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 jazz hard!
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is Evolution [Buckyball].