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5 Theory Tricks That Will Save You Years Of Practice

Music Theory can seem very scary for a Jazz beginner, and you will come across people insisting it is bad for your creativity, but in reality, it is a great help when it comes to learning Jazz, and it helps speed up the learning process.

Imagine a guitarist who doesn’t know theory. He’s stuck, and can’t turn the licks he learns into new vocabulary, he doesn’t have a way to learn and organize the notes on the fretboard

and he can’t use the songs he knows to learn more songs easily, Learning Jazz becomes very difficult like that.

So there are a LOT of advantages to learning just a bit of basic theory. Let me show you how much you can unlock with very basic stuff!

Thinking in Keys

You can compare thinking in keys to learning about cars.

If you think of words like Battery, air filter, and wheels, then the word itself is not saying a lot, but if you think of them as parts of a car you have a much better idea about what they are and what they do. Adding context helps you understand!

Looking at a song and thinking in terms of key is the same, it helps you understand what the chords are and how they sound because they are never just a letter with some numbers. Dm7 is one thing in Bb major and something else in C major, and it will sound different,

just like the battery in your car is probably different from your mobile phone’s, the context helps you understand.

The first time you want to learn a song like a Jazz Standard then you probably want to end up sounding like this:

But in reality, you are looking at the lead-sheet and it seems like there are 1000s of incomprehensible chords and the whole thing is impossible to understand.

The most essential part of getting over this is to stop thinking of each chord as an isolated thing, and use that the song is in a key, where you know the diatonic chords in the scale because that is a huge part of knowing the key and also something you can easily practice for both major and minor scales.

If you look at the song knowing what key it is in, you can immediately recognize the chords that are in the key and diatonic to the scale (highlight those chords) which already will help you deal with most of the song.

But you also realize that chord progressions have direction and move to a resolution, and this helps you understand what is going on and makes it easier to solo over the song.

As you get more experienced it will also help you deal with the chords that are in the key and have a function but are not in the scale something that becomes unnecessarily confusing and complicated if you start looking at them as not connected to the key when your ear tells you that they are.

This was understanding a whole song, but the next trick is just as useful and also leads to a very helpful Barry Harris concept.

Chunks of Chords

Imagine that you have to read a page in a book, but instead of reading the words and sentences then you spell each word on the page. I am sure you can imagine how slow that process is, and how it is also getting in the way of understanding what is written on that page. The same is true for chords. You don’t want to get stuck trying to learn songs by memorizing long rows of abstract letters and numbers when it is much faster to read the chord progression as chunks in the same way you read words.

The most basic building blocks you want to start with are the major and minor II V I, and recognizing different types of turnarounds is the next place to go.

You probably want to start by ignoring extensions and just get used to reading chords as the basic type of chord that they are, so G7(9,13) is just G7, Dm7(11) is just a Dm7 and Cmaj7(9) is just Cmaj7.

The extensions are not that important in this case, and you will anyway be interpreting the chord symbols and ignoring them most of the time.

This is about turning the chords from a long row of symbols into a few progressions that

  1. Makes it easier to remember and
  2. Are building blocks you already know the sound of.

Most standards will end up being just 7-8 progressions once you can think like this and also understand the form and how it repeats which is quite different from remembering a row of 30+ chord symbols.

And you can use this to make soloing a lot easier as well, which is also what Barry Harris teaches.

Not Thinking ALL The Chords

Once you start thinking in groups of chords then you can also open up how you improvise over them. Simplifying the chords is a great way to not get overwhelmed and to make it easier to improvise more melodic solos. Later in the video, I’ll talk about simplifying chords in a different but equally powerful way, but let’s start with Barry Harris.

The main way that Barry Harris reduces chord progressions is by taking away the II chord in a II V I.

For a song that means that you would think this which makes it a lot fewer chords and soloing over it will still make sense.

Another very practical way to re-interpret a common chord progression that you will see with Barry Harris is to reduce a turnaround to a I and a V chord. The previous concept explains taking away the II chord and that also makes the dominant in the 2nd half of bar 1 easy to ignore, since it is anyway on a weak part of the bar.

As an example, check out how this gives you a much easier way to approach rhythm changes just using V chords and tonic chords instead of 2 chords per bar you get a much simpler progression that is a lot easier to solo over.

Later in the video, I will show you another way of chunking together chords that is even more powerful and will help you use chords and vocabulary across a lot of chord progressions. It’s a bit like a boosted Barry Harris approach.

The Power of Diatonic 3rds

The most efficient thing you can do is probably to practice something once and then be able to use it in a LOT of places, and diatonic 3rd relationships help you do exactly that! It really is one of the most powerful things to work with both for chords and for soloing!

I am sure you have heard me talk about how chords a constructed by stacking 3rds in a scale, first creating diatonic 3rds, then the triads and finally the diatonic 7th chords.

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If we start with a C major scale and a Cmaj7 chord then you have these notes:

But for comping, you can also use the chord that is a diatonic 3rd above C: Em7 which essentially gives you a Cmaj7(9)

Another option is the chord that is a diatonic 3rd below: Am7 which gives you a C6,

so if the song says Cmaj7 then you have 3 times as many voicings to choose from.

Check out how it sounds, and a bonus chromatic trick with this II V I in C:

but also like this:

And, the next one goes to the Em7 but then moves voices to transition to the Am7!

This doesn’t work for every chord in every chord progression, but it is well worth exploring, and if you are practicing diatonic arpeggios (which you should be doing, since it is the most important scale exercise in Jazz)

then it is also useful for solos because just like the voicings you have 3 arpeggios you can use over a Cmaj7.

Cmaj7:

Em7:

And Am7:

As you can hear it is incredibly powerful, and it is all over famous Bebop solos from people like Parker, George Benson, and Joe Pass.

You should check out how they work with this if you get the chance.

Functions: Putting Chords On A Shopping List

A lot of these concepts are about how you look at chords and harmony as part of a car, or as words in a text. As you can tell, different ways of thinking makes soloing or comping easier, and this last one is in many ways the most powerful one.

You want to understand and hear chords in categories, similar to how you might order a shopping list. If you go shopping then you make a list with the items you need grouped in categories by what is close to each other, and maybe even the order of where it is in the store: Vegetables, Bread, Dairy, meat etc.

Categorizing chords like this by how they sound and how they behave in the song can be a massive time saver! There is a good chance that you already do this a bit with diminished chords recognizing that in

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 you can also consider that the same chord progression as Cmaj7 A7 Dm7, and therefore you can solo using the same vocabulary.

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But this goes a lot further and is something you can use to make it easier to solo over and play similar chord progressions. You want to start grouping in functions which is grouping them as chords that sound similar and work in the same way.

Let me show you an example with subdominant and tonic chords:

Here you have Subdominant, Minor subdominant resolving to tonic

And that is also what you have here:

Here Dm7 and Fmaj7 are interchangeable and both work as subdominant,

and even if Bb7 and Dbmaj7 don’t contain exactly the same notes they sound very similar in the context and are both minor subdominant chords. You can even easily create vocabulary that works on both progressions:

To me, the biggest advantage is that the chords sound similar and it helps me hear what is going on and what to play over the progressions, especially going from song to song, and the important part is probably more about how the notes move through the progression, but is is also a very good way to group your vocabulary together because you don’t need very different vocabulary for Dm7 and Fmaj7 in C major and while you may need to adjust what you play over Bb7 and Dbmaj7 a bit then it will be very similar and other options like Bb7, Dø and Fm6 are completely interchangeable and you can use exactly the same lines.

The main categories you want to think of are tonic, subdominant and dominant. And then there are common subcategories like minor subdominants and #IV subdominants.

I am showing this with chords in these groups, but keep in mind that chords have different functions depending on what is happening around them, I’ll show you an example in a bit, so be careful with just thinking from an overview like this.

Functions go a bit further than Barry’s shortcut, and tie into understanding chords in the context they are in. In a II V I like Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 then the II chord often makes sense as a part of the dominant that is resolving to I, but if it is II bVII I, so Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7 then it is a subdominant moving to the tonic using a minor subdominant as a sort of transition. Chords are a part of something they are not just defined by what notes are in there.

So start figuring out when a chord is a subdominant and figure out what minor subdominants are in the key like Abmaj7, Fm6, Bb7 and Dbmaj7 are in C major and also how they sound. You probably also want to explore some #IV subdominant chords, there are a lot of dim chords in there. t is a way to think about the chords that connect a lot better with the music and your ears, it really fits how it sounds a lot better.

How To Level Up Your Comping

Of course when you are working on chords then you also need to be able to get them to sound good when you comp, and there are some great exercises that will help you do that which you can check out in this video so that you can level up your chord playing and comping. Check it out! Learn Jazz Make Music

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

 

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The Basic Music Theory You Need As A Jazz Beginner

Having the basics down in music theory is an incredibly powerful tool. If you are playing Jazz then interpreting chord symbols can be very difficult and if you have a solid basic overview of what notes are in there, you can find other ways to play the chord and add notes and fills to it, the things that make it a lot more fun to play!

That’s what I want to show you in this video because an overview like that is going to stop you from sounding like a Pat Metheny Clone, and instead of learning a single Jazz lick, you can figure out how it works and turn it into a recipe for 1000s of Jazz licks. There’s a chance you know a lot of this, but then you can use this as a checklist to see if you have it all under control!

The Most Important Scale For Jazz

The place to start is the scale that you need the most: The Major scale.

I assume you are already somewhat familiar with the but to keep it simple let’s use the C major scale:

The important thing to remember is that a major scale is constructed by a series of whole and half steps, and that recipe is:

On guitar you have a shortcut which is a physical solution where you are just moving a shape around,  that means that if you play a C major scale then you can turn that into an D major scale by just playing the same shape but start on the note D,

but that also means that you don’t really know what notes in there anymore, and when you play songs then it is very practical to know that the next chord is the IV chord in the key and that is THIS note in the scale, so here’s how you can start figuring out the notes in a scale.

I am going to show you this using D major as an example, but it works for any note can think of. It is just about using sharps and flats You need to remember or write down the row of intervals that make up the major scale:

For D major you can write out the notes from D to D . You can then go through the scale and make sure that the intervals fit and then correct that:

D to E is fine, but E to F is a half-step which should be a whole-step, so you turn the F into F#.

Now F# to G is a half-step so that is fine, G to A, and A to B are both whole steps

but B to C should be a whole-step as well

and again you turn the C into a C# to fix that and then you have D major

The next thing to do when you know what notes in the scale is to map that onto any scale position: just start on the root, play the scale, and say notes – in that way this is as much about connecting the things that you know on the neck, because that is where it is useful!

Dmajor:

That is the basic construction of the major scale, but what you need is to link this to chords because when you are playing a song then it looks like this:

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World

The Strongest Chord we have isn’t a Jazz chord which would be a chord with at least a 7th, The strongest chord only has 3 notes and it is, of course, the triad.

 

The basic construction of a triad is a stack of 3rds, so for C then

C major is 1 3 5 – C E G which is really just 1 3 and 5 out of the major scale:

 

C minor  would be 1 b3 5 C Eb G and the difference is the distance between the two first notes: C to E is a major 3rd

and C to Eb is a minor 3rd

Like this, you can also construct a diminished triad which is: 1 b3 b5 in C that would be C Eb Gb and you can create an augmented triad which is a major triad with an augmented 5th: C E G#

Those are the 4 basic triads, but you probably also want to know these 3:

Sus4 where the 3rd is replaced with the 4th:

Sus2 where the 3rd is replaced with the 2nd:

If you check then sus2 and sus4 are actually inversions of each other, so they are the same structure.

Another triad that is maybe less common in songs but very common in chord structures is major b5:

But right now, this is all just structures without any context, and while it is nice to know then the best way to know this is to place them in a scale.

The Strongest 3 Notes In The World, In The Scale

As I mentioned then chords are created by stacking 3rds, and actually that is easy to do in a scale so to construct the diatonic harmony and place the triads in a context . That tells you which triads go together.

Start with the C major scale:

and we can put 3rds on top using the notes in the scale to get first a row of diatonic 3rd intervals

and then these triads which is another useful row to remember, just like the intervals:

It is incredibly useful to know what triads go together, and as you will see later it is a huge help in finding more arpeggios you can use when improvising over a chord, which means more melodies that you can use in your solos

You can do this with any scale, and you should certainly know the triads of the major scale by heart, so this order:

It is also important to figure this out for Harmonic and Melodic minor which will give you examples of the other triads, you’ll see later.

Enough with the triads for now, let’s get to some Jazz chords!

The First Group of Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

In Jazz, we don’t work with triads as the basic chords so often, even though we still play triads in solos all the time.

The basic chord type is the 7th chord, but constructing the 7th chords is now super easy, barely an inconvienience: You just add another diatonic 3rd to the triads!

So these:

Become these:

Again the order of chord types is really useful to know, so for a major scale it is maj7, m7, m7, maj7, dom7th, m7, ø

And as you can see you there are 4 chord types in the scale:

The reason that I construct chords in scales is because that added context really tells you a lot about what is going on in the music:

If you take this lick:

As you can see that if over the over a G7 then you can use a Bø arpeggio which is the diatonic arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, so we are combining the knowledge of the chord with the diatonic harmony.

You can also see that the Em triad sounds great on Cmaj7, but that is just because an E minor triad, E G B, is a Cmaj7, C E G B without a C.

And the same thing applies to chords:

If you play II V I that sounds like this:

Here I am using an Fmaj7 chord, which is giving me the Dm7(9) sound:

and a Bø Chord for a G7(b9) before moving down to Cmaj7, so the diatonic chords become a part of how you learn things, and you cna use the same stuff for a lot of things, it is very efficient.

Of course, at some point you have done that so many times that you will just know what the notes of Dm7 is and that the arpeggio from the 3rd is Fmaj7, but being able to figure it out is a necessary step, and knowing it like this is, of course, a lot better than just having a diagram that you are moving around without knowing what is going on.

The Rest of The Beautiful 4-Note Jazz Chords!

As I said, there are more chord types than just the 4 I already covered.

To find some of those then let’s try to build chords in Harmonic minor, because that should give us some more. To keep it easy, A harmonic minor:

To get you more comfortable with the process then we can start with the triads

A B C D E F G# A

Then you have:

Am Bdim Caug Dm E F G#dim

And once you add a 7th to this then you get:

Notice that the G#dim has a diminished 7th from G# to F, that sometimes a bit confusing because it is the same interval as a 6th

And to immediately show you how useful this is, in the II V I in C I used the arpeggio from the 3rd of G7, and you do the same here and use a G#dim over an E7 because it is almost the same notes and they are from the same scale:

and, that is an great way to play an E7(b9) resolving to Am,

Working on this is something that can really speed up your learning process, because if you start practicing diatonic triads or arpeggios while also being aware of what triad or arpeggio you are playing then you

  • Have a better overview of the harmony and the scale
  • See the shapes you need for soloing on the fretboard
  • Figure out what is being played in Jazz solos so you can get that into your own playing.

All stuff that makes it easier to learn and play Jazz, but it probably isn’t going to be useful if you don’t learn any songs that you can use it on. Learning songs become a lot easier if you understand the harmony, and I talk about that in this video covering how I use Functional harmony but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino have shortcuts that are opposite of each other, but it will all help you learn and remember songs. ! It doesn’t have to be difficult to learn songs. Check that out

If you start to figure this out for the different keys and practice diatonic arpeggios while also being aware of triad or arpeggio you are playing then you start to connect all of this and that will help you:

  • Know the scale and the diatonic harmony
  • See the shapes on the fretboard
  • Understand how the chords move

You can figure out what is being played in Jazz solos

And, all of these skills are important things that will speed up your learning process, but it probably isn’t  going to be very useful if you don’t learn songs and also learn to understand how the harmony works and that you can check out by watching this video which covers how I use functional harmony for that, but also how Barry Harris and Pat Martino think about chords and make things easier! Learning and remembering jazz songs doesn’t have to be difficult!

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

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The Most Important Scale For Jazz

“Scales Are NOT going to solve problems”

I think sometimes when you want to learn Jazz then it is too much about learning 100s of scales, and that is not really what Jazz is about. There are a few scales and especially one scale that is endlessly more important than the rest.

Scales are not going to solve problems for you. if your solo doesn’t sound good, then learning hypochondrian b6 is not really going to make you sound any better over a Blues in F, and focusing on the scale takes away attention from more important things in your playing like the melody, rhythm, and phrasing.

You are much better off focusing on the most used scale and then really learning that, and this is mainly because

  1. it is the most used scale – so you are practicing things that you need to play often and
  2. It Becomes Easier To Learn Other Scales because they are mostly just variations on this one.

So of course, I am talking about the major scale!

Simply because that is the scale that is used the most, it covers the most ground and contains most of the chords.  It is not the only scale you need, but if you really dig into that then you will sound a lot better than if you try to learn 20 scales at the same time. This is also one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of modes, but I will return to that later. Let’s look at what to learn and what to practice.

The Scale

My thoughts on what to practice are heavily influenced by how Barry Harris taught this in his masterclasses in The Hague. That was maybe one of the most important things I learned from him.

Let’s start with 2 octaves of C major:

When you learn any scale then it is useful to know what notes are in there, so C D E F G A, and it is useful to know the intervals in the scale relative to the root, Root, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th etc.

Basic stuff that you want to know, but that you don’t want to think about too much unless you are figuring something out.

Of course, just playing the scale makes for some incredibly boring melodies that everyone will get tired of very quickly, so how do you get further? And THIS is a part of why the scale is important because the approach you use on the major scale will make it a lot easier to learn other scales and make that process a lot quicker.

When you improvise in Jazz then the melodies in your solo follow the chords of the song, and if you are playing a song in the key of C major then a lot of those chords are actually in the C major scale, so you want to be able to find those chords.

I am going to show you how this fits on a very common Jazz progression, a II V I. But first you need to be able to find the chords.

The Chords In There and the II V I

This  also works for other scales, and is something you want to keep in mind for working on them.

A chord is a stack of 3rds, so if you have the scale then you can construct the diatonic triads by stacking two 3rds on top of each other.

Here you will get:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C

As you can see below, in Jazz, the basic chord type is usually a 7th chord:

but all you need to get those is to add another 3rd, to get these 7 chords:

The Diatonic 7th chords: Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø Cmaj7

Finding the II V I

Now you have the diatonic chords in the scale, then you can pick out a II V I, since that is just the 2nd,  Dm7, the 5th, G7,  and 1st chord, Cmaj7 in that row of chords

You can play them like this:

And the II V I progression is very common in Jazz and probably the most common building block in Jazz songs, so it is a very useful place to demonstrate how this works and ties in with the major scale.v

You also want to notice that all of these chords are in the scale, so here the scale is a bigger thing containing and tying together several chords in a song, that means that often you stay with one scale but the important notes change with the chords.

Soloing over Chord Changes

Before I get into what exercises to focus on and the Barry Harris thing, then it is useful to look at what you actually need from the scale when you solo.

As I mentioned earlier, when you improvise in Jazz then you follow the chords, and you try to make melodies that make it clear what is happening in the chord progression. The easiest way to do that is to play the notes of the chord, which is what we call the arpeggio.

If you turn the row of chords for C major into arpeggios then you can easily play that through the scale and get some raw material for soloing:

and if you then take the 3 arpeggios of the II V I then you would have something like this:

This still sounds like an exercise, but already if you start being creative with the order of the notes you can turn this into something that sounds more like a melody, something that has a flow moving from one chord to the next:

And of course, the scale sits under this, and you can also use those notes when you solo as you take this further.

How To Really Internalize The Scale

So you already have the exercise that is playing the diatonic chords in scale. Another very useful option is to learn the diatonic triads which as you will see in a bit is great material for soloing as well, and then we can get into some of the Barry Harris-inspired exercises.

You probably remember that to create the 7th chords then you first stacked 3rds to create a triad and then added another 3rd to get the 7th chord.

And the notes of the 3 chords in the II V I are these:

What you want to realize is that the top 3 notes of each chord is a triad, and that means that you can use F major, Bdim and Em as material when you create lines over a II V I:

And create lines like this:

So for soloing it pays off to know your scale, to know the diatonic 7th chords in the scale and the diatonic triads, and it is practical to know what notes are in the chords because that helps you connect other arpeggios and triads to a chord, and it is fairly clear that this is important for almost any scale you want to use, not only the major scale.

But, these are all the basic things to give you an overview of the notes, the harmony, and how it all fits together. Another important thing to keep in mind is that you want to use this for solos, and that should be a part of coming up with what you practice!

Borrowing From Barry’s Vision

One of the things that really changed how I practiced after I had attended my first week-long Barry Harris masterclass in the Hague was a smarter much more efficient way to practice scales.

Several times in the masterclass while Barry had taught us bebop lines and explained how they worked, he had also taken a building block, or a piece of vocabulary, and turned it into a scale exercise.

This direct connection between what you wanted to play in your solos and what you should practice in your scales makes scale practice much more efficient.

I will go over some of the more advanced ones as well, but the basic example that you have probably heard me talk about before is playing the diatonic arpeggios as triplets with a leading note, which is sort of instant Charlie Parker:

And that allows for playing lines like this:

Pivot Arpeggios

Another great exercise that Barry used was pivot arpeggios, so an arpeggio where instead of just playing the ascending arpeggio then you play the first note, and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave:

You can turn that into an exercise like this:

And if you take the last Cmaj7, and just add a few chromatic passing notes then it immediately becomes a great Bebop phrase like this:

Getting Creative

And this is where it starts to get really interesting because you really turn anything you like into a scale exercise and then explore how it is to use the same idea or melody on other chords.

As an example you can combine the pivot arpeggio and the triplet with a leading note concept and then create a short building block like this:

 

As you can see it is not a systematic way to combine the pivot arpeggio with the triplet, but it sounds great, and it will work really well in some Bop lines, but first I’ll take it through the C major scale:

And then if you take the Fmaj7 version and use that on a Dm7 you can get something like this:

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Why Chord Substitutions Are Holding You Back!

To me, this is one of those things that can really open up how you work with chords and help you create some beautiful-sounding progressions without having to rely on systems and rules.

It also touches on one of the things I don’t like about a modal approach to harmony, but I will try not to rant too much about that in this video. Instead, I am going to show you a way to think about the chords that will free you from just using substitutions and will help you create some beautiful harmony that really flows through the piece.

This is closely related to the type of thinking behind the Coleman Hawkins quote: “I don’t play chords, I play movements” which is often associated with Barry Harris even though that is also not the approach that I will focus on in this video.

Like most others then I was introduced to chord substitutions pretty early in my study. This was when I was still living in Copenhagen and spent most of my time playing Jazz standards in the street when I wasn’t in school trying to get better at guitar.

I was just beginning to figure out how to harmonize melodies and turn them into chord melody arrangements but still only relying on the basic harmony (B-roll – Looking in the real book, pointing, and then trying to play a difficult chord looking baffled)

For this, I am going to start with a few basic substitutions and then we are going to expand that into something much more powerful and creative.

Chord Substitutions 101 – Tritone Subs

The first chord substitution you learn is usually the tritone substitution, which I sometimes get the impression is taught because theory teachers don’t know what to talk about in the lessons.

A tritone substitution is exchanging a dominant for the dominant a tritone away because the two chords share the same core notes: 3rd and 7th.

So in a II V I in C major EXAMPLE  the G7 is replaced with Db7. To give you this nice progression:

And you can see how the same tritone is in the two dominant chords which is why it is possible to switch them.

The best way to understand stuff like this is usually to hear it used in a song.

The basic version:

 

and with a tritone sub:

 

And this demonstrates two things: Tritone substitution(or any other chord substitution) doesn’t really make any sense if you don’t understand how it works with the chords around it. You are making the substitution to get the progression to sound different,  and you need to hear it in the context to really get what is going on, otherwise, you are in this case, just playing an E7 (b-roll: E7!) and  E7 sounds differently in a Blues in E compared to A Jazz ballad in Eb

The other thing you want to notice is that Tritone substitution usually works better when the dominant resolves, so a tritone substitute of a backdoor dominant is probably not going to sound fantastic.

Chord Substitution 102 – Major and Minor + Tritone 2.0

There are probably 3 more chord substitutions that are very common and that you want to know when you are at the stage of just swapping out chords and not really trying to think in harmony as a movement, which we will get to later.

#1 Tritone Dom instead of a II V in minor.

The first one is if you have a minor II V I like for example What Is This Thing Called Love

and you then replace the m7b5 chord with a tritone substitute resolving to the V, so in this case, Db7 moving down to C7:

The next two are about messing with how the ear expects to hear either major or minor in a II V I and then you do the opposite.

#2 a m7 instead of a IIø

If the ear expects to hear a dark-sounding m7(b5) chord EXample and instead you play a much brighter sounding chord that is a m7 with a 9th and or an 11th then that is a really nice surprise. Example

A good example could be Beautiful love. The first few bars usually sound like this:

And you can get a much brighter sound by using an Em7(11) like this:

This is pretty common and also something you can use in a solo, and there are actually even a few spots where Parker does this.

#3 a m7(b5) instead of a m7 chord

The other way around is also really nice! If you have a II V I in a song

and then make it darker by playing:

Beyond Chord Substitution

Jazz Harmony space B-roll (chord symbols flying in space?)

I guess it is sort of ironic that I started out the video by teaching chord substitutions when I actually don’t want you to think like that, so let’s go beyond that, first a bit further and then into Uncharted Jazz Harmony Space  (B-roll)

When you can only think in terms of chord substitutions then you can switch one chord out for another chord, but it actually becomes a lot better if you start to learn to work with entire progressions and come up with other ways of harmonizing that section of the melody.

This was something I first started to get into when I was studying at the conservatory and had lessons with Peter Nieuwerf and Eric Gieben who showed me some exciting ways to work much more freely with harmony, and as you will see, some of these don’t make any sense if you think of them as of chord substitutions.

Let me show you an example, that sort of goes against one of the things that makes reharmonization most effective. I am going to assume that you know what Blue Moon sounds like so that you can hear how these chords are different, and then I am going to explain what is going on.

You can hear how this still works, and still has a flow but also how far away you can go on a very simple turnaround. And actually, you can approach it in a much more open way but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The first thing I changed was turning the Am7 chord into a C#dim.

That is just a secondary dim chord and not something special.  In Bar 3, there is a lot more happening, because here the long G in the melody was original on Cmaj7 Am7, but now it is harmonized with Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7 leading into the Dm7 G7,

and Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7 are not exactly substitutions of Cmaj7 Am7, you could at most call them suspensions but since they don’t resolve back to C then that is also not really a description of what is going on.

The best way to see it is probably just to see it as something that

A/ sounds good with the melody

B/ fits in the key and the chord progression

Here they work because they are both minor subdominant chords in C major and of course sound great under the G in the melody.

In Bar 5 The Cmaj7 Am7 is turned into Bb7(#11) A7.

Again Bb7 is not really a substitution for Cmaj7 or related to Cmaj7. Instead, it is an example of choosing harmony that focuses on a different aspect of the turnaround: The chord that was there: Cmaj7 is just a tonic chord and it is a resolution when you land there, but the song keeps on moving, and the Bb7 only makes sense here because it keeps on moving to A7 and in that way is both a bit surprising but makes sense as the music continues. So you can look at the turnaround and think:

A- It is a tonic chord and then it moves on

or

B- It is a progression that needs to resolve in 2 bars.

And here I am using Bb7 because that works with the melody and really helps push towards the resolution in bar 7. In this last turnaround, I also changed the Dm7 to a D7, but that is just because I think that sounds a little better than the m7 chord with the melody.

So the big difference here is that I am much more free to use whatever chords I can get to work with the melody and the chord progression, not just looking at a chord and then thinking what chord fits instead of this.

This can give you A LOT of freedom, but before I get into that then let’s look at a way to set up a reharmonization so that it really stands out.

The Easiest Way To Make It Work

Timing is incredibly important for reharmonization and chord substitution. When you are playing a song and changing the harmony then what you are really working with is a way to go against the listener’s expectation. That is also what you hear in the Blue Moon example where I first play a turnaround in C to establish the song and then I start to change the chords.

If you start with changing the chords then there is less of an expectation and nothing for the listener to be surprised by:

And of course, that is possible but it is not nearly as strong. If you start listening for how people use reharmonziations then this is more common than you think, try to listen to Gilad Hekselman’s recording I Should Care where the 2nd half of the ABAC form starts with an F#ø Fm6 Em7 A7 because that is a new way to color the melody when it repeats in the 2nd half of the form.  This is by the way a very common reharmonization used on a ton of songs, but let’s get into some more uncommon progressions and different sounds.

Everything Is Allowed!

Until now, I was just showing you some things that were changing a chord here and there and creating some beautiful sounds, but you can also just leave out most of the chords and completely re-imagine the chord progression, using “atonal” ideas and Giant Steps.

To have a place to start check out the first few bars of You Don’t Know What Love Is:

Let’s say that you played that as the first A and now you can change things up in the 2nd A:

Here I am starting with a different chord that is essentially the same Fm6 with a Bb in the Bas and then I sculpt the rest of the chord progression around an ascending bass line ending with Gbmaj7 instead of Db7, but this would really work well moving on to Gø that would follow it.

This next example is borrowing some ideas from Coltrane’s Giant Steps circle:

Giant Steps don’t really exist in minor, and actually, you don’t want to be tied down by some sort of system when doing this, so I am being very liberal with how I incorporate the chords, and I still want to play the song.

The idea I use is to start on Fm6 and then through E7alt go to Amaj7 which is pretty far away from Fm, and to move on to Db major and finally take another route to end on Bmaj7(#11) instead of Db7.

You can probably tell how this is really more about using the Coltrane cycle as a source of inspiration and not at all a system, but like this, the melody is still intact and you get something different.

A great place to put this to use is to work on chord melody:

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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5 Things That Stop You From Learning Jazz

I often see comments from people who are completely blown away by how complicated and difficult Jazz seems to be. I can easily understand why it will come across like that, but instead of being overwhelmed by funny scales names, crazy chords, or scary rhythms then there is a more relaxed way to get started. As you will see, you can make things simple and easy to work with so that you can start building your skills and enjoy the journey without being scared of falling off a cliff while climbing the Jazz Guitar mountain.

Let’s get into the first problem:

A Million Scales

That is, of course, not true, in fact, if you just start with the major scale and just use that then you will get really far, you could also start with the pentatonic scale, but that is a little more complicated and I will talk about that in a bit. In my experience, the easiest thing to do is to start with the major scale. Along the way, you need more, scales but there are plenty of songs where you can get through them with a major scale in a few different keys, think of songs like Pent Up House, Take the A-train or So Danco Samba.

And don’t start with the “all keys and all positions” stuff, if you can play the scales you need for the song in one position and in the key that you need them, then you can start playing solos. Remember that this is the real goal of the whole thing. Pick up the rest along the way. Don’t waste your life practicing all permutations, positions, and inversions of things that you don’t know how to use.

Starting With Pentatonics

When it comes to starting with pentatonic scales then that is possible, there are songs that you can work through and get started learning just using pentatonic scales. Mostly those are more modern modal pieces, so songs like Herbie Hancocks Cantaloupe Island or Maiden Voyage, which is probably also why both of those are on the famous Jamey Aebersold beginners album Maiden Voyage.

One thing that you do want to keep in mind with starting with pentatonic is that probably what you think of when you think of a Jazz phrase is not pentatonic. All Jazz artists use pentatonic scales, but the phrases you think of when you think of Jazz are very likely more major scale and arpeggios maybe with some chromatic leading notes, and you don’t have that material with the pentatonic scale.

That doesn’t mean you can’t improvise over the songs, but you want to be aware that you might not get the sound you want. So keep in mind that if you “upgrade” your pentatonic scale with 2 extra notes then you have a major scale, that is far from impossible to learn.

When you start out playing Jazz, then you might need some help finding songs and scales, and here I could try to sell you my course because that actually teaches a song like this, but you can also just join the Facebook group and ask there. That is free, and there is a link in the description.

Impossible Theory

When I started out learning Jazz and learning the first Jazz Standards then I did not know a lot of theory, I knew a bit of chord/scale stuff so that I, for the most part, could figure out what to play on the different chords and then practice that. In fact, in one of the first lessons I had, my teacher told me to play #9, b9, and b13 over a dominant, which for quite some time was the only thing I could play on dominants and I could NEVER get that to sound good!

But I still managed to power through. Mostly by being very stubborn, and in the beginning, my approach was that if I could really not figure out what to play on a chord then I could play the melody or find a few good notes like the arpeggio, which gave me a way to survive, and still play the song. It sort of gave me space to figure it out later..

The Advantage of NOT having Internet

In a way, this is one place where I was maybe better off that there was no internet. I would need to try to find a book in the library or wait until I had access to a teacher before I could figure out a chord that didn’t make sense, and that made it easier to just fix the problem with a temporary solution and then wait until I could learn more. Now you can go on the internet and disappear down a rabbit hole spending hours or days googling German augmented 6th and Common tone diminished chords, and the worst part is that often one source says one thing and another will tell you the exact opposite.

So I guess my advice is to not be afraid to cut some corners or only have one or two notes that work on a chord in the beginning. It is about playing the song, that is the bigger picture and you can work on the details along the way without having to spend hours on understanding the analysis of the voice-leading of the original piano arrangement.

The music theory is there to help you play and understand what you are playing, and most of the time you can get really far with Major scales, basic diatonic chords, and a few secondary dominants. No need to make it more complicated than it is.

Complicated Chords

If you are sitting down to play and look at a piece of sheet music like a lead sheet or a big band part then it can seem insane how complicated and detailed the chords are.

And it seems like you have to use quantum physics to play through the chords of the song.

One thing that is important to remember is that in Jazz, chords are there to be interpreted, so if a composer or arranger writes something with 2 or 3 extensions and alterations then that does not always mean that you have to play that, that is just a description of what is happening in the music at that point.

So instead of worrying about all of that then you can also start with just playing the basic chord, which on guitar usually means playing the shell voicings with or even without the root. You start there and then you can add the rest later when you are comfortable reading and interpreting chord symbols like that.

No matter what level you are at this is a great exercise, and all the chords can be boiled down to more basic 4-note chords and you just ignore the rest and don’t play those for now.

And shell-voicings is where you want to start. If you want to see how powerful the shell-voicings are and how there are many ways you can use them to play Jazz Standards then check out this video, there is a link in the video description.

Jazz Songs: Somebody Spilled Alphabet Soup On My Sheet Music

This is of course closely related to the previous topics of theory and chords and how things might seem incredibly complicated, but also with songs there are places you can begin where it is not immediately Giant Steps played backward in 11/8.

There are a few things you can get right that will make it easier to learn songs in the beginning. And these are pretty much all things that I did not manage to get right when I started out, I will tell you about that in a bit.

  1. Pick a song that has a clear and not too long form: 32 bars AABA or ABAC maybe a 16 bar form, these are all common Jazz Standard forms.
  2. Make sure that you stick to things with mostly basic progressions like II V I and turnarounds, stuff you can recognize
  3. Take a song in an easy key so that you don’t worry about that
  4. For ear training, it is often easier to take songs that don’t modulate too much and are clear and easy to hear

The first two songs that I learned were Stella By Starlight and There Is No Greater Love. Both great songs, but if you hold them up against my points here then they far from ideal

If you want some better options then check out the video I did suggesting 10 Jazz Standards to begin with, I’ll link to it in the description. There are a lot of fairly easy standards so you might as well start there and not shoot yourself in the foot to begin with.

For the first songs, you don’t have to learn them by ear, but it really does pay off to get started with that pretty quickly begin with the melody, and then later you can add the bass and use those two things to help you figure out the chord.

Transcribing Solos

A key ingredient when you set out to learn solos by ear is probably just enthusiasm that hopefully turns into stubbornness. That was at least what it was like for me. The first things that I transcribed really just came from loving how Charlie Parker and John Scofield played and then being really curious as to what the HELL they were doing because I really liked it. Then a ton of banging my head against the wall followed while I tried to figure things out. I guess I was lucky that I mostly connected with the bluesy Parker things so there were songs and solos that I could figure out like the theme from Bluebird and the solo from Now’s The Time where he uses the same lick as in Billie’s Bounce, and I did not learn entire solos just the bits and pieces that I could figure out. The same goes for Scofield where I had heard All The Things You Are and I could (probably sort off) play the melody but when I listened to his version on Flat Out it took me somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds to be completely lost.

But similar to how I made horrible choices for songs then you can actually find some pretty easy solos that you can learn, and learning solos by ear is the most efficient way to learn phrasing and begin to hear the right type of melodies and rhythms. It will teach you so many things that you don’t want to rob yourself of that experience.

When you are trying to choose solos that you want to learn by ear then try to check most of these boxes for the solos you want to learn, just to keep it practical:

  1. Take A Short Solo
  2. Choose a solo on a song you know
  3. Be sure that it is not technically out of reach?
  4. Pick an artist that you really like
  5. Pick an artist that you have already listened to A LOT!

And in general, listening to a lot of Jazz music will really help you with a lot of these issues. Even if it is just by listening for a few hours every day in the background then that will pay off massively later, just by getting the music into your ears, a basic feel for the melodies and the rhythms that you don’t get if you only practice the music without actually listening to it.

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3 Music Theory Exercises That Actually Help You Play Better

The worst thing that you can have when it comes to music theory is that you have your music theory knowledge over here and then you have the music that you play over here, and the two are not really connected.

Music theory is there to describe what you hear, and what you play:

It is NOT:

  1. A set of rules for what notes are allowed in your solo
  2. A formula for melodies or chord progressions
  3. Something you think about when you are playing

But as you will see in this video, then it is incredibly powerful to have some very basic theory that you know really well and that fits with the music and the songs that you play. With that approach, then learning music theory is easier and it is much more useful, even though you don’t think about it when you solo.

The Most Important Theory Knowledge

Maybe the biggest question about this is not the knowledge itself, but how you want to think about it or visualize it. You’ll see what I mean along the way.

When you are improvising then you are playing over chords that are in a scale, so you want to have a solid overview of that information and see how the notes of the chord connect with the scale.

For that to be easy, then you want to be used to thinking about scales and diatonic chords knowing what goes where and contains which notes.

As an exercise, It can actually make a lot of sense to also work on this away from the instrument and treat it a bit more as a puzzle, but, of course, you eventually also want to have it down on the instrument if it is going to be useful for you.

It really pays off to just try to go over how to construct chords in a scale and be aware of what types of chords are wherein the scale that you use.

Here I am writing it out as letters, but it works equally well using music notation, which is how I probably learned in theory classes.

While I know how to play these things and how they sound, then I am not sure I really think this on the guitar as tabs or diagrams, but that may be different for you, and I am a bit curious about that so let me know in the comments.

In Music, there are no wrong notes, but some are closer to home than others, and often it is more useful to understand things by knowing how they work in the context.

Pineapple is great, but should it be on a pizza?

For soloing, you can think of it as layers of notes almost like a pyramid:

, and here it also makes sense to see it as highlights on a diagram of the neck:

And working on this is about getting that overview that will open up how you understand things you transcribe or even what you are playing.

Spending time writing out the scale, constructing the chords, and learning the diatonic harmony is very useful. Start with major scales but move on to harmonic and melodic minor as well, since you will need these scales when you are playing Jazz. But if you want to connect more information than just knowing the chords and the scale, let’s take a look at that.

Triads That Go Together And More

When you solo over a chord then you have the arpeggio of the chord and you have the scale that sort of sits around that arpeggio, but there are actually more ways you should be looking at notes that work over the chord and explore other melodies that you can use than just the scale and the arpeggio.

If you start with a very simple observation then you have the four notes of the chord, if we take Cmaj7: C E G B, but you can also view that chord as two triads: C E G and E G B. So for a Cmaj7 chord then the C major triad works and so does the Em triad.

If you take that a bit further then you can look at a Cmaj7(9)

Again this is probably easier to work with writing it out in some form, and you want to keep track of what the notes are against the root of the chord which in the end is actually a description of how it sounds when you use it.

The goal of exploring this is to get used to taking a group of notes and be able to see what they are against a chord, so that you have more options for your solos, and you want to also explore how to use this in solos.

When you improvise and make melodies then you don’t think in single notes, you group them together and hear melodies that are described in different ways, similar to how you hear the theme of “in the mood” as a 1st inversion triad.

So as you develop your vocabulary then you add more options in terms of triads, arpeggios, and other groups of notes that fit over a chord.

And the better you get at this the deeper you can dig into it and add quartal arpeggios and superimposed pentatonics to your lines and get them to work in your solos.

Connect It To The Music

Until now the way that you work on using music theory was based on you practicing exercises like diatonic triads and arpeggios and then figuring out how to use those, but you also want to explore the music you are trying to learn from, both solos and the songs themselves.

Let’s start with the songs:

A simple exercise is to look at what notes are in the melody relative to the chord. This is useful for developing your chord melody skills because it makes it easier to put chords under the melody.

And if you start analyzing Jazz standards you will see that they often have the same notes in the melody over specific chords, for example, #IV diminished chords or reharmonizations of them will have the 7th of the scale in the melody.

As you can see in “I Remember You”, “Someday My Prince Will Come”, “All The Things You Are”. Which also makes it easier to hear and recognize changes by ear.

Solos and Vocabulary

Of course, analyzing solos that you have transcribed is also incredibly useful, that is where you start to take apart vocabulary and improve your own lines. The place where you start to unlock how the melodies work and turn that into a flexible part of your playing.

This is an incredibly powerful tool. Let’s take this simple Pat Martino Lick use that to easily create 3 more licks on other chords.

The Pat Martino line from Lazy bird sounds like this:

Essentially this is a melody using a Cmaj7 arpeggio and a chromatic run.

Now that you know what is being played then you can see that it also fits over a Cmaj7 chord for example the beginning of Yardbird Suite:

But you can go a lot further, because If this works on Cmaj7 and is using a Cmaj7 arpeggio, then you can also try and move the arpeggio up to the 3rd of the chord and use the same construction:

C D E F G A B C D → C D E F G A B C D

You just need to apply a little Barry Harris magic to the chromatic part of the lick, and then you get this:

Another way to get more out of the lick is to move it to another chord. The original is using the arpeggio from the 3rd of Am7, so you can do the same with a G7 where the arpeggio from the 3rd is a Bø and that gives you this:

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The 5 Types of Dominant Chord You Want To Know

There is ONE mistake that you don’t want to make when it comes to improvising over chords because that will hold you back when it comes to understanding and hearing chord progressions that you want to play. And this is especially true for dominant chords.

It sort of goes back to the Joke or anecdote about Mozart driving his father crazy by playing something like

When I play this then you can hear probably hear what the root is, because the last chord wants to resolve to the root. You can also hear that the last chord wants to resolve, and I did not resolve it. That is also the joke, Mozart would play this and not resolve it to infuriate his father.

Music Is More Than A Row Of Letters

But, what this tells you is that in a lot of music, chords are not isolated things. A piece of music rarely sounds like unrelated harmony next to each other, you immediately start to connect the chords and hear some chords as tension and others as a resolution.

I am going to make a statement that sounds sort of ridiculous in a bit!

If you want to solo over a chord progression then you want to understand not only what chord is there, but also how it relates to the song and the surrounding chords because that will make it a lot easier to improvise over it and it will help you hear the harmony that you are soloing over.

If you just zoom in on each chord then that is like reading a sentence but only spelling each word. If you spell this sentence you may miss an important part of what is being said:

Your Lunch Will Kill You

Another thing that is true both for music and for language is that you can say the same thing with other words:

That Sandwich Is Poison

Hearing Chord Progressions

With experience, you start to hear the progression, similar to how you can probably imagine how a 12-bar blues sounds and play that in your head like an audio track.

So what you REALLY want to avoid is that you just look at the chord symbol and ignore everything else. To compare this to language. If you are reading the words of a sentence but only focus on how each word is spelled then you ignore what is actually being said in the sentence, and if you think about it, then the important thing about the sentence is probably the meaning and it could be said using other words as well. This is also true for, at least, most music: A Chord is a part of a context and you want to understand what that context is.

And here is where I get to make this crazy statement:

“Not all dominant chords are dominant”

But throughout this video, you will see how this is maybe not that crazy.

#1 Most of the time Dominant chords are Dominants

The strongest connection or resolution in harmony is a dominant resolving to a tonic, so V – I. By resolving then I mean that the chord on the 5th note of the scale resolves to the root chord.

This is also what I used in the intro, but there I didn’t let it resolve.

You have two main variations, the V chord is either in a major or in a minor key, where a major dominant will have a 13th, and a 9th and resolves to a maj7

The minor version is usually the dominant coming from the harmonic minor scale with a b9 and b13 (PLAY). But there are a lot of other options as well.

Let’s go over another very common dominant before getting to the dominant chord that is actually subdominant.

#2 And These are Dominants As Well

The next type of dominant chords are the ones that you come across that resolve but just not to the tonic chord, the secondary dominants and if you analyze harmony then you write a V in brackets.

     I       [V]      II       V

 Cmaj7 A7   Dm7  G7

 

Some of the common ones would be the ones that take us to II, like this A7: Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

The V of V: D7 Dm7 G7

Or if you have a song that moves to the IV: Cmaj7 C7 Fmaj7.

These follow the same guidelines as the regular dominants so the extensions depend on whether the target chord is major or minor, so a if the target chord is major it will have a 9th and a 13th and if it is resolving to a minor chord then it will have a b9 and a b13.

Let’s have a look at some less obvious options.

#3 This Dominant is Subdominant

In this example, you hear a C7 resolving to Fmaj7 which is just a secondary dominant, but the Bb7 resolving to Cmaj7 is not like that. But it does sound like it resolves.

In this case, the Bb7 is a subdominant chord. In fact, it is just an Fm6 with another bass note.

You can hear how this progression moves in the same way:

So the Bb7, which is often referred to as the backdoor dominant resolves like an Fm6 to Cmaj7 so it is a subdominant chord.

In terms of improvising then mostly you would play it as a Lydian dominant, which here means using F melodic minor, again a connection with IVm in the key.

#4 The Disguised Dominant

When you have a dominant chord that resolves by moving down a half step then this is referred to as a tritone substitution. In fact, this is the dominant of the key in disguise, I’ll show you that in a bit.

When you analyze this dominant you write add sub in front of the dominant

II subV I which means that it is the tritone substitute of the dominant.

In the progression above you would expect a G7: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7, and the reason why a tritone substitute works is that if you look at G7 next to a Db7 then you can see that they share the core part of the chord: 3rd and 7th. And a Db7 can be seen as a G7 with a lot of alterations with a Db in the bass.

You can come across tritone substitutions for secondary dominants as well. Below is an example of how is a substitute for the A7 in a C major turnaround.

#5 You Never See This But Is Good To Know

The last dominant chord is also in fact subdominant since it is derived from a subdominant diminished chord.

The most famous example of this chord is probably in Out Of Nowhere, where you have this progression:

You also find this in the original Star Trek Theme.

In this case, the Eb7 is in fact an inversion of another chord, namely a #IV double diminished.

Constructing the Double Diminished Chord

In the key of G major, the #IV is C#

The #IV diminished would be C# E G Bb

So the #IV double diminished is C# Eb G Bb which is then played with the Eb in the bass.

The Other Name

There is another way of describing it where you focus on it being minor subdominant and then end up calling it a German augmented 6th chord.

I call it #IV because I think that describes the sound better and links it to other chords in the key in a useful way.

Besides Out Of Nowhere you see this chord in Angel Eyes and My Foolish Heart, but it is not terribly common.

Soloing over the chord

In Jazz, you mostly play it as a Lydian dominant chord, but often it is also turned into a II V which is also very common in Out Of Nowhere giving you Gmaj7 Gmaj7 Bbm7 Eb7.

How Well Do You Know Your Diminished Chords

It may be useful for you to dive into the different types of diminished chords if you want to understand Jazz harmony better. Often people try to reduce diminished chords to dominants, but often that doesn’t really work that well and help you describe how it sounds. This video will show you how to understand them.

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The Most Important Music Theory And How It Helps You Play Better

If you know some Simple and Basic Music Theory but you know it well, then you can use that to understand most harmony and find a lot of great sounds for your solos. I think you will be surprised just how far you can go and how much you can do with a few really basic things, but you do need to work on the right things.

What is Music Theory

First I want to look at what Music Theory is and how you can use it, because I think, that is often misunderstood, which makes it more difficult than it has to be, and you might not realize that you already know a lot. Music theory is just like playing music: If you really know the fundamental things, the rest becomes a lot easier.

Remember that you can use the chapters in the video to go back to something or skip ahead if you already know it.

One of the most important things to realize is that you use Music Theory to describe and understand music. It really is about putting describing what you hear. Sometimes people want to make it a set of rules that tell you what you are allowed to play, but that is not really how it works.

Rules might seem useful as a way of learning, but as you will see, being able to describe and understand what is going on is a lot more useful, and in the end, there are no rules anyway.

Let me quickly show you how describing music is incredibly useful an example from a Blues classic.

How Music Theory Is Useful

let’s take this example of an Eric Clapton phrase from the song Hideaway.

Example First Phrase

Level 1 – Clueless

If you don’t know anything about music theory, then he is playing magic notes that sound amazing.

Level 2 – Scale and Chord Progression

If you know a little bit more then you know that the song is a Blues in E, and he is playing the E major pentatonic scale.

Level 3 – Understanding the phrase

if you want to learn to play it then it is useful to realize that he is starting on the 5th and then the next part is him running up the scale ending with bending the 2nd up to the 3rd.

Conclusion

So level by level you go from “Magic notes that sound amazing” to “a scale run with a bend in the pentatonic scale”, and it is obviously easier to learn how to play it if you know that it is this scale with a bend on this note instead of memorizing a lot of magic notes.

And all you do is recognizing and describing what is going on. That is how Music Theory is useful.

#1 The Major Scale and The Notes In It

The first and most basic thing you want to know is something that most of you probably already know. The major scale, how it is constructed, and the notes in it. Really knowing this means that it is a lot easier to figure out most other things you’ll come across so this is incredibly important.

If you construct a major scale then you start with a root note and move up in intervals of whole and half-steps.

The formula is 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2

For a C major scale:

C D E F G A B C

You want to know the notes in there, if you have to use a formula to figure out the notes then you don’t really know this. That is too slow for you to use it when you are playing.

You also want to know this in all keys, especially the ones you play in., in fact, those are the ones you want to start with.

Besides knowing the note names then it is very important that you know the degrees of the scale, you will see why in the next section of the video.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

How Well Do You Need To Know Scales?

Having a solid overview of the scale notes will make it a lot easier to analyze chords or solo phrases which also helps you figure out what is happening in a solo you transcribed and how you can start using the same things in your playing. If you have to calculate what notes are in the scale that quickly becomes almost impossible. If you know them really well then it is like a language you speak. Something you can use and get from information from.

In the long run, you want to know all the scales by heart so that you don’t have to think about what notes are in there, simply because this can be the foundation that you build everything else on, as you will see in the rest of this video.

#2 How To Construct Chords

When you improvise in Jazz then usually you are using chord symbols as a guideline to shape the improvisation. So you need to be able to translate the chord progression to something you can use in a solo, and knowing what notes are in the chords is a really good place to start.

There are two ways you can approach this, you can take a root and then construct the chord from that, just using intervals, but often I find it is better to start immediately by learning the chords you find in a scale since those are the chords you will also come across in chord progressions, and they are connected in a lot of useful ways that you can also use in solos.

From Scale To Harmony

Constructing chords in a scale is pretty simple. A chord is a stack of 3rds and you have two main types of 3rds: major which is 4 half steps (Play) or minor which is 3 half steps(play)

If you construct a triad from C in the C major scale then you start with the scale

the scale: C D E F G A B C

and from C you move up a 3rd to E, and from E up a 3rd to G. – C to E is a major 3rd so it is a major chord. E to G is a minor 3rd. C E G is a C major triad where C is the root, E is the major 3rd and G is the 5th.

If you create a triad from the next note in the scale D then you get D F A which is a minor 3rd followed by a major 3rd from F to A. This is a Dm triad with D F A is root, minor 3rd and 5th.

All the triads are major or minor except the one on the 7th note in the scale, in this case that is B D F, here you have a minor 3rd from B to D and another minor 3rd form D to F. The interval from B to F is called a diminsihed 5th and different from the one from C to G which is called a perfect 5th, and this type of triad is called a diminished triad: Bdim

In this way you can construct the diatonic triads of a major scale:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

Remember that this order of Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor dim, is the same in all major keys,

so if you have Eb major:

Scale: Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb

then the triads will be

Eb Fm Gm Ab Bb Cm Ddim Eb

This is something you want to automatically know that for the keys you play in, if not just all keys, but keep in mind that this is really just a different way of seeing something that you already know because you know the scale.

Triads are a great resource for solos or for comping, so this is more than just theory, a line using Em and G major triads over a Cmaj7 sounds like this:

and later I will show you how to find those triads for a chord, but first, you need some 7th chords which is, sort of, the basic chord type in Jazz.

Diatonic 7th Chords

You already know the triads and all you need to do to get the 7th chords is to add a 7th.

For the major scale you only have two types: maj7 and b7: For C major: C E G, if you add the 7th: C D E F G A B , you get C E G B. The interval from C to B is a maj7th, written as Cmaj7.

Notice that the 7th is just one step down in the scale, a maj7th is a half-step down, and a b7 is a whole step down.

An example of the b7 is found on the next chord, Dm: here you get D F A and add the C to get a Dm7 chord.

The 7th chords in C major will give you:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø

So you get a maj7 on C, a b7 on D, and also on E giving us Em7, on F the 7th is E giving us Fmaj7. The 7th on G7 is an F giving us a major chord with a b7 called a dominant chord. A to G is a b7 giving us an Am7. The B dim also has a b7 from B to A so that is a Bm7(b5) also sometimes referred to as B half-diminished.

Now you have the chords in a scale and you can find them in any key, but again this is stuff you really just want to know. Try practicing the diatonic chords in all keys and also move simple progressions around like a II V I or a I VI II V

When you improvise in Jazz then you usually take the chord and find material that fits on that chord. Let’s look at a great way to find a lot of material in the form of triads and 7th chords for any chord.

#3 Finding More Arpeggios (Crazy simple)

This concept is really simple and is something you can mess around with by just writing out a scale in a different way!

The basic idea is that if you are improvising over a chord then you can use the scale and the arpeggio of the chord, but you need to have more options than just the scale and the arpeggio, and if you check out solos from great Jazz players then you notice them using a lot of other things as well.

These arpeggios and triads they use are not coming out of thin air, it isn’t magic (It is NEVER magic when it comes to note choice), and you can easily use the music theory I covered in this video to find a lot of options.

Let’s first look at the scale in a different way:

Usually, you write the scale out in steps, so C major is C D E F G A B C but now you want to find triads and arpeggios, and they are built in 3rds so it is practical to write the scale as stacked 3rds like this:

C E G B D F A C E G B D

I wrote out a few octaves because that is easier.

Let’s say you have to improvise over a G7. You just need to find triads and chords that have a lot of common notes with G7. Because G7 is what the rest of the band is playing, and if you play those notes that sound good.

So now, instead of G7 and the scale you have

G7,Bø and Em7 + Em, G, Bdim and Dm triads

Each of these arpeggios are triads are really just a very flexible melody that you can work with and you can combine them as well to get an incredible amount of possibilities in your solo.

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Jazz Reharmonization – How To Make Great Variations of a II V I

There are some really beautiful variations and reharmonizations of a basic II V I progression that you can check out and start adding to your own repertoire. You don’t always want to play the chords exactly as written, especially if you are trying to make a chord melody arrangement or an intro sound better.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:33 The Basic II V I

00:45 #1 Walking up

01:46 #2 Walking down

02:13 #3 Wandering to minor

02:58 #4 Strolling back from minor

03:46 #5 Coltrane’s Detour

04:27 #6 The Walk Down to Another Key

05:11 #7 The “Wrong Chromatic” approach II V

05:59 Make your chord progressions more interesting

06:13 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

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Two Intervals For Every Note – Why You Need To Know This

This is a video that discusses how to think about the notes that we play. Why I think in note names as well as intervals and why you need different things to play jazz solos.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:23 Not All Notes Are Created Equal

01:30 The Important Details – Visual & Practical

02:32 Losing The Bigger Picture

04:44 It’s About Two Things

05:07 No Real-time Calculations

05:47 Not Only The Scale

06:57 Communicating With The Rest Of The Band

07:48 Fretboard Knowledge That Makes Sense For The Music

08:05 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

 

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