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The 3 Guitarists I Wish I Checked Out As A Jazz Beginner

There is a downside to how we teach Jazz now, on one hand, it is very efficient and helps internalize important skills, but on the other hand, it is often very focused not taught using real music and teaching how others played which helps you understand the music in a broader way and also teach you other important things at the same time. There are a few guitarists that I was not really aware of while I was learning and didn’t discover until much later, but I think they could really have taught me some useful things and made learning Jazz easier. The 3 guitarists are sort of split into periods: one that is mostly before Bebop, one that is in the creation, and one that plays Bebop. I’ll talk about how one of them in a way is a bit like Van Halen 😁

#1 The Father of Bebop?

When I started out playing Jazz guitar, I was still studying Mathematics at the University of Århus. I was actually pretty lucky to get some pretty solid recommendations from my classical guitar teacher Morten Skott. This meant that I was not only listening to Charlie Parker who I had just discovered, but also had cheap compilation cd’s with Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. And even though I am talking about people that I didn’t really check out in this video, then I did actually learn some Charlie Christian solos by ear from that compilation cd, the problem with that was that while I could figure out some of his phrases and a few entire solos, at least I hope I got it right since I don’t really remember what I checked out, then I had no idea what the songs were or how to play them, and my theory was not good enough to tell me anything, so they were just solos and phrases I could play not even really knowing what key I was in.

My favorite from that album was Seven Come Eleven which is a really typical swing riff composition.

The main theme is:

So very rhythmic, repetitive, and only a few notes.

PLAY

I probably liked this because it was easier to understand and made more sense to me than some of the other tracks which had really interesting phrases with shifting dim runs like “Good Enough To Keep” Which has phrases like:

Of course, that is not really THAT complicated, but it was very far away from Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Rage Against The Machine which is where I was coming from.

The Solo from Seven Come Eleven is a great example of what I later felt I had missed:

As I already showed you then there are more complicated and dense phrases in Charlie Christian solos, but I really think that this lighter more sparse playing is something that really helps you get the rhythms to sound right, also later when you start playing longer bop lines.

All this stuff where it is just a few or even one note that is interesting because of the rhythm

And this is really just one area of the neck and strong basic Ab or Ab7 vocabulary to learn.

You can get so much from checking this out; I have also often used it with students.

The People who came after Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian was a huge influence on all of Jazz guitar, and when I listen to him now then I really hear how Barney Kessel was influenced by him, I believe they also met at one point, but I am not sure if that is true.

Let’s check out another guitarist that is criminally overlooked!

#2 Sideman of A Giant

I guess sometimes when you work with really famous artists as a sideman you end up standing in the shadow of them and not getting noticed. I think that sort of happened to Oscar Moore who is probably best known as “the guitarist of Nat King Cole” maybe a bit like George Martin being the 5th Beatle, but that is hard to say.

The Nat King Cole Trio stuff with Oscar Moore is from the mid-40s until the beginning of the 50s and since Nat King Cole was both an amazing musician and a commercial success, then a lot of the songs are short takes with a single or a half chorus of solo for the guitar.

This makes them fairly easy to learn, and Oscar Moore solos always have a lot of solid lines, but also some interesting phrasing. Check out this solo from Sweet Lorraine:

I sometimes feel that these shorter solos are really more similar to a solo that you might find in a pop or rock song, which I guess the song also was when it was released in 1940-something.

There are some solid simple melodies in this, and actually a fair amount of blues,

but also some stuff that is really a lot more about effects and surprising sounds. In this case by being very intervallic,

He also used long slides, bends, tremolo picking, and stuff like that to have different sounds.

That part of it pretty much disappeared when Jazz became more serious with Bebop and was supposed to be real art. Here it almost reminds me of stuff you might hear in a Van Halen or Steve Vai solo, where the sound is sometimes as important as the notes.

It’s more about sounds than about a longer melody, and since I am anyway making this a hottake then maybe Ellington’s saxophone player, Johnny Hodges also is an example of someone using phrasing and effects like that.

Keep in mind that I am not really saying anything about whether this is good or bad music, I am just showing you an aspect of their playing where they are similar. You can get rid of your anger in the comment section if it offends you that Johnny Hodges and Van Halen are similar.

In the case of Oscar Moore, it sort of makes some of his material more modern, and less Bebop because Bebop is much more about flow, and some of his phrases are intervallic and sort of the opposite of flowing, probably also because he wanted to not sound like the melody that had just been sung.

I felt that I learned a lot from how Oscar Moore mixes the different things in these short solos and Nat King Cole is fantastic both as a piano player and a vocalist! Another thing worth mentioning is that if you check out later Oscar Moore stuff then you really hear him develop with the times and start playing altered scale and more Bebop-influenced lines, similar to the next guitarist.

#3 The Shortcut To Bebop

This solo actually always makes me happy. Grant Green is probably the one of the 3 that I ended up spending the most time with, mainly because I have given his solos to a lot of students for them to learn Bebop vocabulary, and that is also how I heard this solo the first time, and how I discovered the standards album that he made. For guitarists then there probably is no better place to learn Bebop than Grant Green, his lines are absolutely incredibly melodic and his vocabulary is solid Bebop, and I am saying that while I still don’t like his tone on this album, but you can complain about that in the comments, first, check this out:

Within these 8 bars you have so many great things!

3 variations of  using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord: Ebmaj7 over Cm7:

Bdim over G7:

and on Aø over F7:

A great pivot arpeggio with some chromaticism on Bbmaj7:

A line cliche turned into a bebop lick in the 2nd line with some really nice phrasing embellishments:

 

 

The King Of Bebop Guitar

And this is in 8-bars, and there are several places like this in the solo. The greatest thing about this is that he manages to make Bebop lines playable on guitar and still makes great music. If you want to develop that side of your playing then he is where you need to go next.  Especially how he mastered adding pivot arpeggios and large intervals to his playing and in that way not sounding like he is just running up and down scales, there are techniques for this that you can start using. 4 of the most common variations are all in the solo that I talk about in this video and that can really breathe new life into your Bop vocabulary and give you some fresh melodic ideas. The solo is on another standard: You Stepped Out Of A Dream

I Wish I Had Checked Out This Guy! His Solos Are Jazz 101 On Guitar

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I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

You Are Practicing Arpeggios Wrong

Everyone on the internet and every guitar teacher you ever met probably told you to practice arpeggios.

But I remember spending hours practicing arpeggios and not really being able to do anything with them. Being able to play them doesn’t mean that you get them to sound great in my solos. It feels like you might be wasting your time

Luckily that isn’t too difficult to fix, and I’ll show you 7 ways you can turn any arpeggio into a solid Jazz line!  It is not super difficult, and really more about how you think about the arpeggios.

You can build all of this around a single exercise, because when you are starting out with Jazz then there is a right and a wrong way to practice arpeggios, and I would also suggest that you skip inversions for now but I will explain that later.

In Jazz, you mostly use arpeggios that are one octave, so it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to spend a lot of time practicing complete positions, instead,  you will be more efficient practicing them in a scale position as diatonic arpeggios.

That is the way you will hear them used the most in Jazz solos, and it is also a way to connect them to the scale and the other notes that they work together with, it covers a lot of stuff you will need along the way. I learned this exercise from Barry Harris and that is one of the most practical things to get right in the beginning.

Diatonic Arpeggios:

The focus is on turning these arpeggios into music, and I will show you how you add phrasing, notes, and rhythm to them because that is how they become Jazz lines, but first let’s keep it really simple and just improvise with the arpeggio because that will teach you some other important things as well.

#1 Arpeggios Are Enough If You Do It Right

Let’s say you want to solo over a II V I in C major, so Dm7 G7 to Cmaj7.

You need those arpeggios to play a solo over the progression, and luckily you already practiced them in the exercise.

It is a II V I, so in C major, we need the arpeggio from the 2nd note of the scale: Dm7, then from the 5th that is a G7 and then you can do this Cmaj7.

Connect that to the music and practice that on the II V I:

The first thing to do is to practice soloing with this, just try to come up with some lines, use rhythm and maybe compose or play rubato, notice how I am really careful in getting from one chord to the next.

And then after some time, you develop better rhythmical ideas and melodies and you can start making lines like this:

This is great for nailing the changes and developing some solid rhythms in your playing, but let’s open up the arpeggio with a few extra notes, that’s where it starts to get really fun!

#2 The First Thing To Add

The exercise I gave you connects the arpeggios and the scale, so if we look at a Cmaj7 arpeggio:

You can add scale notes to the mix in between the notes in the arpeggio.

That could give you a line like this.

Which turns into a lick like this:

Or a descending version like this:

Super easy! Barely an inconvenience. It is mostly about seeing the notes around the arpeggio and using them to move to a note in the arpeggio.

In these two lines that is how I think about the notes: something around the arpeggio.

Let’s add some notes that are a bit more exciting!

#3 The Jazz Thing To Add

I am talking about adding chromatic passing notes since you already have the diatonic notes from the scale.

You can do a LOT of things with chromatic passing notes, and there are systems that help with that, but for now, essentially you can do whatever you want as long as you resolve it to a chord tone. That is what I am doing in this example, check this out:

and just mixing chromatic and diatonic notes with the arpeggio can already give you this:

Of course, when you practice this then work on composing lines and find things that you like the sound of. One thing that can make them sound more like Jazz is by having the high note of the phrase on an off-beat like you heard the B in the last example on the 1&.

There is a way to make it easier to do that in your Jazz lines, that is the next level, but keep in mind that you can actually go through this video and just pick one of the topics to explore, write some lines, and work on getting that into your playing. It doesn’t have to be in this order.

#4 Going Around The Chord Tones

Instead of adding a single note here and there then you can also add small melodies that move to a chord tone from above and below, these are called enclosures. Let me show you these and then we can add some rhythm to the arpeggios.

A simple example of an enclosure could be a diatonic note above and a chromatic note below which for Cmaj7 could be something like this:

Remember that you are still seeing the Cmaj7 in the scale as well, and now you can create something like this, and try to compare how far this is from just playing the arpeggio:

And it is incredibly simple to create solid vocabulary here is one with an enclosure around the root and around the 5th:

With these enclosures:

#5 The Mighty Triplet

There is one way of playing arpeggios that is pretty much instant Bebop. When you hear it I am sure you will recognize it:

So I am playing the arpeggio as an 8th-note triplet and I am adding a leading note before the arpeggio. Now check out how this sounds when you add a few enclosures:

Or this example which is one of George Benson’s favorite licks that he probably learned from Charlie Parker:

I said that inversions are not so useful for Jazz lines, let me show you what you can do instead, and then I’ll show you some phrasing tricks.

#6 The Melodic Inversion

Similar to the triplet, then this is really a great technique for making your lines sound better, and not be too predictable. I mentioned in the beginning of the video that Inversions are not that useful for Jazz, this is mostly from observing vocabulary of Bop and a lot of later stuff, where inversions are not that common in lines when it comes to 7th chord arpeggios. Triads are a different story, there are Triads inversions all over the place.

Instead, this is a much nicer option: The Pivot arpeggio.

What I am doing here is taking the arpeggio:

But I play the root and then move the rest an octave down, so you still get the same order of notes but the last part is moved down an octave:

Using this and a bit of chromatic magic will give you a great line like this with the pivot arpeggio:

And you can of course use this on the higher octave as well and throw in an enclosure:

 

But one thing is changing the melody and the rhythm. You can also tweak how you play the notes on the instrument, the phrasing.

#7 It’s The Phrasing

Let’s start by sliding into a note, here it is the top note in the phrase:

You can add a slide later as well:

Another useful tool for phrasing is adding trills like this one:

Which sounds great like this:

Adding Chromatic Notes With Barry Harris’ system

In my experience, the best way to learn to use chromatic passing notes in your solos is using Barry Harris Chromatic Scale. But there is a lot more in there than you might think!

Why Barry Harris has the Best Method for Chromatic Notes

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5 Concepts Jazz Guitar Beginners Must Understand To Learn Faster

I think you should learn from my mistakes, so in this video I am going to go over 5 things that really slowed me down in learning Jazz, and that I now help students overcome so that they don’t get stuck along the way. When I look at how my students are progressing then it is easy to see that they get there a lot easier and a lot faster, and I am sure I would have too, so you want to get this right.

#1 Exercises Are Not Music

A lot of us come to Jazz when we already play the instrument and have experience with other styles of music, and since Jazz comes across as being difficult or complex (rocket science/music theory meme) then we often choose to be “a good student” and try to do all the exercises and put in the work. I really didn’t get this right in the beginning and spent way too much time thinking about what scale to play over which  chord, and end up using it on a progression that was completely abstract to me, something that didn’t have a melody, that wasn’t a song, but this is something you can fix. (abstract progression + me thinking? like a II V I that turns into an equation?)

You already know that just playing a scale or an arpeggio is not a solo phrase. The same goes for chords, you are not learning to comp by just learning a lot of inversions.

Learning Jazz is learning a musical language, and that you can’t learn with exercises just like you won’t learn Spanish by just reading a dictionary (Que)

If You want to learn how to improvise the you have to also actually improvise. And it is more than just the notes, you also need to know how to play phrases that sit right in the groove, and express something that fits with the music, know the song and know where you are in the song.

This:

Will never magically lead to this: Bebop line.

I think that is pretty obvious. And it means that you also need to learn some songs and some real music that you can play, because an arpeggio or any other exercise is not useful until you make it a part of the music, and you need to develop that skill as well.

None of this will work if you just do exercises and actually the worst plan I have ever heard from students, and I have heard it quite often, is “Before I start improvising I first I need to learn” and then insert:

#1 All scales in all keys or positions

#2 All Arpeggios in all keys

#3 All Chords in all inversions

That NEVER works.

The Most Important Song To Learn.

I think you could say that the most important song to learn is the first song that you REALLY learn.

When I started out then I wasn’t told to really learn songs so that I could easily play them by heart and use them to develop my improvisation skills, and that really slows you down. That is also why my course is a step-by-step guide teaching you that first song and so that you learn how to make music while you are improvising solos. Besides learning songs and soloing over them then there is one overlooked approach that is also incredibly useful…

#2 This Is How To Practice Improvisation

I am amazed at how rare it is to see this method is suggested for people who want to improve their vocabulary and learn how to play better Jazz lines with better phrasing, and speaking of phrasing I have a few quick fixes later in the video for that as well.

As a student, you are always told to practice slowly, and that is not any different for learning to improvise Jazz solos, but the problem that we all run into is that songs are not played that slow, and you can’t slow them down and still get it to make sense, so how do you practice improvisation slowly?

The answer to that is composition, which is essentially also how Barry Harris taught his masterclasses: composing bebop solos. If it is a good enough method for him then it is probably also an ok exercise for you. Let me demonstrate this with a practical example, and just to be clear, I still do this when I want to improve my solo lines, which is most days in the week.

Let’s say that I want to get better at using this chromatic enclosure:

For now I want to use it on a Cmaj7 chord, you can use it on a lot of things, but let’s start there. In the beginning, you just want to hear what it sounds like when you put it into lines.

Obviously, you can combine it with a Cmaj7:

So this is already fine, but let’s add a tail to it to make it a phrase:

Maybe it works with a descending Cmaj7 arpeggio

Of course, you need to spend some time experimenting and exploring how this all works, but that process really gets the sound of the enclosure into your ears and you find ways of creating playable lines that you can work on getting into your own playing.

This works really well in combination with solos you have learned by ear if you take your favorite phrases and try to make your own version of them. Sometimes it can be useful to write down what you come up with, but you don’t always have to. I think the biggest benefit is the process, not the licks you end up with, simply because you learn how to fit things together and they will come out in your solos.

It also really makes sense to watch Barry Harris teach and think of it as how to practice composing lines. You will learn a lot more and get a lot more options from that.

When learning Jazz then there are things that are more important than what notes you play in a solo I’ll get to that, but first let’s look at how you figure out how good (or bad) you are.

#3 How Do You Give Yourself Useful Feedback

One thing that I have to tell students all the time is that they can’t play a solo and at the same time tell how they are doing. And you can take my word for it, I record myself playing for a living and I have made ALL the mistakes that you can make while playing by now. (I have made a huge mistake)

If you want to know how YOU sound (and trust me, you do) then you have to record yourself playing and listen back!

This is incredibly useful for anyone trying to learn, but it is especially important if you are trying to teach yourself Jazz guitar. To make it more effective then there are a few things that you can keep in mind so that you don’t get distracted by your own brain when you listen, because listening to yourself can be a bit weird and difficult. (b-roll: me + headphones and me soloing)

#1 Record yourself often!

You get used to this, so the first few times it is weird and you get stressed out by all sorts of things, but that goes away with time.

#2 Decide what you are working on and listen for that.

This is simple: If you are working on phrasing or rhythm then don’t get lost in which arpeggios you use on altered dominants. Focus on what you are working on.

#3 Don’t Listen Right Away

Often when you just played something then you still remember what it felt like when you played it and you are not really listening but just reliving how it felt which is not helping you at all.

And it is when you start recording yourself that you probably discover the next thing you need to pay attention to, but I have a few quick fixes!

#4 Not The Notes You Play

This is often considered very difficult and vague, but it really doesn’t have to be. I am of course, talking about Jazz phrasing.

You may already have run into this, and I certainly remember when I felt like I was hitting a wall with phrasing: I know all the scales and arpeggios but my solos and what I play doesn’t sound the right way.

When I was starting out learning Jazz then the first problem I was confronted with was that I could not follow the chords and play a lot of wrong notes. It isn’t strange that I then focused on learning to play “the right” notes, but my focus on that came at a cost: I was not listening to how the phrases sounded nearly as much as what notes I was playing. So it really makes sense to become more aware of this early on.

There are a few ways to work on this, and some of them are really easy:

#1 End on a short note

I say this at least 3 times a week in the Roadmap community when I give feedback. Bebop is called Bebop because that is how the typical solo phrase ends, and that means it is a short note, Bebop On Guitar it is very difficult to play long notes so we learn that and make that the habit, but you need to take control of the notes and only play long notes when it makes sense.

#2 Play solos with fewer notes

The easiest way to develop phrasing and rhythm is to take away the other variables so that you have to focus on them. It can be super useful to voice-lead one or two notes through a song and then spend some time practicing soloing where you have to only use those notes. That will help you get more creative with, phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.

#3 Learn Solos By Ear

If you want to “hear” better phrases then learn some solid phrases by ear. Often the easier solos to learn like Charlie Christian and Grant Green are also great for learning to hear good phrasing and creative rhythms, and the next topic will help you get a lot more out of what you learn by ear and what you come up with when composing lines.

#5 So Little Theory, So Much Benefit

You have to stop being afraid of the holes, and you also have to remember to wonder. When you are starting out learning Jazz then it is easy to try to learn a crazy amount of theory, but what you really want to learn is actually pretty simple, and if you know that then it will teach you the rest, plus that you can learn it in a much more natural way.

When I learned Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love, the first songs I learned, then I couldn’t analyze them. But I still learned to play them, even if I only understood some of what was going on and played some wrong notes here and there. That was one of the things I did right.

Start with really knowing your basic scales, and just start with major. Then make sure that you also know the diatonic chords. Then you can start to recognize things in the songs you play like if you take There Will Never Be Another You.

First, you just look at what the key is and what makes sense just using that (fill that in one by one)

Then maybe you learn what a secondary dominant or a secondary II V is and then there are less gaps, and actually only a few more tricks to learn.

And that is also the best way to learn theory: Have it describe the music that you are already playing!

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5 Things That Stop You From Learning Jazz

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

Let’s get into the first problem:

A Million Scales

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

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

Starting With Pentatonics

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

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

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

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

Impossible Theory

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

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

The Advantage of NOT having Internet

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

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

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

Complicated Chords

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jazz Songs: Somebody Spilled Alphabet Soup On My Sheet Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcribing Solos

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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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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Jazz Beginner Mistakes – How To Learn Scales

When I started playing Jazz then I came from improvising mostly with the pentatonic scale, playing phrases, and licks in the scale without really worrying about what I was playing and especially what notes.

Once I got interested in Jazz, in fact, mostly in Charlie Parker solos, then I realized that I needed to use 7 note scales, and that was a lot more tricky to get to sound right and especially to get to sound like great jazz lines

Just practicing the scale, up and down doesn’t teach you how to do that and there is a much better way to practice the scales, one that helps you learn to play Jazz faster and sound in the right way.

Which Scales Do You Need?

First, you need to figure out which scales you need.

Playing Jazz is associated with scales, and often also with a lot of scales with a lot of fancy names. But when you start then you are better off not drowning yourself in different scales, simply because it is more work to learn to use a scale than to learn to play it. Just start with the major scale, and if you are new to major scales then start in a single position

You can add to it later and knowing the scale well in one position will help you learn the others as well. Starting with 5 or 7 positions in one go and trying to be able to play and improvise in them all is not as efficient in the beginning, and you might get overwhelmed and lose the overview, and getting an overview is why you practice scales in the first place.

If you practice in the way that I outline later in this video, then learning other scales and being able to use them will become a lot easier because you can leverage what you already know.

CAGED, 3NPS, Berklee doesn’t matter

A discussion that sometimes appears at this point is what type of scale system should I use, and there are quite a few, CAGED, 3NPS, and Berklee being the big 3. This can sometimes lead to heated discussions, but In the end, it doesn’t matter too much, do what feels more natural to you, you can even change along the way.

Basic Exercises

How do you start? The first thing is to practice the scale, for example, this position of C major:

Try to play it slowly, evenly with alternate picking. Connect the notes, because otherwise, you are going to sound choppy when you have to play faster

Be aware of the notes you play, so first the root

You can even practice the scale while saying the notes you are playing.

The first technical exercise that you should do in the scale beyond playing it is to play it in 3rds.

Scale in 3rds

The reason for this is that when you play Jazz then you are using the notes of the chord, and chords are built in 3rds so you are preparing yourself for learning the diatonic arpeggios, triads, and 7th chords that are found in the scale.

What Do You Need To Play Jazz

What do you need to play jazz phrases? If you look at this fairly typical jazz lick

Jazz Lick – chromaticism arpeggio

Then you can see that it uses a 7th chord arpeggio, Cmaj7, and some chromaticism mixed in with scale notes.

Beyond practicing the scale itself then the things you want to practice are the things you need in your solo. Arpeggios seem like a very useful candidate, to begin with.

The Arpeggios Are In The Scales

When I was first taught arpeggios the I was told to practice them as separate positions. In that way, learn them as independent things, not connecting them to scales or anything else.

A few years later, when I was in a Barry Harris masterclass in the Hague, I learned from Barry Harris that I should know how to play the diatonic arpeggios of the scales, and he talked about how to use them.

If you practice the arpeggios like that you get something like this:

Diatonic Arpeggios

If you know how to play this exercise then you have material that you can use on a lot of chords that you come across in C major, and you see the arpeggios together with the other notes that you have available when you solo. It is already connected to the rest of the material you can use.

II V I lick with diatonic arpeggios

For me, this was really a gamechanger, when you connect the arpeggio to the scale like this it is much easier to play the arpeggio with an extra scale note and also to see how the notes move from one chord to the next, which makes it a lot easier to make strong lines that outline the chords. But there is a lot more you can get out of it, as you will see later in the video. (highlight voice-leading in a lick, overlay lick while talking)

Another thing that is worth noting is that most of the time when you come across arpeggios in Jazz solos, then they are one-octave arpeggios in the middle of a line or even with scale notes in between, so practicing them like this is much more efficient and closer to how you use them in Jazz. As you can see in this transcription (Parker solo transcription?)

How To Practice and Use Them

You can practice the arpeggios from each note in the scale like this (example 4) and again you want to play them cleanly, equal in volume, not too fast, and connecting the notes as much as possible. Another way of practicing them that is useful is to practice up one and down the next

This is actually a bit easier because you don’t have the large interval skip from one arpeggio to the next. In general, you want to practice different things to build flexibility and work towards being free when you improvise, so coming up with variations is something that will help you with that.

If you start thinking of the scales and the exercises like this, then you want to find out what you want to use in a solo and then practice that in your scales so that you learn all the useful variations building a vocabulary you can use in solos.

From Arpeggios to Lines

There are many ways that you can use these arpeggios, to get started it makes sense to just play the arpeggios on a chord progression

Example 7 (no backing)

To turn this into something you can use in a solo then you can use the notes around the arpeggios and add some nice rhythms as well.

For the Dm7, this is the arpeggio:

And you can turn that into a more interesting line by adding the E in between the first two notes:

In this way you can start to work on making lines like this:

Here I am using the Dm7 phrase, a triplet on the G7, and also adding an A to the Cmaj7 arpeggio.

The Mighty Triad

Another obvious one is to also check out the diatonic triads which as you will see we can easily connect to the chords and also are great for creating super-strong lines.

Going over the triads in the scale gives you an exercise like this:

And finding triads to use with a chord is very easy:

If you look at a Dm7 then that is D F A C

Here we already have two triads: Dm: D F A and F major F A C.

For the G7: G B D F – G B D and B diminished and Cmaj7: C major and Em

And using these to make lines could sound like this:

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