How to play a jazz solo

The advanced section of my online jazz piano course is called ‘How to play a jazz solo.’  There now follows a summary of these lessons with a link to my jazz course.

Lesson 21:  Connecting hands
In this lesson I take you through techniques to incorporate your left hand. These include the following:

Walking bass lines
Shearing block chords
Drop 2 and left hand voicings

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Lesson 22: Choosing the right scale
This lesson guides you through how to play a jazz solo by choosing the best scales and modes to use over your chords.

I focus on the following topics:

Using the Lydian mode over major chords
Choosing Dorian or Aolian over minor chords
The use of Lydian Dominant, altered scale etc over 7th chords
Choosing Locrian or Locrian 2 over diminished chords

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Lesson 23: putting scales to work
This lesson guides you through many soloing options

Bebop scales
Effective use of passing notes
How to encircle notes
Soloing over Satin Doll

Lesson 24: Finding the sweet notes.

In video lesson 24 of Learn Jazz Piano  I focus on how songwriters employ ‘sweet notes’ to add that spine tingling effect to their melody. I then relate this to jazz improvisation and show you how to employ this technique of finding the sweet notes in your solos. Using these well-chosen notes is a good way to anchor your solo, reflect the original song and help the listener follow your improvisation. Here’s Jerome Kern who wrote great melodies such as All The Things You Are. Use his sweet notes!

Jerome Kern wrote great tunes such as All The Things You Are. In my lessons on how to play a jazz solo I use the sweet notes that he chooses to improve your improvisations.

Lesson 25: taking notes for a walk

The artist, Paul Klee, described drawing as taking a line for a walk. Improvisation can be regarded as taking a note for a walk. The walk taken through a jazz standard, although it might range from safe to adventurous, will need to comply with very specific parameters and limitations.

Length           The song will be of fixed length, often 32 bars, and subdivided into sections. 

Time               Although the tempo can vary, the length of each bar will usually be stated by the time signature.

Key                 Although the key may change throughout, a key ‘signature’ will be stated at the outset and the tune will resolve to that originally stated key.

Harmony       The improvisation will take cues from the harmonic carpet that originally supported the melody.

Lesson 26: playing the charts

In lesson 22 of how to play a jazz solo I explain how to decipher the lead sheets in Real Books.

Lesson 27: too much information

If you’ve ever written a letter of complaint you’ll know that there is one basic ground rule to ensure a positive outcome: be concise and stick to the point. In other words, don’t ramble. If you’re returning a broken radio, your central point is that it’s not fit for purpose. To supplement this with an auxiliary list of complaints will only weaken your case.  

When soloing, my students are often brimming over with ideas. Although creativity, in itself, is not to be discouraged, a creative overflow not only puts pressure on the improviser to continue in the same vein, but also makes it difficult for the listener to take in so much information.

As a general rule, resist the temptation to throw in everything at the start of your solo or you will be left with nowhere to go. Instead, start simply with a clearly stated idea and then develop it.

Lesson 28: the checklist

Chords belong to families.

A chord rarely exists in it’s own right and is far more likely to have a relationship within a family. It has usually come into being as a result of the chord that precedes it and then exerts a powerful influence over the chord that follows it. This is cause and effect.

 So, rather than treating each chord individually, try to see the whole picture. 

  • Chords form into sequences that often belong to one key centre.
  • If you can identify a group of chords you can then play a line through that sequence. 

Once you begin to recognize these sequences and start stringing them together you will grasp the map of a tune.

Lesson 29: creative jazz practice

In lesson 29 of how to play a jazz solo I provide creative ideas for your practice rather than just aimlessly running up and down scales.

Lesson 30: recap of lessons 1 – 14

Lesson 31: recap of lessons 15 – 29

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