What Really Makes It Sound Like Jazz?

You already know that just playing the pentatonic scale doesn’t really make it sound like a great blues lick. There are other important things like bends and vibrato that make it sound great.

Of course, this is true for Jazz as well: It is not enough to just run up and down the arpeggio to make it sound like a great Jazz line. You want to play things that sound like this:

In this lesson, I am going to show you some of the techniques you can use to add some jazz phrasing or flavor to your playing, and you don’t need a million scales and arpeggios for this, and this is more important and much more effective

It is Not a Rule Book, It Is A Sound

I am going to use Blues as a reference in this video because most people already have some experience with that and a clear idea about when something sounds like blues or not.

I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but you probably did not learn to play or recognize Blues by reading a list of rules, at least I certainly did not read a Blues rule book.

You just heard it so much that you can recognize the general sound. I think it is important to keep that in mind, and in this video, I am going to give you some examples and then in those examples point out what gives it a Jazz sound.

That way you learn to recognize it and also have a way of using it in your own playing.

Sliding Into It

Here I am making the line work by sliding into the B and then continuing down an Am7(9) arpeggio. This way of changing how some of the notes sound really makes the line a lot more interesting.

And you can use this with any type of material, it also sounds right if you are just sliding into notes in the pentatonic scale:

One of the things you really want to avoid is that all the notes sound the same, this is just one trick, let’s look at some more that you can add to your playing.


Fast and Easy Embellishment

One problem that you can run into as a beginner jazz guitarist is that you play long winding 8th note lines, and they have all the right notes and arpeggios, but it still doesn’t really work.

But one of the things that can make a line like this a lot more interesting is to add some embellishments like this:

And you can practice playing these small legato embellishments and insert them into your playing. Some common ones to know would be these:

Notice how they are all small clusters of fast notes targeting a chord tone in Am

You already heard how the first two sound. The last one could be put to use on an Am7 like this:

Here I am targeting the 5th of the chord using a variation of the last embellishment in example 7

Changing The Rhythm

Of course, there are many other ways you can change the rhythm besides embellishments, but one that I think deserves a mention here is 8th note triplets, and especially playing arpeggios as 8th note triplets. This is pure Bebop or instant Bebop, and a great way to make an 8th note line more varied.

Here I am using it on the Am7 arpeggio. You can also use it on descending arpeggios as I did in the beginning of the video or like this:

I have a few other videos where I talk about practicing arpeggios and I am not going to go over it in too much detail here, you can check those out through the link in the description. Let’s look at maybe the most important part of how you get a line to sound like Jazz: Dynamics

The Notes Are Not The Same

Not every note is the same, and they should also not be played the same. I have mentioned before how Bop lines are all about the rhythms that are hidden in the accents and also how that is a big part of why Jazz is rarely played with overdrive or distortion because we want to have the ability to make the notes have very different dynamics.

What this is really about is making lines where you can add accents in the right places. Something where we, frustratingly enough, don’t have a rule book.


You should work on adding accents to your lines and also work on writing lines that allow for interesting accents.

A lick that doesn’t really work would be this:

But if you try to create melodies where the high notes are on off beats then you can end up with something a lot more interesting like this:

Here the melody has a high note on 3& in the first bar and on 2& in the second bar that I can give an accent, and this makes it a lot less heavy and much more groovy.

Starting to hear the phrases as these flowing notes with some notes popping out is a huge part of Jazz phrasing and if you start to get that into your system then you can make almost anything sound like Jazz.

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