ANYONE WHO HAS TRIED KNOWS
it can be tricky to articulate a line on the
guitar and get it to “speak” the way horn
players can. This makes jazz phrasing on
the guitar an important and ever-evolving
issue. Jazz lines are loaded with rhythmical
ornaments—those zippy melodic
embellishments that are used to heighten
a line’s drama, create variety, and push the
improvisation along. Ornamentation is an
essential part of this music. In this lesson,
we’ll add pizzazz by including some spicy
picking to your jazz phrasing. The percussive
effect will work for anyone searching
for vibey phrasing—in jazz as well as other
styles like rockabilly, blues, and country.
For years I enjoyed singing along to my
favorite solos by horn and piano players, and
I kept trying to figure out how to make the
guitar speak a line the way I heard them do
it. While living in Los Angeles, I was lucky
enough to be able to play, study, and hang
with many jazz guitar legends like John
Pisano, Joe Diorio, and Joe Pass among others.
One thing that got my attention was the
fact that some of these players who came up
during the ’50s and ’60s had a way of projecting
their bebop lines by getting a
percussive effect with their picking articulation
to add rhythmic momentum. Oftentimes
this is done with such subtlety that it goes
unnoticed by most people. It’s a tiny detail,
but it makes a huge difference in terms of
dynamics, punch, and overall projection. This
concept instantly became part of my playing
but, surprisingly enough, it has remained relatively
obscure to many players.
The sixteenth-note triplet followed by an
eighth-note is a staple of the bebop line, and many players will execute the phrase in Ex. 1a
by hammering on and pulling off between the
G and the A on the first string. We’ll now be
picking the G again immediately after the hammer-
on instead of pulling it off and
immediately gliding the pick back towards the
F on the second string like on Ex. 1b.
Ex. 2 consists of a descending G7 Mixolydian phrase over a famous 3/4 blues groove.
Start at a relaxed tempo and apply a loose
stroke. Make sure to nail the first note on
each beat while keeping the overall feel
with a loose, dynamic bounce. Notice how
picking this way you can make your motif
sit on the groove with more punch and
Ex. 3 illustrates how to add life to a classic
sounding F harmonic minor bebop line
with quick chord changes.
In Ex. 4, we apply
the concept to another bebop swing line
over a II-V-I-VI progression in Eb.
check out the more contemporary sounding
phrase in Ex. 5, which features diatonic
fourths on the top three strings played
over an Em drone.
The next time you’re
jamming over a slower, bluesy Em7 pedal
tone groove try Ex. 6, a trippy, more rhythmically
sophisticated, eccentric kind of
phrasing that someone like Herbie Hancock
might do. With practice, this way of
phrasing will become automatic and find
its way in many types of jazz lines.