

I often imagine some big band phrases that will get you on the right track. Recently I discovered that Wes also did this if you listen to his “shout chorus” on the blues “The Thumb”

And Wes learned this from playing and listening to big bands, so checking out some Count Basie to get some ideas on how to play great rhythms and melodies is not the worst idea ever.

All The Pieces Together

With more melodies notes you can still add all the tricks of sliding into the chord to add some chromatic movement and in that way get something that sounds like this:

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