Tag Archives: phrasing

How To Go From Scales to Great Jazz Phrases

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

Scales Are Boring

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

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


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

Jazz Beginner Mistakes – How To Learn Scales

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

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

How To Play A Jazz Phrase on a Cmaj7

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

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

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

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

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

Scale Notes and Phrases

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

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

Sounding Like Jazz – Rhythms and Accents

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

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

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

Adding Some Beautiful Wrong Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

How You Practice Making Phrases

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

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

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

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

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How To Sound Like Jazz – It Is All Phrasing

You want to learn Jazz, and everybody is saying: Learn Bebop scales and altered chords, upper-structure triad pairs. All these fancy things, and you can do great things with that, but in the end, it is not that which makes it sound like jazz. It is the phrasing, it is how you play it.

In this video, I am going to go over some examples of fairly simple things that do sound like Jazz and talk about how you start sounding like that what to work and what to practice.

Jazz Phrasing – What To Listen For

To give you an idea about what I mean here are a few very simple II V I licks in C major, just using the notes of the scale, no chromaticism or alterations everything is just in C.

Then I am going to analyze that and give you two great ways to work on improving your phrasing.

What is important is to start hearing about a line like this is that the notes are note played with the same volume or intensity. Jazz lines are not just a row of notes that are either on or off like this PLAY same note equal dynamic

If I played the line like without accents and dynamics it would sound boring and not like Jazz at all.

So I add some accents to the line. In this line, I have accents on the 1, 2& and on the 2& in bar 2. This is shown below:

The first note naturally gets an accent, but within the line then the interesting accents that make it sound like Jazz are on a note that is off the beat and higher than the following note.

Notice how I am using legato to give one-note and accent and make the following softer, this is a very common way to use legato for phrasing.

Accent on a note that is off the beat and higher than the following note.

Here we have accents on 1&, 3& and 2& in bar 2 as shown here below:

Again I am just using the scale and the diatonic arpeggios, so it is clearly more about how you play the lines and how the melodies are constructed than what notes you are playing.

The Dorian #4 Bebop scale will not automatically make you sound like Bebop.

How To Learn Jazz Phrasing

Now you have an idea about what is happening and how to get what you play to sound better.

But if you really want to sound better then you need to get this way of playing into your system so that it becomes automatic, something that is a little more difficult.

There are two exercises that you can work on that will really help this the first one is a great way to learn some repertoire as well. I also have a WebStore lesson dedicated to this that you can check out here: Jazz-Blues – 4 Easy Jazz Phrasing Etudes

One way to really dig into phrasing is to learn bebop themes and really try to analyze them and figure out how to phrase them. This way of working is a bit technical or theoretical and you need to work on it for some time and with a few tunes to get it to work in your playing., but it can be a great way to start hearing better phrasing and you can also reference different recordings of the bebop theme to get a sense of how people phrase the lines.

An analysis of Charlie Parkers Au Privave is shown here below with possible accent notes circled:

Of course, playing along with a recording and really nailing the phrasing is also a great exercise.

It could open up a completely new way to hear the melodies.


The other way to work on this is by learning solos by ear. For me, this was the most important takeaway from transcribing and still is. If you learn a solo and can play along with the recording then you really start hearing the phrasing and it is going to be a lot easier to get that sound out into your playing.

Learning solos by ear can seem really difficult compared to the previous exercise, but the advantage over working from a piece of written out music is that you have to listen a lot to a recording, really try to hear how it sounds and then reproduce that so the process is much closer to how you hopefully will end up using the phrasing and therefore it is much more effective as a way of learning.

Even if this was the only thing you would learn from learning a solo by ear and playing it with the recording, then phrasing is so important that it is more than enough reason to start doing this. I think that is obvious from the first part of this video.

What solos have you checked out by ear, do you have recommendations for good easy solos to learn? Maybe especially because of the phrasing. Leave a comment on this video!

A really important part of improving your phrasing is to hear what you sound like and see how it matches what you want to sound like. The only real way to do this is to record yourself. This is a great tool for learning and especially self-teaching. If you want some solid tips and advice on how to work with this then check out this video on that topic.

I have other videos on phrasing and how to interpret jazz lines like these. I find myself much more hearing drums when I am hearing how a line is supposed to sound.

Practicing Jazz Phrasing with Easy Etudes

Jazz-Blues – 4 Easy Jazz Phrasing Etudes

Other Lessons on Phrasing

Jazz Phrasing – This is what you want to know

Bebop Soloing – The Licks You Need To Check Out

Jazz & Bebop Phrasing – C Blues

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Legato technique for speed and phrasing

Most good players will mix up different techniques and use a combination of all the things they know to play lines efficiently but also with the best possible phrasing. It is important to realize that different types of legato techniques such as hammer ons and pull offs and slides have an important role in not only how to technically execute a phrase but also how it is going to sound.

In this lesson I will go over 3 lines and discuss how I play them and why to demonstrate how I apply several different legato and picking techniques in my playing. I will then give you some suggestions for exercises that you can use to combine several techniques in one exercise.

The lines

All the examples in this lesson are in the key of F major. THe first 3 lines are II V I lines with an altered dominant. The rest are F major scale exercises.

There are two reasons why  I might use a technique, it can be a question of phrasing so that the technique makes it easy to accent a specific note or it can be because it is helping me play the line.

It is very important to remember that both of these criteria are important. If you don’t choose the right technqiue you might not be able to play the line, and if you don’t think about how your technique makes the line sound you might ruin the line in that way. Both are very important considerations.

You can sum up bop phrasing in pretty much one sentence:

As I was taught by my teacher Peter Nieuwerf:  “In a bebop line notes that are higher than the following notes and not on the beat can have an accent”

Of course it is not completely black and white, but it is for the most part true.

In the first bar of example 1 the line is based on an Bbmaj7 arpeggio. The first hammer on is there to buy the right hand time to change strings. The pull off on the and of 3 is there for that reason too, but also because it makes the picked note (A) louder than the pull note (G). This gives the A a natural accent.

The Altered dominant line is also using two slides. The first slide on the and of 1 is there mostly for technical reasons while the 2nd from 4 and to the 1 of bar 3 is there to accent the 4 and over the 1. It is quite common to not accent the resolution.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 1

The 2nd example is using a cascading melodic idea, so it contains 4 descending parts which are all descending patterns. In this excample I am using small sweeps or economy picking where my accented notes are down strokes and the rest are played with up strokes or legato. This means that for the right hand each part of the line is started with a down stroke and then continues with up stroke sweeps of two or three strings. The most difficult thing with these is probably keeping it in the groove timing wise. Notice how this line does not actually fit in the bebop phrasing rule I talked about above, since most of the accented notes are on the beat.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 2

In the 3rd example it is really clear how you can combine slides and hammer on pull offs so that you can play a lot of notes with very little use of the right hand. This is really clear in the opening of bar 1 where the first two notes are picked but the following three are played with first a slide and then a hammer on followed by a pull off. This type of phrasing makes the lines more fluid and horn like in my opinion.

The rest of the 1st bar is pretty much just alternate picking. At the end of the 1st bar I slide from C to Db which serves to make it easy to play and also helps shift the position up one fret to play the C altered scale. The rest of the altered line uses a single pull of to accent the Bb in a similar way to example 1.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 3

As you can see in the examples I am not strict about down strokes on the beat or always starting on a down strokes. It is also quite clear that I mix a lot of techniques while playing lines.

Making good technique exercises

The technique that I base my playing on is for the biggest part alterenate picking, so the first thing that I try to combine any technique with is alternate picking. The first thing you work on is probably the standard way of playing a scale or similar with that technique, so if you are working on legato then work through a scale position with hammer ons and pull offs.

The next thing you could try is to use it combined with alternate picking. This can help you keep it in time and also help you already at this point starting to make it fit in your playing in terms of dynamics (mostly if it is hard enough compared to your alternate picking).

One way to do this is shown in example 4 where I play a 3 note per string F major scale and on each string I hammer on between the first two notes and then pick the 3rd. 3 note per string scales are useful for this because they are easy to go through with a system.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 4

You can of course play this way descending as well using first a pull of and then picking notes.

The reverse option is to pick two notes and then use a hammer on. This model is easier for your right hand since it has extra time to change strings.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 5

These two ways of playing a scale are useful because they both have a certain sound or flow and they can later become useful solutions because you need to start the next part of the phrase on another string with a certain type of up or down stroke for example.

The same two exercises can be done with slides instead of hammer on/pull offs. Since you are in fact changing positions when doing the slides this is a great exercise to open up how you play the scale and help you keep the overview when practicing.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 6

The sweeps or economy picking that I use are also useful to incorporate in exercises which mix it with  alternate picking. In example 7 I have written out the same scale position using this technique.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 7

With all of the exercises that I presented here I’d suggest that you don’t spend hours everyday working on this but more that you take one position and make sure that you can play it in a not too fast tempo with good time and that it sounds fairly equal in volume.

You should also take each of these technques and then just try to play lines over a slow turnaround or II V I focusing on using each technique to explore the way it can work melodically in your lines.

I hope you can use the ideas I went over here to work on your own technique and that you have a new perspective on the usefulness of the technques in phrasing and the advantages of mixing it up when playing.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

Legato technique for speed and phrasing

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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Making Jazz lines sound bluesy

For most people diving into jazz improvisation the focus is first on harmony and note choices, and much less on how you phrase the melodies you make. Since blues is a part of the roots of jazz and is used very frequently by jazz players it is a good place to start to add some variation in phrasing.

In this lesson I am going to go over how you can use some techniques and melodic ideas to give basic jazz lines a more bluesy flavour.


Jazz Guitars and phrasing

Since I am approaching this from a jazz point of view I chose to use techniques and concepts that are easy to execute with heavier strings, since that is standard on most jazz guitars. That means that I am not concerning myself with vibrato or bending, but trying to go over the sort blues of phrasing you’d come across in a George Benson or Kenny Burrell solo.

The approach I will go over here is a good way to further what I already covered in many of the lessons on improvising with arpeggios like this one:  How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios. This approach should help you get another sound out of the same lines by applying fairly basic phrasing ideas.

The progression I am using for this lesson is this II V I in C major:

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 1

Since I really wanted to demonstrate how powerful phrasing is as a tool I chose to make lines only using arpeggios. The arpeggios I am using on the progression are found in example 2:

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 2

Notice that I decided to keep the arpeggios in the same position and in the same range, even though that means that the G7 does not have a low root. This is mostly because it is important to have all the material covering the same range and to keep the arpeggios compact and not too many notes.

Phrasing techniques

The three techniques I am going to cover in this lesson are all shown in example 3, one bar for each one.

The first idea is to create a dynamic difference with legato. Most of the time when we work onn legato we try to make the notes equal in volume, but since they naturally have a difference in volume you can also use that aspect to add dynamic contrasts within an improvised line. This is utilized in blues phrasing in this lesson but is a fairly standard part of jazz guitar phrasing in general.

The second idea is to slide up to a note. The sliding sound is probably a sort if substitute or emulation of bending (which is an emulation of bottleneck playing). In this case it is not important (or even really audible) where you slide from but just that the slide is easy to hear.

I often get remarks from students who think of the slides as chromatic leading notes. I don’t really consider them as such mostly because they are played as grace notes and you can’t really hear what pitch they are. This is shown in the second bar of example 3.

The third concept is more melodic than technical in nature since it is the use of repeated notes. Repeated notes are somewhat taboo in mainstream bop phrasing but since Blues is a style that often is centered around a smaller pool of notes it is much more common to repeat notes, and doing so in a jazz line can also be a wat to invoke a blues feeling. This is of course also depending on how you do it, One Note Samba does not sound like a blues…

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 3

Examples of Bluesified arpeggio lines

The examples I made are all using arpeggios and are examples of how you can make a very “jazzy” approach in note choice sound more bluesy.

The first example is starting off with the root on the Dm7. Blues phrases are mostly not really up in the extensions and are a bit more living near the basic triad of the chord. Something which you will see in the different examples. From there the line is utilizing both pull offs and slides before it via the 7th(C) oof Dm7 moves to G7.

The G7 line is fairly straight forward with only a slide to the 3rd on beat 1. On the C I also use the slide to the 3rd and add an extra two note tag to the line.

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 4

In the 2nd example I am using two very characteristic blues ideas on the Dm7: Both repeating notes and groups of three notes, in this case the 3 note group starts with a slide to the 5th(A) and then repeating the 7th(C). I blues you find groupings like this often but almost never used to create a polyrhythmic effect like anoter meter on top of the one being played.

The G7 line starts off with a triad bases pattern that is then moved up to the upperstructure of the G7.  The line finally resolves to the 3rd(E) of C maj7. On the tonic it continues with a melody descending down the arpeggio and adding a slide to the 7th(B).

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 5

The third example is using the pull offs on the Dm7 and then moving on to the 3rd(B) of G7 which is played with a slide. It continues on the G7 with a triplet rhythm that has a repeating note. This to me is really a typical blues phrase to my ears, The triplet is used to create melodic tension that is resolved to the 3rd(E) of C which is approachedd with a slide. On the Cmaj7 the line continues with a skip from the root to the 3rd. This 6th interval is also often something you would find in a blues phrase.

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy ex 6

I hope you can use some of these ideas and strategies to work on your own phrasing skills and that it can help you create more variation in your solos by using a sound that you probably already have a feel for.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

Making Jazz lines sound bluesy

You can also check out my Bb blues solo lesson with a 4 chorus transcription + lesson:

Bb Jazz Blues Lesson 1

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Instagram,Twitter Google+ or Facebook to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.