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Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1

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Matt Ottens

Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples

Vol #1

Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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Many instructional books about jazz improvisation have been written. This collection of
exercises and examples is not an attempt to do better than all of those. Despite all the music
theory that is available, jazz improvisation is by definition, to some extent, always personal.
What is presented here is my personal approach to developing improvisational skills. In other
words, this is how it worked for me! Although no method or course can be definitive and all-
encompassing, I am sure this collection of exercises and examples will give you insight into
how jazz improvisation can work in terms of finding the right notes, timing and sound,
melodic thinking and developing creative ideas while playing. These excersises are meant to
guide you into a way of thinking and practicing, that will help you to develop your style,
make the most of what you already know, and expand gradually upon that, learn to pay
attention to all aspects of soloing, and to break free of just copying licks and riffs from other
players (and probably thinking: how do they come up with it?). Even though transcribing and
copying from records and CDs can be very helpful and stimulating at times, in the end it
might not teach you how to truly improvise, that is, how to develop and execute your own
ideas. Perhaps the very talented will get it right away by just listening to others; most of us
can use some help getting started. The exercises here are all meant to get you playing and
listening, not studying paper (not too much anyway). Some people think jazz is all about
playing complex melodies and all kinds of esoteric stuff; for me it isnt. Even though you may
end up playing complex melodies, great solos can be played with just the basics, with a touch
of personal creativity added to it, and with attention to tone, timing, and phrasing. When you
succeed in making simple things sound good, you will have more fun playing. Once you get
into that mode of playing, and know how to proceed, I believe you can then more easily find
your own way to further growth. The exercises and examples presented here, are by no means
simple, but they do start with the basics, and with making a lot out of a little.
I sincerely hope this collection of exercises and examples will get you started on the right
track, and be a source of inspiration, ideas and fun.

Matt Otten
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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Table of contents

1 Introduction....................................................................................................................4
2 Basic Exercises...............................................................................................................6
2.1 Exercise #0 .............................................................................................................6
2.2 Exercise #1 .............................................................................................................7
2.3 Exercise #2 .............................................................................................................8
2.4 Exercise #3 .............................................................................................................8
3 Playing with accompaniment ..........................................................................................9
3.1 A minor swing #1....................................................................................................9
3.2 A minor swing #2..................................................................................................10
3.3 A minor swing #3..................................................................................................10
3.4 A minor swing #4..................................................................................................10
3.5 C major improv #1................................................................................................11
3.6 C major improv #2................................................................................................11
3.7 C major improv #3................................................................................................11
3.8 C major improv #4................................................................................................12
4 Connecting scales .........................................................................................................13
4.1 Turnarounds..........................................................................................................13
4.1.1 Bb turnaround #0...........................................................................................14
4.1.2 Bb turnaround #1...........................................................................................14
4.1.3 Bb turnaround #2...........................................................................................15
4.1.4 Bb turnaround #3...........................................................................................16
4.2 Changing keys ......................................................................................................16
4.2.1 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #1..........................................................17
4.2.2 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #2..........................................................17
4.2.3 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #3..........................................................18
4.2.4 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #4..........................................................18
5 Jazz-Rock exercises ......................................................................................................19
5.1 Jazz-Rock Exercise #1 ..........................................................................................19
5.2 Jazz-Rock Exercise #2 ..........................................................................................19
5.3 Jazz-Rock Exercise #3 ..........................................................................................20
5.4 Jazz-Rock Exercise #4 ..........................................................................................20
6 Playing the Blues..........................................................................................................21
6.1 Lesson Blues #1....................................................................................................21
6.2 Lesson Blues #2....................................................................................................22
7 General soloing and practicing tips ..............................................................................22
8 Using the Fretboard Visualizer (for Windows)..............................................................23
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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1 Introduction

A lot of jazz instructional books focus on theory, scales, chords, etc. etc. Although this is
certainly important and useful, the exercises provided here are set up with a different
philosophy in mind, a philosophy of listening and exploring. The exercises will help you to
find out your strong and weak points, and improve what is needed, and will show you ways of
practicing improvisation, without to much hard thinking, i.e. without too much theory, but
with doing. Many of the greatest jazz players in the past did not know any theory explicitly,
but knew it implicitly, because they had learnt to hear and play it (and some re-defined and
extended the theory by playing!). By all means, learn as much theory as you can, from the
many sources that are available, but dont forget what it comes down to is playing. You can
also discover and learn a lot of theory by playing. Just as you can improve your speaking or
writing by learning the rules of grammar, nevertheless all people speak pretty well before they
learn the theory behind the language.

The excersises here come in a few categories:
- Basic exercises: know and play a major and minor scales fluently, and learn to make
variations on it.
- Improvise on simple backing tracks in a single key, and learn to make use of timing,
dynamics, phrasing, besides the notes themselves. Learn to make a lot out of a little.
- Practice a change of tonality, with backing tracks that give you plenty time to follow
whats going on.
- Practice some complete solo examples, from simple to more advanced, including
backing tracks.

In all the exercises you can play along with examples, while listening to it, and when you
have captured the essence of what the exercise is about, try doing the exercise by playing your
own ideas, following the guidelines given. Examples with backing tracks are provided with
and without the guitar solos. Some backing tracks are also provided in various tempos, so you
can start slow and work your way up to faster tempos.
All examples are printed in standard notation and TAB. The TAB shows it exactly as played
in the audio example, i.e. all the actual positions and strings. In general, playing from the
notation, without having listened will be very difficult, especially since exact timing is hard
and sometimes impossible to notate correctly and certainly very hard to read. As aspects of
timing are quite critical, music notation cannot properly capture that without sometimes
becoming unreadable. The notation has been edited sometimes to improve legibility, but stays
as close to the real playing as possible; many phrases just dont make the same sense if the
timing is not accurately captured. A simple phrase can sound very dull if played in straight
eighths, while it can sound very good with the right timing. Therefore the notation is mainly
intended to help you figure out what you heard, not the other way around. Listening always
comes first. But, even better, since you also have multi-channel midi files from all examples,
and the corresponding mp3 sound files you should use the fretboard visualizer in this
package, and display the notes on the fretboard in real time as it is playing, see chapter
Using the Fretboard Visualizer (for Windows) for instructions. This is a great way to see
exactly whats going on, while listening. The midi files are recorded on midi channels 11 to
16, one channel per string, The Midi Fretboard Visualizer uses this information to display all
notes on the correct string and position, exactly as played in reality, in real time.
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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Most sequencer packages support VST instruments (VSTi), like the Fretboard Visualizer, and
allow you to load both the midi and audio files, and play them in parallel. Then, you can see
the notation or fretboard in real-time, while listening to the actual recorded sound. Note that
there is even free and very cheap sequencing software available with VSTi support on
internet, if you dont have it already.
Alternatively, some other programs, like the well-known Band-in-a-Box
, also allow you to
import these midi files in such a way that you can use a built-in fretboard display, playing in
real-time, with all the actual strings and positions indicated

Who is this for? It is not for the beginning guitarist, nor for the advanced jazz player. It is for
the intermediate level or even experienced guitarist, who is relatively new to jazz
improvisation. If you have played for some time, and want to get into improvisation, or
perhaps you have tried it, and got stuck, or youre lost for ideas, this could very well be your
way ahead.

What you need to know: as a minimum, you must be able to play a major and minor scale
without too much thinking (dont worry about all the modes and variations). The first
exercises will help you to do it better and more fluently and musically, so that you can start to
use them in creative and playful ways. If you dont know any scales at all, get a theory book
or look on music instruction web sites and learn to understand and play just the most basic
scales. You have to know the basic system of guitar chord notation, for instance, you should
know that a C7b9, or C7-9 is a C triad with a Bb (minor 7) and a Db (b9) added to it. If you
dont know such things, just look them up in a book or on internet. The chord notation system
is not very difficult, you can learn that in very little time. That basic knowledge will be our
starting point.

In recent versions, you can even import the audio as well, so you can hear the recorded sound, while looking at
the fretboard real-time display.
Check the Band-in-a-box manual for the correct way to import this kind of midi file
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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2 Basic Exercises

Assuming you know the major scale of C, and can play it, the first exercise is basically just to
make you play it fluently, become aware of how you play each note, and learn to vary.
You play the C major scale and then start to play it in some variations. The example given is
to get you started, but you should continue with your own variations. The idea is the go up
and down the scale in different ways. This has several purposes:
- familiarise yourself better with the scale, and develop ease in playing it in various
- practice your technique
- listen to your own sound, pay attention to how the notes sound
- play intervals, and learn to recognise them
- learn to use the scale for creation of melodic phrases, learn to exploit the scale

These first exercises may not look very exciting, you may feel inclined to skip them.
However, you might just miss the whole point, so check them out! If you then find you
can already do all that with ease, fine, you can skip to the next level. Remember, improvising
is not just converting music theory into notes; machines and software can nowadays do that
just as well. Improvising is about making music, making something sound good, using basic
ingredients. These first exercises are about that, on the most basic level. The important point
here is that once you can make a simple phrase sound good, you realise that there is an
infinite amount of phrases that you can explore, that can all sound good. You dont need
some magical inspiration or deep knowledge to come up with good phrases, you just need to
explore them yourself, execute them well, and find out what sounds good and what you like!
2.1 Exercise #0

This is the most basic one, thats why its numbered 0! We start with the C major scale. Play
it the way it is written down after listening to the sound example, but dont worry about the
tempo or rhythm, there isnt any. Just play the notes, and play them as smoothly as you can,
keeping your fingers on the fretboard as long as possible for each note, before playing the
next note, so that they sound connected. If you want, you can bring some rhythm to it, but it is
not necessary. Youll notice the scale is first played straightforward, then in little patterns of
2, 3 or more notes with small jumps. Practice this, and then add some patterns of your own,
first using small, then using larger intervals. And at all times, listen to what you are playing.
Even though such variations on the scale may seem trivial, if you can do this fluently, they are
a very effective way to forming melodies instantly, and it can sound pretty good in a musical
context; even in the advanced examples you will see that a lot is based on just using the scale
in an interesting way. At the very end of the example, it begins to sound less like a scale
exercise and more like music. Now try finding some alternative ways to go through the scale.
Realise that just about any combination of notes can be a legitimate musical phrase, there are
no real limitations. It is also a matter of opening your mind to all possibilities, and you can
stimulate that by simply trying a lot of ways to play through the scale either sequentially,
with jumps, in patterns, up, down, you name it.
It is tempting to think, when you hear a solo and dont quite understand what is going on, that
something complicated is happening, but that is often not true. Usually it is not complicated,
its just that you cannot see where it comes from (yet). These first exercises are, apart from
technique practice, meant to show that just plain scales and variations on them are the basis
for all musical phrases, so dont search for the complicated, search for the obvious. Play
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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simple and make it sound good. The more complicated things will follow naturally after a
while when you have developed this basic skill, and understand how improvising works.

The way to improvisation is not learning licks, it is learning how to create your own licks.

Although perhaps far fetched, think of learning chess. You can study a hundred moves in other peoples games
and try to remember what to do in each possible situation. You will learn some moves, and you might even play
some games, but youll soon get stuck, because you dont know where it all came from. Or, you can learn the
basic rules first, and find out by playing games with an open mind what kind of moves seem wise and when, you
might even find your very own strategy. And, you can write the basic rules on one page, you dont have to study
ten books. So, you learn by understanding only the basics, and then exploring the possibilities. Likewise, for
improvisation, the possibilities are endless, but if you dont want to get stuck after learning a hundred licks, you
should start from the understanding that there are only a few rules, and based on that you should explore what
sounds good, by trying. Playing the scale in different ways, is a first and necessary step towards this exploration.
When you find some very cool possibilities, remember those as your licks.
Studying licks without understanding the basics of improvisation is like studying chess moves without knowing
the basic rules of chess. Its the wrong way around and you will inevitably get stuck at some point!

This exercise can be done very regularly, in between other exercises or just when you have a
spare moment. Exploiting and exploring the scale is the basis for improvisation. If you dont
want to be stuck with standard licks, you should be able to really use the scale and develop
your own ideas from it. Doing this really a lot will improve your fluency, which is what you
need to solo convincingly.
In the beginning you may play variations rationally, by playing note patterns, and then hear
how they sound. After a while, you will get to know these patterns quite well, and you will
know how they sound even before you play them, and eventually, you can do it in your mind
the other way around, and you will play melodies without thinking. Probably some patterns
and phrases will linger in your mind more than others; that becomes part of your style.

The importance of tone: especially this very basic exercise is a good one to pay attention to-
and practice your tone. Listen to it and be aware of it: without a decent tone, no solo will
sound good. If you are used to playing blues and rock, especially with distortion and effects,
you may vary well have to modify and improve your approach to playing basic notes: guitar
effects obscure the real tone and may let you get away with a flawed technique. If you have an
acoustic guitar, practice your tone on that. Good tone is mainly a consequence of good
technique, and not of an expensive guitar! Though this is not a guitar technique tutorial (there
are plenty of others), make sure you do not disregard the aspect of tone. If you play this
exercise, does it sound very similar to the recorded example? If not, ask yourself why not: are
notes well articulated, are they well connected or cut-off, are you picking too hard, making
the tone harsh in stead of round, etc. etc. Take some time to find out for yourself how to
improve it if necessary. You dont have to strive for the perfect tone, but dont be satisfied
with a poor tone either, beceause it will kill every solo.
2.2 Exercise #1

In this exercise we go one step further: we add phrasing to it. Playing patterns from a scale is
a good start, now we want to play them in a certain groove, and with a beginning and end to
each phrase, and an explicit rhythm. Furthermore, the idea is to build the phrases from short
ones to longer ones, first using very few notes from the scale, then gradually using more,
using a chromatic passing note (between scale notes) just now and then. The example is to get
you started and illustrate the idea, you can practice that, and then go off on your own. Make
phrases, dont just play strings of notes, play phrases that sound like you meant them exactly
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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that way, however simple or complex, play them like you are making a musical statement,
with confidence.
Dont think that a four note phrase is uninteresting; if you play it convincingly, a good sound,
and good timing, it is a good phrase. So start simple and slowly expand.
To do this exercise more rigourously, try the following:
Choose a key to play in.
Tap a steady rhythm with your foot
Play rythmic phrases:
- first use two diferent notes, play some phrases using these two notes
- then use three different notes, play some phrases
- slowly build up to 8 notes or more

Exercise#1 uses this principle as well but expands to more complicated phrases more rapidly,
so as to make it not too long.

2.3 Exercise #2

This exercise has something of #0 and #1; we now switch to a minor mode (A minor), and
construct rubato (free tempo) phrases, again from the basic scale, so you dont have to think
about the notes too much, and you can concentrate on building phrases. The example is sort of
contemplative, free flowing, without a strict rhythm. Beware: an exercise like this can sound
extremely boring if played routinely, but if you play the notes with clear intention, and
confidence, it can actually sound good. In fact it should sound good if you do it well, so listen
to yourself. This is also meant to make you aware of the subtle difference between playing
just notes, and playing melodies, playing music. It is all too easy to forget about tone,
phrasing, dynamics and timing, but try to pay attention to that. Use as little or as many notes
as you feel comfortable with, but make sure you are making a musical statement with each
phrase, mean what you play. It is difficult to put into words, but hopefully the example
illustrates the point.

2.4 Exercise #3

This one is much like the previous ones, especially #1, but a little more varied in choice of
notes, some chromatic parts, some double stops, and a bluesy feeling. It is in C major, but for
a bluesy feeling sometimes a minor third, Eb is played and a flatted fifth, Gb. These are the
blue notes. Also you will hear Bb more often than B, this also enhances the blues feeling. You
may also sometimes recognise the well known pentatonic scale. The double stops played here
are mostly notes combined with a C above, or a 6
(A) or minor 7
(Bb) above. You will also
note some embellishments here and there.
The bluesy feeling is created mostly by playing sort of in between C major and C minor.
Listen and youll get the idea.

Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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3 Playing with accompaniment

In the next couple of exercises we stay within a single tonality. The intention is to use the
basics from the previous exercises in a more musical context, by playing over a very basic
accompaniment of just (fretless) bass and some guitar. This also means automatically that
there is now another aspect related to rhythm and phrasing entering the exercise: timing
. How
do you play your notes, on the beat, before of after the beat (of the bass)? If you want to
create tension, play on or before the beat, if you want to sound laid back and easy going, play
a lot behind the beat. For any given type of tune and especially your own preference, there
will be something in between those extremes that is right for the tune and the music you want
to play, and of course the way youd like to sound. The examples you will hear here are
mostly rather lazy and behind the beat, sometimes quite a lot! Another aspect related to this:
do you play a lot of quarter-, eighths- and sixteenth notes, or do you play more patterns not so
strictly tied to the beat. Again, something in between usually sounds most natural. So, be
aware of it while you improvise, try to achieve a natural sounding timing, by varying the
rhythm, duration and timing of your notes. Timing makes the difference between a stiff
sounding phrase and a natural sounding phrase. Sometimes you may be inclined to discard a
phrase as no good, but perhaps you are just not playing it right.
In the next exercises you still hardly have to worry about finding the notes, since its all in one
key, A minor. Its all about learning to vary, using those notes, in melody, timing etc., so that
is what you should concentrate on. Just as a little surprise at the end, the backing track ends
with an Am, maj7th chord, thats A minor but with a G# in stead of G.

3.1 A minor swing #1

The bass/guitar accompaniment is a medium swing tempo in A minor. The basic chord is
Am7 with a hint of D9, so with an F#. That means the basic scale is A B C D E F# G A, also
known as the Dorian mode (corresponding to the key of G).
This exercise starts off with the appropriate scale, up and down, to get a bit comfortable in
this tonality. Then, again building from the scale, simple phrases are played, slowly increasing
in length and/or number of different notes used. Again, these are examples you can learn and
practice, but the idea is to then take the same approach and try improvising yourself, using the
backing track.
Hopefully, youll hear from the examples, that rather simple melodies can sound good, when
played with attention to sound and timing, making it sound convincing!

Some remarks about this example:
In bar 24/25, the little phrase ends on a D. Though D is a scale note, it is not part of the Am7
chord notes (A,C,E,G). This makes it sound a litlle more detached from the chord, and as an
end note it sort of keeps hanging there a little while, creating a very mild sort of tension. Just
like bar 37 ends on a B (the 9
extension), it hangs there until the next phase resolves it.
Very often, ending a phrase on a note that is not in the chord, or is an extension of the chord,
gives you this subtle effect of mild tension, or unresolvedness, and is a typical jazz thing
from the bebop era.

Of course there is also timing when you play alone, but with a rhythm section it becomes more sensitive, in the
sense it also has to sit well with the rest.important.
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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Also note in bar 47, the 4-note phrase emphasises the notes from a G chord, G,B,D, while C is
only a passing note. This also helps to get a bit detached from the A minor feeling, even if its
only very subtle.
Bar 49: the E is played in two different positions to create an effect, similar to what horn
players sometimes do. It just adds a little touch of interest to what is basically just one note;
and of course, here, timing is everything.

3.2 A minor swing #2

This one is like #1, but here the emphasis is on exploiting a theme. It is an example of how
you can gradually invent ideas while you are playing. You start off with a small theme of
just a few notes. Then you start to vary, rhythm, order of the notes, adding new notes, all very
gradually, building a collection of variations on a simple theme. At some point, the variation
you play may give you a new idea for a slightly different theme, which you can then build on.
Try it for yourself; once you get the hang of this principle, you have learnt to use an important
tool for building solos!
In bar 37, for instance, the variations lead to a new little mini-theme, that is then exploited for
a little while. At bar 51, youll hear an example of rythmic variation, where with a few notes,
the interest is created purely by playing a phrase with shifting accents, getting out of the 4/4
feel for a moment.
Obviously, even with a limited number of notes, the variations are endless. The trick is to first
be totally open to all the possibilities, and find the ones that sound nice, and you can do that
by building while you play.

3.3 A minor swing #3

Another example, now using some embellishments, so called double stops, just to get some
additional variation in sound. Double stops often induce a more bluesy feeling. The notation
may look a little messy, but listening and looking at the tab or the Fretboard Visualizer, it is
easy to see whats going on.
Learn a couple of double stops, to liven up your solo once in a while. Note that some double
stops cannot be easily played with a plectrum, but are better played with your fingers.
There are several ways to switch from plectrum to fingers: one way is to hold the plectrum
between index and middle finger when youre not using it. It takes a little getting used to but
works quite well, and can be done quickly with some practice.

3.4 A minor swing #4

This is sort of a free flowing example, where several improvisational devices are used, to try
and create an interesting solo: of course primarily the scale notes, using melodic and rythmic
variety, mini-themes, double stops and octaves, some passing notes outside the scale, and
going from low to higher registers and back. By the way, dont think that the lower strings are
only useful for bass lines, just play melodies down to the lowest notes, thats often very cool.
It may create some tension with the accompanying bass, but the right amount of tension may
be just what you need, dont be afraid of it, use your ears.
Some other tips:
Matt Otten -- Jazz Guitar Improvisation Exercises and Examples -- Volume #1
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dont play only sequential or almost sequential notes up and down the scale, but make
a big jump now and then in the middle of a phrase; as long as you target a scale note,
you cant really go wrong, and it can give you a new impulse for melodic ideas.
try to relax and dont be afraid of silence in your solo. You dont have to-, and in fact
you shouldnt fill all bars up with notes. Take pauses, if you dont have a new phrase
in your mind, just wait a little. Space is part of the music.
If you miss a note, repeat the phrase and do it right the second time; this can be the
starting point of a new mini-theme! Or, if you played an unintentional note, that in fact
turns out OK, you got a new idea for free. The great thing about jazz is it doesnt
have to be perfect. If an initial mistake leads you to a new idea, great, use it! If you
learn to respond well to your own mistakes, you can actually surprise yourself in a
good way sometimes; and the audience will never know.

3.5 C major improv #1

For a little change of feeling, we now have an exercise with the same principle as the previous
ones, now in C major, with a light latin/bossa feel. Because the swing feel doesnt apply here,
basically straight eighths are usually played, so the timing is a bit different from the previous
swing feel. The accompaniment contains two main chords, C major 9
and G11, or G9sus4.
The sus means suspended. Gsus contains a C instead of a B, which is the suspended note.
Occasionally there is a G9th chord. The two main chords remain strictly in the tonality of C,
so you can still practice with just one scale, and concentrate on sound, timing, building
phrases etc. Moreover, the general feel is very laid back, so try to get that feeling in your
playing. Dont play too strictly on the beat, let the notes lag a little.
In this exercise, the C major scale is played and only very small excursions from the scale are
made. The point is to concentrate on a laid back feeling, and make the phrases sound natural.

3.6 C major improv #2

This example continues in the same vein, only expanding a bit more in melodic ideas, a bit
more playful. Play it, and then try to come up with your own ideas. Above all, make it sound
relaxed and cool. Quite often it can happen that you cannot think of good melodic ideas, not
because you have no ideas, but because the ideas you have just dont seem to sound good
enough, so you discard them as bad ideas. If you feel this is the case, dont be to quick in
throwing away ideas, it is quite possible that you are just not playing them well enough, so
that they dont please you. It is sort of easier, in a way, to practice complex phrases, because
they sound interesting anyway, even if you dont execute them very well. With simple
phrases, you have to make that extra effort to make them sound good. Once you realise, that
almost anything can sound good, when you pay attention to the sound and dynamics, the
possibilities become endless. Keep this in mind when doing these basic exercises. Remember
that if you cant make the simple sound good, the complicated will never sound great either.

3.7 C major improv #3

We continue by exploring the scale a bit further in terms of range. In this example a large part
of the guitar range is used, from the low G on the 6
string, up to the high E, in 12
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This is a good exercise to learn to utilise the full range of the guitar. Using the low and high
registers in a solo contributes a lot to the feeling of variety, and can be used to create climaxes
and to wind down. Note that the example ends on the lowest notes, which gives a feeling rest
at the end. By looking at the finger positions in the TAB notation or the Fretboard Visualizer,
you can see how you can get from the lower to the higher registers and back. Of course there
are plenty of other ways which you can try out. It depends also on the sound of your guitar; it
will sound different in different positions on the neck. If it sounds better in certain positions
on your instrument, you can take that into account in choosing where you prefer to play
specific notes.

3.8 C major improv #4

This example was played as a sort of no holding back solo on the C major track. It uses all
sorts of variations in melody, timing, rhythm, register, and more notes outside the scale. These
are mostly chromatic passing notes, simply connecting scale notes. This is an easy way to add
some notes when you want to create some tension using a higher densityof notes. Just think
of the scale notes, and connect some of them chromatically. There is no rule, again use your
Secondly, in some places, parts of a different scale are played. Without going into detail here
(more about that later) you will hear now and then a phrase based on the substitute chord of
G7, Db9(
5). This is to suggest the transition from G7 to C.
More about transitions in the next chapter.

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4 Connecting scales

What is meant by the above title is dealing with chord changes and changes of tonality that
force you to use several scales. Now, there are loads of theory books explaining what scales to
use in what situations, and its definitely worth while to study some of that. But, you dont
want your solo to sound like its just a sequence of scales placed one after the other; you want
to connect them in way that sounds like the transition is totally natural and unforced. Also, it
is not always most practical to think in terms of several scales, but in terms of one main
scale, and some deviating notes at particular points in the song.
To illustrate and let you practice this, we will look at two types of chord changes:
Chord changes that are fairly short and deviate only slightly from the main key of the
Chord changes that introduce a new key, for some time, during the music, i.e., a real
tonality change.

For short chord changes, one can think in terms of scales for each chord, but it is often more
convenient and natural to think only of the few deviations from the main key, but still keep
the main tonality in mind all the time.
For real longer term key changes, you have to aim your mind towards the new key, and you
can forget about the previous one (for a while).

4.1 Turnarounds

The examples in this section are based on a turnaround. A turnaround is a short sequence (like
4 or 8 bars) of chords that comes back to the first chord. It feels like a short musical looping.
In C, a typical turnaround would be Cmaj7, A7, Dm7, G7, Cmaj7. Some songs are based on
such progressions, and turnarounds are often used to connect the end of one chorus to the
The next few examples are based on a Bb turnaround, basically Bb, G7, Cm7, F7, Bb. Now
the turnaround may be played with all kinds of alterations on the basic chords, but the
structure stays the same. This turnaround is relatively long (in bars) to give you time to think.
Furthermore, the F7 is sometimes substituted by the substitute chord B9(b5), which is closely
related to F7#5. In general, especially the dominant 7th chords (here G7 and F7) will be
played in all kinds of variations, and with different extensions.
The next four examples show you how you can deal with a turnaround.

As the exercises become more complicated, you will need more time to get into them and
practice. For this purpose, the backing tracks are provided in different tempos, so you can
start slow, and work your up to higher tempo, as soon as you feel comfortable doing so.
Lets look at the important notes. The main ones are from the scale of Bb:
Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb.
Now when the G7 chord comes by, the note that is most conspicuously different is B. Eb still
fits quite nicely, because very often, G7 will be played as G7#5, so uses D# (or Eb).
Interestingly, even Bb is not necessarily bad, since G7#5#9 contains both a B, and a A# (Bb).
Still, Bb, is here the note to watch out with, over the G7. Using a B will clearly suggest the
G7 chord.
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The Cm7, F7 both fit into the Bb scale, so no worries there. However, when the F7 is
explicity substituted by B9(b5) (listen to the electric piano), the notes that really dont sound
well are, Bb, C, D, and G (try it!), so youll want to avoid those (except as passing notes).
Even though there are theoretical rules and guidelines, there are no fixed rules on what sounds
good or not. Therefore, using these guidelines, you still have to experience and find out for
yourself what sounds good or not, by doing it (a lot). Use the backing tracks to do that.
Note that the backing is played in a pretty realistic way, so not just neatly playing the exact
prescribed chords, but playing them with variations and a little freedom, as would be done in
a real playing situation.
4.1.1 Bb turnaround #0

Although the chords in a turnaround contain notes outside the main key, the latter is still the
overall tonality, as the progression starts and ends in this key. So in terms of thinking, the
main key of Bb is foremost on your mind. In fact, you can play over the turnaround
disregarding the notes outside the main scale, by either avoiding the notes that dont fit with a
chord, or by skipping a few beats. Also in general, if the melody you play is strong and
convincing it tends to overrule the subtle chord changes behind it. A good example of such a
case is when you anticipate a chord; in that case you start a phrase in the key of the next
chord, so that this phrase resolves nicely in the right key when the chord arrives. The fact that
the start of the phrase may not fit exactly with the previous chord harmonically, is not very
disturing, since it flows nicely into the following chord. In fact, anticipation is a often very
good way to connect chords in general, since it also helps to de-emphasise the chord
boundaries, and create a flowing melodic feeling. The use of such techniques, however, also
depends on tempo. At a fast tempo, the chord changes go by fast, and the overall melody
attracts most attention. At a slow tempo, the chord changes will be much more obvious and
inevitable, and you will have to deal with them more explicitly, by playing the right notes for
each chord.
In this first example, only notes in the Bb scale are used, taking care to avoid some notes that
would cause friction with some of the backing chords. Generally, it still sounds quite
natural. Note the use of the note Eb: even though it is a note inside the scale, the same note (or
its enharmonic equivalent D#), can also be used to suggest the #5 in a G7#5 chord. Also,
because Eb when emphasised does not sit well with the Bbmaj chord itself (sounds
unresolved and clashing), it is mostly used during the other chords. The most difficult part is
the B9 substitution for F7. Here many of the Bb scale notes just wont sound well at all (Bb,
C, D, G). So here you have to avoid these notes. Well see later what to play in stead.
In this example you may feel that at some points, the use of only Bb scale notes is acceptable
but a bit forced, and in fact it is. But if you can hear that; youre getting the right idea: it is
exactly those places, where you feel a slight discomfort with the notes played, thats where
you should be thinking about using different notes.
A note about the notation: the notation of flats and sharps is sometimes ambiguous. For instance, an Eb in this
exercise is mostly written flat, as it belongs to the Bb scale. However, over a G7#5 chord, one could argue it is
really a D#, since that is in fact the raised fifth of the G chord. So, melodically it makes more sense to write Eb,
but harmonically it should be D#. Therefore, quite often it is just a matter of preference.

4.1.2 Bb turnaround #1

Why #0? It is sort of a very very basic exercise for a turnaround, lets say level 0, but it illustrates a point and is
a good start.
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This example follows the same rules as the previous one, but is bit more playful and varied.
Note however how all notes are still in the Bb scale. Variations and liveliness is achieved
purely by phrasing, and using the high and low registers. Youll note how some parts are
skipped (on the altered F7 chords), or Bb scale notes are played anyway anticipating
resolution in the Bb chord, and disregarding the chord underneath. You can get away with
such phrases because they resolve naturally and therefore still sound right or at least
Note also how phrases start at different positions in a bar. Starting a phrase on the first beat is
very tempting but also very boring after a while. Starting phrases on different beats is a simple
but effective way of making the music sound more flowing, and not so bound to the chord
progression (even though it is really). Also, because it shifts the emphasis to different notes, it
will help you and even force you to to think of different phrases. That is to say, if your phrase
has the downbeat on the 3
note, you will tend to play a different phrase than if the downbeat
is on the first note. So when you improvise, start phrases on different beats.

4.1.3 Bb turnaround #2

We extend the choice of notes now, concentrating on some of the important additional notes
that help to emphasise the turnaround chords. For the G7 this would be the B, in stead of the
Bb, and as discussed before we can use the D# to suggest a G7#5 chord, but this note is
already in the scale of Bb (though we would call it Eb in stead of D#). For the F7 substitute,
B9(b5), we can use the notes, B, C#, D# and (F), F#, G#, (A). In fact, when the F7 is played
by the piano, it is hardly ever played straight up, but mostly with some alterations and
extensions, such as F7#5b9, so a lot of the time youre better of thinking of the substitute
chord B9 anyway, in stead of F7. You will also hear F13b9 regularly. Note that this contains
the D again, not C#. Of course, in real situation., the accompanist should respond to you as
the soloist, and you can determine how you want to interpret and play the dominant 7th
chords. With backing tracks, you have to listen extra carefully, and try to pick up the trend.
On the other hand, the accompaniment should be always such that strongly altered chords are
played in an unobtrusive way so as not to make life very hard for the soloist. In fact, if you
hear some brief, hard-to-define chords (to the untrained ear!) in the backing, its probably
something like F13b9 in some inversion. So, dont worry about it to much: these chords are
already quite dissonant anyway, so almost anything you play that makes melodic sense will
generally sound OK.
Some specific remarks about the solo example played:
90% are still Bb scale notes, but some outside notes are now included to better accomodate
the G7 and F7/B9 variations. Also note that there are some chromatic passages. This example
is meant to show how you can be thinking in Bb most of the time with just a few deviations,
such as playing B on the G7 etc.
Note that also at some points, the B9 substitute is disregarded, and the Bb scale is continued
despite the fact it doesnt really fit. It all depends on how such a phrase is perceived
melodically, and therefore depends on how convincingly it fits into the overall solo and
melody line. If the melody is strong enough, the harmony takes a back seat (up to a point of
course). You may think some parts are clashing, but does it sound like a mistake? Probably
not. Its somewhat subjective. Some like it very neat and tidy, and 100% harmonically
correct, some wont mind a bit of clashing, as long as the melody is convincing enough on its
Now and then you will clearly here the B9 substitute in the solo: the notes played on the B9,
are based on the F#m, melodic minor scale. In fact, The B9 could also be replaced by a F#m7
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- B9 combination, so thats why the F#m scale works here. F#m Dorian scale, which contains
an E can also work. Playing the E removes you a bit further from the main tonality of Bb, but
you can do that if the accompaniment is open enough. If you play these passages yourself, and
look at the fingering, you will probably also recognise the related chord shapes. In fact, these
chord shapes are also a very useful guide to find the right scale and the right notes. If you
think if a B9 chord shape, and a F#m7 chord shape, you will see automatically which scale
can be played, without necessarily knowing the name.
4.1.4 Bb turnaround #3

This example is added as a fully developed solo, no restrictions, and playing at a higher
tempo. Regard it as a challenge. You can get some more ideas from it, and you can play it
yourself if you like. Some things to note are:
a lot of phrases extend over the barline between the repeated sections, somehow
thereby obscuring the fact that the same chords are repeated over and over again. This
reduces the feeling of repetitiveness.
The B9 substitute is more explicitly played, by using primarily again the F#m Dorian
mode scale. This may not be always very obvious, since the are also chromatic
sections in these phrases. However, you can clearly hear where parts of the F#m scale
are used.
Sometimes you will hear also a F13b9 very explicitly, the notes are A(3rd), C# (13
and F# (b9th)

This solo uses all kinds of variation techniques. Playing prases with different lengths,
different rythms, sometimes longer lines, sometimes a short repeated phrase, sometimes a
pause to think, moving from low to high register and vice versa, etc. Actually, there is nothing
in there that you couldnt think of yourself, there should be nothing inexplicable. It is only a
matter of practice to learn to use all those possibilities, there is no big mystery involved! Just
do it a lot, and be aware of the possibilities. Especially on the slow backing tracks you can
really explore your own ideas. Dont settle for what you can easily come up with, but expand
your repertoire by really trying to play things you havent played before. There are only a few
rules, and an ocean of possibilities.

4.2 Changing keys

In this section we concentrate on real key changes. Different from the turnaround case, we
now consider chord progressions which explicitly shift between different keys, and in such a
way that it is impossible to solo in one key. To let you concentrate on this type of key
change, the example backing track shifts between 2 remote keys, back and forth. Remote here
means that the 2 keys have very few notes in common. The two primary chords used here are
Dm7, and Bbm7. Assuming we primarily play the Dorian scales, the keys involved are C and
Ab. These two scales have very few notes in common, so they are really remote in that
Now the changes between the keys do not occur very rapidly, so you do have some time to
think about the 2 different scales while you are playing. This gives you the chance to not only
practice in both keys, but also to find ways to go smoothly from one key to the next,
connecting them through melody.

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To start with, obviously you need to be able to play in both keys, i.e. play the 2 scales
associated with them. Part of the exercise is to do that first, to get comfortable with these two
keys. You can use the fingerings as played in the examples, but of course there are plenty of
other possibilities. Feel free to use different ones, the more you know, the better. However,
what you dont want to do is to play the same fingering, shifted up or down the neck to play in
one key or the other. This kills your chances of making a smooth transition from one key to
the next, and increases the chances that you will play the same things in both keys. Choose
fingerings that are practically in the same position on the neck, to cover both keys.
Now, one easy way to connect the two keys is to target a certain note in the key you are
playing towards. In other words, try to end your last phrase in one key with a note that fits the
other key. This will already make your phrase go smoothly into the key change. If you
succeed in doing that consistently, the next step is to continue on this targeted note in the new
key. The backing track provides ample opportunity to practice this principle. You have only
the two keys to worry about, and you can practice the transition in many ways.
Another thing to consider when changing keys in this way is to plan in what positions you
will play. Be sure you have a few possibilities in mind and try to think a little bit ahead, so
that you can fluently switch to another position on the fretboard, not too far away. Of course it
needs practice. The examples show you very well how you can go from one position to the
next without making big jumps; it is all sort of connected.

The following exercises are played with a bossa feeling, just for variety. In a bossa you will
generally play straight eighths, in stead of swing (triplet-feel) notes. The demonstrated tempo
is fairly relaxed, so you have time to follow whats happening. Backing tracks are again
available in different tempos.
Especially since the real timing is sort of after the beat and generally very loose, in notation
it looks rather frightening. On the other hand the notation demonstrates very well how loose
the timing actually is. Therefore, the best is to listen to the example a few times while looking
at the notation or the Fretboard Visualizer, whatever you prefer. There is no need for you to
exactly replicate this timing; just play the notes and apply your own sense of timing to make it
sound good to you.

4.2.1 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #1

In this example you can clearly see the target note approach. Several phrases end on a note
that fits into the next chord. Some times the phrase extends a little over the barline. Note also
the spaces, and use of rather long notes at several places, that are allowed to really ring for
some time. Of course to make this sound good, you have to carefully play those notes,
listening to what sounds best on your instrument. Depending on your guitar, and the type of
string may need to play them rather softly, so that the decay is not too fast. You can only find
this out by trying. You may also notice some very light vibrato, almost unnoticable, but its
still there. Its very light, and very slow, because it suits the laid back feeling of the bossa.
This helps to make the long notes sound good. Dont overdo it, though.
If you have some trouble with this example, try the next one first. It contains a scale exercise
but is otherwise approximately on the same level.

4.2.2 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #2

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In this example you are reminded of the relevant scales, you are invited to exercise them once
more, using the backing track. After some time some simple phrases are derived from the two
scales. Note that F is a good connecting note for the two keys, as it belongs to D minor and
Bb minor as well. So, targeting the F for the transition is safe bet, and is done a few times

4.2.3 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #3

This one is a quite bit more complex, but still using the same principles. More chromatic
passing notes are allowed, and more sixteenth notes. Hammer-ons, octaves and double stops
are used to liven up the performance. Note how phrases often extend over the key transition,
connecting them in an inconspicuous way. The high up octaves again use the F to connect the
keys. Some muted notes are played for variety. The example ends on a very low note, the low
F. It is tempting to solo in the middle or higher registers, but dont forget the low notes, they
sound good too.

4.2.4 Exercise Bossa D minor / Bb minor #4

Just like with the turn-around exercises, the last one here is meant to challenge you a bit, in
case the previous ones were too easy! The tempo is raised, and the solo now uses more
tricks, some faster runs, and again some some double stops and octaves. When you feel
comfortable with the previous exercises, try this one to raise your playing level another notch,
or just take some ideas from it.
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5 Jazz-Rock exercises

With this set of exercises, we enter into a sightly different feel, jazz soloing on a rock based
beat. In todays many musical blends, jazz sounds are often added to modern beats and
sounds, usually with little harmonic variety, as its all about the beat (note that Jazz-Rock as
meant here does not refer to a music style called fusion, which can be quite complex both
harmonically and rythmically).
When youre playing on a very straight beat, and the chords stay the same most of the time,
the approach to improvising is a bit different. Of course, all the principles explained here still
apply, and its up to you to decide what you think sounds good, but youll probably find that
there are some differences between playing purely jazz oriented music, and rock-based music
with a jazz feeling.
In jazz, timing can be very loose, and practically unconstrained by anything. In rock-based
music, with a more strict and explicit beat, soloing automatically feels more constrained to
this beat, and also the choice of notes feels more limited, though not necessarily. It is
interesting and a challenge to find the right balance between jazz phrasing and
melodic/harmonic diversity, and the stricter regime of rock-based music, and the use of
standard licks, which you will also hear in the examples.
Some example are provided here with a very light rock beat, well suited for jazz guitar
sounds, but straight enough to make you feel the difference between playing on a flowing
jazz pulse, and a straight rock-type beat.
The soloing is basically in one key for some time, but to avoid monotony, and to keep you on
your toes, the key changes halfway, and moves one third up, from C minor to Eb minor.

5.1 Jazz-Rock Exercise #1

Things start off with a very relaxed solo. This choice of notes needs little explanation, since
its all pretty neatly in the proper key, even the simple pentatonic scale pops up here and
there. The use of bluesy licks and double stops fits this kind of style, as well as slurs, hammer-
ons, and sometimes a little heavier vibrato than used in straight-ahead jazz. For a bit of
climax, the melody moves up to the higher register towards the end.
Now, the notation looks pretty terrifying; as the beat is slow, many of the notes are sixteenth
notes, which looks intimidating on paper. But, listen first, and you will see and hear that it is
in fact not really that complicated. This kind of thing is terrible to play from paper and
impossible to write down accurately, without making it unreadable . Play parts of it it by ear
as much as you can, and just look at the notation (and TAB) when you need to, and use the
Fretboard Visualizer.

5.2 Jazz-Rock Exercise #2

The second example is still very similar, just some other variations. It uses almost the full
range of the guitar, so, its also a good exercise to get to know the entire fretboard. It has
some octave playing, and again some bluesy double stops. Note the ending on the 9
(F) of
the Ebm chord. Even though it is played very low, it doesnt really clash with the piano,
though it is on the edge. It adds some suspense to the ending.

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5.3 Jazz-Rock Exercise #3

With just slightly more complicated/faster runs, this one is a bit more difficult, and a bit more
jazzy. When the key changes to Ebm, some George Benson combinations are played; they
are 3-note combinations consisting of an octave, and a sixth in between, according to the
prevailing scale of course. They are played here with thumb and 2 fingers (right hand), in
stead of a plectrum, in order to be able to play the alternating effect.
There is a bit more variation in phrasing, eighths, sixteenths, triplets, double time triples, and
some rather long phrases. Again, the notation is very hard to get right and also to read for this
type of freely timed soloing, so listen carefully, and use the Visualizer, and only read when
you need to, or want to.

5.4 Jazz-Rock Exercise #4

This one use the same devices as the previous one, it is just faster. You will recognise similar
runs and licks, only a bit different, but not much. Note that while a lot of examples ended by
going down to the lower register, this one ends going up and staying there.
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6 Playing the Blues

This last set of examples is a full song with melody. This time we use a sort of blues format.
That is to say, the main section of the song consists of 12 bars, with a type of blues
progression (though not quite the standard one) in G major. A bridge is added in Eb major
with a more general jazz feel so as to create some additional variation.

Lets take a look at the chords:
The 12-bar part (A section) constist of
G7, Bb9, C9, G7, Eb9 (or Ebmaj9), D7#9

The bridge (B section) consists of:
Ebmaj9, Bb9sus4, Ebmaj9, Bb9sus4, Ebmaj9, Bb9sus4, Ebmaj9, D7#9

Furthermore it is a repeated AAB scheme.

Obviously the two main key See, there are G and Eb. The melody covers the section in G, the
bridge is left open for ad libbing.
However, the blues section can approached in a real blues fashion, that is, playing in the key
of G, using mostly the mixolydian or even pentatonic scale, with little specific attention to the
various chords, or it can be approached in a more sophisticated jazzy way, taking into account
the chord changes more specifically. The song is such that both approaches are in fact usable,
and in the examplesno rules, you will hear a mix of the two.
The approach taken is roughly as follows. The blues section is played in G, using a mix of a
pentatonic scale, blues riffs and the scale of G mixolydian (key of C). Now and then, but not
always, the Bb7 is played more explicitly, by using Bb mixolydian mode. Similarly, most of
the time the Eb9 is also treated with Eb mixolydian. D7#9 is not really treated in a special
way. Especially because of the #9, i.e. the F, the G mixolydian scale or blues licks in G will
do fine. This is also apparent in the melody.
Now, the melody is basically just G (mixolydian). On the Eb chord, the melody contains a
(long) D at the end. This means that in fact a Ebmaj7 or maj9 is played in stead of and Eb9.
This means that during the song the Eb can in fact be Eb9 or Ebmaj9, implying a Db or D. In
a real playing situation, the soloist would decide how to interpret the Eb chord, and the
accompanist would play the appropriate chord as much as possible. However, when the solist
plays the D, while the chord played is Eb9, this is not too bad, because the overall tonality of
G still dominates the song and the soloists melody line.
So then the overall soloing approach would be as follows:
Play G mixolydian, G pentatonic, or any G blues lick over the A section, and play Eb major
over the B section (exactly like C major in the exercises of chapter 3). Now and then, you
may add some sophistication by playing Bb mixolydian over the Bb9, perhaps even C
mixolydian on C9 (though it makes little difference from G), and Eb major or Eb mixolydian
on Eb(maj)9. There is no definite rule to decide when to do what, that will be determined by
the mood and form of your solo, and whether you prefer a very bluesy sounding solo, or a
more jazz-oriented solo. The examples contain a bit of both, which is also the nature of the
song itself.

6.1 Lesson Blues #1

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First at an easy tempo of 120. Learn to play the main melody at least because it gets you into
the mood of the song and is also a basis for solo ideas. Obviously you can play it in different
positions, whatever feels most comfortable and sounds best. In the example it is played high
up the neck. Note that the first note is E, which implies that the G7 chord is really a G13. The
solo pretty much follows the recipe given above, and tends a little more towards the various
mixolydian scales than the blues riffs, although some bluesy licks appear as well. Notice that
the B section has a different feel and invites a more free flowing kind of soloing, with a
phrasing that is a bit more loosely timed than the A section. At the end, after the last melody,
a section of melody is repeated and used as a theme for some final variations.

6.2 Lesson Blues #2

Next, a tempo of 130 is played. In this tempo, playing to many 8
notes seems to be too slow,
while playing 16
notes is quite fast. So, playing triplets is a good alternative and is done a bit
more here than in the previous example
. The difference in feeling between A and B sections
is emphasized by octave playing in the first B section. .
The example here is played as a real solo, without a particular purpose in mind; it is simply an
example of a real song (though written for this package), giving you the opportunity to play a
complete song, with melody, and ad lib part.
The challenge in this type of song is to find a good balance between blues licks and straight
jazz playing. It is not so easy, but the backing track is a good vehicle for trying out these
different types of soloing.
7 General soloing and practicing tips

Obviously, fluent improvisation needs a lot of practice. But if you know how and what to
practice, you wont be wasting time doing it. Though a lot of tips and pointers have been
given in the previous chapters, there are just a few general things to be reminded of:

Try not to feel rushed, take your time to find the right notes. Space in music is great,
use some space to think (until youve become so proficient you dont have to think at
all, then you can just relax, just waiting for your next brilliant line!). You dont have to
fill each bar, in fact, preferably not! The backing tracks are long enough to give you
time to think, and to try out an idea several times, so do that.
Though easier said then done, try to use many aspects of variation available to you,
dont get obsessed by notes alone, think about time, phrasing, dynamics, structure and
form. You wont be able to all that at once in the beginning, but make sure you dont
forget about them, and take some time to pay attention to all these aspects
individually. When you get the right feel for each of these aspects, you can start
combining them into interesting and personal solos.
Dont feel like youre glued to the chord changes, dont be afraid to anticipate
chords or extend an idea after past chords, in order to build natural sounding phrases.
Dont divide your solo into equal sections, fitting the chords exactly, but play across
chord and chorus boundaries. Dont start all phrases on the first beat. For practice, try
to start each phrase on a different beat. That will help a lot in creating a free-flowing,
natural sounding solo, and not like a chord progression exercise.

Since they are not exact triplets, the notation will not always show real triplets, but something close to it.
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If you have the means, record yourself and listen. Do you like wat you hear, if not,
what dont you like? Are you playing the wrong notes, are you playing the right notes
with bad timing, does your playing sound convincing or like it accidentally came out
that way? Of course a teacher can help you a lot with this analysis, but if you listen
critically, you can decide for yourself what your strong and weak points are and work
on them. And again, dont listen to the notes alone, but listen to how you play them;
quite often thats the forgotten or overlooked part.
Dont practice the same thing too long. Not only is it boring, but it also doesnt work
very well. Practice, then take some time to let it sink in, and practice again some time
later. Like all forms of study, regular study, bits at a time, works a lot better than
cramming it in all at once. Yes, some patience is necessary! If you are very keen on
studying, make sure to vary the exercises.
Dont practice at high tempos too much. You dont have time to think creatively and
critically when you are playing as fast as you can. Practicing fast playing is nice when
you have mastered slow playing!
Try something really unknown now and then; for instance, play a large interval in your
solo, one you may not be very sure of. Then listen and try to continue on that note. In
order to do that, you have to place the last note in the chord in your mind, that is, you
have to try and identify the relation of this last note to the chord it is played over.
When you can do that, you know how to continue. In fact, when you are able to place
a note that you hear in the chord it is played over, you can improvise without knowing
the changes! If you practice this a lot, you can feel your way through an unknown
chord progression, actually finding out what it is while playing. Its like a blind man
feeling for reference points; when you have found a few, you know where to go!
Try singing along with your soloing, it doesnt have to be very accurate. If you can do
that, it means you know what youre doing, if you cant (at all), youre probably just
relying on your knowledge to produce notes. It means the musical connection
between your fingers and your mind is not quite there yet. Thats OK as a start, but
youll want to know what youre playing at some point, an eventually you want to be
able to play what is in your mind. In fact, you will be able then to improvise in your
mind, and imagine how you would play it. A big advantage of singing along is also
that it will keep you from playing musical nonsense, and help you to play clearly and
melodically; it helps to be really aware of what you are playing. If youre a somewhat
decent singer it might even sound very cool!
As a very general last remark: playing straight from your imagination is probably the
ideal, that very few people ever achieve. In practice, you can imagine some things first
and then play them, and sometimes you will have to feed your imagination by playing
things that you already know how to play. Try to be aware of this interaction, so that
you can learn to use both, and feed off each other.

8 Using the Fretboard Visualizer (for Windows)

The Midi Fretboard Visualizer is a VST plugin that allows you to display the midi guitar files
in real time on a guitar fretboard, so that you can see exactly what is being played and how.

The VST plugin needs a host program, which can be any (Windows) audio/midi sequencer
that supports VST instruments (VSTi). All major sequencers support this and even some free
(or very cheap) ones do.
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Assuming you have such a VSTi host program installed, what you need to do is the following:
- install the Fretboard Visualizer by just copying the file midifretboard.dll to the VST
plugins folder of your sequencer; it will automatically be recognized as a VST plugin.
- Start your sequencer/VST host
- Load the guitar midi file you want, you will see one midi track appearing.
- Load the midifretboard plugin from the VST instruments panel or menu of your
- Assign the midi track output to the plugin. Now, when you play the track, you will see
the fretboard displaying the notes played

The VST plugin is only for visualization and does not produce sound. To get sound you have
two options:

Option 1

Load the corresponding mp3 file as well and put the newly created audio track parallel to the
midi track. Now when you play it, you will hear the track playing while you can watch the
notes appearing on the fretboard in real time.
Depending on how your sequencer loads or imports files, you may have to align the midi and
audio track manually, just make sure they have the same starting point. If your sequencer does
not adopt the tempo from the midi file you may have to set it by hand. See the list of tempos
in the appendix if needed.

Option 2

Play the midi using any sound source that can be played with midi from your sequencer, for
instance a sampler plugin, the midi sounds on your sound card or an external sound canvas
etc. Obviously, you would select a jazz guitar sound if available. Using only midi, no audio,
has the advantage that you can play the midi at arbitrary tempo, which makes it easier to
study. It just doesnt sound as nice.
Of course since some examples come with audio backing tracks in different tempos, you
could use those also to play the midi guitar sound, with the audio backing track, setting the
tempo to the appropriate value.

The figure below shows the general setup in Cubase. It should look quite similar in other
sequencer programs.

Make sure the channel settings do not re-channel the midi to one single channel, the plugin must receive all
channels 11-16 as they are in the midi file.
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Once you have set up a track in your sequencer like this, you can of course save it in its own
native format, so that you dont have to set it up again later. A convenient way to do this
could be to include one set of examples with midi/audio files in the same tempo in one
arrangement, so you can easily switch from one the the other. However, it also depends on
your sequencer what would be the most convenient set-up.
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Appendix: Package content

PDF files

Guide to Jazz Guitar Exercises.pdf (main guide)


Exercise #0.pdf
Exercise #1.pdf
Exercise #2.pdf

Lesson Am swing #1.pdf
Lesson Am swing #2.pdf
Lesson Am swing #3.pdf
Lesson Am swing #4.pdf

Lesson Cmaj scale #1.pdf
Lesson Cmaj scale #2.pdf
Lesson Cmaj scale #3.pdf
Lesson Cmaj scale #4.pdf

Lesson Bossa #1.pdf
Lesson Bossa #2.pdf
Lesson Bossa #3.pdf
Lesson Bossa #4.pdf

Lesson Bb #0.pdf
Lesson Bb #1.pdf
Lesson Bb #2.pdf
Lesson Bb #3.pdf

Jazzrock #1.pdf
Jazzrock #2.pdf
Jazzrock #3.pdf

Lesson Blues #1.pdf
Lesson Blues #2.pdf

MP3 files

Exercise #1.mp3
Exercise #2.mp3
Exercise #3.mp3
Exercise #4.mp3

lesson am swing #1.mp3
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lesson am swing #2.mp3
lesson am swing #3.mp3
lesson am swing #4.mp3
lesson am swingbacking.mp3

lesson cmaj scale #1.mp3
lesson cmaj scale #2.mp3
lesson cmaj scale #3.mp3
lesson cmaj scale #4.mp3
lesson cmaj scale-backing.mp3

lesson Bb #0.mp3
lesson Bb #1.mp3
lesson Bb #2.mp3
lesson Bb #3.mp3
lesson Bb 120.mp3 (backing at tempo 120)
lesson Bb 140.mp3
lesson Bb 160.mp3
lesson Bb 180.mp3
lesson Bb 200.mp3

lesson bossa #1.mp3
lesson bossa #2.mp3
lesson bossa #3.mp3
lesson bossa #4.mp3
bossa90.mp3 (backing at tempo 90)

lesson Jazzrock #1.mp3
lesson Jazzrock #2.mp3
lesson Jazzrock #3.mp3
jazzrock60.mp3 (backing at tempo 60)

lesson Blues #1.mp3
lesson Blues #2.mp3

lesson Blues 110.mp3 (backing at tempo 110)
lesson Blues 120.mp3
lesson Blues 130.mp3

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Midi files

Depending on how you load the midi files and audio, beware that you may have to adjust the
position of the midi file to be in sync with the audio file. The midi files contain a low dummy
note at the beginning that marks the start of the audio, to help you align the two if necessary.
(the number in brackets is the sequencing tempo you should use to sync the midi file with the
corresponding audio mp3 file).

exercise #1.mid (120)
exercise #2.mid (120)
exercise #3.mid (120)
exercise #4.mid (120)

lesson am swing #1.mid (140)
lesson am swing#2.mid (140)
lesson am swing#3.mid (140)
lesson am swing#4.mid (140)

lesson cmaj scale #1.mid (120)
lesson cmaj scale #2.mid (120)
lesson cmaj scale #3.mid (120)
lesson cmaj scale #4.mid (120)

lesson Bb #0.mid (120)
lesson Bb #1.mid (120)
lesson Bb #2.mid (120)
lesson Bb #3.mid (160)

lesson bossa #1.mid (110)
lesson bossa #2.mid (110)
lesson bossa #3.mid (110)
lesson bossa #4.mid (140)

lesson Jazzrock #1.mid (70)
lesson Jazzrock #2.mid (70)
lesson Jazzrock #3.mid (70)
lesson Jazzrock #4.mid (90)

lesson Blues #1.mid (120)
lesson Blues #2.mid (130)

VST Plugin


Flash Movie

Jazzexercises introduction.swf
This is only an introduction, that you dont need to start, but is fun to watch and listen to.