This is such a common roadblock when you are just getting started with Jazz:
You are practicing scales and arpeggios, but getting that to sound right in a solo is very difficult, and the only help you can find is adding more complicated and weird things which doesn’t really solve the problem and just gives you more scales and arpeggios to practice.
Avoid Scale Solos
Most of the time, The problem is that your solos sound too much like you are just running up and down scales, which is maybe “correct” but also pretty boring and predictable
B-roll: list over “I will show you some simple…” Arpeggios, Interval Skips, Rhythm, Phrasing”
As you can hear, everything is moving stepwise and nothing is really happening. To fix this you need to get better at using scales and arpeggios more creatively. I will show you some simple strategies for that in this video, without throwing scales, chromatic passing chords, and super-imposed pentatonics at you. (Tony Stark eye roll)
#1 Arpeggios Can Be Nice (but use them the right way)
The first thing to add is arpeggios, since the previous example didn’t have any arpeggios, and they already help to break up lines that are only scale movement, but you want to use them in the right way.
A “rule” that I see quite often online for Jazz is arpeggio up, scale down.
That is very similar to a counterpoint rule for melodic tension which says that a leap in one direction is resolved by motion in the opposite direction. (show example with arrows or lines) That counterpoint rule is a good one for a stable melody, but later I’ll show you some examples where great Jazz lines break some of the counterpoint rules.
Arpeggio up/scale down is pretty easy to play, just watch out that it isn’t the only thing you do with arpeggios. Here I am using it going from Dm7 to G7:
But you can also change things up by inserting a descending arpeggio and treat it as a “break” from a scale run. You play the arpeggio and then go back up to the note below the note you started on. Here I am using that over the Dm7 chord and using another useful trick: the arpeggio from the 3r, in this case that’s an Fmaj7 arpeggio. Just to quickly explain that. If you look at the notes of Dm7 and Fmaj7 you can see that 3 of the notes are the same and the only difference is the E which is a 9th against Dm7, which sounds great.
You can do this with most chords, and it just means that you have several arpeggios available for any chord you solo over.
You may have noticed that I sometimes have other ways of not playing scale runs in the last two examples, I’ll get to those later as well. Another way to use an arpeggio is to play it as a triplet which is a great way to change up the flow with rhythm. In this example you also want to notice how I am using the descending arpeggio melody that I just showed you but now with the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, Bø:
#2 Simple, Flexible and Incredibly Powerful
Before we get to the very simple melodic technique that breaks the counterpoint rule then I want to show you what I used at the beginning of the 2nd example to create this:
and a sneaky variation of it is also what I am using in the 3rd example going from Dm7 to G7
One of the most important parts of the sound of good Bop-inspired Jazz lines, is that they have surprising twists and turns but they also have direction, and that is what I am using here: Enclosures, which is an incredibly deep topic, and something that helps you create great lines on scale melodies, arpeggios and triads!
On the Dm7 line, I start on the A and then instead of moving directly down to F which would be the next note in the arpeggio there are two notes placed around the F, E under it, and G above it. PLAY and what makes it even more powerful is that the enclosure moves up from E to G while the melody is moving from A down to F, so it has both the forward motion and a surprising change of direction.
The easiest way to work on this is to use 2-note chromatic enclosures on the arpeggio, because they are the most flexible and the easiest to play. The concept is simple: a diatonic note above the chord tone and a chromatic note below, so for a Dm7 arpeggio, E above & C# below, resolving to D. G above and E below, resolving to F and so on.
The entire exercise is this:
and you can play it descending as well:
And just using this on the arpeggio gives you solid lines that are anything but boring. Here I am using the enclosure around F and D on Dm7 and also around the B on G7
Let’s have a look at how Bebop breaks some counterpoint rules, and then start talking about how you get this information into your playing because that may not be obvious.
#3 Breaking The Counterpoint Rules
In many ways then Bebop and Jazz lines are closely related to the language of Bach, and the rule that I mentioned about resolving a leap in one direction by moving in the opposite direction does sound quite natural and fits a lot of Jazz lines. Think of the Ellington ending:
But the interval of a minor 6th is not allowed so it is, in that way, breaking the rules, and that descending minor 6th is a great sound for Jazz lines.
Jazz also doesn’t have a problem with parallel 5ths and a few other things but counterpoint was also created for polyphonic vocal music so that isn’t that surprising.
The descending 6th interval can be used as an incredible sound! A simple version of it is to insert it between the half-steps in the scale, in C major that would be between the C and the B, where you can place an E and between the F and the E where it is an A.
And these interval skips are great for Bebop and used all over the place! There are more options but for this I’ll stick with these two. Check out how I first use the interval skip and then two enclosures on Dm7 following that up with the descending arpeggio technique on G7:
The Practice Strategy
By now, you should be wondering how you internalize material like this. You probably noticed that I am not really giving you specific licks it is more like recipes for melodies that you can move around and use to create your own licks.
You could look at getting this into your playing as a 3-step process where the 2nd one is probably often left out, and the reason you won’t get it into your playing:
First, you need to take care of any exercises like practicing the scales, be able to play the arpeggios or enclosures
Start composing lines with the topic you are working on, so take a single thing and start making lines.
You want to be able to play the lines you come up with in time, but the biggest focus should be on making a lot of lines. That is where you learn something and where you start to hear the melodies that you want to get into your playing.
Keep it simple and don’t try to do only new things because you want to connect the new things to what you already play so that it becomes a flexible and active part of your vocabulary, not something you have to think about.
#3 Put It To Practice
Take a song you know very well and start soloing while you focus on using the new melodic technique or piece of vocabulary that you want to get into your playing.
Most of the time, students underestimate the benefit of writing tons of licks and exploring the material in that way, so pay attention to that while you practice and be a little patient. Keep in mind that Barry Harris taught Bebop by writing licks and explaining the lines. Composing licks can also be great for developing your rhythm and your phrasing, let’s look at that.
#4 The Curse Of Heavy Beats
Keeping up with the changes is very difficult in the beginning, and often we try to hit target notes on beat one whenever the chords change to make it clear to ourselves that we are following the harmony. This is an important skill, but it is not really great for your rhythm so here are two things you should try to work on that helps lighten it up:
#1 don’t stop on beat 1
When you end the line, in this case that makes most sense on the Cmaj7, in the II V I, then continue into the bar and try to end on an offbeat like I do here, and see if you can spot all the other stuff from this video that I use:
This example actually uses the next thing when going from Dm7 to G7:
#2 Resolve on 4&
Try to resolve to the chord on 4& to anticipate the chord change,
again adding forward motion and energy to the line. This is something where it makes sense to spend time composing lines to get it into your ears and into your playing. And in the example, notice how the enclosure is used to help the transition from Dm7 to G7
#5 Technique for Dynamics
The Phrasing is where the music is, and when it comes to phrasing in Jazz then one of the most important parts is the dynamics in the line, and you can use technique to make that easier. This is probably also why so many Jazz guitarists mix a lot of different techniques when they play: It is the most efficient way to get the right phrasing.
For the dynamics then two techniques are great to incorporate: slides and legato.
Here’s an example without any phrasing:
and here it is with some added phrasing techniques, and notice that I tend to use techniques so that I pick a note on the offbeat and make that louder than the note that follows on a downbeat:
I am sure you can hear the difference. When you start working on this then try to find some simple licks where you have a high note on an off-beat, like this way of playing a Dm7 arpeggio:
Or using a pull-off from an offbeat in a descending scale run like this which also makes it easier to play for your right hand:
The Biggest Mistakes Learning Jazz
One of the most difficult moments I ever experienced on a stage in front of an audience is tied to a myth, something that people sometimes will say but that isn’t true. It is easy to waste practice time on stuff like that and you can better focus on actually learning how to play and building the skills you need. I tell the story of that failure on stage and some of the other concepts that you should not waste your time on in this video! Check it out!
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