Jazz Guitar Elements Blog

Improvising with Arpeggios (BeBop)

In this post I’ll be exploring how we can create jazz or bebop lines using arpeggios. Arpeggios sound excellent in jazz lines partly because they give us the exact sound of the chord we are improvising on. Arpeggios are in fact a chord played melodically or horizontally as opposed to all at once or vertically.

When we look at a transcription of a bebop style solo, one of the first things we notice is that there are a lot of 8th notes. This is especially true for tempos that are medium to up. We will start with the idea that since the style calls for lots of flowing 8th notes, we will build improvisational lines that use mostly 8th notes.

To begin, let’s look at some 4 note arpeggios. There are 4 note arpeggios with no extensions (root, 3rd, 5th and 7th) as well as 4 note arpeggios which include the 9th. In this case we will omit the root and use the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th.

Let’s start with a simple II – V7 – I chord progression in the key of C major.

Next thing we need are some 8th notes to fill in the empty spaces. Notice the change in octave in bar 3 for the C note. When an arpeggio changes direction this is called a “Pivot.” The Pivot allows you to keep your arpeggio within a specified range. Had we not used the Pivot, the range of the line would be much greater and a change of position would be needed. By using a Pivot, the entire line fits nicely within a position.

This example illustrates a slightly different possibility.

Now let’s try playing 3 – 9 arpeggios. (3rd to 9th)

Now let’s add some notes to connect the arpeggios. In this example I’ve used some chromatic notes as well.

And another example. Also note that I’ve changed position as we are starting a 3rd higher.

As a next step, learn these jazz lines in different keys and in different positions. Also try playing them over a simple tune like “Tune Up” by Miles Davis. Tune Up uses only II – V – I progressions so it’s a great place to start.

Next, try to create new lines of your own using different notes to connect the arpeggios. You could also try to include some chromatic notes and/or neighbour tones. Also consider breaking up the arpeggios by using the Pivot in different ways.

Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar

A Poor Man’s Guide to Jazz Guitar Scales

A Guest Post by Marc-Andre Seguin

Hello and welcome to a little “crash course” on jazz guitar scales, and many thanks to Michael, who has had an big impact on my life and my playing (more than he knows!)

The whole point of this lesson is to:

  • learn scales;
  • apply them on the guitar fretboard;
  • … in a jazz context. (Yikes!)

Improvising blues licks and rock solos can be done relatively easy on the guitar (“Hey, look at that 5th fret pentatonic fierce AC/DC lead!”) … but trying to make sense of scales as chords go by (fast) in a jazz context is a totally different ball game.

Remember your first jam session, the moment the bandleader pointed to you and went “Guitar solo!” on a blues in F or even Autumn Leaves?!? Yeah, me too. I was embarrassed enough already, struggling through complicated chords for strumming, I didn’t need the spotlight!

Ok, enough with the bad memories: let’s cover the M.E.D (minimum effective dose) so you can start walking before you run, without getting inundated with music theory. At the end of this post you’ll know exactly which scales to practice and how to master them.

Materials: Three Scales

To make things simple here, we will focus on three types of scales to fit with the three most common chord types in jazz. Our scales of choice are the major scale, the Dorian mode and the Mixolydian mode. The fit the major chords (or maj7), the minor chords (or min7) and the dominant chords (“plain” 7th) respectively.

For now, each scale will only be conceived of on the fretboard with one fingering. No need to stress out with positions and alternative “boxes” on the instrument. You’ll learn that *one* fingering and then go up on the next string with the same fingering. This will yield more or less the same digits patterns (which is very practical for playing without thinking later on).

It goes without saying, anything and everything you learn here can (and should) be applied in different keys. The guitar is wonderful this way: just learned something in C major and want to play it in D major instead? No problem! Move up two frets!

The Major Scale

Here’s the fingering for the major scale, in the key of C. Notice how we are starting with the 2nd (middle) finger of our fretting hand.

For now, only play the scale up to the 7th degree (sounding: DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI) and back down slowly until it sounds good. Repeat with the three starting string we’ve provided in the TABS, always starting the C note with your 2nd finger. Then see if you can play around in different keys.

It is extremely important that you only play to the 7th degree and NOT attempt to relate this back to any known scale position. You can always do that later. Continue reading “Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar”

Reading Exercise 28

When it comes to sight reading, it’s important to treat the music you are reading like any other piece of music. In fact, I will also add that it is important to try and read real music and not just from books that are “designed for reading.” “Jazz Reading Elements” is a collection of songs for reading and as you will see in this post, it is also a collection of songs for playing, soloing over and plain old playing jazz.

So when I say read and treat it like any other piece of music, I mean, play the melody with expression, feeling and dynamics, solo over the changes and comp the chords. The best way to do all of this would be to gather a bunch of musician friends together, like in the olden days, and everyone sight reads and solos over the music together.

To give you an idea, I’ve taken one of the reading exercises from my book, “Reading Exercise 28” and put together a recording which illustrates just this. Now unfortunately I didn’t hire all my favorite jazz session players but rather just played everything myself. In todays world this has become an easy enough thing to do. (And I’m a bit of a recording gear nut)

*Update April 28, had the great Dave Watts in the studio today and he added some beautiful double bass. Track has been updated. Thank you Dave!

So here we have the lead sheet for “Reading Exercise 28” from my book “Jazz Reading Elements” along with a transcription of the solo I recorded. The solo is in fact improvised so as with all improvisations, there will be playing that’s behind the beat and 8th notes that seem to have a tempo of their own. The transcription should be seen as a rounding out of all of the imperfections (or musical jewels) and not an exact transcription. To listen to the track, just scroll to the bottom of the page. I’ve also added an 8 bar intro to get you into the piece. Also please note that the classical guitar and piano are not playing the comping rhythm in part 2. Enjoy and feel free to add comments, etc…




Continue reading “Reading Exercise 28”

Sight Reading

Sight Reading is probably one of the most important and also most overlooked skills that jazz guitar players need to consider. Think about regular “reading” for a moment and try to imagine the enormous amount of reading we do on a daily basis. We read our emails, Facebook page, Twitter, News Feed and on and on. We read all day!

With all this reading we do on a daily basis, we are taking in vast amounts of information. Reading is like a magic portal to information which stimulates our brains and enhances our lives.

Now try to image if you replaced all of that “regular” reading  with music reading. Imagine instead that you are now reading tunes, solos, licks, chord changes, songs your friends send you, music you need to learn for a gig and even music you are composing and on and on. What might that be like?

Now instead of taking in vast amounts of information on your Facebook friends’ activities or the latest in crazy political happening in the news, you are absorbing music and sounds from a piece of manuscript paper. Just like with text, reading music is like a magic portal into a vast universe of sound and musical adventures.

So what do you do? Just read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Read the Fakebook, read chord changes, solos, exercises, classical music, jazz music, pop music, Big Band music, anything and everything.

Of course there are all sorts of great books which focus on reading. I always liked “Rhythms Complete” by Charles Collins and “Advanced Rhythms” by Joe Allard. These two books are a great place to get a good start on reading jazz. If you search for sight reading books you will find many other great books as well. If you have friends who play music, borrow their books. This is especially a good idea if your friends play violin or flute. Both of those instruments have ranges which extend into the higher registers. Great practice to read all those ledger lines.

As guitar players we need to focus on reading three important types of music. There are three skills or three areas we must look at. The first is just plain old reading of single note music. This would be what a trumpet or sax player reads. (Melodies) The second type of music we need to read is chord changes. We need to be able to read the chord changes in time, know what types of extensions to add and improvise interesting jazz rhythms to these chord changes as well. The third type of reading jazz guitar players need to focus on is reading polyphonic music. (full chords) Think of Joe Pass chord solos, classical guitar music and so on. Piano players learn to read anywhere from two to eight notes at a time using both hands. We need to learn to read more than one note at a time as well.

As I mentioned already, read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Have sheet music around. Place a pile of books on your music stand or on your desk. Make your practice environment a minefield of music books, charts and manuscript paper. Jump in and read, read, read.

What do you think? Share your music reading experiences with us. What are some other great books for learning to sight read?

I am currently working on a Jazz Guitar Sight Reading Book. I’m putting together a collection of around 40 reading exercises. Each piece will focus on a particular reading element. The exercises will progress from easy to more difficult. I feel there are not enough books which reflect some of the more modern sounds in jazz so I’ve made that the focus of my new book. I’m very excited about this new book and hope to have it available soon.

Happy sight reading!

Drop 2 Chords (Stella)

In this lesson we will look at the chords for the first 9 bars of “Stella By Startlight.” We will use Drop 2 chord voicings to create a comping pattern which is melodically and rhythmically interesting.

We will achieve our goal by following these steps.

  • Learn to play the Drop 2 chords we need.

  • Arrange them so they create a melodically interesting melodic line.

  • Add extensions to the chords.

  • Add jazz rhythms

Take a look at the chord voicings below and make sure you can play all of them. Also important to note is that no positions or chord names such as “Cmaj7” are given. You will need to find the roots for each of the chords. Once you know where the root of each chord is, you will then be able to move them around and play them in any key.

Continue reading “Drop 2 Chords (Stella)”

Improv Lesson 3 (Targeting 3rds)

In this lesson, we will look at soloing in a Bebop style using a technique I call “targeting 3rds.” This technique will help make your soloing sound like you are always right on the changes. The most important aspect of soloing on standards and Bebop tunes is to sound like you are playing on the chord changes and not just wandering around the modes. An important characteristic of a great Bebop solo is that you can hear the chord changes in the soloing even when no one is comping.

The way to achieve this is to always make the first note of a new chord change one of the chord tones. Making the 3rd of the chord the first note you play for each new chord is one of the strongest ways to express the sound of the chord.

The first step is to practice playing only the third of each chord for either a standard or Bebop tune. As an example, let’s look at how we can apply this to the standard “Lady Bird.”

Continue reading “Improv Lesson 3 (Targeting 3rds)”

3 Octave Scales

In this lesson, we will combine 3 scale forms to produce fingerings to play scales across 3 octaves. The scale forms are standard fingerings used to play major scales. First we will look at 3 major scale fingerings.

*Note: White notes are the roots of the scale.

Root 3rd fret

Root 10th fret

Root 15th fret

Visualizing all 3 scales at the same time on the fingerboard, we end up with the following.

Continue reading “3 Octave Scales”

Improv Lesson 2 (BeBop)

Green Dolphin Street is one of my favorite types of standards to improvise on. It mixes modal progressions with Bebop. Take a look at the chart below. The “A” sections will be played using a modal technique and “B” and “B1” will be played in a Bebop style.

Let’s start with the “A” sections. For this modal section, we will use a technique called “Common Tone Approach.” This is a great tune to demonstrate this technique because we have a “C” pedal tone through most of the “A” section. As the name suggests, we will use a common tone to help us generate the modes we need to improvise. In other words, all of our modes will use the “C” note as their roots. Let’s begin. Continue reading “Improv Lesson 2 (BeBop)”

Practice Timetable

You’ve probably noticed that learning jazz guitar involves practicing many different things from scales to chords to arpeggios and so much more. You may even start to realize that there is an overwhelming amount of material to practice. Yes, there is a lot to practice but it’s all very doable. Knowing how to effectively organize your practice time is critical to moving forward. So what do we do.

Although you do need to practice everything, you need to practice the areas where you are weak more often and areas where you are strong less often. In other words, work on new techniques and concepts should take up the majority of your practice time while leaving a little time to review techniques and concepts you are more confident with.

A practice timetable is an excellent way to organize your practice time. A timetable allows you to keep track of the things you need to practice, how much time you will spend on each and what you are practicing each day. This way you keep track of the things you practiced yesterday or last week and have a clear record of everything you have done and everything you need to do. It’s so easy to find yourself wrapped up in something new, especially when you are excited about practicing it. This can lead you to neglect areas that may not be one hundred percent and require attention. Continue reading “Practice Timetable”

Chord Substitution

Chord substition is a great way to get some extra millage out of the chords you already know. It’s also a great technique to find new ways to come up with interesting progressions. The basic idea is to use one chord in place of another.

Let’s start with a few simple examples.

 The Basics

C6 = Am7

Cm6 = Am7(b5)

With these two examples, they are the same because they share the exact same notes.

Continue reading “Chord Substitution”