Tag Archives: jazz solo guitar

The One Thing You Wish You Could Improve In Your Jazz Playing

What Is The Magic of Wes and Benson?

I am pretty sure that you have listened to Wes Montgomery or George Benson playing a solo and thought “I wish I could sound like that”, but when you are playing Jazz then you are busy with scales and arpeggios and getting the lines to fit together without losing the form.

But scales and arpeggios will make you sound more like Wes, ot is something else that makes him sound like that, and you are not working on that side of your playing. Let me show you how to fix that!

If you are starting out learning Jazz guitar,  you often get stuck with the first problem that you run into: What notes go where? That is not so strange because it is difficult to navigate a Jazz song and play the right notes in the right place, but once you start to be able to do that, then you need to also start developing other things, and especially rhythm and phrasing, because if you let the notes and the harmony dictate your phrasing then you won’t sound like Jazz:

A Method For Magic

You probably check out licks and solos and try to figure out how they work in terms of what scale, arpeggio, or chromatic thing is used so that you can use that in your playing as well:

This is something you want to do with rhythm and phrasing as well, and the important part is that you start with something you hear and then use that to create your own material,

mainly because we don’t have as many terms for those rhythmical building blocks.

Let me show you what you can do with a simple and short Wes Montgomery phrase to start opening up your own playing. Check out this short but amazing phrase from the 2nd chorus of his solo on “No Blues” off the “Smokin’ at the Half-note” album.

Obviously, we could focus on what notes he uses, and that IS interesting but let’s try and see if there is something to be learned from the rhythm and the phrasing, because Wes is one of the greatest improvisers when it comes to really making strong and clear phrases also in terms of rhythm, and that part of it will already make you sound 10 times better!

To keep it simple, I am going to cut off the pick-up, but I will talk about adding that back in later in the video, also because that is part of another very important thing to develop and ties into something that I talk about very often as well.

Removing the pickup leaves us with this:

I picked a phrase where I like the rhythm, and maybe also because I like the shape of the phrase, so how the melody flows.

I will start by keeping that in there, but you don’t have to of course.

First, you just want to hear the phrase, so sing it, you can probably hear that I am still hearing the flow of the melody. “Rhythm”

In the way that I sing it, you can also hear where I have accents “rhythm”

Make It Your Own

A side note on learning by ear: One of the ways that I trained this and I think also what is the traditional approach to teaching this is learning solos. When you learn solos by ear you want to keep playing them with the track for a long time after figuring them out. In that way, you get the phrases and the rhythms into your system, and that is useful for a lot of things, so you want to keep doing that, but what I cover here is a more focused way to develop your rhythm and phrasing vocabulary. Both approaches are worth exploring.

The goal now is to start hearing phrases with this rhythm, and the easiest way to start is to stick with the shape of the melody. Later I will expand this so that you can start hearing other phrases as well coming out of this example. When you start working on this there is one thing that might demotivate you but I’ll get to that. Here’s a simple version using the Wes rhythm and flow on a Gmaj7:

or maybe something like this, try to recognize the flow in there and judge for yourself if it works as a line.

What you want to do is to create lines over a different chord with the same rhythm and a similar phrasing, and keep in mind that this is to get you out of always playing:

An important thing to keep in mind is that you probably start doing this with a phrase that you consider perfect and doing this exercise will not only give you 150 perfect jazz licks that are going to blow everyone’s mind. It is not so much about the licks as it is about the process, because what you are training is hearing phrases with that melody.

You should only check if the lick does actually work, and it is fine if some of them don’t, you learn from that as well.

Letting Go Of The Flow

I remember when I was just getting into Jazz and I came across this very solid Bebop line or cliche, which is an example of octave displacement, and could probably be taken out of a Bach piece as well, but it works amazingly as a Jazz lick:

And because I didn’t understand octave displacement and the direction of melody I spent a long time coming up with one failed phrase after another. At the time I could hear that it didn’t work, but I could not figure out why or how to fix it in a consistent way. That came much later.

That is why, In the beginning, you want to stick close to the original phrase.

Because then there is a bigger chance that you will write lines that make sense, but after some time it also makes sense to explore if you can let that go and just use the rhythm without the phrasing, check this out then I’ll explain:

So now I am not trying to keep the direction of the melody but just using the rhythm to make a new line and listening for how it should be phrased which in this case gives a few different accents (show sheet music comparing accents between ex 4 and ex😎

If you forgot then often Bop lines sound great if you give an accent to a high note which is not on the beat. It is not a rule, so you will find exceptions all over the place, but that is what I am doing here, and it does make it sound better.

Here’s another example:

Of course, you can repeat this process with other lines and in that way expand your vocabulary, but what you can also do to open up this phrase even more is to use it while improvising like this.

Training Your Creativity

Let’s say that you can come up with some phrases using the rhythm that we got from Wes so what you can try now is to play some call-response soloing using those phrases and see what you hear afterward. I’ll do this on a Gmaj7 chord, think of it as a never-ending loop of the first part of I’ll Remember April:

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do this in time, and if you have a line that you like then it can be really useful to play it several times and come up with different responses to it. This is all about starting to place it in your vocabulary and making it work in your solos.

Of course, from working on it rubato you can level it up to using it on a song that you know well and get it into your playing.

I also want to talk about another way that you can open up your playing and not get stuck on the barlines too much.

Breaking Free of the Barlines

This could almost be an independent video, but one of the problems you run into when you are learning to spell out chord changes in your solos is that you want to play clear notes on beat 1 when the chord changes. This is not a bad habit, but you do need to move beyond that if you don’t want to sound boxed in by the barlines, your melodies should be more free on top of the song. Luckily, if you are used to playing toward target notes then you can easily start to practice playing into the chord with a pickup like this:

And another thing that you also want to start exploring is not ending lines on the target note, but instead continuing into the bar like this:

The Right Melodies With The Right Phrasing

But when you are making lines using rhythms and phrasing then you do need to understand Jazz how to create jazz lines that work otherwise there is nothing to phrase or add rhythm to. Check out this video, If you want to explore how to develop this and learn the essential building blocks that make up Jazz lines.

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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This is A Perfect Jazz Solo! – Why Scofield Always Gets It Right!

I might touch on a few unpopular opinions in this video, but Scofield NEVER fails to impress me, even when he is just jamming a well-known Jazz standard, and it is surprising how traditional his approach is while he still manages to add his own sound to it, isn’t that what it is all about?

One of the beautiful things about Jazz is that you don’t only play your own music, you also interpret Jazz Standards that make up a big part of the repertoire. And it is always interesting to hear how the people you admire interpret songs, it feels a little like you are playing with them at a jam session.

The video I am talking about also gives me a chance to be a bit patriotic since Scofield is playing with the Danish-Vietnamese bass player Chris Minh Doky and it appears to be a recording for Danish TV (Patriotic b-roll)

The song is Alone Together, certainly one of the most common Jam session standards in the book, and let’s start with how he plays the theme, because that may be sort of an unpopular opinion, and later I will also talk about why I think Scofield is probably one of the first Jazz guitarists to be really important for the entire style, which might be another hot take, so grab your pitchforks and check this out!!

Interpreting A Melody (without being a Robot)

Since they are playing in a duo then Scofield is adding chords to the melody, but the way he does this is really effective and probably also my preferred approach, mainly because it gives you room to really phrase the melody and let that shine.

What he does is,  of course, to play the melody and then add chords around it, instead of playing the melody inside chords all the time which removes some of the possibilities for more vocal-like phrasing. A great example of the “other” approach would be something like this Joe Pass playing Misbehavin’

Of course, here Joe Pass is also playing solo guitar so he needs to cover more of the groove as well, and actually, I also think that the instrument and sound matter a bit here, but if start talking about that then the comment section blows up. Later, in the video, you’ll also see some examples of how Scofields playing is pretty traditional, which is at least not what I really think of when I think of his style.

The Melody of Alone Together lends itself very well to this because the structure is often a pick-up and then a long note on beat 1 which leaves room for adding chords:

Like he does in this section:

So first you get the melody just adding a 5th under it and then a complete Eø(9) and A7.

Same thing on the Aø D7, and then you get this really nice open 3-part harmonization on the Gm7.

Another thing that stands out to me is how Scofield often adds voice movement with suspensions under the maj7 chord. First some octaves and then a nice Maj7(#5) that resolves:

So there is also some reharmonization or embellishment of the harmony going on. You also want to notice that he very often plays E7 A7 instead of Eø A7

Like this:

It is a small detail to add in there but he really uses it incredibly well in the solo too, which really gives the song some personality and changes the overall sound.

Expression is Mostly In The Right Hand

I always found it so impressive even if it is subtle, that Scofield is able to do so much with the sound, picking some notes close to the bridge to get a different sound, using pick and fingers or just fingers for some parts, he really changes that very often throughout the song.

Check out how he is really using where he picks the string to get different sounds:

Two things to learn from this: First, notice how the first bar is picked with a more mellow sound and he moved closer to the bridge to make the 2nd bar more nasal.

The second thing connects to how I talked about some more traditional aspects of his playing, and here is one of them: He is not playing Eø A7 in that line, it is all A7 altered, so like Joe Pass or Barry Harris, he does not play the II chord all the time. And this really connects to how he starts his solo as well.

Scofield Knows His Bebop

I think it was one of the times that I saw him live with the trio with Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow when he talked about how he loved to practice bebop tunes and check out Charlie Parker, so it isn’t really a surprise to me that he knows that part of it as well even if I didn’t really recognize that in the first things I heard from him which had a lot of New Orleans and Blues influence. I’ll talk a bit more about that later as well. Let’s first listen to the first part of the solo:

The next phrase he plays also shows that he doesn’t only rely on bebop lines, but has a very wide vocabulary of rhythms as well:

The next part really lets the E7 sound shine!

So you get the B and the G# and then the counter movement with the melody going up and the 2nd voice moving down from  G# to G to F.

I’ll show you another really great example of this later.

Again he is not playing the II chord on Aø D7 but goes straight for the D7.

Open Strings and Open Sounds

This is super typical for Scofield, but also really one of the things that I love about his playing: Harmony and Melody are really melting together.

The first part is a chromatic run, which I suspect is actually a Parker lick, but it’s hard to tell. Using a LOT of legato like this is also a very typical part of John Scofields sound or phrasing.

Then you hear the Eø to A7 which is a really simple scale run spelling out the harmony,

But the part that I really like here is the resolution to the 3rd interval, and then adding the melody over the sustained F# starting with the open string.

He did something similar in the theme with the open E. That is such a beautiful sound and again a way of making the best possible use of what is practical on the instrument.

From there you hear a short Lydian maj7 lick before going to the 2nd A, so he is again messing with the sound on the Dmaj7 similar to what he did in the theme.

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When Guitar Ruled Jazz

Few guitarists have had as big an impact on Jazz as a genre as John Scofield. Having worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Joe Henderson and Chris Potter his music and take on Jazz guitar is a huge influence maybe more on Jazz in general than on Jazz guitar, which also just tells you how fantastic a musician he is. My introduction to Jazz was marked by discovering John Scofield and Charlie Parker at the same time, both being really strong in playing Blues which was probably what I could recognize or relate to.

As Jazz guitarists then we often live in a bubble where we focus the most on the guitarists in the genre, but in most of Jazz history then the guitar players were not what shaped the style. Mostly this was left to horn players like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or piano players like Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock. Before the comment section explodes —  let me explain what I mean. Kenny Burrell or even Wes or Joe Pass did not really start a new direction in Jazz, it wasn’t so that all the musicians that are not guitarists bought their albums, so there are no “kind of blue” or “giant steps” albums in there. That doesn’t make them lesser musicians so keep in mind that it is not a criticism of their playing or ability in any way, I am just looking a bit beyond what albums were game-changing for Jazz Guitarists, and widening the scope to Jazz in general.

I think that Scofield and Metheny probably did have that type of genre-defining impact on Jazz as a style.  When I studied then everyone had Scofield Quartet albums, especially “Meant To Be” because they were sort of the “Workin'” Steamin'” and “Relaxin'” albums of that period. You hear it pop up in other albums where the connection is very clear, and I think that was the first time that the influence of a guitarist really went across the entire style and didn’t stay with guitar players. For Scofield, it was probably a lot about groove and pulling in new influences to Jazz, especially New Orleans grooves but also some more acoustic-sounding funk.

I think it is worthwhile giving Scofield that credit and it is really nice to be able to reference his music when talking to other musicians on gigs if you want to play a song in a Ponciana groove or something using second-line. That the guitar became a more defining instrument in Jazz so late probably also has something to do with the instrument evolving and being very dominant in pop and rock music.

Counterpoint Funkyness

This is really great, again more open rhythmical phrases and not Bebop lines but he is using the E7 again, and going into it in a really nice way using 6th intervals

It’s almost like a minor II V in Am. The real counterpoint is the next phrase which is Bach meets Blues:

It’s only a few notes but it sounds really great with the B moving up to the C before going into another variation of the E7 A7 that he used earlier.

Genius of Intervals and Counter Melodies!

The way Scofied uses intervals and sparse voicings to make the individual voices more clear is really effective and is a great way to get the melody across, both in solos and when playing chord melody. Developing this in your playing can really open up some beatiful sounds and add another dimension to your playing. If you want to explore that further then a Contemporary of Scofield, Bill Frisell is who you should check out, and I go over how his take on Days Of Wine and Rose which is incredibly beautiful and a great intro to this type of playing.

Amazing Chord Melody Without Any Chords? So Beautiful That Nobody Cares

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Why They Sound Better Than You Every Time!

What is the difference between a good solo and a great solo? And what are some of the skills you want to develop to go from playing the right notes to really playing a great solo?

There is a set of 3 skills that especially a beginner won’t notice because you are too busy finding the chord tones and playing chromatic notes, and you want to start working on this from early on if you want to play solos that make sense and are not just random phrases.

The Problem With The Right Notes

When I was getting started playing Jazz then I practice scales and arpeggios since I had learned that I needed those to play Jazz. The problem I had with my solos was that even if I could play the right notes then it still sounded very fragmented and messy because I played everything per chord. Let me show you how that is the opposite of how George Benson plays. My playing at the time was like this:

 

These are all the right notes. but as you can clearly hear then it doesn’t make any sense at all because I am:

#1 Starting a new idea every bar

#2 Always Starting on Beat 1

#3 Stop playing so I Can Think Of The next chord

George Benson Gets It!

So what is the difference? He is playing from one chord to the next, so his melodies are ending on a note that clearly tells your ear that the chord is changing. In this case. it is super clear by hitting the 3rd every time:

Getting stuck with just playing something more or less random on each is a natural part of learning to play changes, but you can quite easily get started fixing it, and that is a really important skill to get in there so let’s look at that, and then dive into two other approaches that you hear a lot in the playing of Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall.

Forward Motion

When it comes to Bop-inspired Jazz, then a core principle in the solos is that often the melodies are dense with a lot of notes and are really pushing forward to the chord changes, similar to what you heard in the George Benson example. This is not that different from how Bach wrote music even if Jazz uses different harmony and also some “extra” notes here and there.

Hal Galper wrote a good book about this calling it Forward Motion

which is a good way to describe it. The simple version of the concept is that you practice playing lines that end somewhere, so target notes. The notes in a solo line are not just random pitches against a chord,

they should fit together as a melody that moves to the next chord. Which is what you heard in the Benson example.

But there are some things that you can get wrong when you are working on target notes, so here’s a suggestion for getting started, and actually you should consider buying that book.

Choosing Target Notes and Practicing

For finding the right target notes then you sort of have to forget what you learned when you started checking out Jazz chords.

I am sure you have had lessons telling you that when you play chords then you just need the 3rd and the 7th to get the sound of the chord across. That would also suggest that you can use those two as target notes, but that is actually not really true.

Let’s look a II V I in C major:

The 3rd of the chord is still a really good option, as you heard in the George Benson example,

but the 7th is often a bit vague, and in the beginning, you want to train your ear by having very clear notes that tell you that the chord has changed.

On Dm7 then the C doesn’t really sound like a Dm7 on it’s own, it sounds much more like a C major chord, so having that as a target is going to be much more difficult.

The 5th, A, is however a very good target note instead, which is sort of the first note you would throw out of a chord. This is true for Cmaj7 as well where the 7th, B will really just sound like you are not resolving the V chord in a II V I. Of course, you can play melodies that make these notes possible, but as I said, you want to keep it easy to hear in the beginning.

Let’s say that we keep it easy and play the 3rd as a target note on all the chords, just like George.

You want to practice coming up with Dm7 lines that play towards and end on a B, a simple version could be something like this:

Or like this:

 

These are of course super simple, and I don’t actually have to start with the F on the Dm7, but I think you can hear how the melodies are naturally moving towards the chord change. Before we get to the Wes and Jim Hall examples then let me just show you how you can easily make it a lot more embellished with trills, leading notes etc:

So here it is a little less clear and the target note is often moved to the 4& which also makes it a bit lighter, but that is really just the next step to work on and it is the same concept.

How To Practice Forward Motion

If you practice soloing like this then you will get a lot better at creating lines that have a flow and that don’t sound like random things copy-pasted on top of the progression. I would suggest starting with keeping it simple composing lines and then gradually going from improvising over a basic turnaround rubato into playing in time and then taking it to some songs.

This skill is essential for anything Bop inspired, but the next two are maybe even more powerful and less Jazz specific. The first one is in everyone’s playing, but Jim Hall is truly a master at this!

Make People Remember Your Phrases

What Jim Hall does in this solo is probably the strongest melodic principle that we have, it is at the core of so many great solos and great compositions.

You first have a motif being repeated and developed over the Dm section of the song. He then rounds this off with a very chromatic line on the Aø D7 before starting to work with a short intervallic motif that is moved around in triplets.

Check it out:

So this is all over Jim Hall’s playing, but Wes uses this as well:

Here are a few very clear examples from Four on Six.

Clear, but still changing the rhythm on a simple 4-note motif. Notice that he plays it 3 times and then sort of finishes the sentence with something else. That is very common.

Both Wes and Jim Hall uses forward motion and motivic development, it is not one or the other, some of Jim Hall’s motifs have forward motion. Beethoven and Mozart knew how motivic development worked as well. The effect of this as a listener is that you hear something that you recognize but it is not just a loop, it changes and stays interesting in that way.

How To Practice Developing Motifs

The first important step is that you want to recognize these things when you listen to music,so try to listen to solos that you know and that you like and recognize the motifs in there. Again the way to practice this is to solo and try to stick with motifs when you improvise, so start rubato and play a short phrase then imagine how this phrase should move through the changes. Later you can start just sticking with a motif over a song and see what you can do with it.

I sometimes see comments on YouTube that want to attribute Wes’ playing to magic or some other vague term. I think that is surprising when his genius is, to me anyway,  the clarity of his strong melodic ideas. Can you be tone-deaf for melodies like melody-deaf?

Wes Montgomery uses another melodic technique quite often, and that is also a great strategy for making your solos a longer story.

Have A Conversation With Yourself

I often talk about how music is a language,  and music is a form of communication, a place where conversations happen.

And this can also be in your solo where you are having a conversation between phrases, what is often referred to as Call-response.

Check out how Wes does this:

He actually also has a great example of this with octaves from the earlier recorded version:

So this is about hearing different phrases as a back and forth between two sides.

Bebop 101 for Guitar!

Another guitar player that is really great at this and has some amazing lines to learn from both in terms of solid bebop and motivic development is Grant Green, and if you check out this video then you can learn something about how he creates melodic, playable, and beautiful bebop lines. Especially since it is bebop but not too difficult for guitar!

I Wish I Had Checked Out This Guy! His Solos Are Jazz 101 On Guitar

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I Wish I Could Play Fast Jazz Solos Using This Approach

We NEED to talk about this because it is outrageous that people lie to us like this.

I am sure you have heard how Jim Hall had this text on his business card:  “Won’t play loud, can’t play fast”

Which, kind of, fits his style. His playing is relaxed with an incredibly strong time, good phrasing, and he is very melodic, but after taking his word for it all these years, I recently found out that this isn’t true at all!

He actually plays songs at more than 260 bpm, AND he does it very well adding all sorts of stuff at that tempo, how is that “Can’t play fast”?

But it is a GREAT solo with some amazing rhythms, polyrhythms, and phrasing concepts, and there are quite a few things to learn from it, so let’s have a look at that.

Great Rhythms Are Not Only 8th Note lines

Usually, the first thing you think of with an up-tempo solo is fast 8th-note lines, and that is a large part of what is often played. The Hampton Hawes solo that is before Jim Halls solo on this track is also very dense with 8th notes, but Jim Hall goes about it differently, and it is incredible how there are so many nuances to his playing and phrasing even at this tempo.

The song they are playing is Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High and this is off a Hampton Hawes album from 1958 called All night Session Vol. 1

Jim Hall is so much more about rhythm and melody than just running the changes. As you can hear then he takes his time and leaves quite a lot some space but also chooses to start on a nice chromatic leading note to create some tension.

He is also working a lot more with quarter notes than with 8th notes, which is sort of, a swing thing,

but what you first want to notice is all the detail and variation he adds to the phrasing. He is not just playing the notes, there is a lot more going on.

The first one is the very subtle trill Am7 D7,

but there are also slides on the Ebmaj7 and Gm7 C7 that follow.

Later there are some clever ways of using slides in the melodies, and you can also see that Jim Hall uses some Barry Harris strategies, and a few other tricks to play at this tempo, and I really love how he does this, drawing on both Swing and Bebop.

The Opposite of Bebop

I mentioned earlier how Jim Hall draws from swing as well as Bop, and his main influence was certainly Charlie Christian who is also in between those styles.

This whole section is using lots of repeated notes, which he can only get away with because his time is so good and the rhythmic ideas are strong enough. When he plays lines then it is all except for one spot just using Eb major.

So not digging into the changes that much and relying on other things to make it work, but as you can hear it clearly works. Mainly because the melodies are strong enough.

Is He Faking It?

You might think, well he is just faking it and making it easier for himself, but don’t think that he can’t play the changes, because he certainly nails them later in the solo, and even starts playing polyrhythms on top of the song, something that was not that common at this point in time. This is all a choice that also becomes clear later in the solo.

Swing and That Thing Pat Metheny Stole

Most of the time, I talk about Bebop in the lessons, mainly because that is the large foundation for what we consider mainstream Jazz, but as I talked about in the video on learning solos by ear, then swing phrasing also has a place in there also just to be able to play something that isn’t ONLY 8th notes. They can also be a way to get more out of your syncopation, check this out:

The first part of this is actually just a pentatonic pickup

then playing the 3rd of the chord in half notes

And then he adds an embellishment around that 3rd

But because the first part is so heavy on the beat then once he start adding up beats and then they have much more effect. Filling the whole thing up with 8th notes would not really give you that effect.

Here you can also see that he is just thinking D7 on the Am7 D7, since he comes out on the F# at the very beginning of those two bars and just plays D major pentatonic.

This is really typical both for Jim Hall’s playing in general but certainly also for this solo: Since there are fewer notes then the melodies are clearer

Then you get the Pat Metheny lick, which is then actually a Jim Hall lick that Pat Metheny stole, I am not sure which Jim Hall albums Metheny checked, but I suspect this was one of them. If anybody knows then leave a comment.

I am of course talking about the repeat notes scale run:

The next part is incredibly simple but this way of phrasing such a simple melody and also use a motif across a II V really blew my mind.

A 3-note motif on Gm7:

and how it is developed on the C7:

Let’s check out some polyrhythms and chromaticism

Jim Hall, Does It Thunk?

But first I want to just talk a little bit about Jim Hall’s sound on this which, as far as I can tell, is the same as it is on his debut tribute album just titled “Jazz Guitar” which came out in 1957, so the year before this album, All Night Session Vol 1. Both of these albums are great, this one was new to me and is in fact in a part of a series of 3 albums that all are great, also if you want to hear how Jim Hall comps a piano player, they get that to work extremely well.

As far as I can tell, it is Jim Hall playing his ES175 into a Gibson amp, and the sound is very dry. If you have seen my video on my 175 then you know that I sometimes found myself fighting against the lack of sustain. To me, that is also what you hear on this recording, the sound is compressed, but there is not a lot of sustain.

When I hear the expression Thunk, then this is the sound I think of, it may be that there is not enough bass in the sound, since it is an old recording and also because the amp is very small. If you know a better example then let me know in the comments.

Polyrhythms

So the star here is of course the descending chromatic run that is then used as a part of a 3/4 bar shifting on top of the meter.

Notice how he is emphasizing the #11 on the F7, so really going for a Lydian dominant sound there and just moving that motif around before resolving it back to Eb with a pretty simple Bb phrase and sliding into the 3rd of Eb.

Most of the stuff that he borrowed from swing until now has been about the rhythm, but I think this next phrase also really uses some swing note choices.

Swing melodies

The opening of this 2nd chorus of the solo is really emphasizing the 6th and uses the Eb,maj6 sound, which you could also describe as major pentatonic, since the major pentatonic scale really just a maj6/9 chord.

Eb major Pentatonic:

An Eb major triad:

plus a 6th and a 9th:

But the melody in this case is really going for the 6th in a way that is maybe strong than most places where you hear major pentatonic. You also want to notice that you again have the Barry Harris: Am7 D7 is just D7.

The next phrase falls in the category of making melodies with chord tones and leading notes more than thinking scales. Here it is an Eb major triad with a leading note that also really brings out the #11 on the chord. Very similar to the way I have talked about George Benson, Grant Green, and Charlie Parker sometimes construct their lines.

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How To Use Outside Playing – A Few Secrets And Some Important Advice

Sometimes you have to solo on a single chord for a longer time, and it can be hard to keep things interesting, so having the option of using some outside material to change things up can make your solo a lot better if you can get it to sound right.

The point of using outside material is to make it sound wrong.

Because you want the listener to feel the tension that needs to resolve and that helps make the solo interesting and gives it a story.

Playing notes that don’t fit the chord is pretty easy, but playing something that moves away and comes back so that it still sounds like the music is MUCH more difficult, but as you will see it is far from impossible, and there are a few ways to do so.

#1 – Ab7 – Side Stepping Up

The first approach is to move up a half step from the chord you are soloing over. For this video, I am using a static G7 chord,

in fact it is a really nice backing track from Quist, there’s a link in the description. If you move up from G7 then you, of course, have an Ab7 chord. Almost all the notes in the scale will sound outside, and in fact the Ab7 works as a tritone substitute for the dominant D7, so there is also a harmonic connecting, but that is not really what I am using in the solo.

Instead, I am moving from the “normal” solo into the outside material by repeating a phrase or a part of a phrase and give the listener something to hold on to when things get weird.

Here it is this section

And then that short phrase is shifted up and I can keep on improvising using Ab7 material.

Another thing you should notice is how I play long notes to really drive home the tension they create before resolving with a short phrase that moves back into the G7 chord

Here’s the complete solo:

The next one is also using another chord as a way of thinking about the outside solo, but then we get into using some exotic scales as a diffrent approach, and rely more on structures like triads.

#2 F#7 – Side Stepping Down

Another option for side-slipping or side-stepping is to move down a half step, which sometimes is a bit nice because it sounds less like a dominant and therefore a little bit more mysterious.

This solo also uses the motivic way of getting to the outside section, but here the motif is also placed differently in the rhythm as well.

It is about giving the listener the idea that they get the melody but then because it is shifted away they at the same time are surprised about the sound.

And the same type of motivic development is used with a basic F# triad melody to go back up to G7.

A later example will also use voice-leading as a way of resolving which is a more abstract motivic technique.

The F#7 Solo is written out here:

#3 Augmented Scale

So, let’s try a funny scale that doesn’t really fit the chord, but also almost does.

The augmented scale is a 6-note scale which you can see as constructed either of 3 major triads a major 3rd apart, in this case G B and Eb major.

A

or it is the sum of two augmented triads a half-step apart, here I am using B and Bb, but you could also call it F# and G,

Since the chord is a G7 then some of the notes in the scale work pretty well and others are pretty far out.

As you will hear I am really focusing on using the major triads as a way to create melodies. This creates melodies where sometimes it is inside and sometimes outside the G7 sound, but it still works because the triads are strong enough melodies to carry it.

The transition is a bit more abrupt with taking a pause before starting the augmented lick, sort of a shock effect, and then you can use the G major triad to return smoothly back home.

The entire solo is written out here:

You Need To Get This Right!

The trick to getting outside playing to work is to make sure that what you play as outside phrases still makes sense. It still has to be a melody. The two strategies that I am using for this have been either:

#1 Think another chord

So that you can use that chord to create melodies with arpeggios and licks that you already know, even though you still need to get used to how weird it sounds on top of the chord in the music. Sometimes I am also using a chord that I naturally can resolve back to the music like a dominant, and sometimes I don’t that is really something you have to experiment with yourself to figure out what you like. Just make sure that you are playing melodies that you really think sound like melodies, otherwise it falls completely apart.

#2 Think in Melodic structures 

This is a bit more abstract and you probably need to develop this a bit by in your playing. But it is about relying on structures like triads and then put those together. You can work on this by sitting down and making melodies with the triads to get that sound into your ears.

And Luckily that skill is useful for a lot more than augmented scale stuff on a G7, as you will see already in the next example which also has a bit of quartal harmony.

#4 The Wrong Dominant Diminished’

B-roll Cleaning? Sweeping away alterations b9, #9, b5, b13

Sometimes you want to resolve the melody as if it is a chord, so you want to resolve several notes in one phrase down to other notes in the next phrase.

This is subtle but it actually really makes a difference, and It is a little bit like going back and cleaning up the mess you left unresolved

You can use D7 diminished or what I would actually refer to as F# diminished, as a great tension over G7, and it lets you play a sort of dominant sound that resolves back to the G7,

but here I am more focused on using triads and quartal arpeggios.

Let’s first look at the scale:

If you write it from D then it would be these notes:

D Eb F F# Ab A B C D Eb F F#

And the first structure that I am using is a quartal arpeggio from C: C F# B which you could also see as the upper part of a D7(13) chord.

This scale also contains 4 major triads a minor 3rd apart.

D F# A – D major

F A C – F major

Ab C Eb – Ab major

B Eb F# – B major

This example also jumps more or less abruptly out of the harmony, using the quartal arpeggio and following it up with a wide-range melody with the B major and Ab major triads, landing on the high Ab which of course is very dissonant over the G7.

The resolution, in this case, is first running down the scale to resolve to D, the 5th of G7 and then back up to A as a resolution to the Ab which is in a way voice-leading the resolution, and also taking care of resolving that long Ab that was just there.

 

The solo is here:

#5 Altered, But Wrong

The point of playing altered is usually that you want to create some tension that you can resolve moving to a I chord. But in this case, the chord doesn’t go anywhere, and you can still change things up and create a lot of tension using the altered scale.

The outside line starts with a G7(#5) arpeggio which begins by sounding like it is just chord tones but then the Eb makes it clear that something else is going on.

That arpeggio also contains the augmented triad, G B Eb which really helps getting the outside sound across.  From there the line continues up to an Abm lick that is shifted up as a sequence to Am and then Bdim which helps it get back to the chord as a resolution.

The Altered Scale solo:

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This Is Ruining Your Jazz Solo – A Powerful Bebop Breakthrough

You have a problem if your Jazz solos sound too much like this:

In a way, this should work because a lot of things are right about this:

  1. It is nailing the changes
  2. There’s a place where you can add a nice Bebop accent
  3. It is actually also a motif that is being moved through the changes.

But it still doesn’t really sound ok, So what IS the problem?

“It is Jazz! It needs chromatic notes!!!”

Still not really working, let me show you why:

A great jazz line should surprise you, it should not only change direction on the heavy beats like this or even the previous one did.

Because that makes it sound heavy, the lines should have more life and more interesting rhythm, not just go from heavy beat to heavy beat like a lawnmower.

Instead, you want something that is more like this:

Of course, It isn’t so that you can never change direction on a heavy beat, but not all the time, and it pays to figure out how to make the line more surprising, so let’s look at some surprisingly easy strategies for that.

Flipping Chromatic Enclosures

A simple chromatic enclosure that you probably already know is a great hack for this!

So if you have a Dm triad

then you can add the enclosure around the notes like this:

These are called diatonic above chromatic below.

The great thing about these is that they have a direction, and can go both up and down:

And that is much more powerful than you think.

 

Let’s say that you are playing a Descending Dm7 arpeggio:

But you want to add a chromatic enclosure around the last note, the D. The arpeggio is descending, so if you also take a descending enclosure then you get:

But if you have the enclosure go against the descending melody then you get this:

I am sure you can hear how HUGE that difference is!

And this will help you create lines like this:

Throw In A Triad

Another useful tool is to use the diatonic triads like I am using the Am triad on Dm7 in this example:

The concept is pretty simple if you have a note  where you can dip down and take a triad that fits the chord,  then that will work as a way to skip around and still be a strong melody.

In example 10, I did this on the E adding an Am triad. But you could also just take the A and use the Dm triad:

That will work in a line like this where I also use it on a D diminished triad on the G7(b9):

Steal a Bebop Trick

B-roll: Illustration of the F and E -> add low A?

Often a fantastic solution is to get a large interval skip in there but that sometimes sounds very unnatural. Luckily, we can lean on the Bebop greats to give us some tricks for this!

If you are playing a melody in the scale with a half step apart, so for example F down to E on the Dm7 chord then you can throw in a lower chord tone like the 5th, A:

And this always sounds great, another place where you can use that is on the G7 between the b9 and the root adding a low B:

One of the most powerful places to learn this and also get a ton of inspiration is of course to study the Bebop Greats, and especially Charlie Parker. Check out this video, If you want to see what you can pick up from him and also how I use that in my practice and playing. I can promise you that it is worthwhile and a lot of fun!

 

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An Overlooked Skill That Will Give Your Jazz Solos A Massive Boost

It is funny how sometimes a single solo that you hear can really change the way you think about music and what you are trying to learn.

In this case, it was a pretty obscure video and a single solo, that I kept coming back to and that has influenced what I practiced for years, and I never even transcribed it, I just realized that I needed to figure out how to get that one thing a lot stronger in my playing.

The solo I am talking about is this incredibly low-resolution Jon Damian solo, where he is playing Sweet Georgia Brown in a duo with Jake Langley, both, of course, amazing guitarists.

A part of what made it stand out is probably the contrast between Jon and Jake’s solos, where Jake is playing a lot more traditional Bop-oriented 8th-note lines and Jon is relying almost purely on sparse melodies and A LOT of creative and swinging rhythms.

When I first listened to this then I did not immediately get what it was that I liked so much about the solo, but that is why I kept coming back to it and I tried to figure out why I thought it was great. Gradually I started to realize that it was about playing more interesting rhythms and not focus as much on 8th note lines which is what I had done until then. I needed to learn to hear phrases with that type of rhythm.

What Is The Difference?

Let’s first look at what I am talking about. A great but dense 8th note Bebop line could be something like this:

But Jazz is also about syncopation and rhythm and what you also want to be able to do is improvise lines like this:

And here you have fewer notes, but there is a lot of energy and tension in the rhythm that really comes to life, Who said early Jim Hall?

Get More Creative With Rhythm

So How Do You Practice This? Ironically the best way to get more options is to limit yourself and use that to develop your skills.

Let’s start with a simple rhythm, something you compose or take something from a solo that you like. Actually, there are some great themes and solos to check out for inspiration, but I will come back to that later.

In this rhythm, I am just using a few notes to keep it flexible. Here, I am using 2, but 3 would work as well. Just make sure that you don’t make a long complicated phrase like this:

And that is because you want something you can work with, and make variations of and eventually even take through an entire song.

Displaced Rhythms

Displacing rhythms is actually a very important part of jazz phrasing and jazz melodies if you listen to songs like Bernie’s Tune or Broadway.

You can practice is to take the basic phrase and then move it around, that can be in like this where I am shifting the phrase around one 8th note at the time:

Example 5

Of course, this is a pretty intense exercise and you can also just work with this as a way of composing lines and in that way expand the rhythms you use. This could give you a II V I line like this:

Another thing that can be fun is working with this on a one-chord backing track is a great way to learn to hear more rhythms and in that way expand what you can do, and gradually start to move it over to more complicated progressions.

Developing Rhythm and Melody

There is another way that you can develop more rhythmical playing, which will also lead me to give advice that I usually never give..

What you can do is explore simple ways to make variations of the rhythm.

Since there is a fair amount of space in the main rhythm that you are using then you can easily explore how to make variations by adding more notes here and there.

When you have very active rhythms like this then it is often easier to use very basic melodies. Usually, I suggest working with arpeggios, but you should probably start by using scale melodies here because that is less likely to sound like abstract skipping around.

You can of course also explore removing notes or shortening the phrase instead of adding to it and in that way take it further

Who To Check Out?

Anything you want to learn, you also want to learn at least partially by ear. You need to know what it sounds like.

I have already mentioned that you should check out themes similar to Bernie’s Tune or Broadway. Actually working on Bebop themes in general, is very useful, because even if Charlie Parker often plays more dense lines then these rhythms are certainly there and most of his compositions are not great examples to learn from. This is also one of the main reasons why Donna Lee may not be written by Parker since it is a lot more dense and on the bear than the rest of his compositions.

Call-Response

As you can probably tell by now, I am using the same tools for the rhythm that I use when I am working on melodic skills in solos. Another great way to work with melodies is to use Call-response.

The concept here is that you listen to what you play and then come up with a response to that.

In this case, the main statement is relying mostly on off beats, which creates tension, and then a logical response will be more resolved and have more downbeat. That is also what you can see in both of the examples of responses.

Of course, these are just examples of what I hear as a response, and you might hear something completely different, which is actually great.

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Which Jazz Skills Do You Need To Play a (GREAT) Solo? (beginner To Advanced)

I always dreamt about getting to that point where you are free to improvise a great jazz solo over a chord progression. You know what I mean: You can play the things that you want, the notes are right there and the lines sound great. You are just making music.

That freedom is coming out of having specific skills in place for the solo, and that is what I want to talk about in this video so if you want to move beyond thinking a lot and being locked down by the progression then check out this video.

Level #1 Play The Chords, The Key, Scales, and the Arpeggios

This first level is just some very basic technique that you want to have covered, it is the foundation for all the other things, so it has to be pretty solid, and it is important that have this covered.

#1 Play The Chords

You want to be able to play the chords so that you can hear what the progression sounds like.

In this case, I am using a basic turnaround in C: Cmaj7, A7(b9), Dm7, G7(b9)

#2 Understand What Is Going On

You also want to be aware of the key it is in and the scales.

In this case, Cmaj7 and Dm7 are found in the C major scale, A7 is a secondary dominant resolving to Dm7 so you use D harmonic minor on that. G7(b9) is borrowed from the key of C minor so that also takes C harmonic minor.

As you can see, you do want to have some understanding of what is going on in the progression to help you play better solos. That is going to make it easier to find something to play and later it will help you find more options and give you more interesting things to experiment with and get into your playing.

#3 The Melodic Version Of The Chords

You also want to be able to play the arpeggios of the chords so that you are able to play the chord tones in time through the progression, simply because those are the notes you need when you start soloing and if you can’t find them like that then soloing with them is going to very difficult. Next, you want to start turning this raw material into a solo, but first, let’s just talk about one thing to keep in mind if you are new to improvising over Jazz progressions, so you don’t crash your progress by practicing the wrong way.

Don’t Drown in Exercises

A very common mistake when trying to learn to improvise over chord changes is to think that you first need to know all the scales and arpeggios in all positions. Of course, you want to be able to do that eventually, but you are better off not drowning yourself in exercises and also give priority to actually using the material you practice. Making music is what you want to be good at, that is the goal, so if you are new to some of the material then try to figure out how to play all arpeggios and scales in one position so that you can make music with that.

Level #2 Spell Out The Changes And Give It A Flow

Once you have the foundation of scales, arpeggios and know what the progression sounds like then you can start working on soloing and also really nailing the changes.

One of the best ways to work on playing solos is to practice writing them, so it can be really useful, for example, to take the arpeggio and the scale and then try to write some line that you can use in your solo. The advantage here is that when you are working on writing lines then you are improvising over the chord progression, but you have time to make sure that it sounds good and you can improve the lines you come up with. In that way, you can start building your vocabulary and your ability to play stronger solo lines.

Here I am actually writing out the lines, and that can be a good exercise, but you don’t always need to do that.

When it comes really connecting the solo to the chords under it then the first approach I would suggest you use is target notes, so that you choose specific clear notes that really connect to the chord and then place those at the beginning of the bar so that it is obvious that the chord changes.

I am not going to cover this in too much detail, but there is a link to a video in the description where I discuss this solid strategy for playing chord changes in a solo.

Level #3 What About The Rhythm?

There are many things you can check out with rhythm, and a lot of them are complicated and often students underestimate how demanding they are technically.

But you don’t have to make it that complicated, in fact, the best thing to do is to make it simpler!

Instead of adding fast runs and subdivisions or difficult polyrhythms then the place to start is probably to make it easier to focus on the rhythm and become more creative.

If you limit the notes you use then you will force yourself to make the rhythms interesting. In this example, I am using only 2 notes per chord, and that is forcing me to think differently which I can then try to take with me when I start soloing without that restriction.

Other things that I have found very useful were learning some of the easier themes that had great rhythms like Bernie’s Tune or Lady Bird. This coupled with listening for rhythm and maybe even transcribing some solos, is really what you want to work on.

Practicing Things In The Right Order

What you may be realizing with this video is that in the end, you start to mix up the order that you work on it. It is not first the scales and arpeggios and then the rhythm, or then soloing it is back and forth and these skills you can zoom in on and develop further again and again.

In what order would you work with these levels? let me know in the comments.

The next two levels I would suggest that you save for a little bit later, but maybe you don’t think so.

Level #4 Make Your Solo A Story!

v

Now you know how to play the changes and the lines make sense, but everything is still a bit “something on this chord and then something else on this chord” If you listen to great soloists then you can hear them really have a longer story going in the solo, and there are ways to work on that and skills you can develop.

Turning Phrases Into Stories

The first thing that I would try to work on is developing the melodies you play and in that way use what you just played to come up with the next thing to play. One way to think about that is motivic development where you take the phrase you play and then try to repeat it, but change it a little. That way it sounds both new and familiar to the listener.

Like this way of moving a melody from Cmaj7 to A7

You can practice this by just playing a short melody on the first chord, stop, and then from what you played, try to make a line that works on the next chord. In that way, there is a clear connection and a sense of development in your solo. First, practice that rubato, and then later you can work on it in time.

Turning Phrases Into A Conversation

A variation of this way of thinking is to think about your solo as phrases that are a part of a conversation, so using call-response to create melodies. You probably know about this from Blues.

Something like this:

first a statement and then as an answer to the ascending phrase, a descending phrase. And you can keep this type of conversation going through the entire progression.

For me, this is where you really start to make music. This is what I aim for and what I want to feel able to do when I practice pieces. Trying to come up with a way to tell a story on top of the song is such an essential part of making music, and you hear this with so many great players from Parker to Getz to Pat Metheny.

Let’s have a look at how you can start creating completely different sounds by starting to not only improvise notes on chord progression but also improvise with the chord progression!

Level #5 Improvise With The Chords

Until now the way you improvised was by figuring out what to play over the chord progression, but actually, that is not really how it works in Jazz.

You are allowed to change the chords! (Dramatic pause, WHAAAT!)

This chord progression is really just a way to go from C and then back to C, and you are pretty free to take another way there. As long as you can find a logical way to get back home.

You may be thinking that this is only for weird modern incomprehensible Jazz, but actually, you can find examples of this all the way back in history to Charlie Parker, and it is just one more thing to make music with.

You can experiment with this, by just changing one or two chords. An example would be to use altered dominants that don’t really belong in there, but this is so common that we don’t think of it as a reharmonization, even though it is most of the time.

For this progression, a simple example could be to use a lot of parallel chromatic movement.

Or you can choose some unexpected chord sounds:

And of course, creating suspensions when the listener expects a resolution like the final G7 to C is a great effect:

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

Learning to play Jazz is a huge challenge, and when I started out then I spent a lot of time working out some solos by ear which taught me a lot of things, and also a lot of things I didn’t realize I was learning. In this video, I am going to recommend some good solos if you want to get started learning solos by ear, some I checked out myself in the beginning and some that I have use often with students, and along the way, I am going to talk about what you learn and give you some tips about how to learn from by ear.

The most efficient way to learn what is probably a lot of the most important things in Jazz is to learn solos by ear, what we often call transcribing even though you might not really want to write them down, but I will talk about that later. Among other things this is something that helps you improve: Swing, Timing, Phrasing, Dynamics, Shape, Contrast, Build up, Technique, Fretboard Knowledge.

This is pretty difficult to get started with, and getting sensible suggestions that help you get started with this is something that there are nowhere near enough recommendations for. I will go over some more tips later in the video, but If you are new to Jazz then don’t start by transcribing Charlie Parker on Donna Lee or John Coltrane on Countdown, find some short and easy examples and build your skills so that you give yourself the best possible chance to develop this ability. Otherwise, you are just going to get frustrated and fail

The Conga Conundrum

The first solo is one that I did not check out when I was learning Jazz, in fact, I somehow missed Kenny Burrell almost completely for some reason and didn’t discover him until much later, but this is the opening track from a truly iconic jazz guitar album: Midnight Blue. A weird side-step here, but In the early 60s everybody had to add conga’s to their jazz albums. You can hear that with Pat Martino but also with Wes (El hombre and Cotton Tail)

I wish somebody could explain to me why they did that?

Kenny Burrell – Chitlins Con Carne

This is one of the first solos that I give to my students, mainly because it is just a medium 12-bar blues in C, not even a Jazz Blues because there is no II V. Kenny Burrell is mostly just using C minor pentatonic and you can play it mostly in the Box 1 pentatonic position. The lines are great, so you learn how he is using a lot of interesting techniques, melodies, and phrasing.

On the recording, Kenny Burrell is comping himself, with the C7#9 but to make it easier in the beginning then I usually tell students to leave out the chords, just to make it simpler. In a way, the fact that Kenny Burrell plays the chords really helps make the whole thing easier to learn, because it is keeping the phrases compact, and with a clear beginning and end, divided by the chords.

This solo is very easy, and I tend to use it to help people get started transcribing and really get used to how it is to learn a solo by ear more than trying to teach phrasing and vocabulary, but of course, you do learn a lot of other things while checking out the solo. Starting to get used to learning by ear will help you pick up a lot of things so much faster, so that is extremely important and useful and that is important enough to see learning this solo by ear as an independent goal.

I’ll talk more about some of the things you want to do when you are transcribing solos later in the video.

Let’s take another example which was one of the very first solos I ever learned played by no other than the father of Jazz Guitar!

Charlie Christian – Grand Slam

Sometimes you learn a solo just because you are curious about what is being played and why it sounds like Jazz. That was the main reason I checked out Charlie Christian’s Grand Slam solo. At that point, I had an idea about what it meant to solo over changes but I hadn’t figured out enough examples to really know what to do and how it worked.

This 30-second 2-chorus blues solo by Charlie Christian is a great study in especially rhythm. Charlie Christians playing here is bebop-related, but the lines are as much swing language as they are bop, and they are great clear examples of that. Often having rhythms like this in your playing is really overlooked, but it will really boost how you sound if you work on it.

This was on one of the first Jazz CDs that I ever bought and I sat down and learned this solo in a day to figure out what was going on. At the time I was tuning my Strat down a half step and not being familiar with Jazz found the key of F for a blues a very odd choice (and I was in fact playing it in F# of course), I have since become more used to playing Blues in F, maybe even more so than in E…

Two other guitarists, that I checked out a lot, both talk about Charlie Christian as their main influence: Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall. Jim Hall even credits the Grand Slam solo as the reason for him getting into playing Jazz.

Grant Green – Cool Blues

Another solo that I picked up along the way as a teacher was Grant Green’s solo on Cool Blues. Grant Green is a great resource for learning Bebop on guitar and most of my students have had his solos as homework.

This solo is on Green’s “Born To Be Blue Album” and it is full of the typical strong Bebop Grant Green language that is so useful to check out and also very playable on the guitar. I imagine he got it straight from Parker, but I actually don’t know. This is a practical solo because the tempo is relaxed and the solo is not that long.

A bonus to this recording is that Grant takes an extra solo before the last theme, so if you are in the zone you can check that out as well.

Don’t forget to like the video if you find this useful, that is a huge help for me and the channel.

Tips for Transcribing solos

There is a right and a wrong way to go about learning a solo by ear, and here are a few things you want to pay attention to and try to get right when you are learning a solo.

Listen To The Solo (And Then Listen To It Another 10 times)

This can not be understated, the more you listen to the solo the easier it will be for you to learn to play it, and trust me, you will probably save time if you first just listen to the solo a lot, and I mean REALLY a lot! In fact, just listen until you can sing it.

Know The Song

Solos in Jazz are generally on a form, and if you know the chords where they are in the song then you are going to have a much easier time learning the solo and hearing what is being played, simply because you know what that part of the song sounds like, for example, if you are transcribing a solo on Just Friends and knows that it goes from Bbmaj7 to Bbm6 then it is easier to figure out what is going on.

Learn Phrases Not Single Notes

If you want to remember what you are learning then it is important that you start thinking of the solo in phrases and learn it phrase by phrase. That way it is going to make more sense and be a lot easier to get into your system. It is similar to how you don’t try to learn a language word for word, but really try to learn to say something.

Don’t Write It Down, Focus On Playing The Solo

I think it is often overlooked what is most useful in learning a solo, because I don’t think it is the exact phrases or notes. It is much more about the way the phrase sits on the groove in this performance or the exact phrasing and subtle things like that don’t make into a transcription, so you are better of learning it by ear and memorizing it like that instead of writing it out and then playing what is on the page, which is really more of a reading exercise that leaves a lot of information behind.

Wes Montgomery – Four On Six

Four on Six is probably the most famous Wes song, and the first recording off “The Incredible Jazz Guitar” album is a great solo to check out for some of the things that you definitely want to learn from Wes:

Melodic and short phrases, motivic development, Call-response, rhythm. It is all in there.

For this solo you can also leave out the octave and chord parts as they are more difficult, just learning the first few single-note choruses will already teach you a ton of great stuff.

Learning Wes solos taught me a lot about phrasing and being melodic but still swinging, and the clarity in his melodic ideas are worthwhile checking out for anybody who wants to play Jazz. I ended up having a year in my study where I was always learning Wes solos and got through most of Smokin’ at The Half Note and a lot of other songs as well.

If you want to check out some of my videos on Wes solos then there is a playlist in the video description: Videos analyzing Wes Montgomery solos

George Benson

I have always loved how George Benson could make pretty much anything sound like fantastic Jazz phrases, and this solo on “The Borgia Stick, off The George Benson Cook Book” is no exception. This was also one of the first solos that I say down and obsessed about when I was just starting out, and I am still a bit surprised that I managed to figure out the chords in there.

This solo is great if you are not that at home in Jazz Harmony. The lines are surprisingly simple and most are really just A minor pentatonic stuff, but learning to play them and add all the beautiful rhythms and grace notes in this Benson solo is going to be great for your playing. His use of intervals and chords is also amazing and still fairly simple.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there are many many solos to check out, and these 5 are just the tip of the iceberg. If you have great suggestions for Jazz guitar solos to learn then leave a comment, maybe we can make an even longer list of recommendations to help learn Jazz..

A few others that I spent time on, in the beginning, deserve a mention as well:

Jim Hall on Stella By Starlight, in fact, that whole first Jim Hall Album is a masterclass in swinging rhythms and motivic development, but the Stella solo is fairly easy to check out.

Another Stella solo is by Ulf Wakenius. This is fairly unknown, and it is off a Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen album called “To A Brother” and Ulf Wakenius is playing a lot simpler than what I am used to from him, but both this solo and the one on Alone Together are great and really helped me out in the first few months when I had trouble telling what was the theme and what was the solo.

Another thing that you should not underestimate is the wealth of great solos that are on YouTube and not on any albums. A Solo that I always found to be a great example of Bensons playing is this really simple 1-chorus solo on Take The A-train from some obscure television show in the 70s. Lots of Blues but only great phrases! There are some hidden gems out there!

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How To Play Outside – A Few Great Jazz Solo Secrets

This lesson will show you 5 different ways that you can play some beautiful outside things on a static m7 chord, not just what to play but also how to use it.

If you are soloing on a static chord then a great way to make your solo more interesting and surprising is to play something that really rubs against what the listener expects to hear.

But you can’t just play random notes, it still has to make sense and sound like a melody, and that is what you will learn with some different strategies in this video

#1 Half-step Below

The examples are all on a static minor 7 chord, and the first few examples use different chords on top of the harmony and then later I will cover some other strategies and how they sound.

A great place to start is by moving everything a half-step down, often referred to as side-slipping or side-stepping. This is easy to work with thinking wise and you can use the same position and material while still sounding great. First, let’s check out how that sounds, and then I will show you how to get the melodies to connect and make sense, both going into the outside section and also coming out of it. The backing is a static Cm7, so the side-slip will be a Bm7.

The first part of the solo is just using the Cm Dorian sound, just so that we have a sense of what home is, then I transition to Bm7 by using the parallel motion of the arpeggios, first I play Gm7 and Ebmaj7 arpeggios and then I use these as a motif to move down to a Dmaj7 arpeggio thinking Bm7. The solo really sits on the C# to create tension and then I go back to Cm7 by playing the Ebmaj7 arpeggio rounding it off with a blues phrase.

How and Why Superimposed Chords Work

So I am really treating it as a chord change and connecting across the chords with motivic development. In that way, the melody makes sense and is not random, I am using the same logic to make melodies with Bm7 as I do on Cm7 and it is practical that it is the same chord.

This is true for more of the examples in this video, but some can be used differently as well, like the next one.

The only thing you need to be careful with when you connect with motifs is that you don’t make the motifs too obvious, that sounds predictable and unnatural, but that is the same as when you use motifs in your solos on changes.

#2 Altered Dominant

You can also use altered dominant lines on top of the chord to make your solo sound more surprising. As you will hear, this creates tension and movement within the solo in a very natural way. For the Cm7 then the altered dominant is G7alt, and the G altered scale is the same set of notes as Ab melodic minor. There is a really big advantage to using the altered dominant for this and I will explain in a bit.

The advantage with G7 is that you are used to working on improvising lines that resolve to Cm, so it is a lot easier to make lines that resolve back into the sound of the chord because it is a connection you already know.

In this example, I first set up the Cm sound with some Dorian and Cm blues and then transition to the G altered scale and play a typical G7alt line using the diatonic arpeggios Fø and Bmaj7(#5). These are arpeggios I would normally use for that chord so you can use the material that you already know. The transition back is done by simply sliding down to resolve from Ab to a sustained G, ending with a Cm pentatonic phrase. If you are looking for more things to play on Altered dominants then I will link to a video on that in the description of this video.

Altered Dominant & Scale Melodies

For the altered dominant scale you can also get the melodies to work with more scale oriented melodies, which is a simpler way to make melodies and a nice addition to your playing:

Here I set up Cm quickly before moving into the G7alt line that is essentially just an ascending scale that then resolves back with the scale played in 3rds.

Next, let’s have a look at what is probably the most common outside suggestion you come across.

#3 Half-step above

Moving up a half-step is a common way to create some outside sounds, and similar to the first example, an easy way to get there and you can use the same material you are already playing. The example I am using here demonstrates another way to move smoothly into the outside part of the phrase: A Pivot note

The beginning of the example setting up the Cm7 is a little more extensive here, and with more rhythms. Moving up to Cm7 is done by using the Eb as a pivot note. A pivot note is a note that is in both chords, Cm7 and C#m7. It is the 3rd in Cm7 and the 9th on C#m7, and the melody starts out using it as the 3rd of Cm7, and then it turns into the top-note of a descending arpeggio on C#m7.

The solo goes back to the Cm7 by simply shifting down a 3-note scale fragment, so just C# D# E, first a basic version on C# and then a more embellished version on the Cm7.

Next, let’s have look at a completely different sound and approach to creating outside lines.

#4 Diminished Scale

There is a great trick to using C diminished as an outside sound on a Cm7 chord.

You have a connection with the Cm scale:

C D Eb F G A Bb C

C D Eb F F# Ab A B C

Because you have a lot of common notes, but you also have some “funny notes” like the F#, Ab, and the B.

Using  The Triads

The trick is that you can use the major triads of the diminished scale to improvise with and shift those around to create some strong and interesting melodies.

Scale:

C D Eb F F# Ab A B C

The 4 major triads:

D: D F# A

F: F A C

Ab: Ab C Eb

B: B Eb F#

in the scale, we have the 4 major triads: D, F Ab and B

All the triads contain very strong colorful notes on over Cm7 and since they are triads you can easily use them to create interesting melodies.

In example 4 I use the D, Ab and B triads together to create a melody which sounds like shifting colors on top of the Cm chord.

In this example the 4 triads don’t really “belong” in the sound of the chord, but we have another less common sound that can actually shift in and out of the chord sound in a similar way, that is the next thing to check out:

#5 Augmented Scale

The augmented scale is a 6-note scale:

Eb F# G Bb B D Eb

You can se it as either two augmented triads next to each other:

Eb augmented and D augmented

or, what is practical in this case, you can see it as 3 major triads in major 3rd distance:

Eb G Bb , G B D and B Eb F#

In this case, I am making a link to Cm7 by using the Eb major triad which is the upper structure of Cm7, and then create lines by mixing the 3 triads in different inversions:

In the example you hear how the line moves to the B major triad and then to the 2nd inversion G major triad, plays some more scale-based melodies before returning to Cm7 by resolving the F# to G.

Melodies like this are something you hear a lot in Michael Brecker solos.

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