Playing Jazz Guitar should mostly be about playing songs. It is the goal and also the way we practice to get to the goal. In this video I will go over what it is to learn a jazz standard, give you some ideas on things you can work on and want to try to be able to do. The Idea is that you get the most out of the standard, and that you also train your skills as a jazz guitarist and improviser at the same time.
The video should give you some useful exercises and ways of thinking about learning melodies and chord progressions. Most Jazz Standards are great compositions and vehicles for improvisation and interpretation, and keeping that in mind helps when it comes to learning them.
Content of the video:
0:00 Chord Melody excerpt of Days Of Wine And Roses
Since I was not around last week I didn’t have time to make a Q&A video. Instead here’s a little video about analyzing the standard Stella By Starlight.
I guess Stella by Starlight is in many ways one of the most mysterious chord progressions among the jazz standards. At the same time it is so beautiful that everybody just keeps at it until they can play it 🙂 I know I did it like that at least.
One of the first jazz solos I could play was Ulf Wakenius solo over this on a NHØP album that I since lost.
Check out my Solo guitar rendition of Stella by Starlight:
Autumn Leaves is a great chord progression to start improvising following the harmony. It’s a well known tune and it still covers a lot of important cadences in a key. In this lesson I will go over a set of Jazz Guiat arpeggios in one position, some exercises, target notes and strategies for making solos where you can hear the harmony in the improvisation.
About Autumn Leaves
In this lesson I have chosen to work on Autumn Leaves in the key of G minor. You will find a few versions in the key of E minor since it is printed in that key in the old Realbook, but the most common key is G minor.
The two main cadences in the song are II V I cadences, one to the major tonic (Bb) and one to the minor tonic (Gm). In this way you cover two of the most important harmonic movements in this key.
Learning the song
Besides knowing the arpeggios and the chords by heart you need to know the melody of the song you want to improvise on. In the end the melody is more important because the harmony may vary from version to version but the melody will stay the same. In this lesson (and for copyright reasons) I can’t go over the melody, but if you want some hints on how to do this you could check out this Q&A video where I talk about that: Q&A #3
The form of Autumn leaves is a bit uncommon for jazz since it is AAB where the B is 16 bars and the 8 bars. A good place to start is to just play the chords of the song. In example 1 I have written out chord voicings for the song. In the example I am using the material that I went over in the How to Play Jazz Chords lesson.
Since a lot of the examples I am using are over the whole form I am playing them a bit fast in the video. You can always go back and check or even play them at a slower speed if you have a place that is hard to follow. I ended up doing it like this because the video otherwise would be much too long.
I have written out the arpeggios in the 6th position of the neck. If you think in Bb major this is a very common Bb major scale position so you probably know it already.
Example 2 has the arppegios of the different chords written out. If you count the chords you’ll see that we have 10 different chords. Since the goal of this lesson is to improvise fluently with well connected melodies using the arpeggios, I have written out all the arpeggios around the 6th position. Shifting up and down the neck is going to make it much more difficult to play logical melodies and almost impossible to do some of the exercises.
Practising the arpeggios
First you should probably try to become familiar with the arpeggios in example 2 and then as fast as possible try to start using them on the song. Students often forget how important it is to practice using what you’ve learnt.
Besides just practising each arpeggio it is a very good idea to work on playing the arpeggios in different patterns. Playing them in groups of 3 or 4 notes, skipping notes etc are good ways to get more flexible with the arpeggio. You need the flexibility when you start improvising, and keep in mind that it is about flexibility and overview not about speed when working on this, so there’s no real need to play it fast.
The first exercise is to just play through the song with the arpeggios from example 2 in a one octave version. This will not only help practising the arpeggios but also build your sense of the form of the song and help you hear the chords moving and when they change. I tried to take the highest octave available of each arpeggios because that is probably the register you’ll need the most when you solo so you might as well start by working on a good overview of that.
Connecting the arpeggios
The next exercise is a very good way to gain a strong overview of the arpeggios and chords. It is also helping you to develop your ability to think ahead. The idea is to start playing the arpeggios over the progression and then when ever the chord changes to continue the movement with the note that is the closest in the next arpeggio. It’s quite tricky to get started with but very rewarding when you start getting the freedom while improvising.
When you start this then you probably don’t need to work on the whole form in the beginning. In example 4 I have written out the example I play in the video in rubato. In the video you can hear me pointing out whenever I change.
In the video I also demonstrate this on the first 8 bars and start in a different octave. As I talk about in the video it is about the proces not about the notes in this case so you should vary where you start in the arppegio to keep challenging yourself and your knowledge of the arpeggios in this position.
Putting it all together in improvising
As I demonstrate in the video the thinking behind making harmony clear in a solo line is to target certain notes of the strong beats (in this case the 1). The idea is that a strong and logical sounding line will be a line that has the direction towards a clear target note. I also discuss this way of making melodies in another lesson that you can check: Target Notes You will notice in the solo I improvise in the video that I am not too concerned with target notes unless the chord is changing.
The first target notes I’d suggest you use is in the song is the 3rd of each chord. There are two advantages to this. It very clearly targets the color of the chord and it also connects what you play with the melody since a lot of the sustained notes in the melody are in fact the 3rd of the chord.
In example 6 I have written out the 3rds of each chord played over the root of the chord.
Making lines with the arpeggios
Now that we have arpeggios and target notes for each of the chords we can start to work on coming up with lines over the song.
The way you start working on this is probably to practice rubato to make a line from one chord to the next. In example 7 I have shown a simple Cm7 melody that leads from Cm7 to F7.
In the video I also take the next step from working in rubato and demonstrate 8 bars in time as written out in example 8.
I hope you can use the arpeggios and techniques I went over here to get started playing strong clear lines over Autumn Leaves.
If you want to take this a step further then you can check out the WebStore lesson with a 50 minute video lesson I made on a 4 chorus solo. It goes over some basic ideas as shown hear and continues to more complicated concepts like reharmonization and different scale choices.
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Sometimes we bury ourselves in exercises and details and forget to play music with what we work on. In this lesson I am going to go over a few exercises that should enable you to play the chords of most jazz standards. It is important to practice towards using the material we work on and hear how it sounds in the context of a song.
This lesson is a remake of a lesson I recorded 2 years ago on my mobile phone. I thought it deserved a better video and audio which is why I chose to go over it again. You can have a look at the original here: Jazz Chord Survival Kit
The exercises are meant to give you the vocabulary of chords to work your way through a jazz standard, and a jazz standard is always in a key. The first two exercises are the diatonic chords of a key which should give you the majority of the chords you’ll come across in a standard.
As guitar players we are usually identifying chords from their root notes on the 5th or 6th string, so to use this I have made two set of diatonic chords one with the root on the 5th string (example 1) and one with the root on the 6th string (example2)
And with the root on the 6th string.
You should notice that while the two exercises have the root on different strings the chord part of each voicing is on the on the B, G and D strings so that we can go from one type to the other and have a fairly smooth transition if we stay in the same position on the guitar.
Already with the chords of example 1 and 2 you can get through most jazz standards, but another part of learning to play jazz chords is to read progressions.
II V progressions
If you see a lead sheet for a jazz standard for the first time it is quite likely that you will be overwhelmed by the amount of chords that are in there. For that reason it is very practical if not essential to learn to view groups of chords as one thing rather than each chord by itself, since that makes it a lot easier to remember the song by heart, and in the end also analyse or understanding the song while playing it. That is the reason why I have made the next 4 exercises. One of the most common two chord progressions in jazz is a II V.
A II V is a minor 7th chord moving up a 4th or down a 5th to dominant 7th chord like this:
The reason why I am not including the I chord, ie II V I is that very often the II V is resolving differently so it is handy to just pair those two for now.
The II V voicings that I can build with the voicings in the first two exercises are pretty ok, but by adding a bit of extensions I can make them easier to play and transition better from one to the other so here’s an exercise where I let the II V resolve to another II V etc.
And starting on the 6th string:
In examples 3 and 4 I started adding more extensions and colors to the chord voicings which is of course also a part of jazz tradition. There are rules for how you add extensions and alterations, but I won’t go into them too much right now. Try to judge by ear, you will get further than you think on songs that you know!
Minor II V
Since we are already busy with II V cadences in major the next logical is to add the minor II V as well. Same idea as the major counterpart. We add some extensions, and in this case alterations to the dominant to make it easier to play and make the II V move more smooth from II to V, and also to color the V so that it fits with a dominant resolving to a minor chord.
The m7b5 chord is probably one of the most hated voicings by beginning students and it is a bit difficult and takes some practice, but there is really no way around them and with a bit of work everybody gets used to them!
Here’s the set with the root of the II chord on the 5th string:
The diminished chord
The final chord type that we need to play standards is a diminished chord. These are not diatonic to a major scale but are found in harmonic minor or major. In example 7 I have written out two voicings for dim chords with roots on the 5th and on the 6th string.
The way you want to use this lesson is probably to check out diatonic chords in a few keys and when you play any of the exercises to keep in mind what chord you are playing. You should probably follow it up with trying to work through a jazz standard and try to play the chords without skipping up and down the neck.
If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:
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