Bridging the Gap Between Rock/Blues Soloing And Jazz Improvisation

I Would Like to Take A Few Jazz Lessons…..

Most if not all of my jazz students come to me with a background in rock ‘n roll and blues. Therefore, the first thing I like to go over with them is the idea of playing the changes, I often share this quote with them that I picked up somewhere along the line:

A guitar solo is a stream of single notes that elegantly, melodically and artistically imitates the sound of the chords.

It is a brilliant, salient thought that I wish I would’ve thought of myself and this simple lukeskywalkerguitarherostatement often points students in a new and fresh direction that they haven’t thought of, because most rock and blues soloing is about working one scale and staying within that pattern, usually the confines of the minor pentatonic (or minor blues) scale which I sometimes refer to as the “pentatonic prison” to drive the point home.  Granted, there is no hot guitar playing without blues scales and minor pentatonic scales -everyone needs to learn to use them and use them well.


In education, scaffolding is a technique that moves students learning and understanding by building on their current skill set and what they already know, invariably hastening the learning process. An educator should provide successive levels of training and support that aid in comprehension and skill acquisition –levels that would not be possible without carefully planned support. Like the scaffolding on a construction site, the ideas remain in place until the building can support itself.  Scaffolding is an indispensable component of effective teaching, and virtually everyone who considers themselves an educator uses various forms of instructional scaffolding as a matter of course.

Compositionally Sound Solos

My first lesson for the skilled rock/ pop / blues player is learning to play and improvise 3 passes of a blues in E, if you are set up for recording I recommend recording them and asking them for their own thought and a self-critique before jumping into an evaluation.  That way, you can use their own words and ideas in your teaching and keep the student from feeling attacked.

Next, I introduce them to this video lesson:

Musically Analyzing the Lesson Plan

Starting off with a well known Blues double stop and a favorite of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn sets the mood and sticks with the style. The 4th bar is the first instance of being slightly outside the box as I am using a diad composed of the b7 and the b5 and sustaining it -challenging the ear.  Rehearsal letter A is all about introducing the “key of the moment” concept and approaching chord tones chromatically, again foreign concept to most studying and learning the guitar. Rehearsal letter B is all about chord tone and tensions before ending the 12 bar pass with an homage to Freddie King’s Hideaway.


Once again chord tones and tensions are leaned on heavily to challenge and develop the ear, bar 4 uses some chromatically ascending 9th chords as an homage to big band and Jump Blues arranging.  rehearsal letter D is strictly a key of the moment approach employing a slightly atypical major 6th arpeggio.


Starting with a well known Blues cliche the third pass is all about rhythmic accuracy.  To make sure students understand the relationship between and the importance of the major and minor 3rd, the point is totally driven home in the second line. The third line is using basic dominant 7th arpeggios before ending with another must know cliche turnaround lick.


Don’t Forget, The Best Guitar School on The Internet Is Free



The Beauty of The Contrived Solo, or How To Answer a Question With A Question!

Q: Why Do My Solos Always Sound Like I’m Just Playing Scales?

Q: Why Do I Always Hear You Playing Scales When You Practice?


That is the essence of a conversation I once had with my Berklee college teacher and mentor just before he introduced me to the idea of a contrived solo: a solo which you plan out, practice, analyze and maybe even memorize if you really like it. I studied pages of Bill Leavitt’s jazz solos and beautiful reading studies (which were guitar centered melodic compositions actually) based of course on the chord progressions to standard tunes. I loved learning and studying them, they were so cool and musical and gave me lots and lots of ideas on how to treat various chords and standard cadences.

This did seem to be in direct contradiction of one of the prime directives I had often been taught or at least heard discussed countless times in reference to jazz soloing and that is the famous quote by someone I considered to be a national treasure, Chick Corea.

Pic Tim Dickeson 14-07-2010 Chick Corea (Piano), Roy Haines (Drums), Kenny Garrett (Sax), Christian McBride (Bass)

Credit: Tim Dickeson

Of course when you develop the hard skills, creativity, and the ability to play creatively, intuitively and perfectly right on your very own mark, creating the sounds you have dreamed of and imagined during all your hours of practicing, you have attained a serious and prodigious level of musicianship, that is a level which I do not think I am on personally and have known very few people that have attained such a serious and complete mastery of jazz performance.

Personally, as one of the mere mortals who inhabits planet Earth but still enjoys playing jazz music on my highest possible level, I have found other ways to adopt and function and still play nicely -even when I can’t create beautiful lines right off the top of my head!


First and foremost, I have always been one to copy the solos of my jazz guitar heroes and also study books of licks and tricks for hours and hours. I think of all the little gems I have mined over the years in much the same way a baseball pitcher thinks of his best pitch, such as a fastball.  A Pitcher will use the fastball to get in the rhythm of the game, to settle things down and inspire confidence in his teammates.

I use a contrived solo in much the same way: I like to start out sounding good, to settle into the rhythm of my game,  and inspire cooperation and confidence in my band mates. I use my found and discovered little musical germs and gems as my point of departure, the material on which I base my solos.   It’s not like I have to recite them note for note, but since I know how they work, I can play hot solos just like them and still be assured of getting a good sound because I know how they were made. It’s much easier to get a swinging musical sound, are that melodic jazz effect this way than it is to just dive into scales and start reciting them -looking for interesting notes or modes to compensate for the boring sound of straight scale patterns with dull and even rhythms, which we all can easily fall right into.

The solo below is 24 bars of a swing blues in F.  In it I am playing that nice relaxed Wes Montgomery sound using really accessible rhythms, cool notes and simple melodies based on streams of octaves.

I made this up many years ago, as I was first studying jazz and was visiting a jam session, when I finally got the nerve to go up on stage the leader called “Blues In F”.  As a young guitar player who played “Blues In E” all the time I was really not able to get anything going that day. That evening, my friends and I went back to our laboratory and came up with a nice little solo, a good convincing fastball if you will.  Now it’s here for you to study, copy and then make your own.

F Blues Solo.musx

F Blues Solo2.musx

Carl, Zoltan and Joe: These Three Studs Shoulda Had A Rock Band ! (…do you wanna be a better guitar teacher?)

Guitar Teachers And Students

Most come to teaching guitar as a supplement to a performing and writing career, in fact I would warrant a guess that many turn to guitar  tutoring as a profession because doing real music, actually breaking into the music business as a writer and or performer is an extraordinarily difficult process.

No Room For Musical Snobbery

In my career I have had many teachers who were not university or formally educated but we’re still excellent players, good performers and amazingly competent educators such as the legendary Ted Green author of Chord Chemistry and a virtuoso musician, whose education came from listening, studying and other great teachers. I was a  guitar student of his after I had graduated from Berkee College of Music and I was in awe of how much he knew, what he could play -I had never, seen anything like it.   Believe me, I am no snob when it comes to college degrees and other pedigrees.  The proof is in the pudding!

Legendary Text: Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene

Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene

Having And Being The Right Guitar Teacher

Berklee College: Bill Leavitt

The Legendary Bill Leavitt

There are many people like me however, who actually really want to be guitar teachers and had teaching as a career goal. I decided this while under the mentor-ship and tutelage of William G. Leavitt, author of the Berklee method and one of the finest musicians to have ever lived. There were innumerable amazing lessons and experiences with him but the one thing that really struck me was that anyone can excel when shown the type of teaching, education, respect and mentorship that I saw from him, very quickly into that 6 year relationship I decided to dedicate myself to this art, the art of teaching the guitar.  To follow in his footsteps as a guitar teacher.

The Three Mak Daddy Studs Of Music Education


I have based my work as a professional instructor on three of the world’s great theories of music education -the first one of course is the Berkee method, which was adapted from the work of Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) a truly remarkable and gifted Renaissance man whose work and importance is sadly obscured by time. Schillinger’s mathematical system of music analysis was embraced by all the top musical minds and  luminaries of the day like Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.  Schillinger was actually a teacher of the great genius George Gershwin and quite interestingly, he worked with Leon Theremin and was deeply involved with the ‘rhythmicon’ a primitive electronic drum machine.

Joseph Schillinger And The Rhythmicon

Joseph Schillinger And The Rhythmicon

It’s a highly mathematical system that see music as movement but I think it bridges the gap between classical European theory and modern jazz music theory courses. Popularized just after World War II the Schillinger system is a work of pure brilliance like the world is seldom seen. Although there are many wonderful things about this system I would like you, the reader to have one takeaway or salient quote for immediate use.

In terms of chord to chord motion the principles of the Berklee/Schillinger method states chords most commonly (root motion) move by fourth, fifth, half step or whole step.


Of course, that is in over generalization but you will find it to be an extraordinarily accurate and useful construct for giving music theory and songwriting lessons. I also find this idea useful in memorizing or transposing songs -test it out.




Our next stud is Carl Orff the author of Carmina Burana (which many people state as their favorite opera or favorite piece of classical music), and developer of an amazing system of musical education called ‘Kindermusik’ that is still in use today and provides one of the core standards for early musical educational at institutions throughout the world. Although the work of Carl Orff is deep and unbelievably complex, and takes years of study to truly understand, let’s find some great take aways from his work for application today.

Carl Orff- A Beautiful Mind.

Carl Orff- A Beautiful Mind.

One most Orff’s most beautiful and interesting idea is this: music lessons should resemble a child’s normal state of play. I absolutely love that and I always think of that when teaching: creating a comfortable play like environment for the student.

For me ‘play’ means jamming so for beginners I say, “learn to be a guitar player by making one chord sound good with picking or strumming”.  The student and I begin to play that one chord vamp, with or without a rhythm track, and we start to enjoy some question and answer jamming.  For experienced students, find something easy for them, and play with them, using small bites sized ideas to share and exchange.  The people who really know the Orff method are able to weave threads of fun, joy and musicality throughout their lessons.

The second takeaway for is Carl Orff is that many lesson plans and or exercises actually involve the idea of dramatizing music, putting little skits to existing music or conversely putting music to existing skits or dances, it’s an amazingly insightful idea.

The application for us as guitar teachers (or music teachers in general) is I simply this: when working with a solo piece, ask the student to imagine a scene from a play or movie –imagining the scene in your head while performing the song.  The student is learning to concentrate their musical efforts on the artistic and not the technical aspects.


Zoltan Kodaly: Respected Pedagogue

Zoltan Kodaly: Respected Pedagogue

My third cornerstone theory of musical education, another widely excepted industry-standard in the teaching business is the work of Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), the Kodaly Method. Kodaly began music instruction in his homeland of Hungary because he once heard Hungarian children singing folk tunes horribly out of key and decided then to dedicate himself to the art of music education. The Kodaly Method relies heavily on solfege and sight singing of rhythms.  You have probably seen his system of hand signals to represent the notes of the major scale.

Kodaly Hand Signals For Major Scale Notes

Kodaly Hand Signals For Major Scale Notes

Kodály’s musical compositions are influenced by Hungarian folk songs (nationalism) and the impressionistic movement and most notably Debussy.  Accordingly, the study material is drawn from common knowledge, native language folk songs.

These “mother tongue songs”, the students national music, are the perfect material for study, performance and analysis.

The take away for us guitar teachers ( and music teachers) is that the Kodaly Method stresses children learn songs of their homeland and understand the folk songs and nationalistic pieces of music that come from where they were born, the music that came before them, the music that educated the people they learn from and listen to.

For Implementation of this concept, I always include fiddle tunes, bluegrass melodies, or pieces of traditional American (or world) instrumental music, common knowledge songs we all have in our ears.

By introducing a traditional music component into your guitar lessons you are actually honoring and practicing the Kodaly Method. If you don’t believe me just look at the repertoires of people like Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, or Danny Gatton  who take instrumental music folk music and rural music to new heights by making something really special out of those well-known melodies.  The example below shows Roy Clark playing a few easy Spanish flavored licks and weaving them into an amazing performance.  Encourage any 4th or 5th year player to copy this whole thing by ear, because it’s doable, simple and sounds amazing.

Joe, Carl and Zoltan

Hopefully, now is the time when a few readers will start Googling these cats and make a few Amazon purchases.  Hope you like my three friends.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The One Guitar Lesson You Have Got To Give …( Or Take!)

A Most Important Standard Blues Guitar Song

In the annals of modern and popular music there are certain songs that for one reason or another become standards, the common knowledge tunes that musicians play, study and teach. Although many songs have achieved such a stature, in guitar playing one song you’re going to have to play, teach and understand is the 1947 blues classic Stormy Monday, credited to T-Bone Walker entitled Stormy Monday.  Its the song that inspired BB King to play the blues and in 1983, the song was inducted into the Blues Foundation Blues Hall of Fame.  There is no blues song which is more definitive or important to a guitarist.

I’m Actually Going To Say 3 Definitive Versions (?!)

1947 T-Bone Walker

Surprisingly the chord progression associated with version credited to the author is not what most people think of when working with the tune.  The original version is very close to a basic 12 bar blues with 2 notable exceptions:

  • Walkers use of chromatic passing chords around the I chord is masterful.
  • In bar 7 there is a subV of V (Ab7) producing the smoothness only ½ steps provide.

stormy tbone

1961 Bobby Bland

This arrangement is considered by the cognoscenti to be “the” recording of Stormy Monday and these changes represent the standard approach of most musicians when playing or teaching the song.   Plan felt as though he needed something different so he employed a series of chords that I have heard referred to as the “Chicago Changes” where bars 7 & 8 break the feeling of the blues tonality by employing the root motion associated with the first three chords from the key of G major: (again lots and lots of chromatic passing chords which usually are not notated)

G –  A minor- B minor

I Maj –  II minor – III minor


Brightening up the sound of the progression with strong to the major scale and its harmonies continues in bars 9 & 10 with the inclusion of a good old II –V cadence.  Interestingly these are essentially changes for another T-Bone Walker song called ‘Perfume Girl’.

The rhythm guitar on this iconic track is playing passing chords like crazy, often there are too many of them and to my year they obscure the essence of a wonderful chord progression. It’s just my opinion, but so many passing chords make this song very difficult to teach and to replicate. For listening pleasure it’s on the top of my list, you be the judge:

1971 The Allman Brothers

This is the “other definitive” versions of the song for those are Allman Brothers fans or classic rock fans who have not explored blues in great depth.  Most musicians do not consider their twist on the chord progression to be the ‘player’s version’ of the song but the twist and turns are very nice.



The important part about this version is the use of IV minor in bar 10, giving that section an amazing, jazzy or almost modal quality –it’s a very sophisticated and jazz like concept.  I would explain this as being borrowed from the key of G minor, whose IV chord is indeed C minor. At Berklee this falls under the heading of ‘modal interchange’.


The Strumming Lesson

Although there are a seemingly endless number of sold approaches to playing blues changes,my lesson plan appears below.  The suggested rhythmic figure is practically the most simple possible but it encourage the student to accent on 2 and 4, playing with a nice sense of groove and getting the best perspective on the changes and form.  (To drive home the basic blues progression my first lesson for the song omits the Ab7 sub V).


Reprinted Form My Book, ” A Blueprint For Hot Guitar”

The Soloing Lesson

If you want a nice sounding solo to Stormy Monday, you have to play the changes.  Call it a key of the moment or what have you, one long blues scale is not going to cut it.  I often say and write: “a solo is a stream of single notes that imitates the sound of the chord changes”.  Below are a few ideas for using Stormy Monday as a vehicle for an improvisation lesson.


Three Big Time Reasons Guitar Lessons Must Include The Blues

Young, Sharp Guitar Guys And The New And Improved Way(! ?)

Teaching in the same facility for a long time has afforded me the opportunity to see how lots of other teachers work, the self-taught, the highly educated and all points in between.  Among the new crop of musical school guys there seems to be a disregard for the importance and necessity of a basic understanding of the blues, discarding the innumerable and indispensable benefits and insights that the genre offers to guitarists in their formative years.  Relegating the style to the status of a useless old shoe, an artifact from the past that has no bearing on the new modern way to play is a big mistake. Nothing could be more wrong.

1.)Theory And Songwriting Chops Are Developed Through The Study Of Blues Music

I – IV- V  Harmony is the most obvious and important reason to teach guitar students blues, learning solid, traditional 12 bar blues rhythm parts in particular, is what gives students familiarity and experience with the most important chords in modern American musical harmony,

  • The Tonic (or the one chord)
  • The Sub Dominant (the four chord)
  • and The Dominant (the five chord).

It’s true that the harmonic settings of rock, blues and jazz music are very often a 12 bar blues or an interesting derivative or variation of the I – IV- V harmony.  In a traditional blues, like the one I have outlined below, the functions of the I -IV& V chords are very clearly explained and easily understood, easily heard with a few guided repetitions of the chart that I have reprinted from my book, Blueprint For Hot Guitar.  As I have said before, all lesson plans must be neatly copied and professionally prepared, hopefully with software like Finale or Sibelius, this is my habit of constantly prosecuting the case for musical literacy.


Of particular use to a guitar student is the fact that the IV chord in the traditional 12 bar blues form almost always goes back to the I, the tonic, which makes students question traditional music theory where the IV chord is called the sub dominant and often taught strictly as a predecessor to the dominant chord. In rock, pop, jazz and blues music this simply isn’t true, the blues teaches the flavor and meaning if the all-important I –IV cadence. In this and many other regards, blues is an education in basic songwriting, harmonic ear training and repertoire development, as many famous songs are nothing more than 12 bar blues progressions -especially early rock, funk, electric blues and jazz.

Studying and analyzing the harmonic progressions of the simplest to the most complicated of blues songs is absolutely necessary to anyone who wants to understand modern music.

A recommended book is Modern Blues Guitar By Ken Chipkin

blues book

Great Blues Book By Kenn Chipkin

2.) Blues Always Seems To Be A Part Of The Current Musical Landscape

Blues music has morphed into an industry and a lifestyle. In the modern world of guitar playing, precious few musical genres have ascended to the lofty ranks of the blues. It’s the common ground that guitar players use to play with each other, form groups and bands and most importantly, have meaningful jam sessions. Any pro jam session in any stage around the world centers its activity around blues progressions, there’s just no two ways about it. Understanding and being able to play the blues even a little bit give your students an easy entrance into the larger world of guitar playing, working and improvising with others and helps them to become firmly rooted in the most important traditional American musical style, -giving them the same knowledge base that many of their musical heroes have.

3.)Becoming Active Guitar Players


Being active in the local blues scene is a good way to jam, have fun, get out and meet people and share ideas and moments with other musicians, eventually developing the skills needed to make money the third and final reason for starting the blues is because it’s like a history lesson the syntax vernacular and vocabulary of modern American music is based in large part on the blues, there is no other style or genre that is as influential in the formation of modern American music as blues and any serious course of study and electric guitar should treat blues with the utmost and highest regard and importance. In many great musical education systems such as kindred music and the code I’m historical perspectives and repertoire development are serious and integral part of the method I say and blues guitar playing hold equally as important a place in the study of modern guitar.



Sequencers: The  Secret Sauce of Music Instruction

The Three Types Of Sequencers

Sequencers are music playback machines which can create a fun, often completely novel and real world environment for music students.  A very common type of sequencer can be found in consumer level keyboards, like the ones in department stores that automatically play MIDI files for well-known songs.  A sequencer does not play sound recording or an audio file, it essentially plays on-board or external synthesizers(s) to re-create the song anew with each press of the play button.

  • Sequencing Keyboards

My Old Sequencing Keyboard, A Roland D20, I loved it!

In the old days of sequencers I brought pro level synthesizers which always had some sequencer on board and usually loaded with lots of loops and drum tracks. This setup enables someone to record a bass line or rudimentary set of chord changes with a good solid grove and use these recordings (MIDI files) for purposes of practice, instruction or performance.  The big problems were the user interface – the cryptic little screens on the devices and a steep learning curve.  In retrospect, it really wasn’t very much capability, and didn’t really sound good by today’s standards, but at the time it was a home run.

  • Dedicated Sequencing Machines

My Old School Sequencers Made A Lot Of Gigs And Lessons Possible -note the small screens and scary interface

Later, companies began to make small boxes that combined a sequencer, drum machine, synthesizer and all kinds of pre-made,  pre-loaded songs that could be sequenced (played anew by an internal computer) and played back through an amplifier or PA system.  Again, for purposes of practice, instruction or performance it was as if a new day had dawned because every year these things began to sound better and better. Unfortunately however, the cryptic little user interface screens and difficulties in learning the machines were still there or getting worse and even more confusing.

  • Sequencing Software

BAND IN A BOX -non compensated endorsement

Software makers also created options for using a separate synthesizer, synthesizer module or small internal synthesizer found in your computer to enable you to use that computer and its speakers as a sequencer.   For my money, the only choice in this area is a program called Band in a Box published by PG music.

In my studio, my computer is hooked up to a nice little PA system that I use to simulate real-world playing situations for my students using Band in a Box.  Having a realistic and convincing virtual band to practice improvising, rhythm guitar and even songwriting and theory with makes teaching music very experiential and more meaningful and memorable.

The great thing about Band in a Box is that you can type a set of chord changes into a virtual lead sheet and the software will play those chord changes back with the sound of a full band in just about any style you could think of. If the parts generated or a little busy, funny, or too MIDI file sounding,  strip a few of them away like the strings, or the fake guitar and you will almost always get a convincing accompaniment track.


The virtual lead sheet you created has a cursor that moves in real time across the chords as they are being sounded. This is great for jazz guitar students who are trying to learn not get lost in the changes and to play to play with the chord, playing more meaningful solos instead of simply buzzing one scale.

Finally when writing songs with band in a box you can explore different options, new keys, different cadences, different harmonic rhythms and a variety of other options simply with a mouse click.  All of these changes are reflected on your computer screen in a form of virtual lead sheet. To me this means I can get more involved in the act of, in the art of instruction and encourage good musical thinking as opposed to having to play everything on the keyboard or piano and provide instruction over that very same playing. Using sequencers modernizes and streamlines my workflow by creating a real world and convincing musical environment whenever I need one.  Below is a  Band in a Box file i made and turned into a YouTube video (for home study, after the lesson), the animated play along screen is not the normal  Band in a Box environment, but a special one used in the video.