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5 Theory Tricks That Will Save You Years Of Practice

Music Theory can seem very scary for a Jazz beginner, and you will come across people insisting it is bad for your creativity, but in reality, it is a great help when it comes to learning Jazz, and it helps speed up the learning process.

Imagine a guitarist who doesn’t know theory. He’s stuck, and can’t turn the licks he learns into new vocabulary, he doesn’t have a way to learn and organize the notes on the fretboard

and he can’t use the songs he knows to learn more songs easily, Learning Jazz becomes very difficult like that.

So there are a LOT of advantages to learning just a bit of basic theory. Let me show you how much you can unlock with very basic stuff!

Thinking in Keys

You can compare thinking in keys to learning about cars.

If you think of words like Battery, air filter, and wheels, then the word itself is not saying a lot, but if you think of them as parts of a car you have a much better idea about what they are and what they do. Adding context helps you understand!

Looking at a song and thinking in terms of key is the same, it helps you understand what the chords are and how they sound because they are never just a letter with some numbers. Dm7 is one thing in Bb major and something else in C major, and it will sound different,

just like the battery in your car is probably different from your mobile phone’s, the context helps you understand.

The first time you want to learn a song like a Jazz Standard then you probably want to end up sounding like this:

But in reality, you are looking at the lead-sheet and it seems like there are 1000s of incomprehensible chords and the whole thing is impossible to understand.

The most essential part of getting over this is to stop thinking of each chord as an isolated thing, and use that the song is in a key, where you know the diatonic chords in the scale because that is a huge part of knowing the key and also something you can easily practice for both major and minor scales.

If you look at the song knowing what key it is in, you can immediately recognize the chords that are in the key and diatonic to the scale (highlight those chords) which already will help you deal with most of the song.

But you also realize that chord progressions have direction and move to a resolution, and this helps you understand what is going on and makes it easier to solo over the song.

As you get more experienced it will also help you deal with the chords that are in the key and have a function but are not in the scale something that becomes unnecessarily confusing and complicated if you start looking at them as not connected to the key when your ear tells you that they are.

This was understanding a whole song, but the next trick is just as useful and also leads to a very helpful Barry Harris concept.

Chunks of Chords

Imagine that you have to read a page in a book, but instead of reading the words and sentences then you spell each word on the page. I am sure you can imagine how slow that process is, and how it is also getting in the way of understanding what is written on that page. The same is true for chords. You don’t want to get stuck trying to learn songs by memorizing long rows of abstract letters and numbers when it is much faster to read the chord progression as chunks in the same way you read words.

The most basic building blocks you want to start with are the major and minor II V I, and recognizing different types of turnarounds is the next place to go.

You probably want to start by ignoring extensions and just get used to reading chords as the basic type of chord that they are, so G7(9,13) is just G7, Dm7(11) is just a Dm7 and Cmaj7(9) is just Cmaj7.

The extensions are not that important in this case, and you will anyway be interpreting the chord symbols and ignoring them most of the time.

This is about turning the chords from a long row of symbols into a few progressions that

  1. Makes it easier to remember and
  2. Are building blocks you already know the sound of.

Most standards will end up being just 7-8 progressions once you can think like this and also understand the form and how it repeats which is quite different from remembering a row of 30+ chord symbols.

And you can use this to make soloing a lot easier as well, which is also what Barry Harris teaches.

Not Thinking ALL The Chords

Once you start thinking in groups of chords then you can also open up how you improvise over them. Simplifying the chords is a great way to not get overwhelmed and to make it easier to improvise more melodic solos. Later in the video, I’ll talk about simplifying chords in a different but equally powerful way, but let’s start with Barry Harris.

The main way that Barry Harris reduces chord progressions is by taking away the II chord in a II V I.

For a song that means that you would think this which makes it a lot fewer chords and soloing over it will still make sense.

Another very practical way to re-interpret a common chord progression that you will see with Barry Harris is to reduce a turnaround to a I and a V chord. The previous concept explains taking away the II chord and that also makes the dominant in the 2nd half of bar 1 easy to ignore, since it is anyway on a weak part of the bar.

As an example, check out how this gives you a much easier way to approach rhythm changes just using V chords and tonic chords instead of 2 chords per bar you get a much simpler progression that is a lot easier to solo over.

Later in the video, I will show you another way of chunking together chords that is even more powerful and will help you use chords and vocabulary across a lot of chord progressions. It’s a bit like a boosted Barry Harris approach.

The Power of Diatonic 3rds

The most efficient thing you can do is probably to practice something once and then be able to use it in a LOT of places, and diatonic 3rd relationships help you do exactly that! It really is one of the most powerful things to work with both for chords and for soloing!

I am sure you have heard me talk about how chords a constructed by stacking 3rds in a scale, first creating diatonic 3rds, then the triads and finally the diatonic 7th chords.

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If we start with a C major scale and a Cmaj7 chord then you have these notes:

But for comping, you can also use the chord that is a diatonic 3rd above C: Em7 which essentially gives you a Cmaj7(9)

Another option is the chord that is a diatonic 3rd below: Am7 which gives you a C6,

so if the song says Cmaj7 then you have 3 times as many voicings to choose from.

Check out how it sounds, and a bonus chromatic trick with this II V I in C:

but also like this:

And, the next one goes to the Em7 but then moves voices to transition to the Am7!

This doesn’t work for every chord in every chord progression, but it is well worth exploring, and if you are practicing diatonic arpeggios (which you should be doing, since it is the most important scale exercise in Jazz)

then it is also useful for solos because just like the voicings you have 3 arpeggios you can use over a Cmaj7.

Cmaj7:

Em7:

And Am7:

As you can hear it is incredibly powerful, and it is all over famous Bebop solos from people like Parker, George Benson, and Joe Pass.

You should check out how they work with this if you get the chance.

Functions: Putting Chords On A Shopping List

A lot of these concepts are about how you look at chords and harmony as part of a car, or as words in a text. As you can tell, different ways of thinking makes soloing or comping easier, and this last one is in many ways the most powerful one.

You want to understand and hear chords in categories, similar to how you might order a shopping list. If you go shopping then you make a list with the items you need grouped in categories by what is close to each other, and maybe even the order of where it is in the store: Vegetables, Bread, Dairy, meat etc.

Categorizing chords like this by how they sound and how they behave in the song can be a massive time saver! There is a good chance that you already do this a bit with diminished chords recognizing that in

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 you can also consider that the same chord progression as Cmaj7 A7 Dm7, and therefore you can solo using the same vocabulary.

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But this goes a lot further and is something you can use to make it easier to solo over and play similar chord progressions. You want to start grouping in functions which is grouping them as chords that sound similar and work in the same way.

Let me show you an example with subdominant and tonic chords:

Here you have Subdominant, Minor subdominant resolving to tonic

And that is also what you have here:

Here Dm7 and Fmaj7 are interchangeable and both work as subdominant,

and even if Bb7 and Dbmaj7 don’t contain exactly the same notes they sound very similar in the context and are both minor subdominant chords. You can even easily create vocabulary that works on both progressions:

To me, the biggest advantage is that the chords sound similar and it helps me hear what is going on and what to play over the progressions, especially going from song to song, and the important part is probably more about how the notes move through the progression, but is is also a very good way to group your vocabulary together because you don’t need very different vocabulary for Dm7 and Fmaj7 in C major and while you may need to adjust what you play over Bb7 and Dbmaj7 a bit then it will be very similar and other options like Bb7, Dø and Fm6 are completely interchangeable and you can use exactly the same lines.

The main categories you want to think of are tonic, subdominant and dominant. And then there are common subcategories like minor subdominants and #IV subdominants.

I am showing this with chords in these groups, but keep in mind that chords have different functions depending on what is happening around them, I’ll show you an example in a bit, so be careful with just thinking from an overview like this.

Functions go a bit further than Barry’s shortcut, and tie into understanding chords in the context they are in. In a II V I like Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 then the II chord often makes sense as a part of the dominant that is resolving to I, but if it is II bVII I, so Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7 then it is a subdominant moving to the tonic using a minor subdominant as a sort of transition. Chords are a part of something they are not just defined by what notes are in there.

So start figuring out when a chord is a subdominant and figure out what minor subdominants are in the key like Abmaj7, Fm6, Bb7 and Dbmaj7 are in C major and also how they sound. You probably also want to explore some #IV subdominant chords, there are a lot of dim chords in there. t is a way to think about the chords that connect a lot better with the music and your ears, it really fits how it sounds a lot better.

How To Level Up Your Comping

Of course when you are working on chords then you also need to be able to get them to sound good when you comp, and there are some great exercises that will help you do that which you can check out in this video so that you can level up your chord playing and comping. Check it out! Learn Jazz Make Music

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

 

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12 Things NOT to Do When Starting Jazz Guitar (By a Jazz Guitarist)

As a Jazz guitarist and teacher then let me help you avoid a few things that a LOT of Jazz beginners get wrong and waste a lot of time on! You might be making one of them right now, and there are certainly a few mistakes I have made myself as well, but I’ll tell you about it along the way.

#1 Music Theory Is Not Music

I know that Jazz is complicated, and it can be fun to learn music theory and read about all the different options and things to study that you have available in books or online lessons, but that is a very superficial way to learn things. With theory, you should aim to learn the other way around.

What does that mean? That means you are better off learning songs and solos and then using those to recognize theory in the music you already know.

That is 100x stronger and a lot more efficient, if you have a song with a Lydian dominant or a IVm chord then you immediately know what that sounds like,

but if you just read about it then it is just some abstract concept.

Another problem similar to this that I ran into was that I had lessons in theory which covered way too much without any real connection with music, and when it was connected to music I was told that everyone in Jazz played rhythm changes wrong.

Just start with the music and then learn theory later…

#2 Don’t Start By Buying A New Guitar

Here’s an easy one, which I luckily don’t see that often, but if you think you might want to play Jazz and then don’t start with getting a “jazz guitar” Most of the time people can’t tell which type of guitar it is and you can easily start with another type of guitar.  I did the first 4 years of playing Jazz and getting into the conservatory on my SRV strat, even if I did put flat-wound 13s on it 😁

And I didn’t get my first “real” Jazz guitar until I was 1 year into the education.

#3 Don’t Pretend You Like Jazz

Don’t pretend to like Jazz just because you think it makes you look sophisticated and high-level. There is probably a good and a bad way to go about this. if you play another genre and you want to explore Jazz to get some new influences that is of course fine, but watch out that you don’t sign up for checking out a year of jazz classes with music that you can’t stand listening to ”

and if you don’t like Jazz, there are many other genres you can listen to and get inspired by. In general, you will get more inspired by stuff that you like.

Next one is way to common…

#4 Not Straight To iReal (please….)

This is what not to do: Decide to learn a song, but you don’t learn the melody or learn to play the chords. Instead, you go straight to iReal and try to solo over the chord changes.

This is a very typical beginner mistake, and it is the best way to not learn songs and get very frustrated by your own mistakes and lose the form all the time because you don’t hear the melody in the back of your mind.

And I am certainly speaking from experience here. The first Jazz Standard I tried to learn was Green Dolphin Street, and for a few weeks, I was getting nowhere, using an Aebersold backing track. In hindsight, it is obvious that since I never listened to a recording of it, didn’t know the melody or understood the chords then that was bound to fail, which I also did gloriously!

I have a video where I tell that story that I’ll link to in the description.

#5 Don’t Start With Chord Melody

You probably don’t want to start with chord melody, in fact, maybe you don’t want to start with chords at all, because if you zoom out a bit then melody is more important than harmony. But in any case, it is probably not useful to start with Jazz trying to play an arrangement of a song that is way too complicated for you to hear, understand, or play. Especially if you can’t make your way through a medium-swing Blues in Bb. Playing a solo chord melody requires you to use the skills with feel and timing that you get from playing that Bb Blues and technically chord melody arrangements are often very difficult, and you don’t improve your phrasing and feel by trying to remember chords and straining your fingers.

You learn that somewhere else, and rhythm and feel are important things in Jazz. Joe Pass didn’t start by learning something as difficult as one of his own chord melody versions off virtuoso.

#6 Don’t Forget The Blues

Since I mentioned Blues, Don’t forget about the Blues, Jazz can become too academic and technical, it is not all about scales and extensions and there are things that sound amazing and don’t fit a 100% in the boxes and categories that we think of as Harmony and Music theory. Blues is probably the most important of those. You can play Blues with conviction on pretty much anything and because it is Blues then it sounds fine even though it clashes with all the chords. Using Blues and checking out Blues will help you have more sounds in your playing so that you are not always sounding like a machine interpreting the harmony,

so it will help you have more variation in your playing.

I have certainly had periods of only focusing on spelling out the harmony, and usually checking out solos and listening to great jazz artists is what has pulled me out of that. They always have that connection in there, that should tell you something.

#7 Books With Chords

Another mistake that especially beginners make is with chord books. I get that it is fun to play chords, but you can’t really do anything with them if you are just looking at a book with some diagrams without also trying to put them to use in songs. Learning empty information without also learning how to put it to use in music is very inefficient, and this may be a hot take, but I have to admit that I think that even some of the Ted Greene books fall into this category,

so if you want to study that then make sure to also know some standards by heart so that you can put it to use.

#8 Spectator Learning?

I was hinting at this in the beginning, learning Jazz but only spending time looking at YouTube videos and online lessons, without putting it to use. This is not going to get you anywhere, not even if they are my videos,

You will need to also sit down and practice some music. If you want some help with that and a longer learning path, then enroll in my course and join the community to get some feedback and the chance to learn together with others.

You can request an invitation here: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

#9 Not Having A Metronome?

When I was just getting started playing Jazz then I was playing something in a lesson, I don’t remember what it was, it was probably playing a song with my teacher. He stopped me and asked me if I owned a metronome, and if I did, then why I didn’t use it.

You also don’t have perfect time, so use a Metronome, and don’t use backing tracks all the time. Make sure that YOU feel the time, that YOU can groove, and that YOU can hear the harmony, don’t lean on a recording or an app too much. That is why everyone is ALWAYS telling you to use a metronome!

Some of the grooviest people I know, like Charlie Hunter,

are always practicing with a metronome! That really should tell you something.

#10 Start With Simple Chords

Many of us get interested in Jazz because we come across beautiful chords with lots of extensions and colors, but don’t only focus on learning difficult chords with lots of extensions. They are much more difficult to use, I guess that is also why Barry Harris is often talking about not liking big chords. Instead, focus on simple chords that you can play songs and turn into music. We’re talking Shell-voicings, Drop2, Drop3. Don’t think so much about Allan Holdsworth, and more Freddie Green.

There’s nothing wrong with Holdsworth, he is a favorite of mine but not the place you start if you want to have voicings for “All of Me” for your new Jazz combo.

#11 First Scales & Arpeggios

Maybe this is the equivalent of the chord books? At least it is very similar: First insisting on learning scales, arpeggios and other technical things before you learn any music is not going to be useful. You also want to get started with the music, and you don’t need to know everything in all positions and all keys before you start learning songs. Probably nobody did!

#12 Jazz Is A Language

Don’t Forget That Jazz is a Language and you need to learn to speak it so play with the right type of vocabulary and the right phrasing. One of the easiest ways to learn that is to learn solos by ear and play along with them to get that into your system. But i can be difficult to learn solos by ear, and you want to take something that is not too difficult so that you don’t give up in the middle and just get frustrated. If you want some suggestions for very easy solos but also great solos to start with, then check out this video, where I go over some easy solos by Amazing Jazz guitarists, probably stuff you anyway want to learn! Check it out!

5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

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Jazz Beginners: Grant Green Is The Most Important Guitarist To Check Out!

The Most Difficult Skill To Learn

You want to sound like Jazz. That’s the goal! You want to be able to take a song, solo over it, and play stuff that sounds right, with good phrasing and good timing. And That, is the most difficult thing about learning Jazz is not the technical things like scales and arpeggios, hitting the changes.

One of the best places to get started with this is to start learning solos by ear, and I think you should start with Grant Green solos. You might wonder why Grant Green

That is because His solos will teach you:

  • Amazing Bebop Phrasing and Vocabulary on the guitar (so it is easier to play)
  • Great Jazz Blues (In A few different variations)
  • Fairly simple with Friendly tempos

Because if you are learning solos by ear then don’t go straight to Allan Holdsworth.

I’ll show you some great Jazz Blues examples from Grant Green and in the process show you solos to check out that are fairly easy to start with.

Let’s start with a great Jazz Blues line from his solo on Solid which is both my favorite Grant Green album and a great Bb Blues:

You can hear how strong the phrasing is and how he is just sitting so nicely in the groove. The line is simple, it’s just triad stuff, major pentatonic with that 6th, the G,

in there and sliding into the 3rd:

Notice how he also has a lot of dynamics in the lines the low G at the end of the example is almost not there.

From Blues To Bop

You can probably tell that this is far from impossible to learn, and alsoa lot of fun to play! That’s the blues side of things, but there’s also some Bebop stuff to check out. Here are some triplet arpeggios, pivot arpeggios and trills:

I don’t know why, but that last phrase ending with a maj7th arpeggio that dips to the 6th and back to the maj7th reminds me of Peter Bernstein. I need to figure out why that is. This and the next example shows how Grant Green uses different sounds to keep the solo interesting.

First we get all this Bebop: You have a descending Fm7 triplet arpeggio,

some phrasing with a slide into G then an Abmaj7 pivot arpeggio,

something he uses VERY often, and which is also a great Bebop sound. And on the Eb7 you have the maj7th arpeggio from the 7th: Dbmaj7.

This is exactly the type of line and the type of vocabulary building blocks that you want to have in your fingers and in your ears as a part of your playing.

Changing Things Up

But to change things up then Grant Green really shifts to another gear, going back to some Blues phrasing:

Notice that he just really sticks to simple Bb lines and isn’t playing material that is based on the F7 chord that’s in the song.

Digging into the Blues as a contrast to the longer Bebop phrase. That is also a huge part of what makes him such a great example.

I am focusing on Jazz Blues because Grant Green is amazing at this, but there are many other things you can learn as well, as you will see.

My hot take on Grant Green’s tone not being great on all albums also makes this a good example because here he sounds quite different from some of the later examples, that might also be why this album is my favorite, though having Joe Henderson on Sax also doesn’t hurt!

Mixing Major and Minor Blues

One of the greatest parts of the Jazz Blues sound is when you mix major and minor blues and get some of that blues sound but also has some of the expensive extensions in there. That is what happens here in this simple but strong example. Later I’ll go over an example that really leans on the minor blues scale. Check out how he is using a short 3 or 4-note motif and just sitting on the root, but using that to connect the whole thing and turn it more than just running the chords. In the 4th bar goes to minor pentatonic to create a bit of tension to drive the Bb7 sound home before the progression moves to Eb7.

Often when you start to play Jazz then you only want to spell out the changes, play lines and add chromatic notes and arpeggios. That is important, but it is good to remember that all the guys we look up to also sometimes plays something really simple. It is about balance.

Grant Green – A Tale Of Two Tones

I’ll show you more examples of this Jazz Blues Mix later.

This example is from Cool Blues, another Bb Blues, and here you can also hear an example with a much thinner tone luckily not so much spring reverb as he has on the Standards album. I suspect that it is a combination of which amp settings and then which guitar he uses, possibly also what the recording engineer decided to do. In these earlier recordings like Cool Blues he is playing his ES330 which has p90s and he showed George Benson that he always sets his amp by turning down treble and bass completely and turning up the mids. I believe he was using a Fender Super Reverb. I do wonder if he wasn’t playing an amp without a mid control, I think most amps didn’t have that in 60s, but I am not sure. The tone is in any case fairly thin even compared to how he sounds in the first example from Solid, which I prefer. I tend to think it is about him not using a p90 from then on, but again I am, not sure. Let me know what you think, I know it is an unpopular opinion that I am not a fan of his early tone…

Check out how minor blues is also nice for Jazz:

Raw Minor Blues

Here’s another example from the album Grantstand which came out in 1961. When I was checking out what year this was from, because it sounded like an early album I noticed something quite mind-blowing: Grant Green Recorded 8 Albums as a leader in 1961!

That is pretty insane! And he was a sideman on 15-16 other albums.

Pretty impressive!

Check out how he starts his solo with some REAL minor blues:

This is all Box 1 Bb minor blues,

the only thing that doesn’t make it something Stevie Ray Vaughan or Clapton could have played is that he isn’t using any bends here. He stays with this sound and elegantly transitions into a solid Bebop line that I think also illustrates something that often is analyzed wrong on m7 chords, especially from this period.

It’s Not Melodic Minor

Check out how he is really just sliding into that B to go the G7 (play) and it is not just scale or arpeggio there is immediately a trill in there as well.

That Cm7 line really shines, it is simply a beautiful Bebop melody with that skip and the enclosure! (PLAY) Often you will hear people analyze that as Grant Green playing Melodic minor on Cm7, because there is no Bb in there but you do have a B.

That isn’t really what is happening, it is just an enclosure of the root with a chromatic leading note.

But as I have said in other videos: If you are trying to analyze and understand a lick or a melody then the answer is probably not a scale. That is just what notes are used and a random set of notes from the scale won’t sound that great. There is always more going on.

Let’s check out some motivic stuff with rhythm and maybe a line George Benson stole from him.

Melody and Rhythm

George Benson plays this exact turnaround in his Billie’s Bounce solo,

right t the spot where the studio lost power and the tempo gets warbly. I don’t know what you think, but I think it is a nod of gratitude to Grant Green.

Check out this pickup from his solo on Blues For Willarene:

 

I just wanted to include that. This Blues is from Grant’s First Stand which is another of his albums recorded in 61.

The main reason I am including this is this next phrase:

So again mixing the Major and minor blues sound setting up a motif (play) then he changes it a bit, mostly by moving it so the rhythm is more on offbeats.

then the next version uses a higher note and morphs into this motif which is all on one string, and he works with that going to Eb7 and back.

Another Intro To Jazz Blues: Joe Pass

The way Grant Green works with the rhythm in developing this motif is phenomenal! You can learn so much from playing these solos! Another solo that both defines great Jazz Blues and taught me a lot is the track “Joe’s Blues” from the album “Intercontinental” Check it out!

It is by far my favorite Joe Pass album to listen to and that Blues is incredible!

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

 

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5 Things That Ruin ALL Jazz Beginner Solos

The Roadblock

This is such a common roadblock when you are just getting started with Jazz:

You are practicing scales and arpeggios, but getting that to sound right in a solo is very difficult, and the only help you can find is adding more complicated and weird things which doesn’t really solve the problem and just gives you more scales and arpeggios to practice.

Avoid Scale Solos

Most of the time, The problem is that your solos sound too much like you are just running up and down scales, which is maybe “correct” but also pretty boring and predictable

B-roll: list over “I will show you some simple…” Arpeggios, Interval Skips, Rhythm, Phrasing”

As you can hear, everything is moving stepwise and nothing is really happening. To fix this you need to get better at using scales and arpeggios more creatively. I will show you some simple strategies for that in this video, without throwing scales, chromatic passing chords, and super-imposed pentatonics at you. (Tony Stark eye roll)

#1 Arpeggios Can Be Nice (but use them the right way)

The first thing to add is arpeggios, since the previous example didn’t have any arpeggios, and they already help to break up lines that are only scale movement, but you want to use them in the right way.

A “rule” that I see quite often online for Jazz is arpeggio up, scale down.

That is very similar to a counterpoint rule for melodic tension which says that a leap in one direction is resolved by motion in the opposite direction. (show example with arrows or lines) That counterpoint rule is a good one for a stable melody, but later I’ll show you some examples where great Jazz lines break some of the counterpoint rules.

Arpeggio up/scale down is pretty easy to play, just watch out that it isn’t the only thing you do with arpeggios. Here I am using it going from Dm7 to G7:

But you can also change things up by inserting a descending arpeggio and treat it as a “break” from a scale run. You play the arpeggio and then go back up to the note below the note you started on. Here I am using that over the Dm7 chord and using another useful trick: the arpeggio from the 3r, in this case that’s an Fmaj7 arpeggio. Just to quickly explain that. If you look at the notes of Dm7 and Fmaj7 you can see that 3 of the notes are the same and the only difference is the E which is a 9th against Dm7, which sounds great.

You can do this with most chords, and it just means that you have several arpeggios available for any chord you solo over.

You may have noticed that I sometimes have other ways of not playing scale runs in the last two examples, I’ll get to those later as well. Another way to use an arpeggio is to play it as a triplet which is a great way to change up the flow with rhythm. In this example you also want to notice how I am using the descending arpeggio melody that I just showed you but now with the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, Bø:

#2 Simple, Flexible and Incredibly Powerful

Before we get to the very simple melodic technique that breaks the counterpoint rule then I want to show you what I used at the beginning of the 2nd example to create this:

and a sneaky variation of it is also what I am using in the 3rd example going from Dm7 to G7

One of the most important parts of the sound of good Bop-inspired Jazz lines, is that they have surprising twists and turns but they also have direction, and that is what I am using here: Enclosures, which is an incredibly deep topic, and something that helps you create great lines on scale melodies, arpeggios and triads!

On the Dm7 line, I start on the A and then instead of moving directly down to F which would be the next note in the arpeggio there are two notes placed around the F, E under it, and G above it. PLAY and what makes it even more powerful is that the enclosure moves up from E to G while the melody is moving from A down to F, so it has both the forward motion and a surprising change of direction.

The easiest way to work on this is to use 2-note chromatic enclosures on the arpeggio, because they are the most flexible and the easiest to play. The concept is simple: a diatonic note above the chord tone and a chromatic note below, so for a Dm7 arpeggio, E above & C# below, resolving to D. G above and E below, resolving to F and so on.

The entire exercise is this:

and you can play it descending as well:

And just using this on the arpeggio gives you solid lines that are anything but boring. Here I am using the enclosure around F and D on Dm7 and also around the B on G7

Let’s have a look at how Bebop breaks some counterpoint rules, and then start talking about how you get this information into your playing because that may not be obvious.

#3 Breaking The Counterpoint Rules

In many ways then Bebop and Jazz lines are closely related to the language of Bach, and the rule that I mentioned about resolving a leap in one direction by moving in the opposite direction does sound quite natural and fits a lot of Jazz lines. Think of the Ellington ending:

But the interval of a minor 6th is not allowed so it is, in that way, breaking the rules, and that descending minor 6th is a great sound for Jazz lines.

Jazz also doesn’t have a problem with parallel 5ths and a few other things but counterpoint was also created for polyphonic vocal music so that isn’t that surprising.

The descending 6th interval can be used as an incredible sound! A simple version of it is to insert it between the half-steps in the scale, in C major that would be between the C and the B, where you can place an E and between the F and the E where it is an A.

And these interval skips are great for Bebop and used all over the place! There are more options but for this I’ll stick with these two. Check out how I first use the interval skip and then two enclosures on Dm7 following that up with the descending arpeggio technique on G7:

The Practice Strategy

By now, you should be wondering how you internalize material like this. You probably noticed that I am not really giving you specific licks it is more like recipes for melodies that you can move around and use to create your own licks.

You could look at getting this into your playing as a 3-step process where the 2nd one is probably often left out, and the reason you won’t get it into your playing:

#1 Exercises

First, you need to take care of any exercises like practicing the scales, be able to play the arpeggios or enclosures

#2 Compose/internalize

Start composing lines with the topic you are working on, so take a single thing and start making lines.

You want to be able to play the lines you come up with in time, but the biggest focus should be on making a lot of lines. That is where you learn something and where you start to hear the melodies that you want to get into your playing.

Keep it simple and don’t try to do only new things because you want to connect the new things to what you already play so that it becomes a flexible and active part of your vocabulary, not something you have to think about.

#3 Put It To Practice

Take a song you know very well and start soloing while you focus on using the new melodic technique or piece of vocabulary that you want to get into your playing.

Most of the time, students underestimate the benefit of writing tons of licks and exploring the material in that way, so pay attention to that while you practice and be a little patient. Keep in mind that Barry Harris taught Bebop by writing licks and explaining the lines. Composing licks can also be great for developing your rhythm and your phrasing, let’s look at that.

#4 The Curse Of Heavy Beats

Keeping up with the changes is very difficult in the beginning, and often we try to hit target notes on beat one whenever the chords change to make it clear to ourselves that we are following the harmony. This is an important skill, but it is not really great for your rhythm so here are two things you should try to work on that helps lighten it up:

#1 don’t stop on beat 1

When you end the line, in this case that makes most sense on the Cmaj7, in the II V I, then continue into the bar and try to end on an offbeat like I do here, and see if you can spot all the other stuff from this video that I use:

This example actually uses the next thing when going from Dm7 to G7:

#2 Resolve on 4&

Try to resolve to the chord on 4& to anticipate the chord change,

again adding forward motion and energy to the line. This is something where it makes sense to spend time composing lines to get it into your ears and into your playing. And in the example, notice how the enclosure is used to help the transition from Dm7 to G7

#5 Technique for Dynamics

The Phrasing is where the music is, and when it comes to phrasing in Jazz then one of the most important parts is the dynamics in the line, and you can use technique to make that easier. This is probably also why so many Jazz guitarists mix a lot of different techniques when they play: It is the most efficient way to get the right phrasing.

For the dynamics then two techniques are great to incorporate: slides and legato.

Here’s an example without any phrasing:

and here it is with some added phrasing techniques, and notice that I tend to use techniques so that I pick a note on the offbeat and make that louder than the note that follows on a downbeat:

I am sure you can hear the difference. When you start working on this then try to find some simple licks where you have a high note on an off-beat, like this way of playing a Dm7 arpeggio:

Or using a pull-off from an offbeat in a descending scale run like this which also makes it easier to play for your right hand:

The Biggest Mistakes Learning Jazz

One of the most difficult moments I ever experienced on a stage in front of an audience is tied to a myth, something that people sometimes will say but that isn’t true. It is easy to waste practice time on stuff like that and you can better focus on actually learning how to play and building the skills you need. I tell the story of that failure on stage and some of the other concepts that you should not waste your time on in this video! Check it out!

Jazz Beginner – 5 Myths That Waste Your Time

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The Massive Misunderstanding About Modulations

The problem is that you probably don’t know what a key is, and it is a LOT more than you think!

If you look at the C major scale:

Then that is just the scale, the key of C major is so much more, and once you start to understand that then you are going to find it a lot easier to understand chord progressions, songs, and how to improvise over them and it will blow your mind with what you can do with chordsin the key of C major! I’ll show you along the way.

If I have to sum up what this video is about the it is:

Scale ≠ key

Let’s start with a chord progression that is in C major, but has quite a few chords that are not in the C major scale.

Diatonic Chords

An important part of the chords associated with a key are the diatonic chords of that the scale, so the chords you get, if you stack 3rds in the scale:

3rds

Triads

7th Chords

If you do that you have these chords:

The Progression

Here’s a chord progression that we can use to understand some of the chords that are in the key but not in the scale. In the example there are 3 categories of chords that are not diatonic to C major but are all common chords in songs in the key of C:

Immediately you can see that Cmaj7, Dm7, and Fmaj7 are all diatonic chords in C so they are easy to analyze. But there are a few left, I’ll start with the A7 and Eø chords, but first, let’s just talk about what a modulation is.

Modulations – It’s not just changing scales…

The first thing you need to realize is wrong is the rule that if you have to change the scale then you are also in another key. That is not how your ear experiences this, you can go back to the chord progression and listen if you can hear the C as root, and if that changes once you hear the A7.

So the key is more sticky than just diatonic chords, and it doesn’t modulate until it really establishes a different key, take a famous song like All The Things You Are, the first part is almost pretending to be in Fm and then turns out to be in Ab major:

But then you get a clear shift once it goes to G7 and resolves to Cmaj7 instead of the Cm7 that your ear expects:

First, just listen and notice at this point, it would not sound crazy if the songs stayed there and started to play a turnaround in C, to stay in that key.

So what is the difference between the G7 in All The Things and the A7 in my example progression:

The biggest difference is what you hear, you can hear that Ab is not the root anymore when it goes to Cmaj7 and stays there. But that also has to do with the fact that the Cmaj7 is on bar3 in 4 bar phrase so it is given a place in the form that is reserved for the “important” chords. Compared to A7 that is tucked away in the 2nd half of a bar.

Another difference is that the Cmaj7 is a tonic chord, where A7 is a dominant that might lead to another tonic chord but instead resolves back into the key when it goes to the II chord Dm7.

You can start by asking yourself these 3 things if you want to figure out if something is a modulation, and the first thing is indeed to use your ears and ask yourself if it sounds like one. Do I hear another root.

Is it a tonic chord, because if it is modulating then there has to be a root, and you also want to check if it is immediately moving back to the original key. That will help you recognize modulations.

Now you know why A7, Abmaj7, Eø and F#dim are not modulations, but what are they then?

Let’s start with the most common category:

Secondary Dominants and…

This is about what is probably one of the most important things about chord progressions, and your music is really boring if that is not in there: Forward motion!

If you listen to a piece of music then the chords should help you feel a story, they should create tension and resolution to keep it interesting, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to use Secondary dominants.

The strongest resolution we have in music is dominant to tonic:

But in the scale there is only one real dominant, and for C major that is G7.

Luckily the V I, or dominant resolution is so strong that we can add dominant chords for other chords as well, and these are called secondary dominants.

In the progression, the chords go from Cmaj7 to Dm7,

but to add some energy and push towards the Dm7. You can add an A7, and in this case that is the A7 shows up as belonging to the key of Dm because it resolves to Dm7:

Compared to just moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7., then there is clearly more happening, and this is just using a dominant resolution to have some energy towards Dm7. When you analyze these then you write a V but in a bracket to show that it is not the V of the key but a secondary dominant.

But there is another variation possible as well which is a bit later in the progression:

This is a variation of the secondary dominant, but instead of using the dominant, I am using the 7th degree of of the scale to resolve, so in C major that would be Bø Cmaj7,

and in if the chord it resolves to is a minor chord you would use a full diminished chord like this:

These work like the secondary dominants and are a little less common, but still in a lot of songs. You analyze them as secondary seventh: [VII]

Let’s move on to the chords that are probably the most beautiful, and then get to the category that people always try to argue doesn’t exist.

Minor in Major – The Most Beautiful Sound

The Grass is always greener on the other side, so when you are moving around in the major key it can sound really beautiful to have some chords that sound like they are from minor. This is mostly used with subdominant chords, but we do us it with the dominant as well sometimes.

In the example progression, I am using my favorite chord in the key of C major: Abmaj7, the bVImaj7.

Here it is used to create a more interesting transition back to Cmaj7 from Dm7, so it feels a bit like a major subdominant to a minor subdominant back to the tonic Like this:

“and of course I am playing it like this”:

And you can use most of the other beautiful options like a IVm chord:

A Backdoor dominant, which is really just an Fm6 with a funny bass note:

Or the Neapolitan Subdominant which sounds great but is a bit more complicated to explain:

S)

I have another video going into how these work and where they come from that you can check out, there’s a link in the description

Let’s talk about the one that people are always trying to argue doesn’t exist.

#IV – It IS a thing!

The #IV diminished chord! So many people want to tell you that it is really another chord that should resolve somewhere else, which already tells you that it is not a fantastic description. I’ll cover the most common one of those in a bit, but first let us look at what the #IVdim chord is:

The easiest way to understand it is probably to look at it as chord coming out of voice-leading, so if it resolves to Cmaj7 then you could look at it like this:

So really just a way to add a few chromatic leading notes when moving from F to C,

but looking at it like this also makes it clear that you are not modulating to another key, it is not related to another scale in any way. You should also notice that this voice-leading works really well backwards as well especially if you have a 6th on the F chord:

This is what this common progression is Cmaj7 Ebdim Dm7 really is

So that also demystifies that progression, I hope.

The #IV dim is also a great way to create suspensions:

and you will often find it reharmonized as a IIø V to III, especially In Jazz Standards this is often to harmonize a phrase where the 7th of the key is in the melody like “I Remember You”

The Thing It Isn’t

Why is that a common mistake? That isn’t a huge surprise, The first thing you learn is with diminished chords is probably about dominant diminished chords, something like

This is where you get used to blindly turn a dim chord into a dominant, and usually that conversion is where the root of the dim chord is the 3rd of the dominant, so for C#dim then the dominant with C# as a 3rd is A7, which makes sense since A7 is the dominant of Dm7.

But try to listen to the part of the progression that has the F#dim chord:

in this example you have an F#dim which would then translate to a D7(b9), but that doesn’t automatically make it a V of V, looking at it like that would be just looking at the notes and ignoring the other chords.

 

In the progression the F#dim does not resolve to G or G7, it resolves to a Cmaj7 chord, and notice how that still sounds like a resolution.

If you are in a major key, (we are in C major) then the V of V does not have a b9, try playing some songs with a V of V and listen to how a b9 sounds in that place, because that is not a common sound, I can right now only think of one song that has that, and that is to get a blues sound.

You also want to listen to how that dim chord or it’s inversion will resolve not only to the tonic chord, but also to other subdominants like Dm7 and Fm6.

So there are quite a few reasons why this is not just a V of V, and in fact, the diminished chord is not dominant at all, it is subdominant.

But I am sure people will still comment that it is a V of V also on this video…

Think Like The Pros

And this has to do with how you think about chords. Chords are more than notes, because the same chord can be many things depending on what context it is in. This is also a part of what makes Functional harmony such an incredibly powerful tool.

You can use that to not only understand the chord progression and make it simpler, it is also a great help in improvising over chords and knowing what notes to play.

To get into that approach and also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino approach harmony then check out this video which covers that and will make it easier to learn songs and solo over changes!

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

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Jazz Beginners: 7 Habits That Keep You Stuck Forever!

There are a few habits that you need to quit if you don’t want to be stuck as a jazz beginner forever. Some of them might be a bit hard to give up, one of them will probably offend a few you, but it is worth it to get this right.

Let me know which one you think is most important or if I forgot to mention one!

#1 Thinking in Scales

Let’s start with some practical music theory, that helps you play better,  because this is a very common problem that you can do a lot about with very little effort. I certainly remember this part of learning Jazz from when I was just getting started.

It is pointless to try to translate chord progressions or songs to scales! So just Stop doing that! Simply because that is not actually helping you play better, it just isn’t useful information, and It will only help you to sound like you are practicing scales on top of the song:

You need to change how you think about what notes to play.  When you improvise Jazz then you are using scales that have 7 (or more) notes which means you can add a lot of color, but it also means that you need to be able to choose the right notes and be aware of what notes you are playing,

which is maybe different from what you are used to with the pentatonic scale. But you actually want it to be the same as the pentatonic scale, you don’t want to think about it when you are playing.

Let’s say you have a Dm7 chord and that is the II chord in C major,

you want to have different priorities for the notes in the scale. You want to be aware that the Dm7 chord tones are stronger or closer to the chord.

Having that overview makes it easier to play something that nails the sound of the chord, but you want to go a step further than just having that overview of the notes:

When you improvise over a chord then you are not starting from scratch every time, so you want to have a vocabulary of flexible licks that you can use in your solo and put together in different ways, so for the Dm7 you might know that you can use an Fmaj7 arpeggio

and that a certain chromatic phrases sounds great:

And if you put these two together you get:

The important thing here is that you have blocks of melody that you can hear and not theoretical notes that you have to think in your head while playing.

And that knowledge should be flexible so that you can create new things with the building blocks, not just play the same licks every time.

Practice your scales and arpeggios,  but make sure to also learn vocabulary using them so that you have some melodies that go with it, which is probably how you played a solo in the Pentatonic scale. You need something that is music not just theory and technique. Later I will also show you how you can fix the way you think about chords and chord progressions, because that can also be very inefficient!

#2 A 4-bar Loop is NOT a song

I guess Ed Sheeran and Daft Punk might disagree with me on this, but a 4-bar loop is not really a song, and if you want to learn Jazz then you also need to learn Jazz songs, and jazz songs are rarely just 4-bar loops. Learning songs is going to get difficult if you are only practicing looped II V I progressions or a static maj7 chord or something like that.

It is the kind of thing that can be beneficial to do for a period, but you probably don’t ever want to only be doing that for more than a few days. Learning songs, learning real music is much too important, and you don’t go to a Jam session to play an II V I in Eb for 20 minutes. You go there to play songs, so that is what you need to learn!

Of course, The first song can be very difficult to get through but if you pick an easy one then it is far from impossible, and you can check out my Roadmap course if you want a step-by-step guide to take you through that process, learning to solo on a standard.

The Roadmap: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

I have fun helping students in the community with feedback as they solo with the material on a Jazz standard and build their skills, it has become a great place to hang out.

#3 Chords Are NOT Islands

If you are trying to learn songs then it can be difficult to remember all the chords in there. Most Jazz standards are 32 bars,

so that is probably more than 32 chords you need to remember. The thing is that you should not be thinking about each chord at all because that is making it a LOT more difficult! Instead, you want to chunk the chords together.

If you know how to do that then you don’t need to remember as many chords. It is like learning to read the words in a sentence instead of trying to memorize all the letters in there. Improvising should also be more about playing through groups of chords.

For this, You want to learn to recognize these harmonic building blocks in the chord progressions, just start with II V I’s and turnarounds but make sure to learn more,

because that will make it 1000x easier to learn chord progressions by heart, and it also makes it easier to hear a chord progression because hearing a Dm7 out of context(example)  is not as easy as hearing a turnaround (example). The building blocks make it closer to something you can hear, relating it to a bass melody or how other songs sound.

Remember to let me know in the comments which habit is most important for you, or if there is one I forgot to include.

#4 Working On The Wrong Exercises

A way to transition smoothly from 3rds to triads to 7th chords  (or each of those exercises)

When I went from playing Blues and Rock to playing Jazz, then one of the transitions that was difficult to get used to was learning to improvise with 7-note scales like the major scale instead of pentatonic scales.

For me, it took some time before I figured out how to learn the scales and what to practice, especially when it comes to Jazz. I started with major scale exercises that might be useful for getting a bit more flexible with the scale in a technical sense, but they didn’t help me play Jazz. But you don’t need to do that, instead, you can focus on practicing the things that you need for Jazz solos. You don’t want to play 4-note sequences in a Jazz solo (Yngwie?)

You are better off focusing on diatonic triads and arpeggios, and also how to add chromatic leading notes to that, because that is what the jazz licks are made of. The way I always tell students to build this is by starting with the diatonic 3rds as a stepping stone

to diatonic triads

and then the 7th chords which are the main structure of most Jazz music.

When you work on these exercises then you are practicing things that you need when you solo and you make it easier to play lines like this:

So stop practicing things that you don’t need when you solo because that is probably a waste of time!

#5 Only Exercises

This is horrible about beginning Jazz and at the same time also one of the greatest things about Jazz:  There are so many possibilities and so many interesting and wonderful things to check out but you also have to watch out that you don’t get stuck just scratching the surface of a lot of stuff without really putting things to use.

If you are only practicing exercises and exploring new material without also playing music and putting the things you practice to use then you probably won’t learn what you are exploring and you also won’t get any better at playing Jazz which was the real goal to begin with. Don’t get stuck with only doing exercises! This is again an essential part of how I have constructed the roadmap, only a few exercises and then a practical way to turn them into music and help you get started playing solos!

Maybe this one is not a bad habit and more of a missing good habit, but if you are not listening to Jazz, you probably won’t ever learn to play Jazz. It is always a bit surprising that I have to say this at all, because why would you want to learn to play Jazz if you don’t listen to it?

I was talking to Adam Levy, who you may or may not know, he has been a guest on the channel quite a few times and has his own YouTube channel.

He mentioned some practice advice that he had received from Joe Diorio in a masterclass: Your practice sessions should always be 50% listening to music! If Joe Diorio recommends something then that is something you should consider, given how incredible and influential a musician he was.  But, you could also argue that this means that if you are driving and listening to Jazz then you are also practicing and you could be practicing while cooking or doing the dishes. Don’t underestimate how much you learn just by listening to a few albums of great music!

#7 Backingtrack Addiction

There is always a hot take in these videos…

One of the most important parts of learning a song and being able to improvise over it is being able to hear the harmony inside and being able to feel the time without leaning on the rest of the band and relying on them to carry you through it. The easiest way to get to that point is to practice with a minimal reference so that if you mess up the time or the chords then you immediately become aware of it. And of course, being aware of this and fixing it when you’re practicing is a lot better than messing up when you are playing with other people. One of my teachers pointed this out to me when I was studying, and I had never thought about it like that but Backing tracks are just always too easy. When it comes to practicing to play music and learning songs then you need to think about backing tracks as the chocolate cake of your practice routine, something that you enjoy at the end but which makes a terrible meal if you were to make it the only thing you eat.

Cut away the backing track and just play with a click. Start by playing the melody and the chords and then once you have the song in your ears you can start soloing. If you don’t believe me then just test it try starting with a metronome when you learn a song and once you can do that then you move to a backing track and notice how easy that is. Then try to do it the other way around, so start with the backing track, and then go to the metronome.  You will know what I talking about.

I know this is not what most people want to hear, but that does not make it any less true, and you can always leave some angry comments if that makes you feel better. Nobody who does the test I just sketched out will do that though, I am sure!

Bonus: What To Practice and How To Make It Into Music

An extra tip, related to practicing scales and how to do this right: In the beginning, it is very difficult to take the exercises and then turn them into music, into the flexible building blocks I mentioned. You need to add important ingredients like Rhythm, Phrasing, and Melody, but how do you do that? There is a way to build that skill, and you can get started with the method in this video where I even throw in some nice chromatic tricks as well that will make things flow and sound like your favorite Jazz guitarist!

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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7 Skills Jazz Beginners Don’t Spend Enough Time On

One of the biggest mistakes Jazz Beginners make is to practice a lot but not develop the skills that really will get them further, in fact, a lot of practice is just wasting time and building bad habits. In this video, I want to go over 7 skills that will help you beome a better Jazz guitarist, some of these skills you might be working on already, but you can use the video to check if something is missing.

#1 How Long Should A Note Be?

I actually think this one is easier to fix than most of the other skills in this video, and I am sure that if I had recordings of myself from when I was starting out, then I definitely did not have this skill and was very much guilty of too many long notes!

If you ask classical musicians who don’t play guitar about their “nickname” for guitar they will probably tell you “staccato festival” meaning that the instrument has absolutely no sustain (which is sort of true compared to a trumpet or violin).

But in this case, it is the other way around. For Jazz

I am sure you can hear that the long notes sound a bit strange, and check out how short notes are much better at conveying the rhythm and connecting with the groove, and this is, of course, very important for Jazz.

This problem comes up very often with students in the roadmap,

(probably this is not a good shot of the roadmap, the other one later on in the video shows the prices… you know better if and which shot to use…)

but they do hear it and fix it quite fast. The first step is usually to work on just ending phrases on a short note, and sometimes getting used to hearing melodies that end on an off-beat also helps.

Of course, you want to play long notes sometimes as well, the important thing is that you are in control and that you choose, it should not be a habit.

Let’s move on to an online comment that really annoys me.

#2 Jazz Is Not A Looping II V I

I should probably watch out if this doesn’t turn into a rant about what learning music is really about.

Jazz is a style of music, and it has a repertoire, and part of learning to play that style is to learn to play the songs in the repertoire,

so if you want to learn Jazz then you need to start working on how to learn songs and trust me, you want to know a lot of songs!

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Bernstein:

and you haven’t really learned anything until it is something you can use when you are playing real music.

All the Barry Harris solo masterclasses were about writing lines on songs, they were not about exercises, but about making music!

So you need to work on being able to learn songs, both from sheet music and by ear, just learn a lot of songs so that music theory describes music you already play and hear.
That way, you have music with diminished suspensions or altered chords,

and then theory isn’t theory, it is music.

This brings me to the type of comment that always irritates me: Every now and again I will get asked if I can give some suggestion on how to sound more modern, dark, or something like that on a II V I, and already in the question it becomes clear that the person asking is not learning any songs, just playing this loop of a II V I. A loop of a II V I is not a song, A song is a story, it has development, and twists and surprises, a loop is static. So keep in mind that if you were playing an entire song and not a static 4-bar loop it might not get boring as quickly.

But enough complaining, for at least a bit….

#3 Learning The Language

This is possibly a hot take or at least a delicate topic sometimes, but I think you can argue that Jazz has a certain language in the melodies we improvise, in terms of rhythm, flow, phrasing, and to some degree also what melodies are used. This is probably true for most styles of music, we can all hear when something is a blues lick, and if you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to check out vocabulary so that you get the sound into your playing. This can be checking out licks, and exercises

or what is probably the fastest way to improve: Learning solos by ear, something I have talked about often in videos.

So if you want to sound like Jazz then get good at learning Jazz vocabulary so that you know how it feels to play that, and how it is supposed to sound. A bonus, if you play along with solos that you have learned by ear is that you also improve your phrasing, timing, and swing feel which is also a part of the language.

#4 Make The Machine Swing!

Since I am on the topic of timing, swing-feel, and hearing the groove and the harmony, then that is all stuff that you want to improve, and another skill that will help you develop this is practicing with a metronome,

vastly underrated and a lot more fun than you think once you get used to it.

For Jazz, this is about playing with the metronome on 2 & 4, and learning to play songs and soloing like that will help boost your ability to:

  1. Keep time and feel time
  2. Hear the harmony internally
  3. Play in the groove

The concept is, of course, that you play and stay in time, keep the form, and lay down the groove. The difference between a metronome and a backing track is that it is much more difficult to play with a metronome, but if it swings then it is you. When you play with a backing track then if it swings it might be the backing track. If you look at how famous jazz guitarists practice then it is always a metronome, there are almost no exceptions. If you want to get started practicing with the metronome on 2&4 then I have a video for a few years ago on that topic,

You can check that out here: Practicing with the metronome on 2&4

#5 Putting Chords To Use

What I said about soloing is just as important for chords, so instead of just playing tons of inversions or other exercises on II V I progressions, you also need to work on putting those chord voicings to work on songs, and trust me, that will help you develop so much in terms of voice-leading, adding melodies and colors to your chords and all the other stuff that, like me, you probably love about Jazz and Jazz chords.

You can start rubato and explore the harmony and then later move it into time. Rhythm is also important here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

#6 Make Your Own Licks!

A problem that I have also encountered myself often when trying to internalize new material, like for example a new way of playing an arpeggio or a chromatic phrase is that I know how to play it, but it doesn’t really work when I use it in a solo, and that is because an important step is missing between practicing something as a technical exercise and turning it into great lines in a solo. Again, also something that I help students with in the Roadmap frequently.

The missing step is composing lines or even entire solos. It is completely unrealistic that you can just immediately get every exercise you do to work in a solo, but composing is improvising slowly and with a way to go back and fix the lines so that they sound better and that you can figure out how the new thing should fit in there. This is a very effective way to introduce new material into your vocabulary, keep in mind that composing solos is also what Barry Harris’ solo masterclasses are built on,

so they probably also will work fine as a part of your practice.

#7 Chords Should Be Phrases Too

The worst way to think about the chords of a song is as a chord symbol with some extensions, simply because that is not music. What you want to work on is opening up those chord symbols so that you can improvise and connect the whole thing, you want to turn the chords into music.

For many jazz beginners, comping rhythms are a mystery and something that is very difficult to improve on, but that is probably because the problem is often not the rhythms, it is how you think about comping.

I am curious, so please leave a comment and let me know when you last practiced comping a song with the metronome on 2&4. Because if you start working with your comping like that and start thinking in phrases then it becomes so much easier to develop rhythms and sounds.

When you comp on a song then you can start thinking in call-response, and riffs and become more free, get the song to sound good, and don’t get stuck thinking about which rhythm or which extension to play.

Use Joe Pass’ Approach

To be able to play chords in phrases and get through songs then you don’t want to get stuck with too complicated chords that are not flexible, and Joe Pass has a really solid approach for building a chord vocabulary that I talk about in this video:

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

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One Of The Best Lessons I Ever Had (Jazz Beginner)

This concept really changed the game for me, which was pretty lucky because some of the early Jazz guitar lessons I had were not that great. My teacher was a good jazz guitarist but he only gave me licks and didn’t show use them or make them into something, except for this one lesson which made a massive difference.

You have to imagine that at the time I was practicing the licks, scales, and arpeggios and trying to make my way through simple songs, but failing pretty badly because there was no real connection between what I was practicing and how I was supposed to use it. It was probably only because I am a pretty stubborn person that I didn’t quit.

There is a good chance that you also know how it feels to practice the dry stuff like exercises, scales, and arpeggios but you can’t put it together and turn that into playing solos that sound right.

A Great lesson!

This was one of the first times that I had a lesson where I was shown how to create a line following a recipe.

We were playing a blues in C, I was making a terrible mess of it and could barely follow the form because I was too busy thinking about the chords. When he was soloing, then he played a phrase in bar 6 after coming back to C7 from F#dim, and that caught my attention so I asked him what that was.

He told me, I am by the way translating this from Danish (and memory since it is more than 25 years ago) that it was a “chromatic phrase” leading into an arpeggio. Then he showed me the arpeggio, and how he had a 4-note phrase leading into it:

I’ll show how this is just the beginning of a way to help you develop your phrasing, and make more interesting melodies because it is more powerful than you think. My teacher then showed me how you can use the same chromatic phrase for other notes in the arpeggio like the root:

and the 7th:

What he described as a “chromatic phrase” is what usually is referred to as a chromatic enclosure, so a short melody using chromatic passing notes

that moves to a target note from above and below, and as you will see or hear, direction is incredibly important.

This concept is simple like instant noodles that most students eat when they don’t have any money, just add water and you have food, well.. “food” It is a 2-ingredient recipe for Jazz licks which in itself is a great thing if you are new to Jazz.

But maybe you are now wondering what is the big deal?

I will show you how the enclosures help you deal with a part of Jazz phrasing that most beginners really struggle with, but the first more obvious part of it is that it is flexible. It will work with other arpeggios as well, so you can create a lot of lines like this. Here’s a version with a Cmaj7:

`

And we have more options when it comes to the chromatic enclosures. Another good one could be this which is also 4 notes and is sometimes referred to as a double chromatic enclosure. You can probably see why

So as you noticed, it moves to the target note in half-steps from two directions:

Until now the chromatic enclosures have been using 4-notes, which makes them easy to use as building blocks, but there are also 2 and 3-note enclosures that are very useful and as you will see, the 2-note enclosures are very powerful and flexible.

The Beginner’s Problem With Phrasing

But first, let’s talk about one of the main reasons that beginners find it difficult to play solos that sound like Jazz.

There are a few levels of beginner solos where you might find yourself. Maybe you are only improvising with the arpeggio:

You can also add the scale notes, and keep in mind that these examples are not wrong, they are just also not great:

And if you are a bit further then you are adding chromatic passing notes, but as you can hear that also doesn’t really fix this:

I am overstating it a bit in these examples, but what is missing is that the notes don’t have interesting accents, the lines are heavy and the accents are on the downbeat.

And that is because what makes the Jazz lines work and have interesting rhythms is these accents, and they should be where the melody changes direction on an offbeat, and if you look at the first lick then you have two of those, try to listen:

Here you have a change of direction on 1& and on 3& in the arpeggio,

so the line has more energy and isn’t stuck on the heavy beats in the same way as the previous examples. Starting to get this into your playing and being able to hear phrases that move like that will make you sound 100x better. Of course, you can’t think about where in the bar you change direction while you are soloing, which is why these are so great. I’ll talk more about this later.

It is not Enclosures or Passing notes

A short side-note before we add some more flexible enclosures and some Barry Harris tricks: Keep in mind that what I am saying here is not that you shouldn’t use passing notes, the passing notes are a part of it, and the enclosures are the next level melodies that you build using passing notes. Even if the enclosures are a little more effort to play then they are also adding something important to your solo.

Something that you want to get into your playing, and If you start checking out solos then you probably won’t find a Jazz musician that doesn’t use enclosures of some kind. Sometimes when I talk about enclosures I get the comment that they don’t work and how passing notes are better, and, I think that is missing the point, you just want to be patient and keep practicing until you can use them. They will add something to your playing and they are a part of Bebop, especially this next type!

Keeping It Simple Makes It Powerful

I showed you 2 of the more “complicated” 4-note enclosures, but I didn’t explain how they are constructed which is also useful for some of the later exercises and if you want to make your own enclosures.

Usually, I try to look at enclosures as a mix of chromatic notes and diatonic notes in the scale, so the first enclosure would be chromatic below, diatonic above, chromatic above, and chromatic below.

and The way I used the 2nd enclosure you get diatonic above chromatic above, diatonic below chromatic below. I am sure you can see how this analysis is an interpretation, you could in some cases see the 1st note of example 1 as a diatonic note (example 6). This way of looking at the lick becomes very practical when you combine enclosures with the Barry Harris chromatic scale. I’ll show you later in the video because that is very powerful!

Check out how we can use this analysis to create a simple but very useful 2-note enclosure:

I’ll apply this to a triad because it is used like that very often in larger chunks just listen to Joe Pass or Barry Harris if you want an example of that, but these enclosures are EVERYWHERE and do so many amazing things, I’ll show you some examples.

For a C major triad:

You use a “diatonic above, chromatic below” for each note:

And since it is pretty easy then try to turn around the enclosure so it is “chromatic below, diatonic above” as well:

And, with these and another enclosure then you have a line like this:

And to give you an idea about how powerful this is: you don’t get something as complex or surprising just using passing notes.

Here’s an example with a few chords so you can hear how Bebop this actually sounds:

I think you can tell just how useful these are, and as I said if you look at solos they are everywhere. But this is not about having to think “I need to change direction” while you are playing a line, that’s too complicated. What you want to do is work on coming up with lines using these enclosures so that you hear melodies with that built into them, and that will automatically help you get that sound in there, it’s almost like a bonus.

Let’s add some Barry Harris to the mix and see how that opens things up!

Using Barry Harris For Variations

Let me first explain how this works and then how you can use it. Barry Harris Chromatic scale is a way to add half steps between all notes in a scale. The basic concept is that you either use a chromatic note if there is a whole step between two notes,

or you use the scale note above if there isn’t.

If I apply this to the C major scale then there are two places where I need to use a scale note above: between E and F  and B and C.

So in the key of C major then the Barry Harris chromatic scale would be:

The great thing is that now you can use Barry’s Chromatic scale as a way of moving around an enclosure in the scale,  and in that way get some other enclosures or other melodic ideas:

Let’s take this one which will give you some great variations:

It already sounds great as a Cmaj7 lick like this:

Just to understand the enclosure:

The target note is B and the phrase starts two diatonic notes above moving down with a passing note and then a half step below the target.

Let’s take it down the scale, keep in mind that I always just use a chromatic note from below, that always works, and it doesn’t need any special treatment. Check out how we get a lot of different phrases:

Target note: B

Target note: A

Target note: G

Target note: F

Target note: E

Target note: D

Target note: C

This gives you other phrases that all work and that you can use in lines, for example, this Dm7 lick using the D as a target note:

or mixing the version that has A as a target note with another Barry Harris concept, a Pivot arpeggio:

Barry Leads The Way To Great Phrasing!

Working through the material like this can give you a lot of useful phrases, and Barry’s system is fantastic for this and it does a ton of other stuff that will make your solos sound so much better and help you get rid of uninspired scale runs and overused licks, so check out this video to dive into that!

Why Barry Harris’ Approach Is So Much Better Than Bebop Scales!

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The One Thing You Wish You Could Improve In Your Jazz Playing

What Is The Magic of Wes and Benson?

I am pretty sure that you have listened to Wes Montgomery or George Benson playing a solo and thought “I wish I could sound like that”, but when you are playing Jazz then you are busy with scales and arpeggios and getting the lines to fit together without losing the form.

But scales and arpeggios will make you sound more like Wes, ot is something else that makes him sound like that, and you are not working on that side of your playing. Let me show you how to fix that!

If you are starting out learning Jazz guitar,  you often get stuck with the first problem that you run into: What notes go where? That is not so strange because it is difficult to navigate a Jazz song and play the right notes in the right place, but once you start to be able to do that, then you need to also start developing other things, and especially rhythm and phrasing, because if you let the notes and the harmony dictate your phrasing then you won’t sound like Jazz:

A Method For Magic

You probably check out licks and solos and try to figure out how they work in terms of what scale, arpeggio, or chromatic thing is used so that you can use that in your playing as well:

This is something you want to do with rhythm and phrasing as well, and the important part is that you start with something you hear and then use that to create your own material,

mainly because we don’t have as many terms for those rhythmical building blocks.

Let me show you what you can do with a simple and short Wes Montgomery phrase to start opening up your own playing. Check out this short but amazing phrase from the 2nd chorus of his solo on “No Blues” off the “Smokin’ at the Half-note” album.

Obviously, we could focus on what notes he uses, and that IS interesting but let’s try and see if there is something to be learned from the rhythm and the phrasing, because Wes is one of the greatest improvisers when it comes to really making strong and clear phrases also in terms of rhythm, and that part of it will already make you sound 10 times better!

To keep it simple, I am going to cut off the pick-up, but I will talk about adding that back in later in the video, also because that is part of another very important thing to develop and ties into something that I talk about very often as well.

Removing the pickup leaves us with this:

I picked a phrase where I like the rhythm, and maybe also because I like the shape of the phrase, so how the melody flows.

I will start by keeping that in there, but you don’t have to of course.

First, you just want to hear the phrase, so sing it, you can probably hear that I am still hearing the flow of the melody. “Rhythm”

In the way that I sing it, you can also hear where I have accents “rhythm”

Make It Your Own

A side note on learning by ear: One of the ways that I trained this and I think also what is the traditional approach to teaching this is learning solos. When you learn solos by ear you want to keep playing them with the track for a long time after figuring them out. In that way, you get the phrases and the rhythms into your system, and that is useful for a lot of things, so you want to keep doing that, but what I cover here is a more focused way to develop your rhythm and phrasing vocabulary. Both approaches are worth exploring.

The goal now is to start hearing phrases with this rhythm, and the easiest way to start is to stick with the shape of the melody. Later I will expand this so that you can start hearing other phrases as well coming out of this example. When you start working on this there is one thing that might demotivate you but I’ll get to that. Here’s a simple version using the Wes rhythm and flow on a Gmaj7:

or maybe something like this, try to recognize the flow in there and judge for yourself if it works as a line.

What you want to do is to create lines over a different chord with the same rhythm and a similar phrasing, and keep in mind that this is to get you out of always playing:

An important thing to keep in mind is that you probably start doing this with a phrase that you consider perfect and doing this exercise will not only give you 150 perfect jazz licks that are going to blow everyone’s mind. It is not so much about the licks as it is about the process, because what you are training is hearing phrases with that melody.

You should only check if the lick does actually work, and it is fine if some of them don’t, you learn from that as well.

Letting Go Of The Flow

I remember when I was just getting into Jazz and I came across this very solid Bebop line or cliche, which is an example of octave displacement, and could probably be taken out of a Bach piece as well, but it works amazingly as a Jazz lick:

And because I didn’t understand octave displacement and the direction of melody I spent a long time coming up with one failed phrase after another. At the time I could hear that it didn’t work, but I could not figure out why or how to fix it in a consistent way. That came much later.

That is why, In the beginning, you want to stick close to the original phrase.

Because then there is a bigger chance that you will write lines that make sense, but after some time it also makes sense to explore if you can let that go and just use the rhythm without the phrasing, check this out then I’ll explain:

So now I am not trying to keep the direction of the melody but just using the rhythm to make a new line and listening for how it should be phrased which in this case gives a few different accents (show sheet music comparing accents between ex 4 and ex😎

If you forgot then often Bop lines sound great if you give an accent to a high note which is not on the beat. It is not a rule, so you will find exceptions all over the place, but that is what I am doing here, and it does make it sound better.

Here’s another example:

Of course, you can repeat this process with other lines and in that way expand your vocabulary, but what you can also do to open up this phrase even more is to use it while improvising like this.

Training Your Creativity

Let’s say that you can come up with some phrases using the rhythm that we got from Wes so what you can try now is to play some call-response soloing using those phrases and see what you hear afterward. I’ll do this on a Gmaj7 chord, think of it as a never-ending loop of the first part of I’ll Remember April:

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do this in time, and if you have a line that you like then it can be really useful to play it several times and come up with different responses to it. This is all about starting to place it in your vocabulary and making it work in your solos.

Of course, from working on it rubato you can level it up to using it on a song that you know well and get it into your playing.

I also want to talk about another way that you can open up your playing and not get stuck on the barlines too much.

Breaking Free of the Barlines

This could almost be an independent video, but one of the problems you run into when you are learning to spell out chord changes in your solos is that you want to play clear notes on beat 1 when the chord changes. This is not a bad habit, but you do need to move beyond that if you don’t want to sound boxed in by the barlines, your melodies should be more free on top of the song. Luckily, if you are used to playing toward target notes then you can easily start to practice playing into the chord with a pickup like this:

And another thing that you also want to start exploring is not ending lines on the target note, but instead continuing into the bar like this:

The Right Melodies With The Right Phrasing

But when you are making lines using rhythms and phrasing then you do need to understand Jazz how to create jazz lines that work otherwise there is nothing to phrase or add rhythm to. Check out this video, If you want to explore how to develop this and learn the essential building blocks that make up Jazz lines.

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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5 Jazz Guitar “Rules” That You Should Break (The Pros Do)

Jazz Rules!

Are there rules for Jazz? When you are learning something then it is nice to have simple and clear rules so that you can evaluate and practice towards something that fits the rules. Unfortunately, rules are rarely a good description for learning to play music,  as you will see in this video. There are a lot of very common “rules” that you should be breaking as soon as you can,  they will only waste your practice time and keep you from learning.

Rule #1 – Chromatic Notes

Let’s start with a very practical one, and then move on to some techniques and practice stuff that are bad advice.

A big part of Jazz vocabulary is the sound of chromatic enclosures and passing notes, and this rule is about that:

Chromatic Passing Notes Should Never Be On The Downbeat.

So why is this not a rule? The point of a chromatic leading note is to create tension that then resolves to a chord or scale note, and it does that whether you place it on a downbeat or an upbeat.

 

Placing it on a downbeat will only create more tension, but that is also something that works as a sound, like this:

You want to learn to use that creatively, and it is pretty easy to find examples here’s Charlie Parker’s Billie’s Bounce:

And he also uses it in Moose The Mooche

So you can put leading notes wherever you want, just like Parker. Let’s take another very common misunderstanding with notes, but this time the notes in the scale:

Rule #2 – Avoid Notes

Many questionable choices have been made in the name of “Avoid notes“. I imagine it is mostly just because the name is too short and unclear so it is easy to abuse or get wrong.

An avoid note over a chord is a note that is dissonant, the usual example is the 4th or 11th over a major chord, so an F over a Cmaj7. Listen to how the b9 interval between then E and the F really begs to resolve:

But just because you should not emphasize or sit on a note, that doesn’t mean that you should spend too much time worrying about not hitting it.

In general, it is better to focus on what you want to play, and not what you shouldn’t play, and there is no need to try to choose scales that have no avoid notes or only practice not using them in your lines, they are there to be used in the music, and the music is probably boring without them.

Check out how you can use it in your lines as a tension that resolves. Here I am playing the avoid note on beat 1 of bar 2:

Rule #3 – Bending

Once in a while, you will hear people insisting that certain techniques are not allowed in certain styles of music, so there is no tapping in Blues unless Billy Gibbons does it and there is no bending in Jazz.

But, of course, that is not really true, there is quite a lot of bending in Jazz even if there are also complete albums without any, and many guitarists that never use it.

Often this is connected to Blues phrases like this Barney Kessel example:

but there are also Jazz guitarists who have made it a part of their expressive vocabulary outside of Blues phrasing. My favorite for this is probably Pat Metheny:

I made a longer video on this a few years ago, and to me, it was always a bit surprising that this was such a sensitive topic, it is just a technique after all, and you don’t have to use all techniques all the time, surely there is no outrage that people don’t play sweep arpeggios in Blues. I don’t think I ever thought of this as a rule. You probably won’t find a lot of bends in Bop lines, because the effect of this technique really comes across better with long notes, something that there are not a lot of in Bebop, but it is up to you to figure out how it fits in your playing.

This might offend a few people, but I always imagined that it came from guitarists going to Jam sessions and then playing their blues clichés over jazz pieces without ever really sounding like Jazz, connecting to the song or the groove, but I don’t think I ever saw that at a session.

My personal favorites with this are probably Scofield and Metheny. Let’s go to what is probably the biggest waste of time for beginning Jazz guitarists

Rule #4 – Always Practice Everything In All Keys And All Positions

This rule will help you waste a LOT of time, so feel free to ignore it!

“You Need To Practice Everything In All Keys And All Positions”

There is a good reason for eventually taking some things and working through that in all keys and all positions, but this is probably more a few very fundamental things like the 3 basic scales: major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. Diatonic arpeggios, triads, and that sort of basic foundational vocabulary.

Let me show you how easy it is to overload yourself with work like this very quickly:

This is a great basic line, consisting of an enclosure and an arpeggio

It’s a simple melody so you should check it out for all the diatonic chords in C major, in other positions, in other keys, do all 12, and it probably also works in Harmonic minor:

Or is it maybe more useful to work on using it in your solos?

You can take the lick and then add another ending:

Maybe it is nice with some more chromatic stuff and a leading note on the downbeat:

`

Or you could be leading into it with a Coltrane Pattern;

Of course, you might have time to do both, but do you have time to do both for all variations in all keys, scales, and positions? You need to be realistic with what you get out of it.

Working like this is great for exploring but it should not be the way you always do everything. Ask yourself how common 7th-chord arpeggio inversions are in Bop lines? Are they common enough to spend hours practicing that? Or a similar thing: It’s good to sometimes take a song through all 12 keys, and it can also be fun. But it is not always the way to do, maybe it is better to get really good at it in the key you need to play it in?

Rule #5 – You Need A Foundation in Technique and Theory

A very similar Rule that people think is part of Jazz is that you need to have a foundation in Theory and Technique to play it. That is also not true. You could get started with a lot less, even no theory at all, and just start learning solos by ear and other vocabulary only to learn the theory as you work on the vocabulary.

If you are starting with some not-too-modern bop-inspired stuff then most of that is going to be major scale, a few chromatic notes, and the odd blues phrase here and there. You can get very far with that. Don’t get lost in modes, and different minor scales right away, you can better focus on learning to improvise, getting the right vocabulary, and learning to play songs.

Getting those things down will get you to play music and really, and it is probably also closer to why you are interested in Jazz in the first place. I am sure you did not start playing Jazz just to learn how to play melodic minor.

My Jazz Guitar Roadmap course is built around that as well, a major scale, some arpeggios, a song, and figuring out how to play solos, using rhythm, phrasing, and chromatic stuff to make it sound right. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated!

Check it out here: The Jazz Guitar Roadmap

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