Tag Archives: jazz guitar

The Biggest Problem With Scale Positions and How They Can Ruin Your Progress

You have probably already realized that it is important to practice the right things so that you don’t waste time, and one of the things that most people, including myself, often tell you to work on is learning scales in positions but is that really what you should be working on? One aspect of this approach can waste a lot of time, but being aware of that can also be very useful for pretty much everything else you want to practice.

3 Position systems

There are different ways of creating scale positions with 3 main systems. I actually used or use two of them:

CAGED:

5 positions, built around 5 campfire chords and emphasizes never spreading your left-hand fingers.

3 notes per string:

7 positions built on consistently having 3 notes on each string

The Berklee scale system:

7 positions is focused on staying in one position on the neck.

 

Of course, they all work for more than major scales, so for each system,you have arpeggios and other scales that work together.

I learned scale positions very early on, first a mix of CAGED and 3NPS and later the Berklee scale position system, really just going with what I was told to practice by my teachers, and it was not presented as a grand system that would solve all my problems. On a recent video, I had a conversation with a commenter where we also talked about how we don’t always know exactly how people like Wes and Charlie Christian practiced.

Some of the later guys like Joe PaSs taught things to students and wrote books, so with them there is a better picture of how they worked on things like scales.

ish

With Wes, I don’t know how he thought about it, and I can’t really see it in his playing, but with Charlie Christian, you often clearly see chord voicings as the basis of the line,

which is also why he uses drop2 chords as arpeggios here and there. I think he played from chord shapes more than separate scale shapes.

For this video I am not going to get too much into a discussion of whether you should practice scales at all, it worked for me,  it is clear that Joe Pass did, and Barry Harris uses scales really a lot in his teaching, which is also a part of why it worked for me. I also don’t really want to get into the huge discussion of which scale position system is better, I used the Berklee system and 3nps the most but I also have had periods where I don’t practice scales in positions at all. You can check the old video on my technique practice on the channel if you want to know how that works

Scale Positions Are Great!

Before we get to the problems then let’s first look at why scale positions are useful, because In my experience both as a teacher and a student, then learning scales in positions is a very efficient and practical approach.

#1 Chunks

It is a way to make fretboard overview easier to learn. Instead of learning the entire neck, you can get a very solid overview of a small part of the neck and still start to improvise and develop those skills, so you can learn C major here and improvise over a song in that key and use the diatonic arpeggios to hit the changes.

#2 Moveable

You can move them around. On the guitar, you can move around positions and learning one position really means learning it in all 12 keys, and learning 5 or 7 positions is a lot easier than having to learn the neck for every key, and since the same scales go together in songs then you can move those relationships from song to song and key to key as well.

#3 Complete You won’t play yourself into a dead end in the middle of a solo – Illustration: playing a moving line on Cmaj7, but then have to move back to the play something on D7

It is also very complete. Sometimes I have seen students who were free over some chords in the song and then very limited on other chords, and which meant that they could solo all over the neck but kept being pulled back to one place when certain chords came by.

So there are many reasons for beginners to start with positions, and Joe Pass actually demonstrates a C major CAGED position in the video. (show video with diagram?) and later a scale position that certainly isn’t CAGED, maybe more Berklee System.

Scale Positions Can Be Tricky!

But no system is perfect, and working with positions then there are also things that you do need to take care of so that you actually make the information useful and can use it freely when improvising. Though these first ones are not that difficult to overcome, and not as serious as the last one.

#1 Open up the scale

You need more than just playing the scale. You don’t want to end up sounding like you are just running up and down the scale and only playing scale melodies.

 

You want to really play lines, and Jazz lines also have other things like arpeggios, triads, and chromatic phrases.

However all of these things can be practiced in the scale, so you can practice other melodies in positions by working on diatonic triads, chords, and triad inversions. Of course, you need to practice using them as well but working on that makes sense for so many reasons, and this is of course also what you will hear if you study Barry Harris stuff:

#2 Tie It Together

You want to Connect the information! This is probably one of the most important parts of fretboard visualization. I mentioned in the beginning that all of the different scale systems are not only major scales, they also have arpeggios and other scales, and you want to connect these things as well to get the full benefit of what is going on.

Getting those connections is not that difficult if you are already practicing, for example arpeggios and major scales, just choose a chord and a scale where that chord is diatonic, play the scale position, and try to see the arpeggio in there.

Maybe see if you can make some lines with that material.

Keep in mind that this is the kind of thing that you don’t want to approach in a too systematic way, something I will get back to later.

#3 Scale Boxes Should Not Be Prisons

Another common problem that you will need to overcome is that when you play then you want to be able to move from position to position. The positions should not be walls on the neck that you can’t get over, and there are some really good exercises to really connect the fretboard and become free.

The main thing to spend some time on is to improvise forcing yourself to change position, getting used to seeing the notes in the positions around the one you are playing in, and being able to move to them while continuing your phrase.

Another thing that is useful to work on is practicing along the neck with scales, arpeggios, and other things that you also use in the positions, hopefully recognizing those same shapes in the scale positions.

Here you have a Cmaj7 arpeggio in a C major scale position (using 3NPS)

It Is How You Think About It

B-roll: practicing a scale with overlay of scale fingering? or picture of a neck with overlay

What I mostly see getting in the way with scale position systems is that they are systems and that everything should be approached as a system. It is easy to think that we should learn things in a system, but if you think about it then it quickly becomes clear that working like that is probably going to have you practicing exercises in positions 14 hours every day for years and years, while not playing any music which is not going to work.

You can quickly learn to play the scales in a way that requires very little effort. You see the notes on the neck and use muscle memory, and you also take some exercises to that level, like diatonic triads or 7th chord arpeggios,

but you can’t have that as a goal for every exercise, and at some point playing an exercise probably becomes more about relying on how well you know those basics and then hearing your way through the scale and using that you know the position. It is about a much more useful flexibility.

In the roadmap course, I teach a song using a small area of the neck because I want the students to practice some scale stuff, but the important lesson is what you can do with that, and what many also experience is that if they work on it like that then it becomes something that you can actually improvise with. But in the Roadmap I also get questions about making all the exercises into huge projects in all keys and all positions, and in my experience, that really doesn’t work and you end up not getting the material to a level where you can really use it in your solos.

The main thing to get rid of is probably the idea that you need to play things entirely automatically or as muscle memory, but instead it is about working on exercises to become better at moving and hearing them as melodies through the scale position.

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5 Of My Favorite Bebop Shortcuts To Fix Your Jazz Phrasing

When I was still just getting into playing Jazz, before I moved to the Netherlands,  then I often found it very frustrating that I knew what scale to play, the arpeggio of the chord, and all those basic things, but I still couldn’t get it to sound right.

The lines that I played in my solos were correct but way too boring:

At the time I was checking out solos from Parker, Joe Pass, and a Danish Jazz guitarist called Jakob Fischer, and the way their lines flowed were much more elegant:

But while I mostly understood the notes and how it worked with the chords then I could not make my own version of it.

The solution sort of came from two things: Going to Barry Harris workshops in the Hague where I later went to study,  and then those solos that I was checking out.  Barry could really explain Bebop melodies in ways that made sense, and that also taught me more about how to break down the phrases I found in solos so that I could make them into more flexible chunks and get into my own playing.

That is what I am going to show you here, Let’s get to the first Building block which you might recognize from the previous example.

#1 Beautiful Bebop Interval

One of the problems in the boring line is that the melody is super predictable in how it flows which makes it heavy and not very interesting in terms of rhythm. In fact, all of these blocks are really about adding rhythm to your lines, because that is what Bebop is all about.

Here’s a great way to change the melodic direction by adding a lower chord tone, in this case, the 5th of the chord, and a chromatic passing note, it is actually a Barry Harris technique, but I’ll explain that later.

And that can be put into a lick like this:

But you can use this on other chords as well, on a G7 where the 3rd is B and the fifth is D:

or on a maj7 chord also going from the 3rd down to the 5th (show the lick Ex 7)

So you can see how you can easily move it around in the scale and have your melodies come more alive.   The next one is taking this and going a step further.

#2 Beautiful Bebop Interval 2.0

Now that you have the large interval skip you can also add a leading note to that low chord tone and that really works:

And, of course, this can become a line:

Again this will easily work on a G7 as well, giving you something like this:

A side-note to these two examples is that you can see them as part of Barry Harris’ chromatic scale where he essentially sets up a system for adding leading notes, where anything can be a leading note, and that gives you some really amazing options, I’ll link to my video on that in the description of this video.

Make it your own!

An important thing to keep in mind is that you want to use these to develop your own material, so make variations of them, and explore what you can turn them into because that is where they really become valuable.

A few basic takes on the first two blocks could give you:

So there are all these things you can create from this and they all work. Let’s explore a way of changing up the rhythm by adding embellishments which is a little less complicated than these large intervals.

#3 The Triplet trill

It is nice to have material that is easy to throw in there and that change things up so you are not stuck with endless rows of 8th notes, again this is about rhythmic and melodic variation.

Let’s say you are playing a line like this:

But you can add a bit of energy to the first part of the line by playing it like this

And that trill is essentially just this phrase:

I  think you want to play this with legato to get it to sound good, because playing it picking all the notes just doesn’t sound as good 99% of the time.

This little phrase can be used in so many ways. If you combine it with an Em7 arpeggio it is great for a Cmaj7 chord:

Or if you move it in the scale and add a leading note then you have a Dm7 lick:

In those Barry Harris Masterclasses, I remember Barry referencing this as a Parker thing when he added it to the solo line he was working on, but I am not sure if he always did that, it is certainly something you will find only in Parker solos, it is all over Bebop, and maybe a little less in Hardbop.

When it comes to learning this, then being practical is usually  more efficient than being systematic, so an easy way to start exploring this in a scale is really just to move from string to string and see where it is easy to play, and from that try to see where you can use it, which for this position could give you an exercise like:

And an ascending where you are adding that leading note could then be:

Let’s take a look at another important trill to use, so that you never get stuck with 8th-note sickness again.

#4 The 16th Note Trick

This is also really easy to insert into your lines, notice that it again is easier to play it with legato technique, especially for higher tempos, but here you can actually get away with picking the notes as well.

Like this it sort of works as an enclosure for the note F and if you add an Fmaj7 arpeggio you have a great Dm7 line:

Again you can try to move that around to other strings, if I start on E on the G string then it can become a great line like this:

Which is obviously a lot more interesting than:

And here again, you can explore it by moving it around, and see what is practical for you, which is also how I came up with this exercise:

It is about using it!

As you can tell, then I am focusing on how you can use these phrases not only how to play them, and that is because I think that is way more important. In the long run, you want to make it a part of your playing, and your sound and you do that by learning the concept, not just a lick.  Which is also really what Barry Harris taught by moving things around the scale and how to make phrases into exercises. Let’s make arpeggios more Bebop!

#5 The Other Triplet Arpeggio

This is different form the Bebop  arpeggio that  ou probably already know, with a triplet and a leading note:

Another approach that is also really useful is to play arpeggios like this:

This is especially great for targeting the 3rd f the chord, so for a Dm7 you can use an Am7 arpeggio and get a line like this:

And it also is a great way to get the transition from Dm7 to G7:

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The Problem With My Vintage Gibson

I often get asked why I don’t play my Gibson ES175 more often, and in general, not everyone understands why I mostly prefer semi-hollow guitars over archtop, and of course specifically my ES175. The Gibson was my main guitar for more than 10 years,  while I was studying and a few years after. An odd side note to the story is that I later also discovered that it I had in fact not bought it legally.

The Audition

When I did my audition to get into the conservatory in the Hague then I was playing my SRV strat which I had fitted with flatwound 13s at the time.

That guitar had served me really well until then while I had been playing in Copenhagen.

The strat was my first “serious” guitar and I had been more busy trying to learn to play Jazz than looking for what is traditionally considered a Jazz guitar. So I hadn’t really thought that much about it, figuring that it was more about what and how you played than which guitar you used.

The audition was nerve-wracking and actually, I was so nervous that I don’t really remember that much about playing it. Still, I do remember that after the teachers had discussed my performance. I was called into the room again, I was told that I had been accepted and that while what I played really was Jazz, then once I started studying I would have the option to borrow money from the school to get a “real” jazz guitar. Later I asked my main teacher, Peter Nieuwerf, about this, and he told me not to worry about it, explaining that one of the other teachers, Eef Albers, also mostly played a strat. But I did start looking around for an instrument since people kept asking me why I played that kind of guitar.

Finding the Gibson

A few months later, I had been to some shops and tried some different guitars, but mostly being scared by the price of a new Gibson and also not really liking how they felt if I was allowed to try them, so I hadn’t found one that I liked. A friend of mine told me about an ES175 that he had tried at a guitar shop in the Hague.

I went there the same day to try it, and it was a 50s model(not that I could actually tell), and it had some setup issues but was probably a good option. The price was pretty ok, but in hindsight, there might have been a reason for that.

I pretty much don’t know anything about guitars, but the guitar played quite well except for the 1st string buzzing high on the neck. It was in the original case (I think) and it seemed like it had been lying in the case for a LOONG time, which turned out to be true. The owner of the shop assured me he could set it up to fix the fret buzz and that turned out to be true when I came back the following day. It really played like a dream, and actually still does. He insisted that I pay in cash, saying that he didn’t trust foreign students and the shop did not accept credit cards, so I went to the bank to get the money and took my guitar home.

When I showed it to my teachers I was made aware of how lucky I was that the guitar had aged well, the top of these guitars can sometimes over time yield under the pressure of the strings and that can render the guitar unplayable, but this one had aged very well. I actually had two teachers who had experienced that with older Gibson archtops.

I also learned that it was the same type of guitar that Jim Hall used for a long time, even if he changed the pickup in the early 70s and probably also what you hear Wes play on the incredible Jazz Guitar album.

I did the rest of my study on that guitar, a few different albums, and I took it on tours around Europe and a single trip to North Africa, but by that time I also had started getting into more modern Jazz styles which didn’t really agree with the Guitar.

Problems With The Sound

There were two things that started to become a problem, especially with the music I was playing and writing myself for our band Træben:

I could feel that I was lacking sustain when I played which meant I couldn’t do some of the things I wanted to do, and another thing was that while the guitar has a beautiful warm sound, it does have a very pronounced pick attack. To me it felt like I was missing a sort of singing quality in the tone of the guitar, it was pretty percussive. Obviously, I was both coming from listening to rock and blues guitarists who play with overdrive and more sustain and I was at that time mostly listening to people who played with a more modern sound, singing sustain, reverb, and delay, mostly Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder.

This is difficult to demonstrate even though it is so easy to feel when you play.

If you try to keep notes and have other things moving around it then that effect is pretty much lost comparing the two, and if you are soloing and in your head you hear a long sustained note then it quickly becomes frustrating when the note does not behave like you want it to.

Long notes:

And of course especially if you are playing a long note and then later adding a chord under it while it keeps ringing.

I think it is a pretty clear difference, but I wonder if it is clear how massive it actually feels when you are playing.

Thunk

A short side note on this, while I was researching stuff for this video, then I came across a few discussions online about “Thunk” which was actually a new concept to me. Apparently, it is the sound of an archtop like this with a pronounced pick attack and very little sustain.  It had a few really good quotes from Christian Miller who also makes videos on his channel the Jazz Guitar Scrapbook:

“Thunk is not a concept. Thunk is a lifestyle.”

“Thunk! Because sustain is for kids”

You can check out Christian’s YT channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@JazzGuitarScrapbook

I guess this is considered the holy grail of Jazz tone by some. Obviously, I don’t really fall in that category, but I am curious about what you think? Another thing tangent is that if you listen to most Jazz guitarists then it is fairly clear that the whole turning down the tone and not having any treble in the sound, is sort of a myth, but I guess that is a topic for another video.

Do I hate P90s?

At the time I first try to get the ES175 to act like the semi-hollow by using reverb and delay,and even overdrive, but THAT was not useful live. Reverb and Delay was also not really getting me anywhere which was when I realized that probably I needed another instrument to get the sound that I wanted.

I have sometimes had the comment that I should consider changing the pickup in the guitar since the single-coil P90 pickups will not give you as much sustain as a more compressed humbucker,

which is probably true. I did become aware that my ES175 did not have the same type of sound as what you hear with a humbucker version, which is pretty clear if you listen to someone like Jonathan Kreisberg or Pat Metheny, or also how Jim Hall’s sound changed when he replaced the pickup in his 175 going from the P90 to a Guild Humbucker,

what you hear in this concert clip:

And here he is with the P90:

Obviously, you can’t really compare these two since they are recorded differently and there is almost 10 years between the two recordings, but I think you can still hear a difference, and also that Jim Hall is actually using the sustain in his playing.

So maybe it IS just mostly about the pickup, but having played the guitar the way it was, and considering the fact that it is an instrument from the 50s then I did not feel that it would be right to change the pickup. That said, I do have the impression that I am not a huge fan of p90s, possibly because of my playing style, because I find that they have too much pick attack, and a very sort of aggressive mid-range. That could also be a part of the reason Jim Hall almost always turned down the tone and the volume on his guitar?

I guess I could use this video as an excuse to get an archtop with a humbucker…

After all: The correct number is n+1, where n is the number of guitars currently owned.

It was Stolen!

I switched to using semi-hollow guitars as my main instrument in 2010, which also fitted much better with the music that I wrote for the 2nd Træben album Push. First the Epiphone Sheraton, and later the Ibanez and the ES335.

A few years later I started making YouTube videos, which I thought was a lot of fun, and therefore still do, and in 2017 I suddenly got an email from a guitarist in Belgium who told me that the guitar I had on the wall behind me in the videos was in fact stolen from him when he was living in Amsterdam in the mid-80s. He could describe it in a way that made it clear that he did indeed know it up close. This was of course a bit of a shock, and I guess whoever stole it had not been able to unload it or dared to unload it and therefore it did not surface until 15 years later in a shop in a different city.

I have later heard stories about that shop in the Hague not being 100% legit or trustworthy, but I didn’t know that when I had just arrived in ’98, and the shop when bankrupt a year or so later. The state of the guitar did really fit with it having been put away in an attic for more than a decade, and making this video, I am realizing that it was funny that I had to pay in cash, but at the time I did not find it super strange that he did not trust foreign students and foreign banking. I was lucky that the previous owner did not want the guitar back, which would also have been pretty complicated since I had bought 18 years before that email.

In this video, I have mostly talked about what I did not like about the guitar, but I actually do use it fairly often, simply because it is an amazing instrument and it plays really well, and there are some things in my work, that calls for an instrument like that, so that is what I bring. Things like more traditional big band stuff or if I have to play things that are more leaning towards swing, and I will probably never sell the guitar, just considering the staggering amount of hours I have spent playing it.  Another guitar that I don’t use all the time is my Epiphone Sheraton which is really an amazing instrument, especially since it was so cheap and easy to upgrade.

The Great $400 Guitar I Used On 5 albums

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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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3 Goals That Block Your Progress Learning Jazz Guitar

Like me, you probably played guitar for some time before you became interested in learning Jazz. In a way that should make it easier to learn since you can already play and know a lot of things, but often that experience can also be what gets in the way of learning.

The advantage to learning Jazz when you are already used to learning guitar is that you can recognize a lot of the skills you need and come up with exercises to develop those skills, but that is actually also often where it starts to go wrong.

Consistent Practice = Massive Boost

One of the first times I encountered this was when I had just figured out how valuable it was to be consistent, and especially being consistent with practicing technique. This was before I decided to pursue guitar as a profession, and I was jamming with one of the bands I was in next to studying mathematics and computer science at the university.

Since I had just started practicing scales and arpeggios then the boost that gave my ability to improvise was pretty massive, but of course, going from zero to something is a huge difference.

Starting to be able to find notes on the neck and play the notes of the chord was giving me all these options and pretty much everything sounded new and exciting so this seemed like the way to go.

My goal in this was of course to get a better overview of the Fretboard so that I knew where to find arpeggios of the chords and how to play the scales I wanted to use.

There is nothing wrong with the goal in itself, you DO want to have an overview of all the arpeggios, scales, and so on but what often happens is that it starts to overshadow learning to play, and that gets very tricky very fast.

Myth #1 – Fretboard Overview

“I first want to learn all my scales and arpeggios in all keys and all over the neck, and THEN I want to start improvising”

Then you are probably setting yourself up to fail, simply because when it comes to learning Jazz, or any other kind of music, then knowing where the notes are doesn’t mean that you magically know how to play the right melodies, use the right phrasing or how to put those phrases together in a solo, if you think about it then it is sort of obvious. Joe Pass would not be great in Van Halen,

and Eddy Van Halen would not sound amazing doing chord melody.

The other skills required for that style of music have to be there as well, and they are much harder to learn because there are no scale exercises or arpeggios that will teach you that. That is about playing music, not exercises.

And this was also close to how I felt after a year of trying to play Jazz. I had practiced technique and was able to play a lot of it over most of the neck, but  I wasn’t really told to learn something that made what I played to sound like Jazz, there was no vocabulary it was more scales and arpeggios, but not with a way to get it to sound right, not how to play it. At this point, I had finished University and had decided that I needed to figure this Jazz thing out and maybe do that for a living. I wanted to be able to improvise in that style and play those types of melodies that I heard especially with Charlie Parker. I listened to other things like Scofield and Metheny as well, but I could tell that they were playing different things, and the Parker stuff was what really fascinated me.

The way I started to solve this was not the easiest way, and also not how I teach this, which I will get to. As I kept listening and trying to figure some Parker stuff out by ear while mostly failing pretty badly then I started to look for solos that were closer to Parker and easier to figure out. I ended up with some Ulf Wakenius solos and finally Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends which really helped a lot. I was also listening to Wes, but the stuff I had was more of the commercial stuff so it was mostly octaves and chords all the time. in the late 90s, you were stuck with CDs and no internet which, in hindsight, was a pretty limiting factor. Once I moved to Copenhagen then I also started to have lessons with teachers who gave me a lot of vocabulary to learn,  jazz licks and easy example solos to play so that I started to get the language into my ears and also into my fingers. THAT made a huge difference and really helped me sound a lot better.

What should you do instead

In my opinion, it makes a lot more sense to have a more balanced approach to your practice so that you are not only developing some of the skills you need. Only working on technique and fretboard overview without actually learning to play music is almost like making a decision to only work on your alternate picking technique without ever learning anything that is really music, and it is not so that you have to learn all positions and variations in all keys of everything to play music. You CAN start working on songs and developing those skills almost immediately, which is also how I teach in my online course and how I have taught 100s of students.

The recipe is not rocket science:

Find an easy song where you need a few scales, learn the chords, learn the melody

Figure out what the key is and a place to play all of that in the same area of the neck,

Start playing music.

If you can couple this with learning some vocabulary then you are working on taking the things you practice to the place where you can make it into music, and you can expand your fretboard knowledge along the way.

In the end, you did not start exploring Jazz to learn to play scales or find notes on the neck, you want to use that to make music and that part of it is just as important as practicing scales if not more important. I can promise you that Wes and George Benson did not only practice scales, they probably spent more time playing music

And you see the same type of problem with chords, but luckily people like Ted Greene did understand this.

Myth #2 – Chords

“I can’t start learning songs, I first need to learn all my Drop2 and Drop3 chord inversions”

The idea that the more chord voicings you know, the better you are at comping, is something that I come across very often online. And that is definitely not true, it is almost so that those two things have nothing to do with each other. Let me show you:

When is comping good? It has to:

  1. Fit the music – so the right type of sound for the song and how the band is playing
  2. Make the Groove and the Harmony Clear – So you need to state where the time is and what the chords is (as much as is needed in the band)
  3. Be a part of the music – What you play should be a story, it has dynamics, development and makes sense beyond being a robot playing a chord with some extensions.

And these skills don’t really depend that much on knowing all your drop2 or drop3 inversions. Again, it is not so that you will not benefit from learning inversions, but at the same time, you won’t learn to make music by just playing a bunch of inversions. You need to take the time to learn to make them into music, and often that process is approached in a different way, which moves across voicings and you will end up thinking more about melody and rhythm than about the chord.

I mentioned Ted Greene earlier in the video, and I think that is a good example of material that is trying to teach not only some chords to play, but also how they fit together and become music, simply because he teaches the chords in the context of a progression so that it is not empty knowledge.

The more I teach harmony and comping then I also start to think that maybe it is very important to learn to understand chord symbols as options and think of groups of chord voicings instead of learning separate chords, especially since we use them together all the time.

Learning the connection between the voicings is as important as learning the voicing. I doubt if Joe Pass spent most of his time learning inversions, I am pretty sure he spent more time learning songs.

At one point, I had some lessons with a guitarist who insisted that I also buy his books on chord voicings, which were in fact just books with all drop2 chords, first maj7 then m7  then dom7th, and then the same for drop3 and drop2&4. The books didn’t contain any examples of how the material could be used, it was just a lot of diagrams. I did practice that a bit, but as I was practicing then it occurred to me that it was better to just make the inversions myself because then they were easier to remember and I knew the chords a lot better.

On guitar it is fairly simple to make inversions along the neck for any chord: Let’s take this Cm7 chord. First, you find all the notes in the chord and then you order them in pitch:

C G Bb Eb – order in pitch would just be C Eb G Bb. Now you just look at the chord and see that

C goes to Eb

G goes to Bb

Bb goes to C

Eb goes to G

And then you can keep on going moving each note in the chord. And essentially this works for any chord,

but sometimes the inversions are pretty unplayable

What should you do instead

Again, I think you want to learn to comp on songs, so take an easy song and try to play the chords just using basic shell voicings. Pent Up House is a nice and simple song.

From there you can develop your options by finding notes that work on top of the chord, so that you can play melodies and create something that flows from chord to chord.

Like this, you can start developing your ability to improvise while also playing the chords, learn how to repeat rhythms, and have melodies across a chord progression.

It is about turning chord symbols into music, not turning them into diagrams of chords.

Myth 3 – Pentatonic Scales

“I don’t want to learn music theory and scales, I want to play Jazz just using Pentatonics.”

I guess this is the most guitar-specific example in this video, and it is actually very common that I get that statement followed by the a question of what video to watch first.

There are two ways that this falls apart, the first one is a bit more subtle for beginners. For most people then the sound of Jazz is not pentatonic, there are pentatonic things in there here and there, but if people think about jazz solos then usually it is about arpeggios, chromaticism and more dense lines, and that is not really what you get from a pentatonic scales. Even if I don’t really like Bebop scales, then it says a lot that they are created by adding notes to 7-note scale, not taking them away.

See if you can hear it:

A Bebop phrase on an Am7 chord sounds like this:

And an Am7 phrase using Am pentatonic scale sounds like this:

What you maybe can hear, is that If you want to learn to play Jazz then you need to use the melodies and structures that fit in that style because they are a part of the sound, just like you don’t try to learn to play Blues using the chromatic scale and not learning the pentatonic scale.

The other part of where this gets very difficult is that you need to be able to figure out which pentatonic scale goes where.

it is fairly common to superimpose pentatonic scales in Jazz, that is how they are mostly used, and the way you do that is by figuring out if a pentatonic scale works over a chord and if it gives you the notes that you want to use there. Then you can improvise using the “pentatonic sounding” melodies over the chord.

If you want to do this then you need to have a fairly good overview of what pentatonic scales are found in the scale that fits the chord, so you do need some theory.

Let’s say that you are improvising over Cmaj7(#11) and you want to use pentatonic scales.

If you want to find a pentatonic scale that works then you need to be able to find a scale that has the important chord tones which would be E and B, the 3rd and the 7th and you probably also want the #11 in there, the F#.

Instead of just trying to construct something at random with those notes in there, then you can also look at the scale where the chord is found and what pentatonic scales are in there.

They all can work over a Cmaj7 chord, there are no strange notes in there:

But only one of those scales has the F#: Bm pentatonic and luckily that has the E and the B as well, so that works.

Figuring all of this out does take a fair amount of theory, and it is actually very useful to be able to easily figure out what a set of notes like a pentatonic scale,  triad, or arpeggio will give you against a chord since you can get a lot of options from that both with what notes to play and what types of melodies you can make.

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The Most Important Scale For Jazz

“Scales Are NOT going to solve problems”

I think sometimes when you want to learn Jazz then it is too much about learning 100s of scales, and that is not really what Jazz is about. There are a few scales and especially one scale that is endlessly more important than the rest.

Scales are not going to solve problems for you. if your solo doesn’t sound good, then learning hypochondrian b6 is not really going to make you sound any better over a Blues in F, and focusing on the scale takes away attention from more important things in your playing like the melody, rhythm, and phrasing.

You are much better off focusing on the most used scale and then really learning that, and this is mainly because

  1. it is the most used scale – so you are practicing things that you need to play often and
  2. It Becomes Easier To Learn Other Scales because they are mostly just variations on this one.

So of course, I am talking about the major scale!

Simply because that is the scale that is used the most, it covers the most ground and contains most of the chords.  It is not the only scale you need, but if you really dig into that then you will sound a lot better than if you try to learn 20 scales at the same time. This is also one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of modes, but I will return to that later. Let’s look at what to learn and what to practice.

The Scale

My thoughts on what to practice are heavily influenced by how Barry Harris taught this in his masterclasses in The Hague. That was maybe one of the most important things I learned from him.

Let’s start with 2 octaves of C major:

When you learn any scale then it is useful to know what notes are in there, so C D E F G A, and it is useful to know the intervals in the scale relative to the root, Root, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th etc.

Basic stuff that you want to know, but that you don’t want to think about too much unless you are figuring something out.

Of course, just playing the scale makes for some incredibly boring melodies that everyone will get tired of very quickly, so how do you get further? And THIS is a part of why the scale is important because the approach you use on the major scale will make it a lot easier to learn other scales and make that process a lot quicker.

When you improvise in Jazz then the melodies in your solo follow the chords of the song, and if you are playing a song in the key of C major then a lot of those chords are actually in the C major scale, so you want to be able to find those chords.

I am going to show you how this fits on a very common Jazz progression, a II V I. But first you need to be able to find the chords.

The Chords In There and the II V I

This  also works for other scales, and is something you want to keep in mind for working on them.

A chord is a stack of 3rds, so if you have the scale then you can construct the diatonic triads by stacking two 3rds on top of each other.

Here you will get:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C

As you can see below, in Jazz, the basic chord type is usually a 7th chord:

but all you need to get those is to add another 3rd, to get these 7 chords:

The Diatonic 7th chords: Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø Cmaj7

Finding the II V I

Now you have the diatonic chords in the scale, then you can pick out a II V I, since that is just the 2nd,  Dm7, the 5th, G7,  and 1st chord, Cmaj7 in that row of chords

You can play them like this:

And the II V I progression is very common in Jazz and probably the most common building block in Jazz songs, so it is a very useful place to demonstrate how this works and ties in with the major scale.v

You also want to notice that all of these chords are in the scale, so here the scale is a bigger thing containing and tying together several chords in a song, that means that often you stay with one scale but the important notes change with the chords.

Soloing over Chord Changes

Before I get into what exercises to focus on and the Barry Harris thing, then it is useful to look at what you actually need from the scale when you solo.

As I mentioned earlier, when you improvise in Jazz then you follow the chords, and you try to make melodies that make it clear what is happening in the chord progression. The easiest way to do that is to play the notes of the chord, which is what we call the arpeggio.

If you turn the row of chords for C major into arpeggios then you can easily play that through the scale and get some raw material for soloing:

and if you then take the 3 arpeggios of the II V I then you would have something like this:

This still sounds like an exercise, but already if you start being creative with the order of the notes you can turn this into something that sounds more like a melody, something that has a flow moving from one chord to the next:

And of course, the scale sits under this, and you can also use those notes when you solo as you take this further.

How To Really Internalize The Scale

So you already have the exercise that is playing the diatonic chords in scale. Another very useful option is to learn the diatonic triads which as you will see in a bit is great material for soloing as well, and then we can get into some of the Barry Harris-inspired exercises.

You probably remember that to create the 7th chords then you first stacked 3rds to create a triad and then added another 3rd to get the 7th chord.

And the notes of the 3 chords in the II V I are these:

What you want to realize is that the top 3 notes of each chord is a triad, and that means that you can use F major, Bdim and Em as material when you create lines over a II V I:

And create lines like this:

So for soloing it pays off to know your scale, to know the diatonic 7th chords in the scale and the diatonic triads, and it is practical to know what notes are in the chords because that helps you connect other arpeggios and triads to a chord, and it is fairly clear that this is important for almost any scale you want to use, not only the major scale.

But, these are all the basic things to give you an overview of the notes, the harmony, and how it all fits together. Another important thing to keep in mind is that you want to use this for solos, and that should be a part of coming up with what you practice!

Borrowing From Barry’s Vision

One of the things that really changed how I practiced after I had attended my first week-long Barry Harris masterclass in the Hague was a smarter much more efficient way to practice scales.

Several times in the masterclass while Barry had taught us bebop lines and explained how they worked, he had also taken a building block, or a piece of vocabulary, and turned it into a scale exercise.

This direct connection between what you wanted to play in your solos and what you should practice in your scales makes scale practice much more efficient.

I will go over some of the more advanced ones as well, but the basic example that you have probably heard me talk about before is playing the diatonic arpeggios as triplets with a leading note, which is sort of instant Charlie Parker:

And that allows for playing lines like this:

Pivot Arpeggios

Another great exercise that Barry used was pivot arpeggios, so an arpeggio where instead of just playing the ascending arpeggio then you play the first note, and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave:

You can turn that into an exercise like this:

And if you take the last Cmaj7, and just add a few chromatic passing notes then it immediately becomes a great Bebop phrase like this:

Getting Creative

And this is where it starts to get really interesting because you really turn anything you like into a scale exercise and then explore how it is to use the same idea or melody on other chords.

As an example you can combine the pivot arpeggio and the triplet with a leading note concept and then create a short building block like this:

 

As you can see it is not a systematic way to combine the pivot arpeggio with the triplet, but it sounds great, and it will work really well in some Bop lines, but first I’ll take it through the C major scale:

And then if you take the Fmaj7 version and use that on a Dm7 you can get something like this:

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3 Reasons You Will Regret Not Working On Chord Soloing

Once I started getting interested in Jazz and Jazz guitar then it didn’t take long until I heard some of the first chord solos especially Wes Montgomery and shortly after Joe Pass, and That was pretty mind-blowing coming from Pearl Jam and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The idea of soloing with chords like that was completely new to me, and that seemed both unbelievably difficult and also the coolest thing I had ever heard, so of course, I had to figure this out!

Besides being a great sound that you can use in your solos then there are actually a few other things that you can really take up a few levels if you start working on playing chord solos, and as you will see, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

How Not To Start!

#1 Too Simple and hard to use

#2 Too Difficult and hard to use

 

 

 

The #1 Mistake that I see students make when they start with chord solos is not being practical and starting with harmonized scales that are technically much more difficult to use, requires more theory, and is in general much more information.

 

That is not the place to start. I didn’t try to take that exact approach but, but I also made a mess out of it!

You want to keep it practical and simple, If you are new to improvising and want to learn what you can play over a m7 chord then you don’t start with “A love Supreme”

and I will give you a much more practical strategy in this video.

In the beginning, I didn’t have a choice, I had a few CDs but there were no transcriptions, so I was limited to whatever I could figure out by ear, which was a pretty steep limitation. I managed to figure out a few Wes things here and there and The George Bensons solos on the Borgia Stick which have some chord solo parts. But this wasn’t really getting me anywhere for two reasons:

it was either too simple to help me create my own solos or too difficult to play and therefore impossible to use.

I was mostly listening to Wes, and when Wes plays chord solos then he is really block-harmonizing a lot, so he will in fact play different chord voicings under each melody note which makes it demanding to play, and also requires you to have quite a few things figured out about chords and theory.

From Wes’ solo on “The Thumb”

Joe Pass And A Winning Strategy

But that changed later once I started having lessons after having moved from Århus to Copenhagen.

One of my teachers at the time, Morten Kargaard, gave me a photocopy of a chord solo from Joe Pass’ chord solo book.

Learning that solo was a LOT of work, which quite a few of my students also can tell you, but while working on it then I started to see some things in the Joe Pass solo that were a lot easier to move into my own playing, because phrases were often a static chord under a moving melody, so visually you would see the chord and then use the notes available to create a chord solo phrase.

This was a huge breakthrough and quickly gave me something I could move over to my own playing. Let me show you how easy this is to work with and then also how it will help your single-note soloing.

A 3-minute Chord Solo method

Let’s take a II V In G major, so Am7 D7 Gmaj7.

Here’s an Am7 chord to start with:

and you can use these 4 notes as different melodies over that:

For D7 then let’s use this D7alt:

and then these 4 notes for melody options:

For Gmaj7 then this is a great Gmaj7(9)

And you have these 4 notes:

Now you have the chords next to each other and melodies that are close to each other as well, so turning that into a solo phrase is not that difficult:

Or another variation like this one:

And this is a lot easier to start with instead of being stuck with having to put different chords under each note in the melody that you want to improvise, which of course you can start working on later, but it can also help you get another dimension into your single-note solos as well.

Wes Montgomery And The Power Of Limitation

Before I moved to The Netherlands to study I lived in Copenhagen and I was lucky to sometimes get to play with musicians that were a lot further than I was. While jamming with a piano player he gave me some advice that I, unfortunately, couldn’t put to use right away, but it later turned out to be very useful!

When you are working on chord solos in the way that I just showed you for the II V I in G major then you can’t play dense bebop lines like you usually do:

But that limitation is actually really useful because, you don’t want to play dense lines all the time, you also want to play more sparse melodies with more emphasis on rhythm. The kind of phrases you hear Wes use very often, like his solo on Four On Six:

Technically you can’t really play harmonized bebop lines in chord solos and therefore the lines are more simple, but you can still make some solid chord solo lines and that is actually helping you get into exactly those types of “Wes” melodies. That was also the observation the piano player made when we were jamming: “your solos lack rhythm but you actually play much more interesting stuff when you play chord solos, so you need to get that into your solos as well”. At that time, I couldn’t really implement that, but a few years later that realization really helped me develop that type of phrasing in my playing because I was already used to hearing those phrases in my chord solos.  And this is really about taking phrases like this one:

And realize that it works without the chords as well:

Let’s look at another thing that working on this type of chord soloing really helps you develop.

Making Jazz Chords Into Music

The biggest challenge when it comes to comping is to go from chord symbols to music. Because a row of letters is, of course, not really music.

One of the strongest ways to get your chords to work together is melody, so if you can go further than just playing the chords like a robot and start to add some rhythm and melody to how you play them then you are really getting somewhere.

You want to turn it into phrases, repeat motifs and make it a story

That would be something like this:

But really this is just playing “lazy” or “sparse” chord solo phrases, so approaching comping like this will give you material from your chord solos and also help you develop new chord solo material as you are comping the song.

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The Best Advice I Ever Had For Playing Fast Tempos

Playing fast tempos is always a huge challenge on guitar!

Technique is probably the first thing that hits you as impossible to master, but maybe that is not even the biggest problem, and you can get a lot out of changing how you think to get better at up-tempo playing.

I managed to run into probably every possible problem when I took a deep dive into getting better at playing faster and improving my technique, which is sort of how this started.

How I Practiced To Improve My Technique

When I was in the 4th year of my conservatory study, I decided that I really wanted to get better at playing faster tempos and faster lines, and I set up a practice routine to help me do that.

My inspiration for this approach was maybe less than obvious since it was inspired by a video clip that a student of mine had shared with me.

Essentially what John Petrucci was doing was to take a simple exercise and then speed it up from very slow —  to as fast as you can, and that process I took to my own exercises and repeated every day while slowly getting a bit faster. The way I did it was to take scale positions, but you can also start by working on smaller fragments and then expand that into longer exercises. It wasn’t only scales, I also worked on speeding up other exercises in the scales like intervals, triads, and diatonic arpeggios, because that is the stuff I want to play. Since I was focused on alternate picking, I was also practicing some Steve Morse-inspired exercises which I really enjoyed. I have some old videos with those.

The most important part of this is to be precise when you play slow so that your technique does not fall apart when you start speeding it up, something I still have to remind myself of all the time, and frequently get confronted with when I record myself improvising.

This really helped me develop my alternate picking and after some time I could play a lot of stuff pretty fast, but also I quickly started to realize that other problems were starting to turn up and that I needed to address those to play better up-tempo solos.

Getting The Practice Tempo Right

One thing that I discovered once I was able to play the exercises fast was that it did not immediately translate to being able to play solos, I didn’t want to only play scale runs when I was playing uptempo and there were other skills I also needed to develop.

I needed to start developing more vocabulary that was useable in higher tempos, which means more efficient and often more 8th note based so that I wouldn’t have triplet or 16th note passages in the middle that I could not play fast.

This reminded me of something one of my teachers in Denmark, Bjarne Roupe had taught me about not playing too slow: If you want to get better at playing fast and develop your ability to go through the changes then you should practice in a medium-tempo where you can easily play the lines and still have some freedom, but you should not play so slow that you start doing double time or triples, instead, you want to be disciplined and keep in mind that you need to be able to play this faster while you are practicing to become freer and develop more vocabulary

On a side note, the lesson where he gave me this advice was when I brought in Moments Notice. Because my combo teacher at the time had decided that since we could almost make it through a medium-tempo Just Friends then this Coltrane song was a logical next step.

Finding the right medium practice tempo and then working on playing like that is a great way to develop your playing, and it also enables you to sometimes try to practice soloing on a song similar to how I was practicing technique, so gradually speeding things up.

If you start working on this then I can also very much recommend learning to play towards target notes which will help you manage another thing that is incredibly important for faster tempos.

You also need to deal with the issue of getting stressed by the tempo.

Think Slow

One thing that can get very stressful in higher tempos is the tempo itself. You start playing the song but it seems like you are in hyperspace and there are 250 chords every second.

Coupled with that you are trying to feel the beat and stomping your foot 250 times per minute for the entire 12 minutes of the song and your foot is getting tired, in fact, your leg feels like it is going to fall off.

Instead of doing this, you need to start feeling the tempo slower. This is also what I heard from a lot of teachers like Barry Harris or my guitar teacher at the conservatory Eef Albers.

Depending on what you find easier then it makes sense to start feeling either half or even a quarter of the tempo, so just the half notes or even just feel a bar as a beat. That way you make sure that you don’t have to spend energy on counting or tapping your foot. At tempos like this then the beat becomes a subdivision and you want to feel it like that as well, also because it makes you a lot more flexible in terms of playing quarter note triplets or just floating on top of the groove without getting lost.

It is fairly easy to realize that it is less effort. If you hear all the beats it is this: (play all 4) compared to hearing it like this (play on 1)   (8 bars of Cherokee)

And you can start doing this by just listening to fast pieces and try to feel them in 1 or in half. This way you don’t get stressed by the tempo itself, but of course, you want to not get stressed by the changes as well.

Think Ahead

It is important that you are thinking about where the music is going and that you are ahead of where it is now so that you are not falling behind, you don’t really have time to think about what scale or arpeggio to play on the chord that is happening now, then you will be too late.

This means that you need to really know the song, and you need to be aware of what the next chord will be.

If you want to test that then just put on giant steps and try to say the chords as they are played

When I do that then I need to think about the chords in that tempo, and that is just too fast, it needs to be already in your system so that you can improvise over it and you probably do that playing chunks that you can connect, which is also clear how Coltrane’s solo on this works.

Whether putting together phrases like this is actually improvising is sometimes up for discussion, I remember seeing a Twitter thread from Ethan Iverson about this a few weeks ago. If you are on Twitter you should consider following him, because he posts some really interesting observations here and there!

If you are used to playing towards target notes then that is a huge help here because you are naturally training to think about the next chord, and you are less likely to get stuck with a chord where you have to think about what to play. As I said In this tempo that is – always – too – late.

A Strange side effect

While I was getting better and better at playing lines with alternate picking, I started to notice that I was not really happy with how my phrasing sounded. Everything was clear and articulated, but it was lacking some dynamics within the lines. I missed hearing some notes pop out of the lines. It took quite some time to figure this out.

I was also checking out a lot of Wes Montgomery and Scofield solos at the time, and I started to notice that they both used a lot of legato in their playing. This was not only to be able to play faster phrases, even if that was also a part of the reason, it was also something that was a part of the phrasing, so a part of how their lines sounded. I wanted to get more of that into my playing, and I realized that I needed to focus less on only using alternate picking all the time, and instead try to find a different way of executing the phrasing I wanted, mixing in especially legato techniques. The way I have mostly approached this has been about listening to how I hear a phrase and then try to play it with a technique that gives me that sound.

for example, If you listen to this phrase:

and compare it to this

Ex legato

you can hear that even if I make the G very soft with alternate picking then it is a different sound compared to playing it with a pull-off because the difference is not only volume, it is also the attack and the quality of the tone, and a bonus is that playing the phrase using the pull-off makes it a LOT easier for your right hand.

This combination of phrasing and technique can be a bit of a puzzle, but it is both effective and, for me, sounds much closer to what I want it to sound like

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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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