Teaching Guitar Improvisation Through The Use Of Hot Stuff

Blue Bossa Lessons

Inevitably, a guitar instructor will encounter standard tunes associated with studying improvisation such as Watermelon Man, Stormy Monday and the Latin jazz classic blue bossa. I’m sure by now you know the drill: “It’s a 16 bar song, the first eight bars are in C minor, then there is a four bar section in D flat major, then song concludes with for more bars in the key of C minor.  As we analyze the song we see that after a I minor to IV minor cadence, the rest of the song is comprised of either major or minor II –V – I progressions in the respective keys.  The diagram below not only analyzes the progression but also gives you the scale choices. Of course you can forgo scales at any time and chord tones, tensions and chromatic approach notes.”

The normal "company line" concerning Blue Bossa

Jazz Lesson Plan: The normal “company line” concerning Blue Bossa

Great lesson plan right? Wrong. It’s a terrible lesson plan but unfortunately it’s the one that most of us had received in one form or another and unfortunately the one we continue to repeat in one form or another. This approach, in addition to being similar to pushing someone who cannot swim into the deep water of the pool in the hopes that in order to save his life will figure out some type of swimming when he hits the water is a terrible oversimplification.

Other oversimplifications that are of no use.

Other oversimplifications that are of no use.

The Beauty of the Contrived Solo.

In the jazz era, musicians would call an improvised solo a ride and were often instruct the musician on the bench than to take a ride -play a solo. This term is very telling, when you are playing a quality solo, hitting all the right notes, nailing your hottest licks and firing on all cylinders you may experience a feeling of confidently and purposefully moving forward or something slightly transcendental.  That is the feeling of the “ride”, and that is what you were looking for that is what you are teaching.


Before student can create these types of solo in the musical moments that accompany them he must experience a ride first hand, he must be shown the way.  That’s where the contrived are planned out solo comes into play. The first step in this type of teaching is of course insisting that your students confidently and strongly play melodies to standard tunes and famous pop songs. Serious music students must study books of solos, such as the Charlie Parker Omni Book (or other artist collections of transcribed solos that have meaning to them) and compilations of licks and shorter solos.

Guitar Improv Studies: Charlie Parker Omni Book & David Baker Improvisation

Guitar Improv Studies: Charlie Parker Omni Book & David Baker Improvisation

The student gains first-hand experience and competency in making real and meaningful music out of passages of single notes, they’re experiencing the transcendental feeling of the ride, the feeling of strong and serious playing. That is the beauty of the contrived solo.



Whenever I Get in a Fix I Reach Right into My Bag of Tricks

Below is a music improvisation lesson plan for the beautiful minor key song Blue Bossa.  I’ve recorded and transcribed two choruses of single line soloing over the basic chord changes to the song which can be heard below:

In the first chorus the melodic analysis (appearing in red) shows a fairly straightforward approach of using chord tones and chromatic approach notes. In the first two bars on emphasizing the natural 9 note because I feel this note is kind of an unsung hero when it comes to a minor chord sound -most students automatically default flat third and completely ignore this note.  For the modulation to D flat major I am taking the Wes Montgomery approach and using some basic jazz guitar voicings and substitutions as a means of creating a solo. The last four bars of the solo are playing triads resident in the key of C minor, a somewhat pedestrian homage to “the sheets of sound” approach.


Blue Bossa; Contrived Solo

The first four bars of the second chorus of the song enables me to discuss upper structure triads. In this case the key change is addressed by using melodic motion by thirds on a plain old D flat major scale and the common knowledge D flat major seven arpeggio found on the top four strings.

Blue Bossa Soloing Lesson

Blue Bossa Soloing Lesson

The Takeaway

I first discovered the power of the contrived solo by collecting books about jazz guitar improvisation and copying the licks and solos I found them.  I found that by analyzing them and playing them over and over I was gaining strength and power as a musician, experiencing for myself the joy of taking one sweet ride after.