Hey Jazz Guy,
I know that learning jazz takes years of
study, but is there anything I can do to improve
quickly? –Eager in Elmhurst
We all share your desire to speed up the
improvement process! Although musical study
is a life-long sport, there are a few things you
can do today to get better tomorrow. Become
more familiar with the guitar. Playing major
scales, minor scales, and ii-Vs in all keys is a
good start. This scale exercise [Ex. 1] goes up
one key and down the next around the cycle
of 5ths. Memorize a tune from the American
Songbook; many of these songs have
become staples of the jazz repertoire. For
bonus points, learn the lyrics.
They will really
help you phrase the melody. Understanding
that chords are scales and scales are chords,
as revealed in the upper structures [Ex. 2],
will get you a long way with functional harmony.
Here we use Gmaj7 and spell it vertically
to get a G Lydian scale.
When the tempo
is fast, think in slow subdivisions, like halfnotes.
When the tempo is slow, think fast,
as in sixteenth-notes. On the topic of resolutions,
play natural tensions when resolving
to major chords, as in Ex. 3a and altered tensions
when resolving to minor chords, like
we see in Ex. 3b. Always shed the four big
jazz “motions,” they are the blues, rhythm
changes, Coltrane changes, and modal harmony.
Immerse yourself in swing rhythms
[Ex. 4], and sing through the articulations
to get the feel. Listen to all the jazz you
can find, and play with others as much as
possible. Tomorrow is only a day away, so
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the
non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is