Hey Jazz Guy: Diversify Your Solos with Contrasting Elements

January 30, 2014

Hey Jazz Guy,
I feel like all my solos sound the same. Any advice on how I can diversify? –Uniform in Unity Village

Dear Uni,

What a great question. This is more than just a jazz topic. No matter what style of music you are playing, this concept will give you a great palette from which to draw more colors. The concept is “contrasting elements.” Each element of music—rhythm, harmony, speed, etc.—can be contrasted individually to create interest and direction in a solo. We will examine four elements here, range, density, harmony, and melodic curve. In the first example we are contrasting the element of range. Over Fmaj7 [Ex. 1], a phrase in the low range is played, followed by a phrase in the high range. The similar shape of the lines helps to make the contrast even stronger. In order to contrast the element of density [Ex. 2], we play a few long notes (sparse) followed by many short notes (dense). This creates a push-pull effect. In the third example we are using a familiar element, harmony, to create the contrast. An inside line [Ex. 3] and an outside line are played sequentially. When you pull the listener quickly into and out of the tonality, you create the unexpected. Melodic curve refers to the intervallic space between the notes, and in the final example [Ex. 4], several small intervals—half-steps and wholesteps— are used, followed by some wider intervals. Using both in the same line really exaggerates the effect. Shed these concepts slowly so you can hear the contrast in action, and you will have some of the most virtuosic solos in the village.

Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the non-jazz world. Send your questions to guitplyr@musicplayer.com. Jake’s latest release is Evolution [Buckyball].

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