Tag Archives: jazz solo improvisation

Stay Inspired In Your Practice – A Solid Jazz Solo Survival Guide

If you check out the solos by great Jazz players then you will probably find that they don’t really play other scales or notes than you do, simply because it is not about the notes you play, it is about what you play with them. So you don’t need new scales or arpeggios, you need to become better at making music with the ones you already know.

If you feel stuck and always playing the same things then this video will give you a straightforward way to deal with that and also a way to develop new things in your playing.

The Problem with Scales and Arpeggios

The problem is that you need to do more than just run up and down the scale to make the solo interesting, and it is difficult to be inspired with just an arpeggio and a scale.

So let’s say you are playing over a Dm7 chord in C major. You have the Dm7 arpeggio and also the scale that goes with it.

And you can make some solid lines with that as you can see here below:

But quickly things start to sound similar and it gets a bit boring and not so fun to play.

Checklist approach to inspiration

In this video, I am going to give you a checklist approach and show you how that can help you create a lot of new stuff, and also test and improve your abilities to create your own lines.

For all the chords you have to improvise over you have melodic tools or types of building blocks that you can use to create the melodies, and if you start thinking about it like that then you will help yourself come up with new and better material. And you can make that into a checklist and one of the first things you want to put on it would what I will cover next:

More Arpeggios

An obvious and practical place to start is to go a little beyond the basic arpeggio. So you can try other arpeggios or changing the rhythm of how you play the arpeggio

For example, turning it into a triplet works well for getting a Bebop sound:

but then try to see if you can use the one from the 3rd (play Fmaj7) and maybe play it as a triplet:

You could also see if the arpeggio from the 5th is an option, in this case, you have an Am7and then try to see if you can use that in a line:

The way you use this to add to your vocabulary is of course that if you can’t immediately use this in a line then you can sit down and work on composing a few examples and in that way start to get it into your playing and add to your vocabulary

But maybe you don’t feel like using arpeggios, then try using something else from the checklist:

Chromatic Melodies

Chromaticism is an important part of the Jazz sound, and there are many ways you can use this in your solos. Often a chromatic enclosure targeting a chord tone is a great idea:

Or some shorter enclosures and a few leading notes

The important thing is that if you feel stuck on a chord and you have this type of checklist it can help you come up with something to try, or prompt you to use this to create something new. This is not for stuff that you practice all variations of, it is for reminding you of things that you think sound great and that you want to use.

Let’s add another option that is a little less specific but really useful.

Bebop Tricks

This is hardly a very precise term, but for a list like this then the names don’t have to be theoretically correct, it is more important that it resonates with you, so if you think of Bebop tricks then that may be Parker inspired chromaticism *EXAMPLE

or it can be octave displacement.

It is about kick-starting your imagination after all.

Pentatonics

For a m7 chord then the pentatonic scale sounds like a pretty boring set of notes that you already have in the scale that you are using, but if you have some nice Pentatonic patterns then you can hear how it is a different sound that you can give to the things you play.

Maybe it will fit with what you are hearing, maybe it won’t, it could be that the Bebop inspiration is better here, but it is still useful to have on the list and it only takes a second to decide that it is not what you want.

What would you put on a list like this?

Since these concepts or tools that I am listing here are just general sounds that I use then maybe you have other ideas that you would like to add, leave a comment if you have a suggestion that I didn’t talk about since this can help spark a lot of useful ideas for others.

Outside

Another option that you can mess around with is to add some outside phrases in there, often a short side-slip or a super-imposed chord can be a great way to add some new sounds to this place in a song.

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The Two Reasons Triads Are Amazing For Jazz Solos

Usually, you connect Jazz with chords with a lot of extensions and alterations. But Triads are still an amazing resource that you can create beautiful lines with and something you definitely want to check out. In fact, you can use triads to add some things to your playing that are essential to Jazz and not just about what notes you play over a chord.

Of course, there are more than two things that are great about triads, but the two I talk about here are really useful for Jazz, but If you have other suggestions why triads are great and how you can use them then leave a comment.

Diatonic Triads – The Raw Material

Before you start using the triads then you should also have an overview of them and two things you can work on to have that overview would be to practice the diatonic triads in the scales:

and also check out the triads on string sets like this:

This is simple and basic stuff, you want to know diatonic triads and 7th chords for all scales that you need for soloing, and please start with major scales because you need that the most.

Triads Can Help Your Rhythm

First I want to show you how you can use triads to create more interesting rhythms in your lines. One problem that many students run into, and I know I did, is that when they figure out how to play changes, then everything starts to sound heavy and obvious when it should be light and swinging.

So you don’t want to sound like this

What is missing here is that the rhythm and the melodies are predictable and all move to and from the heavy beats

And instead, you want the accents to be on off-beats more syncopation and more surprising and a lot lighter. Since triads are 3 notes they are really good for having melodies that shift accents and make the solo dance more. Something like this:

So I am playing triads to create a pattern of 3 notes that shifts on top of the 4-4 meter and in that way sound a lot better.

And you can explore this in many ways, you can also add chromatic passing notes and not only use triads but still get a great effect:

Finding Triads

To come up with lines like this then it is useful to find the triads that sound great over a chord. Then you have some options to create the licks that sound great.

I am going to give you an easy way to explore that, before covering the other great triad trick you that is super useful for so many other things as well. There is a very easy way to do that by writing the scale out in 3rds.

So for Dm7, this is coming from the C major scale, which you can write in 3rds like this:

C E G B D F A C E G

The Dm7 chord is here: D F A C, and the triads we can use would be

Dm, F, Am, and C which you can see still contain some basic chord tones and also adds some beautiful extensions.

The G7 that you heard in the examples was coming from the C harmonic minor scale, so in fact, you are borrowing the dominant from minor to get some interesting notes, and also some really great sounding triad options:

So here you have the C harmonic minor scale written out in 3rds.

C Eb G B D F Ab C Eb G

The G7 is here! and then you have the triads G Bdim and Ddim, but Eb augmented works as well and you can make some really interesting melodies with them.

Writing out stuff like this is incredibly useful for your overview of the scales and will give you a ton of options to use in your solos.

Change The Chords!

The other thing that triads do really well is that you can get your melodies to make sense by playing the triads of a super-imposed progression and in that way create a sort of counterpoint to the original chord progression. Because you are playing something that works but also moves differently.

This is pretty easy, you can do this on a single chord like this:

Here I am playing a short walk up Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 just using the basic triads and since Em sounds great on C major then the Dm triad just becomes a diatonic passing chord used in the melody that resolves back into the sound of the Cmaj7. But it really adds some movement instead of just playing up and down a Cmaj7 arpeggio.

More Chord Progressions

The same type of concept used on a II V I could give you something like this:

Here I am using triads from both C major and C harmonic minor, first walking up Dm and Em and then Fm and G from harmonic minor adding a Ddim before resolving. In this way, you have a line that shifts on top of the meter with 3-note groupings and also adds a different kind of movement in the chords.

Notice how using stepwise movement is a pretty easy and strong way to create these progressions.

This is a variation of the same idea, but now moving down from F to Dm and then using a D dim triad to get the G7(b9) sound.

If you really want to open up this type of thinking then you want to also add the triads in the altered scale, that gives you something like this:

Here the chord progression is F and Am on the Dm7 and then Abm and Db on the G7alt . You can hear how this also might work as chords:

And you sort of can turn the G7alt into a tritone II V using Abm7 Db7.

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A Simple Jazz Solo Skill You Want To Master

There is a skill that you can develop in your playing that will really help you play jazz solos, and this is not even that difficult to get started with all you need is a few arpeggios and a simple progression. This video will also show you how to practice more efficiently and not drown your practice sessions in just doing exercises.

An Easy Exercise on a Blues In F

One of the first exercises you should do if you want to get started playing Jazz is to outline a chord progression with one-octave arpeggios. Here is an easy version of that, and you can maybe even try to play along right away. After that, I will show you how to make that into a really strong solo developing rhythms, phrasing, and forward-motion, and I will also explain why I think this one of the most important things about being efficient with what you practice.

F Jazz Blues with arps

If this is still a bit tricky to play you can take the video back and try again or practice it later and return to really nail it, just because sometimes that really feels good.

Notice that you just need 5 one-octave arpeggios for this jazz blues and 4 of them are dominant arpeggios (show diagrams on screen)

F7:

Bb7:

D7:

Gm7:

C7:

Some Easy Music on a Blues In F

With this exercise, you can already start to make some music, and you want to, because that is why you practiced the arpeggios in the first place and it is not so difficult. I’ll play the example and then talk about how you go about playing like that.

F Jazz Blues

When you improvise like this then you are limited to four notes, and that can maybe seem difficult because you want to play bebop lines like

But with just the arpeggio you can start working on some things that are just as important as playing many notes: Phrasing and Rhythm and that is a much bigger part of Jazz in the end than long 8th note lines. Especially working on adding some interesting rhythms to your playing.

If you want some inspiration for this type of playing on guitar then Charlie Christian is worthwhile checking out.

What You Can Learn From Charlie Christian

When I was starting out playing Jazz then I was lucky in one way because one of the first things I had was a compilation album of Charlie Christian, I also had some Scofield and some Charlie Parker which I also loved, but at the time I could only figure out how to learn the Charlie Christian solos. Scofield was too weird and Parker was too fast and difficult to learn by ear. Charlie Christian’s style of playing is a lot less dense and with a lot of clear examples of great swinging rhythms which you want to learn. That is one HUGE reason to check out Charlie Christian and learn some stuff. Remember that Jim Hall heard one Charlie Christian Solo and from that decided to dedicate his life to playing Jazz music.

Check out another lesson on Charlie Christian: Charlie Christian Solo Analysis

Notice that I immediately start making music with the arpeggios that I am practicing, that is very important for everything you work on, I’ll return to that a little later.

Next, Let’s try adding some different types of phrasing, so you have some more sounds available and can change that up as well.

Some Easy Phrasing on a Jazz Blues In F

As you can tell this is really simple, you can add a lot more blues feeling and dynamics just by using some slides (example) and some (hammer-on/pull-off) and when you do that then you are really focusing on the music and how it sounds, it is not about technique or being flashy, you are trying to get it to sound great.

Another thing that is really a part of Jazz which you can also work on with this is to make the changes clear with strong natural flowing melodies, so that is something I’ll show you how to develop later as well.

Should You Practice All The Arpeggios?

What you can see here is that I am really working on getting as much music as possible out of these few arpeggios, and I think that is something to keep in mind, I at least need to remind myself very often, that you don’t always want to spend time first learning all inversions in all keys and all positions, on all string sets in all tempos, subdivisions and all tunings — phew

Maybe it is actually more efficient for your playing if you take a single position work on some simple and easy arpeggios and really get that to the place where you can make music with it. That is much more useful than getting lost in a sea of technical exercises because you actually get to make music with it and you can check out the next position some other day.

Nailing The Changes on a Blues In F

Now that you can play some interesting rhythms and add some phrasing to those lines, then it makes sense to also start to make the melodies longer so that you don’t end up just playing short isolated melodies for each chord which is hard to get to sound like a great solo.

There are a few ways you can do that and the first one you might have heard me talk about before is: Thinking ahead and playing towards target notes. When you do that with simple material like this then you are really working on digging into the harmony and figuring out how it moves and how you can improvise with that movement and connect a longer melody across chords.

The concept is simple: For each chord, you pick a target note and then you practice making melodies with your 4-note arpeggios that lead to the target note on the next chord. An example could sound something like this:

I took this part of the form because it has the most movement so that you can easily hear and understand what is going on.

An easy target note is often the 3rd of the chord simply because that is the most colorful note. This is also why you think about chords in two groups: major or minor depending on the 3rd.

As you can hear and see in the example, the solo really connects with the harmony moving from D7, Gm7 to C7 and because I am thinking ahead and playing towards a note then the melody has a natural flow and sounds much stronger.

With this technique you don’t only want to practice connecting everything and end up with one long line weaving through the entire form, there are other ways to play solid melodies, and one of them is really tied to Blues as a genre.

Blues Melodies But They Work in Jazz

Sometimes it seems that the advice nobody is giving is that you have to learn how to listen to yourself, and I don’t mean that you have to learn to listen to recordings of yourself, even though that is important too. I am talking about playing a phrase and then listening to how it sounded and using this to play the next phrase. When you are playing a solo then working like this is like having a conversation with yourself, and we usually refer to this way of making melodies as call-response.

This is an incredibly effective way to tie together phrases and pretty simple to do and is mostly about giving yourself time to listen and respond. An example of how that might sound could be this:

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Something You Are Not Practicing But You Should Be

One thing that is not often part of most people’s Jazz solo practice is really ignoring the way that people like Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrel play most of their solos. And that is a pity because it is surprisingly easy to work on and is also very effective.

In this video, I am going over what you are missing and how you can start working like this to get that sound of compact strong phrases.

Content:

0:00 Intro -The difference between You and Wes

0:45 Different types of phrases 

1:18 An Angry YouTube comment 

1:38 How to get started 

1:52 Breaking down a Wes solo for phrases

2:54 Example solo on Out of Nowhere 

3:18 Rhythm – Less notes = better rhythms

3:55 Repeating Phrases and making a solo that is a whole piece of music

4:53 Breaking down the structure of Autumn Leaves 

5:27 Example solo moving a phrase through Out of Nowhere 

5:54 How to start practicing this. 

6:30 Developing Phrases in a solo

7:02 Solo example developing phrases. 

7:36 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page

Improve you Jazz Phrasing

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