~ EMG / jazz guitar / UYM ~

~ first lick / Arrowsmith triads ~

~ single note lines ~

~ lines in octaves ~

~ pepper in the changes ~

~ chord melodies ~

~ Coltranes modern method ~

~ Dr. James B. Miller ~

In a nutshell. The basics of Americana jazz guitar are, in this work, based on just a few of the core basics that make all Americana music Americana. If there's a 'trick' to jazz guitar playing, and there's like a couple of hundred at least, 'the trick' is to initially understand that in jazz playing, we're simply overlaying the various core patterns of scales, arpeggios and chords, atop of one another. Theory confusion often reigns when we try to stack up two or three of these patterns within say a four fret space. And the more patterns we stack up in one general area, the more complex it all gets.

theory confusion

Put this 'theory' into 'play', at say mm = 160 or so, and dig in, hold on, here we go :) This is a very exciting intellectual process. Think of the joy in our hearts and its smiles created by hearing music that swings. Now try to imagine the joy created in your own heart, when you get to be the cat that brings the swing ... to make this magic happen with a snap of the fingers, to bring it and share it, with your own community of listeners.

bring the swing
bring it
a community of listeners

"Space has its own groove and swing."

wiki ~ Wayne Shorter

All artists that jazz up their musics share in this boundless excitement that jazz music creates. For with the jazz it up upgrade, we get to more liberally use everything, all the musical colors our instruments can create. In this primer, 'everything' is brought together under the long term shedding and understanding goal of 'anything from anywhere.'

First jazz guitar theory trick. And when learning anything new, play and learn the bass line first.

Now a first lick. In this next idea, the 'G" major triad outlines its range on our fingerboard. As most of this jazz method is in the relative keys 'G major' and 'E' minor, these pitches and their major triads are some of our initial reference points on our guitars. Example 1.

... think from the root :)


In my era of jazz guitar education, 1980, there were five relative major / minor scale shapes from which all else flowed and followed. Locating these 'G' triads begins our learning process. Established by the jazz guitar kings of those days, these shapes form the academic basis and the foundations of this jazz guitar method.


Jazz improv. Our studies and philosophies which follow here of jazz improvisation mirrors the Americana historical timeline and pathway, covering about a 100 year span starting around 1870. Based on the players and the standard songs they played each decade, the music evolves with each new generation as the younger players come up and write their own new songs, for the generations that are to follow.

Three basic improv evolutions. Essentials breaks this down into three fairly distinct approaches that accumulated over the decades, that combine together to give us a couple of ways we improvise our musics today. First improvise variations on the melody of a song. Once the melody is under our fingers, we just take off from there.

Our second approach is to use the chords and form of a song as the basis. We can 'spell' out the chords and create new melodies that weave through the chord changes. In jazz we often have lots of chords, so lots of possible ways to weave our lines.

Lastly, we apply the most recent historical innovation in Americana improv in the use of pentatonic parent scales for the chords. This opens up the improv beyond the purely diatonic centered, through the changes format. This allows the harmony to evolve through expanding root motion possibilities, eventually leading towards a more seamless, chromatic weave. This 12 tone approach is often the sounds of the modern players today.

That all music was once new is our mantra here. From the pure diatonic to the polytonal stacking of triads and pentatonic cycles and permutations moved in their own cycles, we just want to know what makes it tick. And we do this by thinking from the bass note, on through the chord and into the chosen melody notes.

The 'Essential' studies. The theoretical core of our Americana jazz improvisations all revolves around the way these songs have traditionally been built. While we can and do compose in any order, we mostly end up a melody line of pitches supported by chords, whose cycles or progressions, get motored through time to create a musical form. The root pitches of the chords are connected to form the bass line. The melody pitches carry the poetry of words that tells the story. All combined up, the 'finished' musical story captures the emotional essence of the artist's statement.

The basis. We use this melody / chords / bass line / time building process to backbone the whole improv tamale here. Theory termed 'diatonic', the ideas for jazz improvisation which follow, and the stepped curriculum included, means that we will be looking to understand the relationship between the melody note, the chord that supports it, and the bass line of the progression that forms the song. We'll be thinking from the root of the chord and build up from there.

In a nutshell. Those that find their way to jazz guitar inherit an opportunity to understand and utilize the full spectrum of our modern resource; 12 pitches that are each equally capable of centering a full diatonic palette of colors while encouraging any chromaticism between pitches. So key center balance and form with flashes of its blues and beyond too. That the improv nature of jazz encourages the 'borrowing' between diatonic palettes coupled with the modulatory nature of the literature gives us full range of challenges.

Throw in brighter tempos, soloing through the changes, and jazz's inclusionary nature of style and form, and we create a curriculum of discovery that can easily span a career's worth of study and creative energies. Then there's the shedding to get the music under our fingers and sharing the joy of working the magic.

This jazz guitar method presented here is a collaboration from players I was able to study with early on. Most of what follows is rote learning of how the instrument provides the 12 equal tempered pitches that create our blue notes, scales, arpeggios and chords. What makes music jazzy include; rhythms, time and swing, color tones and the further divvying up of the the diatonic pie, and playing with the expectations of where the music 'sounds like it is going.'

This method is combined from a few sources that recommended similar approaches to developing the resources. Segovia from the classical side, Joe Pass and Johnny Smith for scales and arpeggios, chords from J.S. Bach, Jim Miller and Ted Greene.

Beginning improvisation and chord melody ideas from Jim Miller. Near everything included is in root position, thinking from the root pitch, there are links in the following discussions to inversions of various lineages. Explore as your own curiosity demands knowing that ... 'if we think from the root we'll never get lost.'

wiki ~ Joe Pass
wiki ~ Johnny Smith

Jazz guitar and swing. And while teaching someone how to swing is tricky, teaching what swing is, the physical sensation of 'swing in musical time', is fairly easy. We each of us then just gots to find our own way to work the time magic, which generally means working a bit, or a lot, with a metronome. Learning the swing feel of the monsters we dig that came before us, and then making it into our own unique way to swing, is the tried and true method, and is for all of the fine arts really :)

"Learn your horn, forget it and play jazz." An idea of the iconic jazz artist Charlie Parker, who sat right in the middle of a blistering groove and revolutionized the artform in the 1940's. For when we apply our jazzy improv ideas and timings to a song of any style, there's just a lot of ways to put our own signature on it, make it our own to share. For jazz guitar is chock full of challenges, that when met make for a rather exciting music to behold and share, created by an incredibly exciting thought process coupled with an exhilarating physical sensation of pure joy. And that we get in one sense to make it all up as we go along ices the cake :)

Fingerings. This idea of learning and forgetting might also apply to fingerings for learning the various colors. For while there's some definite ways to finger certain elements, retain the flexibility to say to yourself; 'this lick is unplayable with my normal fingerings.' And this might be especially true of finding the best way for each of us to play bebop lines. Remember, these are saxophone lines so they've a whole different challenge when played on a guitar or any stringed instrument really.

Decades ago now a true friend here in town called me and invited me to come over to behold our favorite jazz guitar player perform on a video they found in the $1 box at the video rental store. An hour or so later we both were completely and thoroughly stunned by the myriad of different hand / fingering technique's this jazz master guitar player utilized in getting out all of their ideas.

Rapid one finger horizontal moves, thumb over the top for root pitches of chords, a right hand pick hold method that we'd never seen before, a blurring left hand ... you get the idea. So moral of this story ... whatever fingerings needed for ya to make the noises you're looking to make are probably the right one's for you.

Technique is important of course and in certain spots of the music it'll more than feed the bulldog. But there will be times when a 'proper' sort of fingering just might not work, so we have to adjust and be flexible to the music and its own unique performance demands. Finding a way to play a lick of music correctly is going to be playing the lick successfully. Another of the musical puzzles we love? Yep ... for those so inclined yes.

Author's note. Nearly all of what follows is from a major key perspective. That four songs of the 50 that are included in the Omnibook are in a major key is my justification in all of this. Most any other jazz real book follows along similar lines; nine out of 10 songs start and finish in a major key. So if you totally dig Gregorian chants, or are a reggae artist crossing over, this 'major key perspective' might rub a bit. Sorry. I just have to go along the mainstream in this, for to try and write of both perspectives I probably might not ever get finished.

The nut in the shell. For most of us mortal, sentient beings, getting some jazz guitar under our fingers will take a while. All depending on one's ability to commit and put in the hours of shedding, a year or so is not uncommon. During this evolutionary time we get a parallel sort of study that strengthens us in a couple of key ways; hearing the form, playing through the changes and chord substitution / parent scale relationships. This all comes together in playing the 12 bar blues.

For there is a wide range of options with our most essential of musical forms, and all the shedding we do here will apply to two two basic components of Americana guitar; blues and its evolution into jazz. That historically there's a ton of blues in jazz is well documented, though not so sure about today's scene. Regardless, that on the road to becoming a stronger jazz guitar player we strengthen our blues playing, which combined should just about cover the whole Americana spectrum in regards to getting work in the various styles and genres that still fill the dance floor on any given night in any given town globally :)

Evolution of the ear. So much of a players evolution into jazz guitar, at least academically, revolves around what an artist will 'accept' as a workable color in the common musical situations found in all of our styles of Americana music. And the lion's share of this 'evolution of the ear' revolves around V7, the dominant chord and all its potentials and possibilities to create some tension and obscure the tonal and artistic direction of where the music is going.

For sure there's a lot of coloring we can do with any and all chords, but V7 has its own systemic evolution allowing for near endless substitution. When we add in the evolution of jazz styles into this mix, that a V7 type of chord eventually becomes every chord in our progressions, there's just no end to the machinations of color combinations for the impassioned artist. Again the bottom line here; we each as artists must accept that a particular chord 'works' in a particular spot. And for up and coming cats, this can be challenging as they define their own way in the music. Nothing worse or more apparent than a 'wrong chord' when things are grooving right along.

And surely style and 'style of ___ ' plays a role in all of this. Dixieland players are probably not looking to employ tritone subs or other b2 / 'b9' colors in their weave. That is, if they want to sound legit as a Dixieland guitarist I'd imagine. Just as Bop players will probably not use an open 'C 7' chord when heading to Four. Examine an evolution of V7 through some of its basic basic metamorphi' on our way to jazz style chords.

Pitch letter names. No better time than the present to learn the letter names of the pitches. Rote learn them up and they will be yours forever. Struggling with letter names of the pitches is akin to not really knowing the alphabet when reading and spelling etc. You'll be glad you did when you get a lesson with a pro who has some coolness to share and is helping you find the 'pitches in between.' Here's a chart to help. Example 1.

Ye old 'box' scale. Not sure just how popular this label is these days, but wayback when, this idea of a 'box' scale was very common among players. This is the main shape for creating most of our Americana musics. All of the songs on the melody page use this one shape. The 'four fingers / four frets technique is built right into its four fret span. There's a very easy chromatic shape within, whole tone half tone too. There's a nice movable whole tone pattern. And of course, this is the blues shape from all the way back that most of start with. Learn it here if need be. 'C' and 'A minor box scale / 5th position. Example 2.

Jazz harmony / chord type. In examining diatonic harmony in general and in these discussions the jazz stylings, there's two ideas to add into the mix; first is that most jazz chords, like in the blues, will include a 7th above the triad. Two; and perhaps this is the more important idea here; that any chord in our galaxy of harmony belongs to one of three families of chord types. Termed tonic / One, dominant / Five and Two, these three families of chords together create the Two / Five / One cadential motion, so essential to the performance of many many many jazz standards.

Chord type simply is defined by chord quality; is the triad major or minor and what type of 7th is included. There's a bit of wiggle needed here; is the song and its chords written in a major or minor key center? By being flexible, we can if we so choose, categorize any chord as one of the three types.

What we gain in this is for a wide array of chords that will generally have the same function within a song. Thus we explode our palette of colors and open into a new realm of possible substitutions. Add in the 'b9 / diminished chord' multiple resolving properties and we can stay bizzy for a while coming up with new solutions to the same old same old :) Cool ?

Half step lead in. For jazz guitar, this one 'technique' can get a whole lot of mileage. Simple in idea and hopefully doable with some practice, it goes like this; whatever is coming along next in the music, usually a pitch or chord, we approach the 'target' pitch or chord from a half step below ... or above our target note. So 'Ab' up by half step to 'A', 'Db' down by half step to 'C.' The idea that follows; a 'tritone sub', is probably the most common of our 'half step lead in' for playing rhythm / chord parts in jazz and blues. The trick to the magic of the half step motions ? Timing :) This next idea is all jazz guitar and the evolving modern guitarist.

Four becomes Two / the tritone sub. There's two parts to this understanding process; shifting our most common cadential motion from Four / Five / One to Two / Five / One. In this Four becomes Two. The second part is finding the tritone sub; which we locate from the Five chord and pair with Two in a chord progression to One.

As a super theory game changer for the jazz guitarist, getting hip to the tritone sub is on par with getting hip to spelling triads and chords with color tones, the diatonic 3 and 3, finding 2 and 4 and counting into a clicking metronome. Coolness with the tritone sub in that we probably already know root pitch motion and various chord shapes. We've just got to understand the relationships and we're golden for good :)

This is one chalupa you don't want to drop :) As things evolved over the decades, and while the Four chord has retained its preeminent place in most of our styles and of course is the core of our Americana gospel love, in jazz progressions, the sleeker Two chord emerges in the early 1940's to better accommodate the brisker tempos, thus the quicker and wider range of modulations in any styles leaning to bop, hard bop or post bop, and generally forward historically from there.

wiki ~ hard bop
wiki ~ post bop

These are the styles of jazz often studied and mastered in academia, with bop (bebop) being perhaps the most performance challenging of the Americana jazz styles to ever be created. Even compared to today's chromatic buzz? Maybe, depending.

wiki ~ academia
wiki ~ jazz standards

Harmonically the 'buzz' might be trickier, but hard to tell if the cats blowing are actually inside the changes. Seriouso boppers play 'correctly' through fast moving yet mostly diatonic chord progressions and both diatonic and altered color tone extensions, i.e., which create the 'blue hue.' For just like Bach and his contemporaries, every pitch needs to be accounted for, very little (like next to zero pitches) goes on outside the changes. Not sure if that can be said for the modernistas of today. Their music is fast tempo'd and leans chromatic, thus the 'blur' that becomes the buzz so challenging to hear the changes in the line.

Getting some, or a lot of 'bop under our fingers', or more accurately any jazzy music 'standards' from the 40's onward, Two / Five is the harmonic cell and motion to be understood, eventually mastered and even exhausted and then further down the road the boredom energizes evolution.

Examine the pitches. Of course while Four is still a popular modulation destination in jazz, chances are we'll use a Two chord via Five to get there :) The key to this evolution? In 'C' major, examine how the diatonic major triad built on Four, becomes a minor triad with a 7th, from the second scale degree, Two; so 'F' major triad over a 'D' root pitch. Did we just create a minor 7th chord? We did :) Got the yellow caution out for this stgc'er :) Example 3.

scale degrees
scale pitches
arpeggio degrees
arpeggio pitches
arpeggio degrees
arpeggio pitches

So which to use, Two or Four? In jazz music, and depending on the era, the Two / Five / One motion probably wins the day overall. In these three chords we get our three main 'types' of chords, further streamlining the learning process.

So might we apply this idea to other chords as well? Simply change the root of the chord by finding the next lowest pitch in the arpeggio? Or even the one above it? Absolutely. Shifting arpeggio start points makes for serious shedding. And of course we have the chord inversions, that process in which each of the three pitches of the triad can be the lowest pitch of the chord.

What we gain w/ tritone sub. Once we swap Two for Four and apply the tritone sub' to V7, we get a chromatic motion in the bass, potentially accelerating the sense of things even a bit further. So ... sleeker, faster is more chromatic? Yep, being a half step away is the closest we can to being there ... yet not quite yet there too :) 'G13' tritone subs into 'Db9', (G to Db is a tritone interval). Example 3a.

C major diatonic chords
tritone substitute
ii / V / I
ii / b II / I

Just this last bit of theory is a ton of potential resource in a couple of key ways. We double the number of available Two / Five cells with the tritone sub addition. The half step lead in root motion can be a true swing accelerator, really beyond any other chordal motion. We get five basic Two / Five pairings, one from each of the five scale shapes which follow.

That Two / Five happens so much in performing standards, learning this might be a jazz guitar 'must', one very worthwhile as the swing is built right in :) It totally changed my development nearly overnight ... hopefully if you're not yet hip till now, it just might for you too.

wiki ~ jazz standards

Jazz guitar; five scale shapes / arpeggios / modes. The Essentials jazz guitar method is based on an interlocking pattern of five unique scale shapes. Each of the shapes is a couple of frets wide so all combined we get a fingerboard roadmap for all of our diatonic key centers, the 12 relative major and minors, all their modes, the arpeggios and chords, the blues elevator is in these shapes of course as is the expansion of the first box scale to include four more, so 5 total. Surely there can be more, but these five will feed the bulldog.

You decide ... :) The five scale shapes which follow should be committed to long term, rote memory with lots of muscle memory thrown in for good measure. For once established, we'll shed another couple of layers of coolness from the shapes. So, I took them one at a time up and down the neck. Then played trough all 12 keys in localized positions. Then the interval studies followed by diatonic arpeggios. All combined, it's a year or so worth of steady shedding to begin to master, but the long term benefits are limitless. So, choose and decide how the resources get under your fingers, for there's no real right way, just whatever works best depending on what you are bringing to this jazz guitar method.

Shape #1 for G major, the 'arpeggio' shape. This first shape I call the arpeggio shape as it has a nicely symmetrical tonic arpeggio right down the middle. Examine this two octave diatonic major scale shape, get it under your fingers if necessary here and start to run the shape chromatically up and down the neck, keeping track of root pitches / key centers. Starting off on the major seventh pitch of the G major scale and exhausting everything diatonic in the four fret span. Example 4.

Starting off on the leading tone F# and simply finding all of the pitches of G major in this one localized position. The closing Five (D) / One (G) is ancient and as solid a way to close a line we get. Here's the arpeggio shape from which I name this shape. Example 4a.

Cool huh? Smooth shape for sweep picking? Absolutely. It get's us right up to the Nine colortone in a hurry too ! We'll see this ladder shaped critter again for certain.

Two / Five One shapes for scale shape # 1. Let's find the movable Two / Five / One chord shapes within scale pattern #1. Example 4b.

Shape #2 for G major, the 'Two chord' shape. As it's nickname implies, this shape has a ton or two of the blues jazz world's Two chord Dorian flavor. 'Built right in' to the scale shape as folks used to say. While a fairly friendly scale shape fingering wise, a bit of a shift here or there as your chops desire. Fingerings eventually become more situational to a melody line and surely how fast the music goes along. Faster tempos require more thought to how a slight shift is best achieved. Faster tempos makes easier for booboo's so need more planning. This is especially true of bebop lines.

Find these pitches with notes and tab, click the music to hear core Dorian's minor modal magic right from the first few notes. Run this shape / pattern up and down the neck to rote learn the shape. Starting off on the major second pitch of the G major scale and exhausting everything diatonic to G major in the five fret span. Example 5.

Find the G major scale within the shape? Pitch and theory wise probably more A Dorian ... ? Who cares really as we've now got a solid link between shape #1 and #3, there's a super solid G triad right in the middle of this one, with G major still in ascendant :)

In this next idea we use the easy Two chord DNA of this scale shape to create a jazzy sorts of improv melody line and resolve to G major. So, thinking Two / Five / One in 'G', or A-7 / D7b9 / G major 7 and ending up back around shape #1. Example 5a.

Well kind of got carried away as we ended up back in shape # 1. Oh well that'll happen. Man do those arpeggios ever do tell the harmonic tale. Hip to b9 yet? Oh, and are the chords in the last idea movable shapes too? Indeed they are; root position chords that go to wherever we need them up and down the fingerboard.

Arpeggios from scale shape # 2. Very similar to the above idea, maybe a bit more academic and closer to what shape # 2 provides. Note Roman numerals. Also, the 'hidden 6th shape' appears for the tonic # 11 idea. Example 5b.

Two / Five One shapes for scale shape # 2. Let's find the movable Two / Five / One chord shapes within scale pattern #2. Adding a 9th to Two, a common enough jazz color, and getting new brand shapes for Five and One. Example 5c.

Lest we be remiss ... Sure enough there's a key diatonic half diminished chord here to be discovered, illuminated and linked. Actually two movable shapes, as we'll stretch a bit and move up towards shape # 3 to borrow our root pitch, from the next piece of our fret board puzzle. Building from Seven in 'G' major, a couple of nice, root position movable F# -7b5's keepers arpeggiated and resolved. Example 5d.

And the balance. Let's resolve these half diminished chords to the relative minor side of 'G major / E minor.' Example 5e.

Diatonic two in minor. So with all the talk of major this and that, most songs are in major etc., lest we forget that the diminished triad and its extension to 'half diminished 7th' is the diatonic chord built on Two of the natural minor. Well worth exploring for those so inclined as this color finds its way into all sorts of coolness throughout our Americana songbook.

wiki ~ Americana songbook

Shape #3, the 'gospel butter' shape. What? Gospel and butter? Yea, I just can't decide which so I glue them together. For this scale shape is as happening as they get. As just a lazy, spoilt guitar player, if everything fits into a neat four bar package then I'm all for it. And this shape surely does. Starting off on the major third pitch of the G major scale and exhausting everything diatonic in its four fret span. Example 6.

Familiar? Cool. See the exact same arpeggio shape as from example 1a from above? Lots and lots of folk / country / bluegrass artists use this one shape down in open position where its shape sounds out the pitches of C major. Tons of miles in this for all of our styles really. The blues? Yes with some variations of course :)

Regardless, it's a real burner for a lot of cats and super buttery for a lot of Americana melody coolness. In this next idea we simply sequence the pitches of the shape in thirds creating a commonly heard melodic idea throughout the literature. Basic G major scale motion descending in 3rds. Example 6a.

Sound familiar? Really a very common idea through most of our styles. Of course, the thirds are big players in our theory scheming; melodies, arpeggios, chords, major or minor, advanced harmonic cycles. On and on really ... just knowing about them and being curious, we end up bumping into them just about everywhere in our musics.

Arpeggios from scale shape # 3. By thinking numerical and chord type, these four arpeggios are keepers for sure. The first is a tonic staple, which also shapes the basic launch pad to #15. The minor Two in the second measure is right back to the tonic arpeggio up top. Now starting on the second scale degree. Modal? Yep right up to 11. Measure three has a vanilla V7 shape, but remember there's a diminished / b9 scale shape right underneath here in shape # 3. The fourth bar is a straight up minor 7th arpeggio, so either a Two or tonic. Again, all are keepers really. Consider rote memorizing a shape you dig and then running it chromatically up and down the neck to lock it in, keeping track of roots pitches etc. Example 6b.

Of course we forgot at least one arpeggio shape. What was I thinking ... :) This 'butter' shape is ... just can't say enough but the magics within. Perhaps the most overlooked of our colors are the diatonic half diminished arpeggios and chords created from Seven of the major scale and Two of the relative minor. These two 'half diminished' shapes are sure keepers, lots of miles in these for those so resource directed. Both live snugly within this buttery shape. Example 6c.

Cool sound and a fairly doable fingering yes? There's a side of jazz guitar that's about control of sounding the notes. That every note gets a finger and a pitch, hypothetically anyway. This way, whatever gets sounded is supposed to get sounded :)

What happens is as the color tones are added to colors and we mix into other instruments when making the music, we just want to be sure that each pitch we chime in with, is fairly directed and intended. Four finger / four frets, chord voicings such as the F# -7b5, where each of the four pitches can get a finger to themselves. That the A-7b5 is the upper part of D9 probably means a flat fingered approach to the upper three pitches. So 'two for a nickel' from the one butter shape.

Two / Five One shapes for scale shape # 3. Let's find the movable Two / Five / One chord shapes within scale pattern #3. Wow, three new shapes. The 'D7 adds 9 and 13, thus qualifies for one of Doc's Hollywood chords. Example 6d.

These shapes are tricky fingerings for sure. But there's a trick to solving the tricky for certain. Get the A-7 shape, strum it once. Move to the D7 shape, strum it once. Find the A- shape, strum it once. Move to D7 etc. Repeat as many times as needed.

Shape #4 for G major, the 'bossa' shape. As in the Latin bossa nova style? Yep. For there's a 'major 9' chord shape built into this scale shape that owns the warmth of the original core bossa feel. With an alternating bass? Yep, One and Five just a string away. Here's the scale shape first, again G major starting on its 4th pitch 'C', stretching a wee bit to cover all of what is available in this position. Example 7.

wiki ~ Latin bossa nova

Tricky fingering? Don't fight it really. How a 'thing' gets played is all about where we find it, how fast, what follows etc. Chances are we won't ever really need the whole shape most of the time. Focus on locating the notes of the group, their letter names. That said, there's a fingering hand solution to this next chord, find the root with your middle finger and the rest should fall right into place. Same finger alternates our bass pitches. Here's the 'major 9' chord voicing that lives in the middle of major scale shape #4 with an alternating One / Five bossa bass motion. Example 7a.

Handy bass motion huh? Yes the alternating bass is a big part of the bossa pocket. So the chord shapes come right out of these five scale shapes? Yep, many many do indeed. And if the shapes are movable are the chords all movable too? Pretty much. And if the scale shapes generate the chords then their arpeggios must be in there too? And of course movable? Yep, yep, yep the stars align. The whole tamale on the way to jazz guitardom?

Arpeggio shapes for scale shape # 4. Got two keepers here for sure. The first is a bit of a blast off as we aurally get up to the #11 colortone to sound 'correct.' We'd be remiss not to slip in the tonic / #11 voicing right here too. This is a super keeper for some artists in many many many ways. First is the commonality of the chord shape itself. If it looks like a barre chord on five strings, right on. No? Quick cruise through the 'evolution of chord shapes' will get you hip right quick.

Second is the proximity for swapping root notes from the lower root pitches 'G', as notated here, so 'D', right below it. So what is it now? Second inversion G maj 9 #11? Or a D 6/9 maj 7th? An 'A' major triad over 'G?' Or even leave both off and we've a minor 9 / 11 sus chord of sorts from the now lowest pitch 'B' or an 'A' triad ober 'B.' Crazy yea but very cool and can be confusing, just more puzzles to sort out as our understanding evolves.

And the 'A' minor lick? See the outer sort of arc of dots at the top of the shape? Find that 'C' on top at the 8th fret with the index finger, a perfect balance point to smite this one with authority ... meaning fast? Yea, jazz music likes to go fast thus we jazz guitar players likes to go fasts too :) Example 7b.

Two / Five One shapes for scale shape # 4. Let's find the movable Two / Five / One chord shapes within scale pattern #4. Wow, three new shapes. The 'D' 7 in the middle adds 9 and 13 ... thus qualifies for one of Doc's Hollywood chords. Example 7c.

These three jazz chord shapes are among our most common of our Two / Five One progressions. The Two and One chords give us the alternating 'bossa bass' very easily. The Two chord is the shape that covers the basic bass line pattern for "Take Five", an ostinato pattern to motor things along in the A section of its 32 bar form. The D 13 is used in the blues too and without its root pitch (I know ... think from the root), is one V7 chord type shape to be examined for coolness for your work, and if worthy, thoroughly mastered. Here's the evolution of the one Five chord shape into three. Example 7d.

wiki ~"Take Five"

So from the one voicing we make two more by slight shifts of pitches and moving the pitches down to a lower set of strings. Very common way of finding new coolness. The second and third shapes, especially with a bass player on the gig, are just too handy to not have under the fingers for the evolving modern guitarist. Do learn and master them here if need be.

Shape #5 for G major, the 'blues and butter shape.' Saving the best for last? Pretty much depending. For this last idea is oftentimes the first scale shape many of us first learn when starting to make the magic. Here's the basis center of it all reduced to its five pitch pentatonic core for both major and minor, placed at the 5th fret creating C major and A minor. Example 8.

Look familiar? Pretty sure that A minor pattern was the first one I learned. And the C major is the shape used for creating all of the melodies in the 'by ear' songs sections? Tis' is indeed, well after adjustments that is. Such as? Well, to make the 'blues and butter' we need the tritone color too. Add it in shall we? Sure. A one pitch, octave splitting tritone for the blues and a two pitch, tritone interval to make the butter. Example 8a.

So 'X' marks the tritone spots? Surely they do amigo, for both the blues and major scale colors come right forth when sounded with their five pitch basis. As this theory is also a 'super theory game changer', better split these up for clarity of discussion. Here's the full blues shape. Example 8b.

Look at all the black dots ! Wow, that all got thick in a hurry. So with the blues scale, at least here in Essentials and for emerging artists mostly, this one scale shape is the core of it all. Fully movable, we just move it where we need in terms of keys and chord changes of a song. In the olden days cats called it a 'box' scale. We can initially evolve our blues vocabulary of ideas by finding a lick from the box, then simply relocating that idea to other spots on the neck with the exact same pitches. Rarely will they have all of the black dots as shown above :)

What we discover oftentimes is that the same idea in different spots evolves; might sound a bit different, higher or lower in pitch, lends itself to other fingerings thus embellishments, surely other string bends and double stops associated with the same pitches. For the cats reading here who have the mojo to take blues licks right off their records, i.e., transcribing, finding the exact spot where they hear the idea is just part of the coolness of their discovery and surely ties into the way the blues has always been passed from one generation to the next.

Arpeggios from scale shape # 5. By thinking numerical and chord type, these four arpeggios are keepers for sure. The first is a tonic staple, which also shapes the basic launch pad to #15. The minor Two in the second measure is right back to the tonic arpeggio up top. Now starting on the second scale degree. Modal? Yep right up to 11. Measure three has a vanilla V7 shape, but remember there's a diminished / b9 scale shape right underneath here in shape # 3. The fourth bar is a straight up minor 7th arpeggio, so either a Two or tonic. Again, all are keepers really. Consider rote memorizing a shape you dig and then running it chromatically up and down the neck to lock it in, keeping track of roots pitches etc. Example 8c.

Even with the one pitch off the 'four finger four fret' perfection, this shape, and really top to bottom and vice versa, gets the bulk of the work for Americana melody and soloing. And for any blues based blowing, shape #5 is probably the hands down all time winner. Remember, it has the core shape for 'E' blues too as the paired up relative to G major.

Two / Five One shapes for scale shape # 5. Let's find the movable Two / Five / One chord shapes within scale pattern #5. Wow, three new shapes again ! The A-7 is the open chord A- up one octave and barred. The D7 is on the vanilla side of things jazz but common in the blues. The tonic, G 6/9, while still wholly diatonic, moves into the quartile possibilities of creating chords in stacked 4th's as opposed to the 3rd's of tertian harmony. Example 8d.

Some octave closure here from the A -7 chord; same shape as the open voicing now moved up one full octave. The D7 shape is an old timey blues chord that 'collapses' right into a diminished shape, which we would simply call a common tone diminished, sharing the common root pitch 'D.' While this is an early early blues lick, from the 30's even, jazzers picked up on it and will use this diminished color as a temporary One chord, to mix things up a bit and delay 'a bit further' the impending resolution. Pianist Bill Evans had a knack for this 'extending things along' in his trio format collaborations.

Quick review. Here's a quick and condensed review of the five scale shapes and associated Two / Five / One chords. This one pic might be worth printing and posting for easy reference. Example 8e.

'20 shapes and down the road.' Depending on what music you're working on, performing etc., getting these 20 root position movable shapes (5 x 4 ) fluid should feed the bulldog for the foreseeable future. Throw in 12 keys and our number jumps to 240 shapes and chords to play songs in a chosen key center. If you're cool at this level in whatever way, and are additional 'ascensions in understanding' for jazz guitar, the links here expand on using these core 20 pieces of a puzzle.

So ... if we had a sixth shape. Well, since we're past the octave 'double dot' it just turns out that we're back to our starting point but now up one full octave; so our scale shape #1 would be the next in our puzzle of the the five shapes. After one then two, then three to four etc. They're a loop of five shapes that span the one octave and puzzle like this in the relative keys of 'G' major and 'E' natural minor. In this next idea we use the starting bass pitch of each shape to ascend the frets. Example 9.

So for real, this is just one way to conquer this puzzle. There's many many additional approaches to this; additional shapes, always having three pitches per string, wider spans and there must be more. As we'll see in solving the next two puzzles, these five shapes have and will continue to feed the bulldog :)

The presentation of the scales shapes and their number sequence represents the relative key centers of G major and E natural minor, leaving 11 other key centers to be examined. So can we start at different points in the cycle, following the sequence and find the other keys? Yep, that is exactly how this system works.

Following the cycle of fifths to organize our keys, the following sequences of scale shapes create the following key centers over the first octave range of our fingerboard. Here presented in a numerical shorthand of sorts, click their link to go to their full presentation as key centers, their pitches, arpeggios and chords and sequencing of the five shapes. Example 9a.


In the following idea we look at the 12 relative key centers and puzzle out the five movable shapes to find their pitches over the first octave of the fingerboard. Open shapes with open strings are omitted here. The open circle notes are the root pitches of the major key associated with each group. Example 9b.

key center

scale shape sequence

C major / A minor

4 5 1 2 3

G major / E minor

1 2 3 4 5

D major / B minor

3 4 5 1 2

A major / F# minor

5 1 2 3 4

E major / C# minor. Open circles are for the pitch E, root of the major scale. Locate your C#'s in these shapes and they will be yours forever.

B major / G# minor

4 5 1 2 3

F# ~ Gb major / D# ~ Eb minor

1 2 3 4 5

Db major / Bb minor

3 4 5 1 2

Ab major / F minor

5 1 2 3 4

Eb major / C minor

2 3 4 5 1

Bb major / G minor

4 5 1 2 3

F major / D minor

2 3 4 5 1

C major / A minor

3 4 5 1 2

So that's the whole tamale for our ancient diatonic scale run through equal temper tuning to create our modern pitch resource. Actually, our guitar's early ancestor the lute, whose fret positioning is measured into place by the mathematics of what is termed 'the rule of 18', had this same 12 key pitch ability. According to a method book credited to the father of famed astronomer Galileo, the lute, of say the 1550's, had equal temper tunings ability; anything from anywhere? Yep, any lick, ditty, riff scale, arpeggio, chord and beyond equally available from the original 12 pitches as brought forth by Pythagoras. Nice.

One at a time. Now take each shape individually and run it up and down the neck noting key centers and their pitches etc. Did you get to all the letter names / pitch locations up top? Cool. This 'one at a time up and down the neck' rote learns the shapes. Simply move shape # 1 chromatically up and down the neck. Lock in and muscle memory the shape. This sort of practice / exercise / work is what is commonly termed shedding.

Follow through with the other 4 shapes. Now take each of the remaining four shapes and one by one, run them up and down the fingerboard, noting key centers etc., to rote learn / muscle memory each shape. This basic 'shape shedding' is months of work for most of us. Decades ago I helped a metal artist through this basic shedding. Six weeks later the cat was on to generating the intervals and arpeggios from each pitch in each shape. An amazing talent and intellect. Using the five shapes for the intervals and arpeggios is the next phase of the shedding, once the basic shapes are in place.

Keeping it local. Once the five shapes are locked in a bit, try finding all 12 major keys in a localized position. In this next idea, look to hang right around 5th position; the 5th fret, and get through all 12 key centers. Some shifting and drifting to nearby frets for sure, but just as we say; 'trying to keep it local.' Example 10.

Stem to stern. Run this idea stem to stern, up and down the neck, just be creative and find your own ways; 'grist for the mill.' There's surely other solutions to all of this madness, find your own way. Finding some 'go to' spots of pitches you dig? "There's probably some money in those frets for ya."

All on the one string. Ever hear and dig those monster violin masters who play those cool and exhilarating runs up that seeming rather small and fragile neck yet fill a concert hall with a sound that makes 'ya wanna cry?' Well me too and then I got to see Pat Metheny a couple of times in concert and thought wow, that's how they do that :) So in this next idea, we simply play a 'G' major scale from top to bottom on just the one high 'E' string. And as we descend we realize that if we stop anywhere along the way, that thanks to the five shapes, we've a whole mess of pitches in 'G', right there in that location. Plus, all that comes along with the shape; scales, modes, intervals, arpeggios, chords and blue notes. Crazy I know but man does racing up and down on just the one string electrify the joint, trust me :) Example 11.

wiki ~ Pat Metheny

Again ... stem to stern. Run this idea stem to stern, up and down the neck, just be creative and find your own ways; 'grist for the mill.' And with the looping nature of the five shapes, we get this melodic strategy in all 12 keys too; major and minor, all the modes, intervals, arpeggios and chords. Jazz guitar ... what's not to love ?
wiki ~ jazz guitar

Finding the intervals. With the five basic shapes under your fingers, begin the interval studies. These are endless and evolve into the idea of permutation of an idea created from a couple of pitches, at least to start. Click over to explore more. Here's an example of shape # 3, the 'butter' shape in diatonic 3rd's. Example 12.

Finding the arpeggios. Follows along with the last entry of shedding the intervals, here we find a diatonic 7th chord arpeggio from each pitch of a shape. Do work through all five shapes at least a time or two. For some shapes yield blazing arpeggios, some don't ... some fingers are stubby, some slender etc. That down the road as we advance, don't ever be too surprised to find a gem today when back in the day ... 'there was no money in those frets.' :) Example 13.

There's a flip side to these interval and arpeggio studies; just alternating directions of the pitches. Example 13a.

Americana 12 tone. Let's get that old box scale out and find some coolness. The Americana 12 tone is the 7 pitches of the diatonic scale plus the 5 blue notes, which form up their own pentatonic scale. Here in 5th position thinking various things 'C.' Example 14.

So we get 7 diatonic notes in the major scale and the five left over are the blue notes, that also form their own penatonic scale loop. Root relations? You guessed it;polar opposites on the cycle of 5th's, 'C' and 'Gb', 'just a tritone away from your nearest dissonance.'

tritone magics
cycle of 5th's

Find the chromatic shape within. Same spot and everything, but now looking for all 12 pitches in and around 5th position. Example 14a.

A wee bit of magic ... It takes time but eventually the jazz language will / could / should / might or not as the case might be ... gradually tend to the chromatic for the modern guitarist. As we chromaticize our diatonic lines, the gravity of tonality slips away and we be free from the confines of the bar lines and the predictability they often bring. So ... depending on the styles you dig, this may or may not be the direction you be going. You choose :).

"I don't know if Charlie Parker was the first to use chromatic ideas in his blues lines, but he sure was the King of doing it."

wiki ~ Herb Ellis

Find the fully diminished shape within. Same spot and everything, but now looking for the eight pitches of the diminished scale from the chromatic group above. And while this may look like a 'C' diminished scale it's not. Note the 'G' root pitch designated by the open circles. Why this is so is a whole 'nother conversation for sure. Here and now, just marvel at the coolness of the symmetrical shape that is a fully movable diminished grouping of pitches. Example 14b.

Depending on how you evolve in your musics, this last diminished shape can be a game changer for sure for a couple of reasons. First, that the minor 3rd symmetry of the diminished group will perfectly invert its pitches every three frets. So this shape as written in the last example will have the same pitches when located on the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 11th frets. They just have different starting pitches, 'E', 'G', 'Bb' and 'Db' respectively. Thus empowered, we get a nice potential of mixing this shape within the five of our relative major / minor groups.

Second, that in theory, each diminished scale has four pairs of tritones, while the fully diminished 7th chords will each have two. These tritone pairs create the resolving tension within any V7 chord, or a as a single note, is the #4 / b5 blue note. As we saw above with the tritone sub, we can flip a tritone and get a new V7 chord of a different root pitch, thus a diatonic resolution to a new key center. So with a diminished chord, two tritones in the one group, we've four possible resolutions, eight if we're thinking of the combined relative major and minor key center resolutions.

All of this 'myriad of tritone tensions' becomes the theory basis of chord substitution. For here and now, just the shape and such if it is new to you is where we start for jazz performance on guitar, for chances are we'll not use nor find it in any prominent way in any of our other Americana styles.

Find the whole tone shape within. Same spot and everything, but now looking to extract the six pitches of the whole tone scale from the chromatic group of pitches from the same locale on our fingerboard; 5th position. Example 14c.

Filling out the shape. Same locale on our fingerboard just filling out the shape to include more localized pitches. Example 14d.

This shape, and various pieces we can discover within, are all fully movable. All of the pitches are a whole step apart, thus every two frets becomes a possible location and motion in creating our ideas.

Whole tone magics. Since the construction of this group is all whole steps or whole tones, any one of the pitches can become the tonic or central pitch of the group. So ... six possible resolutions? Yea, six major and minor key centers. The whole tone colors and the augmented triad are part of an evolution of our jazz musics in the late 50's that comes after the explorations of the diminished colors and their dominant chord evolutions and substitutions based on the V7b9.

All of the above are 'movable' forms yes? Absolutely. And if we have all 12 pitches, is there any scale or group of pitches not available right here? Nope. For 12 is all we get, minus the one's we bend to in between. And if we always are thinking from the root of whatever the scale, arpeggio or chord may be, we just might never get lost ... :) Well ...

Soloing through chord changes. 'Hearing the chord changes in the line.' A fairly sizeable chunk of jazz guitar is the mastery of 'running the changes' in our single note improv melodies. This is a lifetime of coolness for those so disposed, for then search is on for a new line of color to express the essence of our ideas. Empowered with the melodic resources described above, simply find songs with chord progressions you dig and create melody lines that use the pitches of the chords. These we often call a chord's 'parent scale.' Linear, scale shaped lines work this magic also, while properly sounded arpeggios of the written changes always tells the tale. Can you hear the chord changes in the following melody lines? Ex. 15.

Hearing a One / Six / Two / Five chord progression? Cool. Here's another that uses the five notes of the major pentatonic color to outline the chords of the song, a song that shook the jazz music world 50 years ago that still wakes knowledgeable listening folks right up :) Ex. 15a.

"Giant Steps" styled melody / changes? Yep, the distinctive minor 3rd / perfect 4th cycling of chords.

Soloing through ... spelling the chords. For those just beginning this 'through the changes' improv, spelling out the chords in our lines is the basis. Learn to spell out the letter names of the pitches that create the chords in your music, and find them on your ax. It's really too easy a process to learn and master to not know of. Ex. 15a.

And there's yet another world. In jazz music there's another world of musics that live outside of the inside playing through changes just discussed. Termed free jazz mostly, we don't very often get to hear it. Generally it is not a big seller so often tough to get folks to show up. As musicians, we often dig this free environment, which demands that we listen closely and respond in musical kind to what players are doing around us, most of which does not follow along and form or structure beyond the steady time / groove chosen and the four bar phrase.

We just need some 'musical time' to get this happening, maybe a bass motif or not, a melody or not, theme and variations or not, call and response or not, advanced cats with a lot to say just chime in and let it flow, creating phrases built one upon another (common in all styles really). so very liberating really.

So not all of jazz guitar is through the changes sorts of improv. Modern players often dig a less structured environment to hang and create in, listen and respond. Not for the faint hearted really, ya need some gusto to make it all go. Of course we can combine the best of both, through the changes or free / over the changes approach, in traditional performance formats. Cats call this inside / outside, a proper (?) mix of which in improvised music is a true wonder to behold. We each get to decide, but improvising even 1/8's lines through changes is today, can be the basis of it all.

Quick review. The old fashioned essence of Americana jazz combines the 'call and response' of the gospel and blues with the technical wizardry of schooled up artists like us, who make up their music up from rote memory. In bands, they improvise their parts together to make it happen. This happens in all of our Americana styles when folks are not reading their parts. In jazz it is just a crazier scene as; tempos are brighter, lots more involved melodies, endless chord changes and substitutions, poly rhythms with a 2 and 4 core that swings in solid musical forms. The bottom line here?

There's a lot to sort out to play the style. The magic? Hearing the harmony of the song's chord changes in our improvised melodic lines allows for everyone involved in our music making process to follow along with what is happening in the music; the band, the sound and light cats, the dancers, the audience, the club owners on and on and on all depending on the venue.

This is the principle glue that has held it all together for everyone for the last 100 years or so; in any era in any style in any song, this earned ability of improvising melodic lines or parts that accurately reflect the chords and form of the song chosen, improvising 'through the changes', creates the 'aural inclusion' that everyone can dig and be a part of, be able to follow along and marvel at what skilled improvisors can do, the dancers love it as they choreograph their moves sensing where the music is going yet ... not quite sure how we'll all get there together :) Pure listeners can tap there foot right along and never miss a beat, enjoying the storylines the artists weave together or each as a soloist and unique , one of a kind interpreter of the music (you).

Need a place to start to build such a foundation? Why look no further, none other than the blues and aurally recognizing the top of its 12 bar form. Got that mastered? Cool, then just start in on the blues chord substitution charts with your metronome :)

Jazz performance format. The basic way of performing jazz songs usually works as follows; once a song is chosen, the band plays the melody completely through. Sometimes twice if it is a fast song. Then each soloist plays an improvised solo over a part or the full form of the song. Cats call a full cycle of a song one 'chorus.' And the stronger your chops, the more choruses you'll string together, becoming a masterful storyteller in music. Once the soloists have completed their parts, the melody of the song gets played and the band takes it out, slang term for ending a song together as a group.

While performing in public, and when working with players of various skills, the cat who calls the tune usually ends it too. The drummer can always have the 'last say', to ensure a final stop. As jazz music is often a bit of a 'swirl of colorful musical sounds' to many listeners, so having the band start and surely ending a song solidly together, helps make for a memorable experience for all within hearing distance :)

2 and 4 / swing / half step lead in. In jazz, while there's rhythm 'everything' somewhere of course, most revolves around the big 4 and finding the 2 and 4 accent within. For this is where the swing lives for one and all :) Click time and explore these essentials and more ! The 'half step lead in' is as its handle implies; a half step from our target. The half step of course is our closest point we can be and not be there yet :) Meaning that in making our musical time and feel swing, we can time this motion to max our rhythm, thus feeling of swing potential. This is perhaps the easiest trick in the book for jazz guitar that also has the greatest potential to get things up off the ground a bit and swinging. The aforementioned tritone sub is at the top of the 'half step lead in' devices. Single line players use time and articulation to master the swing magic potential of being so close yet still unresolved ...

Single line / arpeggio / chord. These are the three main ways we group the pitches to express our ideas. Single note lines is mostly stepwise through scales. Arpeggios come from the scales and are sequenced in 3rds; major and minor. Chords are simply sourced from the arpeggios and back to their parent scale; the pitches stacked on up and sounded together. Easy enough.

Knowing this diatonic transformational theory cold and throw in the five blue notes is enough for some cats who just have a knack for music and a stick with it attitude for finding the sounds they need, to both support fellow musicians and express themselves and be a team player thus part of the family.

While this three part sequence of pitches is a cornerstone of our theory, it also is a great way to build up a solo over a couple of choruses. Start with single line ideas, move into arpeggios and / or octaves and end with some well placed chords looking to drive the song's own sense of swing. Then maybe back to a bluesy single line idea to finish up and give the next soloist an easy start point (the blues) to begin their story.

Wes Montgomery, a fingerstyle guitarist was a master of this sort of building of a solo. And coupled with the depth of his swing rhythm, his sound is unmistakable to the initiated. That with no pick for sounding pitches, Montgomery might have invented 'thumbstyle.' Which sounds a lot fingerstyle but Wes mainly used his thumb for sounding his ideas.

Single note melody lines, arpeggiate the chords, sound out blues licks, play melodies in octaves (his signature sound) and play fuller voiced chords. Nice palette of sounds and rhythms and never a worry about dropping our pick ! If you're reading here your leaning jazz ... find some Wes and just wear it out. Secret ... every jazz guitarist who could, has found some and done so.

In jazz guitar and its improvisations, we can use all of these approaches in our work. The example which follows does just that; single line from a scale, it's arpeggio, some octave melody and then to an associated chord which resolves in the last bar. So, all combined, this next idea is a total mashup and so probably not very musical either, though can hear the changes in the line ... What time's the bass player showing up ? :) Ex. 16.

The key shedding / technique strengtheners? Simple; where we change from one style of notes to another, single line to chord often termed to 'pepper in the changes' as in measure 1 through 4. Either one to octaves and back as in bar 5, chords to single note lines as in bars 7 and 8. These transition points are the tricky spots. Shed the transitions, just slow things way way down; one note / strum, one note / strum ... at a time.

You'll be amazed how quickly you'll adapt. It's the same really as moving from one new chord shape to another; one strum then move, one strum then back, repeat. Down the road you might take five choruses on a blues so 60 measures or so; 2 or 3 single lines, 1 or 2 choruses in octaves, followed by chords and back to single line. Take me word for it, tis a tried and true, time honored tradition and formula to building up an Americana jazz guitar solo thusly, although not in eight bars for the most part ... prolly need a few more :)

Trio jazz guitar players, working with drums and bass, often excel at this weaving of the elements. Players such as Ed Bickert, Ted Greene, Jim Hall, Mark Whitfield, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield have all memorably added to the library of the trio jazz guitar format. Explore the recognized masters and evolve your thing.

Jazz chords / movable shapes. In jazz guitar playing we love just about anything that we can move around as a 'complete something'; scale shape, arpeggio, chord etc. No more strumming a chord for even a bar or two :) For jazz songs, or even just the ones we jazz up, we use lots of different chords in progressions and even couple of key centers through modulation; we just like the variety of options. Everything included above is movable yes? Five scale shapes, 12 or so arpeggio shapes and the 15 voicings to cover the Two / Five / One motions. Develop a half step lead in technique by golly and good to go !

In learning these movable pieces, we simply start by thinking from the root, root position is the term here as say with chords. And gradually build out from there into various inversions (movable too) and eventually to the 'one of a kind' puzzle pieces we each discover and share that might while even movable, or only work in a spot or two; here's one such critter. Example 17.

Tangle up some fingers? While the 'C - / maj 7 / 11' is surely movable, it's a one of a kind for me because I've only really ever used it in this one spot in performing one song. Major 7 with 11 in the melody from a minor triad basis is somewhat rare in the literature. Regardless, everything on this page is a movable form or shape etc., so there's half a ton of resource right here really. Use the link to explore additional jazz chord ideas.

Hollywood chords. This is sort of a slang for uniquely voiced chords that jazz players love to impress one another with. At college, Dr. Miller would say, when reading through a song ... 'good spot right there for a Hollywood chord ol'e boy', pointing to spot on the chart. Then wow us with some octopus type looking chord who's sound defied reason back then. The few included here are ones that have stuck around over the decades (probably because I can still play them). Lucky, all of the included shapes are movable too, so they'll run up and down the neck as needed all the while retaining all of its qualities and magics. Click on over to explore.

One idea per chorus / improv. This idea comes to us here today from saxophonist Frank Foster, who visited the college I attended to perform with our big band during our jazz festival week. Thinking as a single line player might, Foster's basic idea is this; find and develop one melodic idea, motif, riff or lick and develop / filter that through the components of the song we are performing. Like developing the idea I just played? Exactly. This simple idea is just an amazing way to think about improvising, it's just such a natural way to organically organize one's thoughts. Yet, the degree of focus, concentration and shedding it takes to do this coherently, while retaining musicality while avoiding redundancy is nothing short of is colossal (for me anyway). Try it out sometime.

Lots of cats start out on this artistic journey with triads; take each chord as it comes and just work over its triad. Once comfortable, add in a 7th etc. Intervals, within the triad or not, work fine too and are an easy way into this process. So why keep coming up with new ideas when one will suffice :) Here's a triad idea over a two chord vamp as low as we can go pitch wise. Very powerful open string bassline too :) Click over to a couple of original blues tunes that get at a component of Mr. Foster's improv philosophy. Example 18.

Cool. From "Turn On Your Lovelight" and many many others.

Anything from anywhere. This can easily become a jazz guitar player's mantra. That they can sound out 'any idea' from anywhere on the neck in any key, tempo or style ... Sounds a bit like the skills a studio musician might want to have in addition to reading music notation, having an excellent sense of time and getting along well with others in artistic collaborations. This concept gets its own page so click over for more.

Review. So jazz guitar is the style with 100 years or so of history and more if we include its earlier banjo and deep blues origins. As jazz was a pillar of America's pop music for the first half of the last century, it was the dancers delight. So as with the various dance steps, there's a fairly wide range of styles, grooves, melodies and harmonies to be covered by the jazz guitarist. Today, with the basic training for becoming a fairly fluent jazz player, we're empowered to cover most any style that comes our way. Getting the right sound is often the key for a jazz player to 'transition' to another genre, for most of the chops needed and understanding of what's happening music/ theory wise is already in place. Same lick, same notes through two different patches on the processors and we are not in Kansas anymore, amen! So that's fairly easy. A not so easy part in transitioning styles with guitar is in bending pitches; the bluesier part of guitar playing that often influences every other of our Americana genres. Rock, pop and country? Yep. Bending notes is a world unto itself really, and not so much in understanding or theory, but in the actual physicality doing of it and finding the emotional nuance of the pitch against the background we place it into.

Along these line of thinking also, many jazz guitar players prefer a heavier gage, flat wound string as compared to round wounds. For with all of the position shifting in jazz guitar performance, flatwounds are just uncomparably quieter. There's just like zero string noise associated with the things as compared to round wound strings. String noise, and for that matter pick noise too, are real issue for some players. Gonna bend flatwounds all night? Man your chops are gonna howl !!! And thinking long term career ... take good care of your hands, don't ever put them where you can't keep an eye on them. But even if our chops wear on out after decades of working the magic, we'll go to slide and just keep them blues alive :) ... You decide :)

Learning tunes. In the improvisational arts there's often a discussion about what comes from where; kind of like the chicken or the egg puzzle. For jazz guitar there's two sides to the learning; the shedding outlined above and playing tunes. Pure melody players might not need scale shapes as they just go to where the pitches are. Chops heavy cats might not be overly concerned with the written melody of the song, wanting to get to the soloing. So what's the deal here ?

Well, if we're gigging we need tunes and we should probably play them in somewhat of a recognizable fashion, thinking we want to get called back for more work. So one approach to jazz guitar and its improv is to build up a vocabulary of melodies. Within these melodies are surely to be some cool ideas, the ones YOU dig. These can become your own 'grist for the mill', and the basis of your shedding. Run even a few ideas through all of the 12 keys and chances are you will run into parts of or entire sections of the five scale shape puzzle of fingerboard understanding.

If you feel your challenge at this point in your career is more a lack of creativity then by all means, totally shed the scale shapes, intervals studies, the arpeggios, chords and using chord shapes to generate ideas. As the resource develops, your keener sense of the pitches will empower your creativity. In this sort of approach we're building the heart, head and hands triangle; and for those who do not quit ... it will arrive :) Of course if you're gigging you still need melodies for the show ... so best of both is best for most ... ? You decide.

Seeing is believing. Got a leaning towards jazz guitar performance? Cool and as crazy as it sounds, the old show biz hook is true; seeing is believing and in this style of guitar performance, it really needs to be done in the first person; try and go watch a jazz guitar player perform a show. The seeing is believing part in this is just how fast and accurately they can move their hands. That nearly every pitch sounded will get its own finger and pluck to sound it. Seeing is believing and we each get a visual of what's possible. Might not ever get there either ... but once we behold the magic, we'll naturally begin to fine tune our own thing, and with practice, there's no limits to what one might imagine and potentially do.

Modal jamm loops / shed the modes. Hearing the melody notes with a chord background is the way to internalize these modal characters. Each of the seven are included in the following jamm loops. The melody example, the most simple stepwise descending of the pitches, often gives us the clearest of melody patterns. For surely there are timeless melodies we hold that are written thus.

Ionian mode. Super major tonic center. The line here is a common idea in the country and bluegrass realms. Vamp chords make for solid chunks of harmony. The old timey "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain" is an Americana Ionian masterpiece. Example 12.

Dorian mode. Super darker minor tonic center. A wee sequence in the pitches then some definite closure to the tonic pitch. The timeless melody of "Scarborough Fair" is a pure Dorian gem to get under the fingers :) Ex. 12a.

Phrygian mode. Clearly minor with a longing of passion and yet ... still a tinge of the 'Spanish' ole ! Example 12b.

Lydian mode. Clearly major yet with some clear dissonance or tonal center ambiguity, so leaning towards the jazz end of our musical style spectrum. While not in any real sense Lydian mode, our national anthem uses the #4 of the Lydian color to dramatic effect. Ex. 12c.

Mixolydian mode. Clearly major yet with a bit of the blues hue thanks to b7. The Mixolydian color goes all the way back into our history and then forward into the music of today with cool songs such as "Old Joe Clark" and the V7 chord the basis of our Americana blues and rock and roll. Example 12d.

Aeolian mode. Clearly pure minor with a sincerity of spirit that brings truth to the sadness that we come across in our lives. Although a recent addition to our modal records, Aeolian is probably the original of them all. This is the go to color for many great players who's music centers in the minor color. Latin flavored rock artist Carlos Santana is steeped in the Aeolian / natural minor color. The author's own "Voices from The River" is pure Aeolian mode. Example 12e.

Locrian mode. Clearly minor but with a twist; the b5 of the triad creates the diminished triad color. One of a kind, and not ever a tonal center, the Locrian color becomes the pivot chord and melodic color between the two parts, major / minor pairing of our modern diatonic tonality. The jamm vamp shifts back and forth between Locrian half diminished and fully diminished 7th chords. Example 12f.

Modal review. So today we've the modes, built right into our major / minor 'all tuned up' pitches that gives us the melody notes and the chords; to support them and collage our ideas with blocks of various colors. Best of both? Yep, pretty much. We've had this system now for a solid 300 years and counting with nothing really too dominant on the horizon to take its place. As string players, we can bend or whammy bar our pitches to find the spots in between so, we'll probably keep these pitches, modes and tunings for the foreseeable future.

'... and sometimes we don't know that it was perfect timing, till 10 years later ... :)


~ a method for jazz guitar ~

~ jazz improv ~

~ just starting jazz ? ~

~ intermediate level trio artists ~

chord / arpeggio / scale / Wes, pure melody players

~ a course for the jazz leaning artist ~

~ in a nutshell / one sting melodies ~

~ coolness spots for all 12 pitches ~

~ whole tamale of fingerstyle ~

~ the melodic preparations ~

~ five shapes / modes ~

~ shedding modes ~

~ a permutation ~

~ arpeggios ~

~ chords ~

~ II V I ~

~ b2 ~

~ substitution ~

~ cycling the tritone sub ~

~ trending and evolution to all V7 ~

~ the three evolutions of improvisations ~

~ jazz chord voicings ~

~ jazz ... the sounds of suprise ~

~ Dr. James B. Miller ~