Tag Archives: jazz improvisation

Your First 5 Jazz Licks (Beginner’s Guide To Arpeggios)

Everywhere you look a Jazz teacher is telling you that you should practice arpeggios if you want to play Jazz, but it is just as important that you know how to turn that arpeggio into music, into something you can play that also sounds like Jazz.

In this video, I’ll show you why you should not start with full arpeggio positions, not focus on arpeggio inversions (and give you something better instead).

I’ll also give you a way to find more arpeggios for the same chord, turn them into Jazz licks with a few phrasing and rhythm tricks, and of course The BEST arpeggio Exercise.

The Most Basic Arpeggio

Let’s start with a very simple arpeggio, here’s a basic one-octave G7. I’ll explain why I start here in a bit.

And so you have an idea about the sound, you can hear it as fitting with this G7 chord, just to have a picture of the harmony

You often find discussions online about whether it is better if you start with scales vs arpeggios or chord tones.

In reality, if you look at solos then it is clearly a combination of both, so you want to know your arpeggios and you want to understand that they are a set of notes in the context of a scale, they fit together and it is not one or the other, as you will see.

Rhythm and Phrasing

This is about building your vocabulary, and especially developing your rhythms in that vocabulary!

Think of the 4-note arpeggio  as a scale and start improvising just using those while using short rhythms and some phrasing like sliding into a note, in this case the 3rd:

Or using a pull-off to create more interesting dynamics in the line, here between F and D. This is the first type of Jazz lick: Arpeggio and rhythm

And when you try to make your own licks like this one, then start with a short 3 or 4-note phrase

Or like this:

Once you have that then compose a line, listen to what you can come up with as a follow-up and try somethings out to end with something like this:

Composing licks is where you get much more free to play melodies and also where you can start developing better rhythmical ideas. Limitation can be a great way to level up your playing, but now we need to add some more notes to the mix!

There Are More Notes!

As I mentioned, Chords and Arpeggios don’t exist in a vacuum, you can mix in the other notes in the scale and that is a great way to get better lines and be able to create a more natural-sounding flow in your solo.

It really is just about putting in some notes from the scale between the arpeggio notes, here’s a very simple one, and notice that you don’t have to start on beat 1 all the time:

And you can of course still add some phrasing to these more dense lines, which gives you the second type of Jazz Lick: Mixing Scale and arpeggio

Once you start working on the arpeggios like this then you can clearly create and play a lot more great lines with arpeggios because you can add in scale notes.

The BEST arpeggio Exercise

Before I show you some ways to add chromatic notes to your vocabulary then first, let’s quickly cover how you should practice the arpeggios. You already heard how useful it is to add the scale notes to the arpeggio when you are soloing, so it actually makes sense to focus on that connection when you are practicing.

In this case, the G7 is in the scale of C major, and you can turn all the diatonic chords in a scale into an arpeggio exercise which then links those arpeggios to the scale and as you will see later also gives you some more options with arpeggios that you can use over a chord, and you already practiced them!

For every note in the scale, you can stack 3rds in and in that way, create a 7th chord on each note of the scale.

If you play this for the C major scale then you get this exercise:

Once this becomes easy then you want to explore ways to add chromatic notes and rhythm to these arpeggios, but first, try to explore that in lines!

Chromatic Notes – Outside The Scale Are NICE!

There are many ways to add chromatic passing notes to your solos. First, check out this example, and then I’ll show you how you can turn that into some strategies and exercises you use yourself:

You have two kinds of chromatic approaches here, both are important to know.

First a leading note for the 3rd in the first chord run.

It can be useful to try this out as an exercise adding a note a half step under each chord tone like this:

The other approach is in the middle with two notes surrounding the 5th of G: D.

This is referred to as a chromatic enclosure. A chromatic enclosure is a short melody that moves to a target note,

in this case, it is sort coming from the previous exercise but combining it with a scale note above the chord tone.

YOu can see that in this exercise where there are enclosures before all the notes in the arpeggio:

And if you have the feeling that your solos are just running up and down scales and arpeggios then enclosures can fix that very effectively which gives you the 3rd type of Jazz Lick adding chromaticism:

It almost doesn’t sound like a G7 arpeggio anymore, but maybe that is also the point?  We a re just getting started, because there are more arpeggios you can use over a G7 chord, it isn’t only the G7 arpeggio.

More Arpeggios On Every Chord?

This way of thinking works for all chords, so you want to think of this as a system. Because it is really powerful!

The way it is constructed is by stacking 3rds, and if you add another 3rd on top then you have a G7(9) chord(play), but if you take away the G then notice that it is a Bø arpeggio (play)

And, this works over the G7 as well so you can use this to make lines as well, and of course, also use chromatic notes and phrasing.

I am using this Bø arpeggio:

And that can give you the 4th type of Jazz Lick with the arpeggio from the 3rd:

And keep in mind that this is why you can use an Em7 arpeggio over a Cmaj7 chord and an Fmaj7 arpeggio over a Dm7 chord.

It gives you a lot of great sounds.

I mentioned that you can use something else instead of inversions, and this is one of the best Bebop tricks in the book!

One of the Best Things Barry Harris Taught Me!

Beginner Jazz licks can sound too much like just running up and down scales and arpeggios in a mechanical way, and here is a great way to fix that which I learned from Barry Harris.

Usually, we play the arpeggio starting on the root and then up the arpeggio.

But you can also play the root and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave, it’s a more interesting melody and you are still just playing the arpeggio:

In this case, it makes more sense to play this arpeggio an octave higher,

and notice how you are for the most part just playing the arpeggio the same way we started the video,  now you are just changing the 1st note:

This is what Barry Harris called a pivot arpeggio, and again this is something that works for all arpeggios, and you can create some really great lines with it,  so the 5th type of Jazz lick is a Pivot Arpeggio Bebo Lick and notice the grace note on the low note as well:  :

The Source Of Amazing Bebop Techniques!

Barry Harris’ pivot arpeggios are a great way to level up your Jazz lines, and you can take this even further by exploring Barry’s approach to adding chromatic notes to your lines often referred to as Barry’s chromatic scale which is a great approach to make chromatic phrases very melodic! You can check out my video on that here, and also learn why Bebop scales are usually a complete waste of time!

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

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3 Stupid Mistakes You Should Avoid When Learning A Jazz Standard

I had started really spending time practicing scales and arpeggios and even gotten them to where I could use that in my solos and could go beyond just playing pentatonic licks, but the first time I tried to learn a Jazz Standard, I failed completely, and was pretty much, doing Everything wrong.

A the time I had no idea what a Jazz Standard was, and if I had known that they were mostly songs written for musicals in the 30s and 40s then I would probably have run away screaming

My introduction to this was also a bit odd, and this is really the story about me being clueless and fumbling around in the dark while making every possible mistake., and hopefully helping you avoid that.

At the time I was still studying mathematics at the university, and I was hanging out with a bass player friend of mine that I knew from high school. I hadn’t seen him for a few years and we were jamming and improvising. Because we were improvising he told me about Jazz and played me some fusion albums.

I was not really impressed with the fusion stuff, it sounded like instrumental pop music with chorus on the whole album to me. The music I was listening to at the time was more blues-based and really not produced like the 80s fusion was. At the same time, I was still really curious to learn and to try to play Jazz because I wanted to become better at improvising. That part fascinated me because improvising was what I had the most fun doing when I was playing in rock bands, which I did next to studying at the university, and I was quite lucky that I played in bands where I had a lot of space to improvise like that (especially given how bad I probably was at it). I had been checking out some Satriani and Steve Vai, but when I realized that they were not improvising their solos then I lost all interest in their music and went looking for other stuff. It took a long time until I started to appreciate their playing, it is strange how pretty random things can influence our taste, I somehow also ignored that a lot of the rock bands that I listened to did not really improvise either.

Luckily Johan, the bass player, had an Aebersold album that I could borrow so that I could try to learn to play. If you don’t know what an Aebersold album is, then it is a book with sheet music for some songs and backing tracks for all those songs which is great to practice with if you know how to read and interpret a lead sheet.

 

At that time I had never listened to Jazz and the only Jazz song I had played was Mood Indigo where I had managed to teach myself a G7(b13) chord,

but I had absolutely no idea what to do with all the chords in that book, the most Jazzy song I had improvised on was probably T-bone Walker’s Stormy Monday which is still just a 12 bar-blues.

 

I started listening to the Aebersold cassette and the first song was Green Dolphin Street. Of course, I only had the backing track so I listened to the groove in the bass intro (which was a bit confusing) and especially the chords which sounded amazing with a lot of colors and it was moving around in ways I wasn’t used to which I found really interesting. I immediately set out to try and learn to improvise over that song.

Listening To The Song

If you want to learn a song then one of the first things you want to do is to listen to the song, that seems obvious. When I am working on a song then I usually check out several versions and also try to figure out what the “famous” versions of that song is.

But I was in the situation that I had ONLY the backing track album, and this was in 1994 without any Spotify, YouTube or iTunes then I had no idea how people played the song. Remember that I had no experience with listening to or playing Jazz, and the only source of music I had available was the library where it was hard to find specific songs if you did not know what album it was on or who had recorded it, which is really a pity because the Coltrane/Miles versions of this song would probably have been really cool to check out and would have made the whole thing a lot easier.

Learning the Melody

From the Aebersold book, I could spell my way through the melody, even though Eb was not exactly a key I felt familiar with. I might have had an advantage because I had been playing with my guitar tuned down a half step, just like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and I had had to sometimes play in fairly odd keys because of that when I was playing with other people, but reading the melody of the song was certainly a challenge and something that I could at most spell my way through. This meant that I did not spend a lot of time on it, since that was anyway not what I wanted to do, I wanted to improvise, I wanted to solo on it.

What I did not know was that, If you want to learn to improvise over a Jazz standard then one of the first things you want to learn is the melody. The two main reasons for this are:

#1 The Melody is what you use to hear the harmony

So you hear the melody note and from that note, you hear the rest of the chord that is around it,

that is much easier than hearing 4 beats of Cm7, just try…

#2 The Melody is what gives you the form

Instead of counting bars while you play you hear the melody as a guide through the form so you don’t get lost.

Not having the melody internalized made that VERY difficult, mainly I then had to count to keep track and the chord progression, which was anyway completely new to me. I had never heard of a II V I or a III VI II V anyway. I actually think that I could have gotten a lot further if I had learned the melody first and if someone had told me to do that, but nobody did, so I tried to count and keep track while I was improvising, which was a very poor strategy.

Modal Improvisation And Scales Sucks for Changes

What really drew me to Green Dolphin Street was probably that it had the A part with shifting maj7th chords that sounded both complex, surprising, and still pretty smooth or natural, and that was also what felt was the easiest to solo on, or rather possible to solo on.

That part of the song feels more “modal” and is not really a typical jazz progression. The 2nd 8 bars with the two II V I progressions with an altered dominant were impossible. I didn’t know what a II V I was, so I certainly had no vocabulary for that, and altered dominants were also pretty far out of my reach even if I knew what scale it was.

The way I had been taught to improvise at this point was to look at the chord progression and then figure out what scale to use and play something with that scale.

The skill of really spelling out changes was not something I was really aware of, and combining that skill with a chord progression so that your solo would flow through the changes was also not something I had heard of. Everything was per chord, and not about playing specific chord progressions. The other approach I knew was to have one scale that fitted the entire song and just use that, but I could not find a scale that had an Ebmaj7, a Gbmaj7, a Fmaj7, and an Emaj7 chord in there….

I could barely figure out what to play on the chords and had no idea how to tie together those melodies then 200 bpm is pretty fast! Those parts of the song were mostly just crash and burn, and often I would get completely lost trying to count and just play something.

This is really why you want to learn some vocabulary and also work on soloing over specific progressions like II V I and turnarounds, which will then give you much better tools to handle blocks of chords within songs, it isn’t just one scale per chord, and knowing the building blocks of turnarounds and cadences helps you hear what is going on. That way you are moving towards improvising more freely over the progression.

The Weird Paradox Of Difficult and Easy

The way I learned to improvise using chord scale relationships, is not that uncommon, and it is also sort of a logical next step if you deal with shorter progressions where you don’t have too many chords. Often that means that the first songs you are given by a teacher are modal, so different chords next to each other with no really harmonic connection. Songs like Cantaloupe Island or So What are typical examples.

This way of learning improvisation is useful because the songs are easier to play over, you don’t have to think about a million chords, scales, and arpeggios, but they do have a problem if you want to later play songs like Standards and Bebop Themes.

Jazz as a language was not developed by playing over a static chord for a long period of time. It was developed by improvising over Jazz standards which have faster-moving progressions, and a part of the language is how the solo incorporates those chords into the lines. You need to learn to think ahead and also to play a melody that spans several chords.

That is difficult if you are trained to think about everything one chord at a time and not have an overview of several chords in one phrase. In that way, the modal pieces don’t really help you get better at playing faster moving progressions since the chords don’t move in the same way as they do with Standards and you are not working on what connects the two chords.

At the same time, it can be really useful for a beginning improviser to work on a modal piece because it helps develop a sense of period (so feeling the bar, and the 4-bar periods) and a lot of modal progressions have really surprising chord changes that are easier to hear so that you don’t get lost when you play because you can easily hear what is going on.

This can be much more complicated with a Jazz standard. So there are pros and cons to learning modal pieces in the beginning that you might want to be aware of, but of course mainly if you aim to learn to also play Jazz standards.

My Aebersold backing track was clearly way too fast for me to play over it, and in this first attempt at learning a Jazz standard then I did not sit down and make my own slower and clearer backing track which is what I did later, just recording me playing the chords, but there is a funny side effect to practicing slowly when it comes to Jazz.

Practicing Slowly – The Wrong way

Any song that you play slowly enough becomes modal. You can easily try, just play a II V I but make each chord 4 or 8 bars long, and then you will hear how the forward motion of the progression disappears. This is also how The 2nd Miles Davis quintet made songs like Stella by Starlight and My Funny Valentine into modal pieces: slowing them down so that the function of the harmony disappears.

So when you want to practice slowly on a Jazz standard, then maybe it is not about taking the tempo too far down that will work against you because you can’t hear the flow of the harmony which is as important if you want to develop your jazz skills. Instead, you can slow other things down so that you internalize the harmony and learn to improvise over the chords. I have other videos on improvising with chord tones and in my course, I even reduce that as a starting point before gradually helping you develop your playing so that includes arpeggios, scales, chromatic phrases and octave displacement.

Another important aspect is to focus on the short chord progressions that are the building blocks of a Jazz standard progression. That is what makes it both easier to remember the chords and also what will make it easier to improvise over them because you have those shorter building blocks in your ears and in your fingers.

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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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Most Important Skills For Jazz Chord Tones on a II V I

A difficult thing when you are starting Jazz is that the chords are flying left and right while you have to keep up and play a solo that fits with the chords and also doesn’t sound like you are playing something that is completely random.

In this video, I am going to show you how you can work to develop skills that help you play natural sounding solos that follow the changes, starting very simple and the expanding it gradually, and I will give you an example of how great Jazz players make amazing lines with these very basic tools because that is possible too.

Why Chord Tones and Not Scales?

The first problem that you can easily overcome is to stop thinking in scales and start thinking about chord tones, so the notes in each chord. This is to help you learn to play the changes and hear the chord progression and you can always add the scales back later, they fit around the chord tones anyway. Reducing a song to a bunch of scales is not really helping you play a solo over that chord progression, simply because it is too much information, and not clearly connecting you to the chords. Instead, you want to focus on the chord tones or arpeggios of each chord.

In Jazz, the basic chord type that makes up the chord progression is a 7th chord, so when I talk about chord tones, then I am talking about the root, 3rd, 7th, and 5th of the chord (on screen: Cmaj7 adding the interval under the notes)

When you work on improvising with chord tones then you are learning to:

  • Improvise Melodies That Follow The Chord Progression
  • Hear The Chord Progression, not just understand it
  • Play Solos With Melodies That Make Sense and Sound Natural

Starting With A Scale?

The progression that I am using in this video is a II V I.

A II V I is a very common progression in Jazz that you need to master because they are all over the place!

When I am talking about a II V I then I am referring to scale degrees, so for C major then you have a chord on each note in the scale and we use the roman numerals to refer to those so in C major,

a II V I is Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

Since these chords are in the key of C major, then it is really useful to still keep in the back of your mind that this scale is the backdrop

Let’s start with a really simple way of playing arpeggios, just using one octave, and then expand from there:

Right now all the arpeggios have each note once. You will see later in the video, how to open that up and make it more flexible. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t already start to make some really good lines with this, and that is of course the goal: To play solid melodic Jazz solos.

Making Solid Lines With Few Notes

Here you have a basic II V I lick, just using the chord tones.’

You want to know the arpeggios so well that you don’t end up just running up and down the arpeggio and always start on the root.

If you want to use the arpeggios to play melodies then you need to be free to move around and play them, not be stuck only playing up and down the arpeggio. Simply because this is not a really interesting melody, it is predictable both on each chord and from one chord to the next.

Technique 

Ears

Imagination

You want to practice making small melodies with an arpeggio to get your technique, your ears, and your imagination to open up. So for a Dm7, try to practice making small licks like these:

When you are working on this then you are starting to get used to improvising with them and what is often overlooked:

Composing lines is practicing improvisation slowly

So the more you do that and play those lines the more material you will have to play in your solos.

Nailing The Changes

The next thing to do is to start working on playing from one chord to the next and get it to sound like a melody not like two things next to each other.

If we start with going from Dm7 to G7.

This is sort of common sense: If you play a note on beat 1 of the G7 bar that is not in the Dm7 arpeggio then it is clear that you are now on a new chord, that is easy to hear and you are playing it right when the chord changes.

The strongest note for this is the 3rd: B, so if you play something on the Dm7 that flows to that B on G7 then it is easy to hear the change and it makes sense as a melody:

So to play the changes and have a solo line that makes sense then you can practice playing something on Dm7 that naturally flows to that B on G7 and then continue your melody from there.

And all of this is the same for the Cmaj7, so here you can practice playing towards the 3rd: E.

This is a good place to start, and the 1-octave arpeggios are something you will see in a lot of solos, but it is useful to also explore the entire position for the arpeggios which opens up for some more options with the melodies as well.

Expanding The Arpeggios

You probably know these already, now the Dm7 is this:

and G7 can expand to this:

and finally the Cmaj7:

Of course, the notes are still the same 4-notes we just have more of them on the fretboard., and for each chord, you will have

This means that now you can make lines like this:

Melodic Tricks and Exercises

There are some really simple things that you can add to your lines and get better at using that will make your lines a lot more interesting.

Some of them are used in this example:

Here I am repeating a pattern on the Dm7 which is a great way to build melodies. If you think about it then a lot of melodies are repeated figures that are either moved through the changes or think of Autumn Leaves which is one motif that is moving down the scale.

Or simple repeated like Broadway:

One way to work on this with arpeggios is to practice patterns like groups of 4 notes or skipping patterns:

And then work on using that in your playing by composing line with them.

Another thing that you want to work on is playing melodies that end or start on off beats.

In this example, you can see how the first part of this phrase ends on the 1& and then starts again on the 3&

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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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The Solos You Want To Learn By Ear To Play Better Jazz Guitar

This video is coming out of the worst advice that I see given on the internet, maybe not the worst advice but certainly, the most horrible way to give it.

I am talking about when somebody asks something about getting better at playing anything with Jazz guitar and the standard answer is “Learn from the masters”. Now don’t get me wrong, it is super useful to check out solos by ear, but without any context or suggestions than “learn from the masters” is so lazy that it is just bad advice. You might as well just say “practice guitar” Feel free to answer them with this rant!

Any good teacher will have much more specific advice that will help you get started learning some easy solos, and I know that because I asked a lot of them and this video is full of their suggestions for great easy solos to check out.

Let me know in the comments if there was one that you really liked or if you have other useful suggestions, this topic is not covered anywhere near enough and that is really a pity.

Thanks to all the great musicians and teachers who were a part of this video! Again if you have solos that are easy to learn and useful for playing Jazz then leave a comment and let’s start building a solid list!

Maybe it says something about my abilities as a teacher or maybe I should make a separate video with some suggestions for easy solos?

Besides working on learning solos by ear, you also want to work on learning a lot of other things and you can check out this playlist if you want to dig into which arpeggios, how to play over chord changes or how to play jazz chords all the basic things you need to work on and how to get started.

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3 Jazz Phrasing Problems You Need To Fix In Your Playing

You probably already figured out that knowing scales, arpeggios, and Jazz chords is not really enough to be able to play a great Jazz Solo.

It can be frustrating and seem like magic when you listen to great jazz phrases like Wes or George Benson but there are ways to work on this, and it is not magic, it is just a bit of work.

But you will sound better if you fix it!

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:23 The First Thing You (Anyway) Should Start Doing

01:09 How Swing 8th Notes Sound

02:33 Make Your Phrases And Phrasing More Interesting

04:34 Overdrive/Distortion in Jazz – Here’s the problem

04:48 Don’t End On The Beat All The Time

05:53 Ending On Long Notes.

06:54 The Types of Practice That Helps Phrasing

07:30 More Exercises for Phrasing and Swing-feel

07:37 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

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Skills You Need To Develop – Important Jazz Exercises

You need to learn scales, arpeggios, and vocabulary to play solos and to get it to sound like Jazz, but there are other aspects of improvising a solo that you need to develop as well if you want to sound good.

This week, the focus is on some of the other essential skills you need to develop to become good at improvising Jazz. So it is not really about scales, arpeggios, and vocabulary. I take a standard and go over some of the exercises you can start to do to really learn how to become a better soloist.

The focus is on playing solos that:

  • Play real phrases
  • Make the solo one piece of music
  • Play what you hear

It takes more than just scales and arpeggios to play a great Jazz Solo

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:22 The Song

00:34 #1 – Limit Yourself – 2 or 3 notes

01:14 Choosing notes for a solo

02:47Tips for doing the exercise

03:22 Challenge your Creativity

03:50What you improve in your playing

04:52 #2 – Motivic Development

05:59 Basic practice

06:42 Motivic Development on a song

07:10 Digging into the Harmony

07:21 Melodic Voice-leading

07:47 Rhythmic Displacement = Motivic Development

08:20 What You Learn

08:58 #3 – Improvise with chord tones

09:44 Two variations

09:47 #1 Arpeggios within one octave

10:27 #2 One Position

11:06 How to play over chord changes and make sense 


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How To Make Music From Exercises And Practice Effectively

Getting from just practicing a scale or an arpeggio to the point where you can actually use it in music is quite difficult, and something that a lot of people struggle with. You want to set up your jazz guitar practice in a way that will actually help you get your exercises into your playing as something that makes your solos and improvisations better. That is what this video will teach you! In this video, I am going to go over a 3 step plan to show you how you can approach this and make sure that what you practice also makes it into your playing, and I am also going to discuss what types of exercises I think are practical and what you might better not waste your time on.

 

The Most Important Scale Exercise in Jazz

Let’s start with an exercise that you always want to work on anyway: Diatonic 7th chords. In the Key of C major, that would be this exercise: This is a great exercise that will help you connect chords to a scale and technique to the chords of a song. I have another video going into this exercise in detail which I will link to in the description so I won’t really dig into it here. There are a few practical things to get right if you are practicing something because you want to use it in your solos.

  • Don’t make the exercise too long or complicated
  • Make sure that it is something that you have a place to use
  • Don’t make it so difficult that you have to spend a year learning to play it.

#1 Don’t make the exercise too long or complicated

If you practice Triad pairs with chromatic enclosures on each triad then that is something you can only use on a piece with one chord for a really long time, and you have to think about whether that is really efficient for you.

#2 Make sure that it is something that you have a place to use

Practicing Quartal arpeggios in Melodic minor is not useful if you don’t play over chords using that sound.

#3 Don’t make it so difficult that you have to spend a year learning to play it.

If you have never practice arpeggios then don’t start with playing them with leading notes and as 8th note triplets, just start with playing arpeggios which are probably anyway more flexible.

Taking the exercise to a song or chord progression

I always find it surprising how few people play exercises on songs. It is such a great way to just get your scales or arpeggios into the context where you need them, and also to check if you have everything covered for the song you want to use it on. For this video, I am not going to use an entire song, I am just going to use  a basic turnaround in C Cut in – In the video I am using a very short chord progression, but it is really useful to have songs that you know really well to explore things on, and if you check then that is also something that a lot of players do. They have standards that they return to when practicing things to become comfortable and experiment with new material. Cmaj7 A7(b9) Dm7 G7(b9) In this progression, I am using the C major scale for Cmaj7 and Dm7, and I am using D harmonic minor and C harmonic minor for A7 and G7. And to add something new to our vocabulary then I am going to use the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord. This is just to flex the music theory and fretboard knowledge a little. The Arpeggios we need: Em7 C#dim Fmaj7 Bdim   Played through the progression in a very basic way:   And to find some more material you can do the lower octave as well, even if that is not really there  for the Fmaj7 arpeggio: And of course, you can also combine the two and make an exercise that fills up the bar: For an exercise like this to be useful, you need to be able to play it easily and think about the next thing you have to play. It has to be in time and you can’t get away with stopping to think. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be super fast, a medium or slow medium tempo will work as long as it feels easy to play. Sometimes I hear students say that it is difficult to learn on a whole song, but if you want to use it in your solos then this is actually a fairly easy thing to learn.

Making music

Now we can play it on the progression and also hear how it sounds on the song, the next step is to start improvising and start to make melodies. The first thing to do is probably just to spend some time improvising with just the arpeggios. Then you can start to add the other things you use in your solos and really make the arpeggios a part of your material. In some cases, it may be useful to first compose or improvise in rubato to get the user to making melodies that mix arpeggios and use chromatic leading notes. Doing exercises like this is may seem like something you do when you want to learn arpeggios, but actually it is a great way to explore new vocabulary and really challenge your fretboard overview, things that you really want to keep developing in your playing all the time.

Take this to Jazz Standards and use it in Music

Jazz Standards – Easy Solo Boost

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The Two Things You Need To Practice More

In most Jazz practice routines there are two things that you probably don’t focus on as much as you should. In this video, I am going to go over what the problem is and give you some suggestions on how to solve that problem, and I think it is more a matter of how you think about practicing and structure your practice routine than anything else.

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Content:

0:00 Intro – Getting more efficient with practice.

0:28 Flexibility – Remember the goal you want to achieve

0:52 The Progression and the basic exercise

3:32 How to open it up

4:31 Taking it further

5:23 Open up Technique Practice

5:51 A quote from Kurt Rosenwinkel

6:12 Application

6:25 From Scale Practice to Michael Brecker with Magic

6:41 Making using the material a priority in practice sessions

7:00 A Step-wise Plan

8:21 Limitation is efficient

9:45 The Worst Mistake When You Study Jazz

10:01 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page?