Intro Hello and welcome! This book contains virtually everything that made me play WAY better jazz. One of the key elements that really ” launched ” my playing was my planning : deciding what I was going to play before sitting with the guitar. This book is in no particular order so you’ll have no choice but to do the same: you decide your own “ What and When ”, and I’ll help you with some “ How and Why ”. You can be working on several elements/exercises in this book at once. You could even be mixing from several sources! In fact, I urge you to read the “ Resources ” chapter so you can discover even more ways to learn quicker, just like I did. This book is all ear oriented. In my opinion, nothing is worth playing if you don’t hear it. Wind players have to face this challenge all the time. Try to imitate them! [See the “ Ears ” and “ Resources ” chapter to start working on your ears]. Because of it’s “ ear oriented ” nature, this book will not address any theory questions. There are enough resources out there (including fellow musicians) to dig the necessary information about anything you’ll find unclear in this book. As you may begin to understand, it would be impossible for me to answer every musical question, the book would be 800 pages long!!! But, I know deeply that what you’ll find in the following pages will bring your jazz guitar playing to new levels. Keep on swinging, Marc
I would like to dedicate this book to Réjean, Gary, Charles and Chris. Special thanks to Annick, Pierre, Phil, Greg, Dalhi, Tristan, Ryan, Dave, Eric, Alex and Averil. More thanks to Stéphane for being a freak, to Andrew for making music possible, to Greg for being around, to Tim for the book, to Émilie for the lesson.
Chapter 1 : Lines The most important component of any jazz solo – lines – will be approached from two angles : rhythms (the groove) and scales/arpeggios (technicalities are not essential but useful to spice and color your playing).
1.1 Lines and Rhythms If your goal is to play amazing jazz guitar solos, I will show you that practicing scales, patterns, licks or existing solos won’t be sufficient. All the above things are good but won’t sound very convincing without a deep groove.
Play anything (but make it swing!) Rhythms must come first, that’s the number one “ jazz secret ” in history! Notes are of no value when improvising, unless the rhythms sound right. We can even go as far as saying “ You can play anything as long as it grooves ” as demonstrated in Example 1. If you play “ bad notes ” in “ good rhythms ” it will sound OK… BUT … If you play “ good notes ” in a “ bad rhythm ” some of the notes will end up at the “ wrong place ” anyways! That being said, if you are putting emphasis on rhythms when you are attempting to play solo lines, you will improve quicker. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to me : I studied guitar privately…with a drums teacher for a year and my playing really took off. Not that I would end up playing the exact rhythms or exercises he asked me to do…what happened is that my playing was now informed of all those rhytmic possibilities. I felt free! I suggest you pick some of your favorite players and listen to their solos only from a rhythmic point of view. You’ll soon realize they’re also drummers in a weird guitar way. Simply put : the jazz guitarist is part of the rhythm section, right? My favorite examples are solos by Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny. Track 1 is 3 choruses of a blues solo I improvised. The first chorus is just the rhythms played on a single pitch. The second chorus is the actual solo. The third chorus is the same rhythms with “ theorically wrong ” notes. Notice that the third chorus is still swinging. It just has this extra spice because of the unusual “ wrong ” notes.
Respect Every Beat Track 2 is a classic exercise I stumbled upon very late in my musical development (too late?). It’s simply a repeated descending line (on a C7 chord) to which we remove a note each time we play it. As with my private drums teacher, stuff really started to happen when I nailed this exercise. It enables the player to feel and “ own ” every little corner of the bar. Play it as is and then try to play each individual phrase in reverse order (from last to first). Then try jumping around (first phrase to third phrase to fifth phrase etc.). There is much to do with this simple exercise and I’ll let you experience the pleasures of self-discovery!
Respect Every Beat Even More! Working with the charleston rhythm as in Track 3 is another way of “ owning ” the different beats quickly. It’s the single most used 2-note rhythm figure in jazz and pop music! It’s attractive and odd in nature. This is priceless; I am very serious. The goal of the exercise is to play the charleston figure (doted quarter-note followed by an eight note) everywhere in the bar. What I mean is to start the figure on every individual eight-note. In the first and third bar of the exercise, the figures are played starting on the “ one ” of the bar. The second time (bars five and seven) they are played on the “ and of one ” (an eight-note later). The next time they’re shifted again by another eight-note. (Until it’s displaced eight times to come back to the “ one ” in the last four bars). WARNING : 1. This exercise has another purpose and is written this way to save some space : don’t limit yourself to what’s written and try to play a full chorus of each different “ location ” of the rhythmic figure. See the charlestons in the Chapters 2.1 for a clear pictural idea. Do it by yourself slowly and you’ll reap the rewards very soon! 2. Keep the pickup in mind : beat “ four ” and the “ and of four ” are considered to be part of the NEXT MEASURE; that is called anticipation, one of the prime characteristics in jazz rhythms. It may sound funny to you at first but keep working at it. 3. The pickup is the reason why the fourth charleston (starting on the “ and of two ”) is in bar twelve instead of in bar thirteen. Bar twelve is the PICKUP to bar thirteen because we are landing on BEAT FOUR of bar thirteen. (Remember, the aim is set towards the first and third bar of every system.) This is the rhythmic exercise I got the most “ serious ” about ever. I’ve been doing charleston figures everyday since I discovered them!!! Keep working at it and you’ll find plenty of fun stuff to mess with. There’s a lot more to it than you might think… here are a few questions you can ask yourself if you get bored of the charleston : • • • • • • • • • • •
What if it’s in 3/4 time? 5/4? 7/4? What if you played two doted-quarters in a row (three notes instead of two)? What about more “ consecutive charlestons ”? Can you play charlestons on something else than blues? Does it feel good ? Are you “ swinging ” or “ in the pocket ”? Can you hear charlestons in jazz and pop music? (I have yet to find ONE tune that does not contain a single charleston figure) Where is Charleston? Is it possible to apply the same concept to sixteenth-notes? The charleston is a grouping of three notes (odd) in a binary environment (even). What about even groupings in ternary (or odd) environments? Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Are the possibilities endless? (I have yet to answer this one…)
Essential time/rhythm knowledge You may be beginning to notice the importance of time and rhythms in jazz music. I believe every player should be working on at least a little bit of time and/or rhythms often. One of the most effective tools for practicing time is a metronome. I know, it surely won’t “ groove ” for you, or it won’t “ swing ”, but it’s a good point of reference. (Am I speeding up?, slowing down? Am I really “ nailing ” it everytime or am I a little before (rushing) or after (dragging) etc.)
16 tempos The metronome can be used in a myriad of ways (I’ll show you one or two but I still believe in self-discovery!). One aspect of it is to determine the tempo (speed) of what you are playing. At first, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of different speeds to play at. Most electronic metronomes can be set from 30 to 250 BPM (beats per minute). If you look at quartz metronome with a round dial (or at the even older “ pendulum ” metronomes) you’ll notice that not “ all the tempos ” are marked. You get : (take a look at www.metronomeonline.com if you dont have one) 40 48 56 66
42 50 58 69
44 52 60 72
46 54 63 76
etc. Why did I stop after 76? Because 80 is the same as 40. Likewise 52 = 10; 72 = 144, etc. Like playing your low E string and your high E string, every tempo is the same as their half and as their double. They feel the same. That’s quite a relief; now there are only 16 different tempos! By working at a specific speed and being aware of it’s double and it’s half time, you are really internalizing the feeling of this tempo. Just make sure you cover every 16 tempos once in a while. My personal favorite way to practice this is going through four different tempos each day. It doesn’t matter what you play, but the speed and feel which you play at. Doing that, you are assured to go through all the tempos in a week or less. I aim to play the 4 tempos in a single column of the above table. They are at a distance of four metronome increments. For example, one day I’ll be doing 42, 50, 58 and 69. The day after I could be doing 76, 92, 108 and 126. Notice that it doesn’t matter what the slowest tempo on a given day is because they are still related to their half or double cousins. Make sure you change column each consecutive days.
Use the following table if needed : 40 48 56 66 80 96 112 132 160 192 224 264
42 50 58 69 84 100 116 138 168 200 232 276
44 52 60 72 88 104 120 144 176 208 240 296
46 54 63 76 92 108 126 152 184 216 252 304
Finger Snapping Good The metronome can also be used to practice as if it were the drummer’s “ high-hat ”. It’s the most common way for jazz players to subdivide the bar. You hear it every time people count-in tunes on the bandstand when they snap. It is supposed to be set on the second and fourth beat of every bar of 4/4. Those are the weaker beats of the bar, the stronger being one and three.
Listen to Track 4 for an oral explanation (way easier to hear than to read!). So you can use the metronome with anything you are working on with the click on 2 & 4. If you are working in 3/4, it can be set as the one of every bar. The metronome can really be set anywhere you want. (Start with the obvious before attempting to set it on the 3rd sixteenth note of the 2nd beat of a bar of 13/8!!!)
It Don’t Mean a Thing… Jazz is, and has always been, about the groove. It must be pretty clear by now. So what about this mysterious “ swing ” everyone is talking about? To tell you the truth, every music has it’s own kind of “ swing ” (whether it be latin, funk, hip-hop, flamenco or indian music). The prime characteristic of traditional “ swinging ” in the jazz idiom is about the triplet. Playing eighth notes and replacing the offbeat by the third triplet. It gives slightly “ delayed ” offbeat eight notes.
The constant polyrhythms created by subdividing every beat in three equal parts is the traditional way of explaining this “ swing factor ” (by playing only the first and last triplet we get this “ bounce ”). Historically the eigth notes had a tendency to be straighter and straighter (less swung) since the beginning of the twentieth century. Nowadays, even very conservative, traditional players will seldom play jazz with this exact triplet feel, it tends to be straighter. As explained early, the general tendency is to accentuate weak beats (like 2 & 4 for quarternotes, or the offbeats for eighth notes). It is also important to keep in mind that different musicians swing differently. Some create this “ delay ” without using the triplet figure or any accent; they just play “ behind the beat ” all the time to create the effect. It will surely never be as accurate as it is on paper; it’s all about the feel.
Time Awareness and Subdivisions This way of portraying an idiom by it’s rhythmic subdivisions is common. While playing any style, it is always important to know and feel the underlying pulse of smaller rhythmic value (in this case, triplets). It increases the time awareness because you have more than one level of constant pulse to latch on to. I encourage you to become familiar with subdivisions in the styles you play most often and sing them to yourself while your are playing or listening. It will enlarge and boost your time feel and make you more aware of the groove. (As a practice suggestion, I’d say use the triplet for now, since this book is all about jazz.) A good way to determine the right subdivisions to sing to yourself is to play drums. Play an imaginary drumkit while listening to music in the style you are performing (even a recording of your own band can be good!). Keep going for a while even if you look funny. Focus on the thought : “ What if I was playing drums with that group? How would that feel? ” Simple but effective!
Meditative Rhythms Here’s a great way to use the metronome and increase your rhythmic awareness. Be careful, it is NOT related to subdividing focusing on a style like swing or funk. It is just a general exercise. Set the metronome very slow, I like mine at 40. Listen to the click for a while. Using a single note (an open string for example), play on every click. Aim to be right on and focus on the feel of it. Stay there for a while until you think you are grooving most of the time. Then try to play two notes every click, dividing the click in two equal parts. When you get it, stay there for a while and groove. You are playing “ 2 against 1 ” or 2:1. Then try to go at 3:1. Listen and feel.
The next goal is to shift from one to another (2:1 to 3:1 for example) while keeping the feel. Go back and forth often; you will have to “ move your aim ” so to speak. It’s like a mental shift every time. When you are comfortable with that, try jumping around (5:1 to 2:1 for example) further and further. Most of the time I go as far as 10:1 or 11:1 always focusing of the groove and I practice different things (jumping around or playing odd groupings and melodies that turn around). Be patient, do it a little everyday and it’s going to show quickly in your rhythmic abilities. The next step (not recorded) is to play against more than one click. So far, it’s been “ X against 1 ”. It is also possible to divide in polyrhythms (for instance “ X against 2 ” or “ X against 3 ”). The most commonly found in jazz are 3 :2, 2 :3, 4 :3. They are common jazz rhythms. To push it even more try 5:2, 7:2, 9:2, etc. Make up your own challenges depending on your level, interests and musical needs.
IcaNtHeaRwHatyOUrsayINg (Pacing your ideas) Playing lines on the guitar can become easy very quickly for any serious player. It has advantages and disadvantages. If used with taste, a flurry of notes will sound impressive and fresh. But if they’re played all the time, the same fast licks will sound monotonous. If you have the technical facility to play for a long amount of time without stopping, DON’T!!! Use space and silence like spoken punctation and accents. As a comparison: itcouldalmostsoundlikeyourejustinarushtogetitalloutandandheadtothewashroom… A fun exercice I do all the time is pacing (play and stop very frequently). You can be thinking like a wind player : play, breathe, play, breathe etc. You could be aiming for a specific amount of bars (for example: play 2 bars, rest 3 bars. It’s even more fun with an odd number of bars!). Another way to use pacing is to stop whenever you sense your ideas are leading nowhere and start over again with a fresh idea. Yet another fun thing to try : leave as much silence as possible and make sure every new idea is somewhat related to the previous one (melodically [same notes], rhythmically, etc.). If pacing is totally new to you, try the following: Always play on your THIRD impulse. Start improvising, stop after the first musical phrase then hold it once, twice and play the third time. It gives your mind a chance to hear the “ echo ” of what you just played. Keep that as the mantra of pacing. Track 5 demonstrates me playing “ in and out ” of pacing. You’ll surely know how to identify when I try to use space in my solo or when everything feels like it’s crammed. On the same note, if you already have great chops on the guitar, try and leave the audience wanting for more (don’t play everything you know every time you improvise). NOT playing is what made some players sound great. Sometimes when listening to Miles Davis, I realize I’m hearing things he chose NOT to play! (I still hear these notes as clearly as if he played them, funny, eh?)
There is More Once again, working on time/rhythms a little everyday helps a lot. It will expand your improvisational ideas endlessly. To conclude, here are a few more suggestions : • • • • •
Write rhythmic “ templates ” to improvise over. The simplest and most expansive template is the charleston. With a good set of rhythms, any notes will sound good. Vary your vocabulary; listen to and play swing, straight eight, rock, latin and other kinds of music. Look into odd time signatures, it’s a whole different world. (for example 3/4, 5/4, 7/4, 11/4). Bulgarian folk music is based on those, check it out. Play duo with drummers; I promise it will change your life! Play drums if you’ve got a chance!
1.2 Lines and the Guitar Neck First of all, please don’t let this guitar “ knowledge ” be in the way of your rhytmic or melodic ideas. If you hear it and it’s not in a “ scale ” or pattern, it’s OK! The following exercises and approaches for jazz guitar are really what helped me. (Seriously, that’s the bulk of my solos right there!). While learning them, I always kept my mind focusing on rhythms and melodies I heard deeply. Keep it feeling good and groovy all the while using the following tools to unlock your creative potential and spice up your playing. After this little “ warning ”, let’s get working on your left hand fingers and show them how to rule the fingerboard…jazz style!
East-West (One String and Twenty-Something Frets) Use the “ learning all the notes ” topic in Chapter 4 if you are not familiar with all the notes on your neck. I also believe every guitar player regardless of style or ability, should be playing using only one string at a time. It’s a great exercise : make up a grooving vamp (one or two chords) and improvise on each string individually. Devise your own challenges (playing a blues on a single string for example) as you go along. Don’t underestimate this!
North-South (Six Strings and Four to Six Frets) The complete opposite of single string playing is position playing. Positions are very useful and a must to any serious player. The principle is “ one finger for each fret ” using the index and pinkie occasionally to “ extend ” up to six available frets per position. Aim to learn the major scale (C D E F G A B) and the melodic minor scale (C D Eb F G A B) in seven positions (there’s only one note difference in the two scales, it’s easier to learn that way). Remember and practice the positions without using this “ String + Finger ” system. The first number indicates the string and the second the finger used to play the first note (C, in that case). The hand then stays in the position with the occasional “ stretch ” of the index or pinkie. Always play every note available in each position.
The Seven “ String+Finger ” Positions 5-2
After you have nailed the positions, try to shift from one position to another using a half-step present in the scale (E-F, B-C or D-Eb for example). The shifts should always be made with the index or the pinkie. (So you don’t have to stop a musical line to shift position…) Please refer to “ A Modern Method for Guitar ” by William Leavitt (Berklee Press) if you wish to go deeper in the subject.
South-East and North-West (Six Strings, Twenty-Something Frets!) The single string and position concepts can be combined in another way of approaching the guitar neck : diagonal playing. This is the main aspect I will cover here and throughout the book. It frees your mind and makes you phrase like a horn. It’s been present since the beginnings of jazz guitar but is now slowly disappearing … guitar schools are almost strictly teaching the rigid positions. Diagonal playing consists of covering a certain area of playing with the four fingers (similar to positions) that is a bit larger than positions, thus playing more notes on each string (similar to individual strings). The “ spread ” can then be wider than the usual constraints of one position (or one string) at a time. Use track 6 to learn the chromatic scale using four notes per string (two octaves range) and the same scale using six notes per string (three octaves range). See how much more “ territory ” you can cover with the latter. That’s the key to better jazz guitar phrasing. MAKE SURE you use your index and pinkie twice on each string in the six per string version. Think of them as an extension, don’t move the whole hand, just reach with the finger.
All the way up and down! Using the diagonal playing concept, here is the G major and G melodic minor scales over three octaves (Track 7). It is important that you relate and HEAR it as if it is the same thing happening three times. (Please see “ String transference ” in Resources)
Please note that this is only an example. That’s what feels most comfortable to me. You have to decide on your own fingerings; they will become second nature. The general guidelines in creating your fingerings are : -Shift using first or fourth finger LH finger if possible. -Try to shift smoothly (shifts are not audible). -Learn any new scales/material to have as much range as possible. (3 octaves is not always possible on the guitar)
You are Bop! Yes, be BOP! Having more and more range (three octaves for example) feels great on the guitar. We must then make this guitaristic way of playing compatible with jazz phrasing. Historically, jazz players had a tendency to add more and more chromaticism in their improvisations. That means using not just the scales (usually seven notes) but also playing all the other notes. The secret is to play rhythmically … using the “ bad ” notes as passing notes … and play “ strong ” notes on “ strong beats ” (such as one and three). The first step in that kind of playing is the bebop scale; it has eight notes instead of seven so it fits perfectly in a bar of 4/4. (Notice that the scale in Track 8 is playable starting on any of the chord tones, it is rhytmically aligned with the bar; also note that, for demonstration purposes, it is still NOT in three octaves fingerings.)
Applying the same concept (adding a note) play the three octaves versions of the major and minor scales this way (Track 9 and 10) (also create your fingerings) :
These scales are commonly known as the bebop scales. When mastered, they can be used in several interesting ways (there are NOT to be played strictly up and down!). Let’s now look at how to make the lines even more rhythmically interesting.
Pickup the Line Please So far we’ve looked at beat one of the bar as a starting point in every exercise. In jazz however, beat one is considered to be a point of arrival (or rest). Using pickups is the art of creating a rhythmic momentum (ofter referred to as forward motion) by starting lines on weaker beats in order to end them on stronger beats. (Again, strong beats = 1 and 3) If we play any line and decide to place, for example, three eight notes before it, we are creating a pickup. Play the next few examples keeping in mind that the accent is NOT THE FIRST NOTE OF THE LINE. Not anymore! The accent is on the “ one ” and the preceding notes are creating a tension that’s released when we “ land ” on the one. 18
Learn the three octaves version of the chromatic scale (using six notes per string) with a pickup. (Track 11)
Modes and Arpeggios Simplified (just play it!) You’ve probably heard of modes and arpeggios. It may be totally clear to you or not. It is ok, I’m not going to explain it. The goal is to make you play useful guitar stuff, not theoretical stuff. Modes and arpegios are an integral part of any scale; DO NOT memorize them separately from the scale. Play the next modes/arpeggios exercises (with pickups) and only think of them as the major scale (or melodic minor scale). Learning this as a whole is of great value for your playing. (See the forest before the trees so to speak)(Tracks 12 – 15) Make sure you are rhythmically anchored in beat one and three. Look a the notation, the pickup notes are tied together and strong beats are by themselves. For the scale, you will notice that there’s an extra note for every line, it’s derived from the bebop scales concept. **Learn the descending version as well!!!** 19
To conclude on modes and arpeggios, the fingering possibilities are numerous here so find what works for you (always keep the diagonal motion on your guitar neck!). I only covered two octaves for each line here to make the exercise shorter; you get the idea. (As with anything in this book, expand the exercise to three octaves, start in different areas of the neck, go up and down or down and up, play in all keys, create your own pickups, etc.)
There is Always More Working on fingerings and melodic ideas is a good way to improve but we always need to have a foot into the rhythms (right?). I covered the basics that will let you grow the fastest but you need to find “ your own stuff ”. Keep expanding your melodic knowledge of the instrument with the groove in mind. You’ll be surprised! Some suggestions : • • • •
Different kinds of “ pickup concepts ” applied to lines Using everything rhythmically and melodically on the sixteenth note level Displacing material you already play (by one eighth note for example) Playing more notes in the arpeggios (five or six for instance)
Different material also : • Anything and everything that has to do with diminished scales/chords • Whole-tone scale and what it implies • Pentatonics (major : 1 2 3 5 6 and minor : 1 2 b3 5 6) • II-V-I chord progressions in major and minor. • Dominant seventh scales and the possible colors (diminished, altered, 7#11, 7b13, 7b13b9, and others…) • Hang out with “ non-guitarists ” and learn lines from them (especially horns)
Wrap-Up - Chapter 1 : Lines The goal of this whole “ lines ” chapter is to change the way you hear. I believe that the only way to play differently is to hear differently. As an example, most people would try to play fast by trying to practice faster and faster. I found out that the only way to play faster is to hear faster. If your goal is to expand in that area (who wouldn’t want to play faster?!) I think the “ pickup concept ” is a good starting point. It lets you hear a bit in advance; if you practice scales that way and really emphasize beat one and three of each bar, your ears “ know what’s coming next ” and you’ll gradually hear differently. The greatest jazz players hear like that; it’s like driving a car on the highway and looking far ahead. To conclude, start learning solos by your favorite players. You will learn great rhythms and great lines. You don’t have to write it down, just play along! And also, when you feel ready, start “ composing ” solos. Look at it like you are “ transcribing yourself ”; the best part is that you can come back and edit your solo!!!
Chapter 2 : Chords Playing chords to accompany (or complement) a singer or soloist is the reason why guitar players get hired most of the time. (Who needs another guitar solo anyways?!) It is of utmost importance that you become comfortable with the common jazz guitar chord vocabulary. I’ll approach the chords with rhythms first (you guessed it, didn’t you?!) and then we’ll look at physical technicalities (keeping an eye on the groove!)
2.1 Chords and Rhythms Comping for guitarists is all about rhythms. The chordal possibilities are less numerous than on a keyboard yet more physically demanding. Professional jazz guitarists use what they have and aim to be “ rhythmically connected ” with the band. More often than not, short and sparse rhythms will suffice to accompany a soloist/singer while sustained chords will be used for introductions and endings.
The Charleston Figures…Again! [Also look at the charleston example in Chapter 1.1] The charleston is back! In Track 16 the figure is played starting on every eight-note of the bar. Each charleston is played in every bar for a full chorus of Bb blues before moving on to the next. I didn’t include a note-for-note transcription because it would have been redundant. Here it is, visually explained : First chorus
Don’t underestimate the power of the simple figure. It is too common! While listening to Track 16, don’t forget : • • • • • •
Think of pickups. In chorus #4 through #8, the figure starts in bar twelve (a bar before the “ top ” of the form) Notice the double bar lines. It is because beat 4 and 4& are part of the next bar. There is always the same distance between the two notes of the figure! Different parts of the bars have different feelings attached to them. Some figure (specially third and seventh chorus) may be harder to hear and feel. Apply suggestions from chapter 1.1 to expand this exercise
Applied Comping Chords can be played in two different rhythmic approaches : with or without a tempo. The latter is often referred to as rubato. Playing “ out of time ” happens often with singers or when playing solo guitar. A few tips to learn to play rubato effectively: The melody is the master and you must follow and support it. When you are playing duo with a melody instrument (voice or horn), let them dictate the way to go and provide an appropriate harmonic context. Playing roots on chord is a good idea and almost essential. Don’t “ fall ” in a groove because you will tend to bring the other instrument with you. Don’t “ rush ahead ”, listen to the melodic instrument before playing any chord. Let the music breathe, that’s a difficult aspect to grasp at first. If you are playing by yourself (doing an intro or a complete solo piece) the same is applicable. Follow the melody (if you are not playing it, sing it in your head) and provide an appropriate harmonic context. Let it breathe and use the space at your advantage; well used, silence creates a “ mystic mood ”. The main difference when playing solo is that YOU are the boss. When comping in a tempo, the goal is to be improvising a very rhythmic single line and harmonize it at the same time. This single line should be the top note (highest in pitch) of the chord you are playing. Playing different “ chord shapes ” with a top note that is jumping around just won’t do it. So, playing chords in tempo is much like playing lines but there are two main differences: 28
1. You will be playing less notes (I hope!) and be more sparse rhythmically. 2. You will often be supporting a soloist and he/she is the one to follow. The lines you will harmonize to accompany will (and should) be inspired by what the soloist is doing.
Too Much of Not Enough As you can see, it’s very easy to be a mediocre jazz guitar accompanist. (Too easy?) Do your best to be part of the minority. The most common mistakes are to take too much “ room ” (too loud, too busy, too sustained), to play poor rhythmic ideas, to NOT be listening at all to a soloist or singer, to be playing on beat one of every bar… and last but not least: being lost in the structure of a tune. There’s nothing more frustrating for someone who’s in the middle of a great solo than to be thrown off by a guitarist playing the wrong chords (because he’s lost) too loud (because he’s dumb). BE CAREFUL, an amplified guitar accompaniment can make or break a great improvisation. On the same note, try to interact (or at least react) to the soloists you comp for. “ Answer them ” right away at the beginning of a solo (imitating a rhythm they just played for instance). They’re going to trust you and feel supported. Keep the focus on the person who’s soloing while keeping and ear in the overall groove of the band (bass and drums). Always make sure your intentions are clear and compatible to the song’s vibe; never go against the grain.
There’s More! To finalize with “ chords and rhythms ”, I suggest you apply the rythmic knowledge from the whole Chapter 1 to your chordal playing. The “ pickup concept ” is especially valuable if used as “ tension and release ” in chords. I also recommend you use, rhythmic templates right away to practice chords. With a good set of rhythms, every chord will sound good! (wink wink…charlestons...)
2.2 Chords and Fluidity As you may have noticed, this is not a method book nor a complete book. It’s a starting point from wich you can derive virtually all the useful information needed to play genuine jazz guitar. Chords are about movement and I will not have enough space to cover this matter deeply. Learn the basic material and apply movement to your chordal playing by yourself. As a point of departure in “ moving with chords ”, I suggest you learn chords by progressions or scales. Learning unrelated chords from a book can be time consuming and useless in the end. If you find that one chord sounds good by itself, make an effort to incorporate it somewhere amongst a progression. It will stick to you all life long. I also encourage you to look at the most basic element of harmony: triads (3-notes chords), their inversions and possible guitar voicings (closed, spread). They’re the building blocks of music. If you have patience, learn easy classical guitar pieces as well (you can play them on the electric guitar). They cover the triads and are already “ arranged ” for you; you just have to play them! Get this sound in your ears, centuries of guitar compositions can’t be wrong!
The Basic(est) Voicing The simplest voicings for jazz have three notes. I call them 1-3-7 (or 1-7-3) chords. The tonic (or root) and the two other important tones : the third and the seventh. The root gives us the tonality (the key it’s in), the third gives us the modality (major or minor) and the seventh gives us the quality (natural or minor seventh). The natural fifth is not played since it’s the most “ empty ” chord tone in the chord. There’s is a total of four chords quality to learn and they each have two possible “ shapes ”.
1. Maj7 (1-3-7 and 1-7-3)
2. Dom7 (1-3-b7 and 1-b7-3)
3. MinMaj7 (1-b3-7 and 1-7-b3)
4. Min7 (1-b3-b7 and 1-b7-b3)
The 1-3-7 and 1-7-3 voicings provide a simple yet solid harmonic foundation if played in the right register. I almost exclusively play them with the root on the 6th or 5th string; the “ bass like ” definition is lost if they’re higher. It is recommended NOT to play this kind of voicing when playing with a bassist; the frequencies will clash. [See “ String Transference ” in Resources to learn how to transfer the above diagrams to “ root on the fifth string ”.] Listen to Track 17 to get an idea how this voicing sounds.
Diatonic, Sixth-Diminished…drop it… The other most common “ jazz voicings ” are drop-2 and drop-3. They are organised to sound good and be relatively easy for the hand to grab. As I stated earlier: learn them in progressions and they will stay with you.
Drop-2’s have 3 possible starting points, while drop-3’s have only two : • •
Drop-2 voicings encompass four adjacent strings. (played on three different sets of strings : 6543, 5432, 4321) Drop-3 are constituted of the lowest note, a string skip, and three adjacent strings. (played with the lowest note on the sixth or on the fifth string thus : 6 432, 5 321)
I find the drop-2’s sound “ muddy ” with the string set 6543. The examples will therefore have the drop-3’s as the voicing with the lowest notes. Drop-3’s tend to have a clearer definition in lower register; that’s because of the string skip. It’s up to you (again) to look for the other possibilities! Think of different string sets to start on (string transference); inversions; open strings; omitting or adding notes; RH arpeggiation; etc. Play the examples of track 18 and 19 and make sure you hear the difference between the progressions : **Learn descending as well!** 1. 2.
Diatonic (they belong to a major or minor scale) 6th/diminished (they outline major or minor bebop scales (See Chapter 1.2) and are literally just two chords alternating in a “ tension-release… ” pattern)
[For a clear explanation of the 6th chords alternating with diminished chords, please consult the book “ The Barry Harris Harmonic Method for Guitar ” by Alan Kingstone and the Barry Harris Workshop DVD’s; they’re the simplest, straight-to-the-point references in that area. Personally, I find it is better to get them in your ears and fingers before trying to understand the theory. [The least of theory information you can get before learning them is mentioned above.]
As always, derive other fingerings (string transference) and expand them as much as possible. Most professional jazz guitarists have all this at the tip of their fingers all the time… in all keys! It becomes second nature and makes your “ musical reaction time “ shorter. 33
Modern Sounding To get a “ hipper ” sound some guitar players use chords build from the interval of a fourth. Some of them are very easy to play since the guitar is tuned in fourths !!! (Chords are usually based on the interval of a third…wich is less guitar-friendly) A no-name chord made of “ stacked ” fourths
“ I’ve been through the desert on a chord with no name… ”
The “ chords in fourths ” are usually referred to as “ quartal ”. Learn the following 4-notes quartal voicings from track 20. There is no chord name since it is only the scale. The interval of a fourth “ distorts ” the true nature of each chord somehow.
The inversions sound even cooler because they contain the interval of a second (step or halfstep). They’re yours to discover (start with 3-notes quartal voicings if you wish to derive inversions). Here again, use your imagination and enrich the basics in your own way. Think of different string sets to start on (string transference), play it in minor, use inversions, open strings, omitting or adding notes, RH fingering patterns for arpeggiation; etc.
Movement And Leading the Voices There is always one or more notes that could be moving at any moment in any chord ; you need to find them! Finding what stays the same and what is moving when the chord changes is called voice leading. For example, if playing Dm7 (D F A C) to G7 (G B D F), D and F stay the same; C goes to B, A goes to G. The first step in moving chords into one another is to learn to play inversions of the chords you already know. After that you can figure out the most economical (less voice movement) way to go from one chord to another. (If you only know the root position, it will feel as if you are “ jumping around ”.) Since we’ve already played inversions of drop-2 and drop-3 voicings in Track 19, I invite you to go back and investigate! Here’s a written example of SOME possibilities.
Track 21 is for demonstration purposes only, I hope it inspires you to use the basic voicings above in creative ways. I tried to cram as much chordal concepts as possible so it would not sound like a “ piece of music ”. Just listen to it to find more possibilities for YOUR OWN playing (drop-2 and drop-3, voice leading, quartal, rhythms, etc.).
Eventually, you can be playing many lines more or less independently over any chord progression. Study counterpoint, harmony and play Bach; it’s worth the effort, trust me. (That’s a well kept secret too)
Chord Melody Chord-wise, the ultimate goal for jazz guitarists is to play melody AND harmony at the same time. It’s trying to be like a pianist : left hand comping and right hand soloing. This kind of playing on the guitar is often referred to as chord melody. I’m not a huge fan of definite terminology so let’s put it that way : to accompany YOUR OWN linear playing with YOUR OWN chordal playing. This is where you put together ALL the preceding (…and following) material in this book. Playing in a jazz guitar trio (guitar-bass-drums) is demanding; you are providing the melodies AND the harmonic support all by yourself! Playing solo jazz guitar is even more challenging and rewarding because YOU are the band!!! At least 80% of the gigs I played in the last five years were in trio format. This is where the guitarist’s musicality comes out to shine. The two main aspects of chord playing obviously come into play when we look at any “ chord melody ” situation : rubato and with tempo. Rubato Playing rubato, as explained earlier, is very delicate; I find it is used mainly for song beginnings and endings (in a guitar trio). Doing a solo guitar intro is the prime example and it is possible to play a lot (and I mean a whole lot) of stuff in that context. As an exercise, play the melody of standards you know “ out of time ” (rubato). After each phrase, answer to the melody you just played with a few chords. You can go nuts and harmonize the melody sometimes, paraphrase it, reharmonize (change the chords), improvise lines between phrases or simply “ go somewhere else ” with the tune. You are the boss. Listen to the recorded example (Track 22), my goal was to be clear (“ I am playing THIS particular tune ”) yet be spontaneous, creative and most of all, genuine. In time In the recorded example (Track 22), you can notice I am setting the tempo before I actually play the melody in time. This is a good habit to develop since it is going to help the musicians you play with; they will know where you are. Playing the melody in time with accompaniment (or “ chord melody ”) is probably the most challenging aspect of the guitar. You need harmony and melody but your are limited (only four fingers on the left hand, six notes allowed to ring at the same time and a maximum range of two, two and a half octaves if you are lucky etc.) Let me tell you something : that’s the beauty of it. Dealing with your instrument’s limitation is a gift not a curse. If it feels like hell to you then pickup the piano or the saxophone (you’ll be cursed even more!!!). So in playing in time, a “ chord melody ” style melody, keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be full all the time. Don’t always harmonize using the “ chord shapes ” you know, you’ll sound like an idiot. Play the melody, accompany it : add some color (sometimes one or two notes is all you need), use counterpoint (attack the melody, then the other notes), articulate (legato/staccato), arpeggiate when playing chords (right hand), use rhythms wisely. Check out classical guitar pieces, they use all the above concepts.
I find it is better to think of “ chord melody ” as “ arranging for six strings ”; this is where spending time with your favorite standards is valuable. Play the melody and compliment it in your own way (compose a chord melody if you wish); the work you put will eventually show up in different areas of your playing (such as improvising, playing rubato (!!!), comping, composing, etc.) Honestly, this is where I wish I had spent more time when I was younger. You don’t realize it until you get called to do that trio gig (or that solo gig…that scared me!) and the only thing you can play is AMAZING guitar solos…all single notes! (“ Playing like a drunk penguin ”) Finally, I believe every guitar player should aim to be in that “ mode ” (of accompanying oneself) most of the time. When well executed, it feels and sounds like a pianist “ punctuating ” their lines. This must be done when playing the tune’s “ head ” as well as when improvising. (Please don’t fall in this trap : “ I will play the melody of the song harmonized in 4-note block voicings and then improvise single notes for fifteen minutes… ”)
There’s Always (way) More! Working on chords and harmonic fluidity is always important for jazz guitarists. People hire use for harmonic support most of the time. I covered the basics that will let you grow the fastest but you need to find “ your own stuff ”, like in everything else. Keep expanding your harmonic palette (voicings, counterpoint, chord melody, rubato/in time, etc.) and you’ll feel your whole playing conception (and perception) change! Some more suggestions/reminders : • •
Comping is harmonizing an improvised line (the top note of your chord) Application of the material (voicings) in this book is endless (for example, you can add extensions, create substitutions, superimpose chords, etc…) and it is your task to find out what’s hot and what’s not. Experience will tell you. Compose and practice “ chord melodies ” (ex.: intro to a song, entire tune) Think of “ in time VERSUS rubato ”
Wrap-Up - Chapter 2 : Chords The goal of this whole “ chords ” chapter is to change your perception of chords in general. I believe people tend to think and play very “ static ” chords. As a example, most guitarists would play “ the right chord shape ” when they see a chord symbol. I found that harmony is all about movement. If you want to get serious about chords, I think this chapter is a good starting point. Practice chords rhythmically and apply them in progressions (diatonic for for example) instead of in static “ shapes ”. Learning chords strictly by visual reference is also a common mistake. (Learning music with your eyes is like learning to dance with your nose…) To conclude, start learning “ chord melodies ” and compings by your favorite players. You will learn great rhythms and great voicings. You don’t have to write it down, just play along! You may even learn only the rhythms to it and put your own chords on top. And also, when you feel ready, starting composing ” chord melodies ” and accompaniment on tunes. At last, listen to Lenny Breau and Ed Bickert, they have a pianistic fluidity on the guitar.
Chapter 3 : Ears This book is all about ears and this chapter might even change your whole life, perception and playing. Get ready! Some of you may already be “ feel ” players : playing by ear and by feel, knowing music by instinct and appreciating “ the good stuff ”. I know I wasn’t! My path was full of deceptions and questions. I’d be thinking “ well, I learnt the notes and all the chords, what’s next? ” and I’d be trying to emulate the most “ impressive ” and “ flashy ” players. I gradually realized that technique is worth nothing in itself (complicated doesn’t mean good to listen too). The Beattles are a great example of this : simple chord progressions and melodies being the foundation of major, historically significant, songs.
The Ears Have It I was stunned when I heard Wes Montgomery for the first time. I was listening to the first few tracks on “ The Incredible Guitar of Wes Montgomery ”. Then I watched a video of him and I was shocked! I know he’s the most influential and imitated jazz guitarist of all times, that’s beyond the point. There’s more to it, go on YouTube right now and watch him to hear what I mean! Ear-wise, that is exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t worry about the theory (notes, chords), the technique (fingers), the sound (guitar, amp) or the style (late bebop), just watch him. He played what he felt and heard. I think that’s why he became so famous and influential: his ears and feel. He played nice lines and everyone is learning his solos but it may be a good idea to imitate his feel, gestures and intentions first. Wes never read or wrote a single note of music; I saw footage of him teaching his tune to a band. He’d strike a chord and say “ This, play this chord… ”, the other musician would go “ Ah ok! Dominant seventh with a flat five. ” and Wes would just nod and smile “ Yeah, yeah, that’s it! ”. This is exactly what I mean, knowing by “ instinct ” what is good for you. Your goal is to make “ the ears come first ” at all times (playing or practicing). Nevermind your brain or fingers…or what other people think!
Sing Sang Sung Throughout this book, I gave you “ stuff to play ” on the guitar; you may have noticed that most of it is NOT playable in a performance context (I would never play entire scales up and down in concert!). The goal for me is to give you “ stuff to play ” that will connect you with your inner musicality. It may sound strange but if you let go when performing, beautiful ideas will come out without your assistance. In other words : you create the “ pathway ” between the instrument and your “ inside ” and the music will pour through the guitar magically. In short, the goal is to connect your inside musicality with your instrument. Reflecting on this, one might even say that “ you are the instrument ” and the guitar is merely a vehicule. Your “ true voice ” is the one that’s relying on your ears, feelings and instincts. It may take a while to get used to; I’ll paraphrase Miles Davis : when the “ real you ” comes out, you may not 39
even recognize it! Try to sing right now. Keep going. Don’t stop! Singing is a good indicator of whether or not your HEAR something deeply inside. (What about that last improvised blues solo?) To emulate the typical connection horn players have with their instrument (because they blow in it), I suggest that guitar players sing everything they play. It doesn’t have to be loud or in tune. One of the great advantages is that you can’t play more notes if you are out of breath; this is real pacing (see chapter 1.1). Sing melodies (learnt or improvised), sing the top note of the chords you play, sing only the rhythms, sing when NOT playing (imagining what you could be playing), etc. Try it for a few weeks and your playing and hearing will change drastically! (your singing is most likely to improve as well but you don’t care about that, do you?!)
Inner Ear Now that you know that the connection to the “ inside ” is the most important, let’s work on what you are REALLY hearing. Having a clear sound definition in your head is called aural imagination. It is the same process as mental pictures applied to sounds and music. (How easy is it to see your best friend’s face inside your mind? What about an entire song?) I believe it is as important to work on improving what you can hear inside than how well the inside is connected to the instrument. I call this the inner ear. It is much like singing without making a sound with your voice; it is imagining that you are singing. (Can you imagine icy water on the tip of your tongue? What about a single open-string on the guitar?) My favorite way of working on the inner ear is quite cool and simple. I play an open string on the guitar and hear another note in my head. It’s harder than it sounds! Try it yourself : play an open D and sing an open G in your mind (don’t play or sing out loud the G). Focus on the “ imagined ” G and make it louder and clearer in your mind. When the D string fades out, make the G fade in even louder in your mind. It must be as if you are SCREAMING the note in your head; yell it so loud in your head that it will wake up the neighbours! Once you are comfortable, you can start to work on hearing all the other notes (twelve notes) above or below any note that is played. Don’t be concerned about the theory of the intervals, just do it. After that, you can do fancier things like hearing two or more notes or singing a song (or part of a song) from the only note you are playing. Make sure the focus is on making the “ inner song ” as loud and clear as possible. Five or ten minutes a day is plenty and you’ll notice your hearing and your concentration improve. I usually do that first when I pickup the guitar; it puts me in a nice state of mind. [Note : Use this technique to hear rhythms and grooves in your mind as well]
Sing Again To conclude on the “ sing everything you play subject ” here are a few more suggestions to improve this area : •
Play easy folk tunes or nursery rhymes. Pick your favorite melody, choose a random note on the guitar. This note is going to be the first note of the song. Play and/or sing while playing and/or sing by yourself. Select another random note and play the same melody (repeat a few times).
Use the same process with slightly more difficult tunes over time (classical melodies, jazz standards, bebop heads and jazz compositions).
Use play/sing combinations with the melody and the bassline of the songs used above. (Example : Play bass, sing melody then play melody, sing bass.) Do it in many “ random keys ” as well; you’ll be relying on your ears 100%.
When learning a new chord voicing, sing all the notes individually while playing.
Come up with your own play/sing and/or inner hearing challenges.
More Here (ing) Finally, I want to add that the best jazz players are always listening and paying attention to everything that is happening within the band… and beyond. In fact, I find that world-class players have three distinct “ states ” or hearing : 1- The self, 2- The group, 3The audience. They seem to be listening to those three “ channels ” all at the same time; it is really important to gauge and be listening “ from an audience point of view ” whenever you perform. Getting the right mood and feel is often dictated by who’s listening (and caring enough to pay attention to your music). Work hard on your ears and don’t give up! In the first few years of my formal musical training (classical), I was often very depressed by my own playing and hearing abilities. I was making progress but it never felt “ good ”; I finally found the answer : if you’re training your ears, you’re also hearing yourself better (and differently). You may notice more “ mistakes ” that you couldn’t identify before. That can be depressing but it is a good sign; since your ears are improving, you will be a better overall musician and artist.
Chapter 4 : Resources This book is all about making good use of resources. Time is limited so the goal is always to achieve progress in a limited time spawn. I will reiterate one of the principles that made me progress faster : the material played in practice in NOT necessarly performace material. The goal is not to “ apply ” any of it; in fact it is better to simply play through stuff with a maximum of rigor. Try not to learn it! I know it sounds vague, but by doing that, musical material becomes part of the unconscious and your playing is informed of everything you played; you do not necessarly remember all of it clearly and it’s ok. (Like when learning a new language, the goal is not to memorize a whole novel!) In short, it goes back to the connection between the physical instrument and your “ inside ”; YOU are the instrument, your ears, instincts and feel are the real instrument. Practice diligently and perform freely; let go in performance and don’t try to control everything you “ say ” on the guitar, your unconscious will do a way better job! It’s all about getting YOU out of the way of the music that’s pouring through you. (Have you ever spoken in public and tried to “ control ” your speech? It’s easier to let go isn’t?) Use the following resources to pursue your musical goals. They are the bulk of the material I came across in my personal musical quest. In your free time, make sure you “ dig ” more resources, there are so many! Become part of associations (like IAJE) and keep in touch with the “ scene ”; also, use the internet and enjoy the free stuff. Good luck!
Expansion - Contraction You read that many times within that book already but I never labelled it that way. Expanding and contracting is another way of saying “ make the most out of what you are working on ”. It is zooming in and out of a particular subject. (For example, looking at fingerings for lines, you can play on one string at a time, or six strings at a time.) It is very important to go back to the real roots (contraction) of whatever material you are studying. It is also relevant to push the material to a more ” complex ” level (expansion). The reason why this is such an amazing tool is simple : most of the musical material we learn or come accross is neither completely basic nor complex; it’s somewhere in between. By going “ back ” with contraction or “ forward ” with expansion, new pathways become available for anything we are working on. Sometimes you can be working on something, zoom out a little bit, and then come accross a completely new and fresh idea. I once was working on chord voicings and by “ contracting ” them, I found out another way to play my lines! (This may sound vague to you but just make sure you to look at everything from many angles, it’s priceless!)
Learning The Notes on the Guitar (in < 15 minutes) Start by learning the “ natural ” notes on the first, smallest string. They consist of the notes E, F, G, A, B, C and D. They are located respectively at frets 0, 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10. It is the C major scale (all the white notes on a piano). Then derive and “ map out ” all the natural notes on the others strings. The sixth (big E) string will be the same as the first one. Use your ears to determine if the notes sound the same or simply use logic (by knowing the names of the open string and knowing there’s always two frets between each notes EXCEPT B-C and E-F wich are one fret). Don’t memorize them, just know how to find them. After that, it’s easy to name any note since you found seven out of the twelve possibilities. If you play a note that you did not “ map out ”, it’s going to be a fret away from a note you know. Play the C major scale up and down many times on single strings, it will sink in quickly.
Learning The Relationship Between Strings This is what I call “ string transference ”. Always make sure you know how to play the same material on different sets of strings. It can be chords or single notes. If playing a chord -- for example -- on the first three strings, learn how to play to same chord of the other three string sets on the guitar.
If playing a melody that is played on two adjacent strings, learn it on other set of strings as well.
Remember, the interval between the strings is a fourth (except for G-B wich is a major third.) 43
Reading Music (ouch…) Instead of Tabs If you’re a hardcore “ tabs only ” reader, let me tell you something : I UNDERSTAND and respect you! I did that for more than ten years (no kidding!). At some point I decided to learn to read music because the guitar is no different… you know, any professional player on any instrument can read treble or bass clef (even drummers!). If you start to learn, I recommend some specific written material (below) and FIVE MINUTES (yes, only) daily; set a timer. To do it DAILY is more important than the amount of time spent. Always read stuff you can play but make sure it’s not too easy; you need to make a couple of mistakes to get better. Also, make sure you have a good balance of written pieces you learn and written pieces you sight read . Sight reading is good to improve your “ first take ” reading ability. Recommended for reading and sight-reading : -Books by William Leavitt : Modern Method for Guitar, Melodic Rhythms, Reading Studies and others (published by Berklee Press) -Reading jazz tunes : Reading known or unknown tunes out of a fakebook. -Etudes (jazz or classical) : This is material to learn over a period of time. If you plan on spending a certain amount of time with a piece (let’s say a week), make sure it’s challenging enough. Also work on the dynamics, phrasing and articulation. -Classical guitar pieces : My main experience is learning tunes from conservatory “ repertoire ” books. The advantage is that they are all graded in difficulty. Best of luck! Remember that most of the time, the guitar player who reads is the one that’s going to be hired! (…even if he’s less talented or doesn’t have “ killer chops ”)
Transcriptions (Learning Solos) and LIVE Music I could write a whole book on transcribing solos to play on the guitar. I’ll try to be brief here : learn solos (in parts or entirely) regularly on your instrument and refresh the solos you learned from time to time. You don’t have to write down what you are learning, you are training your ears more than anything else. However, writing is a good idea only if you want to work on your rhythms transcription skills (make sure you don’t toss the recording away after the solo’s on paper). Imitate the solo to perfection (rhythmically, melodically) and come as close as possible to the original nuances, phrasing and accents. You should be listening to the solo for a certain period of time before attempting to learn it; some heavy teachers (such as David Liebman) recommend singing the solo to perfection before even attempting a single note on the instrument!
Also, aim for playable yet challenging material that you can pickup by ear. Obviously, the level at which you can transcribe is directly proportional to the amount of experience in that area. Don’t underestimate the power of “ walking in somebody’s shoes ” for a few choruses. As mentionned in this chapter’s introduction, don’t worry about playing any of the material you learn in your own solos; going through the process (the path) is much more crucial than the actual notes and chords. Use transcription software to slow down fast lines (such as “ The Amazing Slowdowner ” or “ Transcribe ”) if needed, but always try with the original recording straight in a CD player; it’s often easier to learn by “ chunks ” than note-by-note. Finally, there’s an even better source of inspiration for jazzers : attending live jazz concerts. I know you can’t come back from a concert and learn improvisations (unless you recorded incognito) but that is the good part. Jazz is always new and fresh; tunes that have been played a million times can sound as good, or better, tomorrow night in an unknown venue in a small town. The fact that you can’t bring home the notes and chords from a live solo you enjoyed forces you to recall only the feel, mood and spirit of the music. Those are NOT available on recordings! Whenever I attend a memorable and touching concert, I feel like I’m swimming in the music; it is so physical that I shiver, smile, laugh or cry. This is definitely not happening when listening to a recording or a video. Transcribing favorite recordings is good but limited; never forget that a recorded track is only a footprint in time. It is best seen as “ how the musicians felt at that very unique moment ”; like taking a picture (sometimes a very good one indeed), it only represents a blink in a endless ocean of time.
Practice Sessions The best idea is to practice a little bit everyday. Make sure you planify well exactly what you will be working on. The best advice I ever had from one of my mentor is : KEEP A LOG!!! It doesn’t have to be strict but it helps putting everything together in your mind. Make sure melody, harmony, time/rhythms and repertoire are covered in your learning process. Aim to get a good grip on the basic elements first and then derive the material you wish to explore. Slowly but surely! I also believe deeply in learning to play in all keys. On the guitar it is so easy : play something in A, move everything one fret up and you are in Bb! I’ve been alternating the keys I play in on a weekly basis. It means that after twelve weeks (three months) I covered all the keys. I keep rotating because everytime I come back, I play different material. Time changes, so do we.
Repertoire Always make sure you are learning new repertoire (tunes). Vary the tempos, style, forms, keys and time signature you learn them in (don’t learn just medium swing, 32-bar tunes in Bb!). I would say most of the jazz repertoire falls in three main categories: standards, bebop and jazz compositions. Make sure you know a few in each category and don’t forget to include blues, rhythm changes and ballads (very slow tempos).
Learning “ common ” tunes enables you to play with other people more easily. The music should be a “ communal ” activity, right? Also, try not to play everything from a leadsheet or fakebook. It’s a common mistake for beginners; if working on a specific song, discard the sheet of paper as soon as possible. Bring a list of tunes you know well when playing with a band; it will cut the time consuming “ what do you wanna play? ” in half…
Jams In order to meet more musicians, attend local jam sessions. People hanging out are often actively looking for musicians to play with. Have your networking chops ready. You don’t have to play but always make sure to talk with the hosting band members before you play. Every jam has it’s own kind of “ etiquette ”; use common sense. Be there earlier, listen to and respect the older, more experienced players; you could learn a lot. When playing, don’t exaggerate (usually two tunes and solos of reasonable length), make “ friends ” with the people you are playing with. Knowing a handful of common tunes is very handy…
Rehearsals Rehearsing with a band is very special regardless of the level. Be professional and be there on time with all your gear, ready to play; learn the tunes beforehand if possible and play your heart out. You will earn respect and appreciation from other players. Rehearsing original music is usually a process and can be hard for the musicians. Stay positive and focused, don’t be shy and ask for a 10 minutes break if you need one. If the band is playing your compositions, be kind; it is often confusing to read and play tunes for the first time. (In short, don’t be a “ dick ”, it’s all about the music.)
Composing Composing original music is one of the most painful and rewarding process for any musician. It’s a process, much like planting a seed and watching it grow. One of the advantages in writing jazz or pop is to play the new music with fellow musicians; the compositions will grow and evolve during rehearsals. The drummer may come up with a groove the composer didn’t think about, the piano player may suggest alternate chords or the form might change (more or less sections) for example. Keep in mind that, much like learning guitar, the art of writing songs can be “ practiced ”. The more you write, the better it will sound. As a starting point, I recommend you write original melodies over the chords of tunes you are very familiar with. For instance, write a few blues melodies (in different keys) and then write something original on “ Autumn Leaves ” if you like this tune. After a while you will naturally modify the chords to fit what you hear and feel (that is usually referred to as reharmonization). It’s a fun exercise and other musicians can relate more easily to chord changes they know than to completely original songs and structures.
Another way of composing that is derived from the above exercise is “ composition by interpretation ”. It is to write a new composition inspired by how a certain song makes you feel. It is not reharmonization nor keeping the same structure with another melody. It is asking yourself the question : “ What if I wrote this tune? ”. Most of the time, your original will not have the same chords or melody and it is ok. When I do that, I try to keep the same feeling and spirit. I’m often inspired by non-jazz (believe it or not)… I got a lot of inspiration in metal and alternative music!
The “ Modern ” Sound In many ways, contemporay jazz players aspire to a more “ modern ”, up-to-date sound. This can be debated. While I believe it is not necessary to sound like Duke Ellington, I find there’s a substantial part of the “ modern ” sound in old music. Logically, there is no other source of music than music played in the past! (Do you have a jazz recording from the future? Can I hear it?!) My vision of “ modern ” is quite simple : what sounds contemporary is an interpretation of tradition. So modern (up-to-date and influential) musicians are, more often than not, influenced by the far (or not so far) past. A musician influenced directly by people of his time is often referred to as a “ rip-off ”, “ copy cat ” or simply an imitator. A prime example of a modern sounding artist deeply rooted in the past is J-S Bach (16851750); his music sounded very much like the early 1600’s and some qualify his work as a synthesis of the baroque music. In short, learning modern will not necessarly make you sound modern; learning tradition on the,other hand, and making it your own, will. (Transcribe Wes Montgomery before John Scofield)
Some Books I Found Useful The list is no particular order but I put in bold the ones that touched me the most. Improvisation Hearing the Changes by Jerry Coker How to Play Bebop (3 volumes) by David Baker The Barry Harris Workshop Videos + Booklet (DVD’s) Charlie Parker Omnibook (transcribed solos) Patterns for Improvisation by Oliver Nelson A Guide to Jazz Improvisation by John Laporta A Chromatic Approach to Melody and Harmony by David Liebman Forward Motion by Hal Galper Clear Solutions for Jazz Improvisations by Jerry Coker The Jazz Musician’s guide to Creative Practicing by David Berkman Guitar A Modern Method for Guitar by William Leavitt Melodic Rhythms by William Leavitt Reading Studies for Guitar by William Leavitt The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick A series of article on jazz guitar by Mark White *free online* Jazz Guitar Study Series (5 volumes) by Barry Galbraith [Specifically Volume #3 : Guitar Comping] Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene The Barry Harris Harmonic Method for Guitar by Alan Kingstone Time and Rhythms Time Awareness by Peter Erskine Factorial Rhythm by Mick Goodrick Theory The Jazzmaster Cookbook by Jim Grantham Modern Harmonic Technique by Gordon Delamont Modern Melodic Technique by Gordon Delamont Jazz Composition, Theory and Practice by Ted Pease Other Jazz Handbook by Jamey Aebersold *free online* The Bottom Line by Todd Coolman Jazz Keyboard by Jerry Coker
The Log Story (This is a true story that changed my playing) I had a one-on-one appointment with one of my mentors one day. He told me : “ Kid, you’re an OK player but I think you should look into keeping a log. “… I looked at him skeptically. After all, I was improving and playing some gigs here and there. What was wrong with the way I practiced ? Charles sensed my lack of interest and told me “ You HAVE to do it! Just do it! “. I was not enthusiastic about this idea at all. I went back home thinking to myself “ I’ll try it for a week, in the worst case, I will waste ink and a couple of sheets a paper… and my time. “ Within a month of doing the “ log thingy “ I felt like I had never improved so fast before. I was hailed by fellow musicians and friends. Charles noticed after 6 months, he said “ You’re looking it up! “ after I played a solo for him. I didn’t believe in writing a log for everything I played and for how long and how, and why etc. because I felt like it would be a waste of my time in the first place. It turned out to be the exact opposite! After a year, I was totally addicted to my log. It was not a detailed, exact, note-for-note book, it was just enough information to keep track and focus on the right things. That being said, I believe anyone trying to get better at what they’re doing should have some kind of “ planning ”. (Whether it be body-building, music, dancing, flying a plane or cooking.)
A Word about Gear Everyone has many tools to pursue their musical journeys. If you have books, CDs/DVDs, playalongs, electronic devices or softwares aim to use them without wasting your time. I find that guitar players in general tend to have much more stuff “ to mess with ” than they need to practice and perform. Here’s an example : I just bought a new chorus pedal. I have a recording session tomorrow and I want to work on a specific tune right now. I sit down with my guitar, amplifier and the new chorus pedal. I start playing the song, stop right in the middle to fix the chorus sound. I start over, stop again… Play some unrelated stuff just to “ check the sound “. Go back to the tune… I did NOT learn it properly and I’ve been sitting here two hours tweaking knobs. Do you think the new pedal really improved my sound?!? I would personally assign a “ knob-tweaking “ time and then start REALLY WORKING on material. Another thing : owning the “ right ” equipment doesn’t make the “ right ” music. I was a guitar gear freak for at least ten years. I’m better now, but still tempted by some “ toys ”…you know what it’s like… Anyways, I just wanted to mention that buying an archtop and a polytone amp won’t make you sound like a jazz player; your ears and fingers will! While in jazz school, I was playing a Parker solid-body (pictured on the cover) through a fender amp… some people listened to my demo and asked me what kind of archtop I used!!! Same for a good friend of mine, who’s still using a Brian May signature guitar (solid-body) for all his gigs (from Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band to jazz standards in trio). Think about it! 49
Listening Listening to all kinds of music is good; listening to specific music is even more important. Be critical in your listening and choose wisely. I pick my music pretty much the same way I choose friends. It is extremely important to listen to music somewhat related to areas you are working on musically. I played a whole year with a drummer that was putting alot of time learning jazz… but all he was listening to was hardcore and death-metal. Would you think he improved very much? Whenever you have a musical question, be assured that there is an answer somewhere on a recording. (Some people even go as far as “ The answer is Miles ”!!!) Also, listening to yourself is a very good tool to improve your playing. Record your practicing, rehearsals and performances whenever possible. Don’t be too critical or negative, just aknowledge what you hear. Pocket recorders are accessible and inexpensive nowadays and it is always good to have different perspectives on your playing. (Remember, the advent of recording technologies is really what crafted the history of jazz! It was the first “ commercial ” music!)
Let’s Get Physical [A word about playing physical instruments like piano, bass, drums or guitar.] ALWAYS WARMUP before you play or you could suffer from severe injuries. Get rid of unnecessary tention in your back and neck. Be active, eat well, sleep and don’t abuse substances (any kind of drugs, medication, coffee, alcohol, etc.) Get to know you body, it’s pricleless. I heard very sad stories of amazing musicians quitting because of physical damages. Don’t destroy your music by negligence; anyone has the tools to feel good while playing. I discovered yoga and Alexander Technique at a very good time in my developement. I owe them my career; don’t wait, check it out now! (Especially the Alexander Technique.) Take care of yourself!