Bebop was not invented on guitar, and some of the ways we usually learn things on the guitar works against learning to play Jazz or Bebop, but there are a few basic but important things that will help you think about playing Jazz in a different way so you don’t waste your time practicing the wrong things.
Getting Into Jazz and Learning Bebop
When I was starting out trying to learn to play Jazz then I was doing the same thing that everybody else does, I was working on scales and arpeggios and learning some solos hoping to combine that into something that would be my own Bebop solos. But, it doesn’t really work like that, you don’t learn a language by only learning the alphabet, which is obvious because a lot of very different languages use the same alphabet,
So even though we all use the same notes then we need to practice different words. So transferred to music: Different exercises will be useful depending on what style of music you play.
When it comes to learning Bebop then I always relied on analyzing solos that I transcribed myself or what I could get my hands on written out, but a major breakthrough was going to a Barry Harris workshop at the Conservatory in the Hague. He showed us exercises that were tailor-made playing Bebop and that really helped my playing get a lot better.
One Octave Arpeggios Rule In Bebop
One of the first things that I learned from Barry Harris, that really was a game-changer for me was that you should practice the arpeggios as one-octave diatonic arpeggios in a scale.
The reason for this is pretty simple, that is how they are most often used in Bebop solos as you can see in this transcription of Charlie Parker’s solo on the blues Billie’s Bounce.
If that is how you want to sound then it is probably more useful to practice playing arpeggios like that instead of only working on complete positions all the time.
Another advantage to this exercise is that the arpeggios are connected to the scale and you can use the other scale notes to make lines as well as the arpeggio, it is not an isolated thing like a separate arpeggio position.
There is another huge benefit to working on arpeggios like this, but I will cover that later in the video.
Scale Patterns Are For Heavy Metal
I have often heard people writing off Bop solos as patterns and scale runs, but that really sells short what is going on, it actually doesn’t describe it at all. Jazz is not that pattern-based. In fact, saying that any style is just a bunch of patterns strung together is probably untrue, maybe, except metal as the Ikea-Shredder Yngwie Malmsteen demonstrates playing his favourite 4-note scale pattern on YouTube
A Bebop line is like this:
Comparing it with this “yngwie”-Bop:
Learning To Compose Bebop Lines
For Jazz you don’t want to spend too much time on mechanical scale patterns in your practice, the goal is to do exercises that help you come up with Bop melodies, and it is not just rules and mathematical equations that create the melodies.
Take these two exercises:
And using that material you want to work on combining them in a lick like this:
Melodies Built Around The Chords
So if the solo is not just scales and scale patterns and not just arpeggios, then what is going on?
The arpeggios are often central in the melodies, and the melodies are created around the arpeggio notes. If you take the opening phrase of the Parker Solo:
It is really just an F major triad with phrases leading into each note and the chord tones are placed on the beat. You should also notice that the b7 is introduced later in the line announcing that the chord is changing to Bb7. Parker does this very often.
You want to work on hitting chord tones on the strong beats, 1 and 3 to get the sound of the chord across. You also want to practice creating melodies by adding scale notes and chromatic passing notes around those notes because THAT is what these melodies mostly are, and that is what you should practice creating.
Endless Long 8th Note Lines
A cliché description of a Bebop solo is that it is an endless line of 8th notes that never stops and weaves through the changes. I know that in one of my favorite books, Joe Pass Guitar Style, Joe Pass emphasizes the importance of developing the skill of playing continuous 8th notes through a progression, but if you listen to this Parker Solo then it is clear that Bebop is not only long rows of 8th notes. In fact, there is a LOT of space in this solo and the rhythms are not often 8th note runs, so being aware of rhythms, leaving space, phrasing across the bar line, and working with embellishments and triplets are great things to learn to use and to make a part of your sound.
Being aware of this and listening to Parker and Pass playing actually solos will teach you a lot more than a book anyway…
Let’s look at how the arpeggio exercise that I started with can make your life easier and give you more stuff to use in solos.
You Can Use Different Arpeggios On One Chord
If you look at what Parker is playing in the solo then there are a few spots where he is playing a different arpeggio than the chord that is used.
In the 3rd chorus on the Bb7 he uses Dø and
on the D7 he is using F# diminished:
What he is really doing here is that he is using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord.
If you take the scale that goes with a Bb7 then you have this scale which you might call a Bb dominant scale or an Eb major scale: Bb C D Eb F G Ab Bb Bb7: Bb D F Ab And If I instead play the arpeggio that you have on D then you get D F Ab C which is Dø
In the same way you have D7(b9) coming out of G harmonic minor (highlight D7 in G harmonic minor)
And the arpeggio on F# in G harmonic minor is an F# dim arpeggio: F# A C Eb
So in that way you have more arpeggios that work over the chords, and you also want to notice how it sounds great to play them as triplets to change up the line. That really adds energy!
There are a few more Barry Harris exercises that are almost great licks in themselves, but I will save those for another video.
Don’t Get Stuck In Bars And Chords
Until now the things that I have talked about are pretty straight forward and the point has been that Bebop improvisers work with the chords as a simplified version of the melody to create their solos. But you can also choose to mess around with the chord progression.
In the first chorus Parker is just playing F7 for the first 4 bars:
But in the 3rd chorus he is clearly going to Bb7 even hinting ad Bbm6 to go back to F
Another thing that he uses is to play over the barline as he does in this example, where he doesn’t really resolve the C7 until beat 2.
Working on being able to improvise with the chord progression and the barlines like this is something that can make your solo much more surprising and interesting, you just have to watch out that you don’t get lost.
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