Tag Archives: jazz guitar phrasing

Jazz Phrasing – This is what you want to know

You problably know the feeling of trying to come up or with lines and then even though you know the notes are right it is impossible to get it to sound like jazz.

In this video I am going to show you some things that you need to be aware of when trying to come up with lines and which will help you jazz phrasing really a lot. One thing that is really interesting about this is that it is actually possible to write jazz licks that really are not possible to phrase well.
This is about how you play the notes and a little about which notes you play, and for me it was really a huge part of getting my bop lines to sound good.

How to learn good Jazz Phrasing

I am going to cover two things: First how to write lines like this and later I’ll talk about how to hear it in examples and get it into your system so that you don’t have to think about it, because that is what you eventually want to have. Phrasing is something you hear and feel not something you think about while you are playing.

The Lick that doesn’t swing

Have a look at this lick: Harmony is clear, the notes are mostly chord tones.  Target notes make sense but it sounds heavy.

This line has direction and it spells out the chords, but the melody sounds heavy because it asks for accents on the heavy beats: 1 and 3. There is no place where we have a not popping out to make it dance.

In short: That sounds more like Megadeth than Charlie Parker.

Writing better line with Better Phrasing

Luckily you probably already have a good idea about how a good jazz solo sounds. If you try to sing the phrasing of that then you get a much more.

If you pay attentiont to what you are singing and slow that down then you start to notice that the accents in the phrase are not on the beat, so accents are on the off-beat

In Jazz, or bebop, the accents are naturally on the off beats. The question is then how do you make melodies where you can create those accents.

Let’s look at an example:

In the example above the accents are the higher notes in the phrase, so the C on 1-and plus the A on the 3-and.

The rule you want to notice here is:

If a note is higher (in pitch) than the following note and not on the beat. Then you can give it an accent.

In the line above there are therefore two notes that can get an accent. 

Using your technique to make it easier to phrase

Very often the easiest way to accent something is not to play that note a lot louder but instead to play the surrounding notes a little softer. Using legato is a great way to naturally do that.

The way I use this is to pick the note that gets an accent and then use a pull-off to play the following (lower) notes.

Another example of a line where this strategy will give it a natural phrasing is shown below:

Bebop Phrasing on a II V I

Of course this way of thinking and using this rule can also be applied to a complete II V I lick as shown below.

You will notice that the accents are on 4-and in bar 1 and on 2-and in bar 2. The line also ends with a classic “bebop” phrase where the descending interval is the sound that gave the genre it’s name.

Learning to hear good phrasing

Besides writing lines it is also important to listen to great solos and it can be useful to analyze transcriptions to find places where there are accents in the solo.

Be sure to listen to bebop and hardbop artists to get the most out of this. You also want to keep in mind that even if you don’t analyze it then just hearing good phrasing in huge amounts will also help you a lot. 

How Wes Montgomery Gets it Right

As an example of an analysis of a solo let’s have a look at the opening phrase from Wes Montgomerys solo on Four on Six off the Smokin’ at the half note album.

The first part of the pickup is a sliding 5th interval which is on the beat. This is not a bebop 8th note line so or ideas about accents doesn’t really apply.

The next phrase is a Gm pentatonic phrase an here Wes is playing 8th notes. The phrase is essentially a descending scale run and he does in fact accent the top note (a C).

The ascending arpeggio that follows does not allow any accents, but the descending Dm triad in bar 3 does, and here the first note does get an accent.

The way to better phrasing

For me it was a combination of knowing how to phrase bebop themes and lines, composing lines with the accents in the right place and certainly also training my ears by listening and playing along with great examples. 

I would suggest you find a way to mix in all of those approaches if you are working on your phrasing.

A short cut to improve your Bebop Phrasing

One way to speed up the process could be to check out this webstore lesson with analysis and examples of lines that are easy to play and have great phrasing.

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Economy Picking Licks – This is my solution to the Problems

Economy Picking is a great strategy if you play the phrases that are the most difficult on the guitar: 1 note per string structures like arpeggios.

You do however have to be careful with timing and phrasing when you work with this technique. It can really mess up the groove and does not really lend it self to good phrasing.

How To Learn Economy Picking

In this video I am going to go over some of the ways that I use Economy picking in my playing. I will go over 5 Economy Picking Licks, both Modal and II V I. For each lick I also have an exercise and some suggestions on how to achieve good phrasing and timing while working with this technique.

If you are familiar with my playing you will probably have seen how often I use economy picking in my playing and rely on it for cascading arpeggios, fast diatonic triad runs etc. All solid material that you want to have in your vocabulary.

Lick #1 Modal Cascading Arpeggios

The first example is on an Am7 chord using the Dorian sound. So the notes of the G major scale.

Three things to notice about this lick:

  • The Arpeggios are Em7, Cmaj7 and Am7 (so diatonic arpeggios in 3rds distance)
  • The Lick divides the bars in 2 beats, 3 and 3 beats
  • The first and highest note of each arpeggio is a down stroke (and an accented note)

Practicing Descending Arpeggios

In order to get this type of playing into your fingers it is useful to just take one simple arpeggio shape and work on getting that precise, well articulated and easy to play.

Practicing the exercise here below is a great way to work on this:

Here the repeated arpeggio and switching between alternate picking and economy let’s you develop the economy and always reference the clear articulation of alternate picking. 

Lick #2 – Forgotten 2-string Triads

Using sweeping or economy picking on two strings is something that is often overlooked, but it is a great approach to play patterns like this.

The lick below is using this technique to play diatonic D altered scale triads: Ab, Bb and Cdim. Really spelling out the altereations on the D7alt.

Notice how the alternate picking is turned around on the Em7 arpeggio in the first bar. While it is good to keep consistent with down strokes on down beats it is something that you will deviate from along the way whenever it is better for the phrasing and the execution of a phrase.

Practicing 2-string Triads

The exercise below is again taking a single triad and then working on getting that to be easy to play. Then you can move on to diatonic triads up the neck.

Once this is easy then try moving on to this exercise:

Lick #3 – Polyrhythmic ideas with Economy Picking

As you already saw in the previous examples arpeggios can be really useful in creating patterns that move on top of the beat. Both with 3 and 6 notes.

This example is using 4 notes but is changing the rhythm so that the arpeggio is 3 8th notes long. This gives the phrase a dotted quarter note effect that nicely breaks up the song.

The lick is using one arpeggio on the Am7 that is changing the top note. The two arpeggios are a first inverion Am7 and a Cmaj7. The arpeggio is voice-lead into a D7 altered (where it becomes a Cm7b5 arpeggio.

Lick #4 Quartal Harmony 

Another type of arpeggio that is a great addition to especially your modern jazz vocabulary. In this lick I am using descending 3-part quartal arpeggios on a II V I in Bb. Again making use of the 3 note groupings.

The Al Di Meola exercise

The technique I am using here is derived from a technique that a student of mine came with off an Al Di Meola video.

I don’t remember if it was the ascending or the descending version of it, but these two exercises demonstrates the principle for 3 string patterns.

Lick #5 Modal Pentatonic Patterns

Besides arpeggios Economy picking works really well for patterns in the pentatonic scale. Very often Pentatonic patterns consist of 1 note per string ideas which is ideal for sweeping or economy picking approaches.

In this case the pattern is 2 strings and the picking pattern is similar to the triads in Lick #2

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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