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Old 09-07-2013, 12:51 PM
IndianaGeo IndianaGeo is offline
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Default Can Someone Help me Understand Jazz?

Hi All,
I like jazz...love it sometimes. But when I go to try and play it on a guitar, I have no sense of what to do, what notes to hit, how to improvise over 9ths, 7ths, and 13ths chords in a progression I don't really have my head around. Is there some way of looking at jazz in a way that has some structure, some 'method'? Or is it all by ear, experience, etc. ? Jeff Matz are you out there?

IG
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  #2  
Old 09-07-2013, 03:35 PM
jseth jseth is offline
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CAUTION: HUGE CAN OF WORMS ABOUT TO BE OPENED!!!

Hi IG! Recognizing that you like/love jazz is a great starting point... now, there are many different methodologies that folks ascribe to, regarding both learning and playing jazz. A whole lot depends upon what YOU want to do with it!

Although I always loved jazz (now, I'm speaking more of "classic" jazz), I didn't know a darn thing about it, UNTIL a band mate of mine, back in 1977, decided that, in order to be "committed" to our group, both myself and the other guitarist had to learn how to play the latin-jazz instrumentals he was writing, to learn to be comfortable playing and soloing over be-bop tunes...

He (Marty) had just graduated from the Berklee School of Music, in Boston. I didn't know anything about Berklee at that point, but I knew what it was and loved the music of several alumnus... (Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton, etc.). In any event, I figured, "What the heck", and proceeded to jump in, with both feet!

Over the next year and a half, I received intense tutoring from Martin on theory and harmony. At the same time, I chose to begin working with a metronome and practising scales. What I learned, way back then, still gives me plenty to work on today!

It starts with learning Modern Diatonic Theory, which is not the same as strict classical training. It is pretty straightforward, and simple enough to grasp; however, as with many things in life, it can take a bit to fully internalize the whole thing. You can go about as deep as you want to go, but at some point, you realize that a player can play ANYTHING, and sound great doing it... so long as they're fully committed to it! One of my favorite anecdotes of Marty's from Berklee was a quote from one of his instructors in some advanced harmony class (5th level?); the fellow said, as an aside to some aspect of functional reharmonization, "Just remember... all this stuff was thought up by a bunch of intellectual white guys who were trying to explain 'why' the blues works..."!!!

I fully recommend digging into diatonic theory and harmony; it has given me such freedom and understanding of not only the music I have loved my whole life, but also within my own composing... I also heartily endorse all the time I spent "woodshedding" with a metronome, playing scales and arpeggios; not so much all the scales, but just by working intensely with a metronome, it totally flipped my rhythmic conception and gave me a lasting "mastery" of playing this instrument that I love so very much!

I would be happy to "get you started", if you like... shoot me a pm and we can figure out a good way to do that. It ain't rocket science, and it's a whole lot of fun! Realizing why the music I have loved in my life sounds and feels the way it does, how it moves from one place to the next... quite a joy! And not just with jazz, by the way, but pretty much ALL of Western music...

After all is said and done, YOUR musical expression is YOURS and yours alone... playing what I feel inside and getting it out through my guitar and my voice... that's about as good as it gets! So, you're going to learn and practise and study... and then get to a point where you just play what you feel, breaking whatever "rules" that you want...

play on................................>

John Seth Sherman
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  #3  
Old 09-07-2013, 04:12 PM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IndianaGeo View Post
Hi All,
I like jazz...love it sometimes. But when I go to try and play it on a guitar, I have no sense of what to do, what notes to hit, how to improvise over 9ths, 7ths, and 13ths chords in a progression I don't really have my head around. Is there some way of looking at jazz in a way that has some structure, some 'method'? Or is it all by ear, experience, etc. ? Jeff Matz are you out there?

IG
Wow where to start....

Good beginning by jseth - I totally agree you need a good understanding of diatonic theory. It's not that different from classical theory.
You begin with major and minor keys.
You probably know about I-IV-V. There's also ii, iii, vi and viidim in major keys. (viidim in major keys very rare in jazz)
In minor keys, there's i-iv-V (major V), plus iidim (everwhere in jazz), plus VI. III and VII actually not that common.
Then - for jazz - you add diatonic 7ths to every chord.
So for key of C major, you'd have these basic chords:
Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7. (Not Bm7b5)
For key of C minor, you'd have:
Cm(maj7) Dm7b5 Ebmaj7 Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim7. Possible Bbmaj7 too.

Then - very important for jazz - the concept of secondary chords: secondary dominants mainly, but also secondary leading tone chords (dim7s) and secondary supertonics (that essentially means adding ii7 chords before all those secondary V7s).

Following that, the concept of substitution - the most common of which is the tritone sub, meaning any V7 chord can be replaced with a bII7 (both dom7 types). Eg, use Db7 instead of G7 when resolving to C.
This is related to the idea of altered "dominants", another crucial aspect of jazz harmony.

You really need to understand all of that before getting into 9ths 11ths and 13ths, which are usually just embellishments.

And that's only functional harmony! Since the late 1950s, modal harmony has played a big part in jazz. This behaves very differently from functional harmony, although the two are often mixed together in the same tunes.

Personally I recommend a historical perspective. That's the best way to make sense of the immensely complex picture jazz presents today.
Go back to Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt. Go back to the jazz standards of the 1920s and 30s and work your way forward. Play the tunes as well as the chord sequences - melodies are absolutely basic to jazz improvisation.
Don't think scales. Think melody and chords. And rhythm and voice-leading.
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Old 09-07-2013, 04:14 PM
Lacking Talent Lacking Talent is offline
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Old 09-07-2013, 04:26 PM
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posternutbag posternutbag is offline
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What I am about to write isn't necessarily true (or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it isn't "complete"), but it has worked for me and others. Jazz is in no way monolithic and as such trying to understand "Jazz" as a genre is difficult and convoluted. This is not helped by the fact that guitar is not a front-line instrument in jazz the way it is in rock. This in itself colors how one looks at the guitar in jazz.

People often try to look at jazz as progression towards increasing complexity, from early polyphonic jazz, to swing, to bebob. Then everyone fights over whether free jazz and fusion are steps forward or backwards. I find this silly, because to me jazz has always been a fusion and always free.

I would prefer to examine how the guitar can be used. For the sake of convenience, I divide jazz guitar into two approaches. When I think of jazz guitar, I think of great lead players, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Christian, and Django Reinhardt. These were guitarists that approached playing guitar like it was a horn. They drew inspiration from players like Lester Young. This is a fairly linear style of play. Then there are the guitarists who treat the guitar more like it is a piano. This includes musicians like Joe Pass, Tuck Andress and my current favorite, Charlie Hunter. There is no sharp divide in real life (someone like Wes Montgomery has one foot in each camp) but I find it useful to consider such a division as I learn. This leaves out Freddie Green style comping, but really, that would be the ultimate expression of reduction. Plus I have never played guitar in a big band so I have never had a need to play pure rhythm.

I am a converted horn player and so I approach jazz more like door number 1.

My learning starts by reduction. There are a nearly infinite number of chords and inversions, but I started with 1. I started learning to play jazz by learning to play blues. Not Stevie Ray Vaughn blues, but rather generic blues. I learned 2 chord shapes, a dominant 7th with a root on the 6 string and a dominant 7th with a root on the fifth string. I learned to play blues chord progressions and then had my teacher play those progressions while I soloed over the changes. I recorded the practices so that I could hear the good and the bad. The progression I used (all dominant 7ths):

l: /I/IV/I/I/ /IV/IV/I/VI/ /II/V/I VI/II V/ :l

Once I could do that, I learned Major 7th, Minor 7th, and Half-diminished shapes, again each with a root on the 6 string and with a root on the 5th string. Armed with 8 chord shapes, plus a couple of diminished chords, I began to learn tunes out of the "Real Book." This is where I am today. I learn the head and the chords and practice soloing over the chords. I can reduce pretty much any chord to one of the five I know.

I thought that as my knowledge base grew I would add more chords over time, but really, the super complicated comping is better left to the piano (IMHO). Highly complicated chords have value when creating chord melodies, but I don't play solo jazz and, like I have said, I think more like a horn player. But this has been a methodology that I have used in the actual world both to learn jazz myself and to teach it to people I play with.

By way of full disclosure, I got the basic idea from Justin Sandercoe and just tweaked it a little using the methodology from Flatpicking Essentials and Flatpicking Blues.
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Old 09-07-2013, 06:25 PM
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You need some intense listening to Jazz in order to develop a feel for it. Before you decide to get into Jazz style playing you must know the fretboard inside and out. After that read Jon's post in regards to theory.
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:14 PM
rickwaugh rickwaugh is offline
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There is no magic. You need to learn your theory, learn your scales, learn the chords, mess about. It's just a lot more advanced usage of all the above. There are a lot of different styles. Buy some books, take some lessons. There's no simple way to do it. Listen, learn, play.
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Old 09-08-2013, 03:36 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bern View Post
You need some intense listening to Jazz in order to develop a feel for it.
Yes! The feel and attitude is crucial.

FEEL
The feel is largely a rhythm thing of course - and it's not always about swing, but it does always involve syncopation in some form.
Neither of these should be too much of a problem if you've played a fair amount of blues; even rock uses syncopation widely.
Dynamics, accent and articulationplay a big part - much more so than in rock, where the only dynamic that really matters is LOUD . Again, good blues players know about this. (But only good blues players.)

ATTITUDE
This is largely centred on improvisation. There is much less emphasis in jazz on getting a tune "right". Note-for-note reproduction of an original is nothing to do with jazz. You need to get melodies and chords right - but both are open to variation. Solos are always played fresh every night.
The attitude is to treat a given tune as a foundation only, a launch pad for new ideas. There are no "perfect originals" in jazz. There are only different versions. Everyone does their own version of a tune, and everyone does it differently every time they play it.
That's what jazz audiences come for: to hear how YOU are going to play that tune, THIS time. Not to hear how you did it last time, nor to hear how good you are at copying how someone else did it.
Quote:
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Before you decide to get into Jazz style playing you must know the fretboard inside and out.
Absolutely.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bern View Post
After that read Jon's post in regards to theory.
Er, yes .
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Old 09-08-2013, 08:42 AM
AX17609 AX17609 is offline
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I don't know how to learn jazz. I have failed in my many attempts, and that frustrates me. It seems as though there is so much background knowledge required (fretboard, scales, chords, arpeggios, music theory) that playing music quickly becomes an overwhelming academic task. I end up just feeling like a talentless idiot. I have yet to see a well-organized, step-wise approach that encourages the student's enthusiasm rather than squash it.

I can't help feeling that there needs to be a change in the way it's taught. I liken it to learning a language. In the old days, you learned a language by memorizing vocabulary, conjugating verbs, and studying the rules of grammar. It was a long time before you could actually say anything meaningful. These days, the whole process is reversed. You quickly learn to say useful phrases and then expand that basic knowledge with broader vocabulary and verb tenses on an as-needed basis. In other words, the language is useful from the start and expands to meet the need.

I've never seen a learn-to-play jazz program laid out that way. Isn't there a program that gets you playing early and then adds technical information in stages later?

Last edited by AX17609; 09-08-2013 at 10:26 AM.
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Old 09-08-2013, 10:27 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Originally Posted by AX17609 View Post
I don't know how to learn jazz. I have failed in my many attempts. It seems as though there is so much background knowledge required (fretboard, scales, chords, arpeggios, music theory) that the task quickly becomes an overwhelming academic task. I end up just feeling like a talentless idiot. I have yet to see a well-organized, step-wise approach that encourages the student's enthusiasm rather than squash it.
It's not an academic task, but it is a lifetime's worth of study. It takes years to be half-way competent at jazz, never mind good. It's not a music you can just dabble in occasionally: you have to devote serious amounts of time to it.
And it's not about technique or scales (that's just about knowing your instrument, that goes without saying). It's about material, vocabulary, a whole language.

A step-wise approach might be the following:

1. Get thoroughly competent with blues. Spend a few years digging deep. You want the subtlety, feel, economy and dynamic variety of really good blues. (Forget rock-blues.) Blues is the soul of jazz. It has the same attitude and vibe, it's just a lot simpler chord-wise. (Every jazz master worth his salt knows how to play the blues.)

2. Study classical diatonic theory: major and minor keys, and all the diatonic 7th chords. (There are only six basic types.)
Expand that into chromatic theory, which involves secondary dominants and substitutions. Altered dominants, etc.

3. Learn a few dozen old jazz standards. Melodies as well as chords. Be able to play them by heart. This should be done alongside step 2, btw. (Sorry it's not a one-step-by-one-step method...)
IOW, for each new tune you learn, try to analyze the chords according to whatever theory you know. And vice versa: whatever theory concept you're studying, look for a tune that employs it.

So it's not about learning a whole ton of theory and THEN learning some tunes. Nor is it about learning a whole ton of tunes and having no idea what's going on with the chords.
Each step should comprise one tune, that you take apart as thoroughly as you can (how the chord changes work, and how the tune fits the chords); and listen to as many versions of it by jazz masters as you can. Steal any cool little licks you hear.

What theory knowledge should do is make everything simpler. It should enable you to spot patterns, how the same old tricks occur again and again in 100s of tunes. (If you think theory is making it complicated, you're doing it wrong.)

OK, those are all REAL BIG steps . But jazz is not like any other popular music; it's much more sophisticated, much more complex.
At the same time, there's no need to be overwhelmed. You'll never learn it all. You can start simple, with some blues or old standards, work your way up. (For a guitarist, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt are good places to start: CC is clean and simple, and the chords are usually straightforward; DR is more challenging technically, but often based on very simple melodies and chords. But don't only listen to guitarists: be inspired by horn players too.)
Just don't expect it to be quick. Enjoy the trip.

There's some great masterclasses on youtube, which are often more about jazz attitude and philosophy than technical specifics - but all the more revealing and inspiring because of that. Try these:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7V_vgjX9XA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyRGB_x7VSg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NehOx1JsuT4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2XnB5G6oSc
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Last edited by JonPR; 09-08-2013 at 10:38 AM.
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Old 09-08-2013, 10:52 AM
kirkham13 kirkham13 is offline
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Go to youtube.

Search joe pass jazz guitar

And

Emily Remler

They are the best teachers I've found!

Listening and feeling are paramount to jazz and other music and should proceed getting bogged down in theory. Add theory later, like a spice, as needed!
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Old 09-08-2013, 11:58 AM
iim7V7IM7 iim7V7IM7 is offline
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Default A couple thoughts...

1) As others have said, learn some jazz standards (chord changes and melody). You'll start to see some common elements (and hopefully have some fun!). As i recall, my instructor started with "All the Things You Re" and "Autumn Leaves".

2) Learn a system of chords, triads, arppegios (and scales) fingerings to allow you to focus on the music vs. mechanics.

One of my old guitar instructors (Rolly Brown) from twenty + years ago has put together an excellent series of instruction courses that will take you through the "nuts & bolts" of jazz chords, melody and aspects of improvisation. Looking at the syllabus, it appears to be similar to what he did with me many years ago (particularly the two nuts & bolts lessons).

https://stefangrossman.worldsecuresy...ts/rolly-brown
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Old 09-08-2013, 12:39 PM
mr. beaumont mr. beaumont is offline
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Yikes, lots of thesis...es...uh...theses? Thesi?

Jazz is a big subject, but lets get right at your question: approaching extended chords.

Generally, if We're talking generic "jazz" here (without referencing specific substyles) there's two keys to sounding jazzy: playing the changes and chromatic approach tones.

playing changes means when the chord changes, you change. Most of the information you need for soloing is contained right in the chord itself...know your chords--how to make them, not just "grips." Your first approach to making a melodic line is the notes in the chords themselves.

Chromatic approach tones are the non chord tones surrounding the chord tones...take a chord progression, target one strong chord tone (like a 3rd or 7th) over each chord...approach those notes chromatically...from above or below...hear it?

Don't get too hung up on theory...there's years of sounds right there in the chords.
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Old 09-08-2013, 01:07 PM
IndianaGeo IndianaGeo is offline
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Thanks a TON to all of you! This is GREAT stuff. Great ways of thinking about jazz guitar. Kirkham13 mentioned Joe Pass. YES, I bought a video by him years and years ago, but for some reason (life distractions I expect) I put it on the back burner. He certainly makes it look all so easy , doesn't he? And such a humble, nice guy.

Thanks again to everyone for the advice. And Mr. Beaumont (Jeff), thanks for picking up on this and offering great suggestions as well.

As an aside and for background, I've been playing for over 30 years, I know a few kinds of scales, modes, chord construction, but now trying to put it all together more 'fluidly', if you will, in a jazz context to expand my playing. So all the answers I've received really fit well into my situation. Thanks.

IG
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Old 09-08-2013, 02:12 PM
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It seems like one of the main obstacles when trying to approach jazz music (iīm not even talking about learning, at this stage) lies within a sort of misleading state of things regarding the "tonal music vs modal harmony music" issue.

We may recall that some improvisation defines jazz music: but the question of how long is improvisation appart from harmony theory, gets easily overlooked (as far as i know)...

For instance, when i listen to many tunes by Pat Metheny (one among other jazz musicians i enjoy)...i canīt but hardly isolate one of either axes within his music (tonal vs modal)...and so on...

Greetings!!

Last edited by athair; 09-08-2013 at 02:46 PM.
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