The Transition From Metal to Jazz

As an 80’s metal and shred fan turned progressive metal fanatic you would think jazz would be the furthest thing from my mind. But being into all the shredders such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Greg Howe I started getting bored with the same old instrumental guitar songs. Although if you think about it there actually is quite an evolution to go from AC/DC to Dream Theater (although I still love AC/DC).

Then at some point I heard some of the newer Greg Howe material where he played more of a jazz-rock fusion style and I was hooked! But I wanted to know how he did it, what scales he was using, how the chord changes worked and so on. So I found a local jazz teacher and took a few lessons.

The teacher started to explain how the chord changes worked in those jazz standards and how soloing works. It was a huge learning curve but I was hooked! It turns out he taught jazz guitar at a local college jazz performance program so I decided to quit my job and enroll at age 36. After an audition I got accepted and that began my jazz guitar journey. Unfortunately academic approaches to jazz guitar didn’t work for me but that’s a subject for another future blog post!

Alex Skolnick of Testament fame has also gotten into jazz over the years. Here is a recent interview with Alex Skolnick on his journey into jazz. Like me he basically had to ‘start over’ since all the technical chops in the world doesn’t translate into jazz improvisations. There are a few reasons for this but the most important one that I have just discovered is that you have to internalize a lot of new lines or phrases.

He mentions a possible new DVD which sounds like it will teach how he transitioned to jazz from metal. While the common link could be said to be the pentatonic scale, and seems to be a logical approach to ease the transition, the problem is that you don’t know the ‘language’ of jazz. Take it from me practicing scales and exercises to learn jazz does not work.

If you’re not into jazz whatsoever, try checking out Greg Howe’s Extraction CD, Alex Argento’s Ego or Marco Sfogli’s There’s Hope (fairly straight ahead rock songs). You will start to get exposed to many jazz sounds such as key changes, outside playing and so on.

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