Tag Archives: jens larsen jazz blues

Which Jazz Skills Do You Need To Play a (GREAT) Solo? (beginner To Advanced)

I always dreamt about getting to that point where you are free to improvise a great jazz solo over a chord progression. You know what I mean: You can play the things that you want, the notes are right there and the lines sound great. You are just making music.

That freedom is coming out of having specific skills in place for the solo, and that is what I want to talk about in this video so if you want to move beyond thinking a lot and being locked down by the progression then check out this video.

Level #1 Play The Chords, The Key, Scales, and the Arpeggios

This first level is just some very basic technique that you want to have covered, it is the foundation for all the other things, so it has to be pretty solid, and it is important that have this covered.

#1 Play The Chords

You want to be able to play the chords so that you can hear what the progression sounds like.

In this case, I am using a basic turnaround in C: Cmaj7, A7(b9), Dm7, G7(b9)

#2 Understand What Is Going On

You also want to be aware of the key it is in and the scales.

In this case, Cmaj7 and Dm7 are found in the C major scale, A7 is a secondary dominant resolving to Dm7 so you use D harmonic minor on that. G7(b9) is borrowed from the key of C minor so that also takes C harmonic minor.

As you can see, you do want to have some understanding of what is going on in the progression to help you play better solos. That is going to make it easier to find something to play and later it will help you find more options and give you more interesting things to experiment with and get into your playing.

#3 The Melodic Version Of The Chords

You also want to be able to play the arpeggios of the chords so that you are able to play the chord tones in time through the progression, simply because those are the notes you need when you start soloing and if you can’t find them like that then soloing with them is going to very difficult. Next, you want to start turning this raw material into a solo, but first, let’s just talk about one thing to keep in mind if you are new to improvising over Jazz progressions, so you don’t crash your progress by practicing the wrong way.

Don’t Drown in Exercises

A very common mistake when trying to learn to improvise over chord changes is to think that you first need to know all the scales and arpeggios in all positions. Of course, you want to be able to do that eventually, but you are better off not drowning yourself in exercises and also give priority to actually using the material you practice. Making music is what you want to be good at, that is the goal, so if you are new to some of the material then try to figure out how to play all arpeggios and scales in one position so that you can make music with that.

Level #2 Spell Out The Changes And Give It A Flow

Once you have the foundation of scales, arpeggios and know what the progression sounds like then you can start working on soloing and also really nailing the changes.

One of the best ways to work on playing solos is to practice writing them, so it can be really useful, for example, to take the arpeggio and the scale and then try to write some line that you can use in your solo. The advantage here is that when you are working on writing lines then you are improvising over the chord progression, but you have time to make sure that it sounds good and you can improve the lines you come up with. In that way, you can start building your vocabulary and your ability to play stronger solo lines.

Here I am actually writing out the lines, and that can be a good exercise, but you don’t always need to do that.

When it comes really connecting the solo to the chords under it then the first approach I would suggest you use is target notes, so that you choose specific clear notes that really connect to the chord and then place those at the beginning of the bar so that it is obvious that the chord changes.

I am not going to cover this in too much detail, but there is a link to a video in the description where I discuss this solid strategy for playing chord changes in a solo.

Level #3 What About The Rhythm?

There are many things you can check out with rhythm, and a lot of them are complicated and often students underestimate how demanding they are technically.

But you don’t have to make it that complicated, in fact, the best thing to do is to make it simpler!

Instead of adding fast runs and subdivisions or difficult polyrhythms then the place to start is probably to make it easier to focus on the rhythm and become more creative.

If you limit the notes you use then you will force yourself to make the rhythms interesting. In this example, I am using only 2 notes per chord, and that is forcing me to think differently which I can then try to take with me when I start soloing without that restriction.

Other things that I have found very useful were learning some of the easier themes that had great rhythms like Bernie’s Tune or Lady Bird. This coupled with listening for rhythm and maybe even transcribing some solos, is really what you want to work on.

Practicing Things In The Right Order

What you may be realizing with this video is that in the end, you start to mix up the order that you work on it. It is not first the scales and arpeggios and then the rhythm, or then soloing it is back and forth and these skills you can zoom in on and develop further again and again.

In what order would you work with these levels? let me know in the comments.

The next two levels I would suggest that you save for a little bit later, but maybe you don’t think so.

Level #4 Make Your Solo A Story!

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Now you know how to play the changes and the lines make sense, but everything is still a bit “something on this chord and then something else on this chord” If you listen to great soloists then you can hear them really have a longer story going in the solo, and there are ways to work on that and skills you can develop.

Turning Phrases Into Stories

The first thing that I would try to work on is developing the melodies you play and in that way use what you just played to come up with the next thing to play. One way to think about that is motivic development where you take the phrase you play and then try to repeat it, but change it a little. That way it sounds both new and familiar to the listener.

Like this way of moving a melody from Cmaj7 to A7

You can practice this by just playing a short melody on the first chord, stop, and then from what you played, try to make a line that works on the next chord. In that way, there is a clear connection and a sense of development in your solo. First, practice that rubato, and then later you can work on it in time.

Turning Phrases Into A Conversation

A variation of this way of thinking is to think about your solo as phrases that are a part of a conversation, so using call-response to create melodies. You probably know about this from Blues.

Something like this:

first a statement and then as an answer to the ascending phrase, a descending phrase. And you can keep this type of conversation going through the entire progression.

For me, this is where you really start to make music. This is what I aim for and what I want to feel able to do when I practice pieces. Trying to come up with a way to tell a story on top of the song is such an essential part of making music, and you hear this with so many great players from Parker to Getz to Pat Metheny.

Let’s have a look at how you can start creating completely different sounds by starting to not only improvise notes on chord progression but also improvise with the chord progression!

Level #5 Improvise With The Chords

Until now the way you improvised was by figuring out what to play over the chord progression, but actually, that is not really how it works in Jazz.

You are allowed to change the chords! (Dramatic pause, WHAAAT!)

This chord progression is really just a way to go from C and then back to C, and you are pretty free to take another way there. As long as you can find a logical way to get back home.

You may be thinking that this is only for weird modern incomprehensible Jazz, but actually, you can find examples of this all the way back in history to Charlie Parker, and it is just one more thing to make music with.

You can experiment with this, by just changing one or two chords. An example would be to use altered dominants that don’t really belong in there, but this is so common that we don’t think of it as a reharmonization, even though it is most of the time.

For this progression, a simple example could be to use a lot of parallel chromatic movement.

Or you can choose some unexpected chord sounds:

And of course, creating suspensions when the listener expects a resolution like the final G7 to C is a great effect:

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What Really Makes Your Jazz Solo Sound A Lot Better

Sometimes everything you play sounds the same and it is uninspired and predictable. There are only so many arpeggios and scales, so chasing after that is not the answer. Instead, you want to become better at making the lines interesting. You want to use stronger melodies and develop your melodic skills.

In this video, I am going to show you a few different ways to look at your solo lines and give you an easy way to add some new melodic ideas to your playing. I am not happy to admit it, but these strategies took me years to figure out but you can just check out this video.

The Jazz Turnaround

I am going to use a basic Jazz turnaround in C major, Cmaj7 – A7(b9) – Dm7 – G7(b9), It is not that important what the progression is, but here you can easily hear how powerful this is and how it will improve your playing.

The first melodic approach is to add a lot of forward motion to the lines and then later I will show you some other very strong strategies to also start using.

The Strongest Type Of Connected Melody

This example is, what I would consider, a basic strong Jazz line with a natural flow, I’ll show you an example with a more interesting rhythm in a bit. The concept here is that you create lines that are moving to the target note on the next chord which really makes the chords clear and makes the melody flow in a natural way.

In this example, the C and D on Cmaj7 are taking us to the C# on the A7. In a similar way, the G G# A has a strong pull towards the final A, the 5th of Dm7. In this type of progression, you can really see the melodies as 4-note patterns ending on beat 1 or beat 3 (highlight)

Like this, the lines are a bit dense and fill up the bar, but if you open up the rhythm with the same strategy then it still works:

Now you have a more syncopated and interesting rhythm, but the target notes are still “contact-points” with the harmony. (highlight target notes in the example)

In this example, The C# on A7 is now anticipated and placed on 2& instead of 3, and the melodies in the 2nd bar are leaving more space and use more offbeats.

This is of course, great but not enough on its own. Let’s have a look at lines that use what is probably the strongest and most used approach to creating longer melodic phrases that really tell stories

Melodic Voice-leading

The technique I am talking about is, of course, motivic development. The foundation of a lot of storytelling in music. This is the reason that when you hear this the Imperial March in a Star Wars movie, then you already know who is coming down the ramp. He has a motif that is repeated and used whenever he appears. And this is something you want to use in your solos to tie the whole thing together.

A very clear example of motifs, without suggesting that Barney Kessel is like Darth Vader would be this part of his solo on Satin Doll.

First the large motif that is repeated and then the shorter motif that is repeated and then developed to end the phrase.

The way Kessel moves the motifs is by following the harmony and voice-leading the melody, just making slight variations to the rhythm.

Making you own motivic licks

Working on doing this through changes is a very useful exercise. For the Turnaround that could give you something like this:

Here the melodies are voice-leading very closely until the G7. That is a little freer to not be too predictable and also round off the phrase in a more natural way.

Whenever you work on stuff like this then try to make it into music.

A similar way to do this but then being a bit freer with the melodic direction could be something like this:

The concept here is to move down Coltrane Patterns through the progression, C major, Bbm, Am, Abm and there is a clear connection between each group because it is moving down similar melodies in a stepwise manner.

Of course, you can do the same thing with a simple two-note motif and in that way have room to make the rhythm more interesting. Moving motifs with rhythm are perhaps the technique that is the most powerful in Jazz solos. Just listen to Keith Jarrett or John Scofield.

There are other variations of motivic development that also are great ways to tie things together, let’s check one more out.

Sticky Notes

A pedal point is a static note that remains part of the melody or harmony through the progression. In the previous example, I was using a G since that is a note that works well through this progression which is in C major. The G is placed at the beginning of each phrase with a little bit of variation in the rhythm.

Again it pays off to explore melodies like this but with more accent on the rhythm. Something like this:

Some Great Tricks Using Direction Of Melody

This was something that took me a long time to figure out, and I don’t think I ever heard anybody talk about it in a lesson: You don’t want to have lines that always move in the same direction it becomes predictable and that makes the whole thing boring. So let’s take a look at a few ways to change that up. This example is moving to the target notes, but it is always changing direction on the heavy beats and that makes it a little too heavy, especially if you do this all the time.

All The Way Up!

It can be really cool and also create some tension and excitement to play a line that moves in the same direction throughout the progression like this:

And especially with the ascending lines, you get the effect of “melodic tension” which is a really cool way to change things up. But you can get the same effect moving down as well:

All The Way Down!

But the real trick is of course to change direction more often and have more surprising skips in your lines. You can do this with cascading lines with a more energetic rhythm like this:

Impressive Arpeggios

Melodic Triads

But a lot of it is also about adding some larger intervals into the lines and there are two ways that are easy to do that and still have melodic lines. The first one is to use some sort of pattern with arpeggios and let the arpeggio pull it all together:

And here as well you can open up the rhythm to add some nice syncopation to the mix:

The Bebop Way

Another fantastic way to get some larger intervals into your lines is this Bebop trick that they actually sort of stole from Bach: Octave displacement. This gives you lines like this:

Here you have octave displacement on the Em7 arpeggio over Cmaj7 and with the Fmaj7 arpeggio that I am playing over the Dm7 chord.

If you removed the octave displacement or reverse engineered the line then you could get something like this:

This sounds fine, but the movement in the previous example is more surprising and exciting.

If you want to explore more examples of what you can do with octave displacement then check out this lesson:

Bebop Magic – One Of The Best And Most Difficult Things About Jazz

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A Simple Jazz Solo Skill You Want To Master

There is a skill that you can develop in your playing that will really help you play jazz solos, and this is not even that difficult to get started with all you need is a few arpeggios and a simple progression. This video will also show you how to practice more efficiently and not drown your practice sessions in just doing exercises.

An Easy Exercise on a Blues In F

One of the first exercises you should do if you want to get started playing Jazz is to outline a chord progression with one-octave arpeggios. Here is an easy version of that, and you can maybe even try to play along right away. After that, I will show you how to make that into a really strong solo developing rhythms, phrasing, and forward-motion, and I will also explain why I think this one of the most important things about being efficient with what you practice.

F Jazz Blues with arps

If this is still a bit tricky to play you can take the video back and try again or practice it later and return to really nail it, just because sometimes that really feels good.

Notice that you just need 5 one-octave arpeggios for this jazz blues and 4 of them are dominant arpeggios (show diagrams on screen)

F7:

Bb7:

D7:

Gm7:

C7:

Some Easy Music on a Blues In F

With this exercise, you can already start to make some music, and you want to, because that is why you practiced the arpeggios in the first place and it is not so difficult. I’ll play the example and then talk about how you go about playing like that.

F Jazz Blues

When you improvise like this then you are limited to four notes, and that can maybe seem difficult because you want to play bebop lines like

But with just the arpeggio you can start working on some things that are just as important as playing many notes: Phrasing and Rhythm and that is a much bigger part of Jazz in the end than long 8th note lines. Especially working on adding some interesting rhythms to your playing.

If you want some inspiration for this type of playing on guitar then Charlie Christian is worthwhile checking out.

What You Can Learn From Charlie Christian

When I was starting out playing Jazz then I was lucky in one way because one of the first things I had was a compilation album of Charlie Christian, I also had some Scofield and some Charlie Parker which I also loved, but at the time I could only figure out how to learn the Charlie Christian solos. Scofield was too weird and Parker was too fast and difficult to learn by ear. Charlie Christian’s style of playing is a lot less dense and with a lot of clear examples of great swinging rhythms which you want to learn. That is one HUGE reason to check out Charlie Christian and learn some stuff. Remember that Jim Hall heard one Charlie Christian Solo and from that decided to dedicate his life to playing Jazz music.

Check out another lesson on Charlie Christian: Charlie Christian Solo Analysis

Notice that I immediately start making music with the arpeggios that I am practicing, that is very important for everything you work on, I’ll return to that a little later.

Next, Let’s try adding some different types of phrasing, so you have some more sounds available and can change that up as well.

Some Easy Phrasing on a Jazz Blues In F

As you can tell this is really simple, you can add a lot more blues feeling and dynamics just by using some slides (example) and some (hammer-on/pull-off) and when you do that then you are really focusing on the music and how it sounds, it is not about technique or being flashy, you are trying to get it to sound great.

Another thing that is really a part of Jazz which you can also work on with this is to make the changes clear with strong natural flowing melodies, so that is something I’ll show you how to develop later as well.

Should You Practice All The Arpeggios?

What you can see here is that I am really working on getting as much music as possible out of these few arpeggios, and I think that is something to keep in mind, I at least need to remind myself very often, that you don’t always want to spend time first learning all inversions in all keys and all positions, on all string sets in all tempos, subdivisions and all tunings — phew

Maybe it is actually more efficient for your playing if you take a single position work on some simple and easy arpeggios and really get that to the place where you can make music with it. That is much more useful than getting lost in a sea of technical exercises because you actually get to make music with it and you can check out the next position some other day.

Nailing The Changes on a Blues In F

Now that you can play some interesting rhythms and add some phrasing to those lines, then it makes sense to also start to make the melodies longer so that you don’t end up just playing short isolated melodies for each chord which is hard to get to sound like a great solo.

There are a few ways you can do that and the first one you might have heard me talk about before is: Thinking ahead and playing towards target notes. When you do that with simple material like this then you are really working on digging into the harmony and figuring out how it moves and how you can improvise with that movement and connect a longer melody across chords.

The concept is simple: For each chord, you pick a target note and then you practice making melodies with your 4-note arpeggios that lead to the target note on the next chord. An example could sound something like this:

I took this part of the form because it has the most movement so that you can easily hear and understand what is going on.

An easy target note is often the 3rd of the chord simply because that is the most colorful note. This is also why you think about chords in two groups: major or minor depending on the 3rd.

As you can hear and see in the example, the solo really connects with the harmony moving from D7, Gm7 to C7 and because I am thinking ahead and playing towards a note then the melody has a natural flow and sounds much stronger.

With this technique you don’t only want to practice connecting everything and end up with one long line weaving through the entire form, there are other ways to play solid melodies, and one of them is really tied to Blues as a genre.

Blues Melodies But They Work in Jazz

Sometimes it seems that the advice nobody is giving is that you have to learn how to listen to yourself, and I don’t mean that you have to learn to listen to recordings of yourself, even though that is important too. I am talking about playing a phrase and then listening to how it sounded and using this to play the next phrase. When you are playing a solo then working like this is like having a conversation with yourself, and we usually refer to this way of making melodies as call-response.

This is an incredibly effective way to tie together phrases and pretty simple to do and is mostly about giving yourself time to listen and respond. An example of how that might sound could be this:

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How to Use the Blues in a Jazz Solo

There is something special about the Jazz Blues Guitar sound and that type of phrasing! The blues is a very important part of Jazz, but it can be difficult to get those bluesy phrases to work on a jazz song, the way Joe Pass or George Benson do.

In this video, I am going to show you how to do that, a common mistake we make and also talk the different ways great guitarists like George Benson, Joe Pass, and Emily Remler use blues phrases in jazz solos.

Other videos on Joe Pass, George Benson, and Emily Remler

George Benson – This is The Best Jazz Blues Solo I know

Emily Remler – How To Reinvent a Standard

Joe Pass – How to Keep Solos Interesting

Content

0:00 Intro

0:17 Blues Phrases from George Benson, Joe Pass, and Emily Remler

0:34 Example #1

0:47 Benson’s Major Blues Sound

1:38 Play Blues From The Key of the Piece

1:58 The Blues As Leading Notes

2:48 Altered Dominant? Blues!

3:21 Example #1 Slow

3:38 Benson’s Blues Approach

4:04 Pat Martino On Benson 

4:20 Example #2

4:29 Joe Pass – Watch What Happens

5:24 Joe Pass’ Minor Blues

6:43 Example #2 Slow

6:55 Blues In Major and in Minor songs

7:19 Example #3

7:32 Using Blues in a Minor Key

8:11  Emily Remler – Softly As In A Morning Sunrise

8:53 From Blues to Triplet Groupings

9:20 Example #3 Slow

9:36 The Things You Want to Do To Use Blues in Jazz Solos

10:22 Like The Video? Check out my Patreon Page!

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