Tag Archives: jens jazz guitar

No Bending In Jazz, Please!

I guess this might be a hot take on the topic of bending in Jazz, but this is a really common question, and that was sort of surprising to me because I never really thought about it like that but I will try to explain that later.

I get a lot of comments about this ranging from “why is there no bending” or the more frustrated ones that are “Bending isn’t allowed” and of course my favorite which is to blame it on me. which is always fun.

But why isn’t bending a part of Jazz Guitar? And actually, I think there are quite a few reasons for this.

Is Bending Overrated?

Maybe sometimes string bending gets a bit overrated?  The main reason you would ask why Jazz doesn’t use string bending is usually that you come from playing genres where that is a common part of phrasing and playing. That would probably be Blues, Classic Rock, and Metal? In those genres bending has almost become synonymous with demonstrating good taste, emotion, and not over-playing in a solo. Usually, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd is the typical hero of this way of playing almost to the point of it almost becoming a joke.

Some of the comments I get on YouTube will explain to me that “bending is the BEST phrasing” and that is used to argue that Jazz is lacking emotion or expression, but maybe it is worthwhile to point out that there are a lot of genres of guitar music where bending is not a standard part of the phrasing. Unless you also want to write off Flamenco, Bluegrass, and Classical music as lacking emotion as well.

It is not that Jazz fans are really any better, you can easily find examples of Jazz used in the same way to dismiss chord progressions that don’t have extensions as boring which obviously is just as silly.

But, while you are learning Jazz then there is a reason why I often tell people to avoid to play in a way that makes it a lot less effective to play boomer bends as a way of phrasing.

There Are Jazz Players That Use Bending

Of course, there are Jazz Guitarists that DO use bends, let’s start with a modern example and then add some of the more classic guys!

John Scofield was one of the first Jazz guitarists I listened to a lot, and in many ways, he is also one of the people to use bending in phrases that are not just Blues phrases. You can hear it in this example where he is using quite a few bends in the theme of the Gershwin ballad “Someone To Watch Over Me”.

Scofield always had this a part of his sound. It is certainly a part of his style, but you can actually find examples of most Jazz players using bends, it is just not as big a part of their vocabulary and not something that happens every other phrase.

As I mentioned earlier then you most commonly hear this in Blues phrases, like this example with Barney Kessel –  BARNEY EXAMPLE  or here with Kenny Burrell – BARNEY EXAMPLE

Both are soloing on a Blues and using blues vocabulary which of course is a part of Jazz.

So it is in there and it always was, but it is not something you use all the time. I think there are 3 possible reasons why bending is not so common in Jazz.

#1 Jazz Melodies Are Different!

You want to keep in mind that string bending is primarily used in blues phrases, and it is not a technique you would use for the Bebop lines, let me show you what I mean:

In the Blues, bends are used more on sustained notes or when notes are repeated.

But Bebop vocabulary is not about long notes or repeated notes so the effect of bending is not as powerful. The point is that you want to clearly hear that gradual move in pitch. Another thing is that for Jazz lines, connecting and locking in with the groove is more important where Blues melodies often will float more freely on top of a very clear groove.

Example of floating Blues Lick?

Try to listen to this short phrase where you can hear that the melody uses more notes, has more direction and tension, and is a lot lighter with a more syncopated rhythm.

It is a completely different type of melody, and playing syncopated rhythms more freely floating just means that you lose what is nice about them being syncopated.

I don’t know if I need to mention this, but the difference between Jazz and Blues is not really about one being better than the other, this is just that they are different and what makes Jazz Jazz and Blues Blues.

It Is Bending Too Slow For Bebop?

If you were to try to add bends to an 8th note line then it is fairly clear that bending is not a very efficient way to produce a note compared to legato, slides, and the other techniques used in a phrase, and for Bebop then speed and efficiency is certainly a factor.

Maybe you can see that from the opening phrase of Donna Lee. You could choose to play the trill in the beginning of the melody with a bend:

But it is a lot of extra motion for the left hand so it is not very efficient to get to work in a Bebop line compared to a normal legato trill.

Another thing that is also worth mentioning is the guitars and I am sure they were certainly also a factor.

#2 The Guitars and Pickups

Evolution of sound: Acoustic, Jazz Guitar + Amp – Solidbody with effects – Guitar into Laptop

If you think of how Jazz guitar sits in the history and development of Jazz then it was mainly used from Bebop and on, and the instruments that were used at that point were archtop guitars with fairly heavy strings and some sort of early single coil pickup like a p90 or a Charlie Christian pickup.

This type of guitar sounds great but, similar to an acoustic guitar, does not have a lot of sustain, which again fights a bit against a technique like bending that works better if the note keeps ringing and doesn’t fade out before you have hit the pitch you want.

I think you can also sort of hear this in how T-bone walker, who also played a hollow body guitar, often repeats notes when bending almost like he tries to find a way to compensate for that.

Again, it makes sense to compare Jazz to Bluegrass where the acoustic guitars have a similar sound without a lot of sustain. In Bluegrass, the soloing style is also relying on more dense and active melodies weaving through the changes and not long notes with vibrato. The gear really does often shape the style of music, by now modern styles of guitar music really incorporates recording and studio effects as much as real gear like amps and effects to shape the sound. In a way, it is an evolution from acoustic to adding more and more ways to shape the basic sound.

There was another thing that we don’t talk about that much, but it most likely also played a fairly big role besides the guitar though.

#3 You Don’t Want Feedback

You might be thinking that even with a single coil pickup you can get more sustain, which is certainly true for a tele or a les paul with p90s where you can turn up the amp to get more compression and therefore also more sustain, but If you have ever played a hollow body with a p90 like this one, then you also know how much trouble you can get with feedback which can get completely out of control. In the 40s and 50s when the basic Jazz guitar style was evolved then most amps just had a volume knob and some sort of simple EQ. This limits how loud you can go with an instrument like that and if you want to play the amp so loud that it starts compressing and gives you more sustain then you are most likely going to be at a volume where you are spending more time trying to mute the strings and keeping the guitar in a direction away from the amp so it doesn’t go crazy with feedback.

I am curious about which reason you think was more important, maybe it is something I didn’t mention at all? You can let me know in the comments.

It Is Not Jazz, It is You!

A completely different reason for why it feels like bends are not allowed in Jazz has nothing to do with Jazz, because it could also be that you show up to a Jazz Jam session and want to play the blues licks you have in your fingers over the standards, which I imagine will not go down too well.

Before I start explaining why the way I teach Jazz sort of leads away from string bending there is something else that is maybe also worth understanding, especially if you were one of the people asking the question.

Does AC/DC Need Synthbass?

The first few times that I had students or people on the internet asking me about this then I was pretty surprised by the question, simply because it wasn’t something I had ever thought about. I guess that also has to do with how you approach the music.

When I got into Jazz then the main thing that drove it all was that I liked the music that I heard, and I was very curious about how to sound like that. That also means that I was not really concerned with what they didn’t do, only in figuring out what they were doing so that I could do that as well. If there was no tapping, bending, or delays then that didn’t matter. What interested me was how to sound like the music I heard. I especially remember this from hearing El Hombre, Pat Martino’s debut album.

The reason I mention this is because I suspect you will get that reaction more often, and it feels a bit like asking why there is no synth in AC/DC or BB king tapping licks. The music is fine as it is, and we can’t go back in time and change it.

Beginning Jazz Phrasing

When it comes to Jazz phrasing, and especially Bebop phrasing, then the fact that the vocabulary is about rhythm and syncopation also means that you start by letting people play shorter notes. That is also what you hear if you go back to the phrasing of swing which is the origin of Bebop.

Pat Martino playing the Benny Goodman piece, Seven come eleven is also an example of this. Phrases end are ending on an off-beat and the last note is short to make it clear that it is syncopated. Often when you come from especially Blues then it is less important to stop the notes and you let every note in the melody ring out. When you start playing Jazz then you need to learn to take control of the length of the note and really choose when to play long notes. Bending is just not that effective if you play a lot of fast short notes.

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Is This Jazz Guitar Method Fantastic and Terrible At The Same Time

Jazz solos are not improvising every single note, we use building blocks to construct phrases, similar to how words are used to form sentences and you don’t spell each word in the sentence, you just put them together to make a statement, and that is also how you want to improvise.

When it comes to learning some really solid building blocks fro Bebop vocabulary, then one of the best books that I know is “Joe Pass guitar style“, and I am far from the only one to recommend it, both John Scofield and Mike Stern have mentioned studying it and when I was studying then most of my teachers gave me homework from that book.

Building Blocks

Jazz Lick:

But it does have a problem and maybe not the one that I hear people mention all the time, and that is what I want to talk about in this video.

The Method

The part of the book that I worked on and that I also use with my students is the 2nd half of the book that has some written-out solos that you can work on playing.

Playing these solos will give you some great examples of super-strong basic Bebop vocabulary and teach you a lot about improvising over chord changes, using chromatic phrases and Bebop melodies.

And, of course, it is also good for your reading, technique, and fretboard knowledge.

So lots of stuff to learn.

Joe Pass is obviously an expert when it comes to Bebop on guitar, and the solos are filled with great phrases that are clear and sound logical without being predictable or formulaic.

So what is the problem with the book?

As you can see, the solos are very dense:

They are mostly just streams of 8th notes. One of the two complaints I hear the most often is, of course, “There are no tabs” which is true. But even if you have to spend some time deciphering where to play these solos without tabs then they are actually worthwhile, and almost a reason to learn to read.

This book was just made before tabs were really something that was common.

When it comes to the dense 8th note lines then Joe Pass explains it with this:

“These solos are in straight 8th-notes. By eliminating rhythmic variety, you force the ear into building better melodies. 8th-note studies also tend to avoid the practice of playing memorized licks.

Chord symbols are for your analysis, not necessarily for accompaniment.”

My interpretation of this is that he is saying that playing continuous 8th-notes forces you to play the changes clearer with more logical melodies and that it is more difficult to rely on licks you already know. I think that makes sense. I don’t think that he means straight 8th notes as opposed to swing 8th notes, just that it is one long stream of 8th notes. It also sounds like he is suggesting that you actually practice improvising like this as much as you play his solos, which is not how I hear most people use this. But that can certainly be a great exercise to work on.

On a side note: the chord symbols are sometimes really off and not a very strong analysis in my opinion, but that is not so important for this video.

Playing these dense 8th note solos is technically more demanding and if you are performing then that is probably not how you want your solo to sound since it has no rests, no room to breathe.

And yet, almost any Jazz guitarist will tell you that this is great material to study and most certainly worth your time, so let’s look at how you can work with these phrases?

The Building Blocks

Besides playing the exercises and getting these types of melodies into your fingers and ears, which is already a great exercise in itself, then there is a lot more you can use this material for.

One thing that is worth noticing about the solos is that Joe Pass is constructing lines with building blocks that are mostly a few notes with a direction to a target note. This keeps the entire solo moving forward and since the target note is almost always a chord tone it also really helps with connecting the melody to the chord progression, so nailing the changes

These building blocks are what you want to get into your own playing and doing that is perhaps one of the best things you can take away from the book. Something that will really help you sound like Jazz when you improvise.

One way to do that is to take a single phrase and then start composing lines using that phrase and in that way get it to fit into your vocabulary.

So if you start with a phrase like this:

That can work on a Gm7 chord to create a solid bebop line like this:

 

And you can of course also put it to use on the C7, add a triplet and some octave displacement, and then you have a great line like this:

Is Building Blocks Cheating?

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes I get comments from people who insist that the ideal is that you improvise each note of a phrase and never study licks or how to use them, even going as far as dismissing arpeggios and triads as being clichés. I often wonder who they listen to? Because most people I have listened to use phrases that they clearly got from others and they all use arpeggios and triads. And, I never felt that it makes them sound bad, at least not to me anyway. Like Grant Green, who, like George Benson, uses a ton of Parker lines, and in another style, Stevie Ray Vaughan Playing like Albert King.

So using building blocks is a practical way to learn to play in a style, it is how the people you listen to learn, and it is a part of learning the language. But You want to be as flexible as possible with the material because that makes it easier to use in a solo. So in that respect, this book is full of useful information for you to internalize.

The fact that the lines are constructed from blocks actually also makes it easier to learn.

The Blocks Help You Learn The Solo

If you are trying to learn a new language then you don’t first try to memorize a whole story and then figure out what each word means. You use the words to help you learn the story, and that is also how you should be learning solos like this as well.

It may look like there are no individual phrases, but, as you have seen, there is a logical way to split it up in blocks, and if you do that you can think in smaller phrases each a few notes long. This will help you learn because what you are playing makes more sense and you will have an easier time learning how to play the whole thing without feeling like you are trying to memorize all the letters in a book!

The Problem

Until now, it was about all the great things you can learn from these solos, but of course, this is a specific exercise and there are things that it probably won’t teach you.

The other complaint that I get about this material, both in comments and from students, is that there is no rhythm in the solo, it is all 8th notes, and that is unrealistic. You don’t want to play like that if you are performing.

There is actually rhythm and syncopation in the solo. I’ll show you that in a bit, but for the rest it is true that if you listen to Joe Pass on recordings then he certainly does not play like this.

The emphasis in the solo and in practicing like this is on flow, forward motion, and strong melodies, so if you play these solos and improvise like this, as Joe Pass suggests, then that is something you will develop. You won’t develop more open phrasing focused on syncopated rhythms, or playing riff-like material similar to what you might find in a Lester Young or Charlie Christian solo. But then again that is also not really what you are trying to develop with this material, and you can work on that elsewhere. The idea that you should learn everything at once from one source is anyway a bit silly.

It is, however, good to be aware of that the lines will teach you to be clear and always play from one heavy beat (so beat 1 or beat 3) to the next heavy beat, and only phrasing like that can be a problem down the road.

Just like you have chord tones as target notes in these Joe Pass solos, then you probably also want to develop rhythmical target notes so that you can play strong melodies to 4& and 1& as well as just beat 1. A big part of Bebop phrasing is also about doing those types of syncopations which is what makes Bebop sound playful and light, not just a machine working its way from downbeat to downbeat.

Rhythmical Target Notes

But I also said that there actually is syncopation in the solo, even if it is just all 8th-notes. Let’s have a look at that.

There is Rhythm, You Just Don’t Recognize It

Dismissing the solos as not having any rhythm or syncopation is actually wrong. I understand why it might look like that, but if you play them and know just a little bit about Bebop phrasing then you can also see how there are some syncopated accents in there.

There are no really strict rules for accents, but some obvious places in this line would be something like this

So you can see how the accents add a layer of syncopation that you don’t immediately see when you just look at the long row of 8th notes, and that is something you don’t want to miss and a huge part of learning jazz phrasing

If you want to get the Joe Pass Guitar Style book then it is available here:

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New Book: Advanced Jazz Guitar Concepts!

It is here! My New Book:

Advanced Jazz Guitar Concepts

In Advanced Jazz Guitar Techniques I provide more deep insights into the techniques and theory of contemporary jazz guitar. 

You’ll discover a practical, no-nonsense guide to jazz guitar topics that have mystified even experienced jazz musicians – such as effective soloing with triad pairs, applying quartal harmony, how to use altered scales, and much more!

Master the advanced guitar techniques and melodic concepts you’ve heard in the music of everyone from Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery, to Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michael Brecker and Mike Moreno. 

What you’ll learn:

  • How to use tritone substitution more effectively in your playing
  • Chord and scale substitution ideas to create new sounds with scales you already know
  • How to use triad pairs from the Altered Scale
  • How to combine triads, arpeggios and scale runs to create melodic, modern-sounding licks that avoid clichés
  • Intervallic patterns to introduce exciting melodic leaps into your jazz soloing
  • The Augmented and Tritone scales and how to use them

Learn More

Here’s What You Get:

  • A step-by-step jazz guitar method that starts simple and adds layers of complexity
  • Perfectly notated examples with tab and studio-quality audio to download for FREE
  • A full-length blues with a solo analysis demonstrating all the concepts at work
  • Apply your knowledge to the most common progressions in jazz

You can get the Paperback on Amazon here: Advanced Modern Jazz Guitar

You Can also order it as a PDF on the Fundamental Changes Website here: Advanced Modern Jazz Guitar

I am so proud of this book. I think it really presents some information on soloing in with a more modern sound that is not really available anywhere else but is certainly a key ingredient for a lot of the Jazz Musicians of today.

Learn Jazz – Make Music!

Best regards,
Jens

Pentatonic Scale – How To Not Sound Like The Blues

The Pentatonic Scale can be great both as a way to get started playing jazz and also just some extra material that you can use as another sound if you are already playing jazz. But when you want to use The Pentatonic Scale in jazz you don’t always want to use blues licks. You want to play melodies that sound like jazz.

In this video, I am going to go over some exercises and show you how you can use them to get another sound out of pentatonic scales and create some modal and some II V I jazz lines. Pentatonic scales are a huge part of the vocabulary of people like Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel and John Scofield.

Content:

0:00 Intro

0:15 Jazz Melodies with Pentatonic Scales

0:39 Who Uses Pentatonic Scales in Jazz

0:58 Example 1

1:02 The Basic Am Pentatonic Box

1:28 Analyzing the Example

2:14 Exercises  1

2:27 Making Variations on Exercise 1

3:23 Example 1 – slow

3:28 Using The Am Pentatonic Scale with other material

3:42 Example 2

4:02 Example 2 – slow

4:07 Example 3

4:10 What is really important about the exercises!

4:37 Exercise 2 – Construction

5:10 Exercise 2 – Demonstration

5:16 Analysis of Example 3

5:43 Example 3 – Slow

5:53 Example 4 – Using it in a II V I

6:11 Example 4 – Slow

6:36 Example 5

6:40 Flexibility in Practicing

7:04 Designing Exercises with Good Phrasing

7:18 Analysing Example 5

7:56 Exercise 3

8:38 Example 5 – Slow8:41 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page

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Easy Jazz Licks – How To Use The Pentatonic Scale

A big part of what makes Jazz difficult in the beginning is that you have to play solos that really follow the chords and when you listen to people playing you hear different sounds flying by.
In this video, I am going to show you how you can pentatonic scale jazz licks. I will go over some jazz licks, and in that way help you get started playing solos where you really follow the harmony.

If you are already familiar with playing over changes then using pentatonic scales is something that can add another sound to your solos and in that way increase your vocabulary so you may find that useful as well.

II V I jazz licks with Pentatonic Scales

The examples in this lesson are all on a II V I in C major, as shown here below.

For each chord I am going to use a different minor pentatonic scale.

Dm7 – Dm Pentatonic

G7alt – Bbm Pentatonic

Cmaj7 – Em Pentatonic

I am going to be using one position of each scale and keep it simple to use . The scales are shown here below first as sheet music and tabs, and then Scale diagrams:

Dm Pentatonic:

Bbm Pentatonic:

Em Pentatonic:

II V I lick #1

The first example is using a fairly simple lick using mostly scale runs within the pentatonic scales.

Notice how I transition from chord to chord using a stepwise motion. D to Db going from Dm7 to G7 and Eb to E when moving from G7 to C.

Never Ending Scale Exercise

A great way to practice moving smoothly from one scale to the next is to play an exercise like this. Here I am moving up Dm pentatonic for 1 bar and then continuing to the closest note in Bbm pentatonic when the chord changes to G7. On the G7alt the scale turns back at the top note and goes to the B in Em pentatonic when the chord changes to Cmaj7.

II V I lick #2

Pentatonic scale positions are two notes per string, and that makes them great candidates for using legato. This example demonstrates that.

It is also an example of how you can make pentatonic licks that skips around and does not move only in a stepwise manner.

To practice playing some basic melodic skips you can do this exercise which is essential playing a pentatonic scale in diatonic 3rds.

II V I lick #3

Using rhythmical patterns and adding more movement to the lick. I am again using some legato to play the lick.

The pattern on the G7 is moving around a 3 note pattern in the scale. This breaks up the rhythm in a nice way, and shifting rhythms like these are an important part of jazz phrasing.

You can practice the pattern through the pentatonic scale to get more used to playing this. It also really builds your general flexibility with the scales.

Taking Pentatonics to Jazz and getting started Soloing

A great jazz song to check out using pentatonic scales on is Blue Bossa. If you want to dig into a lesson on Blue Bossa then you can check out this lesson:

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