Tag Archives: jazz guitar

No Bending In Jazz, Please!

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

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

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

Is Bending Overrated?

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

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

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

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

There Are Jazz Players That Use Bending

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 Jazz Melodies Are Different!

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

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

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

Example of floating Blues Lick?

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

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

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

It Is Bending Too Slow For Bebop?

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

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

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

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

#2 The Guitars and Pickups

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3 You Don’t Want Feedback

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

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

It Is Not Jazz, It is You!

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

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

Does AC/DC Need Synthbass?

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

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

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

Beginning Jazz Phrasing

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

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

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The Real Secret About Chromatic Phrases And Great Jazz Licks

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

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

Chromatic Phrases in Jazz

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

The phrase he showed me was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 Pat Martino

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#2 Michael Brecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3 Sonny Stitt

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

The enclosure is this:

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

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

What Is So Amazing About Enclosures?

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

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

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

NOT only on the off-beat

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

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

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

B-roll: Picture from Omnibook

#4 Double Chromatic Enclosure

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

Which is often called a double chromatic approach.

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

And that will give you something like this:

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5 Things That Stop You From Learning Jazz

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

Let’s get into the first problem:

A Million Scales

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

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

Starting With Pentatonics

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

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

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

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

Impossible Theory

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

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

The Advantage of NOT having Internet

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

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

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

Complicated Chords

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jazz Songs: Somebody Spilled Alphabet Soup On My Sheet Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcribing Solos

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

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

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

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

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

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The Truth About Avoid Notes and Target Notes

There seems to be some confusion about what avoid notes and what target notes are when it comes to improvisation even mixing them up, so I thought it would be a good idea to show you which one is incredibly useful and which one really isn’t, because in a way, they are the opposite of each other.

When I was starting to learn Jazz, I was taught both along the way, and for me, one helped me build an essential skill for Jazz while the other one was something that I knew but it never really made any sense to me.

Avoid Avoid Notes

Usually, avoid notes are defined as the notes that create tension against the underlying chord. So the most common example would be playing an F over a Cmaj7

Here the F and the E and also the F and B clashes quite a bit.

But really any note that creates tension would be an avoid note.

It is probably clear that I don’t think in avoid-notes and thinking about avoid-notes is very useful. The reasons for this are quite simple when it comes to improving your playing. There are some essential things missing:

#1 It doesn’t tell you anything about what to play.

If you take the common example F as an avoid note over a Cmaj7 chord, then the only thing that tells you is to NOT play an F, which is not really useful information when you want to solo. You are much better off thinking about what you SHOULD play. You also don’t drive a car thinking about NOT hitting something.

#2 It doesn’t describe the music

If avoid notes make sense then surely nobody uses the avoid notes in their solos. But at the same time, I was given a ton of examples and transcribing solos and it doesn’t matter if it is Joe Pass, Charlie Parker, or Pat Martino. They all use avoid notes in their solos, even if they don’t often really sit on them. So that never made any sense to me. It was not only a rule that I couldn’t use to make music it also seemed like it wasn’t actually true.

Bad Teaching vs Good Teaching

To me, avoid notes is the same as teaching people not to use a hammer because that isn’t the right tool instead of teaching them how to use a screwdriver which would be the right tool when they are putting together something they bought at Ikea.

And it is really obvious that you benefit more from thinking about what to play instead of thinking about what not to play.

So focus on playing notes that sound good and making melodies that work with for example the arpeggio of a chord rather than thinking about not hitting a specific note in a scale. It is almost like telling you “don’t think about a pigeon.”

What Are Target Notes

The strange thing about target notes is that it isn’t really about the notes, it is about playing towards them. Anything can be a target note, that is really up to you.

You can even make an avoid note the target note, and sometimes that is a great thing to do…. 

I’ll show you that later in the lesson

In general, we often hear music as movement so there is a flow and there is a direction.

You can hear how this works with Bach:

Where the melody is moving forward and aiming for the target notes repeating a similar structure or motif to make it clear when you hit the target note on beat 1 of the bar.

And This is one of the things that really link Bebop and Bach: playing the movement and linking to the chord.

Take this Barry Harris lick, Where is clearly aiming for the 5th of Cm7 and uses the Bdim to really add momentum on the G7 that resolves to that Cm7 and in fact does the same to moving from Cm7 to F7 targeting the A.

So when you talk about target notes then you are talking about something that you can find in the music, which, as you may or may not know, is how I usually like to think about valid music theory: Something that describes the music that we play.

And it is also a way to develop your playing. Whatever target note you choose, you can sit down and practice to make lines that hit that target note, gradually moving from composing lines to improvising them and in that way internalizing the skill.

Examples of lines resolving to the 9th of Dm7: E.

This is important to be able to do. so let’s go over a basic example of how that works.

Practicing Target Notes

I’ll demonstrate this the way I learned to use target notes from my teacher, but actually, Hal Galper wrote a book on the topic that is worth checking out it is called Forward motion. I am just using the approach that I learned because that worked for me and has also worked very well for my students.

Target notes as a strategy works because you play melodies that are actually going somewhere. You are not just playing another note into the void (b-roll into the void) As you heard with Bach or the example from Barry or actually any other Bebop solo, there is an energy that drives it forward.

The first thing is to choose a target note, and if you are new to improvising over changes then you want to take notes that are very clear and easy to hear. This is just because that makes everything easier to learn and also helps you hear how the chords are moving, but as I already mentioned, you can really target any note you want to (which often ends up being any note you can hear anyway because otherwise you probably can’t make any lines that make sense).

For a II V I, the easiest place to start is just to use the 3rd of each chord: Clear notes that define the color of the chord:

So for a II V I in C major you have these chords:

And if you take the 3rd as a target note for each chord then you have these notes:

Now you can practice composing simple melodies that take you from one target note to the next:

And I am sure you can imagine that you have lots of options in terms of melodies for these target notes here’s another basic one:

If you start to be able to do this then You can also start to use the same target notes in other octaves, again because you build on what you can hear and use that to expand.

And then you can start opening up which notes you use, after the 3rd then the 5th is a great option, here I use that on the Cmaj7 chord:

And from here you can gradually start to learn to use other notes, see what you think works and give your ears time to get used to the sound. You can also gradually start to add things like other sounds on the dominant and extra chords. Having the direction in your lines will make a lot of things easier to get to work.

Target Avoid Notes

As I mentioned earlier, then you can take any note as a target note also a target note like the F over a Cmaj7. A basic way to do this could be this:

As you can hear then I treat the F as a suspension and resolve it to an E later in the bar. And that is simply just because the F sounds the way it does, and the most common way you will see the note in a melody would be like this, so a tension that is resolving later. Which is a great effect used in many melodies, and keep in mind that if you thought of it as an avoid note then you couldn’t do stuff like this.

Target Notes Are Not Everything

As you might have realized then there is a specific drive or type of sound to this type of melody, and that is a huge part of especially Bebop-inspired music, but it is not the only type of melody that you want to be able to play, so while this is a great way to get started playing over chord changes then it is not the only way you want to work on creating melodies. You want to also work on melodic techniques like Motivic development and Call-response. If you want to explore these techniques that are amazing for getting more of a story into your solos because phrases are more connected then check out this video that builds that up step-by-step.

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

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

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

Getting The Learning Process Right

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

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

Start With Easy Chords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Bonus

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

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

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

and for the F7 you have this:

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

So a phrase like this:

Is not me thinking all these chords:

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

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

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

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

How You Work Practice This

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

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

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

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

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

Where It Gets Really Great!

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

and then add the chord under it:

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

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

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

Wes and I Are Checking Out The Same Things

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

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

All The Pieces Together

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

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5 Licks That Will Help You Understand Jazz Guitar

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

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

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

Dig Into The Chords

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

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

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

The Most Important Chord Progression in Jazz

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

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

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

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

The Solo Needs Energy And Direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortcut To Better Melodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try Some Funny Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can Change The Chords To Create New Sounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important Skills To Develop For Jazz

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

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

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

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

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

Building Blocks

Jazz Lick:

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

The Method

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

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

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

So lots of stuff to learn.

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

So what is the problem with the book?

As you can see, the solos are very dense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Building Blocks

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

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

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

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

So if you start with a phrase like this:

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

 

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

Is Building Blocks Cheating?

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

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

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

The Blocks Help You Learn The Solo

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

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

The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhythmical Target Notes

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

There is Rhythm, You Just Don’t Recognize It

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

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

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

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What Is Effective Jazz Practice And Are You Wasting Your Time

Even if you are practicing for years to learn Jazz then you may still not see a lot of progress, and there is a real chance that a lot of the time you spend working on learning to play Jazz is a complete waste of time. This is probably because you don’t take a step back and look critically at how you play and what you are practicing.

It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or if you already have experience playing and a repertoire of songs you gig with. You need to get this right to get as much as possible out of your practice time and keep you progressing.

There are a series of questions that you can ask yourself about your practice and your playing that will help you determine if you need to change something, let’s take a look at the first one:

Do You Know What You Want To Improve?

This seems simple you are probably thinking “what do you mean? I want to get better at Jazz guitar” But that is nowhere near specific enough! You want to be very precise with what you want to improve.

Think of it like this: If you want to get better at using arpeggios in your solos then It is easy to find some exercises so you can play arpeggios, check out some examples and start writing some licks with the arpeggios.

You could summarize the process like this:

  • Practice Arpeggios
  • Check Out Examples
  • Write Licks With Arpeggios

That all seems obvious, but which exercises will make you “Better at Jazz Guitar” That doesn’t tell you what to practice, so essentially you want to keep digging into what you want to improve until you can figure out exercises that will help you grow that skill.

But before you lose yourself in only doing exercises that are specific to one skill then there is something else you need to ask yourself.

What Are You Learning From Your Practice?

The previous question was there to make sure that you understand your playing and how to focus on getting better, but it is as important to look at what you are practicing and then be able to recognize what you are learning from each of the activities you do.

Let me go over a basic example and then one of the most important exercises you should work on::

Let’s say that you are practicing diatonic triads in a major scale.

An exercise like that is helping you develop:

So there are many things that you will work on within a single exercise. This is also what justifies why you should be spending a large part of your practice time playing music, which is probably the most important exercise to work on.

Without being specific then the goal is “I want to get better at Jazz guitar” and what is “Jazz Guitar” That is playing songs and improvising over the chord progression, so even if that is not a very specific set of skills, then if you want to be better at that then you practice doing that.

There are many essential things that you improve when doing this:

  • More Than Playing The Right Notes
  • How To Build an Interesting Solo
  • All Types of Techniques
  • Using and Developing Your Fretboard Overview
  • Create A Sound That Is How YOU Solo On a Song

You need to do more than just play the right notes

You want to make the notes and arpeggios into phrases, not just hit the chord changes and target notes.

You learn How To Build an interesting solo

A solo is like a story and has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You also need to make sure that phrases fit together and don’t sound like random copy/pasting of unrelated licks.

All Types of Techniques

Playing a solo you will probably use most of the techniques in your vocabulary, and it is here you can check if you really have the technique under control.

Using and Developing Your Fretboard Overview

When you are improvising a solo you are using and developing your fretboard overview finding all the things you play and a way to get all of that to come together in phrases.

Improvising is also where you create a sound that is how YOU solo on a song

Which is really just trying to play the things that you want to play in a solo and make it a whole piece of music.

 

But there is more to it than just what to practice, you also need to evaluate if the way you are practicing is actually getting you anywhere.

Are You Getting Better?

Once you have come up with exercises that help you develop the skill that you want to improve then you also need to keep track and see if you are actually getting any better.

You may think that this will be easy to spot, but that is actually not always the case. A lot of things that you work on can be stuff that takes months to get into your playing, again this can be about technique but it can certainly also be about getting new melodies into your ears and then out in your solos.

Recording your practice can be extremely useful for this, and taking notes or having a list to keep track of is also making things a lot easier. For example, I have been working on using octave displacement licks and getting that to sit better in my playing, so that is something I both consciously try to use but also try to evaluate if I listen to a recording of one of my solos: “can I play them? do they sit right in the line? Is that how I want it to sound?”

If you don’t keep track of these things then maybe you are not getting anywhere with what you are practicing. And sometimes you will get there faster if you use other types of exercises or changed the focus of what you are practicing. Otherwise, you are stuck doing exercises that are not helping you get any better and that is probably not what you are hoping to do.

I find that the next 2 questions are overlooked when it comes to finding the right types of exercises, and that is a pity because they really do help make it easier to find the things that will improve your playing.

Is This A Practical Exercise For Your Playing?

Sometimes you lose something in translating a goal into an exercise, and that can make the exercise almost useless.

A common example is how practicing scales is not always helping you play better lines. If you look at solo phrases then they are rarely a lot of scales, in Jazz anyway,

 

and there are other things that you want to learn as well or probably even focus more on so that you are building a vocabulary of things to play in your solos, and in this case, your solo should not just be you running up and down the scale so you want to learn some diatonic arpeggios or diatonic triads.

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Another thing that I see people waste a lot of time on is not planning the process of learning well enough and forgetting what may be the most important part of the goal.

Do You Know How To Use This?

Of course, you are choosing exercises based on what you want to learn and have in your playing. This is great for motivation and usually just makes it more fun to practice, but you do need to watch out that you also know where you are going with it.

I hear this mostly from students that are working on things like the altered scale

or Barry Harris 6th diminished stuff. Learning the scale and the exercises is maybe not easy, but still something you can work on and it will be ok. The problems start when you don’t have any way of using it. You don’t know any examples of altered licks and don’t really know what to do with that scale.

That is why you also want to ask yourself: “Do You Know How To Use This”. Sometimes that is easy: If you are working on arpeggios or triads and you can probably think of some licks with triads that you can use as a blueprint for making your own vocabulary and in that way get things into your playing, but without something like that, some practical references to how this is put to use in real music then that can get pretty tricky and you may find that you are wasting practice time working on that topic.

Not Getting Caught Up In Myths

Being aware of what you are learning and what you want to learn is incredibly important. It is also important to not get fooled by some weird myth that you hear, and there are a few common ones floating around about learning Jazz or even music in general. Stuff like this can really slow you down and let you waste a lot of time chasing something that is actually wrong. If you want to avoid these then check out this video that discusses 5 of them so that you have a clear idea about where you are and what you should be working on.

Jazz Beginner – 5 Myths That Waste Your Time

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3 Things that Ruin Your Jazz Practice And Stops Your Progress

We all want to play fantastic lines in our solos!

But one of the worst things you can do if you want to play better lines is to practice songs at full speed and then just hope that it becomes better.

#1 Too Fast = No Control!

It won’t make your lines better, but it might make you bitter, and that is how a lot of people go about it, I have certainly done that myself quite often.

When you do that it is a bit like trying to learn Chinese by watching a Chinese movie with Chinese subtitles. You will probably get there but it is going to take a few years.

Setting up a better method

So, you should slow things down and really work on playing stronger lines by having time to really listen to them, and figure out how to make them better before you are blasting away at full speed.

The best way to work on your lines is by composing lines, and I am going to show you how I do that and talk about how you benefit from that and what to pay attention to so that you get the most out of it because this is about a lot more than just practicing slowly!

In the example below you can see how I composed an 8th-note line using different building blocks.

It starts with a chromatic enclosure and continues with an Fmaj7 arpeggio before ending with a descending Dm triad melody that also involves a chromatic enclosure.

Refining The Arpeggio Melody (stealing from Benson & Bird)

The next thing to add to the mix is a bit more energy with the rhythm. You can do this by playing the arpeggio as a triplet as you can see in the example below:

This is almost identical to a line that both Charlie Parker and George Benson use very often.

A More Original Idea

Let’s try to create a line that is a little more original and a little less like a transcription. Here the example is combining the Fmaj7 arpeggio with a scale melody that continues into a descending melody in the 2nd bar. The descending melody is in fact a pentatonic phrase with an added chromatic enclosure.

In the video, I talk a bit more about how important melodic direction can be for this.

What Are You Really Practicing

It is important to remember that in the end it is not really about composing the perfect lick, what you are working on is practicing to put things together so that you get better at doing that when you are soloing.

#2 It is NOT just the notes!

You need to focus on more than just playing the right notes. You can get a robot to play the right notes, but it won’t make it a great solo.

You want to develop your skills when it comes to taking those notes and turning them into a SOLID MELODY.

In the example below I am adding a note to the arpeggio because that is a great way to explore and find some good melodies.

The Power Of Pivot Arpeggios

Using Pivot Arpeggios and Octave Displacement is another way to get some more interesting melodies. In the example below I am doing that with the Fmaj7 arpeggio at the beginning of the line.

#3 Fix Your Phrasing!

Now that you are slowing down you practice then you can also start working on adding better phrasing to the lines.

The first thing to work with here is to get used to ending lines on the off beat. In the example below it is on the 4-and:

Another thing to work with is to add accents to the line. When you play a stream of 8th notes then what makes it rhythmically interesting is how you add accents to get the syncopation in there.

What you are looking for is a note that is on the off-beat and that is higher than the following note. In the example below the Eb is a great candidate, also because it is a chromatic leading note so it has some tension and therefore more energy:

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Jazz Chords And The Best Way To Think About Them

It is very important that you stop thinking in separate grips and start seeing how patterns are actually variations of the same chord.

You might wonder why that is important, but if you think about how you want to sound when you are playing chords.

Then you can hear that there is a lot happening, but the song only has one chord symbol.

And when you play like that you should NOT be thinking: C7 C7(13), C7, C7(9), C7(13)

Because that is way too complicated, you should just think C7!

So how do you do this?

Start Simple

You probably already know a lot of chords, but let’s start really simple and build it up.

Here is a C7 Shell voicing:

You probably also know this and also this C7 and this C7(13)

For this video, I will focus on comping in a band with a bass player so there is no need to play the root note, and then we have these 3 voicings:

This might seem like magic, but really I am just taking 3 chords that you already know, removing the bass note, and putting them next to each other.

The Great Thing About Using Only A Few Notes

Now we have 3 different ways to play C7 and we can use those 3 chords to make melodies:

And you want to think about these 3-note melodies as short blues phrases, that make it easier to come up with something. You can also think of it as a conversation, so using call-response:

To me, thinking of it as a blues helps make it easier to come up with rhythms which is, of course, pretty important for Jazz comping.

There are a few other things that really levels up your playing going from just playing chords to actually playing Jazz. I will show you but you first want to add some more of the voicings you already know to get a complete overview of everything that is available in this area of the neck. In the end, you can actually play melodies harmonized entirely with a C7.

Completing The Overview

I started with some basic shell and drop3 voicings and then reduced that to 2 and 3-note voicings, but you may also know some basic Drop2 voicings, and you want to connect those to the mix as well.

The basic candidate that you can get the rest from is this one:

And you can easily make variations of that either from what you already know about Drop2 voicings or just by adding notes that are close by on the neck.

That can give you a lot of options, but here is a set of practical ones:

So the basic C7, adding a 13th, adding a 9th as a melody note, and both 9 and 13 and finally a 13 voicing with the 3rd in the melody.

If you add this to the material that you already saw then there is an octave of material available from E to E:

This is way more notes that you need when you are comping unless it is never-ending C7 chord, but it is great to have an overview and to be able to play whatever you want.

Notice that I am skipping the F as a melody note. You can use it, but it would change the chord to a C7sus4 so I am just leaving it out for now.

Using all of this material then you can play something like this:

And these are all just a part of C7, you can take one of the chords out and look at it and say that’s a C7(13) or a C7(9), but they are all usable when the song says C7. You can create your own sound and tell your own story with the harmony.

Now we can add some tricks to the chords and get some Blues and some chromatic dissonance in there!

You Don’t Usually Do This With Chords

Legato is actually great for playing chords as well, even if it isn’t the first technique you think about with that. This goes for hammer on pull off and slide:

The thing you want to keep in mind is that you can often pick the notes, but you should take advantage of the different sound.

If I use legato then it just sounds different

There are a lot of nice things to be discovered with that!

The Blues Slur and the Chromatic Slide

The dominant chord, like the C7 you are working with here, is probably the one with the most options since you can easily add Blues to the sound, but you want to explore this for other chords as well.

If you combine it with some chromatic leading notes then you get something like this:

Here I am adding a complete passing chord by sliding into the C7 and also using legato to add a chromatic melody on top of the chord moving from the 13th down to the 5th.

It is also nice how the first part states the basic chord sound in a bluesy way and then the chromatic phrase follows that up.

Another bluesy example that you can also get to work on something that isn’t really a blues would be this legato move:

Here you have a hammer-on to approach the 3rd and that is a very typical blues melody which sounds great! The chromatic phrase that takes the 9th down to the root is also turned into a melody on top of the sustained chord which is another way of creating movement with the chords.

You can create so many beautiful things with this, let’s get that sus4 sound in there as well because of course that can work too:

Level Up Your Comping

As you can see, it is not only voicings and notes you have to learn.

There are other things that you want to focus on that are a little less obvious. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve them. If you want to dig deeper into this then you can check out this video that covers a lot of important topics. And you want to fix this because otherwise, you are going to get fired….

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