Rhythm Changes – A Jazz Guitar Solo Study
The chord changes for George Gershwin’s classic jazz composition ‘I Got Rhythm’ (often referred to as simply ‘Rhythm Changes‘) are considered an essential study vehicle for the developing jazz musician. Whilst many musicians in my personal experience seem to either love playing ‘rhythm changes’ or hate them in equal measure, there can be little doubt that the historical significance of this chord sequence in jazz music is immense.
First published in 1930, ‘I Got Rhythm’ is widely regarded as a jazz classic (often termed a standard) and perhaps more significantly, the underlying chord progression has become the foundation for many other jazz compositions over the years.
For this particular lesson, I have written out a single-line solo jazz guitar study (or etude) on ‘rhythm changes’ which uses what might be loosely termed the ‘bebop changes’ version of the chords. These chords are harmonically more involved than Gershwin’s original progression and are representative of what bebop era musicians might have played. There are actually a good many variations on these bebop-style changes, but I think the ones I have included here are fairly representative of the bop genre.
When you examine the music supplied below in the PDF, you’ll see that I’ve notated the chord symbols above the stave so that you can study how the different melodic lines are functioning against these chords. This is important to understand as it will help you eventually develop your own jazz soloing vocabulary. Try to analyse why I have used particular scales or arpeggios if you can too. The solo has a typical mixture of bebop style scales and arpeggios as well as passing notes leading to chord tones.
You’ll also see some arpeggio patterns being used to good effect here, such as those seen in Bars 9 and 10. Many jazz musicians use these types of patterns in fast moving chord changes to help describe the underlying harmony. Later in the solo (around Bars 57 – 59) you’ll also encounter some repetitive rhythmic figures which can really help to break up a solo. Although long 8th note lines are commonplace in mainstream jazz, the sound can become tiring for the listener after a while, so introducing some variations in rhythm is always a good idea.
There is a lot to learn in this particular jazz guitar solo, so my suggestion would be to study small sections at a time. You could perhaps learn two or four measures at first and then add others later. Remember to start things slowly and not worry about trying to play fast. Speed will come in time.
The tablature fingerings I have supplied (within the PDF file) are only one way you could play this solo, so please bear in mind that you do not have to play the solo exactly as written in this regard. Every player is different as regards fingering, so it would be worthwhile trying to find a good, comfortable fingering that works for you. As regards picking, I generally employ alternate picking in my everyday jazz soloing, but some players may prefer to use techniques like economy picking or hybrid picking. As long as you get a good sound and the picking feels comfortable, just use whatever works best for you.
As always, there is the regular music notation and guitar tablature within the solo transcription.
Firstly, here is the complete Rhythm Changes solo played along with the backing track. I have used a MIDI generated piano for the recording (deliberately) to keep the solo as plain as possible (in terms of instrumental dynamics and ornamentation) and this is purely for study purposes. I will soon upload a version of the solo played on guitar as well.
Once you have learned the solo, feel free to add in your own dynamics, slides and ornaments, which will all help make it sound more expressive and personal to your playing style.
Btw – Have a listen to the solo several times before attempting to play any of it, as this will really help you understand the sound and melodic effect of the various lines:
Secondly, here is the PDF file of the entire jazz guitar solo played above. You may wish to print this out to study from a desk or music stand:
Finally, here is a backing track for you to play along with using the chord changes notated in the earlier PDF file:
I really hope you enjoy playing this ‘Rhythm Changes’ jazz guitar solo study and I’ll see you next time.