Tag Archives: jazz guitar licks

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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Cookin’ Great Jazz Licks With Basic Exercises – 5 Step Process

The Mysterious Recipe

In the beginning, Jazz improvisation can seem mysterious, but just like food, there is actually a recipe you can follow to develop your ability to improvise great lines. In this video, I’m going to give you that recipe including the secret ingredient that is left out of the process so often, and it really won’t be the same without it.

The goal is to be able to construct a lick like this:

The chord progression is a II V I which is a very common Jazz chord progression. You can play the chords like this:

I am not going to talk too much about the progression, because this is about soloing over it. I have other videos on harmony.

The Main Ingredients

Any recipe starts with some ingredients. You have the Progression, there is a scale that goes with that, in this case, that is the C major scale.

And the main ingredient is that for each of the chords in the progression, we can play these easy 1-octave arpeggios, so this exercise:

Just like a meal usually consists of several different dishes, then as I go through this recipe I will show you how each step is something you can turn each step into music and explain how.

With the arpeggios, you can already follow the chords and create a solid line like this:

Follow This Recipe

Similar to a recipe, chords, scales, and arpeggios are only ingredients and it is as important what you do with those ingredients if you want it to work.

What is the  method in this example? I am following the chords completely because  I am only using the arpeggio of each chord, so the notes are taken nailing the harmony,

but the important thing is to get this to sound like a melody and not like a bunch of random notes

The way you get that right is by playing from one chord to the next,  which means a melody on the Dm7 is moving toward a target note on the G7.

Here it is the 3rd of G7 that is the target note which is very easy to hear and works like a signal that we changed chords, but there are more things in that first example that you still need to figure out.

Adding More Flavor

There are two other “types” of notes, that you can add to your jazz licks. The first one would be the notes that are in the scale but not in the chord, it is a bit like basic seasoning, there is no food without it, and the easiest way to use scale notes is in between arpeggio notes, so this:

can become this:

It is a subtle change, but the rhythm sounds a lot better in the 2nd example.

The other type of note that you want to add, is a more radical sound, adding flavor and spice to the whole thing: The chromatic notes.

Here I am going to stick with a simple version: You can add chromatic leading notes a half-step under a chord or scale note, where the chord tones often are the easiest to use.

There are some myths about how to use chromatic notes, but I’ll get into that in a bit. You could turn that into this exercise for the arpeggios which actually breaks that rule:

The rule that I am talking about is that sometimes people will tell you that chromatic leading notes should not be on the downbeat, and in the exercise every leading note is on the downbeat.

The idea is that this:

Is wrong, and it would be better to do it like this:

I think you can hear that both could work and that it is not useful to limit yourself with rules like that, in fact, rules are rarely a thing in music.

Now you can start writing  lines like this:

Serving The Notes In The Right Way

But you need to do more than find the ingredients and cook the food. It also needs to be served in the right way, and that is where rhythm becomes important.

In the first example, I changed up the rhythm in two ways. The first one is pretty easy to use. On the Cmaj7 I play the arpeggio as am 8th note triplet

Triplets are amazing for arpeggios, and two variations of this are very useful to know. The first one is to add a leading note and then play the arpeggio:

But you can also play the arpeggio and use that to get to a target note

But there  is another rhythm that you want to explore using which is a very important part of the syncopation you hear in Jazz: Anticipating the chord on the 4&!

This is pretty simple: You want to hit the target note on the 4& instead on beat 1 when the chord changes, so instead of this:

 

You want to play the B on the 4& like this:

So now you can put all of this together and start writing licks like this:

 

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5 Scale Exercises That Make It Easier To Learn Jazz

Scale Exercises are the source of a  lot of problems. I remember running into this myself when I was starting out and I also hear about it often from students.  You practice a lot of exercises, but is it really helping you play better, or are you just repeating the same exercises without getting anywhere?

For me,  there were some exercises that really were game changers in learning Jazz, simply because they could do more than just teach me how to play an arpeggio or a scale, and if you want to improve your playing then you should check if they won’t also be very useful for you.

What is maybe a little weird about them is that they are not all the type of exercise that you work on everyday for months with a metronome, because there are other things you need to learn besides technique, and there are other ways to practice than using a metronome. I think  one of them is also a very powerful and practical way to build a fretboard overview.

Is this a video with a list that get’s filled in along the way? (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5 visible from the beginning)

#1 The Scale

With a build-up like this is then it is maybe a bit of a disappointment that the first exercise is practicing the scale,  since you are hopefully doing that already and you probably trying to not sound like you are playing scales when you solo and want to develop your musicality. But, playing the scale and knowing what notes are in there is important and as you will see it will serve as a foundation for everything else in this video plus that it is the shortest exercise you can imagine with a scale,

just make sure that you:

  1. Start with the major scale in one position before adding other positions and other scales
  2. Gradually get around to all keys so that you get flexible with that
  3. Don’t just play them mindlessly but try to make them sound good and be aware of what you are playing.

There is a video of Pat Metheny turning scale practice into music which I think is very inspiring.

The next exercise is a logical extension of practicing scales, and also what I often refer to as “the most important exercise for Jazz”, but remember that if you are practicing scales then it only takes a short amount of time to go over a key in all positions, and you can set up systems so that you get through all keys over a few days. It shouldn’t take hours of practice every day because you also need to play music when you practice!

As you will see with the rest of the exercises then it is important to connect things, not only the scale, arpeggios and vocabulary, but also chords, you will see what I mean.

#2 Diatonic Arpeggios

I learned this exercise the first time I went to a Barry Harris masterclass in the Hague, and it was an exercise that changed everything about how I practiced and made it all much closer connected to the music that I wanted to learn to play: Bebop. And for me, the goal of all of these exercises is to help you play better Jazz, and this exercise is actually a direct link to the music, and I think it is crazy that not everyone teaches this to their students.

Diatonic Arpeggios sounds difficult, but it is pretty simple, if you play the scale in positions then you can play a 7th chord arpeggio for each note in the scale by essentially stacking 3rds.

Explainer/close-up (a bit quick since it is twice) – hand + diagram + letters?

Show the process of stacking 3rds:

For C major if I start on C, then I build a 7th chord by stacking 3rds: C, E, G, B which is Cmaj7

for Dm7 it is the same thing: D, F, A, C.

You can probably tell that there are obvious technical benefits to working on this exercise, but if you are also aware of what notes and what arpeggios you are playing then you are really connecting some very important information on the guitar to the chords you want to solo over.

Doing this exercise makes it possible for you to take a Jazz standard and play arpeggios through the entire progression, which is a great beginning for internalizing a song and having a place to start with soloing over it, where you take an arpeggio and build a phrase around it.

Besides being a very solid foundation for improvising over chords and learning songs then it will also give you a lot more material, because if you analyze transcriptions of great Jazz musicians then you will find a lot of other arpeggios being used besides the arpeggio of the chord itself, and you are completely ready for doing that if you work on this exercise.

Take a look at how this line uses other arpeggios over the chords than the chord itself.

There are arpeggios from other chord tones that sound great over the chords, and like this you already know them!

Example II V I with other arpeggios.  — First play it then cut to quick highlights with the line above as voice over

Let’s look at some exercises that are not just regular exercises, but also incorporate some chords before we get to exercises for vocabulary and fretboard overview

#3 Diatonic Chords

When you are playing Jazz then you are both playing solos and chords because you are not soloing ALL the time, and you can practice chords in scales as well, which for me was a very useful way to work on exploring new voicings, getting familiar with diatonic chords and how their extensions sound. You can even do chords in scale positions.

This exercise is actually possible with all types of chords, but the most basic version is probably a good place to start and that is to go through the major keys using shell-voicings.

If you know your major scales well enough to know the notes in there then this can be a great exercise since it is not always practical to start on the root.

For example, if you want to play Diatonic chords in C major with the shell-voicings that have the root on the 6th string then you can’t start on C, and F or E is a better option.

You could also explore doing this in a position, but that will not be useful for that many types of voicings, thought it is a nice exercise for the shell voicings:

The main benefits from this exercise are:

  • Know the chords in a key, and how they sound
  • Making it easier to play songs & hear the harmony
  • Exploring how chords move through a scale

Now, you have  the scale linked to both arpeggios and chords, so let’s connect it to the notes that are not in the scale since they are a part of the picture in Jazz as well.

#4 Chromatic Notes

This exercise is such a simple concept but when I first came across it then it  immediately  resonated with me and it really sounds like Jazz, already as an exercise. Of course, this comes from how frequently it is a building block in Jazz solos and especially Bebop lines. When I was given the exercise then I had already heard it 1000s of times in the solos Charlie Parker, Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery, so playing it really just made that click into place and gave me tons of phrases to use in my solos.

I am, as you may have guessed, talking about the Bebop arpeggio exercise, which I have also mentioned in other videos, and this was an exercise that I learned the first time I was at a Barry Harris workshop in the Hague.

The exercise is simple, you play each diatonic arpeggio as an 8th-note triplet and add a leading note in front of it, but it is also a great example of an exercise that is already vocabulary,

something you can use in countless lines and actually also illustrates why Barry’s method is so powerful: It is based on making exercises that are already solo lines, like this:

Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg, and you can do so much more with adding chromatic notes or even chromatic phrases to arpeggios or intervals, and they will all be good exercise, in fact any vocabulary that you like is probably worth taking apart and turning into exercises.

Most of them will not be used as often as this one in solos, but they are still fun and useful to explore.

You can let me know in the comments if you want a link to a playlist with some of the Barry Harris videos I have done that go deeper into his method and  his system for chromatic notes.

The Bebop arpeggio exercise is the typical “scale exercise” that you can work on in all keys and positions with a metronome. You could approach the next exercise like that as well, but I am not sure I think that is the point of it really. However, It does really fit with the Barry Harris ideology and it is the BEST exercise for building a practical overview of the fretboard.

#5 Vocabulary

I remember when I was starting out and with a lot of the songs I could solo over, then there would be chords where I did not have the freedom to move around on the neck, I was stuck in a single position. if I had been given these exercises then that would have developed a lot faster than it did, in fact this is probably the most practical and efficient fretboard knowledge exercise that you can work on.

The idea of learning a phrase and taking it through all 12 keys isn’t usually considered a scale exercise, but it really is a great exercise for your overview of the scale and it will help you get better at finding the things that you want to use in your solos on the instrument.

Of course, phrases don’t always fit in a single scale, but then the different scales that are in the phrase anyway go together in the music so linking them up is incredibly useful.


There are two ways you can approach this, which are different takes on the geometry of the guitar, and both are equally useful. In the end, you can use both long and short phrases and explore how it is to move them around, but for this I will stick to a relatively short phrase which is a pivot arpeggio

and an altered dominant line

like this:

Example Bebop line  + Bebop line in one position and lots of keys and Bebop line in one key and several positions (Maybe Joe Pass Etudes in several positions)

The first variation is the traditional approach, so take the phrase through all 12 keys (and yes, for stuff like this the whole 15 or 30 keys or whatever that was, doesn’t make any sense at all, so 12 keys!). For this one, I am going to focus on staying around the same area of the neck, it probably won’t make sense to insist on staying completely in the same position, instead the priority should be to stay in the same area while keeping it playable and also possible to play with decent phrasing. This is much more useful, and you want to be practical!

This phrase combines an altered dominant with the key of the II V I which is a really useful connection, and taking it through the keys help you identify important building blocks in those keys and also know what the altered dominant is in those keys, which is (obviously) going to be very useful, we are not all playing in bands like AC/DC where 85% of the songs are in A.

If you are working on this exercise with licks that have common progressions and common building blocks then this is a great exercise for your playing, fretboard overview, ear training and vocabulary. It is good for a LOT of things.

The Guitaristic version of this is also really worthwhile, because you can also use this to develop the visual skills associated with the guitar and your overview of the neck.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this section then I found myself in a place where I was practicing scales in all positions, but I was only able to solo in some of those positions. I only knew how to play the scale in some places without having any vocabulary. Taking a simple phrase and then sticking to one key, but exploring how to play it in all positions is in a way the guitar version of moving a lick through 12 keys, and that can be an exercise that really opens up scale positions for you. When you find the building blocks that you need in each position by moving some lines through the positions, then it gets easier to solo in those positions. In fact, I was given this exercise by a teacher later when I moved to Copenhagen and it did indeed quickly start to do exactly that for my playing. This is also the kind of exercise that you can explore doing with the shot solos from the book the Joe Pass Guitar Style to get more out of them, but you can check that video out later.

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Which One Is The REAL Jazz Guitar?

I did something terrible, and it was sort of by accident. Originally, I was not going to talk about this. It was meant more as a personal experiment, but I do think it is interesting and worth discussing, so I am going to do that anyway, hopefully it won’t offend anyone too much.

Weird comments

In especially YouTube comments, but also other places like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, I often get questions about my choice of guitar. A lot of that is positive, which is great, and of course, some people don’t like it, which is fine as well, but there is another category of people who seem to question or even criticize my choice of guitar since I play a semi-hollow 99% of the time.  Keep in mind that I have been on the internet for a long time, and this is not something that really bothers me, but that was always a very odd reaction to me and it made me curious. The comments would be asking why I am not using the Gibson ES175 as my main instrument, since that is a “real” jazz guitar or why I “settle” for a semi hollow guitar when I could also use an archtop. With those kind of questions it was often clear that my guitar was inferior to a “real” jazz guitar. And that is the reason why I ended up with this experiment. Which started with a YouTube Short and TikTok video that didn’t have anything to do with all of that.

The 3 Guitars Video

A few weeks ago, at the very beginning of 2023 I posted this YouTube short ,  where I compare the sound of 3 of my guitars.

My original idea was to record Straight No Chaser, and a chorus of comping on each of the guitars and then just cut from one guitar to the next. While I was doing that then I realized how close they sounded, and I mean they sounded very very similar I’ll let you hear it in a bit. It was difficult for me to tell them apart.

That gave me the idea to try something else. I redid the recordings, and I decided to play the same comping chorus with all guitars so that I could switch around audio and video without anyone noticing.

For me, personally: If I didn’t know it was 3 different guitars then I would maybe not even notice and just think it was one guitar, I really think they sound that similar. Which was also what a lot of people said in the comments.

And keep in mind that the video and the audio on these still don’t match, so when you are seeing the 175 then you not hearing that guitar, I will tell you what is what later in the video, and also add some other guitars to the mix just to figure this out.

All Jazz Sounds The Same

Maybe it is a bit rude of me to trick you guys like this without a warning, and my original plan was of course to never tell you about it, I just wanted to know if anyone could tell. And it was a bit like the fairytale “of the Emperors new clothes”because nobody really could. But then I was watching some Glenn Fricker videos, a Canadian YouTuber who I find very entertaining and watch quite often, but keep in mind that he is a Metal recording engineer, so it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. He has been making a series of videos on guitars and pickups and how that doesn’t really matter. It is almost as if he is trying to prove that all metal sounds the same, though I am not sure that is the conclusion he is hoping to reach. However that did make me think that maybe I was also just proving that in terms of sound then it doesn’t matter that much what guitar you play, because they pretty much sound the same, it is much more about how the guitar responds to your playing and  how you react to that which is important and the sound is not really changing. But I will show compare 5 of my guitars later in this video so that you can make up your mind for yourself.

Going Against Expectations?

It is interesting how the mind works with this, when I posted the video I did say not to listen with your eyes, and I’ll return to that later. I guess it is a bit like eating blue food, even if it tastes the same then you don’t really want to eat it, because it looks strange. And in that way, we also listen with our eyes, and if all your heroes play big archtop guitars then that is also what you want to hear, or in this case see.

Which was also clearly the response in the comments, most people preferred the sound of #1 which was the video of the ES175, with a few people even getting into odd comments that go with that territory like “natural resonance”, “organic depth”,  or “warm complexity”. You can probably tell that I am bit skeptical with those ways of describing the sound, especially since they don’t really say anything about how it sounds. But it is of course nice that so many people love the sound of my Ibanez, which is also what I play in most videos, because that is the guitar playing when you see the ES175.

A side-note: Listening With Your Eyes

The term “Listening with your eyes” was something I learned on the fractal forum when I was still active over there and working on getting the sound I wanted out of my AxeFX. A very common problem was that people would set amps up in the way that they were used to, but not actually listening to how it sounded and reacting to that, so complaining that there was too much bass on the Fender Deluxe model, but still having the bass on 6 or 7 because it shouldn’t be necessary to turn it down, and the response was almost always “if there is too much bass then why don’t you just turn it down, that is what you are hearing and that is what the bass control is for” And that stuck with me: don’t limit yourself to what “is reasonable” or “to be expected” you just listen and dial.  It takes away the “emperor’s new clothes factor, which is practical.

Unexpected Guitar Choices

Before I get into comparing guitars, then I want to just talk a bit about how a certain sound is sometimes associated with a certain guitar, but that is not always how it actually works.

If you don’t know it then you most likely won’t realize that  Ed Bickert or Lorne Lofsky play solid body guitars, I guess I am talking a lot about Canadian guitarists today. And I was also really surprised that Wah Wah Watson plays what I think is an L5, but if I listen to him then my ears would be quicker to suggest that he played a Tele. I reacted the same to James Browns guitarists who often play semi-hollows and not fenders because that is what I thoguht it sounded like. At the same time, would Stevie Ray Vaughan sound THAT different if he played a tele or maybe a Les Paul? Ulf Wakenius is very often playing a Les Paul which I believe is a Japanese copy not a Gibson.

The Problem With Jazz-Tone on a Solid-body

Though the SG1000 pushes the amp a bit. In general, the problem I always found with getting a solid body to sound more like a hollowbody or a semihollow is that you can only cut frequencies not add them, and you very quickly run the risk of making the sound muddy with a solid-body because you take a way high-end with the tone knob when you actually want to boost the low end. Probably an EQ pedal would be a better solution but that is for another video.

 

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How To Use Outside Playing – A Few Secrets And Some Important Advice

Sometimes you have to solo on a single chord for a longer time, and it can be hard to keep things interesting, so having the option of using some outside material to change things up can make your solo a lot better if you can get it to sound right.

The point of using outside material is to make it sound wrong.

Because you want the listener to feel the tension that needs to resolve and that helps make the solo interesting and gives it a story.

Playing notes that don’t fit the chord is pretty easy, but playing something that moves away and comes back so that it still sounds like the music is MUCH more difficult, but as you will see it is far from impossible, and there are a few ways to do so.

#1 – Ab7 – Side Stepping Up

The first approach is to move up a half step from the chord you are soloing over. For this video, I am using a static G7 chord,

in fact it is a really nice backing track from Quist, there’s a link in the description. If you move up from G7 then you, of course, have an Ab7 chord. Almost all the notes in the scale will sound outside, and in fact the Ab7 works as a tritone substitute for the dominant D7, so there is also a harmonic connecting, but that is not really what I am using in the solo.

Instead, I am moving from the “normal” solo into the outside material by repeating a phrase or a part of a phrase and give the listener something to hold on to when things get weird.

Here it is this section

And then that short phrase is shifted up and I can keep on improvising using Ab7 material.

Another thing you should notice is how I play long notes to really drive home the tension they create before resolving with a short phrase that moves back into the G7 chord

Here’s the complete solo:

The next one is also using another chord as a way of thinking about the outside solo, but then we get into using some exotic scales as a diffrent approach, and rely more on structures like triads.

#2 F#7 – Side Stepping Down

Another option for side-slipping or side-stepping is to move down a half step, which sometimes is a bit nice because it sounds less like a dominant and therefore a little bit more mysterious.

This solo also uses the motivic way of getting to the outside section, but here the motif is also placed differently in the rhythm as well.

It is about giving the listener the idea that they get the melody but then because it is shifted away they at the same time are surprised about the sound.

And the same type of motivic development is used with a basic F# triad melody to go back up to G7.

A later example will also use voice-leading as a way of resolving which is a more abstract motivic technique.

The F#7 Solo is written out here:

#3 Augmented Scale

So, let’s try a funny scale that doesn’t really fit the chord, but also almost does.

The augmented scale is a 6-note scale which you can see as constructed either of 3 major triads a major 3rd apart, in this case G B and Eb major.

A

or it is the sum of two augmented triads a half-step apart, here I am using B and Bb, but you could also call it F# and G,

Since the chord is a G7 then some of the notes in the scale work pretty well and others are pretty far out.

As you will hear I am really focusing on using the major triads as a way to create melodies. This creates melodies where sometimes it is inside and sometimes outside the G7 sound, but it still works because the triads are strong enough melodies to carry it.

The transition is a bit more abrupt with taking a pause before starting the augmented lick, sort of a shock effect, and then you can use the G major triad to return smoothly back home.

The entire solo is written out here:

You Need To Get This Right!

The trick to getting outside playing to work is to make sure that what you play as outside phrases still makes sense. It still has to be a melody. The two strategies that I am using for this have been either:

#1 Think another chord

So that you can use that chord to create melodies with arpeggios and licks that you already know, even though you still need to get used to how weird it sounds on top of the chord in the music. Sometimes I am also using a chord that I naturally can resolve back to the music like a dominant, and sometimes I don’t that is really something you have to experiment with yourself to figure out what you like. Just make sure that you are playing melodies that you really think sound like melodies, otherwise it falls completely apart.

#2 Think in Melodic structures 

This is a bit more abstract and you probably need to develop this a bit by in your playing. But it is about relying on structures like triads and then put those together. You can work on this by sitting down and making melodies with the triads to get that sound into your ears.

And Luckily that skill is useful for a lot more than augmented scale stuff on a G7, as you will see already in the next example which also has a bit of quartal harmony.

#4 The Wrong Dominant Diminished’

B-roll Cleaning? Sweeping away alterations b9, #9, b5, b13

Sometimes you want to resolve the melody as if it is a chord, so you want to resolve several notes in one phrase down to other notes in the next phrase.

This is subtle but it actually really makes a difference, and It is a little bit like going back and cleaning up the mess you left unresolved

You can use D7 diminished or what I would actually refer to as F# diminished, as a great tension over G7, and it lets you play a sort of dominant sound that resolves back to the G7,

but here I am more focused on using triads and quartal arpeggios.

Let’s first look at the scale:

If you write it from D then it would be these notes:

D Eb F F# Ab A B C D Eb F F#

And the first structure that I am using is a quartal arpeggio from C: C F# B which you could also see as the upper part of a D7(13) chord.

This scale also contains 4 major triads a minor 3rd apart.

D F# A – D major

F A C – F major

Ab C Eb – Ab major

B Eb F# – B major

This example also jumps more or less abruptly out of the harmony, using the quartal arpeggio and following it up with a wide-range melody with the B major and Ab major triads, landing on the high Ab which of course is very dissonant over the G7.

The resolution, in this case, is first running down the scale to resolve to D, the 5th of G7 and then back up to A as a resolution to the Ab which is in a way voice-leading the resolution, and also taking care of resolving that long Ab that was just there.

 

The solo is here:

#5 Altered, But Wrong

The point of playing altered is usually that you want to create some tension that you can resolve moving to a I chord. But in this case, the chord doesn’t go anywhere, and you can still change things up and create a lot of tension using the altered scale.

The outside line starts with a G7(#5) arpeggio which begins by sounding like it is just chord tones but then the Eb makes it clear that something else is going on.

That arpeggio also contains the augmented triad, G B Eb which really helps getting the outside sound across.  From there the line continues up to an Abm lick that is shifted up as a sequence to Am and then Bdim which helps it get back to the chord as a resolution.

The Altered Scale solo:

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No Bending In Jazz, Please!

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

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

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

Is Bending Overrated?

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

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

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

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

There Are Jazz Players That Use Bending

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 Jazz Melodies Are Different!

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

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

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

Example of floating Blues Lick?

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

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

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

It Is Bending Too Slow For Bebop?

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

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

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

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

#2 The Guitars and Pickups

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3 You Don’t Want Feedback

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

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

It Is Not Jazz, It is You!

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

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

Does AC/DC Need Synthbass?

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

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

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

Beginning Jazz Phrasing

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

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

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The Real Secret About Chromatic Phrases And Great Jazz Licks

Chromatic Passing Notes are such a powerful part of the Jazz sound!

One of the few times that I had a guitar lesson that really blew my mind and opened up how I thought about music was before I was even interested in learning to play Jazz. In the lesson, my teacher showed me a way to use chromatic notes when I was improvising and that felt like I had just been given the secret power to use all the wrong notes, and still sound great! (EXPLOSION?)

Chromatic Phrases in Jazz

For Bebop-inspired Jazz, chromatic phrases and using chromatic notes is a huge part of the style, and, as you will see, it is one of the easiest ways to start getting that sound into your playing

The phrase he showed me was this:

Which is a great chromatic enclosure, and probably you are now asking what is a chromatic enclosure?

When it comes to using chromatic notes in your solos then there are two main ways you can do that.

Passing notes, which is a way to have a single chromatic note that resolves to a note in the scale or a chord tone

or longer chromatic phrases that approach a target note from above and below which is what we call Chromatic enclosures

Chromatic enclosures are great as short licks that you can combine with the scales and arpeggios in your solo to play lines that have a surprising element and really move forward.

They actually have an advantage over just adding chromatic notes, but I will get back to that later.

Let’s first check out some solid chromatic enclosures that you can easily add to your playing so that you can hear how powerful a tool they are for Bebop lines!

#1 Pat Martino

All enclosures have a target note, so the phrase is moving toward that note. (Pat Martino Enclosure) This enclosure is using a half step below and works better if you have a diatonic note a whole-step above the target.

When I was taught this I was told that it was from Pat Martino, but I don’t think I have ever heard it in any of his solos? But feel free to let me know in the comments if you know of a place where he uses it.

You can create a great line by combining it with an Am7 arpeggio:

And combining enclosures with arpeggios is a very solid strategy for making lines sound like Jazz!

You can also use the 3rd of the chord, C, as the target note and play that arpeggio giving you this:

I am sure you can hear how this is a fairly simple way to create some Bop lines that really work!

 

#2 Michael Brecker

Michael Brecker has some great chromatic phrases as well. This is a variation on one I took from one of his solos, and it is a great way to use a very dissonant note right on beat 1. I am combining the enclosure with the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord.

So if people tell you that you can’t put chromatic leading notes on the beat then play them this example. (Michael Brecker Enclosure) It is interesting that like this, the enclosure actually only has one chromatic note. but of course, in the end, a bebop line is about creating movement.

You can use it where more of the notes are chromatic because that works equally well if you use the root, A, as a target note and then you get this:

And as you can see, this phrase is really just built around playing the enclosure: ENCLOSURE and then playing the arpeggio ARPEGGIO.

Since you know the basic recipe then you can also start to try other things with how you play arpeggios and where you can put the enclosure, because there are so many great sounding options for this.

EDITOR JENS: I took this phrase from his solo on Confirmation, and I just went back and checked, and he actually plays it a little differently moving the rhythm, but this also illustrates how you need to make these things something you can use and a part of your sound.

Let’s try to use the enclosure a little differently in the line.

#3 Sonny Stitt

The reason I thought of this topic for a video was actually that I came across that first enclosure in a Sonny Stitt solo and thought it was worth showing you. This is a pretty common line, I have already talked about it in my video Doug Raney as well.

The enclosure is this:

What makes this an appealing melody is actually the interval skip in the middle as much as it is the chromatic leading note under the A, but maybe that is only me?

Using this together with an Am7 arpeggio, which is now played as a triplet gives you:

What Is So Amazing About Enclosures?

Melodies that just move in one direction are not as interesting as melodies that change direction.

and adding a single passing note rarely changes the direction of a melody, but adding an enclosure does. In that way, enclosures make your lines more surprising and interesting.

Barry Harris has a whole system for chromatic notes, which actually offers some really nice things as well. Let me know if you think a video on that would be interesting?

NOT only on the off-beat

In some lessons, you will hear that the chromatic notes are supposed to be on the offbeat and chord tones should be on the downbeat so that the chord is clear. That is actually not true, you are free to put them anywhere you want, but you do, of course, need to make it into a melody that makes sense.

The chromatic notes are there to create tension that then resolves back into the key and if you put them on strong beats then they just become stronger tension. Charlie Parker actually did this quite often, if you look at a part of his solo on Anthropology there are two very clear examples with a C# on D7 and an F# on Bbmaj7.

If he uses that, then so can you, so let’s go over an example that does exactly that:

B-roll: Picture from Omnibook

#4 Double Chromatic Enclosure

This enclosure is approaching the target note in half steps from both sides:

Which is often called a double chromatic approach.

And to make the line even more interesting then let’s combine it with a Pivot arpeggio. And Let me quickly show you what that is using a Cmaj7 arpeggio. A pivot arpeggio is an arpeggio where you play the root and then move the rest of the arpeggio an octave down.

And that will give you something like this:

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5 Licks That Will Help You Understand Jazz Guitar

When I started listening to Jazz and trying to play it then a huge part of what I found exciting about it was that the lines were mysterious and complicated, and at the same time made sense and did not seem completely random.

This was what made me try to pick up phrases from Charlie Parker and John Scofield. I wanted to figure out how the music worked and how I could learn to play like that.

That turned out to be pretty difficult, but there are some basic things that you want to understand about Jazz licks or Jazz solos that will help you learn to play a lot faster. Things that I spent years figuring out, but that are an important part of what makes your solos sound like Jazz, and knowing that is going to speed up your learning process A LOT.

Dig Into The Chords

One of the things that make Jazz music challenging to play in the beginning is that the chords change quite fast. It doesn’t help that the harmony is fairly complicated, but this is also a description of how, especially Bebop-inspired Jazz, works: The lines you play in a solo will connect with the changes and often are so clear that you can pretty much tell what the chords are from just listening to the solo line.

This next example has a lot of chord tones in the melody, especially on beat 1 of the bar, so that when the new chord starts then there is a clear connection between the new chord and the note in the solo.

As you can hear, using chord tones and really hitting the clear chord tones when the chord changes give your solo that sound, that connection to the progression. (highlights)

The Most Important Chord Progression in Jazz

Here, the chord progression is a basic II V I in the key of C major (example chords) and this progression is, as you probably already know, one of the most common progressions in Jazz, and you will find that all over a lot of Jazz songs.

When you start improvising over the chords then you want to know the chord tones each chord, what you also call the arpeggio of the chord. One way you can practice this could be a simple exercise like this:

It is useful to also keep things in one position so that you can easily make a melody that moves smoothly from chord to chord without having to jump all over the neck, you can start doing that later(zoom?)

With this material, you can start making licks that really nail the changes, let’s check out how to make the licks stronger melodies.

The Solo Needs Energy And Direction

In the previous example, you saw that what you play in a solo is connecting to the chord, but just playing random chord tones doesn’t work.

It still has to make sense as a melody, and especially the transition from one chord to the next is important. This is often described as Forward motion, and when you play a solo then you play lines that aim for the target note on the next chord. Something like this:

With this lick, you can see how the descending melody on the Dm7 is going in an almost straight line to the B on G7. It is a bit more complicated on the G7 where you almost have two voices moving to the E on Cmaj7(highlight)

It is a good idea to practice composing lines and then work on choosing a specific target note on the next chord that you want to hit, doing a lot of that will help you start to hear melodies like that and that will become a natural part of your playing.

In these examples, I was mostly going for the 3rd of the chord. That is simply because that is one of the strongest and clearest notes. So in the beginning, this makes it easier for you to hear the chord change in your own solo line.

With all of this in mind then you can now start to learn some more building blocks for your Jazz solos.

Shortcut To Better Melodies

I already showed you how it pays off to use the chord tones in the melodies, but you can actually take that a bit further because the arpeggio is a great melody or building block that you can use in your lines in a few different ways, and there is more than one arpeggio per chord!

Here you have the Dm7 arpeggio on Dm7, but there are some other options for arpeggios on a chord. The arpeggio on the G7 chord is a Bø which is the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord, and it is played as a triplet which is a nice way to change up the rhythm as well.

Just to quickly explain “The Science” behind the arpeggio from the 3rd:

If you look at a G7 arpeggio and a Bø together then you can see that they mostly contain the same notes and the difference is that you add a 9th to the sound when using the Bø instead of G7.

The same technique is used on the Cmaj7 where the arpeggio from the 3rd is Em7.

Until now everything was about the right notes, but let’s start to make it a bit more spicy with some wrong notes

Try Some Funny Notes

One of the things that often springs out when you both listen to a line or just look at a transcription is that there are a lot of chromatic notes in there.

Chromatic phrases are used in different ways and there are a few different types in this example:

Let’s first check out the complicated phrases and then get to the easy chromatic phrases.

The first chromatic phrase on the Dm7 arpeggio is actually used as a way to create some tension that helps you move to the G7. A phrase like this is called an enclosure, which is really just a short melody that moves to a target note. In this case, the B on the G7, and in that way, it is helping them transition from Dm7 to G7.

A shorter enclosure is used on the G7 in the exact same way to take us from G7 to Cmaj7. This type of enclosure is sometimes referred to as a diatonic above chromatic below enclosure, something that you can use in many ways in your playing and that you want to explore on different chords.

The final use of chromaticism is on the Cmaj7 chord where the F# is used as a chromatic passing note. Because you don’t need complete phrases, you can also experiment with adding chromatic notes here and there that resolve to a note in the scale, or what is often stronger: a note in the chord. In this case, the F# is resolving to the 5th of Cmaj7, G.

But you can improvise with more than notes, you can also start to change the sound of the chords, and that is an amazing effect to work with!

You Can Change The Chords To Create New Sounds

Besides improvising licks on the chord progression then you can also start improvising with the chords in the progression. If your progression is going from Dm7 to Cmaj7 then you have a lot of freedom with what chords you are using to get there.

A simple version of this, and probably the first one you want to explore is to use a b9 on the dominant, so making it a G7(b9).

Doing this will help you get a bit more dissonance and more flow towards the Cmaj7.

So what I am using here is first the arpeggio from the 3rd on Dm7, and a Dm triad.

On the G7(b9) I am using a B diminished arpeggio, and you can see how that is the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord: G7 B D F Ab.

This is a concept you can take a lot further with altered dominants, harmonic minor, and a lot more, but just getting started using the b9 and the diminished arpeggios is a great way to ease into it.

Important Skills To Develop For Jazz

What also really makes a huge difference for how well your jazz solos sound will be phrasing and rhythm, that are really the two next ingredients or skills that you want to develop, and one of the ways that you can really get that into your ears and into your playing is to start learning some solos by ear. That might sound incredibly difficult, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Just check out this video where I recommend some solos that are very useful and both easy and short to get you started learning Jazz by ear.

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

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Is This Jazz Guitar Method Fantastic and Terrible At The Same Time

Jazz solos are not improvising every single note, we use building blocks to construct phrases, similar to how words are used to form sentences and you don’t spell each word in the sentence, you just put them together to make a statement, and that is also how you want to improvise.

When it comes to learning some really solid building blocks fro Bebop vocabulary, then one of the best books that I know is “Joe Pass guitar style“, and I am far from the only one to recommend it, both John Scofield and Mike Stern have mentioned studying it and when I was studying then most of my teachers gave me homework from that book.

Building Blocks

Jazz Lick:

But it does have a problem and maybe not the one that I hear people mention all the time, and that is what I want to talk about in this video.

The Method

The part of the book that I worked on and that I also use with my students is the 2nd half of the book that has some written-out solos that you can work on playing.

Playing these solos will give you some great examples of super-strong basic Bebop vocabulary and teach you a lot about improvising over chord changes, using chromatic phrases and Bebop melodies.

And, of course, it is also good for your reading, technique, and fretboard knowledge.

So lots of stuff to learn.

Joe Pass is obviously an expert when it comes to Bebop on guitar, and the solos are filled with great phrases that are clear and sound logical without being predictable or formulaic.

So what is the problem with the book?

As you can see, the solos are very dense:

They are mostly just streams of 8th notes. One of the two complaints I hear the most often is, of course, “There are no tabs” which is true. But even if you have to spend some time deciphering where to play these solos without tabs then they are actually worthwhile, and almost a reason to learn to read.

This book was just made before tabs were really something that was common.

When it comes to the dense 8th note lines then Joe Pass explains it with this:

“These solos are in straight 8th-notes. By eliminating rhythmic variety, you force the ear into building better melodies. 8th-note studies also tend to avoid the practice of playing memorized licks.

Chord symbols are for your analysis, not necessarily for accompaniment.”

My interpretation of this is that he is saying that playing continuous 8th-notes forces you to play the changes clearer with more logical melodies and that it is more difficult to rely on licks you already know. I think that makes sense. I don’t think that he means straight 8th notes as opposed to swing 8th notes, just that it is one long stream of 8th notes. It also sounds like he is suggesting that you actually practice improvising like this as much as you play his solos, which is not how I hear most people use this. But that can certainly be a great exercise to work on.

On a side note: the chord symbols are sometimes really off and not a very strong analysis in my opinion, but that is not so important for this video.

Playing these dense 8th note solos is technically more demanding and if you are performing then that is probably not how you want your solo to sound since it has no rests, no room to breathe.

And yet, almost any Jazz guitarist will tell you that this is great material to study and most certainly worth your time, so let’s look at how you can work with these phrases?

The Building Blocks

Besides playing the exercises and getting these types of melodies into your fingers and ears, which is already a great exercise in itself, then there is a lot more you can use this material for.

One thing that is worth noticing about the solos is that Joe Pass is constructing lines with building blocks that are mostly a few notes with a direction to a target note. This keeps the entire solo moving forward and since the target note is almost always a chord tone it also really helps with connecting the melody to the chord progression, so nailing the changes

These building blocks are what you want to get into your own playing and doing that is perhaps one of the best things you can take away from the book. Something that will really help you sound like Jazz when you improvise.

One way to do that is to take a single phrase and then start composing lines using that phrase and in that way get it to fit into your vocabulary.

So if you start with a phrase like this:

That can work on a Gm7 chord to create a solid bebop line like this:

 

And you can of course also put it to use on the C7, add a triplet and some octave displacement, and then you have a great line like this:

Is Building Blocks Cheating?

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes I get comments from people who insist that the ideal is that you improvise each note of a phrase and never study licks or how to use them, even going as far as dismissing arpeggios and triads as being clichés. I often wonder who they listen to? Because most people I have listened to use phrases that they clearly got from others and they all use arpeggios and triads. And, I never felt that it makes them sound bad, at least not to me anyway. Like Grant Green, who, like George Benson, uses a ton of Parker lines, and in another style, Stevie Ray Vaughan Playing like Albert King.

So using building blocks is a practical way to learn to play in a style, it is how the people you listen to learn, and it is a part of learning the language. But You want to be as flexible as possible with the material because that makes it easier to use in a solo. So in that respect, this book is full of useful information for you to internalize.

The fact that the lines are constructed from blocks actually also makes it easier to learn.

The Blocks Help You Learn The Solo

If you are trying to learn a new language then you don’t first try to memorize a whole story and then figure out what each word means. You use the words to help you learn the story, and that is also how you should be learning solos like this as well.

It may look like there are no individual phrases, but, as you have seen, there is a logical way to split it up in blocks, and if you do that you can think in smaller phrases each a few notes long. This will help you learn because what you are playing makes more sense and you will have an easier time learning how to play the whole thing without feeling like you are trying to memorize all the letters in a book!

The Problem

Until now, it was about all the great things you can learn from these solos, but of course, this is a specific exercise and there are things that it probably won’t teach you.

The other complaint that I get about this material, both in comments and from students, is that there is no rhythm in the solo, it is all 8th notes, and that is unrealistic. You don’t want to play like that if you are performing.

There is actually rhythm and syncopation in the solo. I’ll show you that in a bit, but for the rest it is true that if you listen to Joe Pass on recordings then he certainly does not play like this.

The emphasis in the solo and in practicing like this is on flow, forward motion, and strong melodies, so if you play these solos and improvise like this, as Joe Pass suggests, then that is something you will develop. You won’t develop more open phrasing focused on syncopated rhythms, or playing riff-like material similar to what you might find in a Lester Young or Charlie Christian solo. But then again that is also not really what you are trying to develop with this material, and you can work on that elsewhere. The idea that you should learn everything at once from one source is anyway a bit silly.

It is, however, good to be aware of that the lines will teach you to be clear and always play from one heavy beat (so beat 1 or beat 3) to the next heavy beat, and only phrasing like that can be a problem down the road.

Just like you have chord tones as target notes in these Joe Pass solos, then you probably also want to develop rhythmical target notes so that you can play strong melodies to 4& and 1& as well as just beat 1. A big part of Bebop phrasing is also about doing those types of syncopations which is what makes Bebop sound playful and light, not just a machine working its way from downbeat to downbeat.

Rhythmical Target Notes

But I also said that there actually is syncopation in the solo, even if it is just all 8th-notes. Let’s have a look at that.

There is Rhythm, You Just Don’t Recognize It

Dismissing the solos as not having any rhythm or syncopation is actually wrong. I understand why it might look like that, but if you play them and know just a little bit about Bebop phrasing then you can also see how there are some syncopated accents in there.

There are no really strict rules for accents, but some obvious places in this line would be something like this

So you can see how the accents add a layer of syncopation that you don’t immediately see when you just look at the long row of 8th notes, and that is something you don’t want to miss and a huge part of learning jazz phrasing

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My 7 Best Jazz Licks with Only Four Notes

You are probably thinking 4-Note Jazz Licks! That doesn’t make any sense!

But actually, those 4-note licks are very important! They are the flexible building blocks that you put together as phrases in your solo.

Think of a solo phrase as a sentence (example 1 + text ) and these building blocks are the words, they are how you say something, and you need great building blocks for great solos and as you will see, just naming it with an arpeggio or a scale is nowhere near enough.

Let’s first look at one that is like adding instant Bebop to your solo.

Lick #1 – A Beautiful 6th Interval

This is so simple, but it sounds fantastic in a line, and it isn’t just an arpeggio or a triad.

You can at most call it a scale run with an inserted interval skip, and that is also not much of a description.

If you use it on a m7 chord you get this:

but it is equally great on a maj7 chord

With The Next One, you will see an example where it is pretty clear that just a chord name is not really a description

Lick #2 – Minor Triad With Extras

This is sort of an Am triad with an added B,

 

 

 

 

 

 

or you can think of it as a Cmaj7 shell-voicing with an added A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is great for altered dominants like this G7alt:

or over an F# half-diminished chord like this:

And I think you will agree that calling it an Am triad or Am(add9) is not really describing it.

An Arpeggio Is Just A Set Of Notes

So you can see how this isn’t just an arpeggio or a scale, and that is what makes it great. You can again think of these building blocks as being like words. it is not enough to have an analytical term for a set of notes like maj7 arpeggio, Diminished triad, because it is just as important what melody you make with those notes.

Similar to what word you use in a sentence there are options and they feel different even if they are sort of the same thing. The 3 examples below are all Cmaj7 arpeggios, but as you can see the melody is very different from example to example:

So you need to know what set of notes but also need to have some ideas on how you get them to sound great. Sometimes the arpeggio is enough, but you want to be more creative with your melodies than that.

Ironically, the next two examples are arpeggios and sound amazing.

Lick #3 – A Hidden Arpeggio

This arpeggio is not strictly a diatonic arpeggio in C even if the notes are all in that scale, it is an Fmaj7 with a B instead of a C

The fact that I call it a maj7(b5) arpeggio is also something that can get the comment section all fired up because some people will insist that it is a #11

But: an Fmaj7(#11) is a chord with 6 notes: F A C E G B and it seems a bit silly to call it an Fmaj7(omit5, add#11). Calling it Fmaj7(b5) makes it very clear that the arpeggio only has 4 notes and especially that there is no C in there which is important for how you use it.

Of course, there is plenty of room in the comments if this really offends you. Go right ahead!

This is a great sound for an altered dominant or a backdoor dominant like this:

You can also use this as a voicing and that sounds amazing as well.

If you have Fmaj7 here, then you create Fmaj7(b5) by moving down the 5th a half step:

And listen to this:

That sounds really great!

The next one is pretty simple but is also so good for really nailing a sound!

Lick #4 – Almost Obvious Arpeggio

So this is a basic m7b5 arpeggio, and I am starting with an Fm7(b5) here because I want to show you how great that sounds on a G7 altered, really nailing the sound and resolving so nicely!

Example 16

Before we get back to some examples that are more melodic techniques than great sounds on a chord, then I want to just show you how you find blocks like this in the solos you transcribe or analyze, because these are really the things you want to search for and try to work into your playing.

Finding the blocks

 

Just to give you a quick impression of how you can isolate some blocks then look at this part of Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends.

Of course, not everything is a neat 4-note phrase, so the first phrase is a 1-bar phrase with some rhythm in there.

Then you get a pick up followed by a scale melody, a Coltrane pattern, another scale melody with a 16th note turn, descending scale, and then a Bbm triad with an added C. A different version of what I cover as the 2nd lick.

So that is how you can start to find things you want to get into your playing.

Here is another Bebop classic that you definitely need to know.

Lick #5 – The Bebop Arpeggio Melody

There is a fair chance you have heard me talk about this Bebop phrase before. Playing a maj7 arpeggio with octave displacement is a great sound for a lot of chords, and it is in so many Bebop and Hardbop solos. Here it is on a m7 chord:

This list would not be complete without a chromatic enclosure. The next one is one I took from a Michael Brecker solo

Lick #6 – A Great Enclosure

This is one that I picked up from Michael Brecker, but later I actually realized later that he probably got it from Charlie Parker.

It is like a standard enclosure with a leading note for the leading note.

But you also want some more modern sounding melodies, and the next one is one of my favourites, and one that is really underused in my opinion

Lick #7- My Secret Weapon

This Quartal arpeggio with a tritone is a great sound. It works for so many things, tonic minor, altered dominants, but also diminished scale sounds.

I have written it out so that it is the top part of a G7(#9) chord:

         

and you can use it in an altered line like this:

but it also works great with a diminished scale sound:

Finding Truly Great Phrases

When you start searching for blocks like this then I think the best place to do that is probably in the music that inspires you, so the solos that you think are amazing are also more likely to give you this material. This is also why I referenced Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends. Learning solos and analyzing phrases is incredibly useful for this, and if you want to check out some of the phrases that I think are must-know vocabulary then check out this lesson:

The 3 Bebop Licks You Need To Know

The other way is to mess around with material and try out things to see if you come across something that you like. This is also a lot of fun but can be very time-consuming.

 

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