Tag Archives: Jens Larsen

Why You Need To Learn Bebop Themes If You Want To Play Jazz

Learning Jazz Guitar you probably already discovered that some skills are a lot more difficult to internalize and also hard to improve with exercises in the way that you can practice scales and arpeggios. The things that I am talking about here are skills like rhythm, phrasing, and vocabulary. These topics require a lot of work, but one very effective way to get improvement is to start learning Bebop themes and let those Bebop themes teach you, to paraphrase a famous jazz guitarist.

What is a Bebop Theme Anyway?

When I am talking about Bebop themes in this video, then I am referring to the types of melodies that you find in pieces by people like Charlie Parker, John Lewis, Bud Powell, and others. Usually, they are written using standard progressions, and especially often on Blues and Rhythm Changes. To name a few famous examples, Donna Lee which is probably by Miles Davis, or Parker’s Anthropology, or Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin High.

What is great about bebop themes is that essentially they are melodies that are written out Bebop solos, so the melody in a Bebop Theme is similar to a bebop solo and not a vocal melody as you find on a great American songbook Jazz standard like the one shown below:

A Quick Win And A Stepping Stone

The immediate bonus here is that when you learn a Bop theme then you are studying a solo and really getting that type of melody and phrasing into your ears and fingers.

One of the best ways to improve phrasing and vocabulary is to learn solos by ear. You have probably heard me and a lot of others say that often. The problem with this is that solos are long, they don’t repeat that many things and they are difficult to both learn and remember.

Since Bebop themes are complicated melodies similar to Bebop solos then they are not as easy to memorize or play like a “normal” Jazz Standard melody, but the fact that the theme is a lot shorter and also often has more repetition means that learning Bop themes is a bit like a fast-food version of transcribing, and unlike most fast food it is actually good for you.

So if you are new to learning Jazz solos by ear, what we call transcribing even though there is not necessarily any writing involved, then an easy way to get started is to learn some bebop themes by ear.

What Will You Learn?

There are quite a few things that you develop by playing Bebop themes. Let’s have a look at some of the benefits:

Technique and Fretboard Knowledge

When you are playing this type of vocabulary then you have to figure out how to execute some pretty difficult music, and obviously, that is good for your technique and while figuring out how you can play the phrases then you are most likely going to move around a bit and find a practical place on the neck where you can play it, so in that way it is also a useful exercise for your fretboard knowledge.

Phrasing and Rhythm

Studying and learning Bebop lines, and especially when you also (of course) checking out recordings of the song, is going to develop your phrasing. Playing along with a recording and really listening to how a piece of music is phrased is probably the most efficient way to learn to phrase, and I have used Bop themes for myself but certainly also for my students with great success when it comes to improving phrasing. Another exercise that I also see work really well is to write easy solos for students and teach them to play it along with a recording of it. This is also a major part of what people learn in my course the Jazz Guitar Roadmap. One thing is to understand what to play, but it is much more useful to hear it and to experience how it feels to play it with good phrasing.

Vocabulary

My friends over at the Guitar Hour Podcast are often finding themselves discussing what studying vocabulary and language actually is, and it is a term that does not always mean the same thing from lesson to lesson or teacher to teacher. So to me, the point of developing your vocabulary is that you can create and play lines or melodies that sound in-style for a specific genre, in this case, Bebop. So when you are working on vocabulary, then you are, hopefully, taking melodies or licks and using them to help you get better at improvising in the same style. That does not have to mean playing licks all the time, but it is more about learning the language or style by example, which is not that far from how we learn actual languages.

From this point of view then playing Bebop themes are exposing you to those phrases and you internalize examples of how those melodies sound, and how they work which will help you hear phrases like that internally, something that is a part of being able to play solos in that style, but not the only thing you need to do. If you stick with the language analogy then I would describe this as being able to listen to a language and understand it, but not being able to speak it. In fact, that is how I learned Dutch, with an odd period where I understood most things but never could take part in a conversation because it was all passive.

And if you like podcasts then check out the Guitar Hour Podcast for some interesting discussions about pretty much everything guitar-related. They are often what I spend time doing when I am driving long trips, and I am not only saying that because I won the quiz they had at the end of the year.

You can check it out here: https://theguitarhour.libsyn.com/

How Should You Study?

A huge part of what is practical about Bebop themes is that they are shorter than solos and generally also more repetitive. This means that they are simply less information to learn, but they still have important and very useful information.

You will probably benefit from learning and practicing them in any possible way, but there are a few things I would suggest you consider:

Learning by Ear

If you learn the theme by ear then you don’t have to worry about mistakes in a real book or Omnibook, and while it may seem more difficult in the beginning, then the time you need to spend listening to it to figure it out will probably mean that actually learning to play it will take less than half the time because you already know what it sounds like. Using the ability to slow down recordings can be very helpful, but watch out that you don’t overdo it so that you only hear a note and not the phrase.

This is also often overlooked when it comes to checking out transcriptions vs learning solos by ear. If you learn it by ear then you don’t have to worry that much about learning to play it.

If you want to check out some solos to train your ear then have a look at this post:

The Solos You Want To Learn By Ear To Play Better Jazz Guitar

Playing along with recordings

The most efficient way to learn phrasing from studying Bebop themes is to really dig into the way it is played and try to learn the phrasing of somebody performing it. By really experiencing how the melody sounds and how the phrases are played you can develop your own ability to hear and play lines with that type of phrasing.

Of course, this is a lot easier if you also check it out by ear, because you then have already listened to the melody a lot and probably already know how it is phrased, that aspect is already in there.

It is a lot more difficult if you are reading the melody and have to internalize the phrasing from a much more abstract medium like sheet music (of some form).

That said, learning bebop themes and playing them with the recording is never a waste of time, and often also a fun challenge.

What More Can You Get Out Of It?

Now you already know how studying bebop themes will help your phrasing, technique, and ear-training. But of course, it can also be put to use to develop your vocabulary.

The melody is a bebop solo used as a theme so analyzing, studying, and using it as licks can be very useful. Especially if you can find small fragments that you can make variations of and turn into new vocabulary, rather than just quoting the theme. It can also be very useful to start analyzing the melody and understand some of the melodic techniques used since there are quite a few things that are very typical to Bebop that you can check out and use as a way to create your own licks.

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Stay Inspired In Your Practice – A Solid Jazz Solo Survival Guide

If you check out the solos by great Jazz players then you will probably find that they don’t really play other scales or notes than you do, simply because it is not about the notes you play, it is about what you play with them. So you don’t need new scales or arpeggios, you need to become better at making music with the ones you already know.

If you feel stuck and always playing the same things then this video will give you a straightforward way to deal with that and also a way to develop new things in your playing.

The Problem with Scales and Arpeggios

The problem is that you need to do more than just run up and down the scale to make the solo interesting, and it is difficult to be inspired with just an arpeggio and a scale.

So let’s say you are playing over a Dm7 chord in C major. You have the Dm7 arpeggio and also the scale that goes with it.

And you can make some solid lines with that as you can see here below:

But quickly things start to sound similar and it gets a bit boring and not so fun to play.

Checklist approach to inspiration

In this video, I am going to give you a checklist approach and show you how that can help you create a lot of new stuff, and also test and improve your abilities to create your own lines.

For all the chords you have to improvise over you have melodic tools or types of building blocks that you can use to create the melodies, and if you start thinking about it like that then you will help yourself come up with new and better material. And you can make that into a checklist and one of the first things you want to put on it would what I will cover next:

More Arpeggios

An obvious and practical place to start is to go a little beyond the basic arpeggio. So you can try other arpeggios or changing the rhythm of how you play the arpeggio

For example, turning it into a triplet works well for getting a Bebop sound:

but then try to see if you can use the one from the 3rd (play Fmaj7) and maybe play it as a triplet:

You could also see if the arpeggio from the 5th is an option, in this case, you have an Am7and then try to see if you can use that in a line:

The way you use this to add to your vocabulary is of course that if you can’t immediately use this in a line then you can sit down and work on composing a few examples and in that way start to get it into your playing and add to your vocabulary

But maybe you don’t feel like using arpeggios, then try using something else from the checklist:

Chromatic Melodies

Chromaticism is an important part of the Jazz sound, and there are many ways you can use this in your solos. Often a chromatic enclosure targeting a chord tone is a great idea:

Or some shorter enclosures and a few leading notes

The important thing is that if you feel stuck on a chord and you have this type of checklist it can help you come up with something to try, or prompt you to use this to create something new. This is not for stuff that you practice all variations of, it is for reminding you of things that you think sound great and that you want to use.

Let’s add another option that is a little less specific but really useful.

Bebop Tricks

This is hardly a very precise term, but for a list like this then the names don’t have to be theoretically correct, it is more important that it resonates with you, so if you think of Bebop tricks then that may be Parker inspired chromaticism *EXAMPLE

or it can be octave displacement.

It is about kick-starting your imagination after all.

Pentatonics

For a m7 chord then the pentatonic scale sounds like a pretty boring set of notes that you already have in the scale that you are using, but if you have some nice Pentatonic patterns then you can hear how it is a different sound that you can give to the things you play.

Maybe it will fit with what you are hearing, maybe it won’t, it could be that the Bebop inspiration is better here, but it is still useful to have on the list and it only takes a second to decide that it is not what you want.

What would you put on a list like this?

Since these concepts or tools that I am listing here are just general sounds that I use then maybe you have other ideas that you would like to add, leave a comment if you have a suggestion that I didn’t talk about since this can help spark a lot of useful ideas for others.

Outside

Another option that you can mess around with is to add some outside phrases in there, often a short side-slip or a super-imposed chord can be a great way to add some new sounds to this place in a song.

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5 Easy Jazz Solo Exercises That You Want To Know

A huge part of playing Jazz solos is following the chord progression. Learning how to solo over chord changes can seem difficult, but there are very useful exercises to help you develop that skill, and this video will help you nail the changes so that you don’t end up failing to keep up with the chords but instead naturally flow through the progression.

The Turnaround And A Surprising First Exercise

The chord progression I am using in this lesson is a fairly basic turnaround in the key of C major, and I am going to keep it all in this area of the neck:

Example 1 – C major scale

The first solo exercise is actually not to solo at all, because for any chord progression you want to solo over there is one thing you have to be able to do that is not about soloing:

You need to be able to play the chords so that you have an idea about what the progression sounds like.

A clear and basic way to do this could be:

I am using very basic chord voicings for this, if you want some more on learning chord voicings like this then there is a link to a video on that in the description.

If you think about it then I am sure you understand why this is important, even if it is not the first thing you think about. This is also related to why you get told to learn the melody of any song you want to solo on: The Melody is the real gateway to hearing the chords.

Now you know what the chords sound like, so let’s turn them into something you can use in a solo, which is the topic of the next two exercises, and then some exercises on how to get it to sound great!

The Arpeggios

It is probably not a surprise that to follow the chord progression then the “melodic” version of the chords, the arpeggios is a very practical thing to learn.

You want to think about it as this: If the chord is a Cmaj7 then you hear those notes in the background, and if you play one of those notes then of course that fits with what is going on.

Of course, just knowing the arpeggio doesn’t mean that you can play great solos, but we will get to that later in the video.

First, let’s just play the basic arpeggios of the chords.

Exercise #2 – Play The Arpeggios

You can already start to solo with this material and play things like this:

Example 2 – Solo with Arpeggios

 

If the Arpeggios is the skeleton of the progression then the surrounding notes are the meat, so let’s add some meat to the solo with some Barry Harris exercises

 

Barry’s Scales

Exercise #3 – The Barry Harris Scale Exercise

When you play the scales like this you are still clearly getting the chord sound across because the chord tones are on the beat.

You may notice that I am using a different scale on the A7, because that is a secondary dominant resolving to a minor chord, Dm7 the II chord in the scale. I am not going to get into analyzing progressions too much here, but if you want to check out a video on secondary dominants, then there is a link in the video description.

The short description is that the secondary dominant takes the scale from the chord it resolves to, so in this case that is Dm harmonic to resolve to the Dm7, giving us an A7(b9)

These first exercises are things you can do on any song you study and get more material to use, let’s have a look at how you can use it.

Playing Towards Target Notes

Maybe the most important skill when it comes to learning to improvise is to be able to think ahead and not get stuck on the chord you are on. When you play then you always want to be playing towards the next chord, that is what keeps you from feeling you have to keep up with the chord changes.

So how do you do that?

This is a lot easier than you might think, you choose a note that you want to hit on the next chord and then you play towards that, this will do two things:

  1. Your melodies always have a direction and sound logical because of that
  2. You never feel like you have to keep up because you are always ahead of what is happening.

Choosing Target Notes

You can do a lot with choosing different target notes, but for now, I am going to focus on using notes that are not a note in the previous chord or and also a strong part of the color of the new chord.

The easy choice for a target note is to take the 3rd of the chord like this:

Example 4a

An example of a note that works really well as a color of the chord but that isn’t a core chord tone would be to use the b9 on the A7, so a Bb.

This note is very clearly not a part of Cmaj7 or Dm7 and in the key of C, the Bb is a sort of signal that you are moving to the subdominant area, in this case, the Dm7.

It can be a good idea to just play the target notes over the chords to hear how they sound.

Create a Flow In Your Solo

Now that you have the target notes then you can start practicing playing towards that note. So you are thinking about the target note and try to get to it in a natural way.

Exercise #4 – Soloing Playing Towards Target Notes

Remember that you can go back and check the examples again to hear what is going on and get used to how they sound. That is going to make it easier to learn them

You want to practice playing like this so that it starts to become easy and becomes a part of how you play, but already in this exercise you can hear how it really works to play from chord to chord and you don’t sound like “isolated licks” per bar.

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Guitar Practice – Top 5 Super Useful Apps

You want to make the most of your limited practice time, and there are a lot of useful apps out there which can help you make your guitar practice more fun and more efficient. The one that is maybe the most useful and overlooked is in fact free, and you already have it on your phone.

The first part of this video is on the 5 Apps I use and then I also have some really solid recommendations at the end.

#5 Tuner

Guitar Tuner, Bass, Violin, Banjo & more | DaTuner - YouTube

Always good to have a backup tuner if you forget or lose your tuner. Also just passing it to a student in a lesson for them to tune.

The one I use is called DaTuner and it is free, there is a premium version without all the ads but since I use this more as a backup then I didn’t check out what it does and if it does that well beyond removing the ads.

My impression is that there are a lot of different tuner apps and they all do the same thing pretty well, and having a free one is always reassuring.

Later in the video, I am also going to give you the best tip for using your phone while practicing.

#4 iReal

iReal Pro offers an easy-to-use tool to help musicians of all levels master their art. The app simulates a real-sounding band that can accompany you as yo… | Muziek

It is a bit strange to recommend iReal because I find that it often does as much damage as it does good. So let me say up-front that I am really not a fan of the midi backing track sound of iReal and I am pretty sure that is not good for your swing feel.

Another thing I am not happy with is that you have chords for songs, but the melody is not there and the changes are often not fantastic. Of course, this is because of copyrights that make it impossible to include the actual song, so you can’t really blame the app.

And still, this is a great app to have for a session or gig where a song is called that you don’t know, or if a student brings wants to play a song you never played, and you can make your own harmony and share playlists if you are doing a cafe gig like opening a jam session or something else with no rehearsal.

#3 Metronome

How to Install Pro Metronome on PC for Windows and MAC

I don’t use the tuner or iReal all the time but they are on my phone. I do use my metronome app every day. There are a ton of metronome apps and a lot of them are free. For this app, I do have the Premium version but I don’t think I really use it for that. The only thing I did was make a preset so that you enter the tempo and the metronome is on 2&4, but that is hardly making use of all it can do. Always having a metronome is really practical, and this one can also go really slow which I use quite often.

What Apps Do You Recommend?

If there is an App that you really like to use that I did not talk about here, then leave a comment and help us discover it! If you know my videos you probably guessed that the next app would be high on the list.

#2 DrumGenius

APP - Drumgenius: the Jazz Rhythm Encyclopedia Created by Bassist Mauro Battisti

DrumGenius is a fantastic app, it is a lot of fun to play with and the different drum loops are extremely well made. It could use a few more straight-ahead medium and medium up swing loops, but for the rest it is great, and I also used it a lot for examples in my videos.

Another “secret weapon” that I sometimes use is soloing using the clave section of that app so you can solo over a blues in 4/4, but have the metronome in 5/4 or some other pattern for reference for timekeeping. That is a really useful exercise.

#1 Teach Yourself Guitar

Samsung's Camera app updated to version 10.5.03.1 (September 24, 2020) - Sammy Fans

The app on your phone that is really a game-changer for your playing is actually just something that is already in there and that you expect to be there: The Camera.

Having a recording device that is that easy to access and that helps you practice something and then sit back and listen to what you played without having to play at the same time and is incredibly effective for improving your playing. If there is one habit you want to build then it should be to record a short solo whenever you practice, and then sit down without your instrument and listen to what you play and figure out exactly what you want to improve.

That is is a video is really a bonus because it is mostly about the audio, but the way phones work then this is so easy to use that it is a shame not to use it like this.

Incredibly Useful Advice for Using a Phone for Practice

One thing that is pretty important when you are practicing and also using your phone is that you do so in flight mode. It is impossible to concentrate if you get notifications from Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook all the time when I upload a video, and if you don’t get interrupted it is 10 times as effective

Honorable Mentions

My top 5 in this video are based on the apps that I use regularly right now in my practice and that are on my phone, so it may change with time. I do feel that there are some really great apps out there that I recommend to my students and have used myself or use in periods.

Learning Fretboard Visualization with an App

Solo - Fretboard Visualization on the App Store

A great app to get a better overview of the fretboard and practice this in a really practical way is Solo. Solo is an app made by David Beebee and Tom Quayle from the Guitar Hour podcast. This is the only app I am mentioning here that does not have a free version, but if you are looking to improve your fretboard overview then this app is worth checking out.

David and Tom included some videos showing you how to use it, and there are exercises where you can work through songs and the app listens if you play the right notes. This makes it much more fun to practice stuff like this, and certainly worth a try.

Ear-training with a Free App

Lead Vocals - Improve Relative Pitch with Functional Ear Trainer

Another app that is great for training your ears that isn’t just about training intervals but really hearing notes in a key, which I think is so much more useful is Functional Ear Trainer. This app has a premium part as well but you don’t need to get that to learn from it, and the approach taken here is basic and super solid, and very useful.

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The Two Reasons Triads Are Amazing For Jazz Solos

Usually, you connect Jazz with chords with a lot of extensions and alterations. But Triads are still an amazing resource that you can create beautiful lines with and something you definitely want to check out. In fact, you can use triads to add some things to your playing that are essential to Jazz and not just about what notes you play over a chord.

Of course, there are more than two things that are great about triads, but the two I talk about here are really useful for Jazz, but If you have other suggestions why triads are great and how you can use them then leave a comment.

Diatonic Triads – The Raw Material

Before you start using the triads then you should also have an overview of them and two things you can work on to have that overview would be to practice the diatonic triads in the scales:

and also check out the triads on string sets like this:

This is simple and basic stuff, you want to know diatonic triads and 7th chords for all scales that you need for soloing, and please start with major scales because you need that the most.

Triads Can Help Your Rhythm

First I want to show you how you can use triads to create more interesting rhythms in your lines. One problem that many students run into, and I know I did, is that when they figure out how to play changes, then everything starts to sound heavy and obvious when it should be light and swinging.

So you don’t want to sound like this

What is missing here is that the rhythm and the melodies are predictable and all move to and from the heavy beats

And instead, you want the accents to be on off-beats more syncopation and more surprising and a lot lighter. Since triads are 3 notes they are really good for having melodies that shift accents and make the solo dance more. Something like this:

So I am playing triads to create a pattern of 3 notes that shifts on top of the 4-4 meter and in that way sound a lot better.

And you can explore this in many ways, you can also add chromatic passing notes and not only use triads but still get a great effect:

Finding Triads

To come up with lines like this then it is useful to find the triads that sound great over a chord. Then you have some options to create the licks that sound great.

I am going to give you an easy way to explore that, before covering the other great triad trick you that is super useful for so many other things as well. There is a very easy way to do that by writing the scale out in 3rds.

So for Dm7, this is coming from the C major scale, which you can write in 3rds like this:

C E G B D F A C E G

The Dm7 chord is here: D F A C, and the triads we can use would be

Dm, F, Am, and C which you can see still contain some basic chord tones and also adds some beautiful extensions.

The G7 that you heard in the examples was coming from the C harmonic minor scale, so in fact, you are borrowing the dominant from minor to get some interesting notes, and also some really great sounding triad options:

So here you have the C harmonic minor scale written out in 3rds.

C Eb G B D F Ab C Eb G

The G7 is here! and then you have the triads G Bdim and Ddim, but Eb augmented works as well and you can make some really interesting melodies with them.

Writing out stuff like this is incredibly useful for your overview of the scales and will give you a ton of options to use in your solos.

Change The Chords!

The other thing that triads do really well is that you can get your melodies to make sense by playing the triads of a super-imposed progression and in that way create a sort of counterpoint to the original chord progression. Because you are playing something that works but also moves differently.

This is pretty easy, you can do this on a single chord like this:

Here I am playing a short walk up Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 just using the basic triads and since Em sounds great on C major then the Dm triad just becomes a diatonic passing chord used in the melody that resolves back into the sound of the Cmaj7. But it really adds some movement instead of just playing up and down a Cmaj7 arpeggio.

More Chord Progressions

The same type of concept used on a II V I could give you something like this:

Here I am using triads from both C major and C harmonic minor, first walking up Dm and Em and then Fm and G from harmonic minor adding a Ddim before resolving. In this way, you have a line that shifts on top of the meter with 3-note groupings and also adds a different kind of movement in the chords.

Notice how using stepwise movement is a pretty easy and strong way to create these progressions.

This is a variation of the same idea, but now moving down from F to Dm and then using a D dim triad to get the G7(b9) sound.

If you really want to open up this type of thinking then you want to also add the triads in the altered scale, that gives you something like this:

Here the chord progression is F and Am on the Dm7 and then Abm and Db on the G7alt . You can hear how this also might work as chords:

And you sort of can turn the G7alt into a tritone II V using Abm7 Db7.

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Pentatonic Scale In Jazz – Exploring An Important Sound

These videos will show you how to develop Jazz lines and use them on Jazz Chords and Progressions so that you can start with material that you already know in Jazz.

When You Start Playing Jazz then using the Pentatonic Scale to really get the sound of different chords with alterations and extensions.

Check out the videos on YouTube

You can check out the videos as a playlist on YouTube here:

Pentatonic Scale in Jazz – Exploring an Important Sound

7 Pentatonic Tricks That Will Make You Play Better Jazz Solos

You might be getting Pentatonic scales wrong, and it is a really great and powerful Jazz sound even when you are using a very basic version of it. In this video, I am going to talk about how to come up with great pentatonic scale jazz licks and go over 7 ways to use pentatonic scales over chords I will start really simple and go pretty far out.

This pentatonic scales guitar lesson takes a look at how you can get some solid jazz licks using for the biggest part very basic pentatonic scale shapes and positions that you already know. For most guitar players the pentatonic scale is one of the first things we learn.

Check out the article here: 7 Pentatonic Tricks

9 Surprising Pentatonic Scale Secrets on a Blues

Pentatonic Scales and Modern Jazz go hand in hand just like a guitar and pentatonic scale do. In this video, I am going to try to bring the two together using a 12 bar blues and demonstrating 9 ways you can apply pentatonic scales to this chord progression. The ideas are not only going to be on which scale to use on which chord, but more about finding a series of pentatonic scales that you can use to create other movements on top of the jazz blues.

The blues is a great progression to explore reharmonizations and super-imposed pentatonic scales. There are a lot of very standard chord changes that can be approached in many interesting ways. Most of the examples are using several scales to demonstrate other ways to move through the changes, but there are also a few surprising scale choices for a chord here and there.

Each of the concepts is demonstrated on the 12 bar F blues and then the idea is analyzed and explained.

Check out the article here: 9 Pentatonic Scale Secrets on a Blues

The Things You Should Know In The Pentatonic Scale

The Pentatonic scale is one of the first things we learn on guitar, and it is also a great scale to use on top of Jazz Chords. But there are also a lot of really great melodies and arpeggios that most people don’t use. In fact, it is one of the best ways you can make really melodic sounding licks with large intervals.

In this video, I am going to show some of them and how you can use them in some really great sounding lines and not only try to play Eric Clapton’s licks on maj7 chords.

Check out the article here: Pentatonic Scales – You Should Know This

Pentatonic Scale vs Arpeggios – Focus on The Right Things

What to focus on when learning Jazz Guitar: The Pentatonic Scale that you know or the arpeggios that everybody keep talking about? It is difficult to make the right choice, but you also want to get it right so that you don’t practice something that won’t help you get what you want from playing Jazz!

Check out the article here: Pentatonics vs Arpeggios

5 Pentatonic Scales That Sound Great On A Maj7

A Pentatonic scale is a great resource to get some solid melodies and colorful extensions to shine on a maj7 chord. In this video, I am going to go over 5 options for pentatonic scales that are really great on a maj7 chord.

Some of them you know already, but I will also show you how to get them to sound a little more interesting.

A few others you probably don’t know and I actually had a hard time finding the right name for them.

I am going to go over the 5 scales but also give you some tips or hacks on how to make more interesting melodies with pentatonic scales because that is something that is very underestimated.

Check out the article and PDF here: 5 Pentatonic Scales for a Maj7

1 Pentatonic Scale over 8 Chords – Jazz Guitar Lesson

In this guitar lesson I will take one pentatonic scale and show you how it you can improvise over 8 different chords with it.

All the examples in this jazz guitar lesson are using the E minor pentatonic scale, and it is quite amazing the wide range of guitar chords you can use a simple pentatonic scale on.

Even if you already know how to play over chords, you should always be looking for new ways to come up with melodies and chances are that in this lesson you might find new inspiration to add some jazz scale sounds to your vocabulary that you don’t already use!

Check out the article and PDF here: 1 Pentatonic Scale on 8 Chords

Do you really know the pentatonic scale?

Most guitarists learn the pentatonic scale as one of the first things they ever learn on the guitar, and most of the time it is not a scale that we think too much about when we use it. It’s just the pentatonic scale and it’s something that is in our ears and fingers for years, even if we are already for the rest playing music with extended chords, altered dominants etc.

In this lesson I am going to take apart the pentatonic scale and look at some of the things that you can find in there since that might yield some new ways of using it by combining what you know of the pentatonic scale and what you know about improvising with chords and arpeggios

Check out the article and PDF here: Do you really know the pentatonic scale?

 

How To Go From Scales to Great Jazz Phrases

You are practicing scales so that you know what to play in your solos, but, like me, I am sure that you are quickly realizing that running up and down the scale is a pretty boring solo. Scales is just not music. You need to learn how to take the raw material of the scale and turn that into musical phrases that you can actually use in a solo.

Scales Are Boring

This is about how you think about what you are playing, and realizing that Jazz is a language that you need to learn to speak on your instrument, but, as you will see, once you get used to that thought then that can also help practice in a much more efficient way and get to enjoy your own playing more.

You already know your scales and hopefully, you also checked out some of the essential exercises like the diatonic triads and 7th chord arpeggios in there since those are very useful for not sounding like you are just running up and down a row of notes.

 

If you don’t know those exercises then check out this lesson on practicing scales.

Jazz Beginner Mistakes – How To Learn Scales

You want to avoid playing solos that just sound like you are running up and down the scale without any direction, completely at random.

Which doesn’t really sound like something that works in a solo.

How To Play A Jazz Phrase on a Cmaj7

So how do you solve this? You need to find a way to construct lines that are not just using random scale notes and that also make sense as an interesting melody and sounds like Jazz.

To keep it simple, let’s just say that you are improvising over a Cmaj7 chord and then I will show you how to start making lines that actually work.

Instead of playing random notes then you want to play something that connects with that chord. A Cmaj7 is C E G B (chord with diagram, right side) and if we play those notes then that will work really well with the chord.

With this you can already start to make something that sounds like music:

The difference is that it is not just running up and down the arpeggio, but instead, you try to hear a melody with the notes, adding some rhythm and hearing where it ends. But it is still pretty limited, so let’s add in some more notes in there, which is easy because there are 3 more notes in the scale.

Scale Notes and Phrases

If you make a line with the arpeggio notes and then start to add in the scale notes around it then you can create something like this:

As you can see the most of the notes are still the chord tones, and the way they are placed in the melody then they still help us connect to, or hear the chord, in fact, you can remove the scale notes and still have a great sounding line:

Sounding Like Jazz – Rhythms and Accents

One of the most important parts of getting a phrase to sound like Jazz is to get some syncopated rhythm in there. You can do this by either using syncopated rhythms like this:

Or by accenting notes so that the accents give you a syncopated rhythm

You get those accented notes by having a high note on an off-beat. In the beginning, you probably need to practice making and hearing melodies like that, but then it gradually becomes a natural part of how you hear melodies and how you improvise.

Adding Some Beautiful Wrong Notes

Another thing that you hear in something like a Wes Montgomery, George Benson or a Charlie Parker solo is chromaticism, which essentially means using wrong notes to create some tension that resolves to a right note. If you just play the “right” notes then it is as if you are missing something, and if you just play the chromatic notes then that sounds like you are just playing something wrong.

It has to make sense in the melody and resolve in the right way.

In this example, you have two types of chromatic phrases. Passing notes that resolve to chord tones, like this:

You can create chromatic phrases that resolve to a chord tone. Here it is connecting 7th to the 5th, G in half-steps. You can also have chromatic phrases that move around the resolution like this:

The enclosures you have here are targeting chord tones, first the 5th and then the 3rd: l (isolate enclosure of G and E)

And of course you want to end up with phrases that combine the two like this:

How You Practice Making Phrases

What you have seen until now are different options for building blocks, so small fragments that you use to build phrases with like the arpeggio, the scale, and two types of chromatic phrases. If you want to work on playing better lines then you should work on putting together phrases, but you can also learn a lot from studying how your favorite soloist plays. The way you do this is by analyzing the solo and try to figure out what building blocks are used and how the different blocks are put together.

Transcribing and analyzing phrases is really powerful because it comes from music that inspires us, and you start with what you hear.

This is not the only option, you can also work with making variations of building blocks by moving them around the scale, onto other chords or using rules not unlike what you find Barry Harris doing in his workshops.

In this video, I was only talking about using the arpeggio of a single chord, but there are many other options that you can work on. If you want to explore how you can start using different arpeggios for a chord and also how you make bebop inspired lines with them then check out this lesson on: “the most important scale exercise in Jazz”

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Jazz Chords – A Simple But Amazing Solution You Want To Know

One of the great things about Jazz Chords is that if you learn even just a few basic jazz chords then you can open them up and add things to them in ways that sound really great. This video will show you two simple but important chord exercises and some of the ways that you can turn that into beautiful sounding chords, and I am going to use some real songs to demonstrate it because you need those as well.

Diatonic Chords and Shell-Voicings

I am going to build this on Shell-voicings which is a very solid set of chords to learn because you can turn them into a lot of other things along the way, which you will also see in this video.

Instead of just practicing chords separately then it makes a lot more sense to practice them together in the groups where you need them, for example as all the diatonic chords of a scale.

Here are the diatonic shell voicings of C major with the root on the 5th string:

Diatonic C major Shells

And you want to know the shell-voicings for the 6th string as well, and for F major that gives you these chords:

Diatonic F major Shells

Practicing stuff like this in all keys will teach you a lot about the keys and help you develop your fretboard knowledge.

Basic chords and a little beyond

Already with these chords, you can play most songs, so let’s try that on the standard Ladybird. This will also show you some of the rhythms that are, of course, also important to comping Jazz. I’ll start with the basic chords and then change things up by adding more melody notes in the 2nd half.

Ladybird Chorus

So as you can tell the rhythms are what holds this together, and I am adding a little extra by using different top notes over the chords, just grabbing what is easy to play and then make melodies with it.

so for Cmaj7 you have this shell voicing and then you can add the 5th, G, as a melody note or the 13th or 6th , the A

Walking Bass on the Blues

Instead of changing the rhythms and the melodies you can also focus on bass lines, and with the shell-voicings that are only 3 notes, you can easily get into adding a complete walking bass under the chords which is a great sound on guitar:

Walking Bass Chorus

You might not think about it, but this sounds a lot better on a guitar than on a piano and later in the video, I will cover another thing is a lot easier on guitar.

Two Layers = More Rhythm

I love the sound of chords and walking bass, and it is great for comping in a duo setting. because you are laying down a complete groove, But sometimes it is also nice to not have to play a steady stream of quarter notes. Luckily Shell voicings are naturally split in two so that you have a root and a chord, and you can use these two layers to improvise with, similar to how a Jazz drummer improvises with snare and bass drum.

Example All Of Me

Samba and Bossanova

Another great way to use the 2-layer nature of the shell-voicings is to play Sambas and Bossanova’s. An example of this could be Blue Bossa that you can play as a samba like this:

Example Blue Bossa

If you want to check out some more bossa nova and samba patterns then I have a video on that which you can check out here: Bossa Nova Guitar Patterns – 5 Levels You Need To Know

Easy on Guitar – Annoying on Piano

When it comes to chords then most things are easier on piano than on guitar, and you can also get away with playing a lot more notes if you want to, but there is one thing that is really practical about guitar chords: We can shift them up and down in half-steps really easily, and that is an amazing sound for playing jazz chords.

You can put that to use on a song like “There is no greater Love” like this:

Example #5 There is no greater love

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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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A Better Focus For Alternate Picking – Getting The Exercises Right

This lesson will give you some more efficient alternate picking exercises and strategies for guitar.

Most lessons on getting a better right-hand technique only focus on repeating patterns and picking exercises that are easy to speed up. Of course, you need to build that, but one thing that is left out is flexibility, and you need that for most kinds of interesting music it is not enough to be only fast and robotic.

Speed Is Not The Only Goal – What You Really Need

When you are developing techniques and you are trying to figure be precise and improve something in your playing, and often the only measure is speed, but this can also become a way to fool yourself into doing exercises that are not helping you solve the actual problem, simply because you can measure that you play some pattern or scale faster every week.

Of course, it makes sense to spend some time working on stuff like that helps you do easy patterns faster and more clean, but when you are playing solos then the melodies might be like this:

II V I lick

And here you are not really using those easy patterns and your right hand has to solve much more complicated problems.

This is where flexibility becomes a much more important part of your skill set and where you need to practice some different things to be able to play like this fast and clean, even if it is not as fast as some easy repetitive scale pattern.

How Do You Get Flexible Technique?

There are many ways to work on becoming more flexible and able to play more complicated picking patterns, playing etudes of different kinds are very useful so you can get into Bach or Kreutzer etudes and use those as technical puzzles to improve your right-hand technique

Another option is to work on taking melodies or structures through scale positions. Scale positions will often manage to make life difficult for your right hand and force you to solve some problems. This type of exercises can be as simple as playing the scale in 3rds or Diatonic Triads:

Exercise #1a – Diatonic 3rds

And you can add the Diatonic triads as well: (voiceover)

Exercise #1b – Diatonic 3rds

Remember that you can easily go back and check exercises if you want to really hear what they sound like or check how I play them. This material is very basic but also much closer to what you come to want to use in your solos

The goal here is to play the exercises cleanly and with good phrasing. Since these exercises are less systematic and therefore more difficult you probably can’t play them as fast, but working on them is helping your right-hand to be able to deal with the types of melodies that you come across in the Jazz lines and it will make it a lot easier to play less predictable melodies.

Let’s look at some other exercises that will really open up your playing.

Focus On The Difficult Bits

So instead of putting the focus on things that are really easy to play then it makes sense to work on the things that are difficult, and for alternate picking the easy part is to play more notes on one string, changing strings is a bit more annoying, but you can make some exercises that work really well for that:

Exercise #2 – Drop2 voicings

Here I am playing 1 note per string so playing this with alternate picking is forcing you to work on one of the most difficult.

You can also do this with other arpeggios but the drop2 voicings are very nice dramatic for lines like this:

Am7 Lick with Cmaj7 arpeggio

When you start working on this and think it is really difficult but you start to get somewhere then you should try two things:

Check out how amazing Bluegrass guys like Tony Rice are:

And then try to play the whole thing backward which is really difficult

Exercise #2 backward

Now we can start looking at some of the really annoying exercises

Annoying But Makes You Play Better

With the previous exercise then you were working on moving string to string while alternate picking. A good next step for this would be to work on this but also skipping strings. You can do this with spread triads. This is something that I thought of from seeing this video of Pat Metheny:

And if you want to see someone play some very dry technical stuff and get it to sound like beautiful music then go watch that video, Pat Metheny is another level.

I have two exercises with spread triads, one that is difficult and another one that is much more difficult.

#3a Exercise

When you practice these, then make sure to not play too soft. I have seen, with students and for myself, that it works better to have a nice clear attack on the note so that if you are not precise then you really mess it up.

In the previous exercise, there was a lot of string skipping and a lot of 1 note per string and that makes it difficult but it is also building precision and the flexibility to move like this in solos, and you can make it even more tricky by not always having the string skips in the same place.

#3b Exercise

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