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Hey Jazz Guy: Transcribing Great Jazz Solos

January 30, 2014
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Hey Jazz Guy,
Whose solos should I be transcribing to learn how to play through changes? —Searching in Somerville

Dear Searching,
Transcribing solos of great jazz musicians is a surefire way to improving your understanding of the genre. However, to really execute certain concepts, it can be very helpful write out your own solos. This is a way to practice soloing without the pressure of “instant” improvisation. Let’s choose the topic of playing through changes and use as our example the first two bars of rhythm changes in Bb (Bbmaj7, G7, Cmin7, F7). Step one: Place the 3 of every chord on the downbeats [Ex 1]. Next we fill in the remaining eighth-notes [Ex 2] using strictly arpeggios of the 7th chords. With that framework in place we can now add some chromatic approaches and tensions [Ex 3], such as the b9 on G7. Example 4 continues this idea by adding tensions and passing tones. Notice that in all the examples we’ve kept the 3rds on the downbeats. The next step would be changing the placement of the 3rds and chord tones in order to delay or anticipate the changing harmony. There is a saying among surgeons: “See one, do one, teach one.” When you transcribe a solo, you are “seeing one,” watching someone else perform. Write out your own solo and you are “doing one,” figuring out how the pieces fit together. Explain this to a friend and you will “teach one,” further increasing your understanding. So try this exercise over different songs and remember—there are a lot of great solos out there, but sometimes the person you should transcribe is you!

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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