We all want to play fantastic lines in our solos!
But one of the worst things you can do if you want to play better lines is to practice songs at full speed and then just hope that it becomes better.
#1 Too Fast = No Control!
It won’t make your lines better, but it might make you bitter, and that is how a lot of people go about it, I have certainly done that myself quite often.
When you do that it is a bit like trying to learn Chinese by watching a Chinese movie with Chinese subtitles. You will probably get there but it is going to take a few years.
Setting up a better method
So, you should slow things down and really work on playing stronger lines by having time to really listen to them, and figure out how to make them better before you are blasting away at full speed.
The best way to work on your lines is by composing lines, and I am going to show you how I do that and talk about how you benefit from that and what to pay attention to so that you get the most out of it because this is about a lot more than just practicing slowly!
In the example below you can see how I composed an 8th-note line using different building blocks.
It starts with a chromatic enclosure and continues with an Fmaj7 arpeggio before ending with a descending Dm triad melody that also involves a chromatic enclosure.
Refining The Arpeggio Melody (stealing from Benson & Bird)
The next thing to add to the mix is a bit more energy with the rhythm. You can do this by playing the arpeggio as a triplet as you can see in the example below:
This is almost identical to a line that both Charlie Parker and George Benson use very often.
A More Original Idea
Let’s try to create a line that is a little more original and a little less like a transcription. Here the example is combining the Fmaj7 arpeggio with a scale melody that continues into a descending melody in the 2nd bar. The descending melody is in fact a pentatonic phrase with an added chromatic enclosure.
In the video, I talk a bit more about how important melodic direction can be for this.
What Are You Really Practicing
It is important to remember that in the end it is not really about composing the perfect lick, what you are working on is practicing to put things together so that you get better at doing that when you are soloing.
#2 It is NOT just the notes!
You need to focus on more than just playing the right notes. You can get a robot to play the right notes, but it won’t make it a great solo.
You want to develop your skills when it comes to taking those notes and turning them into a SOLID MELODY.
In the example below I am adding a note to the arpeggio because that is a great way to explore and find some good melodies.
The Power Of Pivot Arpeggios
Using Pivot Arpeggios and Octave Displacement is another way to get some more interesting melodies. In the example below I am doing that with the Fmaj7 arpeggio at the beginning of the line.
#3 Fix Your Phrasing!
Now that you are slowing down you practice then you can also start working on adding better phrasing to the lines.
The first thing to work with here is to get used to ending lines on the off beat. In the example below it is on the 4-and:
Another thing to work with is to add accents to the line. When you play a stream of 8th notes then what makes it rhythmically interesting is how you add accents to get the syncopation in there.
What you are looking for is a note that is on the off-beat and that is higher than the following note. In the example below the Eb is a great candidate, also because it is a chromatic leading note so it has some tension and therefore more energy:
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