Improve your Jazz Soloing – Chord Scales
I receive a lot of e-mails and questions from guitarists about practical (as opposed to simply theoretical) ways to improve their improvisational skills and over the course of the next few lessons I am going to address some strategies/approaches that I promise will really improve your Jazz Soloing considerably.
Now, you may be asking yourself how can I be so sure of success using these strategies…and will they really enhance your jazz soloing? The answer is really in playing them regularly, understanding how they work and most importantly how they sound. From the results I have achieved myself using these very same methods and also from what students have told me once they started using them, I know they can really make a huge difference. Let’s dive in then and get started with the first strategy.
Oh no, not scales again!?…
Yes, it’s scale time again..but perhaps not as we know them….to paraphrase a famous Star Trek quote. We are often told that we should practice our scales and arpeggios from root to octaves until we ‘know them thoroughly’, but all too often this can leave us with a large body of single-note material that seems difficult to apply to real world musical situations (and as you’ll likely know, typical jazz lines don’t simply start and finish on roots or octaves)
The following exercise certainly makes use of scales, but in a way that makes them more ‘user-friendly’ and more importantly, directly applicable to standard jazz song forms. To illustrate this in detail, I’ve taken the first few bars from a well-known jazz standard and will use these bars to demonstrate the scale strategy and how it will improve your jazz soloing.
Whilst many guitar players are aware (and can play several fingerings) of the standard chord scales commonly used in jazz improvisation, quite a number I have come across haven’t ever practised playing them sequentially (i.e. in playing order) as they will be required to be used within a composition.
To explain more, let’s firstly examine the opening bars from ‘All The Things You Are’ to ascertain initially what chords scales we could use. Obviously your choice of scales could be different from mine, but I have chosen to use the Ab major scale for the first two chords and then add in the Eb (half-whole) diminished scale for the Eb7b9 chord. I used this particular scale as the V7 chord in jazz often has alterations added to it, so I wanted to reflect that in my choice of scale.
Our strategy is to play our chord scales beginning from any pre-chosen starting pitch (although maybe try to avoid the root of the chord over which you are playing the scale) and then, (and THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT) …..at the point of chord change, move to the nearest available note in the next chord scale. You can change direction within the scale whenever you want, and even double notes if they are within more than one scale. It’s really up to you how you apply the scales.
Btw – If you find (..as you may do from time to time..) that the nearest available note in the new scale is one that is undesirable for whatever reason, remember too that you can always skip a scale step to avoid this.
All this is quite different from the way that many guitar players practice scales in my experience and you may have to plan out your scale fingerings a little in advance of playing this exercise. A good approach is to play within say a span of 5-6 frets and be comfortable with all the different scale types (and fingerings) you will need within that range.
What makes this strategy successful is that you will sound immediately like you are fluently playing through the changes and moving scales intelligently between the shifting chords. Try it and you will hear what I mean.
Included here is a PDF file of the first section of ‘All The Things You Are’ using this new scale strategy for jazz improvisation and by now you will hopefully see what is happening with the various scales and be able to improve your jazz soloing.