Tag Archives: motivic development jazz

Why They Sound Better Than You Every Time!

What is the difference between a good solo and a great solo? And what are some of the skills you want to develop to go from playing the right notes to really playing a great solo?

There is a set of 3 skills that especially a beginner won’t notice because you are too busy finding the chord tones and playing chromatic notes, and you want to start working on this from early on if you want to play solos that make sense and are not just random phrases.

The Problem With The Right Notes

When I was getting started playing Jazz then I practice scales and arpeggios since I had learned that I needed those to play Jazz. The problem I had with my solos was that even if I could play the right notes then it still sounded very fragmented and messy because I played everything per chord. Let me show you how that is the opposite of how George Benson plays. My playing at the time was like this:

 

These are all the right notes. but as you can clearly hear then it doesn’t make any sense at all because I am:

#1 Starting a new idea every bar

#2 Always Starting on Beat 1

#3 Stop playing so I Can Think Of The next chord

George Benson Gets It!

So what is the difference? He is playing from one chord to the next, so his melodies are ending on a note that clearly tells your ear that the chord is changing. In this case. it is super clear by hitting the 3rd every time:

Getting stuck with just playing something more or less random on each is a natural part of learning to play changes, but you can quite easily get started fixing it, and that is a really important skill to get in there so let’s look at that, and then dive into two other approaches that you hear a lot in the playing of Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall.

Forward Motion

When it comes to Bop-inspired Jazz, then a core principle in the solos is that often the melodies are dense with a lot of notes and are really pushing forward to the chord changes, similar to what you heard in the George Benson example. This is not that different from how Bach wrote music even if Jazz uses different harmony and also some “extra” notes here and there.

Hal Galper wrote a good book about this calling it Forward Motion

which is a good way to describe it. The simple version of the concept is that you practice playing lines that end somewhere, so target notes. The notes in a solo line are not just random pitches against a chord,

they should fit together as a melody that moves to the next chord. Which is what you heard in the Benson example.

But there are some things that you can get wrong when you are working on target notes, so here’s a suggestion for getting started, and actually you should consider buying that book.

Choosing Target Notes and Practicing

For finding the right target notes then you sort of have to forget what you learned when you started checking out Jazz chords.

I am sure you have had lessons telling you that when you play chords then you just need the 3rd and the 7th to get the sound of the chord across. That would also suggest that you can use those two as target notes, but that is actually not really true.

Let’s look a II V I in C major:

The 3rd of the chord is still a really good option, as you heard in the George Benson example,

but the 7th is often a bit vague, and in the beginning, you want to train your ear by having very clear notes that tell you that the chord has changed.

On Dm7 then the C doesn’t really sound like a Dm7 on it’s own, it sounds much more like a C major chord, so having that as a target is going to be much more difficult.

The 5th, A, is however a very good target note instead, which is sort of the first note you would throw out of a chord. This is true for Cmaj7 as well where the 7th, B will really just sound like you are not resolving the V chord in a II V I. Of course, you can play melodies that make these notes possible, but as I said, you want to keep it easy to hear in the beginning.

Let’s say that we keep it easy and play the 3rd as a target note on all the chords, just like George.

You want to practice coming up with Dm7 lines that play towards and end on a B, a simple version could be something like this:

Or like this:

 

These are of course super simple, and I don’t actually have to start with the F on the Dm7, but I think you can hear how the melodies are naturally moving towards the chord change. Before we get to the Wes and Jim Hall examples then let me just show you how you can easily make it a lot more embellished with trills, leading notes etc:

So here it is a little less clear and the target note is often moved to the 4& which also makes it a bit lighter, but that is really just the next step to work on and it is the same concept.

How To Practice Forward Motion

If you practice soloing like this then you will get a lot better at creating lines that have a flow and that don’t sound like random things copy-pasted on top of the progression. I would suggest starting with keeping it simple composing lines and then gradually going from improvising over a basic turnaround rubato into playing in time and then taking it to some songs.

This skill is essential for anything Bop inspired, but the next two are maybe even more powerful and less Jazz specific. The first one is in everyone’s playing, but Jim Hall is truly a master at this!

Make People Remember Your Phrases

What Jim Hall does in this solo is probably the strongest melodic principle that we have, it is at the core of so many great solos and great compositions.

You first have a motif being repeated and developed over the Dm section of the song. He then rounds this off with a very chromatic line on the Aø D7 before starting to work with a short intervallic motif that is moved around in triplets.

Check it out:

So this is all over Jim Hall’s playing, but Wes uses this as well:

Here are a few very clear examples from Four on Six.

Clear, but still changing the rhythm on a simple 4-note motif. Notice that he plays it 3 times and then sort of finishes the sentence with something else. That is very common.

Both Wes and Jim Hall uses forward motion and motivic development, it is not one or the other, some of Jim Hall’s motifs have forward motion. Beethoven and Mozart knew how motivic development worked as well. The effect of this as a listener is that you hear something that you recognize but it is not just a loop, it changes and stays interesting in that way.

How To Practice Developing Motifs

The first important step is that you want to recognize these things when you listen to music,so try to listen to solos that you know and that you like and recognize the motifs in there. Again the way to practice this is to solo and try to stick with motifs when you improvise, so start rubato and play a short phrase then imagine how this phrase should move through the changes. Later you can start just sticking with a motif over a song and see what you can do with it.

I sometimes see comments on YouTube that want to attribute Wes’ playing to magic or some other vague term. I think that is surprising when his genius is, to me anyway,  the clarity of his strong melodic ideas. Can you be tone-deaf for melodies like melody-deaf?

Wes Montgomery uses another melodic technique quite often, and that is also a great strategy for making your solos a longer story.

Have A Conversation With Yourself

I often talk about how music is a language,  and music is a form of communication, a place where conversations happen.

And this can also be in your solo where you are having a conversation between phrases, what is often referred to as Call-response.

Check out how Wes does this:

He actually also has a great example of this with octaves from the earlier recorded version:

So this is about hearing different phrases as a back and forth between two sides.

Bebop 101 for Guitar!

Another guitar player that is really great at this and has some amazing lines to learn from both in terms of solid bebop and motivic development is Grant Green, and if you check out this video then you can learn something about how he creates melodic, playable, and beautiful bebop lines. Especially since it is bebop but not too difficult for guitar!

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

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Is Your Improvisation Practice a Waste of Time? (And How to Fix That)

When it comes to practicing then it we often have a very clear idea about scales and exercises which you can easily turn into a practice routine or schedule. Habits like that help you measure your progress and make things efficient. When it comes to actually getting better at soloing thex that is often a lot less clear, and you actually have to watch out that you are not just noodling the same stuff without getting any where.

In this video, I am going to work to show you my process while actually learning a song, how I think when I am playing and to demonstrate some of the things that will help you get better at soloing and make your solos more melodic, because just focusing on playing better licks isn’t really enough.

The Song and the Story

I was playing a gig a few weeks ago mostly with people I hadn’t met before, and during the gig the saxophone player called a song that I didn’t know. When you get asked to play a song you don’t know on a gig that can be really difficult, depending on the band and the situation. Sometimes people don’t understand or even accept that you may or may not know a certain song. But while I am building up to a lot of drama then that was not the case. It was a very relaxed gig and we were just calling standards to play. We ended up playing the the song which is pretty easy to learn, and while I never played it (I think), it is a fairly common jazz standard The only hurdle is that it is mostly played quite fast.

The song that I am talking about is the standard “I want to be happy” which I think is mostly famous from the Stan Getz/Oscar Peterson version, but there is also a Rollins version that I had already heard.

Because the song is so simple then the saxophone player actually just explained the harmony so I didn’t have to read it off iReal, which is also nice because the way he explained it then it was easier to play than the iReal harmony which has a few more chords.

VS the usual iReal version:

That’s the song, as you can tell it isn’t super difficult, and hopefully your solo practice can become more effective, and actually more fun by taking some ideas from how I practice, what works and what doesn’t .  This is mostly about being more melodic but that is of course also a subjective term, I find good Jazz lines melodic, other people think jazz lines are abstract theory constructions, you can let me know if it is something else. The important thing is that you find a way to practice soloing that is not random.

#1 The Basics

With any song you, of course, need to have your basics down, this is stuff that I don’t usually work on for all songs that I practice, but if you are new to learning Jazz standards then you want to know the scales and arpeggios needed for the song, and it is practical to know them in one position because it is easier to be melodic if you don’t have F major at one end of the neck and  F#dim at the other.

Later it will be clear that some melodic techniques are a lot easier if you know everything in more positions if not all over the neck.

Since this video is about  soloing over the song,  I am not going to get into how to learn the song, listen to recordings,  play the melody and the chords.

#2 Some Lines

When it comes to practicing instead of the song getting called on a gig , then you can  can choose a comfortable tempo and get used to improvising over the song, not too fast, but certainly also not too slow.

Let’s first just play a simple solo through the progression,   play some lines that connect with the harmony and (hopefully) make sense, maybe stumbling on some difficult stuff or some good things?

In the first solo,  I am staying around the same area, branching out a bit. Really trying to spell out the changes and still get the lines to make sense.

This is mostly about hitting the right target notes that really spell out the chords, so F to F# and E to Eb:

And I do that in the solo here:

This is still mostly playing lines that are zoomed in, I am not really trying to have very long ideas that much, just spelling out the harmony. But I like to have longer ideas in my solos, so let’s try to look at how to develop that, because you want to be able to do this but you also do need to go further

#3 Becoming Melodic

The place I usually start with creating longer lines in my solos is using motivic development, simply because that is one of the strongest ways to connect phrases, Like Autumn Leaves: PLAY or a longer arc like All The Things You Are. Repeating things and changing them is really strong for melody.

The easiest way to do that is actually voice-leading, but I’ll show you that in a bit.

Usually this becomes going back and forth between figuring stuff out without playing in time and putting that to use in time.

Let’s first try a bit in time:

When do the motifs continue, when does something new start, is there a conclusion.

Then you play something and try to hear what follows it, and mostly it will be some sort of echo of the original phrase, but it can also have the character of call-response where one phrase is a question and the next is an answer.

And this part of the practice where you play something and then listen to what you played and play something off that is super important for getting your solos to make sense. It has to be so that even if you start a new melodic idea then it should be a choice, not because you can’t continue the one you were just playing.

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You Need To Practice Developing Phrases in Your Solos

If you listen to great jazz musicians, and it doesn’t matter if it is Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Pat Metheny or Kurt Rosenwinkel. They play jazz phrases and connect them, making their solo one long piece of music not a bunch of licks.

So you should probably ask yourself if your solos are just you playing something on this chord and then something else on the next chord.

That is what makes it a solo and what makes it really great, and you really don’t want to sound like your solo is you throwing licks on a chord progression.

Let’s fix that!

The Song and the raw materials

The Song I am using is Strayhorn’s Satin Doll. Mainly because it has a lot of II V progressions which makes it easy to move things around on and you can use the same arpeggio shapes often while soloing.

I have made other very useful lessons on Satin Doll with chords and soloing that you should consider checking out:

Drop 2 Magic On Satin Doll – This Is How To Use Jazz Chords

Satin Doll – Easy Jazz Chords (and a little beyond)

Standard with Pentatonics – Satin Doll

Barney Kessel – How To Make A Bebop Solo Catchy

Arpeggios! (Just ask Mr Metheny)

The Material I am using in this lesson is almost exclusively arpeggios.

To practice the arpeggios in an easy way you can check out this exercise:

Developing phrases #1 – Reduction

The example below uses reduction in groups of two bars, so the main statement is the first bar of Dm7 G7, Em7 A7 and on Am7 D7. For each of those statements the following phrase is a reduced development, so a variation on the original phrase with fewer notes.

Developing phrases #2 – Change Direction

Another way to develop phrases is to by reversing the direction of a part of the phrase.

This is seen below between the first bar of Dm7 G7 and the inverted ending of the first bar of Em7 A7.

Another similar relationship is found between the Dm7 G7 bars (one is descending the other ascending) this is the other way around between the two bars of Em7 A7.

Developing phrases #3 – Displace the Rhythm

Example 3 is based around one motif that is then developed through out the example. The basic idea is using the 5th and 7th of the m7 chord to encircle the 3rd of the dominant.

I play the basic motif in the first bar and from there on is mover around and developed in the following bars.

Developing phrases #4 – Inverting a melody

The example below is using a zig-zag shape in the melodies. All the melodies are changing direction in each phrase. The first one is up-down, the mirror of this is very clear 2 bars later. I use the same type of development in the Am7 D7, Abm7 Db7 bars.

Motif exercises

You can develop your ability to work with motivic development by taking a simple motif through the changes. In many ways, Satin Doll is a great song to practice this on.

You can move a motif through the song like this:

Experiment with constructing arpeggio melodies

I have often found it extremely useful to work on just making variations of basic arpeggio melodies.

The exercise here below is a transcription of some melodies only using Dm7 and G7 arpeggio notes.

Getting more out of Arpeggios on a Jazz Standard

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