Gypsy Jazz Colors

The best way to break into the genre of Gypsy jazz guitar—the music of Django Reinhardt and those building on his musical heritage—is to just jump right in with some manouche sounds. One unique component of this music is the melodic motif in Ex. 1. Is it a scale? Is it an arpeggio? In fact, it’s a bit of both. What’s important is this Em9 phrase can also be used in a G6 context. (We can thank the relationship between a major chord and its relative minor for this two-for-one payoff.) Django’s left hand had been badly burned when he was young, so his fretting-hand had only two fully functioning fingers. For an authentic Django experience, try playing this pattern using only your first and second fingers.
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After getting the Em9/G6 sound in your ear, the next step is to transpose it to other octaves and move it up the fretboard. Ex. 2 shows a three-octave arpeggio pattern that reaches up to the 12th fret on the first string before returning to the open sixth string. Play this slowly at first, then, once you’re able to ascend and descend smoothly, gradually raise the tempo until you’re zooming up and down the neck. The trick is to increase the speed in very small increments—you’re letting your hands and brain get used to this motif.

Ex. 3 shows you how to apply our melodic pattern to the harmony in the first four bars of the “Minor Swing”—a Reinhardt favorite. Notice how we simply start the pattern on the respective root of the Am6 and Dm chords, and then ascend through it in two octaves.

Now try Ex. 4, which reworks the two melodies from our previous example to fit a I-VIm-IIm-V progression in the key of C. You can insert this phrase into a standard like “Blue Moon,” or use it as a turnaround when you want some Django-inspired colors.