Tag Archives: jazz standards for beginners

Why You Struggle To Learn Jazz Standards: A Method That Works

Don’t Start With The Realbook

This is NOT how you learn a new jazz standard. Not if you really want it to be a part of your repertoire so that you don’t have to re-learn or read every time you are asked to play it.

In this video, I’ll show you how to internalize a song and also cover 3 mistakes that so many of us are guilty of, and that ALWAYS come back to haunt us later.

Step #1: Technology Is Your Enemy (And Also Your Friend)

It is in fact technology that is getting in the way, and when you hear that you are probably looking at your phone or iPad and thinking “These things are terrible!” But actually, this was a problem before the internet as well, and the technology that got in the way was printing (b-roll printing books). Of course, I don’t want to sound like some sort of religious cult leader who wants to ban books, but you are trying to learn a song and that is a piece of music that people listen to, so maybe you want to start with listening to the song. You shouldn’t immediately try to transcribe it or figure out the chords, just listen to it. And ironically, here the fact that you have access to the internet is a HUGE advantage because you can go on Spotify or YouTube to find 100s of versions of the song and then find a few that you like and focus on them.

Listen to the songs a lot, it is fairly low effort and it will make it 100x easier once you try to actually play the song. Just be patient and keep listening so that you get it into your ear and into your system. You don’t want to start by trying to listen with your eyes. It is also important that you don’t use backing tracks, Lazy ears are a real problem, but I will explain why later

A short side note here is, choosing songs. Finding a standard that is easy to learn can be difficult, and you don’t go from a 12-bar blues to Autumn Leaves to Giant Steps. There is a way to be more strategic and make it easier to build a repertoire so make sure that you don’t start with very difficult songs!

 

I have videos with suggestions of songs to work on,

and you can better learn 3 easy songs than break your neck on one impossible song, I am sure that is obvious, maybe suggest good songs to start with in the comments, we can never have enough good songs to learn!

Mistake #1 Listen to the song (and listen some more)

So the first big mistake is..not listening to the song to learn it, but there are a few other mistakes and bad habits to get rid of!

 

Step #2: A Song Is Not A Bunch Of Chords

To me, iReal is quickly becoming the worst way to see a song. On a very basic level: If you think of Happy Birthday then you hear the melody (play) you are not thinking of this:

and the same should be true for Autumn Leaves,

and I am saying this even if I think it is a very useful app on gigs and for a lot of other things.

So my point is that once you have listened to recordings of the song, then you want to start by learning the melody, and mainly that is because the melody is the strongest part of the song. The chords are there to support the melody, not the other way around, and you will also see how people use different chords for the songs, but they don’t mess with the melody.

Another thing that the melody is great for is as a guide to the form. When you are improvising then you hear the melody internally, you are not counting bars like a robot … or have some sort of internal Google Maps navigation.  Instead, you are using the melody as a way of knowing where you are.

Learning By Ear – Part 1

Jazz Standards are usually in a key, and you can use the last note of the melody to figure out what the key is.

That makes it easier to learn the melody because you can rely on a position on the neck for that scale and use that while figuring out the melody. If you already listened a lot to the melody then it won’t be too difficult to figure it out going phrase by phrase.

Of course, Jazz standards are often interpreted by the artist, so it can be useful to check it out from people who are not changing the melody too much.

If you take the song “The Way You Look Tonight” then you have a clear version from Frank Sinatra here:

And learning the melody from Sonny Rollins is a lot further away from the original melody:

Don’t think that I am saying Rollins is doing something wrong, he is supposed to interpret the melody, my point is that when you are learning the song it is practical to learn a version that is close to how it was written, not something that is almost a different song. When I had lessons with Peter Nieuwerf, he always suggested checking out songs from Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald,

which is really good advice, and their take on the song is always great to check out simply because they are amazing artists!

Step #3: But You Do Need Chords

Now that you know the melody then it makes sense to start adding the harmony. For now, you can use sheet music for the chords, iReal, Realbook, or just Google them. I will talk a bit about figuring chords out by ear later. If you are new to learning songs then start by just playing through the progression with chords on the heavy beats and when the chords change. You can even sing the melody to get an idea about how that sounds against the chords. The main thing is just to start hearing the harmony in time, don’t use a backing track for this, I will explain why later in the video.

Mistake #2 Don’t Memorize Rows of Chords!

The difficult part of this is probably to memorize the chords, and this is where the #2 mistake becomes important: You Need to think in blocks of chords.

Any Jazz standard will use a lot of the same progressions and you want to be able to think about groups of chords, not single chords. Think about it in terms of language. If you have to memorize a random sentence like: “Dutch Bread Truly Sucks“, then that is pretty easy compared to memorizing all the letters in that sentence: dutchbreadtrulysucks without thinking of the words that they form. And this is much more powerful than you might think. If you know a few songs and think like this then I can teach you the progression of Jobim’s So Danco Samba in one sentence: It’s an AABA song with an A-train A-part and an Ellington Bridge.

If you know what that means then you can play the song. Of course, we don’t have descriptions for all 8-bar progressions, but chunking together the chords makes it a lot easier, and if you ever wondered why it makes sense to learn understand the form, and learn theory and analysis then here’s your proof.

Learning By Ear – Part 2

I get asked about figuring chords by ear fairly often, but very often it also sounds like people expect to get some trick so that they can hear changes without any effort. Which is not really how it works, certainly not for me. I sometimes get the impression that people are listening to the song for the first time and say:

“I am already in the 2nd A and I didn’t figure out any chords yet!”

Don’t get me wrong, it does get a lot easier the more you do it and the more songs you have done and you know, but the way to start is probably to have the two outer layers that are the easiest to figure out: The Melody, which you already know, and then the bassline.

I used to always write out the melody and then transcribe the bassline under it as you see here.

From there you can use that to figure out what chord is being played, and again theory helps you narrow it down and then you listen for what sounds right. As I already mentioned, then there are a lot of common building blocks and you get more and more used to hearing those and then you can hear several chords at the same time because you have heard them 1000s of times before, but the first time it takes more effort. And even if you do this and have some holes in there, then don’t worry about that. You have to start somewhere.

The Bonus with Chords (Which Is Sometimes A Bit Overrated)

If you have the chord vocabulary and fretboard overview then it can be very useful to also try to play the song as a chord melody arrangement. it is a great way to really connect the harmony and the melody and it will also often reveal if you have places where the two don’t really work together. Of course, doing this is also quite demanding technically, and if you are not used to it then don’t worry about it. Sometimes chord melody is made more important than it should be, especially by beginners who can better develop other skills first.

Step #4 Start Soloing

You are pretty much there with learning the song now, you know the melody and the chords by heart, so now you can start working on improvising. You are ready to improvise if you can do these two things: Play the melody in time by heart, and play the chords in time by heart. That is what you want to aim for.

Mistake #3 Lazy Ears!

In the beginning, you just want to ease into it, so turn on a metronome and first play the melody, maybe also a chorus of chords. This is just to hear the song and help you keep track of where you are internally. At this stage, it is incredibly important that you don’t use a backing track because you want to get the song into your system and be forced to hear the melody and the harmony inside. With a backing track, then that is too easy and you get lazy with all the important things like REALLY hearing the harmony, and feeling the time and the form. When you are practicing a song, you want to work on it so that you are building a strong foundation to lean on once you play with others, and a backing track is too easy it makes your inner ear lazy because the track will tell you where you are and what the chord sounds like. You can test this by playing a new song only with a backing track and then solo with just a metronome, then take another new song and switch those two around, it will quickly be very clear.

Getting The Right Start With Jazz Guitar

There are some things I wish I could do better in learning Jazz if I had to do it again!

5 Concepts Jazz Guitar Beginners Must Understand To Learn Faster

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The 3 Guitarists I Wish I Checked Out As A Jazz Beginner

There is a downside to how we teach Jazz now, on one hand, it is very efficient and helps internalize important skills, but on the other hand, it is often very focused not taught using real music and teaching how others played which helps you understand the music in a broader way and also teach you other important things at the same time. There are a few guitarists that I was not really aware of while I was learning and didn’t discover until much later, but I think they could really have taught me some useful things and made learning Jazz easier. The 3 guitarists are sort of split into periods: one that is mostly before Bebop, one that is in the creation, and one that plays Bebop. I’ll talk about how one of them in a way is a bit like Van Halen 😁

#1 The Father of Bebop?

When I started out playing Jazz guitar, I was still studying Mathematics at the University of Århus. I was actually pretty lucky to get some pretty solid recommendations from my classical guitar teacher Morten Skott. This meant that I was not only listening to Charlie Parker who I had just discovered, but also had cheap compilation cd’s with Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. And even though I am talking about people that I didn’t really check out in this video, then I did actually learn some Charlie Christian solos by ear from that compilation cd, the problem with that was that while I could figure out some of his phrases and a few entire solos, at least I hope I got it right since I don’t really remember what I checked out, then I had no idea what the songs were or how to play them, and my theory was not good enough to tell me anything, so they were just solos and phrases I could play not even really knowing what key I was in.

My favorite from that album was Seven Come Eleven which is a really typical swing riff composition.

The main theme is:

So very rhythmic, repetitive, and only a few notes.

PLAY

I probably liked this because it was easier to understand and made more sense to me than some of the other tracks which had really interesting phrases with shifting dim runs like “Good Enough To Keep” Which has phrases like:

Of course, that is not really THAT complicated, but it was very far away from Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Rage Against The Machine which is where I was coming from.

The Solo from Seven Come Eleven is a great example of what I later felt I had missed:

As I already showed you then there are more complicated and dense phrases in Charlie Christian solos, but I really think that this lighter more sparse playing is something that really helps you get the rhythms to sound right, also later when you start playing longer bop lines.

All this stuff where it is just a few or even one note that is interesting because of the rhythm

And this is really just one area of the neck and strong basic Ab or Ab7 vocabulary to learn.

You can get so much from checking this out; I have also often used it with students.

The People who came after Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian was a huge influence on all of Jazz guitar, and when I listen to him now then I really hear how Barney Kessel was influenced by him, I believe they also met at one point, but I am not sure if that is true.

Let’s check out another guitarist that is criminally overlooked!

#2 Sideman of A Giant

I guess sometimes when you work with really famous artists as a sideman you end up standing in the shadow of them and not getting noticed. I think that sort of happened to Oscar Moore who is probably best known as “the guitarist of Nat King Cole” maybe a bit like George Martin being the 5th Beatle, but that is hard to say.

The Nat King Cole Trio stuff with Oscar Moore is from the mid-40s until the beginning of the 50s and since Nat King Cole was both an amazing musician and a commercial success, then a lot of the songs are short takes with a single or a half chorus of solo for the guitar.

This makes them fairly easy to learn, and Oscar Moore solos always have a lot of solid lines, but also some interesting phrasing. Check out this solo from Sweet Lorraine:

I sometimes feel that these shorter solos are really more similar to a solo that you might find in a pop or rock song, which I guess the song also was when it was released in 1940-something.

There are some solid simple melodies in this, and actually a fair amount of blues,

but also some stuff that is really a lot more about effects and surprising sounds. In this case by being very intervallic,

He also used long slides, bends, tremolo picking, and stuff like that to have different sounds.

That part of it pretty much disappeared when Jazz became more serious with Bebop and was supposed to be real art. Here it almost reminds me of stuff you might hear in a Van Halen or Steve Vai solo, where the sound is sometimes as important as the notes.

It’s more about sounds than about a longer melody, and since I am anyway making this a hottake then maybe Ellington’s saxophone player, Johnny Hodges also is an example of someone using phrasing and effects like that.

Keep in mind that I am not really saying anything about whether this is good or bad music, I am just showing you an aspect of their playing where they are similar. You can get rid of your anger in the comment section if it offends you that Johnny Hodges and Van Halen are similar.

In the case of Oscar Moore, it sort of makes some of his material more modern, and less Bebop because Bebop is much more about flow, and some of his phrases are intervallic and sort of the opposite of flowing, probably also because he wanted to not sound like the melody that had just been sung.

I felt that I learned a lot from how Oscar Moore mixes the different things in these short solos and Nat King Cole is fantastic both as a piano player and a vocalist! Another thing worth mentioning is that if you check out later Oscar Moore stuff then you really hear him develop with the times and start playing altered scale and more Bebop-influenced lines, similar to the next guitarist.

#3 The Shortcut To Bebop

This solo actually always makes me happy. Grant Green is probably the one of the 3 that I ended up spending the most time with, mainly because I have given his solos to a lot of students for them to learn Bebop vocabulary, and that is also how I heard this solo the first time, and how I discovered the standards album that he made. For guitarists then there probably is no better place to learn Bebop than Grant Green, his lines are absolutely incredibly melodic and his vocabulary is solid Bebop, and I am saying that while I still don’t like his tone on this album, but you can complain about that in the comments, first, check this out:

Within these 8 bars you have so many great things!

3 variations of  using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord: Ebmaj7 over Cm7:

Bdim over G7:

and on Aø over F7:

A great pivot arpeggio with some chromaticism on Bbmaj7:

A line cliche turned into a bebop lick in the 2nd line with some really nice phrasing embellishments:

 

 

The King Of Bebop Guitar

And this is in 8-bars, and there are several places like this in the solo. The greatest thing about this is that he manages to make Bebop lines playable on guitar and still makes great music. If you want to develop that side of your playing then he is where you need to go next.  Especially how he mastered adding pivot arpeggios and large intervals to his playing and in that way not sounding like he is just running up and down scales, there are techniques for this that you can start using. 4 of the most common variations are all in the solo that I talk about in this video and that can really breathe new life into your Bop vocabulary and give you some fresh melodic ideas. The solo is on another standard: You Stepped Out Of A Dream

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

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I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

You Are Practicing Arpeggios Wrong

Everyone on the internet and every guitar teacher you ever met probably told you to practice arpeggios.

But I remember spending hours practicing arpeggios and not really being able to do anything with them. Being able to play them doesn’t mean that you get them to sound great in my solos. It feels like you might be wasting your time

Luckily that isn’t too difficult to fix, and I’ll show you 7 ways you can turn any arpeggio into a solid Jazz line!  It is not super difficult, and really more about how you think about the arpeggios.

You can build all of this around a single exercise, because when you are starting out with Jazz then there is a right and a wrong way to practice arpeggios, and I would also suggest that you skip inversions for now but I will explain that later.

In Jazz, you mostly use arpeggios that are one octave, so it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to spend a lot of time practicing complete positions, instead,  you will be more efficient practicing them in a scale position as diatonic arpeggios.

That is the way you will hear them used the most in Jazz solos, and it is also a way to connect them to the scale and the other notes that they work together with, it covers a lot of stuff you will need along the way. I learned this exercise from Barry Harris and that is one of the most practical things to get right in the beginning.

Diatonic Arpeggios:

The focus is on turning these arpeggios into music, and I will show you how you add phrasing, notes, and rhythm to them because that is how they become Jazz lines, but first let’s keep it really simple and just improvise with the arpeggio because that will teach you some other important things as well.

#1 Arpeggios Are Enough If You Do It Right

Let’s say you want to solo over a II V I in C major, so Dm7 G7 to Cmaj7.

You need those arpeggios to play a solo over the progression, and luckily you already practiced them in the exercise.

It is a II V I, so in C major, we need the arpeggio from the 2nd note of the scale: Dm7, then from the 5th that is a G7 and then you can do this Cmaj7.

Connect that to the music and practice that on the II V I:

The first thing to do is to practice soloing with this, just try to come up with some lines, use rhythm and maybe compose or play rubato, notice how I am really careful in getting from one chord to the next.

And then after some time, you develop better rhythmical ideas and melodies and you can start making lines like this:

This is great for nailing the changes and developing some solid rhythms in your playing, but let’s open up the arpeggio with a few extra notes, that’s where it starts to get really fun!

#2 The First Thing To Add

The exercise I gave you connects the arpeggios and the scale, so if we look at a Cmaj7 arpeggio:

You can add scale notes to the mix in between the notes in the arpeggio.

That could give you a line like this.

Which turns into a lick like this:

Or a descending version like this:

Super easy! Barely an inconvenience. It is mostly about seeing the notes around the arpeggio and using them to move to a note in the arpeggio.

In these two lines that is how I think about the notes: something around the arpeggio.

Let’s add some notes that are a bit more exciting!

#3 The Jazz Thing To Add

I am talking about adding chromatic passing notes since you already have the diatonic notes from the scale.

You can do a LOT of things with chromatic passing notes, and there are systems that help with that, but for now, essentially you can do whatever you want as long as you resolve it to a chord tone. That is what I am doing in this example, check this out:

and just mixing chromatic and diatonic notes with the arpeggio can already give you this:

Of course, when you practice this then work on composing lines and find things that you like the sound of. One thing that can make them sound more like Jazz is by having the high note of the phrase on an off-beat like you heard the B in the last example on the 1&.

There is a way to make it easier to do that in your Jazz lines, that is the next level, but keep in mind that you can actually go through this video and just pick one of the topics to explore, write some lines, and work on getting that into your playing. It doesn’t have to be in this order.

#4 Going Around The Chord Tones

Instead of adding a single note here and there then you can also add small melodies that move to a chord tone from above and below, these are called enclosures. Let me show you these and then we can add some rhythm to the arpeggios.

A simple example of an enclosure could be a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below which for Cmaj7 could be something like this:

Remember that you are still seeing the Cmaj7 in the scale as well, and now you can create something like this, and try to compare how far this is from just playing the arpeggio:

And it is incredibly simple to create solid vocabulary here is one with an enclosure around the root and around the 5th:

With these enclosures:

#5 The Mighty Triplet

There is one way of playing arpeggios that is pretty much instant Bebop. When you hear it I am sure you will recognize it:

So I am playing the arpeggio as an 8th-note triplet and I am adding a leading note before the arpeggio. Now check out how this sounds when you add a few enclosures:

Or this example which is one of George Benson’s favorite licks that he probably learned from Charlie Parker:

I said that inversions are not so useful for Jazz lines, let me show you what you can do instead, and then I’ll show you some phrasing tricks.

#6 The Melodic Inversion

Similar to the triplet, then this is really a great technique for making your lines sound better, and not be too predictable. I mentioned in the beginning of the video that Inversions are not that useful for Jazz, this is mostly from observing vocabulary of Bop and a lot of later stuff, where inversions are not that common in lines when it comes to 7th chord arpeggios. Triads are a different story, there are Triads inversions all over the place.

Instead, this is a much nicer option: The Pivot arpeggio.

What I am doing here is taking the arpeggio:

But I play the root and then move the rest an octave down, so you still get the same order of notes but the last part is moved down an octave:

Using this and a bit of chromatic magic will give you a great line like this with the pivot arpeggio:

And you can of course use this on the higher octave as well and throw in an enclosure:

 

But one thing is changing the melody and the rhythm. You can also tweak how you play the notes on the instrument, the phrasing.

#7 It’s The Phrasing

Let’s start by sliding into a note, here it is the top note in the phrase:

You can add a slide later as well:

Another useful tool for phrasing is adding trills like this one:

Which sounds great like this:

Adding Chromatic Notes With Barry Harris’ system

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But there is a lot more in there than you might think!

Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

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5 Concepts Jazz Guitar Beginners Must Understand To Learn Faster

I think you should learn from my mistakes, so in this video I am going to go over 5 things that really slowed me down in learning Jazz, and that I now help students overcome so that they don’t get stuck along the way. When I look at how my students are progressing then it is easy to see that they get there a lot easier and a lot faster, and I am sure I would have too, so you want to get this right.

#1 Exercises Are Not Music

A lot of us come to Jazz when we already play the instrument and have experience with other styles of music, and since Jazz comes across as being difficult or complex (rocket science/music theory meme) then we often choose to be “a good student” and try to do all the exercises and put in the work. I really didn’t get this right in the beginning and spent way too much time thinking about what scale to play over which  chord, and end up using it on a progression that was completely abstract to me, something that didn’t have a melody, that wasn’t a song, but this is something you can fix. (abstract progression + me thinking? like a II V I that turns into an equation?)

You already know that just playing a scale or an arpeggio is not a solo phrase. The same goes for chords, you are not learning to comp by just learning a lot of inversions.

Learning Jazz is learning a musical language, and that you can’t learn with exercises just like you won’t learn Spanish by just reading a dictionary (Que)

If You want to learn how to improvise the you have to also actually improvise. And it is more than just the notes, you also need to know how to play phrases that sit right in the groove, and express something that fits with the music, know the song and know where you are in the song.

This:

Will never magically lead to this: Bebop line.

I think that is pretty obvious. And it means that you also need to learn some songs and some real music that you can play, because an arpeggio or any other exercise is not useful until you make it a part of the music, and you need to develop that skill as well.

None of this will work if you just do exercises and actually the worst plan I have ever heard from students, and I have heard it quite often, is “Before I start improvising I first I need to learn” and then insert:

#1 All scales in all keys or positions

#2 All Arpeggios in all keys

#3 All Chords in all inversions

That NEVER works.

The Most Important Song To Learn.

I think you could say that the most important song to learn is the first song that you REALLY learn.

When I started out then I wasn’t told to really learn songs so that I could easily play them by heart and use them to develop my improvisation skills, and that really slows you down. That is also why my course is a step-by-step guide teaching you that first song and so that you learn how to make music while you are improvising solos. Besides learning songs and soloing over them then there is one overlooked approach that is also incredibly useful…

#2 This Is How To Practice Improvisation

I am amazed at how rare it is to see this method is suggested for people who want to improve their vocabulary and learn how to play better Jazz lines with better phrasing, and speaking of phrasing I have a few quick fixes later in the video for that as well.

As a student, you are always told to practice slowly, and that is not any different for learning to improvise Jazz solos, but the problem that we all run into is that songs are not played that slow, and you can’t slow them down and still get it to make sense, so how do you practice improvisation slowly?

The answer to that is composition, which is essentially also how Barry Harris taught his masterclasses: composing bebop solos. If it is a good enough method for him then it is probably also an ok exercise for you. Let me demonstrate this with a practical example, and just to be clear, I still do this when I want to improve my solo lines, which is most days in the week.

Let’s say that I want to get better at using this chromatic enclosure:

For now I want to use it on a Cmaj7 chord, you can use it on a lot of things, but let’s start there. In the beginning, you just want to hear what it sounds like when you put it into lines.

Obviously, you can combine it with a Cmaj7:

So this is already fine, but let’s add a tail to it to make it a phrase:

Maybe it works with a descending Cmaj7 arpeggio

Of course, you need to spend some time experimenting and exploring how this all works, but that process really gets the sound of the enclosure into your ears and you find ways of creating playable lines that you can work on getting into your own playing.

This works really well in combination with solos you have learned by ear if you take your favorite phrases and try to make your own version of them. Sometimes it can be useful to write down what you come up with, but you don’t always have to. I think the biggest benefit is the process, not the licks you end up with, simply because you learn how to fit things together and they will come out in your solos.

It also really makes sense to watch Barry Harris teach and think of it as how to practice composing lines. You will learn a lot more and get a lot more options from that.

When learning Jazz then there are things that are more important than what notes you play in a solo I’ll get to that, but first let’s look at how you figure out how good (or bad) you are.

#3 How Do You Give Yourself Useful Feedback

One thing that I have to tell students all the time is that they can’t play a solo and at the same time tell how they are doing. And you can take my word for it, I record myself playing for a living and I have made ALL the mistakes that you can make while playing by now. (I have made a huge mistake)

If you want to know how YOU sound (and trust me, you do) then you have to record yourself playing and listen back!

This is incredibly useful for anyone trying to learn, but it is especially important if you are trying to teach yourself Jazz guitar. To make it more effective then there are a few things that you can keep in mind so that you don’t get distracted by your own brain when you listen, because listening to yourself can be a bit weird and difficult. (b-roll: me + headphones and me soloing)

#1 Record yourself often!

You get used to this, so the first few times it is weird and you get stressed out by all sorts of things, but that goes away with time.

#2 Decide what you are working on and listen for that.

This is simple: If you are working on phrasing or rhythm then don’t get lost in which arpeggios you use on altered dominants. Focus on what you are working on.

#3 Don’t Listen Right Away

Often when you just played something then you still remember what it felt like when you played it and you are not really listening but just reliving how it felt which is not helping you at all.

And it is when you start recording yourself that you probably discover the next thing you need to pay attention to, but I have a few quick fixes!

#4 Not The Notes You Play

This is often considered very difficult and vague, but it really doesn’t have to be. I am of course, talking about Jazz phrasing.

You may already have run into this, and I certainly remember when I felt like I was hitting a wall with phrasing: I know all the scales and arpeggios but my solos and what I play doesn’t sound the right way.

When I was starting out learning Jazz then the first problem I was confronted with was that I could not follow the chords and play a lot of wrong notes. It isn’t strange that I then focused on learning to play “the right” notes, but my focus on that came at a cost: I was not listening to how the phrases sounded nearly as much as what notes I was playing. So it really makes sense to become more aware of this early on.

There are a few ways to work on this, and some of them are really easy:

#1 End on a short note

I say this at least 3 times a week in the Roadmap community when I give feedback. Bebop is called Bebop because that is how the typical solo phrase ends, and that means it is a short note, Bebop On Guitar it is very difficult to play long notes so we learn that and make that the habit, but you need to take control of the notes and only play long notes when it makes sense.

#2 Play solos with fewer notes

The easiest way to develop phrasing and rhythm is to take away the other variables so that you have to focus on them. It can be super useful to voice-lead one or two notes through a song and then spend some time practicing soloing where you have to only use those notes. That will help you get more creative with, phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.

#3 Learn Solos By Ear

If you want to “hear” better phrases then learn some solid phrases by ear. Often the easier solos to learn like Charlie Christian and Grant Green are also great for learning to hear good phrasing and creative rhythms, and the next topic will help you get a lot more out of what you learn by ear and what you come up with when composing lines.

#5 So Little Theory, So Much Benefit

You have to stop being afraid of the holes, and you also have to remember to wonder. When you are starting out learning Jazz then it is easy to try to learn a crazy amount of theory, but what you really want to learn is actually pretty simple, and if you know that then it will teach you the rest, plus that you can learn it in a much more natural way.

When I learned Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love, the first songs I learned, then I couldn’t analyze them. But I still learned to play them, even if I only understood some of what was going on and played some wrong notes here and there. That was one of the things I did right.

Start with really knowing your basic scales, and just start with major. Then make sure that you also know the diatonic chords. Then you can start to recognize things in the songs you play like if you take There Will Never Be Another You.

First, you just look at what the key is and what makes sense just using that (fill that in one by one)

Then maybe you learn what a secondary dominant or a secondary II V is and then there are less gaps, and actually only a few more tricks to learn.

And that is also the best way to learn theory: Have it describe the music that you are already playing!

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Important (beginner) Jazz Advice: 5 Easy Jazz Standards To Start With

Learning Jazz songs is incredibly important, I am sure you have heard me and many others say that again and again. But it can also be unbelievably difficult in the beginning, I spent a long time isolated from the world, practicing for hours every day to learn the first two Jazz standards. And that was largely because I had chosen songs that were much too difficult for a beginner and I just didn’t know any better.

But it is actually hard to figure out exactly what songs will be the good for you to start with, so I thought it might be useful to compare 5 different songs that are all easy so that you have a better way to figure out what might be useful for you to learn, and even if you already know some songs then these could be great to add to your repertoire.  As you will see, I actually left out some very common songs from this video, but I will explain why that is along the way, and there is another thing that is also surprising about this list.

Let’s start with one of the easiest songs to solo over.

Pent Up House

If you look at the sheet music for this Sonny Rollins classic then the theme and the chords in the theme might look incredibly complicated, but the solo form is actually very simple. You could look at the 16-bar form as an AABA,

but it doesn’t really feel like that to me, probably because it is a short form. It is really just a II V I in G major and the two other closely related II Vs.

So common progressions that you may already have practiced and otherwise you can actually start learning them on this song.

It is a great way to work on some basic Jazz progressions in a song, and I have seen a lot of students get more confident improvising over changes learning this song. What is great about the theme being a bit more complicated is that it also really teaches you some jazz melody and jazz rhythm which is very useful for your phrasing and vocabulary.

To compare the songs then I made this chart to have an overview of them. I am going to keep it simple with the grades so it is either good or bad, but don’t over-interpret that, it is also a bit of an experiment for this video.

 

For this song then the progression is good, it is pretty simple with the number of scales and keys you need. The melody is difficult, even if there is an advantage to that as well. It is not really a common form that will help you learn other songs, and the tempo is often a bit high, but you can of course play it slower.

 

Let’s see how it stacks up against the next song, one thing that I actually think is very important is that you work on songs that help you learn other songs, but I will explain that along the way as well!

Perdido

This song is a great example of an AABA form,

and since it is a big band composition from the Ellington songbook then it is also a good melody for learning some phrasing and rhythm. If you are starting out playing Jazz then that aspect is maybe a bit overlooked since we tend to be very busy keeping track of the notes and the chords, but actually learning melodies like this is very useful for your soloing as well since you will learn to hear melodies with interesting rhythms, and also how to play simpler phrases and melodies with a strong rhythm.

The advantage to AABA forms is that you really only need to learn 16 bars to know the whole song: an 8-bar A-part and an 8-bar B-part.

In that respect, the amount of chords in this song is not higher than “Pent Up House.” The Bridge is a rhythm bridge, essentially just a dominant chain ending on the dominant of the key.  This is also a common bridge and will help you learn rhythm changes which of course is stuff you need for a lot of other songs,

so in that way, this is also a very practical song to work on.

 

Perdido scores really well, maybe only the tempo is often a bit tricky since the theme doesn’t sound that great if it is too slow. That is going to be hard to beat.

How Not To Learn Songs

The way I learned the first few standards were not very smooth, and the first songs that I learned are not on this list. This was when I had just started playing Jazz, and I didn’t really know what songs to learn, but I had a realbook and a few Jazz CDs. One of the songs that I heard that I really liked was Stella By Starlight, which was a horrible choice for a song since it has an unclear form, very complicated harmony, and uses a LOT of scales. Everything you don’t want in the first song you set out to learn. The other song I worked on was There Is No Greater Love which was not as complicated but certainly also not easy.

The result was that I spent weeks and weeks practicing two songs for hours every day using brute force to learn them, I just kept on playing until they stuck, which is not the way to do this.

I am pretty sure this list would have been super useful, but at the same time, let me know if you have a suggestion for a good song that is not in this video!

Satin Doll

I suspect you already know this one since there are quite a few great recordings of this by guitarists like Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Pass, and it is one of the nicest medium swing tunes to play! It is also another Ellington song, though this time written by Billy Strayhorn.

This song is usually played medium, and the chord progressions are mostly II V’s with a few of them resolving to one chord.

The progression does move around quite a lot with the II V’s covering quite a few keys and not always moving as predictable II V I progressions.

The form is AABA,

and the bridge is (again) a common progression, namely what is often referred to as an Ellington bridge,

which you will find in a LOT of songs like Honeysuckle Rose, Just Squeeze me or So Danco Samba, so clearly learning this song will give you an advantage with a LOT of other songs.

For the score, the chord progression is good, but there are a bit many scales involved. The melody is easy and the form is not only easy but will also help you learn other songs.

Also a pretty good score! The next song is actually a Bebop theme, but I guess you could also call Pent Up House a Bebop theme?

Start with the Major Key

First I should probably talk about why I am leaving out very common songs like Autumn Leaves, Blue Bossa, and So What, since they are obviously very common and very famous songs.

This is pretty important because you want to learn songs that help you learn other songs and gradually build skills, and you also don’t want to get stuck just worrying about scales.

In my experience, when teaching beginning students then internalizing a lot of different scales is pretty difficult, maybe that is also personal experience? So sticking to major scales can be very practical. This also fits with how long I had to spend learning Stella By Starlight and There Is No Greater Love. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use songs in minor keys like these, but it does introduce some complexity, already with the basic minor II V I cadence you end up using 2 or 3 different types of scales which is quite a lot.

Another factor with this is also what songs you are already familiar with, and if the student already knows and has listened to Autumn Leaves or maybe learned the theme, then a song like that can be fine, but if you are figuring this out for yourself then it is worth keeping in mind how complicated the harmony is in the beginning and trying to keep it simple. I guess I could make a follow-up video at some point including minor songs?

When it comes to modal songs like So What or Cantaloupe Island then they are more difficult to hear, and working on those there are a lot of things you are not developing because the chord progressions don’t flow like the other Jazz standards and you are not learning to deal with chord progressions that you will encounter in other songs. Again, there can be exceptions for a choice like that as well, but if you want to get better at playing bop-inspired solos then the modal stuff is not where you want to begin, even if I do think you need to know some of those as well of course.

Afternoon In Paris

This may be the least famous song on the list, but this song is great for working on your II V I progressionsin different keys.

It was written by John Lewis who is probably most known for being a part of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The motivic melody moves through a few keys and it is much slower than most other bop themes, so it can also be a good way to start with that type of melody.

Again the form is an AABA, probably because these are often a little simpler than a lot of  the ABAC songs think of There Will Never Be Another You or Donna Lee.

The chords are all II V Is, though there are quite a few keys involved in this one and even some chromatic II V movement.

For this song, pretty much all the chord progressions are II V Is, but there are quite a few scales, and the theme is maybe a bit more complicated than the rest.

So this is not the highest score, but keep in mind that this is still a very easy song.

Take The A-train

When I first wrote down the songs on this list, I chose them because I have used them in lessons. I never realized that they were in fact all compositions by Jazz artists, and I was also surprised that so many of them were associated with Ellington, but in a way that makes sense since it is really using Jazz music to teach Jazz.

The last song on the list is the song that I also use in my course: Take The A-train, so yet another Ellington-related song, but one that I have tested on several thousand students in the roadmap and in real lessons, and it is pretty solid first song!

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Take The A-train is again an AABA form,

and here the A-part is a common progression that you will find in a lot of other songs, especially a lot of Bossanova tunes like So Danco Samba and Girl From Ipanema.

The progressions in the song are basic but strong, there are not a lot of scales needed to play it, and it works well at a slower tempo. The only thing that is maybe a bit tricky sometimes is the melody.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, any of these 5 songs will serve well as a first song, or be easy to add to your repertoire if you are looking to find some easy songs. A few songs that I considered for this video but that didn’t make it were:

  • Tune Up
  • Lady Bird
  • So Danco Samba.

I guess it is mostly about having the right balance between a useful melody and an easy chord progression, but I am, of course, curious if you would want to put other songs on this list, let me know about that in the comments!

 

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5 Reasons You Fail To Learn Jazz Standards And Simple Ways To Fix Them

The way I learned the first two Jazz Standards when I was starting out is almost a perfect example of how to screw up everything I am going to talk about in this video, and one of those things is especially tricky the way we often practice now.

#1 The Song Is Too Difficult

The first two songs that I learned were Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love. Both are incredibly beautiful songs and they are also very common standards so they are useful to have in your repertoire. But they are not really beginner songs, so it was a lot of hard work to learn them and maybe I did not get as much out of the process as I could have.

What I did was that I recorded the chords of the song and spent hours every day improvising over them, gradually finding ways to go from one chord to the next and finding something to play everywhere on the song.

It took me more than two months to learn the songs.

These two songs were much too difficult. There are so many different chords and chord progressions that you don’t get the opportunity to develop different options, and you don’t start working on making variations of what you are playing. This really means that you are not developing your ability to improvise and you are not building a flexible vocabulary which is what you want to do because then learning more songs gets a lot easier. Stella by starlight is also a pretty difficult progression to analyze which means that you end up just playing from chord to chord and not really trying to sound like real piece of music.

So you want to make sure to choose easy songs when you start out. Think about it like this: You will probably learn a lot of songs and you might as well ease into it, so If you are looking at a song and think: “I have absolutely no idea what is going on with the harmony” then keep looking for another song to learn. Nobody starts training for a marathon by running 42 km.

#2 Learn The Melody

One of the blessings of using apps on your phone is maybe also something that is really slowing you down in learning Jazz. Here I am, of course, talking about iReal, which is a great very practical app to have if you have to play a song that you don’t know. But there is one really huge problem with it:

A Song is not a row of letters, and if you focus too much on learning songs with iReal then you are probably very often ignoring the melody. Keep in mind that the melody IS the song, it is rarely just the chords and in a lot of songs then the chords are open to interpretation and there are many variations available, so if you only know one set of chords and you don’t know what other options fit the melody then you might get in trouble later.

So you want to spend time learning the melody because:

If you know the melody you always have something to play in your solo

The melody is a great starting point for a solo, and if there is one difficult spot to solo over, then use the melody in that spot.

If you know the melody you have a guide so you don’t get lost.

It is difficult to hear a chord progression in your head, like 1 bar of Gø, one bar of C7 to two bars of Fm6, but it is easier to have the melody playing in the back of your mind because that is a lot less abstract

If you know the melody it is easier to hear other chord changes because you can hear the melody against the chords

When you are playing a standard then sometimes the band plays other changes than what you know, but having the melody in your head helps you to hear those chords. For example, here is the opening for Stella,

and if I change the first chord like this…

you can hear that the melody is the maj7th of the chord so the 1st chord is now a Bbmaj7. (Stella with Eø on chord 1 + Stella with Bbmaj7 on chord 1?)

A bonus from this is that eventually, you want to start learning songs by ear, and the easiest place to start is to learn the melody by ear don’t worry about the chords, just learn the melody and maybe check out a few different versions. Then you can transcribe the bass and combine those two to figure out what chords are played.

#3 Learn To Play The Chords

I am actually surprised how often I have run into this. Imagine a student coming into the lesson to a lesson and we play a song he or she had to learn. The theme and the solo is ok, but playing the chords is not working at all. Whatever song you play, it really pays off to just learn to hear the harmony and to feel how it is to play that harmony. Not only for you to learn the song but also because you want to play with others. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be there.

There is one thing that is going to make this a lot easier, and that is what I will talk about next.

#4 Think In Blocks Of Chords

Starting to think about chord progressions like this is such a gigantic step up. You can save tons of time and open up your playing really a lot. And this is just doing the same thing as we do whenever we read a book or a newspaper article.

Whenever you read a sentence, then you read the words but you don’t spell them, you read them as complete words.

“Scandinavian People Are Always Fantastic”

And that is something you also want to strive to do when you learn a song or even while you are reading and improvising. Make it into chunks of information that help you play over it. Something you can sum up in a few blocks instead of 30+ different chords.

And actually, there is a next-level of thinking related to this where you also start to realize how different chords are actually the same, but maybe that is for another video.

#5 Have The Material Within Reach

When it comes to improvising over a song you are still learning there is one part of the preparation you want to get right:

You need to be able to have all the scales or arpeggios that you want to use within reach. It is pretty much impossible to have any kind of melodic continuity or freedom if you need to skip up or down 3 or 4 frets to have material for a part of the song.

And this is probably not something that is impossible to overcome with a bit of practice, and if you are not at home over the entire neck then pick a place and start there. Once you have one position under control you can expand from there taking the positions next to the one you know..

 

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Make it Easy To Learn Jazz Standards – Important Chord Progressions in Minor

In this lesson, I will go over the most important harmonic building blocks in a minor key, which will help you learn most Minor Jazz standards and give you a ton of options for your own songs.

When you learn Jazz songs, you need to memorize the chord progression, and if you try to do that as a long string of chords, that is NOT going to be very easy. Instead, you want to recognize the smaller building blocks of the song, making it 5 or 6 things to remember instead of 30.

It is a little like going from looking at a row of letters to recognizing the words and reading the meaning, and I am sure that you can see how reading words and remembering the meaning is much more useful than spelling everything.

This lesson will show you how that works.

Hearing The Chord Progression

The way I am going to do this is also important, because it will help you learn and remember songs a lot faster! I will play the different building blocks but I will also play some songs they are used in. Hearing how they sound in a song is probably more important than recognizing them on a piece of sheet music.

If you think about the chords in blocks like this you can use the songs you already know to learn new ones because you recognize how they are similar.

And more what is more important: You know how it sounds

#1 The Most Important Progression

As I will show you later in the video, minor keys do things major keys don’t, like having chord progression that is only one chord but still moves.

But of course, the most common progression is the cadence of the key, the minor II V I.

You have that in most minor songs like Alone Together or Yesterdays. And actually, the next progression is a very common variation on this II V I but it is a little hipper.

A funny side note with the minor II V I is that in the pure form, you use all 3 minor scales, one for each of the chords:

Dø from Natural minor, G7(b9,b13) from Harmonic minor, and Melodic minor on the Tonic chord being m6 or mMaj7. This is, of course, a part of why these are considered more difficult than the major counterpart.

But let’s check out a very common variation that just screams minor.

#2 The Most Minor Cadence

This Chord progression is extremely common in minor and includes a tritone substitution, which is maybe a little surprising since that is mostly seen as a type of reharmonization, but here it sounds surprisingly natural and I will explain why in a bit.

You know this progression from Minor Blues or songs like You Don’t Know What Love Is.

There is a reason that this tritone substitute doesn’t sound so crazy or out of place. The chord consists mostly of diatonic notes, so for Ab7:

Ab C Eb Gb

Is mostly diatonic to C natural minor: CEb F G Ab Bb C

This progression is probably the most common final cadence in minor Jazz Standards. Next, let’s look at an important progression that doesn’t resolve to minor at all.

#3 Another Common Cadence

You don’t always go back to the tonic in a song, there are other places you want to move to or visit in Minor. The relative major is a very common destination. You come across this in songs like Beautiful Love: – First minor cadence then major

or the other way around in Autumn Leaves, first to major then to minor:

It is a nice variation to have, as is the next one which is also a cornerstone in the tonality

#4 We Need To Go To The Subdominant

Another place that many songs go is the IV in the key. You don’t want to just cycle around the tonic all the time, that gets really boring. An example would be Alone Together. It first moves around on the tonic and then before it gets boring it goes to the IV chord.

So a cadence to the IV in the key is useful:

Before we get to the One-Chord-Progressions then let’s look at a few great minor turnarounds.

Should I Make A Major Version?

The minor songs tend to be a little simpler than many major progressions, mainly because there is less use of modal interchange and fewer modulations. But would it still be interesting to make a similar video for major keys?

#5 Turnaround Variations in Minor

There are turnarounds that almost only work in minor, but the two most common and important version is of course the I VI II V in minor:

And the version with a secondary dominant for the II chord, which is again a tritone sub:

 

Another turnaround that is used almost exclusively in minor is the Andalusian Cadence:

But in minor, you only need one chord to create progressions.

#6 Chord Progressions With One Chord

You know both of these examples since they are incredibly famous. These are really just voice-leading tricks that sound great and are often used in the minor.

The first is the “Stairway to heaven/My Funny Valentine” line-cliche which has a static minor chord where the root is moving down in half steps:

Often we forget the other variation of these which is the line-cliche from the 5th which you find in songs like Cry Me A River and of course most famously the Theme from James Bond

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7 Easy Jazz Standards In Minor You Need To Know

Most Jazz songs are in a major or a minor key, and Minor songs are a great place to learn several things that you need in Major as well, so it is a good idea to really dig into studying some minor songs.

In this video, I am going to go over 7 songs that are in a minor key that you want to have in your repertoire because knowing them will improve your playing.

I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but most Jazz standards are in a major key. Some pretend to be in minor but then turn out to be in major. I don’t want to single anyone out, How Deep Is The Ocean, You’d Be So Nice To Go Home to, What Is This Thing Called Love.

Anyway… The first song you probably already know, but maybe a few of the other ones will be a surprise, and later in the video, I will also talk about why So What is not on the list.

#1 Autumn Leaves

Probably one of the most well-known Jazz standards, and even though the old Berklee Realbook has it in Em, then the most common one in Jazz is G minor.

A little fun trivia is that the Miles Davis “riff” is actually also a part of the original arrangement with that clear m6 sound.

Lesson on Autumn Leaves as a Chord Melody: Easy Chord Melody on Autumn Leaves

What do you learn?

When you are working on Autumn Leaves then you are working on the two main cadences, the major tonic and the minor tonic cadences (highlight in sheet music). It is also a great place to explore how to play tonic minor since you really have the melodic minor sound in both the melody and the arrangement with the Gm6 riff.

#2 Blue Bossa

Another famous and simple song that is often among the first 3 tunes that you learn is Blue Bossa. Mainly because it is a short 16-bar form and has really basic harmony in the key of C minor only taking a short detour to Db major, which you could describe as a cadence for the Neapolitan subdominant, even though the melody maybe suggests otherwise.

Learn Blue Bossa: Blue Bossa Getting Started Soloing

Famous Versions

There are quite a few famous versions of this song to check out beyond the original recording by Joe Henderson. Especially George Benson and Pat Martino’s interpretations are worth checking out!

#3 Bernie’s Tune

I think this is maybe the least known tune in this list. It was actually difficult to find songs that are in a minor key and also not too difficult, but this song is really pretty simple and covers some basic chords in the key that you want to master, especially the tonic minor and the tritone substitute of the V of V. The chords are also lasting a little longer so you have a bit of space to develop your vocabulary and really get into those melodic minor sounds and how beautiful they are.

The melody of this song is also based on a great swinging riff using 3/4 on top of 4/4. Lots of stuff to learn from this one.

Lesson on Bernie’s Tune: Getting Started With Melodic Minor on a Jazz Standard

#4 Softly As In A Morning Sunrise

This is in a way a minor version of Rhythm Changes, mainly because the A-parts are built around a minor turnaround, which is of course the most important progression in the key. It is usually played in the key of C minor.

There are many fantastic versions of this song, both Jim Hall and Emily Remler are important Jazz guitar versions to check out. Emily Remler also includes a beautiful reharmonization of the melody going away from the minor turnaround, but still going back to the usual progression later in the solo.

The bridge is a short trip to the relative major: Eb and then with a few diminished chords back to Cm.

Lesson on Emily Remlers Solo: Emily Remler on Softly as in a morning sunrise

#5 Minor Blues

The Minor blues is really the re-invention of the 12 bar blues of the Hardbop era. The most famous examples are probably Coltrane’s Mr. PC and Equinox, but of course, there are other great examples out there. Mr. PC and Equinox are great examples of the extreme range of tempos that you play blues in with one being very fast and the other very slow.

While the minor blues is a great progression to check out how to use different minor sounds, so really dig into melodic minor or Dorian and it is also a great exercise in playing the most common variation to the minor II V which uses a tritone substitution for the V of V instead of the II chord

Minor Blues Lesson: Using Minor Blues to learn Melodic Minor

Similar to Bernie’s tune this is a great progression to explore tonic melodic minor, Lydian dominants, and altered dominants (high light or call out)

#6 Summertime

Gershwin’s Summertime is a beautiful song that is actually a bit modal in the sound. It is a great example of a short-form song that still manages to get around the tonic, subdominant, dominant and relative major. It is also a good vehicle for other meters like Jonathan Kreisberg’s amazing 5/4 version of the song, also an awesome example of dynamic solo guitar performance.

And what many people don’t realize is that Wes Montgomery’s song Four on Six is in fact written on this chord progression with some common reharmonizations.

Lesson on Wes’ Four on Six: How To Make Simple Sound Amazing – Wes Montgommery

#7 Solar

In a way this is a Parker Blues version of the minor blues. It is actually also a Bebop composition written by Chuck Wayne and then later stolen by Miles Davis, who we all know as the composer, and even has a bit of the melody on his tombstone.

Solar is a great song to study because it has a melody that is quite clearly using tonic minor and also a lot of typical bebop movement with a long series of “how high the moon II V I” meaning that the tonic chord becomes a m7 to become the II in a II V going down a whole-step.

The famous recordings of this song would probably be Pat Metheny trio and Brad Mehldau trio both are amazing! A great composition on these changes is Jerry Bergonzi’s On Again Off Again with some interesting shifting melodic minor scales by Mick Goodrick in his solo. He also recorded it with John Abercrombie on a later album.

Chord solo lesson on Solar: Easy Chord Solo Exercise

Honorable Mentions

As I already said, most Jazz standards are in minor, and I actually asked a few colleagues about suggestions for this list and didn’t really get something that I thought was easy and famous enough. Maybe it was because they were both bass players?

Some of the songs that are very common, and in a minor key that is maybe not precisely easy would be Alone Together, Beautiful Love, Angel Eyes and You Don’t know what love is. They are all worth checking out because even if they are not exactly what I consider easy

Alone Together

Beautiful Love

Angel Eyes

You Don’t Know What Love Is.

Please let me know if you have other suggestions for easy songs in a minor key! It is always great to have suggestions for songs!

Why No “So What”?

So why isn’t So What on the list? I get the question “what about So What” very often on my 10 easy standards video, and I understand why that would seem to fit both there and also here, it is a song with very few chords for a jazz song. But to me, it is more logical to have a list of songs where studying one will help the other, and So What is a completely different type of sound and song than these. In fact, it is not really in a traditional key. There are no cadences or really moving harmony, so in that way, it is something else.

That does not mean that it is not a good song, that I don’t like it or that it won’t be useful to study, but, to me, it is something else and not anymore related to these songs than it is to How High The Moon.

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Jazz Beginner Mistakes – How To Learn Scales

When I started playing Jazz then I came from improvising mostly with the pentatonic scale, playing phrases, and licks in the scale without really worrying about what I was playing and especially what notes.

Once I got interested in Jazz, in fact, mostly in Charlie Parker solos, then I realized that I needed to use 7 note scales, and that was a lot more tricky to get to sound right and especially to get to sound like great jazz lines

Just practicing the scale, up and down doesn’t teach you how to do that and there is a much better way to practice the scales, one that helps you learn to play Jazz faster and sound in the right way.

Which Scales Do You Need?

First, you need to figure out which scales you need.

Playing Jazz is associated with scales, and often also with a lot of scales with a lot of fancy names. But when you start then you are better off not drowning yourself in different scales, simply because it is more work to learn to use a scale than to learn to play it. Just start with the major scale, and if you are new to major scales then start in a single position

You can add to it later and knowing the scale well in one position will help you learn the others as well. Starting with 5 or 7 positions in one go and trying to be able to play and improvise in them all is not as efficient in the beginning, and you might get overwhelmed and lose the overview, and getting an overview is why you practice scales in the first place.

If you practice in the way that I outline later in this video, then learning other scales and being able to use them will become a lot easier because you can leverage what you already know.

CAGED, 3NPS, Berklee doesn’t matter

A discussion that sometimes appears at this point is what type of scale system should I use, and there are quite a few, CAGED, 3NPS, and Berklee being the big 3. This can sometimes lead to heated discussions, but In the end, it doesn’t matter too much, do what feels more natural to you, you can even change along the way.

Basic Exercises

How do you start? The first thing is to practice the scale, for example, this position of C major:

Try to play it slowly, evenly with alternate picking. Connect the notes, because otherwise, you are going to sound choppy when you have to play faster

Be aware of the notes you play, so first the root

You can even practice the scale while saying the notes you are playing.

The first technical exercise that you should do in the scale beyond playing it is to play it in 3rds.

Scale in 3rds

The reason for this is that when you play Jazz then you are using the notes of the chord, and chords are built in 3rds so you are preparing yourself for learning the diatonic arpeggios, triads, and 7th chords that are found in the scale.

What Do You Need To Play Jazz

What do you need to play jazz phrases? If you look at this fairly typical jazz lick

Jazz Lick – chromaticism arpeggio

Then you can see that it uses a 7th chord arpeggio, Cmaj7, and some chromaticism mixed in with scale notes.

Beyond practicing the scale itself then the things you want to practice are the things you need in your solo. Arpeggios seem like a very useful candidate, to begin with.

The Arpeggios Are In The Scales

When I was first taught arpeggios the I was told to practice them as separate positions. In that way, learn them as independent things, not connecting them to scales or anything else.

A few years later, when I was in a Barry Harris masterclass in the Hague, I learned from Barry Harris that I should know how to play the diatonic arpeggios of the scales, and he talked about how to use them.

If you practice the arpeggios like that you get something like this:

Diatonic Arpeggios

If you know how to play this exercise then you have material that you can use on a lot of chords that you come across in C major, and you see the arpeggios together with the other notes that you have available when you solo. It is already connected to the rest of the material you can use.

II V I lick with diatonic arpeggios

For me, this was really a gamechanger, when you connect the arpeggio to the scale like this it is much easier to play the arpeggio with an extra scale note and also to see how the notes move from one chord to the next, which makes it a lot easier to make strong lines that outline the chords. But there is a lot more you can get out of it, as you will see later in the video. (highlight voice-leading in a lick, overlay lick while talking)

Another thing that is worth noting is that most of the time when you come across arpeggios in Jazz solos, then they are one-octave arpeggios in the middle of a line or even with scale notes in between, so practicing them like this is much more efficient and closer to how you use them in Jazz. As you can see in this transcription (Parker solo transcription?)

How To Practice and Use Them

You can practice the arpeggios from each note in the scale like this (example 4) and again you want to play them cleanly, equal in volume, not too fast, and connecting the notes as much as possible. Another way of practicing them that is useful is to practice up one and down the next

This is actually a bit easier because you don’t have the large interval skip from one arpeggio to the next. In general, you want to practice different things to build flexibility and work towards being free when you improvise, so coming up with variations is something that will help you with that.

If you start thinking of the scales and the exercises like this, then you want to find out what you want to use in a solo and then practice that in your scales so that you learn all the useful variations building a vocabulary you can use in solos.

From Arpeggios to Lines

There are many ways that you can use these arpeggios, to get started it makes sense to just play the arpeggios on a chord progression

Example 7 (no backing)

To turn this into something you can use in a solo then you can use the notes around the arpeggios and add some nice rhythms as well.

For the Dm7, this is the arpeggio:

And you can turn that into a more interesting line by adding the E in between the first two notes:

In this way you can start to work on making lines like this:

Here I am using the Dm7 phrase, a triplet on the G7, and also adding an A to the Cmaj7 arpeggio.

The Mighty Triad

Another obvious one is to also check out the diatonic triads which as you will see we can easily connect to the chords and also are great for creating super-strong lines.

Going over the triads in the scale gives you an exercise like this:

And finding triads to use with a chord is very easy:

If you look at a Dm7 then that is D F A C

Here we already have two triads: Dm: D F A and F major F A C.

For the G7: G B D F – G B D and B diminished and Cmaj7: C major and Em

And using these to make lines could sound like this:

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5 Things Every Beginning Jazz Guitarist Should Know

There are so many people who seem to be focusing on the wrong things and slow down their progress when they want to learn Jazz. This video is going to give you some suggestions about how to think about what you are learning so that as a Jazz Guitar Beginner, You actually work towards learning Jazz and don’t drive yourself crazy practicing exotic scales.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:28 It is not only about Scales

01:35 Play Music Not Exercises

03:07 A Bebop Job Interview

03:37 Learn Songs

04:17 Listen to Jazz

05:20 Vocabulary – If you ever want to sound like Jazz

06:22 Jazz Chords – A Great Place To Start

06:30 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page

 

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