Archive Monthly Archives: February 2011

Transitioning from Rock/Metal/Blues to Jazz Guitar

If you’re like me, you’re a rock/metal/blues guitarist who has caught the jazz bug at some point and have been frustrated with your progress . It can be overwhelming at first as most teachers will give you an incredible amount of material to study. While there is a lot of work involved I’ve given a lot of thought to presenting you with a more structured approach to learning jazz guitar.

A great place to start if you have a rock, blues or metal background or even if you’re new to guitar altogether is the jazz blues. Jazz blues is a modified version of the ‘regular’ 3 chord I-IV-V blues. It can be scary and intimidating at first as there are more chords and often unfamiliar keys. So a 12-bar Bb jazz blues will look something like this (there are many variations):

Bb7 / Eb7 / Bb7 / Bb7
E7 / E#dim7 / Bb7 / G7
Cm7 / F7 / Bb7 G7 / Cm7 F7

The last four chords are 2 per measure. Here’s a PDF of the progression to give you a better idea.

A jazz guitar tone will generally be a clean tone, with some reverb and turn down the treble on your guitar and amp, more of a mid-range sound. On an electric guitar I use my neck pickup.

With jazz we have to be a lot more aware of the underlying chords since many of our blues/rock licks won’t work too well. I think this is why we have so many problems with jazz, is a general lack of awareness of how to play over chord progressions, other than playing in the general key of the tune.

For soloing, we could talk about a lot of theory but I don’t want to go there right now. Instead a very effective way to start soloing is to learn 2 to 4 bar phrases that you pick up from other solos. The easiest way to get started and to mimic what singers do in blues is to divide the 12 bar blues into 3 groups of 4 bars (measures). So play a 4 bar phrase, repeat the same basic phrase over the next 4 bars that fits the chords. Do a final similar phrase over the final 4 bars but make it sound more complete by say, landing on root notes (ie. Bb).

Here’s an example of a basic jazz blues solo. It is quite repetitious but we have to start simple. I’ve taken a little 4 note motif and repeated it, modifying it slightly to fit each chord. The final four bars stars out repeating the same idea but expands upon it a little taking into account the current chords. You’ll notice a lot of chord tones such as D over Bb7 (the major third), Db over Eb7 (the minor 7th), etc. So get to know your chord tones. Repeating melodic contours and rhythms is very effective but you don’t want to over do it.

Here’s the Jazz Blues Solo PDF.

Here’s the blues solo mp3 played by Guitar Pro 6.
Jazz Blues Solo.mp3

So to summarize, a very effective method to learn jazz soloing is to think in phrases, intelligently cut and paste them into solos, use repetition and development of the phrases, understand why the phrases work, create your own by modifying existing phrases.

Here’s a video to explain the progression and transitioning from blues to jazz blues.

Check out my Soloing Over Changes lesson if you’re looking to start doing some jazz soloing, or you can use it for any other style to be more melodic.

Improvisation is Largely a Recall Activity

There is a lot of mystery around the concept of improvisation. For some it’s a magical, creative experience that can’t be explained. For others it is thought that it comes after practicing all the fundamentals (arpeggios, scales, modes, theory). A more balanced approach would be to say that a variety of things need to be worked on from ear training, scales, transcribing, learning licks, etc. I am generally referring to improvising over relatively challenging chord progressions, common to the jazz idiom.

I’m going to make a rather bold statement that some will disagree with. I would venture to say that the vast majority of people haven’t thought about improvisation as I have over the past few years. Here goes: “Improvisation is largely a recall activity in the brain“. So we are mostly recalling things we’ve practiced/played before and choosing what to play.

Some will say ‘But Will I just play what I hear in my head’. Well yes, but why are you hearing what you hear in your head? It’s because you’ve practiced it before.

Let’s look at some specific examples. Say you take an accomplished musician new to jazz. You take him to a bunch of jazz gigs and you listen to all the solos. Will he be able to go home and improvise jazz because he is now hearing these sounds? I would say it’s pretty likely he won’t.

Let’s say all you practice are scales and argeggios for a few years. Will you be able to improvise over rhythm changes? Probably not.

Let’s say you practice playing voice leading lines (whole/half notes) through various jazz chord progressions. Will you be able to improvise with this on stage? Nope.

In art you could randomly through paint at a canvas and say you improvised. On the guitar you could randomly hit notes on the guitar in some sort of weird artistic fashion and act all mysterious. But by improvisation in jazz and blues I am referring to playing somewhat cohesive solos in the style of the masters. This takes a lot of work.

A lot of what we practice is what can be called ‘preparatory work’ or what I call ‘busy work’. In other words it is not directly usable in real performances. You would never play arpeggios, scales or basic voice leading (guide tone) lines during a real improvisation. A huge amount of what most of us practice is actually the building blocks of a good solo. It is an intermediate step that doesn’t usually need to be practiced. Many of us have difficulty creating melodic phrases from these fundamentals, especially if we’re new to the style, such as jazz. That’s because we don’t know the language. We must learn to imitate at first, like we did as children learning our native language.

So if you want to make the most use of your time I would suggest you learn to play full jazz solos up to speed. Then mix and match the phrases from different solos. Each phrase usually fits around a chord or arpeggio shape and works over a specific chord type (dom.7, maj7, min7, etc). Learn how to repeat a phrase over the next chord and tie the phrases together so they are not disjointed. To me this is the most valuable area to work on. You will start to hear these phrases in your head. Understand the phrase and how the voice leading works. Often chord tones are used on strong beats (beats 1 and 3). Most often these strong beats are approached by 3 eighth notes, which is commonly known as forward motion (Hal Galper).

What does improvisation mean to you?