I’m a big fan of learning solos and phrases so here is a solo from Robert Conti’s Ticket to Improv Vol. 1. I did this a while ago so I’m not sure why I never uploaded it!
Here’s a faster version of Green Dolphin Street I did as well.
Yours truly doing a jazz guitar solo, Robert Conti style.
Most websites and books on the topic of jazz improvisations deal with scales, arpeggios, music theory and licks. And students will often ask what scale to play over a certain chord. While this information is important I think that we also need to ask another question which is “How do I play melodically so as to engage the listener?”
Notice in that question I just asked how your voice rises in pitch towards the end. An answer to that question would generally descend in pitch. So similarly when playing melodically we can think about the contour of our phrases.
We can play a phrase that rises in pitch (antecedent), then answer the phrase with another one that descends in pitch (consequent). I have observed this in many solos such as those from Stan Getz.
Melodic phrases are often singable, meaning that they don’t have a lot of big intervallic leaps.
Melodic phrases often repeat in some way, part of or all of the phrases, or just the rhythms.
The first example is from Out of Nowhere played by Stan Getz. We see a question and answer type phrase. It goes up over the Gmaj7 and descends over the Bbm7. Also notice the repeating rhythms in measures 1 and 3. I also like the fact that Stan took the main melody notes (A over Gmaj7 and F over Bbm7).
In example 2 we have a similar question and answer phrase with an ascending and then descending line over the chords to All of Me. Notice the first phrase ends on A which is the 6th of C6, then the 2nd phrase ends on E which is the root of E7, giving it a final feeling to some extent even though the chord itself is pushing us ahead to the next chord.
The repeated rhythm starts in measure 1 (after the pickup) and is 2 quarter notes followed by 2 eighth notes. It’s repeated in measure 3. Note that we can approach this rhythm with a few extra notes making each phrase similar but not exact.
For those of you scale types you can think of the phrase as C major bebop leading to Bb Dorian 🙂
The next example is in bar 7 and 8 of a Bb jazz blues. Notice how the first phrase ends with an ascending interval and the second phrase descends. They have almost identical rhythms as well.
This next example is a jazz blues in the first 2 measures with pickup. The overall phrase doesn’t need to rise in pitch but often the last 2 notes are an ascending interval.
Try using the ideas here as well as the rhythms from the examples in your own solos. If you want to explore this further let me know and also check out Brian Kane’s excellent book Constructing Melodic Jazz Improvisation. I have this book and am really enjoying it.
What do you think of melodic soloing? Post your comments below.
Once you can play jazz arpeggios over a jazz standard, ascending and descending, starting on different chord tones, the next step would be to use them in a more melodic way. Many students stop at the point where they can arpeggiate a standard but they aren’t shown how to apply the ideas in a solo, so it always sounds like an exercise.
A very common way that arpeggios are used in jazz improvisation is as approach notes to a target tone. So ideally you hear a certain note that you want to target for an upcoming chord and you approach that using an arpeggio from the previous chord, often in the previous bar.
Also since many of us struggle with connecting chords this can be a great way to play across bar lines and connect chords from different keys. This technique is great because you are isolating all the possible things you could practice which can be overwhelming. Even though we are focusing on using arpeggios to approach target notes we are also working on playing across the bar line, connecting chords, starting lines later in the measure, repeating similar rhythms and so on.
In the first measure we have Ebm7 going to Bb7b9. So the first phrase shows a descending Ebm7 starting on the 5th (Bb) that targets the 3rd (D) over the Bb7. Notice how the Eb and Db encircle the D giving a very strong pull towards the D.
In the second measure I play a descending Ebm7 starting on the m7 (Db) and ending on C targeting the 3rd of Ab7 (C). This time the entire line continues in a downward direction.
In the 4th measure I play an ascending Edim7 arpeggio starting on the b5 (B) and targeting the Gb on the Ebm7 in measure 5. Notice the E and G encircle the Gb.
In the 6th measure I play an ascending Cm7b5 arpeggio starting on the root (C) targeting the A over F7 by encircling it again.
Over the Ab7#5 I play a descending Ab7#5 arpeggio. The interesting thing here is if the arpeggio has the same note as the target note (common tone) you can land on it and anticipate the upcoming chord (rather than encircling the target note). So I land on the Ab and hold it as the Dbmaj7 chord approaches.
In measure 8 I play a Bb7b9 arpeggio (Bdim7 arpeggio) to approach the 5th of the Ebm7 chord. Notice the encircling again.
In measure 9 I play a descending Bb7b9#5 arpeggio targeting the 5th (Bb) over the Ebm7 chord in measure 10.
If you look at the overall phrasing you will see that there is more than just approach arpeggios here. For example the first one measure phrase is repeated in the second measure. You might not do this much of one concept in one chorus but it’s good practice to overdo it as first.
There are other possibilities as well if you mix up the arpeggio, instead of always ascending or descending. Give them a try!
Try to finish off the solo using the same technique.
What do you think of approach arpeggios? Post your comments in the comments section below.
Blue Bossa is a good song to start with if you want to learn to play jazz guitar.
I’ve written a simple, but effective jazz guitar solo over the same chord progression as in the jazz standard Blue Bossa. If you like Stan Getz and Jim Hall for the motivic development and phrasing you should enjoy this solo. If you want to learn to play jazz guitar I would recommend starting with this approach instead of just practicing scales. I explain the solo below.
First let’s have a listen (if you can’t see/play the audio below please go to this link at Soundcloud:
Measure 1 – Since the melody starts with a dotted quarter and then an eighth note, I thought I would take this phrase and develop it. Also the first melodic phrase starts on G and ends on C, so I took this descending 5th interval and used it in my 2 note phrase. Then I left some space so the idea can be absorbed by the listener.
Measure 2 – after leaving some space I approach the target Ab in measure 3 with an ascending scale. I also am thinking about a 4 note rhythm starting on beat 3.
Measure 3 – since I played G to C in measure 1 I thought I would play a similar idea, this time Ab to C, since the Ab fits over the Fm7. This is a similar interval to the first perfect 5th I played, but it now a b6 interval. So the idea here is that we can play a similarly sized interval even though it’s not exact. From measure 1 to 4 note the question and answer type of sound it has.
Measure 5 – I play the same idea over the Dm7b5 to G7 since the Ab to C also fits over the Dm7b5. This time my ascending scale adds a chromatic note so that I can land on G over the Cm7. Instead of descending from G to C as I did previously, I decided to ascending to the C an octave above the previous C. This foreshadows my upcoming ascending intervals. I did this to change things up after doing 3 previous descending 5ths/6ths which can get a little boring with too much repetition.
Measure 9 – Here we have a key change to Db major. I decided to use a polyrhythm here, playing 3 notes over the span of 4 quarter notes. It’s good to vary the rhythms you play. This is a four bar phrase. I also was thinking of ascending 5ths (like the first one I used) and intervals with that general size. The contour of the line goes up and then back down with a final descending 6th interval.
Measure 13 – a similar idea is used from measure 9, repeating the same rhthym but adjust the notes. Instead of ascending exactly the same as in measure 9 I adjust the notes over the G7 to target the final G to C interval I used at the beginning of the solo.
I hope you can see the beauty in this little solo, and after practicing and studying it you can use the same ideas in your own solos.
What do you think about using short, melodic ideas and motivic development? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Here’s a neat gypsy jazz guitar version so you can hear it:
With no sharps and flats, song starting on C6 and melody starting and ending on the note C, we can say that this song is in the key of C major. The 7th chords in C major are Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, and Bm7b5. The easy way I analyze (and teach you) songs is to try and stay in key as much as possible and just adjust notes as necessary. Many jazz tunes don’t really go out of key but alter chords from m7 to dom7 for example.
C6 is a common chord in place of Cmaj7 (uses A instead of B which often clashes with melody note). Then in bar 3 we have E7 instead of the expected Em7. So we just sharpen the G to a G# and stay in key of C (this is usually called phrygian dominant mode but let’s not go there!). E7 leads nicely to the next A7 chord because it’s a 5th above (a common movement). In bar 5 we have an A7 instead of an Am7. So same concept, sharpen the C to C#. This would be a mixolydian b6 mode. Note that for both the E7 and A7 chords you are playing a F from the original key of C major.
Then we have Dm7 which is in key, E7 again (play G#), Am7 (in key), the D7 (raise F to F#), then Dm7 to G7 (in key). So you see how much easier this is to play and conceptualize. Just play in key of C using the 5 CAGED shapes I teach and modify a note here and there as required!
The second half of the tune is pretty much the same except for the late 8 bars. We have an F6 which is the four chord in original key. But then it goes to Fmin (common to switch from major to minor). So you can modify the A to Ab, E to Eb and B to Bb (a dorian mode sound). Most of the remaining other chords are back in the other key except for the last Ebdim7 (shown as the enharmonic D#dim7).
I’ve written out a solo for you that demonstrates how to target chord tones. This isn’t something you would play live due to it’s academic nature but it shows many important points. It will also get you playing fast bebop style lines which can be tricky due to the addition of chromatic notes. Here’s the solo and analysis:
We start on the root (C) and ascending with eighth notes with a goal of targeting chord tones on the strong beats 1 and 3. For a major 6/6th chord we target the root, 3rd, 5th and 6th instead of the maj.7 because the maj.7 and root are a half step apart so that would throw us off our goal of hitting chord tones on strong beats. We are sticking with ‘shape 7’ in the key of C major as much as possible (as I describe in the Fretboard Mastery course).
A common occurrence is to add a chromatic tone between the min.7 and the root. for both dominant and minor seventh chords. On ascending sections we approach a note chromatically from below with our index finger. For descending passages we approach a note from above chromatically using our pinky.
I transcribed the solo to ATTYA by Tony Greaves in his excellent Pentatonics lessons.
There are some great things to take note of such as:
-chromatic encircling of chord tone before ascending the triad (eg. Db triad over Bbm7, Eb triad over Eb7 encircling the 5th in both cases)
-Triads over Cmajor7 chord – C major triad, D major triad giving you the #11 (F#) for Lydian sound.
-pentatonic lines over the ii-V-Is (Am7-D7-Gmaj7) and F#m7-B7-Emaj7 with 5th and 4th intervals
All The Things You Are is a popular jazz standard and was written by Jerome Kern.
Here’s the All the Things You Are lead sheet
Here are some resources (solo and transcription) for soloing over All the Things You Are. If you’re like me and struggle with figuring out what to play over chord changes, start by learning what others have done (duh!) 🙂
This link of Keith Jarrett exercises takes some of Keith Jarrett’s ideas and shows you how to expand upon them.
Learn some of the phrases and understand how they work. Then use them in your own solos.
This blog post is for you if you are struggling with soloing over chord changes. You’re either totally lost, or if you’re like me you understand and enjoy analysis and theory but have trouble applying it to a chord progression, especially ones that change keys like in jazz or jazz fusion.
I’ve explained many techniques in the past such as chord tone soloing (target chord tones on strong beats), superimposing arpeggios and other methods but they all require one thing: that you create your own lines from the basic concepts. In general I’ve found that most people are not able to do this, in their stage of development. It’s not your fault because the stages of learning should be imitation, assimilation then innovation, in that order.
So it’s time to get out of your own head and get back to the music. Transcribing or learning solos from the masters is the most inspiring and effective way to learn to improvise. And it’s the most direct – bypassing all the teachers, misinformation, extraneous exercises and lessons. The answers are on the cds! So if you’re struggling with a chord progression, find a solo you like and learn the phrases. This is really easy in jazz as the standards have been played by all the greats. And many of the progressions are similar so you can reuse and tweak the ideas you learn on multiple songs.
Soloing over chord progressions can be a daunting task. Especially if you get into jazz when you’ve had a rock/metal background. You might know how to solo over common chord progressions such as ii-V-I’s, but what happens when you come across a different chord progression? If you’re like me you can tend to get stuck, or overanalyze the progression – not getting anywhere with the work you’ve put in.
An incredibly effective method to deal with this (but often forgotten) is to listen to what others have done over the same progression. Then steal the phrase and then tweak it to make it your own. I had to write this blog post because I’ve spent years struggling with anything that wasn’t a ii-V-I that everybody teaches you. Or what if the ii-V doesn’t go to a I but repeats or change keys?!?
I recently revisited Charlie Parker’s Scrapple From The Apple and in the second 4 bar phrase there is F / Bb Bdim / F / F (each / separates a measure). It’s also written F / Bb G#dim7/B / F / F. This type of progression trips me up. I see how the bass line moves going from Bb to B to C which could be used to make a line but generally I’m not sure what to do.
So I found a version by Tom Harrell in which Kenny Garrett also improvises. Here’s a nice 4 bar phrase that you can use in your own solos and tweak if you want. I get it up to a decent speed and play it with Band in a Box to see how it sounds.
Here’s the tune. The phrase begins around 36 seconds in:
Of course we can analyze the notes if we want but we don’t need to 😉