Tag Archives: motivic development

The 5 Mistakes You Make Soloing Over Static Chords

Are you just playing notes or are you playing a solo and making music?

Often when solos are on one chord then it becomes painfully clear when a guitarist doesn’t know how to make that sound like music, but let me show you some ways to fix that.

Mistake #1 – Not Listening To The Most Important Guitarist

Let’s start with the worst mistake! Those solos where it is just a bunch of notes strung together, and even if the notes aren’t wrong then this still doesn’t make any sense. It sounds like nervously talking all the time but not saying anything.  (B-roll nervous talking, George or Woody Allen)

One thing you do want to notice in this video is that none of these fixes are about what scales/arpeggios or techniques you use, it is what you do with them, and you can do this equally well with a pentatonic scales or a  Messiaen mode.

The solution is a maybe bit surprising: But there is one guitarist that you have to listen to if you want to solve this problem, that is the only way to fix this! Let me show you.

You want to avoid playing solos that are just unrelated streams of notes, stuff that has no story, and where it is almost random licks after each other.

The goal is to make it into a piece of music, in fact, to tell a story with your solo.

You can compare this to actually telling a story: If your story is an endless stream of words with no breaks and no sentences the the first thing you want to do is to start speaking in sentences. We are not computers, It is easier to process information in chunks.

The way you start doing that is to introduce breaks between your phrases so they have room to breathe. This means that when you play something you need to stop and listen to what you just played. And as you might have realized that the guitarist you have to listen to, is yourself because that is the only way you can make your solo into a story. In the beginning, you can start by playing very short phrases, just to get used to it, so don’t be afraid to play 3 or 4-note phrases like these:

Some of the important skills later in this video are easier to develop if you play short phrases, so that is only going to be helpful.

Once you start to think in phrases and listen to what you are playing, then you can also start to make decisions about what you want to play next, and that is the only way you will be able to connect the phrases and develop your solo, like a story instead of just rambling random licks one after the other.

Mistake #2 – Who Is The Main Character In Your Solo?

If we stick to the idea of a solo being a story, then it can be very useful to have phrases that tie the entire solo together. Imagine watching Harry Potter, but in this version, there is no main character, so we keep shifting from person to person,  First Harry Potter is the main character then it’s all about Snape, before it is about Filch, and then Dobby  In that Movie the underlying plot is gone, and it would probably wouldn’t be a great movie to watch. You want to try to also have phrases that are the main character and that develop in your solo. Maybe not for te whole solo but sections of it. Those phrases are the transforming main character just like Harry Potter goes from being a boy living under a staircase to becoming a wizard.

What I am describing here is motivic development, because you can stick to a motif as a main character for a bit and then create a longer story by developing that, but you do need to get a few things right with your motif.

Don’t just repeat a melody, that is the same as just looping a scene in the movie. It’s tricky to get to work.

It needs to develop , otherwise, it gets boring, so practice making variations of the phrase, take away notes, add notes, switch from long to short notes and so on

And again, notice, how I am not using any special scales or sounds, it is about the melodies you play, not about which scale you are using.

But you do want to be aware that you need to make it recognizable. If you vary it too much then the effect is completely gone and nobody will hear how the solo phrases fit together.

Some great examples of motifs and motivic development that you probably already know are Beethoven

Those are great to start hearing motivic development being used in a very clear way, but you also want to listen for it in Jazz, and luckily almost any Jazz soloist will do, but Wes Montgomery is amazing at using motivic development and repeating phrases in his solos, both on changes and on more static chords EXAMPLE? , but once you start listening then you can hear that it is everywhere!

The first step in learning this is really to start to recognize it in the music you listen to, so start by listening.

There is another very important part of motivic development that people leave out..

Mistake #3 – Is Rhythm Important?

The most under-used tool to make solos interesting is probably rhythm. Rhythm can be a creative element that you can use in many ways:

  1. Play in the groove or over it
  2. Create contrast between phrases using different subdivisions
  3. Rhythmic displacement is also one of the best ways to develop motifs,

Phrase in the groove

Phrase over the groove

Subdivision for Motivic Development

Rhythmic Displacement is also a great way to develop motifs

in fact, for motivic development, it is one of the most powerful things to work with, and also something that you hear used in famous songs like fascinating rhythm:

An easy way to use this is to take a group of notes that don’t fit in the meter, so for 4/4 you can use 6,5 or 3 note groupings, and repeat them to create a motif that is shifting on top of the meter and in that way it becomes a more interesting phrase.

Mistake #4 – The Other Connection

There is another way to connect phrases than thinking of motivic development, and this is also a great way to get used to listening to yourself, I am, of course, talking about: Call-Response.

The concept here is to play a phrase and then think of what might be a good answer to that phrase.  My favorite example of this is the opening of Mozart’s  “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”

But you can try this out rubato as well

When you work on this then try to have a contrast between the different phrases. Play a more legato slow-moving phrase and then answer it with a faster more distinct phrase, or change the register between high and low.

Mistake #5 – Is It Boring?

When you solo on a single chord you can’t rely on the harmony of a song or chord progression to give your solo a form, a beginning, and an end, which is a lot easier when you are soloing on a song form. What becomes especially difficult is often that after some time then the notes become bland and it all sounds the same.

One way to surprise the listener can then be to find ways to use the notes in the scale that are the most exciting. I am using a m7 chord groove in this video so here notes the 9th and especially the 13th are good:


But you can also create tension by leaving the harmony or changing it to creates dissonance.  Going outside the harmony and then resolving that dissonance creates development in your solo. One fairly easy way to do that is to shift out of the harmony by moving a half step:

and here I am just changing chords from Am7 to Abm7 in the middle of the line, in fact I do that twice,  and that give me a section of the phrase that is very dissonant which then resolves back into the Am7 chord. This is often referred toas Side-slipping, because you are taking a step outside and then move back home. You can do a lot of things with other chords, I have a video on that for m7 chords that I’ll link to in the description. Another approach that you can use is to re-interpret the chord and move to a sound that in the context is more dissonant and therefore more interesting. Like using A diminished over the Am7, even if that doesn’t really fit the chord.


You want to start developing these skills, and once you do then you will quickly start to hear the improvement, especially if you also spend some time listening to soloists and hear how they are using call-response, motivic development, but there are other great phrasing techniques that you want to develop especially if you are getting into Jazz, and in this video I cover how you can learn some great lessons from the playing of Wes Montgomery and George Benson that will make you sound a lot better, on static chords but also on more moving harmony.

Why They Sound Better Than You Every Time!

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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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