Tag Archives: jazz standards

The Diminished Chords – Why They Are Great!

There are 3 types of diminished chords that I use all the time. They are great for a lot of things and sound beautiful in chord progressions.

Two of them are in all the Jazz standards and really just a part of tonal harmony but the last one, which I learned from Barry Harris, even if it is not a part of his diminished scale system, is maybe not even really a diminished chord. Maybe it isn’t even a chord, but I play it all the time and it is a great trick even if it doesn’t have a theoretical explanation.

Easy Diminished Chord

The first one you want to know is the easy diminished chord, the one that is easy to hear and easy to explain: The Dominant diminished chord.

A funny side-note is that I always get comments from people insisting that ALL diminished chords are dominant, which, as you will see, I don’t agree with but you should think about it in any way that works for you.

The dominant diminished chord is really from the minor key, but we can use it in major as well.

If you look at the diatonic chords in C harmonic minor: CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim CmMaj7

And you can also see that it is in fact the arpeggio from the 3rd of a G7(b9): G B D F Ab

 

so the connection to G7 is pretty clear and it resolves like this:

And you can resolve it to major as well:

A few Dominant Diminished Trick

There are two chord progressions with this chord that you see fairly often and both sound great, one of them is used as a sort of plot twist in the harmony, which is very nice.

What might surprise you is that most of the time the dominant diminished chord is used for secondary dominants like this where it is really a great transition to the II Chord

So here it is working as an A7, the dominant of Dm7, and creates a nice chromatic bass line moving up to Dm7.

Bassline melody is really what diminished chords are all about!

A great way to use the dominant diminished is to pretend that it is just a boring old II V and then it suddenly goes somewhere else:

I need to talk about the extension on the dim chord here, but first, just check out how this is a II V in C that then suddenly takes a detour and resolves to Am7 via the dim chord. That is a great plot twist.

 

On the dim chord, I am using a b6 as an extension and this is an important note to know for dim chords.

In both examples, the diminished chord is a secondary dominant and they simply just take the  scale that you would use for the dominant, so if you resolve to Am then you would use A harmonic minor over the dim chord because it works as an E7:

 

And from that scale, the E is a great sounding extension and also the root of the dominant it is associated with: E7

The reason why I say that is important is mainly that the b6 is very common as a melody note on a diminished chord as you can see here

But let’s move on to the subdominant diminished which are actually the most common ones.

Subdominant Dim – It Is a Thing!

The dominant diminished is easy to understand because it is a diatonic chord in harmonic minor and closely related to the V chord, but then you have these chords that move in a different way:

This one moves down!

And this one doesn’t resolve like a dominant

Let’s start with the F6 to F#dim example. I’ll first go over the chords and then get into scale choices

Here you can see how the F#dim appears from altering two notes in the F6. You can also see that it still contains a C and not a B which is why it isn’t dominant in the key C, they don’t sound anything like a G7.

The oversimplified way of arriving at that it is a subdominant chord is just to ask 2 things:

1 Does it move to Cmaj7 as if it is resolving? Yes – so it isn’t tonic

2 Does it sound and resolve like a G7, which it doesn’t so it isn’t dominant

If it isn’t tonic and also not dominant then it is subdominant. This is a bit crude, but it it does fit.

Since it is subdominant then it makes sense to notate it as derived from the IV chord, so I usually write them as #IVdim chords. There are actually other #IV subdominant chords, but that is for another video.

But it also resolves down to a subdominant chord.

Groups of Subdominant Chords

Sometimes I just write #IVdim instead of subdominant diminished, it is a looong word and I am from Denmark which is a small country, we don’t have room for that stuff. In fact, I will often just write IV when I mean subdominant, so a backdoor dominant which is also a minor subdominant is referred to as a IVm chord. I usually make it clear in the videos, but it sometimes slips. I find it useful to have these groups of subdominant chords that are #IV, IV and IVm, but it is probably short hand and not too precise

Descending Subdominant Dim

Before the last type of dim chord then there is also the other variation of the subdominant diminished.

This is really just an inversion of the #IVdim,

it is Ebdim and the subdominant diminished but it is resolving to the Dm7,

so it is a subdominant resolving to a subdominant. In a way similar to how you have IV IVm I.

 

And this works great to have a chord that can transition to a II chord which is of course also how you see it used the most.

Scale Dilemmas

With the Dominant diminished then you have a scale that is found in and that is part of how we understand it which makes it a lot easier.

The subdominant diminished is a lot more vague, but if you look at it from a different perspective then you can construct a scale that fits the context of key and then realize that you already know that scale.

If you look at the F#dim and the C major scale then there are two ways to create a scale that works:

 

They both work and there is one note difference so it is really up to you. I tend to recommend the harmonic minor scale mostly because you need that anyway and you probably know it already.

No Diminished Scale

So why am I not using the diminished scale, since it is called a diminished chord? It is the same name!

In the end, you can use any scale you want it is more about how you do it than which scale it is. The chord progressions that I talk about in this video are all tonal, so they are in a key and that tells you something about how they sound, and which notes want to go where. And you don’t hear each chord as an isolated thing, you hear the whole progression or the whole song.

The diminished scale is atonal because it is symmetrical, it can resolve to lots of places and nothing sounds like the root. That is why it doesn’t really fit and is more of a special effect in the music.

The Mysterious Diminished Chord

As I already hinted at then the final diminished chord is maybe not really a chord, but that doesn’t mean that you can learn something important from it.

When I was in the piano class with Barry Harris that first year I went to the Hague then he told the piano players to play this exercise that I then transferred to guitar. And it is all over my comping and chord solos:

The exercise is moving the maj7th and the 9th down to the maj6th and the root in half steps,

and as you can probably see, then every time the middle chord is in fact a Bb diminished chord. (highlight dim chord – Paly example and stop on the dim chord!)

But maybe this is a place where looking at what is happening vertically and giving it a name as a chord, is actually not the best way to understand it. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to think of it as voices moving, because the diminished chord only appears as a side effect of some chromatic voice-leading. Probably also why it is not something you will find notated as a chord in a song, at least I can’t think of one that has that. Sometimes focusing too much on vertical harmony rather than how the notes flow is not good for making music and hearing what is going on.

That of course doesn’t mean that this isn’t a great sound, and the exercise sounds great in minor as well, which doesn’t give you a dim chord.

 

 

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How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

I think that the most beautiful way to work with Jazz harmony is to work on chord melody, the type of playing you hear from Barney Kessel and Joe Pass where the melody is used as a foundation that you can add amazing chords to,  but you do need to work on it the right way to really get all the benefits, You don’t want to just play something from paper trying to make your way from chord diagram to chord diagram. You want to explore all the amazing colors and embellishments that you can add to the music.

I sort of stumbled my way into chord melody, and weirdly enough the first song I ever made a chord melody arrangement of was actually a song that I don’t really like, and when I made it I had never heard of Barney Kessel and Joe Pass who later became my main inspirations for this.

My First Chord Melody Arrangement

I was finishing a stay at a folk high school, which is really a Danish thing, a type of boarding school for adult education.  I had spent 8 months practicing and trying to learn Jazz after getting my bachelors degree in Mathematics at the university. I wasn’t very far in learning, but having the time to practice and play with others for that long was of course incredibly useful, and it was a part of what I used to prepare for getting into a school to get a degree in Jazz performance, which I did in The Hague a few years later

It was in June and I was sitting outside in the sun practicing, something that I am sure that you can tell that I don’t do often. A few months earlier, I had bought a real book which at the time was an incredible source of information since this was before the internet and online resources, it was all books and cds, and I hardly had any when it came to Jazz, in fact, the only thing I had was the real book and 5 or 6 jazz cds, which were mostly Scofield and a little Charlie Parker.

During my stay, when we played, a friend of mine always wanted to play Misty, because he had a Dexter Gordon version of that song that he really liked. I was bored with the arpeggios and scales, so I started flipping through the real book looking at the songs when I saw Misty in there, so I decided to play that. My favorite maj7 voicing at the time was the basic root position maj7 (Cut in – Incredibly Hip and Advanced, I know….)  and when I played through the chords then I realized that the melody was the top-note of that chord in the first bar. And this really made some things click for me.

At the time, I had heard people play chord melodies, especially Scofield and Wes Montgomery, but I hadn’t thought about doing that myself, then I realized that it could be fun to try and do that with this song which I had already played the chords of many times though I didn’t know it by heart.

Getting Started

I was of course lucky, that there were two things I already had going for me:

I could read music well enough to figure out how to play the melody,

and I was aware that I needed to transpose the melody up an octave which also makes it easier to put a chord under it.

Harmonizing The Song – First Rule

Misty doesn’t really follow one of two the things that I usually tell students to do when making their own chord melody arrangement, which is: Play the melody on the two top strings.

The reason for saying this is of course that if you can play the melody there then it is a lot easier to find chords to put under it.

For the first phrase you have a pick-up and a long note:

It works great with the Ebmaj7 chord, and later in the video, I will show you some nice suspensions you can add here on that long note, because there are a lot of beautiful options. As you can see then already the next phrase has a Bb which is of course not possible to play on the B string and there are quite a few notes in the melody that are lower than B. Luckily there is a fix for that.

Harmonizing The Song – Second Rule

The other advice that I give is to only add chords on beats 1 and 3 in the beginning, just to make it easier to play and also to make the harmony clear when the chords change. This makes Misty a lot easier since the melody moves around really a lot but only adding a chord in the important spots makes it a lot simpler.

That is clear already in the next phrase:

or

or better

There are two things you want to notice here:

As I said, just playing a chord on the heavy beats sounds great, and Shell-voicings are very useful because most of the time you can easily add a shell-voicing under a melody note or even just use the shell-voicing as I do here on Bbm7 and Abmaj7.

And that is lucky because the next part has an even more busy melody with the arpeggio as a pickup.

You also want to notice that I am using an Eb7 shell-voicing, but adding an extra note on the B string to make it a complete Eb7(9,13).

You don’t have to do that, but in this case, it is an easy way to add an extension to the chord and you’ll see me do that again in the next example.

Know the Song & Understand The Harmony

What is happening in the song is pretty simple. You get a tonic chord, then a II V to IV and then it goes to IVm as a way to get back to the tonic.

This is very common in Jazz standards so recognizing that, is very useful and will make a lot of songs easier to turn into chord melody arrangements. Knowing what is happening in the chord progression also gives you a lot more options for what will work in terms of changing the chords, so that you can add passing chords, and much more. I’ll show you later in the video.

The first Abm7 is played as a bar chord, and again you could just play the shell-voicing and the melody, but adding the 5th is practical and also sounds great.

If you want to think about this in visual terms then I am seeing the melody and the shell-voicing, and I know that adding the 5th is also an option so I do that.

In general, this is about knowing how chords are constructed, and when you work on harmonizing a melody like this then you are really developing your flexibility and knowledge with Jazz chords.

Just reading an arrangement and trying to play that is nowhere nearly as useful because there you are not really getting better at working with the chords and the melody and choosing how it should sound. You are just trying to read a piece of music and a harmonization that somebody else made which is like reading a transcription vs improvising your own solo. It is really something else.

But before you start interpreting the harmony, it is useful to have a basic arrangement similar to what I made on that summer day.

Don’t Limit Yourself To Chord Systems

The next part of the melody is emphasizing the 3rd of 4 chords in a row:

To return to my original take on this song: I hadn’t learned any systems for jazz chords, I just looked at the note I played on the guitar and tried to find a voicing that would fit. I already knew (Ebmaj7 and Cm7)

so that is what I used, and together with Shell voicings for the Fm7 and Bb7 then you have:

You can see how it is still very useful to only play the Fm7 on beat 1 and then be free to skip down and play the C, without having to add a complete chord there. It would not be impossible, but this is a lot easier.

A Better Turnaround

From here the Real book suggested a Gm7 chord, and I don’t remember what I played exactly but instead you can also use a Db7 in the turnaround which sounds a lot better. (voice over ex 6)

or

With a bit more color on the other chords that is going to give you:

 

You probably already noticed that the melody has quite a few long notes and also some places where notes are repeated, and that opens up for some interesting chords, which is of course way beyond my original harmonization. So let’s make it a bit more exciting.

A Cure For Boring Chords

The first chord with the maj7 in the melody can easily be a bit boring because it stands still, but it is a great place to add some surprising sounds:

The original sounds like this:

but a common version is to turn that into a diminished suspension with a #IV dim chord, so A diminished. In this case that actually becomes a D major triad over an Eb bass note because of the melody

You could also use a #5 as a tension that resolves later in the bar to keep things moving.

Or even this Lydian augmented chord with both a #11 and a #5

Another option is the Barry Harris 6th dim suspension and that would be this Ddim over Eb:

But coming from a Bb7, I don’t find that super strong.

You can look for tricks like this using both theory, and scales and even also just experiment with moving notes in the voicing. If you start just changing the chord then it can later be worthwhile to figure out what is actually going on so that you can use it in other songs as well.

More Than One Melody

Another thing that you can start to explore is to decorate the chords with other melodies inside the chords. A very common and beautiful option is to use this line cliche:

Where the II V I almost becomes a stairway to heaven quote.

If you split up the 3rd and 7th of the Abmaj7 and insert a 9th in there then you have this more colorful voicing:

and that means that you can add this nice move on that chord where the 9th and 7th move to the root and maj76th:

And you only find stuff like this if you are really making your own harmonizations and mess around with the chords when there is room for it.

Joe Was Good At Guitar, Be Like Joe

It can be useful to keep in mind is that these arrangements should not be set in stone and never changed. Give yourself the freedom to mess with them when you play because that is also what will help you discover a lot of things and not just play something like reading a classical composition.

And this also brings me back to Barney Kessel and Joe Pass, because they both are pretty open and harmonize things on the fly when they play, and that sometimes means making it simpler to keep it flexible but it also really opens up for making the song more your own.

The Easiest Passing Chords

Another way to add movement is to add extra chords to the progression so that there is more happening. On a II V then walking up the scale in diatonic chords can work very well, and in bar 4 that gives you something like this:

Which is just filling in the chords between Abm7 and Db7.

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3 Stupid Mistakes You Should Avoid When Learning A Jazz Standard

I had started really spending time practicing scales and arpeggios and even gotten them to where I could use that in my solos and could go beyond just playing pentatonic licks, but the first time I tried to learn a Jazz Standard, I failed completely, and was pretty much, doing Everything wrong.

A the time I had no idea what a Jazz Standard was, and if I had known that they were mostly songs written for musicals in the 30s and 40s then I would probably have run away screaming

My introduction to this was also a bit odd, and this is really the story about me being clueless and fumbling around in the dark while making every possible mistake., and hopefully helping you avoid that.

At the time I was still studying mathematics at the university, and I was hanging out with a bass player friend of mine that I knew from high school. I hadn’t seen him for a few years and we were jamming and improvising. Because we were improvising he told me about Jazz and played me some fusion albums.

I was not really impressed with the fusion stuff, it sounded like instrumental pop music with chorus on the whole album to me. The music I was listening to at the time was more blues-based and really not produced like the 80s fusion was. At the same time, I was still really curious to learn and to try to play Jazz because I wanted to become better at improvising. That part fascinated me because improvising was what I had the most fun doing when I was playing in rock bands, which I did next to studying at the university, and I was quite lucky that I played in bands where I had a lot of space to improvise like that (especially given how bad I probably was at it). I had been checking out some Satriani and Steve Vai, but when I realized that they were not improvising their solos then I lost all interest in their music and went looking for other stuff. It took a long time until I started to appreciate their playing, it is strange how pretty random things can influence our taste, I somehow also ignored that a lot of the rock bands that I listened to did not really improvise either.

Luckily Johan, the bass player, had an Aebersold album that I could borrow so that I could try to learn to play. If you don’t know what an Aebersold album is, then it is a book with sheet music for some songs and backing tracks for all those songs which is great to practice with if you know how to read and interpret a lead sheet.

 

At that time I had never listened to Jazz and the only Jazz song I had played was Mood Indigo where I had managed to teach myself a G7(b13) chord,

but I had absolutely no idea what to do with all the chords in that book, the most Jazzy song I had improvised on was probably T-bone Walker’s Stormy Monday which is still just a 12 bar-blues.

 

I started listening to the Aebersold cassette and the first song was Green Dolphin Street. Of course, I only had the backing track so I listened to the groove in the bass intro (which was a bit confusing) and especially the chords which sounded amazing with a lot of colors and it was moving around in ways I wasn’t used to which I found really interesting. I immediately set out to try and learn to improvise over that song.

Listening To The Song

If you want to learn a song then one of the first things you want to do is to listen to the song, that seems obvious. When I am working on a song then I usually check out several versions and also try to figure out what the “famous” versions of that song is.

But I was in the situation that I had ONLY the backing track album, and this was in 1994 without any Spotify, YouTube or iTunes then I had no idea how people played the song. Remember that I had no experience with listening to or playing Jazz, and the only source of music I had available was the library where it was hard to find specific songs if you did not know what album it was on or who had recorded it, which is really a pity because the Coltrane/Miles versions of this song would probably have been really cool to check out and would have made the whole thing a lot easier.

Learning the Melody

From the Aebersold book, I could spell my way through the melody, even though Eb was not exactly a key I felt familiar with. I might have had an advantage because I had been playing with my guitar tuned down a half step, just like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and I had had to sometimes play in fairly odd keys because of that when I was playing with other people, but reading the melody of the song was certainly a challenge and something that I could at most spell my way through. This meant that I did not spend a lot of time on it, since that was anyway not what I wanted to do, I wanted to improvise, I wanted to solo on it.

What I did not know was that, If you want to learn to improvise over a Jazz standard then one of the first things you want to learn is the melody. The two main reasons for this are:

#1 The Melody is what you use to hear the harmony

So you hear the melody note and from that note, you hear the rest of the chord that is around it,

that is much easier than hearing 4 beats of Cm7, just try…

#2 The Melody is what gives you the form

Instead of counting bars while you play you hear the melody as a guide through the form so you don’t get lost.

Not having the melody internalized made that VERY difficult, mainly I then had to count to keep track and the chord progression, which was anyway completely new to me. I had never heard of a II V I or a III VI II V anyway. I actually think that I could have gotten a lot further if I had learned the melody first and if someone had told me to do that, but nobody did, so I tried to count and keep track while I was improvising, which was a very poor strategy.

Modal Improvisation And Scales Sucks for Changes

What really drew me to Green Dolphin Street was probably that it had the A part with shifting maj7th chords that sounded both complex, surprising, and still pretty smooth or natural, and that was also what felt was the easiest to solo on, or rather possible to solo on.

That part of the song feels more “modal” and is not really a typical jazz progression. The 2nd 8 bars with the two II V I progressions with an altered dominant were impossible. I didn’t know what a II V I was, so I certainly had no vocabulary for that, and altered dominants were also pretty far out of my reach even if I knew what scale it was.

The way I had been taught to improvise at this point was to look at the chord progression and then figure out what scale to use and play something with that scale.

The skill of really spelling out changes was not something I was really aware of, and combining that skill with a chord progression so that your solo would flow through the changes was also not something I had heard of. Everything was per chord, and not about playing specific chord progressions. The other approach I knew was to have one scale that fitted the entire song and just use that, but I could not find a scale that had an Ebmaj7, a Gbmaj7, a Fmaj7, and an Emaj7 chord in there….

I could barely figure out what to play on the chords and had no idea how to tie together those melodies then 200 bpm is pretty fast! Those parts of the song were mostly just crash and burn, and often I would get completely lost trying to count and just play something.

This is really why you want to learn some vocabulary and also work on soloing over specific progressions like II V I and turnarounds, which will then give you much better tools to handle blocks of chords within songs, it isn’t just one scale per chord, and knowing the building blocks of turnarounds and cadences helps you hear what is going on. That way you are moving towards improvising more freely over the progression.

The Weird Paradox Of Difficult and Easy

The way I learned to improvise using chord scale relationships, is not that uncommon, and it is also sort of a logical next step if you deal with shorter progressions where you don’t have too many chords. Often that means that the first songs you are given by a teacher are modal, so different chords next to each other with no really harmonic connection. Songs like Cantaloupe Island or So What are typical examples.

This way of learning improvisation is useful because the songs are easier to play over, you don’t have to think about a million chords, scales, and arpeggios, but they do have a problem if you want to later play songs like Standards and Bebop Themes.

Jazz as a language was not developed by playing over a static chord for a long period of time. It was developed by improvising over Jazz standards which have faster-moving progressions, and a part of the language is how the solo incorporates those chords into the lines. You need to learn to think ahead and also to play a melody that spans several chords.

That is difficult if you are trained to think about everything one chord at a time and not have an overview of several chords in one phrase. In that way, the modal pieces don’t really help you get better at playing faster moving progressions since the chords don’t move in the same way as they do with Standards and you are not working on what connects the two chords.

At the same time, it can be really useful for a beginning improviser to work on a modal piece because it helps develop a sense of period (so feeling the bar, and the 4-bar periods) and a lot of modal progressions have really surprising chord changes that are easier to hear so that you don’t get lost when you play because you can easily hear what is going on.

This can be much more complicated with a Jazz standard. So there are pros and cons to learning modal pieces in the beginning that you might want to be aware of, but of course mainly if you aim to learn to also play Jazz standards.

My Aebersold backing track was clearly way too fast for me to play over it, and in this first attempt at learning a Jazz standard then I did not sit down and make my own slower and clearer backing track which is what I did later, just recording me playing the chords, but there is a funny side effect to practicing slowly when it comes to Jazz.

Practicing Slowly – The Wrong way

Any song that you play slowly enough becomes modal. You can easily try, just play a II V I but make each chord 4 or 8 bars long, and then you will hear how the forward motion of the progression disappears. This is also how The 2nd Miles Davis quintet made songs like Stella by Starlight and My Funny Valentine into modal pieces: slowing them down so that the function of the harmony disappears.

So when you want to practice slowly on a Jazz standard, then maybe it is not about taking the tempo too far down that will work against you because you can’t hear the flow of the harmony which is as important if you want to develop your jazz skills. Instead, you can slow other things down so that you internalize the harmony and learn to improvise over the chords. I have other videos on improvising with chord tones and in my course, I even reduce that as a starting point before gradually helping you develop your playing so that includes arpeggios, scales, chromatic phrases and octave displacement.

Another important aspect is to focus on the short chord progressions that are the building blocks of a Jazz standard progression. That is what makes it both easier to remember the chords and also what will make it easier to improvise over them because you have those shorter building blocks in your ears and in your fingers.

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3 Things that Ruin Your Jazz Practice And Stops Your Progress

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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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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Chord Melody – 5 Beautiful Methods You Want To Know

Chord Melody and Jazz Harmony are beautiful things to explore. In this collaboration with the incredible Rotem Sivan, he shows us how to go over 5 levels of harmonizing the Jazz standard “All The Things You Are”, from a basic beautiful 2-note approach to counterpoint and reharmonization.

 

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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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Diminished Chords – Beautiful Progressions and How To Use Them

The Diminished Chords are often causing a lot of people trouble, and that is a shame because there are so many amazing sounding progressions that use diminished chords and you can make beautiful chord progressions with them as well.

In this video, I am going to show you the two main categories of dim chords and how you can use diminished chords in some great sounding progressions.

It isn’t that difficult there are just a lot of people telling you to think stuff on dim chords that don’t fit with what you hear, and that is probably getting in your way.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:27 The Two Types of dim chords

01:41 Dominant Diminished

02:16 Common Dominant Diminished Progressions

04:28 Subdominant Diminished

05:20 Resolving Diminished Problems

05:53 Common #IV dim progressions

07:32 Soloing over Diminished Chords

07:40 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

 

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10 Chord Melody Intros You Need To Know

It doesn’t really matter if you are playing chord melody arrangements by yourself or if you are in a band. Being able to play a great sounding intro to a song and really set up the listener for a piece of music is very practical.

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Content: 

00:00 Intro

00:55 The Turnaround – The Perfect Intro

02:43 #IV – All of Tonal Harmony (almost..)

04:42 Modal Interchange and Beautiful Colors

06:49 Pedal point – Creating Tension

08:23 II V chain – Minor Cadence movement

10:25 Melodic Pedal Point

12:04 Start On A Tritone Substitution

14:00 Sus4 Pedal point

14:58 Lady Bird Turnaround – Modal Interchange

16:26 Phrygian Intro – Pretend to be another key

18:38 Complete Chord Melody Arrangement to Check out

18:45 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

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