So It Begins! (Part 3)



For those who are unaware, chromaticism means moving using half step intervals.  Because the Chromatic Scale contains all twelve notes, there is only one Chromatic Scale.  The shapes outlined on page 51 are moveable and still have a “tonic.” For instance, a “C” Chromatic Scale would contain the same pitches as a “G” Chromatic Scale, but the “C” chromatic would start and end on “C”, whereas the “G” Chromatic Scale would start and end on “G”. When writing a Chromatic Scale, “#’s” are used when ascending, and “b’s” are used when descending.  Therefore, an “A#” Chromatic Scale is the same ascending as a “Bb” Chromatic Scale descending.  Make sense? Alright! Now that we’ve established what a Chromatic Scale is, how do you use it?

Keep in mind that any note can be played against any chord symbol if it is properly led into and properly released…tension and release.

Taking this into account, the next six pages are devoted to various ways to employ the Chromatic Scale in your playing.  I’m sure these pages are not the only ways to use the Chromatic Scale, but merely some of the simpler ones.  For instance, approaching chord tones from a half step below.  Personally, I like this one quite a bit.  Or, if you’re trying to play a fast arpeggio and you miss your notes by a half-step, just say you were improvising with the Chromatic Scale! Another way you can employ it is by using the scale tone above each chord tone, and using the half step leading tone from below.  These are just the first of many ideas presented in the text.  Chromatic lines can add a mature sound to your playing, but, like anything else in jazz, take time to learn and memorize.  Major jazz players will be able to fuse scales and chord tones, but I know they didn’t learn that overnight.

On a side note, as I have mentioned, I am but a wee fledgling jazz player, and do not perform often with other jazz players (an advantage of having the play-a-longs).  However, I do play every weekend at my Church.  When the band is playing a worship song, and the congregation is singing along, and someone improvises with a little chromaticism, it may or may not be appreciated.  Not that this happened to me, of course… But I have this friend, who, well… Anyway! I feel it’s important to know why you’re playing, and who you’re playing for.  Which leads us to…

Playing The Blues

Blues, like jazz, started as an aural, rural musical tradition. Learned from other players and by “jamming” with each other, these styles encourage emotional and improvisational playing.  The styles and forms of blues music are often used as a gateway style for many players wanting to learn jazz.  I was playing the blues long before I ever thought about venturing into jazz music.  It’s a very natural transition.  However, jazz blues is a fast evolving music in a vast arena of tonal possibilities.

One tip that Jamey gives on page 58, is to sing improvised phrases.  In many ways, this is closer to the “Real You” than improvising on your instrument will achieve.  Also, Jamey says it is hard to sing wrong notes.  I’m not saying it’s true, I’m just saying that’s what Jamey says… There are reasons I’m a guitar player.


Anyway, try to record your voice, then go back with your instrument to copy these phrases.

Knowing your instrument inside and out will also help you convey your musical ideas.  This volume is geared specifically for guitar, but all the musical principles still apply to any instrument.  Many times, when people find out I’m a musician, the first thing they ask is, “What do you play?” Almost always, my answer is something like, “I can play many instruments, but I play guitar well.”  Some people laugh, some look confused, and a few get annoyed.  I see it like this; if you have to constantly think about how to play your instrument, how can you be expected to improvise or embellish chords and phrases? Ask me to improvise on guitar, I’ll be fine.  Ask me to improvise a keyboard solo, you’ll be lucky to get some triad arpeggios.

Now, the blues can have many different chord progressions, varying from simple to complex harmony in the chords.  The more notes you add to the chords (Harmonic structure), the jazzier it sounds. In jazz, it’s expected that the music will change.  Here are Jamey’s steps to practicing the blues, without using the Blues Scale.

  1. 1. Get the feel of the roots first
  2. 2. Then the first five notes of each scale
  3. 3. Then the triad (root, 3rd, and 5th)
  4. 4. And finally the entire scale

Jamey advises using this method of practice when approaching any new song or chord progression.  After imparting a few more bits of wisdom to us, we are provided with some original blues melodies by Jamey himself to play starting on page 66.  These melodies can be played respectively over the Bb, or F blues tracks provided.

Be methodical in the way you approach your practice sessions

Hmmm… maybe some chromatic blues? It’s a thought! Please keep checking up with me as play through Volume 1 for Guitar!



So It Begins! (Part 2)


I’ve been practicing with the first set of exercises in Volume 1 for Guitar, and I’m feeling pretty good about them.  I’ve been using the Dorian Minor scale shapes to improvise with the play-a-long tracks, and it’s sounding alright, if I do say so myself.  But on page 42, we move into a scale that not only has an added note (8 rather than the standard 7), but is supposed to be played on certain beats to acquire the “jazzy” sound. Here we go…

The Bebop Scale

I’m not going to lie, I’ve never used the bebop scale before… And that made me a little nervous.  The bebop scale only adds one note to the four most used scales, the major, dominant 7th, minor, and half-diminished.  To get the desired uplifting jazz sound we are looking for, the added scale tone must always land on the upbeat.  For each of these scales, a different note is added (for Major, you add a #5, for Dominant 7th, you add a natural 7th, and so on).  Many of these scales contain the same combination of notes, and can therefore be used interchangeably, G7=Dm=B Half Diminished.  Because it wasn’t already complicated enough.

For myself, the bebop scale is not intuitive.  I’ve got to really think about what I’m doing to fit it into my music.  But, perhaps that’s why it became such an iconic sound in jazz music?  This whole section of the book, while only three pages, is packed with information on this scale, and how much it’s influenced the sound of jazz music.

Make friends with scales, especially the bebop scale.  It’s the “glue” of the jazz language. Don’t leave home without it!

Maybe the next book I should look at is “Bebop Scales?” *Insert shameless plug here*


Ear Training

Following directly after the uniquely sounding bebop scale is a section of helpful hints on page 45 how to train your ears.  One of the greatest traditions in jazz music is playing by ear.  In fact, jazz music being written down in a book is a fairly recent development.  Early jazzers had no choice but to learn by hearing the music.  Now, some might tell you that a “good ear” is something you’re born with.  It cannot be learned.  Thankfully for me, that is not the case.


There is a reason ear training is required by every university music program that I know of.  Just like anything else in music, it can be learned and developed, and should be.  Let me clarify, by no means do I have a fantastic natural ear for picking out a tune.  However, through quite a lot of practice, I learned, and I got better.  It’s still something I work on to this day, but I have seen enormous progress.  A little back story to help.

I come from completely non-musical stock, absolutely no natural talent in the realm of music.  In fact, my dad’s toneless whistling is something of a joke among my siblings, my mom, and I.  My brothers and me (who respectively play drums and keyboard) did not grow up around performing musicians, bands, instruments, live music, or anything of the like.  But one day, my older brother Thomas decided he wanted to learn to play keyboard (just like his favorite artist, Sir Elton John), and Sam, my younger brother, and I jumped right off the musical cliff with him.  We all started learning music together.  If only we’d had a fourth brother, we needed a bass player!

About three years ago, I sat down in my first ever college course, “Sight Singing and Aural Training.”  Probably not the best choice for my first class, but I didn’t know any better.  To say I learned a lot would be a tad of an understatement.  While this is a good place to start, listening to real players, and figuring out how they do what they do has helped me more than anything.  My point in giving this little abridged history is this; if I can learn to train my ears, just about anybody can.

In music, your ears are your best friend.  The sound comes into your ears and your mind processes the music.  Well-trained ears can be had by everyone if they take the time to develop them.

The Pentatonic Scale And Its Use

Ah yes, the pentatonic scale.  Now that your brain is sufficiently wrung from thinking about the bebop scale and training your ears, we can move on to something a little simpler.  This is probably the first scale that many guitarists (if not all musicians) learn.  For those who don’t know, the word “penta” originates from the Greek word “pente”, meaning “five.”  As you may have guessed, the pentatonic scale consists of five tones.  Because of its simplified nature, the pentatonic scale can be widely used in many genres of music without much adaption.  Especially popular amongst blues players, a pentatonic scale based on the “I” of a I/IV/V progression will work fantastically well.  You can play a major or minor pentatonic scale, and so it can be used over major or minor chord progressions, not to mention Dominant 7th, Half Diminished, Diminished, and Whole Tone scales.

People use the pentatonic scale more during a blues progression than in any other harmonic sequence in jazz- especially young players.  There are books on the market which advocate using the pentatonic scale as a means to solo on the blues progression.  The pentatonic scale should be thought of as a small part of the overall musical spectrum.

The tracks that we first used to practice our Dorian Minor scale can also be used to practice the bebop and pentatonic scales, and improvise with them in various keys. I’ve got some new things to work on!  I’m just scratching the surface (not to mention my head!). Please check back for more updates as I work through Volume 1 for Jazz Guitar

One…two… a one, two, three, four!


So It Begins! (Part 1)

As with any good story, this one starts at the beginning.  Specifically, Volume 1 for Jazz Guitar.  This book was written by Jamey Aebersold and was adapted for the guitar by Corey Christiansen.  It incorporates guitar diagrams and tablature as well as standard musical notation.


I have been a musician and played guitar for some time now, but I have yet to wade into the deep and treacherous waters (or so they seemed to me!) of jazz guitar.  That is, until now.  I have always loved the sound of a good jazz box guitar and great players like Django Rheinhardt, Tal Farlow, and Wes Montgomery.  Like many musicians and guitarists, the tunes, the modes, the seemly frantic playing, all intimidated me.  Could I learn how to play like these men? It seemed so foreign to me! However, the introduction of this book immediately contradicts this presumption.

I have never met a person who couldn’t improvise! I’ve met many who think they can’t.  Your mind is the builder and what you think… you become.  A positive mental attitude contributes to much successful improvisation.

Practice and Learning

There are many practicing and learning techniques that are suggested to help in mastering the material presented in this book.  All of the techniques could be applied to any instrument, tune, or playing technique that one wished to learn. Jamey’s points for learning to improvise and play jazz are:

  • Desire to improvise
  • Listening to jazz via recordings and live performances
  • A method of practice – what and how to practice
  • A rhythm section with which to practice and improvise
  • Self-esteem and discipline

This volume with two play-a-long CDs (one is regular tempo with examples played by Corey Christiansen, the second is a slower tempo to play along with until you can play the examples at full speed) is designed to help a player with the development of all these skills and more.

The examples and text are filled with little nuggets of musical wisdom, such as;

The principle is always the same… know the scales and chords to the harmony of each tune or musical track; keep your place and play from your musical mind when you improvise

As well as humorous aphorisms like;

Music is not meant to be complicated (but musicians may be!)

Finally, we get to guitar specific diagrams.  These first diagrams show movable scale shapes in both one and two octaves for the Major scale, Dorian Minor, and Mixolydian.  These scale shapes make up the majority of the first exercises in the book, and indeed, are the most commonly used by beginning jazz improvisors.  These examples are played in three keys, F, Eb, and D.

Scale Diagram

The First Exercise

As I worked through the first exercises using the Dorian Minor scale, I started to noodle with the scale shape presented in the first few.  Fortunately for me, I was already familiar with the Dorian Minor scale shape used in the first examples.  Unfortunately for me, because I already had this head start, I wanted to rush through the examples I could play without truly absorbing the information given there.  However, when I went back to play with the recording, I was stumbling all over myself, losing my place, and getting flustered! So, to give myself a break from frustrating myself, I flipped back through the first pages, and I see something that I had already read, but clearly not taken to heart:


This book contains much information. It’s not intended that you race through it.  Take your time and feel good about absorbing the material and ideas I am presenting.  It has taken years to garner the knowledge with you hold in your hands.  Don’t expect to assimilate and digest it overnight

This sobering lesson may be one of the best in music.  It is so simple, and because it is so simple, it often gets overlooked.  I am not proud of forgetting this maxim, but it is better that I am reminded of it now rather down the road on my foray into jazz guitar.  Learning anything, not just music, takes time.  Sure, there are a few players who are naturally talented.  But if they don’t practice and take time to learn new things, in a short amount of time, talent is surpassed by learned, practiced, and hard earned skill.

I’m looking forward to continuing to delve into this volume for jazz guitar! Please check back for updates as I continue to work through this book.  With that in mind, I’m going to get back to practicing!

One…two… a one, two, three, four!



Highlights from Volume 76, “How To Learn Tunes” by David Baker



For the jazz musician, it is important to know a large repertoire of standard tunes.  Perhaps you get the chance to sit in with another band, or meet a great group of players whilst traveling? Maybe you are not the quickest sight reader, or printed music simply isn’t available.  Perhaps you merely want to improvise on a tune without having to learn it simultaneously.  Whatever the reason may be, it is not a bad idea to know some tunes.

If you are like me, memorizing endless songs, chord progressions, and melodies is a long process of repetition.  I usually do not have that sort of time on my hands, so I do not assume that anyone else does, either.  Apart from that time restricting thing we know as “life,” the way jazz and music in general is taught has greatly impacted how we as musicians learn.  For much of its’ early history, jazz music was an aural tradition.  You learned jazz music from other people, and maintained if by playing it all the time with your friends.  Nothing was written down.  Now we have so many resources and learning opportunities compared to early players.  Now, instead of learning the music from a fellow performer, most jazz education takes place in a classroom in front of a white board, not on the bandstand.  Many will learn to read music, but never really play it.  Imagine if you learned to read an write the English language, but never actually spoke with anyone.  When the time came to speak, do you think you will be good at it? Probably not.  Playing jazz is just the same.


Now, do not get me wrong, I am not bashing music education in the slightest.  I am, after all, a student of music right now.  Music education is wonderful, and I am glad to have taken part in it.  While it is a beneficial thing, it is not the same thing.  Together, a classroom education paired with a “jam session education” will make for a well rounded player.

As David Baker says in the introduction, “Tradition and necessity demand that the most performed tunes be at the player’s fingertips, to be played without the use of a fakebook or other written materials.  This is a necessity in many situations, including jam sessions, hastily organized gigs and/or recording sessions, and when joining a group which is already working or when the player in question is beginning with a new group.”

Toward this aim, Baker also give us eight main goals of Volume 76, “How To Learn Tunes.”